PAPA'S WAR,  PART 4


Redeployment to the Flank of the Bulge

 On December 21, 1944, The 411th Infantry Regiment was relieved by elements of the 45th Division. We fell back from Bobenthal to Climbach and were ordered to carry as many ground troops as we could squeeze into our already crowded radio truck. 103d Division transportation units, plus nearly 200 trucks loaned by Seventh Army, were used to move the entire division over icy roads to an area about 75 miles to our northwest. There we relieved the 6th Armored Division allowing it to move still further to the northwest toward the Ardennes.

 By December 23, 1944, the relief of the 6th Armored Division was complete and the 103d was busy digging in for its new role, fighting a holding action. The Main Line of Resistance (MLR) was straightened out, one regiment (409th Infantry) was held in reserve and the two front line regiments, (410th and 411th Infantry) were thinly deployed along the Main Line of Resistance and Outpost Line of Resistance located along the Forbach-Saarguemines axis facing Saarbrucken.

_____________________________________________________
 
 

Farebersviller, Lorraine

 The 103d Division was placed, temporarily under the XV Corps. The 411th main CP and advance CP were in the same town, Farebersviller.

 Two disturbing stories were filtering back from the Ardennes area. The first was that the Germans had made no provision for handling prisoners of war and had massacred a lot of American prisoners at a place called Malmedy. That made us mad.

  The second was that the Germans had dropped agents behind our lines. They were highly trained in American slang, chewed American gum, smoked American cigarettes, wore American uniforms and dog tags and even drove American jeeps. These saboteurs were disrupting communications lines, blowing bridges, and setting mines and booby traps behind the lines and were considered more dangerous than the average German soldier because, if caught in American uniforms, could be shot as spies. In a confrontation, they had nothing to lose and would try to shoot their way out rather than surrender.

 We were all very nervous about the German agents and no one ventured out of doors after dark without being absolutely certain that he knew the password. If you encountered someone you did not personally know, the password was not enough. We asked questions like, "What do you do with a shortstop?" or "What's the name of Roosevelt's dog?" or "What is Betty Boop?" ----- and you had better know the answer because trigger fingers were very itchy.

 One of the GIs in the 411th Regiment Message Center had received a present from home. It was a red and white striped stocking cap that hung way down his back. It had white pompon on the end. He ran toward our radio truck from the Message Center with a request that a message that we had recently received be sent again. It was after midnight, the password had changed, and he had not bothered to get the new one. I was standing guard in the sub-zero cold outside the radio truck and challenged him. He should have answered with the first part of the several-part password. Instead he just yelled, "Damn it, Evans, It's me," and waggled his pompon at me.
 
 I was not kind to him. "You stupid bone head! (Actually, I used a stronger expression than that.) What if you had run into someone who doesn't know you or your stupid hat? You could be dead by now!"

 We went into the back of the truck and I gave him the password so he could get back safely.

 He explained that the Regimental Message Center could not decode the last encoded message that I had delivered to them and wanted Division to retransmit it.

 Unnecessary transmissions gave German direction finders time to locate our transmitter and call in an artillery strike so we tried to avoid them if possible. I asked him to wait, took my copy of the message and started running it through our decoding device, the M-209 Converter, and it started decoding perfectly. I said, "Look, the M-209 settings are supposed to be changed at midnight but sometimes a message sent before midnight (on yesterday's settings) does not arrive until after midnight. (I kept decoding as I talked.) We deliberately wait a couple of hours after midnight to change our settings because there might be traffic coming in just like this."

  I finished decoding the message and gave it to him. "Now, if you can manage to get back to the Message Center alive, tell those dunderheads that just because the clock says that its past midnight does not mean that they should use the new settings on everything received. First, check the date-time group on the message. If its yesterday's date, use an M-209 converter with yesterday's settings. That's one of the reasons why the Message Center has more than one converter, --- so you can leave one on yesterday's settings for a while just to cover this kind of event. If I get killed some day because I was transmitting unnecessarily, I will come back to haunt all of you. Luckily, this is not an urgent message. Message Center is getting it much quicker than they would have if I had asked for a new transmission because someone at the other end would have to check to be sure the message was properly encoded before it could be sent again, and that all takes time. If this happens with an urgent message and a lot of lives are at stake, I might personally toss a grenade in the goddamn Message Center. Tell them that."

 I guess all the talk of saboteurs had rattled my nerves a bit but I don't think I was too hard on him.

 The GI from Message Center double checked to be certain that he had the password right (It was Pi-an-iss-im-o) and took off. Pianissimo was a stupid password.

 How can a bunch of farm boys be expected to remember a word that most of them had never heard before in their entire lives?

  -----------------------------------------------------------------

 There was no action along the front on Christmas eve.

In fact, while the units defending on either side of the 103d Division were repeatedly and heavily attacked during our holding action, the 103d was inexplicably spared except for minor raids and skirmishes brought about mainly by our own forays.
 
 Christmas day we finally got a good meal, hot turkey with cranberry sauce and all the trimmings --- except potatoes. Usually, field kitchens had tons of dried potatoes. If they ran out of everything else they still had potatoes, but not for Christmas. They ran out of potatoes --- so we got a potato substitute --- spaghetti.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 It did not matter much to me one way or the other. I still had the "GIs" brought on by the bad chicken ala king, our Thanksgiving Dinner served more than a week after it was prepared. A meal hung around for, at most a half hour, and then it was gone. Christmas Dinner was no exception.

 I had to stay close to a latrine at all times. We were sleeping in a building with no roof and only three corners but I slept next to the exit nearest the path to the latrine.

 Then, they dug an officers' latrine directly across the path leading to the enlisted latrine. At night, the officers' latrine saw a lot of me, and maybe a lot of other GIs, too.

 If the officers had to have their own latrine and wanted it to be exclusive and private, they should have found a better place for it.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 The building in which we were billeted had been damaged rather badly by artillery fire at some earlier time but the one next to it had been completely demolished except for one corner and the parts of two walls that joined there. I was poking around in the demolished building when something caught my eye. A crack running diagonally down the wall made a strange rectangular detour. I started digging around the detour with my combat knife and eventually pried out a brick. Behind it was a small hiding place and in it was a small moldy leather pouch.

 I emptied the pouch into my hand and was amazed to find that it contained around forty gold coins. One was an American 20 dollar gold piece. The rest were 10 and 20 mark German gold pieces. All of them bore dates prior to World War I. It looked like someone hoarded these in anticipation of, or during, WWI and perhaps died, carrying the secret of their hiding place to the grave. I already had a bunch of the Post-WWI inflation currency in denominations running into the millions and even trillions of marks so I mixed the 10 and 20 mark coins with them and sent them all home together as "old" coins and bills. In a later letter, I explained that I had misspelled an important word that should have started with a "G." My mother was smart enough to figure it out, sorted out the gold coins from the worthless ones and kept them in a safe place until I got home.

 I kept the 20-dollar gold piece in my possession. It just felt good and had a beautifully sounding ring when dropped on a table top.

 Every outfit has a clown and the Regimental Headquarters Company was no exception. This guy rigged an elaborate gag. He unscrewed the firing mechanism off of the top of a hand grenade and emptied all of the explosive out of the grenade. Then he found a spot between a thick barn wall and a manure pile, pulled the pin and tossed the firing mechanism over the manure pile. After the primer cap exploded, he recovered the grenade handle and the screw-in mechanism. He recocked the firing hammer, attached the grenade handle to hold the hammer in place, and reinserted the pin. Then he screwed the grenade back together and hung it by its ring from a button hole.  The next time a bunch of Regimental Headquarters GIs were sitting around in a bull session, he sat there fondling and tugging at the grenade. Suddenly the pin pulled out and the handle went flying across the room. The hammer made a loud click as it snapped down in what would normally have been the start of the timing sequence and the grenade rolled out of his hands onto the floor.

 Everyone saw it and everyone froze. There was no hero diving on the grenade to save his buddies. There were no cowards bowling others over to get to safety. They all just froze and stared at the grenade.

 After what seemed an interminable time --- much longer than it would normally have taken for the grenade to explode --- the joker could not hold it in any longer and choked back a laugh.

 No one else saw anything even remotely funny about it.

 They damn near killed him but he laughed the whole time that they were beating on him.

 What he didn't know was that some time earlier, some of the same GIs had tried to get warm in a house and found that there was a fire all ready to start in a pot-belly cast-iron stove. There was dry kindling arranged to properly light up the pile of charcoal briquettes. Apparently there was also a booby trap, the head of a German "potato masher" grenade hidden in the pile of briquettes.

 They lit the kindling but before the fire really caught, they were called out of the room because the CP was moving elsewhere. They had just gotten clear of the building when the grenade exploded. They tried to look back inside to see what had happened but the grenade had powdered the briquettes and the building was full of impenetrable black dust. Booby traps came in all sizes and shapes.

 After that earlier scare, the Headquarters Company clown was lucky that they did not disassemble him piece by piece.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 During  the holding action, the Jerries hit the Divisions on either side of the 103d with numerous attacks but, inexplicably, left the 103d alone.  There were no enemy artillery or mortar barrages in areas where our wire communications lines were located so they stayed intact.

 As a consequence, there was less and less radio traffic other than routine check in by all of the stations in the Division Command Net. Regimental and Division Command Posts stayed put for a change. This meant that there was time for field kitchens to set up and we would get some hot meals instead of K-Rations.

 It also meant that there was some mysterious and unauthorized "ditting" going on around the Division Command Net every morning. No call signs were sent but at a predetermined time, the 409th, 410th, and 411th reported, in numerical order, what their field kitchen was having for breakfast. One dit meant pancakes, Two dits meant eggs (dehydrated and slightly greenish in color, but eggs none the less). Three dits meant S.O.S. Four dits meant hot cereal such as oatmeal or cream of wheat. Five dits meant none of the above, if you come you are taking your chances.  All three Regimental CPs were within a short drive of one another. The 409th CP was in Hellimer, the 410th was in Guebenhaus and we (the 411th) were in Fareberville.

 The report was transmitted very quickly --- dit,--- dit dit dit, --- dit. That translated into:  the 409th is having pancakes, the 410th is having hot cereal, and the 411th is also having pancakes.

 For us, that meant stay at home and have pancakes or run over to the 410th for hot cereal.

 Once in a while there were three different choices and some times only one. At least those of us who were in on it had a choice most of the time.

 The weather could only be described as lousy over a wide area ---- bitter cold, cloudy, and ground fog every day. This favored the Germans in their Ardennes counter attack, by now generally known as the Battle of the Bulge. Allied planes could not see targets so they were grounded and the German Panzers pressed the attack without fear of reprisal from the air. The battle was going well for them except for one snag. They were held up by the courageous men of the 101st Airborne "Screaming Eagle" Division at Bastogne, a small but strategically important town in Belgium.

 Their Division Commander was in Washington when the counter offensive began and there was no way that he could get back to Bastogne so the 101st Airborne was being temporarily commanded by the Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Anthony Mc Auliffe.  When the General commanding the German forces encircling the city sent in a representative with an ultimatum demanding the surrender of Bastogne, Mc Auliffe answered, "Nuts!" --and his men dug in for a continuing fight and took a horrendous pounding from the German tanks and artillery. They stood their ground and became known as "The Battered Bastards of Bastogne."

 The 101st Airborne beat off attack after attack before tanks from General George S. Patton's Third Army broke through the German lines and reached Bastogne on December 26, 1944.

 Within a few days the weather cleared and the Allied Air Forces struck with their full might. At first we heard the sound and within minutes the sky from horizon to horizon in every direction was filled with four engine bombers ---- B-24 Liberators, B-17 Flying Fortresses, along with British Wellingtons and Lancasters that usually took the night missions, --- and more. Each V-formation was tucked in behind the V preceding it and had another V tucked in behind it. The formations were wing-tip to wing-tip as far as the eye could see. Some of them were pounding Saarbrucken and we could see enormous shock waves radiating out from the bomb bursts. It was a most impressive sight, probably the most impressive sight of my life.

  P-47s, P-51s, Hurricanes, Spitfires, and B-26s flew low level sorties against the panzers and ground troops of the Wehrmacht and they broke the back of the German columns.

 General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, inexplicably opted to push the Germans back along the entire front instead of pinching off the salient and surrounding the enormous number of German troops who would have been  trapped and cut off from supplies of food, fuel, and ammunition. This decision cost thousands of American lives, a loss that probably could have been avoided. Gradually, however, the bulge was reduced and the Germans suffered such heavy losses that they had to retreat back to Germany.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 On January 6, 1945 Harold Class, one of our ASTP classmates and a life-long friend of John Donlan was shot and killed by a sniper.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 On January 8th the 103d Division's Commander, Major General Charles Haffner had to give up his command and return to the United States due to poor health.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 On January 9th, the 103d Division was placed temporarily, in the XXI Corps. By that time the Bulge had been significantly reduced and the situation stabilized. Major General Maxwell Taylor, The Division commander of the 101st Airborne was able to return to his troops and, on January 11th, Brigadier General Anthony Mc Auliffe, the hero of Bastogne, was given command of the 103d Infantry Division and quickly promoted to Major General.

General Anthony Mc Auliffe

The Division was soon to learn that whereas General Haffner had been a "map-room" commander, Mc Auliffe was a "hands-on" commander. He and Colonel Donovan Yeuell, commanding the 411th Infantry Regiment, were cut from the same cloth. Mc Auliffe immediately visited the troops in all areas. They saw at once that he was no mirage --- he was the real thing and they would see more of him when the war heated up again. It was good for morale to have that kind of leader.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 On January 12, 1945 the 103d Division went on the offensive for the first time since arriving in Lorraine. The 411th Infantry Regiment attempted to capture some high ground commanding the area in the  vicinity of Sarreguemines. They encountered enemy forces in much greater strength than expected and were forced to withdraw to positions just slightly in advance of their initial line of departure.

____________________________________________________
 


Return to Alsace

 On January 15, 1945, the first elements of the 103d Division was relieved by elements of the 70th Infantry Division and started the trip from Lorraine back to Alsace.

 On January 16th, the 103d Division was reassigned to the VI Corps.

 The 411th remained in its defensive position until it was relieved on January  17th and started the 75-mile trek back to Alsace. Once again, our radio truck was loaded with as many GIs as we could squeeze in and we were given a rather large trailer to tow. It was full of captured German signal equipment to take back for evaluation.

 I had never towed a trailer of any kind although, back in Driver Training School, I had one practice session backing one up for a short distance. I had not done it too well.

 I drew the driving assignment.

 There had been a lot of light snow along our proposed route so we put on our tire chains but we had no chains for the trailer.

 The roads were rutted in spots, icy, and treacherous, made even more so by the strips of white tape running down both sides and the ever present warning signs "MINES SWEPT TO DITCHES." It was slow going.

 Two or three hours into the trip we came to a long and very steep grade. The road wasn't rutted but it was extremely icy. At the bottom of the hill, the road made a sharp left hand turn and immediately crossed a narrow wooden bridge over a deep ravine.

 We paused at the top to think it through.

 Bud Hennum was in the assistant driver seat. He asked, "What do you think?"

 After a hard look I said, "I think I could handle it O.K. if we didn't have this damn trailer, --- but I don't know."

 Behind us, drivers started honking their horns and yelling, "Come on, keep it moving."

 I shrugged, put it in four-wheel drive, double-low gear and gently let up on the brake but did not feel good about it. About a third of the way down, I noticed the trailer swinging around to the left so I eased my steering wheel that way to get in front of it. Then it started to swing the other way and I eased my wheel to the right to get back in front of it again and all the while keeping an eye on those damned white tapes. As we came into the sharp left turn, the trailer was, luckily, now swinging again to the left. I slowed as much as I dared using the brake and that caused the trailer to try to pass me on the left. Now I was around the corner and rolling onto the bridge but in front of the trailer again. It swung back and overshot, hitting the rail on the right-hand side of the bridge. It then swung wildly back and hit the left side of the bridge.  The trailer was now in control and was pushing the truck from side to side. We bounced off of both sides of the bridge two or three times before we cleared it. Then the trailer was headed straight down the center of the road but it had turned our truck sideways and we were skidding down the road in front of it. It was useless to try to use the brakes. All four wheels were still turning trying to get some traction and I started to try to steer in front of the trailer again but it never happened. All four wheels suddenly gripped the road and we lurched straight ahead, through the white tape, across the frozen ditch and about fifty feet out into the field before I stopped bouncing around enough to kill the ignition.

 I was hyperventilating.

 The GIs in the back had our makeshift doors shut to keep warm so they had not seen a thing. After they got untangled from one another, all of them started yelling at once, "What the hell happened?". Bud Hennum answered, "Stay still and do not try to get out of the truck. We are off the road and through the tapes in a field. We don't know if there are mines here or not. We had better wait until someone comes to get us out."

 It was a long wait, several hours at least, and bladders could not hold out any longer. The snow all around the truck took on a decidedly yellow hue  ------ and a couple of other colors, too, because I still had the "GIs" --- but none of our feet actually touched the snow.

 Eventually, some Engineers stopped and gingerly worked their way toward us with their mine detectors. They pulled out about a half dozen in our general vicinity, all anti-tank mines, --- no shu mines or "Bouncing Betty" antipersonnel mines were found. The shu mine, plastic explosive in a wooden box, was virtually impossible to detect with mine sweepers that, basically, responded to metal. The shu mines were bad enough, they could blow your foot off but everyone feared the "Bouncing Bettys." If you stepped on one of those, it popped up out of the ground attached to a 30-inch wire. When it reached the end of the wire, about groin high, it exploded blasting shrapnel horizontally in all directions. Luckily, the "Bouncing Bettys" could be detected with a mine sweeper.

 When I tried to back out with the trailer, it went in every direction except the direction in which I was trying to go. It soon became clear that I was going to get outside of the swept area if we continued with that plan so the Engineers cleared a new path in front of the truck that circled back to the road. Meanwhile everyone got out of the back, walked along the Engineers' originally cleared lane and waited for me on the road. So did Bud Hennum. I called them all chicken but I probably would have done the same thing.

 After a few more mines were swept from my path, I was able to drive forward so I got the truck and trailer back on the road safely. Everyone piled back into the truck and the rest of the trip back to Alsace was uneventful.

------------------------------------------------------------

 Upon arrival, the 411th CP was located in Bouxwiller and the 411th was designated Division Reserve, --- but names are deceiving. The 2nd Battalion was immediately detached to the 45th Infantry Division to attack a hill near Reipertswiller in an attempt to take some of the pressure off five companies of the 45th Division's 157th Regiment that were surrounded by elements of the German 6th SS Mountain Division "NORD," the 11th SS Regiment, and the 256th Volks Grenadier Division. In two attacks, one in a snowstorm, the 2nd Battalion took heavy losses and was repulsed by heavy artillery, mortar, and small arms fire.

 Meanwhile, the five surrounded companies unsuccessfully attempted to break out and were overrun by the Germans and either killed or captured. Since the 45th Division no longer needed the 2nd Battalion it was returned to the control of the 411th in Bouxwiller. Meanwhile, the rest of the 411th Combat Team was attached to the 79th Infantry Division where it immediately went on the attack against strong enemy defenses at Sessenheim near Haguenau. There the attackers ran into devastating fire from dug-in tanks and larger concentrations of infantry than were expected. After heavy losses, the commanding general of the 79th Division, on January 19, 1945, called off the attack and returned the troops to the control of the 411th in Bouxwiller.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 The 411th Regiment, returned to the control of the 103d Division, took up the position of Division Reserve at Bouxwiller, Alsace.

 During the absence of the 103d Division from Alsace, the Ardennes was not the only area under attack by the Wehrmacht. They had attacked, in "Operation Nordwind," a number of points along the Seventh Army front. One of the consequences of this was that whereas we had left the area with a strong foothold in the Siegfried Line, the Germans had secured several salients in our lines and there had been a general withdrawal to straighten out the front.

 Upon our arrival there was still a problem. The Divisions on either side of the 103d's new defensive position had been pushed back somewhat further leaving the 103d's sector as a narrow salient surrounded on three sides by the Germans. There was a very real danger that we might be caught in a pincer and become totally surrounded.

 A strategic withdrawal was mandated by the higher echelons at VI Corps or Seventh Army headquarters. It took place on the night of Jan. 21st in a blinding snowstorm.

 The GIs did not want to leave for two good reasons. The members of the resistance, Force Francaise Interieur (FFI), who had come out in the open and assisted us with intelligence about the German positions, had families in the towns that we would be vacating and feared for their lives. Also, we would just have to take the same ground all over again ---- but the brass prevailed. The withdrawal was a terrible ordeal for all concerned.

 A military force is most vulnerable during a withdrawal. This one took place in a blinding snowstorm and, coincidentally, we were attacked by fanatical SS units hopped up on schnapps and ether and shouting epithets in English. They snapped at our heels throughout the entire withdrawal. We lost many vehicles that slipped off the roads and could not be recovered.

-----------------------------------------------------------

 There were attacks and counter attacks throughout the remainder of January and then both sides just seemed too exhausted to continue the battle.

 The situation quieted down and lines became static for the month of February and there was only occasional patrol activity.
__________________________________________________________
 
 

Imbsheim, Alsace, February, 1945 ,  The Winter Doldrums

 As was customary when things settled down, our radio team was relieved by another team and we returned to Division HQ for vehicular maintenance and other matters that could not be handled in the field. In particular, we welcomed the opportunity to get a bath and swap our stinking uniforms and socks for something a bit cleaner.

-----------------------------------------------------------

 A Quartermaster Corps mobile shower unit, apparently designed for use in the tropics, was set up in an open field. A semi-tractor pulled the trailer containing the showers, plumbing, and heating elements of the unit. Next to the trailer was the undress area, enclosed by a canvas wall about three feet high and two feet off the ground that did little to stop the cold wind coming off the Hardt Mountains in early February. There were benches to sit on while undressing, a large and growing pile of dirty clothing, and a dirty duckboard walk leading into the elevated trailer bed.

 After the hot shower, there was another board walk "protected" by a four-foot canvas to a tent where we drew clean clothes, then out into an open area to put them on. By that time you sure had a frozen butt.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Division HQ was in the small Alsatian town of Imbsheim. The Division radio in the Division Command Net was set up in a warm building. It was an operating environment far superior to our cramped truck, despite the modifications we had made to make it more comfortable. We shared the operation of the Division radio in the Division command net with members of several other crews so we had a little bit of time off.

----------------------------------------------------------------

 We also monitored the "dits" every morning and thereby managed to get a pretty good variety in our breakfasts.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

     The local residents occasionally offered wine for sale. They charged an arm and a leg for it considering the quality of the wine. The main reason for the high cost was the bottle (le bouteille) which they could not replace. We were all familiar with bottle deposits back home on everything from milk, to soft drinks, to beer but here they were serious about it. The deposit was a lot more than the cost of the contents. Once we discovered that the wine was cheap if we just brought le bouteille  back we did that and soon had wine with every meal.

 -----------------------------------------------------------------

 Bouxwiller, where the 411th Infantry Regiment was in Division Reserve, became the focal point for a lot of leisure time activity.

 We saw a few recent movies including "Gaslight" and "Song of Bernadette" and  there was an occasional touring USO show, although we were probably the only place in the world that Bob Hope never visited.

 We did have two visits, however, from Marlene Dietrich who appeared in a flesh-colored skin-tight full-length gown with a long seductive slit up the side, that titillated everyone's hormones. She seemed to have been sewn into that dress. At each show she sang several songs. I'm not sure which ones but "Lili Marlene" comes to mind.  Then she enticed a  GI volunteer up onto the stage with her. She snuggled close up against him and walked around him rubbing against him suggestively, titillating more than just his hormones. It drove him and the appreciative audience wild.
 
 


Marlene's shapely gam

She closed the show by exiting the stage and then extending her shapely leg from behind a flap in the tent, exposing a  garter having one of our division shoulder patches attached. It brought down the house.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 During the February doldrums I was sitting on a low stone fence, cleaning my "grease gun," and watching a small twin-engine German plane flying high over the front. I then spotted a flight of P-47 Thunderbolts coming at him right out of the sun. There were puffs of smoke along their wings as they cleared their guns and peeled off after  him. I figured that the German pilot was a dead duck but when the first tracers zipped past him, he turned that plane straight up and the Thunderbolts passed at least a thousand feet under him. Then he simply left them like they were standing still.

 The German plane was a Messerschmidt ME-262,  the first practical jet fighter. It's a good thing the Germans were unable to get many of those off the assembly line. From what I saw, the ME-262 could fly circles around our best propeller driven planes.

----------------------------------------------------------

 While in Imbsheim, Mike Shindler was, once again, temporarily assigned as the third member of our crew and Seymour Fader was detached for other duty.

 Seymour was given a nasty assignment by Capt. Beck who "volunteered" him for the job. An infantry company had been pinned down in a mine field by mortar fire. A mortar round had killed the Company's radio operator and disabled his radio. An infantry radio set had been strapped on Fader's back and he and Bill Ballantine had been ordered by Beck to get it out to the infantry company. While crawling through the mine field, Ballantine was hit in the leg by shrapnel. Seymour crawled through the mortar fire to drag Bill to safety in an abandoned German bunker and eventually delivered the radio to the Company Commander. Meanwhile, the source of the mortar fire had been found and neutralized.  Fader was recommended for the Bronze Star for his action but Capt. Beck killed it.

 The scuttlebutt was that he did not intend for any of his enlisted men to get a medal until he had one.

 Fader had a keen sense of humor. While we were having a bull session outside of the Division radio room, Fader was chatting with George Bartlett, the same George Bartlett who had the mademoiselle plunk down beside him on the "ten holer" on the Marseille plateau. Bartlett wanted to practice his typing so he asked Fader to dictate to him.

 Fader, dictating slowly, and with pauses for thought, came up with the following, ala Ogden Nash.

How I love You La Belle France---(Or let Ogden N. Beware)

      Whenever I looked at a travel poster
           of France,
      I wanted to go there the moster
      Of any country in the world.

      She was like a gal bejeweled and pearled
           that gave me the come on,
      But when I came, she went on
           to show me her manure pile
      Instead of the Isle
           De France and Notre Dame.
      I'm sorry I came.

      Lots has been said about La Belle France,
           But she's become a pain in my pance,
      Because the wine that was supposed to flow in the streets
           like water
      And which I like to drink but hadn't awter
           Tasted like said water highly diluted
      Which instead of drunk,
           makes you polluted.

      What's more the prices they charge are exorbitant
      Unless you got empty bottles,
      Which reminds me of Coca Cola,
      A much better drink than you knowla.

      I had to find out by coming to France,
      That's why I say she's a pain in my pance.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

 One afternoon I was seated on my favorite outdoor chair, a low stone fence, watching a one-sided dog fight between some American planes and badly outnumbered German planes. It was all going on at high altitude but a shell from a nose cannon on one of the planes hit a building and exploded just a few feet from me. Lesson learned. All of that stuff they are shooting around up there has to come down somewhere.  Don't watch, get under cover.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 Things were pretty "GI" at Division Headquarters. The "Willie and Joe" look, popularized in Bill Mauldin's "Up Front" cartoons was out. Everyone had to shave and look like a garrison soldier. It was getting to be a real chicken outfit again but it was quiet and reasonably safe. A lot of "chicken" can be tolerated under those circumstances.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 We got occasional reminders that we were not completely safe, however. The Germans had a huge railway gun, nicknamed "Alsace Alice," that they used to lob shells into Division Rear, in Saverne, nearly 20 miles behind us. The shells sounded like freight trains going overhead. Luckily, the gun, which backed up into a railroad tunnel to hide after firing a few rounds, was located. A tactical air strike sealed off both ends of the tunnel and that was the last we heard from Alice.

_______________________________________________________
 
 

Back to the 411th

 "The Buddha," M/Sgt. Emil Boitos, called Bud Hennum's team together (by now, Fader had rejoined us) and told us to be ready to move out in one hour. We were going back to the 411th Infantry Regiment.  When things started heating up again, our crew was invariably sent back to the 411th so our truck was always ready to go on a moment's notice. We kept it that way. We had our gear loaded up in about 15 minutes and told him we were ready to go.

 He said, "OK, Let's get moving. I'm going with you to show you where the CP is located."

 I replied, "That's not necessary, Sarge. We have been to Bouxwiller before. I remember where the 411th CP is located. We'll find it."

 However, he insisted. He said the CP was kind of hard to find because it down a side road and he wanted to make certain we got there ok. He indicated that he would return to the Division CP with the radio team that we were relieving.

 Well, that was that. I got in behind the wheel; the Buddha got in the assistant driver's seat with his map board; Hennum and Seymour Fader who had replaced Mike Shindler piled in the back and we took off.

 Instead of taking the main road from Imbsheim to Bouxwiller, Buddha put us on a narrow lane that showed little sign of travel. When I questioned the route, he told me to stick to the driving and he would do the navigating, so I shut up.

 Before long we passed what appeared to be an infantry squad returning from a patrol. They gave us strange looks as we continued in the direction from which they had come.

 As we started around a bend in the road, I spotted something that looked suspiciously like a machine gun emplacement, slammed on the brakes, and backed up to a position of concealment even though there was very little protective cover.

 The Buddha studied his maps and decided that we probably should have turned at the last crossroad, but he wasn't too sure. It was clear to me that he was lost and retracing our tracks seemed like a great idea. There seemed to be room enough to back off the road to the right and then get the hell out of there, head first, --- much preferred to backing up for several miles.

 Everyone got out of the truck while I attempted to turn it around just in case the truck became visible to the machine gun emplacement during the maneuver.

 I was backing slowly into the narrow space. The Buddha was waving me back with encouraging words, "Come on back. Come on back."

 The other guys suddenly started shouting "NO! NO! STOP! STOP!" but the Buddha kept calmly waving me back, "Come on back. Come on back."

 Somewhere in the synapses of my brain "NO! STOP!" seemed more pertinent than a calm "Come on back." I climbed out to see what was up. That was a good move. When I reached the back of the truck, Hennum and Fader excitedly pointed to an anti-tank mine less than a foot behind my right rear wheel. The Buddha, intent on turning around, was backing me right onto the mine. He still had not seen it. I don't think he ever saw it. Luckily there were no shu mines scattered about. We probed carefully for other anti-tank mines that might lie along our projected path out of that spot and finding none we got out as fast as we could.

 We went all the way back to Imbsheim and started over. This time sticking to the direct main road.

 -----------------------------------------------------------------

 It turned out that on another occasion, The Buddha had gone with Matt Kovats' team, which included Fred Horne and Frankie Applebaum, to take them to another regimental CP. In an almost identical scenario, he guided them right up to a machine gun bunker. The truck came under heavy machine gun fire and everyone hit the ditch and worked their way back to a safer spot. The truck contained the classified Signal Operating Instructions (SOI) , an M-209 converter set on the current day's settings, and a copy of the Armed Forces Code (AFCODE) for that day. It would have been a prize for German Intelligence.

 An infantryman crawled up to the truck, got it turned around under heavy machine gun fire, and hauled tail back down the road with The Buddha, Kovats, Horne, and Applebaum scrambling to get aboard as he drove by because he was not about to slow down for them. Incredibly, no one was wounded in the event.

 After those two episodes, the word got around and every radio team found good excuses for doing their own navigating and they were aided and abetted by the radio operators at Division HQ who contrived some emergency to keep Master Sergeant Boitos at Division long enough for the team to get away on their own.

 Obviously, six stripes was no guarantee that the wearer was a competent map reader.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 We rejoined the 411th at Bouxwiller around March 10th. The Regimental Headquarters had received no orders concerning the upcoming big push but as soon as we arrived, the word spread rapidly. Hennum's team is back. Something BIG is about to happen. I suppose that it was the same at the other Regimental HQs. The return of the "A" teams spelled trouble. And so it was to be this time.

 Telephone calls between the Division and Regimental HQs increased in number. Colonel Yeuell and his key people were called back to Division for briefings. More and more hand-carried dispatches arrived. After all, we had been in a static situation for a long time and could not automatically assume that wire communication was secure.

 There was a growing tension and one did not have to be a staff officer to know that we would soon be in the thick of it again.

 Everyone knew.
______________________________________________________
 
 

"Operation  Undertone"

The Big Push, Head 'Em Up and Roll 'Em Out, March 15, 1945

 The artillery barrage that opened our offensive toward St. Diè on our very first day of combat was impressive but paled in comparison with the artillery display preceding the jump off of "Operation  Undertone", the big Spring Offensive, on March 15, 1945.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

 For the previous six weeks the Germans had received harassing rounds all along the front but they were so sporadic that they probably did not realize that every cannon, howitzer, and mortar in the VI Corps was being carefully zeroed in on specific targets.

 They all let go at once before dawn on March 15th.

 The 411th, starting from positions along the Moder River, went on the attack toward Muhlhausen.  It was the beginning of the final drive by the United States 7th Army and the 103d Infantry Division into the heart of Germany.  There were miles to go before the war in Europe would end, almost two months later, but this was to be a day of hard fighting to gain the first few yards and then a mile or less of that long journey.

 The Germans had almost two months to prepare their defenses of the roads, fields, and forest through which we must attack.  They had done their work exceedingly well having constructed defensive bunkers and machine-gun positions as well as destroying any terrain features that would give our advancing men cover from their fire.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 As the barrage started, Colonel Yeuell's driver stuck his head in Message Center where we were waiting and said, "Lets go."

 In the distance the sky was lit up and the flashes and rumble of artillery pieces behind us had the feel of a violent thunderstorm.

 As we continued onward, the place where the sky was lit up, a bit to our left, turned into a town under an awesome bombardment. The distinctive KRUMP! of incoming shells grew louder.

 I mumbled, "Jesus, I'm glad I'm not over there."

 Bud Hennum was in the assistant driver seat checking his map with a blacked-out flashlight. "Well, You're going to be. That's Muhlhausen. There is a river that goes right through the middle of it. The Krauts are in the part of the town on the other side of the river. We are going into the part of the town on this side."

 "How wide is that river?"

 "About fifty feet!"

 "Fifty feet?  Jesus! No artillery can fire that accurately!"

 The shells poured into Muhlhausen so rapidly that it now seemed like one continuous explosion. 81mm mortars were splattering white phosphorous all over the town. The white smoke streaming from particles of phosphorus arching through the air brought into focus the reality of our situation. Some of the rounds were falling short. If that stuff landed on our truck it would go up in flames.

 KRUMP! That was another high explosive (HE) incoming round and it was close, too close. Forget about the phosphorous. One of those HE rounds could do us all in.

  Now we were in the town and HE rounds were landing on the roofs of buildings all around us. Terra cotta tile fragments were flying everywhere. Were those ours falling short or returning fire from the Krauts?  It didn't much matter. We could be just as dead either way.

 Colonel Yeuell seemed to know exactly where he was going. His driver turned into a very narrow passageway between two buildings and pulled up enough for us to follow. I hesitated, remembering the mines back in Rougeville our first day on the line, but several close incoming rounds helped me make up my mind. I turned in behind him, Hennum followed him into the building to verify that this would be the advance CP and then hollered, "Run in the Spiral-4 and get the hell out of that truck."

 I did not have to be told twice.

 The battle for Muhlhausen continued through the day.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 Things did not start off well for the Construction section of the 103d Signal Company.

 For example, March 15, 1945 is a day that Manuel Berman, will never forget.

 Early that morning, a wire team led by Sgt. Paul Murray went to the "wirehead," the point in the Division Command Post where they would secure their telephone wire for connection into the communication control switchboard. Manuel Berman learned from Sgt. Murray that he had a special ad hoc assignment. He would be part of a two-man team to hand-carry a telephone line following the advancing infantry soldiers. Melvin Yuds would be his partner.  They were a strange physical combination. Yuds was tall and well built, while Berman was smaller and not nearly as strong.  They would carry a steel reel containing a half mile of telephone wire that was mounted on a pipe axle held on each end by somebody.

 Yuds was the newest member of this four or five-man wire team which usually operated laying this same type of wire from the back of a truck using a rack which carried larger reels.  Yuds had come from a Replacement Depot,  a source of men who had newly arrived in Europe or who had been in action but had been wounded or withdrawn from an active assignment and were again ready for "front line" duty.

 Berman and Yuds immediately started following the advancing riflemen and laying wire which was to be an important element in the communication with the division CP.

 The American artillery barrage that had preceded the initial advance had been awesome, the heaviest in the war.  Fog and smoke covered the countryside, a result of the phosphorous and high explosive shells we had thrown at the Germans.

 Infantrymen were strung out all over, moving through the shell scarred terrain by rushes and evasive actions. German 88mm artillery and mortar fire was very heavy and explosions could be seen all around.  Berman and Yuds were moving and dropping continually.  The wire reel got heavier and heavier and since Berman was much shorter than Yuds, it leaned on him more.  Yuds realized this and several times he carried the reel by himself 15 to 20 yards at a clip.  They began to see casualties --- theirs and ours. Pretty grim stuff.

 As they entered a woods, the German fire became more intense.  They tried to phone back to wirehead over they line they were laying. It was a dead line. Perhaps the wire had been cut by a shell burst.  This plan wasn't going to work. However, the two pushed on.

 About 20 minutes into the woods it happened ---a tremendous explosion very close to them.  Berman was thrown up and backward many feet. His M-1 rifle was slammed against a tree where the stock cracked and splintered. His helmet landed about 20 feet away. He was badly shaken and scared but, otherwise, seemed O.K.

 Berman looked around and saw Yuds crumpled on the ground and not moving. He turned him over and saw that he was terribly wounded in the stomach, side, and arm. Yuds was unconscious.  Berman shouted for a medic. An infantryman stopped to help and a medic arrived a minute or so later.

 The medic said that there were abandoned German bunkers all over and that he needed some cover before Yuds could be treated. They found one about 30 yards away and carried Yuds there. The medic tried to stop the bleeding but it was too massive. He shook his head and said he didn't think Yuds would make it and that he had to help others.

 At least Yuds was unconscious and perhaps not aware of the extent of his injuries.

 The medic and the infantryman left and very soon an Infantry lieutenant appeared near the bunker looking for his men and he wanted Berman to accompany him. Just about then another wire-team member, Arthur Decker, appeared looking for Berman and Yuds to rejoin that group. That saved Berman from becoming an interim infantryman.

 Berman and Decker headed back. The German shelling was not as heavy as before. Berman picked up a carbine to replace the M-1 rifle he had lost. It stayed with him until the end of the war.

 Berman and Decker headed toward an engineer-built bridge leading into town. MPs near the bridge waved at them frantically to move faster. As they crossed the bridge, it became apparent why. Shells were coming in all around the bridge. The Germans had it zeroed in, having destroyed the original one.

 Berman followed the MPs into a building and immediately fell headlong down some stairs. He was not hurt. He landed on some poor villagers using this cellar as a bomb shelter.

 Sometime later, the shelling stopped. Berman moved out and found the rest of his wire team a few blocks away, where he reported Yuds' condition.

 We would never learn more about Yuds' background. He didn't make it.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 When our infantry moved out on the attack early this morning, they met a great deal of determined, deadly, defense.  When the front had been pushed back a few miles and there was a need for longer wire communication lines, the wire team, controlled by Sgt. Eugene Jones, started forward to lay a Traffic Control line to send information back for the senior officers' information.

 Traffic Control lines had always been a nuisance because usually no one wanted them after you put them in and the guy on the end was never around when you wanted him to be, but they were not too hard to lay so when Jones' men started out in the morning they didn't think of anything but the weather and trying to keep out  of trouble with our army or theirs.

 It was hot, dry, and dusty --- poor conditions for road work, but probably much better than the cold and ice our soldiers had seen when they were last fighting. In this area little towns and villages were sometimes less than a mile apart. Sgt. Jones' crew, which included Bill Barclay, Rudy Dortman and John Anania, moved up one town and heard rumors that the next town was running a little behind schedule as far as its liberation was concerned so the MPs were stopping some of the more cautious traffic.  Jones' men moved out of the town with their lines.

 Even this close to the action, Sgt. Jones wanted to put the line overhead or at least up off of the roadside.  He left Dortman and Barclay to do it while the truck-team went on up the road with its wire.  Across the rolling hills the "wire police-up" men could hear a machine gun chattering and a few other noises which meant the going was tough up ahead but they moved on up because as long as they were behind the truck they thought they would be reasonably safe.

 It was almost impossible to hang wire on the small trees and poles that lined the road because of the many shu mines scattered about so they made good time on their approach to the scene of activity ahead.  Those machine gun sounds and other disturbing noises were coming closer as they approached the now stopped truck.  The discouraged, tired, faces and worried looks of the GIs already in the area told a story of rough going.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 The wire truck was parked right in the center of the road and to the left of it the 614 Tank Destroyers had hastily set up their guns and the crews were taking cover in fox holes that had been dug by the Germans who had defended the position just a few minutes earlier.  These Negro troops were excellent soldiers, very brave, fast, and accurate, --- (and had some of the best chow lines that we occasionally dropped in on when we were far afield and hungry).

 The 614th had fought with distinction at Climbach and it was impressive to see them, once again, coming up the road and going into action with their guns without a lost motion. They were extremely effective.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 A hundred yards ahead of the truck and over a slight rise and curve in the road were the remains of a bridge over a small stream.  The Germans had destroyed the bridge and sown the area with tank and anti-personnel mines.  Enemy artillery also had this position zeroed in.

 The engineers were trying to clear the debris in order to put in another bridge to carry the traffic of the convoys waiting to move equipment and supplies up to the infantry men who had passed this point earlier that morning.

 The first soldiers had been met by strong resistance  and many of them were lying dead in the sun with their bodies and clothing torn to shreds. The combination of the artillery fire and the mine fields had been devastating.

 To the left of the bridge site was a Sherman tank which had hit a mine. One of its tracks had been blown off and the tank was disabled.  The tank men were close by. One was draped over the open turret where he had been shot as he came out.  At least two of the others hit mines before they could get to cover.

 Most of these casualties had occurred in earlier action. The wire  team was interested in the current action. They found a spot where they could see from a position that was not exposed nearly as much as the engineers and others nearer the stream.  Two members of the wire team, John Anania and Bill Barclay, had gone forward past their truck to check on the delay and the action taking place.

 Occasionally an engineer using a mine detector would venture out in spite of the fire from a hidden machine gun.  This bridge was urgently needed and had to be back put in operation. Anania and Barkley returned to the truck to report what they had seen.

 While all were back at the truck, and as Sgt. Jones was calling back to Division HQ to tell them of the delaying situation, they heard an explosion at the bridge-site. Barkley and Anania  hurried back to see what was happening.

 One of the engineers had walked onto a wooden shu mine that his detector wouldn't detect and was lying there with a black cloud of smoke over him and his foot blown off.

 The call for the medics went out and very shortly a medic jeep came up from the rear.  They drove as close as they could to the group of men working, without getting into the open field.

 A medic and an engineer with a mine-detector made their way with a stretcher out to the wounded man.  With the victim on the stretcher they started back the 20 yards to the road and the waiting jeep.

 The lead man (an engineer using his detector) was well aware of the danger and watched his every step, but, as Barkley and Anania watched he hit another shu mine and the three of them went tumbling.

 The lead man, because of the extra weight of the man on the stretcher, had his leg badly injured.  The man being carried on the stretcher caught lots of rock and debris in his back to add to his other injuries and the medic at the rear was also sprayed by debris and was down.  This was more action and danger than the wire team was expecting. With a feeling of sorrow and helplessness they started back toward the truck.

 The rest of the wire crew was milling around the truck and uneasy about all of the noise and confusion from around the bend at the site of the blown bridge.

 They had all, for no apparent reason, started away from the truck when a barrage of 88mm German artillery shells began to fall almost on top of them.

 The best cover they could find for protection from the shrapnel  was the shallow ditches along the road edge, - about 8 inches of depression.  The scream of the incoming shells gave them slight warning but, by the time the first or second one landed, they were making the best of this cover.

 The shells came in at about five or six second intervals and from the start it was evident that the target was their truck and the large, iridescent red, friend-or-foe aircraft identification panel stretched across the top of the body.

 Anania and Barclay were in the ditch on the side of the road closest to the German gun so that the shell fragments were splattering mostly away from them but it didn't seem that they had any extra safety at the time.

 Rudy Dortman and some of the other fellows were on the side of the road getting most of the shrapnel.  Rudy started wiggling away from the truck but the frequency of the shell bursts didn't allow for any long periods of movement. Rudy stopped with his heels in the face of a foot-soldier behind him.  It was just as well because in his crawling he was heading for less sheltered ground although he would have been further from the truck.

 After the fourth or fifth explosion, the man behind Rudy began shrieking and calling for the medics and it was evident that he, or someone near him, had been hit.

 Each shell sounded and felt like it was right under or on top of them, and threw shrapnel and pieces of the road and countryside on them. They thought they couldn't possibly escape injury of some kind.

 Anania and Barclay were furthest forward and as they moved back, the fellow behind where Rudy had been was very panicky and screaming for the medics.  The side of his head was covered with blood and it was running out between the fingers of the hand he was holding to his head.  They tried to quiet and calm him by telling him that the medics were right there a few yards away when actually the medics were still loading the victims of the mine explosions
.
 This fellow had been hit by a piece of shrapnel about the size of a half dollar that went through his helmet and liner.  They had slowed it down, perhaps enough to save his life.

 Very soon the medics and a jeep load of mine victims came up and a medic put the soldier's first aid pack on him (none of the wire team had thought of that), and they put him in the jeep.

 The medics' jeep had a stretcher across the rear, along one side and across the hood ---- room for three and a passenger seat that was now occupied by a young engineering officer who had become emotionally disturbed by the recent action and injuries to his men.

 A field grade officer, a Major or Lt. Colonel, had arrived to take charge of the situation and had put him there.

 Those victims of the mine explosions were in shock.  One fellow, with his foot broken off above the ankle and hanging by a few pieces of skin, flesh and cloth, was sitting up on the stretcher across the back of the jeep.  His face was peaceful and glassy, dirty and tired, but almost without a sign of physical pain, the combination of shock and the morphine administered by a medic must have been very effective to put this man so at ease.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 The wire truck was badly damaged; three flat tires, radiator blasted in many places, shrapnel holes in the body and windshield.  They backed it down the road a little bit and tore the red panel off of it.

 Sgt. Jones called in to the wire-head to inform them of the shelling.  They sent out a larger truck to tow them in after helping to change the tires. The motor pool fixed the truck so it would run in about three hours.

 Capt. Beck said he needed those wire trucks out there!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Sgt. Jones' wire crew returned to Division Headquarters, rested, and ate and thought that they had a pretty rough time.  Returning from the mess hall they learned what had happened to Sgt. Jack Conn and his team.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 Conn's crew had gone out to finish a line to an advance CP that another team had started. Conn's 2½ ton truck had taken the wrong road out of a little village up the way and they had run onto a string of road mines. Conn, who was riding in the passenger's seat, had been killed and Donald "Bunny" Rogers, the driver, had lost a leg. The other members of the wire team, riding in the back of the truck, were hospitalized with injuries.

 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Carl Wendell from the Telephone and Telegraph Section also lost a leg but I do not have the details of how it happened.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Sgt. Jones' crew worked the better part of the day (March 15) and that evening they started out to lay a division advance line to Gumbrechtshoffen, a small village in an area of rolling hills and green fields.

 The plan was to go as far forward with the truck as  the good roads and tactical situation would allow.  The truck and part of the crew would return with two lines to the forward switch board in the burning village behind them.

 Joe Aterno, the jeep driver for the Division Signal Officer, met them at that point and took Jones, Anania, and Barclay back toward the action area with some small reels of wire that could be laid by hand.

 They didn't get far in the jeep before Lt. Colonel Brown stopped them and said it would not be possible for the jeep to go any further without drawing enemy fire.

 They unloaded their equipment and Anania and Barclay took off laying a single wire circuit down a dirt country road through the hills and fields. Sgt. Jones was carrying the extra wire reels forward to a point where the wire being laid would run out.  Colonel Brown was right about the enemy fire.  The Krauts must have seen the wire team  from a distant observation point and directed occasional mortar fire their way. They were landing far enough away not to hurt anyone, but close enough to cause the wire layers to jump into a lot of muddy holes, delaying the operation a bit.

   Half way to the mine field on the edge of the village, they passed through a gully.  Some members of a mortar squad, who were lying or sitting there waiting for the medics to come and evacuate them, told Bill and John not to take any chances.  The Kraut fire had been pretty rough and they had been victims of it.

 Barclay and Anania went out, after a brief discussion convinced them that the mortar men were sincere, but probably still shaken from their experience.

 They continued to lay wire and soon came to the place where the mortar squad had been hit.  They apparently had been moving forward down the road and during the attack had abandoned a lot of their equipment before retreating to the gully.

 Barclay picked up a carbine to replace his heavy M1 rifle (that he seldom carried, anyway). Of course, neither he nor Anania had carried rifles on this walk in the country.

 The mortar shells had been less frequent, but began to become more of a threat.  The road was now passing along a fence with German signs "MINEN!" on it.  The edge of the village was still half a mile away so they continued a bit further before a decision to turn back was made.  The partial wire reel was left for some future adventurers.

 Coming back, the shelling was rougher. Occasional mortar shells kept them jumping.  While Barclay policed the wire out of the road, Anania walked along with his helmet off the side of his head so he could hear the whine of the shells above the breeze whistling across the countryside.

 With an almost uncanny fourth sense he would give the alarm and they would hit the ground in a  pit or shell hole each had picked out with an eye to the future.

 Passing the mortar squad equipment again, each of them picked up a combat jacket liner with fur on the inside. They turned them inside-out and wore them looking like a couple of apes.  This was not the first or the last time that fatigue, stress, or danger had caused Construction Section personnel to act weirdly.

____________________________________________
 
 

Muhlhausen: The Messerschmidt, the Focke Wulf, and the P-47

 The 411th advance CP in Muhlhausen was split between two small buildings separated by about twenty feet and joined by a wall about four feet high and four feet thick. There seemed to be no good reason for this wall other than to make a defensive strong point of this cluster of buildings. Midmorning, I had to go from one building to the other. I was crouched down hugging the wall when machine gun tracers flashed over head. I looked up just in time to see an Me-109 roar overhead making a strafing pass followed by a Focke Wulf 190. The Focke Wulf dropped a single bomb well beyond the CP and then both of the planes banked to the left and headed down the valley. Sitting way up above, watching the whole affair, was the pilot of an American P-47 Thunderbolt.
 
 

P-47 Thunderbolt

 As the two German planes clung to the deck, they encountered a multiple 50s ack-ack unit and the Focke Wulf was shot down. The pilot of the P-47, unmindful of the fact that he would be firing directly at American troops but seeing only a chance for an easy kill swooped down on the tail of the Messerschmidt just as it came around for a second pass. This time we were ready for him. He came down precisely the same line as on his first run. His bullets chewed up the other side of the wall and then the tracers were well overhead. I peeked over the wall and saw a cone of tracers converging on the cockpit. The canopy disintegrated but the pilot kept firing. I could see the pilots face clearly. He was going to pass directly over the wall and about fifty feet off the deck. I aimed my grease gun well out in front of him,  panned slowly in the same direction as his line of flight, and fired a full magazine letting him pass directly through it. I was directly under the aircraft and figured that no one had a better shot at him than I did. Then I ducked as the wall got chewed up again by machine gun fire and I did not have time to eject and insert the magazine taped to the one I had just emptied. None of us in Muhlhausen had seen the Focke Wulf get shot down. A P-47 bears a very close resemblance to a Focke Wulf 190, especially if it is shooting at you.

Focke Wulf 190

 On the first pass the Me-109 was followed by a Focke Wulf. It was logical to assume that the plane we saw following the Me-109 on the second pass was the same Focke Wulf so every one in town except me (and I would have if I could have) opened up on the P-47. As I looked back at the Messerschmidt a thick black plume of smoke trailed out of the engine compartment.

 The P-47 did not seem to be in any trouble but I understand that it had to make a crash landing in a field down the valley and that the pilot came out fighting mad. Good! The selfish S.O.B.  had shot up our positions just to get what he thought would be a sure kill. But he did not get credit for the Me-109. While the whole canopy had been shot away by ground fire, the pilot was unhurt and what brought him down was one 45 caliber slug from directly below that had hit an oil line. Although his canopy had been shattered, there was not another bullet hole in the entire plane.

 It was against orders to fire any 45 caliber weapon at aircraft because the muzzle velocity was so low that the chance of hitting a fast moving plane was nil. I don't know for certain that one of my slugs hit that oil line ------ but nobody had a better shot at him than I did. The thing that amazed me was that there was only one hole in the plane. I would have been willing to bet a month's pay that I had hit him with at least half of the slugs from my 30 shot magazine. Well, someone's 45 caliber slug got him. It could have been mine. I like to think that it was.

 That was the only time I actually fired my weapon at the enemy but I had no qualms about it. He was trying to kill me.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 After the breakthrough at Muhlhausen, I was driving our radio truck right behind Colonel Yeuell's jeep in a column of trucks and tanks that was bogged down for some reason. An ME-109 strafed the column from the rear to the front. It was SOP at the time to throw a black smoke grenade under your vehicle to obscure the target and to make the pilot think that he had destroyed more vehicles than he really had. As I dove for cover, I grabbed a smoke grenade and rolled it under the truck.

Messerschmidt ME-109

 Unfortunately, the one I grabbed filled the air with high-visibility fluorescent-orange smoke. I called to Bud Hennum, our crew chief, "Sorry, I thought I had a black one."

 Bud hollered back, "Great!  ... I don't think you fooled anyone with that grenade."



 
 
Navigation Bar
Back
Feedback
Next