103D INFANTRY DIVISION
Internal and External Conflicts of December '44 - March '45
14. French Maginot And German Siegfried Lines
The first week of December 1944 saw the 103d Division, and other elements of the 7th Army concluding the battle for Selestat and gaining control of main road junctions that could lead to pushing the Germans back toward their western border and possibly make it possible for Allied forces - primarily the French First Army -to exert pressure on the German forces in the "Colmar Pocket".
The Germans still were able to maintain a defensive perimeter, or "pocket" fairly deep in the most southern Allied Front, in a position to press an attack on the flank of any possible Allied advance in that area. This unfortunate condition existed right up to the very end days of the war and continued to be a source of contention. among Allied leaders.
A reorganization and relocation of the military units was also taking place. Task Force Selestat continued and then concluded the assault on the Germans at Selestat before moving northward to rejoin other elements of the 103d division and the 7th Army for a brief rest.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Friday, December
Washed clothes before we pulled out around 3 p.m. for Division advance. We went through quite a few towns. Fog and mist hung heavy below many of the hills. We see many crucifixes along the roads. We passed many stalwart road blocks constructed by the Nazis and cleared by our engineers.
We also passed tank columns and lines of Infantry -- and many dead Germans strewn along the road. We finally got away up front to a town. We set up in a sock factory and availed ourselves of the opportunity by securing several pairs. Operated the radio set from 9 till 12 p.m., with little traffic. Felt good on the key.
On Saturday, December 2, 1944 - We were at Dambach La Ville. I worked on radio shift all morning. C Ration chow (per usual). Cleaned out the radio truck, cleaned my rifle. By noon the whole Division had moved up and set up the C.P. in a factory. Our set was remoted as N.C.S. (Net Control Station) in the factory boiler room. That gave us an idea. It was cold, so we started a fire in the boiler. The "J" area was set up on the road near the town arch, which was Dambach La Ville.
Off to the east was a first view of the Rhine River plains and no mountains. Could also see fires off in the flat lands from artillery. Slept in the boiler room on radio duty.
On Sunday, December 3, 1944 - I was on radio duty on remote by the boiler from 12 to 6 a.m. Not much traffic. Slow day. Read and wrote mail and covered shifts. Couldn't connect with church service in town. On the next day, I awakened at 6 a.m. to relief, an operator on the truck. It was raining and miserable out. Waited without relief, and finally at 9 a.m. we pulled out the remote and got ready to move out. We had to drag a trailer along (not unusual), but it gave us some trouble. We got lost from the convoy and had to proceed alone. We went through Epfig, Barr, Molsheim and finally Gugenheim, the new Division C.P., as the 103d continued to move ahead in the Vosges. Gugenheim is about 45 miles north of Dambach. We stopped for pretty good chow at quartermaster. Rich farming country with vineyard poles and many grapevines. The Divisions moved north for regrouping and reassignment from 6th to 15th Corps. This time "J" Area set up in a beer hall (getting better!). Slept in a barn with a good hot stove. Enemy planes overhead and we heard ack-ack around 8 p.m.
OUR MEN: BECK - letter home
I think you once asked me if we were on the front lines. Hell, we haven't been out of the front lines yet! From the time we landed on the beaches at Marseille (what seems like ages ago) we've been at it. And they used to say that the 103rd would never leave Texas!
We came into a town a short while back that had just been taken after some pretty heavy fighting. Most of it was quite beat up. Our headquarters was going to set up there for a while so I had to find a place for my company. The people speak German here and since I was still struggling with my French, I had a hard time. I did finally salvage a house after a great deal of arm waving and gesturing, using French, german and English in one sentence.
The woman, incidently, had just had her brother taken captive by the Nazis before we moved in.
Just being overseas and being in combat overseas are two different things really. Just being overseas is like being the states except your family is so far away. Being in action is when it really counts. It's hard to say exactly how one feels. First, there is a terrific strain, a kind of pressure on your mind. It's a strain that merely wears you out with doing anything. It gets lonely - we all get homesick. Mail becomes such a big item - packages from home also rate very high. Everything at home seems to take on a new and greater meaning, much deeper and sincere than ever imagined.
I think that when these boys go back home they will be the best citizens the country had. Morale is usually very high in a fighting unit. It's high without the frivolous things that are necessary in the states, such as dances, movies, athletics, passes and service clubs. Comradeship literally juts to the fore - and that's how they live - and die.
On December 3, we were pulled out of the line to get a little rest and to get cleaned up. We moved back to near Rumerscheim. A Quartermaster Corp. mobile shower unit, designed for use in the tropics, was set up in an open field. A semi-truck pulled the trailer containing the showers, plumbing and heating elements of the unit. Adjacent to the trailer was the undress area, a canvas perimeter two feet off the ground that did little to stop the cold wind coming off the Vosges Mountains in early December . There were benches to sit on while undressing, a large and growing pile of dirty clothing and a dirty wet board 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 ass.
We were billeted in barns. The kitchen outfits set up in the courtyards, as far from manure piles as possible. Some of us found better quarters in houses by cooperating with the local folks.
Our infantry and support troops made rapid advance toward the Franco-German border through open but wet country, rolling hills and small mountains in an area that had been prepared over years for defense of the borders. The French Maginot Line that we encountered was facing in a direction to repel an advance by the Germans. They were now retreating back through it and we were attacking them from the blind side of the fortifications. The Germans were not able to occupy and defend those concrete barriers, so they established their defenses just beyond the normal fields of fire that extended beyond the forts.
The French had not built their fortifications for a defense-in-depth so that when our infantry was able to push the enemy beyond the shallow defense corridor, the forts were no longer a factor in the fighting. This situation favoring our forces would not prevail when we very soon were to encounter the German Siegfried Line defenses.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY'
On the 4th of December we moved to Wasselheim, and five days later, to a cement factory in Hockfelden. On the 14th we arrived in Woerth near the Hagenau Forest. This was the first tavern to be occupied... complete with beer on tap. One noncommissioned officer appointed himself bartender... his name won't be mentioned because he is still living. Perhaps this explains why we didn't move out until the day before Christmas.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - DECEMBER
4, 1944 GOUGENHEIM 4 NIGHTS
This was the most romantic of all our Set-Ups, and one that we will always remember (1991, ANANIA and Barclay, the only men from Jones' team still around, say that certainly is so).
We stayed with the "Familie Mueller", but to us Gougenheim will always be "Mary's House". These folks were really anxious for us to stay with them. They came out while we were still driving around looking for a place to stay but we passed them by once. At this time, in this section of Alsace, we still had to ask the people if they would be willing to share their houses (barns, etc.)with us. Most of the folks were glad we were in the area, but sharing, was not often offered, and at times there were lots of good or bad excuses.
To have people come out and invite us in as this family seemed willing to do was exceptional. When we circled back to their house to stay, we found out how exceptional this family was.
Mary seemed to be the head of the household. She and her family did everything in their power to treat us just like we were members of the family.
There were feasts that lasted four or five hours made up of whatever they could beg or borrow locally and we could beg or steal from the Company Kitchen (a lot!). There was wine and schnapps and ersatz coffee with chicory one time, it was terrible) and then plenty of good GI coffee when we realized these folks hadn't even smelled the good-stuff for years.
Mary was a widow lady. Her husband had died before the war, with 2 children and her father-in-law and perhaps another adult all living together. Crowded as it was before 6 of us came, they seemed to make room and comfort for us.
Mary cut the German blankets (that Rudy and Bill had picked up) and sewed them into our field jackets which had not been very warm. She told us, and we knew, that this material was not nearly as good as the GI Army blankets that we had, but it just was not possible to get one to cut up. She looked after us like a bunch of chicks.
On our last night, this
family and some of their neighbors, had a very special entertainment dinner
for us. They were all dressed in very colorful local costumes and
best dress clothes, brought small accordions to play, dance and sing with,
had special desserts, and made every effort to make us feel special.
The special folks that night were the local citizens. We came back
to this wonderful place from the next Set-up and again several times from
Imbsheim months later and many miles away.
Each time they could almost sense us coming, as if they were looking down the road, and each time Mary and her family made it seem just like home.
It was near Gougenheim that
we just missed our first attack by the German airforce. We had gone down
to the wire dump (storage area for wire supplies) to pick up several reels
of 1 mile of W110B communications wire that we would need to continue with
our line laying activities. We were not too anxious to be out working
and took some extra time in loading and rearranging the equipment on the
When we finally got under way, but were still at the edge of town, three ME109s came down fast and low and started to shoot up the traffic that was out on the open road. They did some damage but were driven off by nearby anti-aircraft fire. If we had been more efficient in our loading, we certainly would have been out there with some of those who were hit.
The threat and reality of air attacks on members of the Signal Company working close to the front line troops increased the thrill of daily toil.
This sector of the Rhine valley of Alsace had a very good network of roads that made attack and counter-attack much easier than had been previously possible in the areas of 103d action. For the first time, we were in danger of being attacked by the German airforce and on December 10, two ME109 and a F.W. were shot down by our defending antiaircraft units near Pfaffenhofen.
OUR MEN: DONLAN -
Tuesday, December 5, 1944 - Gougenheim
Breakfast interrupted by ack-ack and machine guns. We hit the dirt! It was enemy ME-109's firing at an artillery column and our C.P. The rat-a-tat-tat was scary. One of the planes was reported downed. Sat around the fire on a rainy day and sipped hot cocoa. Most of the people around here speak German, wear wooden shoes, drink schnapps and say they hate the Germans -- Nazis.
On the next day, I lucked
out and had hot cakes on my birthday soon after our set (Sgt. Lake's) relieved
the 411th set so they could come in for a motor check. We sat without
traffic, wrote letters, listened to music in the rain and helped early
birds finish their Christmas package treats. Not much sleep because
I pulled air raid alert guard from 10-12 p.m. C'est le guerre.
(1995 Editor's note: Donlan's reference to "Sgt. LAKE" as the leader of a radio operating crew, when I can find no reference to this operating unit is probably a result of the fact that there were, from time to time, groups of men who were assigned to work together in special situations but were not a recorded part of our "very comprehensive "Table of Organization". It is also likely to be a result of lapse of memory of a few of us and/or the "Fog of War" a term usually defining important stuff such as what Eisenhower, Beck, or Natoli did at a particular time.
COMPANY REPORT DECEMBER 1944 - EXCERPT
On 6 December 1944, in this vicinity, the Signal Company troops were initiated in another phase of modern warfare; namely, strafing from the air, this being the first time that enemy air activity had been encountered. An enemy aircraft and alert systems were established at this time whichserved to alert the Division CP forces as soon as the alert warning was broadcast by the Anti Aircraft (AAA) battalion Bn. This has served very satisfactorily in the CP area, but the signal man in the field still has to rely on aircraft identification, and maintain a state of alertness and readiness, and be prepared to dive for the nearest hole, or behind the nearest fortification, be it tree, bridge, vehicle, or dung pile.
On December 5th, northern Alsace passed from the control of the 7th Army XV Corps to the VI Corps to which the 103d Infantry Division was assigned. On December 6th, the 103d relieved the 45th Infantry Division in the vicinity of Gougenheim.*MODER
OUR MEN: BECK - France 5
This morning a couple of Stukas tore loose out of the sky and went belching their machine-guns at tree-top level. They come in so fast it's hard to spot them. The ack-acks caught one in the nose and it went down in flames. I watched the proceedings from behind a wall 3 feet thick - of concrete. In air-attacks like that the only thing for someone like me to do is get out of the damned way. Every time I hear a motor I get anxious and uneasy. When I get back to the states I'll jump every time I hear a plane.
OUR MEN: TOM BROWN
One day we were laying wire when we heard a strafing airplane coming our way. We unloaded and rolled into the ditches. I looked up and said, "That's not a German ME-109, its an American P-51." The pilot made a deadly mistake. Instead of strafing away from our lines he strafed toward our lines. This made him a hostile aircraft, and we were instructed to shoot at all hostile aircraft. When I saw him, the quad 50 anti-aircraft guns were working him over.
As he passed out of range of one another would pick him up. All of a sudden at about 500 feet altitude the plane rolled over and plunged into the ground, where it exploded into huge ball of fire and smoke.
HILLARD went over to the wreck and reported that the pilot, a young lieutenant, was a ball of burning flesh. We guessed that the pilot had been an operational type out to get in his monthly flying hours, when he decided he wanted to kill some Germans. The only problem was he didn't know the rules of the game.
In accordance with SHAEF's plan the 103d turned to the north. Part of the 410th entered Mertzwiller on the 7th of December. On 10 December the 411th was near Gunderschoffen, the 410th cleaned out Mertzwiller, and then entered the western edge of the Hagenau Forest.
During the night of December 7/8, 1944, the 103d relieved elements of the 45th and 79th divisions on the Zintel river from Uttenhofen to Mertzwiller. There is active German resistance all along the front facing us. The enemy is giving up ground very slowly, defending every possible position along the road at junctions, and other places defensive positions can be built in anticipation of our advance. The preparation time gives the defenders a great advantage.
In areas where there are trees by the roadside, they have had explosive charges wrapped around them and detonated to cause a jumble of tree trunks and debris on the road that the advancing foot soldiers have to work their way through with the assistance of the mine sweeping engineers. Before any vehicles (like ours) can pass through the construction engineers must clear the roads.
We were back into the action on the night of December 7th. It rained on us all night. At dawn we made a charge across the sodden ground of an open field, and up into a slightly wooded area. The mortar shells that had been falling on us in the field, were now coming in flat. Some of them were sliding on the wet ground and not exploding. Sgt. Weslowski was to my right about 10 feet when I saw his left arm disappear as a 120mm mortar took it off without exploding. Another landed two or three feet to my left without exploding. Weslowski hollered for help. I didn't think this jerk ever helped anyone, so I told him, "Help yourself, you son-of-a-bitch! Then I yelled, "Let's go!". Everyone followed. We overran the mortar crew and captured a large number of prisoners.
OUR MEN: DONLAN -
Friday, December 8, 1944
Midnight radio shift, sick with dysentery and word that we were to move again! We went through the towns of Wasselnheim, Hoch Feloen (quite large) and Ettendorf. Our C.P. ended up at La Walch. The towns around here aren't badly damaged and are fairly neat. Now our C.P. is in a lumberyard. Our crew went into a cold upstairs room in a home, but we got two soft feather tick beds -- tried to converse a little with the people downstairs in German (so-so). Radio silence, so we got a good night's sleep.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - DECEMBER
8, 1944 LAWALK 5 NIGHT
We are just across the river from Pfaffenhoffen. This is the setup where we began to have trouble with the evil of drink. DORTMAN and TISCH had too much of the schnapps that Mary gave us and both of them were too sick to work and so we had to leave them behind for a day or so. This was a fairly minor problem, for the most part all of us were trying to do our best for the team and the army.
We were now out into more open country and there seemed to be some advantage from time-to-time to just pull the wire off of the reels and to drag it across fields rather than to drive around on the road to reach a point we could plainly see. This seldom really worked as well and efficiently as we hoped. It could also be dangerous to use unusual procedures.
One morning we laid a line by truck and by dragging in the fields to the other side of a little town that was in the direction of the combat front without going through the town and then returned to our starting point until afternoon.
After lunch, we went back out to complete the job. While we were still on a hill overlooking the area of our morning work we were surprised to see a lot of combat activity in and around "our town".
Our infantry was moving forward toward the town and were receiving at lot of fire from an area that was in the field about 500 yards from where we had left the end of our line in the morning. We stood on the hill and watched the machine gun tracers and the mortar shells and other projectiles flying back and forth just a stones throw from where we so innocently walked during the morning.
The Germans seemed to have
an observation post set up in the top of the church steeple in the
town. Just about the time we arrived, the 614 TD crews arrived with
their 3 inch guns drawn by half tracks and we had a first hand view of
There were two gun crews of about 10 men. They towed the guns into firing position on the road, detached them, unloaded a few shells for each, and then moved the towing half-tracks back to safer positions. It seemed that it was just minutes from their arrival that they were firing at the church steeple and another target in the fields with great accuracy and good results.
These 'WARRIOR' (their combat code name) boys were plenty good. This was a time before the integration of the negro (black) men into all of the units of the army and for the most part they were used in transportation and other service units, seldom in combat outfits.
Some of the men who had joined the army from the South even when they recognized the ability and character of the negro (black) fighters, seemed to think that they must be very unusual and not typical.
Most of the soldiers however after a short period of time and experience in the field and in action with these troops modified their opinion to a real respect for the competence, character, and truly good spirit of the men of the 614th and the very few other negro (black) men we saw.
On December 9th, Taskforce FOREST drove through the Hagenau Forest in the early stages of an attack to breakthrough the German West Wall (Siegfried Line). The Taskforce was composed of an unit of the 103d Reconnaissance Company, a 409th rifle company, a company of the 756th Tank Battalion and Company A of the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The 614th TD was a Negro unit. It had five white battalion officers and the remainder of the staff was Negro and all the Company officers were Negroes too. It had landed at Utah Beach on 8 October. The Battalion was first committed to action 28 November in the Moselle sector. It was assigned to the 103d Division on 5 December.*MODER
When the war was over, it
was written about this Battalion: "First it proved to the world that the
negro soldier could and would fight. Other battalions had done more
in this war than the 614th, but the 614th had done well everything that
had been asked of It and had won the esteem and affection of the 103d Inf.Div.
with which it was associated for so long. It had won respect of Corps
and Army commanders and their staffs. It had merited a visit from
the Commanding General of the Seventh Army, Lieutenant General Alexander
M. Patch. Its exploits had been publicized in the newspapers.
It had also proved that when men demonstrate their worth, racial troubles
are largely ended and the colored man is accepted. No friendship
could be stronger between groups of men than the friendship that existed
between the colored gamecocks of the 614th TD and the white officers and
soldiers of the 103d division."
The attack by Taskforce FOREST was followed by additional pressure by the 103d division. The Germans were driven back across the flooded Zinser River into and through Mertzwiller and Utterhoffen. By December 11, the German resistance was still falling back, but not at Climbach. *MODER
(1995 Editor's note: The United States and its Armed Forces have come a long way since this description was appropriate or necessary - fortunately.)
OUR MEN: EVANS
The 103d Division relieved elements of the 45th and 79th Divisions along the Zintzel River. An hour before dawn on Dec. 9th, a coordinated barrage of field artillery, cannon company fire, 60mm mortars, 81mm mortars, tanks and tank destroyers opened up on the positions that we were about to attack. Many of the 81mm mortars were throwing in white phosphorous shells. They gave the barrage the look of a July 4th fireworks display but is purpose was deadly. It was a terrifying sight, far more frightening in the dark than the contrived firepower demonstration we had seen back at Camp Howze. It significantly softened up the defenses on the Kraut side of the Zintzel River but they still fought tenaciously for Griesbach. Advancement was slow at first but then we advanced more rapidly through Eberbach and Woerth.
It was in this area that
we ran into one of the most expensive mistakes ever made, the Maginot Line.
Before the start of World War II, the French built a wall of underground
fortresses along its border with Germany to defend against the Germans
if they should ever attack France. At ground level there were heavy
concrete bunkers and pillboxes protecting machine guns and artillery pieces.
These were all exposed on hill tops to intimidate the Germans and had clear
and overlapping fields of fire with barbed wire strung in front of them.
These fortifications were all interconnected by tunnels with electric trains to permit rapid movement of troops from one place to another. There were comfortable underground sleeping quarters, bath rooms, kitchens, -- every thing needed to make life comfortable for the French soldiers and miserable for the Germans if they should be foolhardy enough to make a head on attack against these fortifications called the Maginot Line.
The Germans in their blitzkrieg attack on France at the start of the war on the Western Front were not that foolhardy. They simply attacked around the end of the line through Holland and Belgium and flew over the Maginot Line dropping thousands of paratroopers behind the line in France.
This new kind of warfare in which fast armored columns raced around the flanks of defenses and paratroops were dropped behind prepared defensive positions was called blitzkrieg, or "lightning war". It was invented and named by the Germans and forever changed the way that wars on the ground would be fought.
The guns of the Maginot Line could not be turned around to fire the other way so the Maginot Line was useless. France had been easily defeated.
As the 103d Division pressed forward, the Germans chose not to defend any of the Maginot Line fortifications for the same reason. Everything pointed the wrong way. They did however make good use of the fields of fire that the French had cleared in front of their bunkers. Our troops had to attack over open ground with no cover or concealment and it slowed our advance considerably when the attack had to carry across this kind of exposed terrain.
For a while, the Krauts seemed to be fighting just a holding action to permit them to fall back in an orderly fashion to previously prepared defensive positions along the border. On their side of the border lay the fortifications that Germany had built to protect against an attack from French soil. It was called the Siegfried Line and its concept was quite different from that of the Maginot Line.
The Siegfried Line consisted of groups of camouflaged machine gun emplacements concealed in the mountainsides. There were usually three or more of such strong-points laid out to provide protective fire for one another. Unlike the Maginot Line, there was not just one main defensive line, but layer after layer of hidden defensive strong points. The idea behind the Seigfried Line was that the attacking forces would take such heavy losses that they would simply have to give up the attack and retreat.
OUR MEN: DONLAN -
Sunday, December 10, 1944
Stayed in Message Center while monitoring (warm there). Went with another operator to a high mass at the local church. It was packed with G.I.'s and quite cold inside. Hearty singing in German. Beautiful woodwork and stained glass. We were placed on a tank and armored net in the afternoon. We now have a Radio Control Room with three nets remoted from the trucks. Pulled the 6 to 9 shift and slept in the truck all night. We were strafed again today and I dived into an outhouse!
On Monday, December 11, 1944 - We are in Gundershoffen. I had another early shift, chow and moving again. Pulled out after noon, moving up through Ingweiler and to the C.P. in a town named Gumbrechtshoffen (or Gundershoffen?) with a curving main street. This time "J" Area was in an abandoned sawmill -- long way to Message Center. Worked the remote with another fellow 6-12 p.m. -- not much traffic.
On Tuesday, December 12, 1944 - Woerth. Morning shift on radio truck. Buildings in town are partially destroyed by shelling. The Nazis always pull down commercial telephone lines to prevent our using them. Columns of Nazi prisoners marching through the streets. Moved again through several small towns and pulled in at dusk to fairly large town of Woerth -- closer to the German border. "J" Area in a tavern and slept there on a mattress after 6-12 shift on the truck. A cold and rainy night took the energy down.
Great morning chow in the Woerth depot. Found out that a counterattack by Germans gave our C.P. quite a threat, but it was repulsed. This town has been pretty well shelled. Felt good to wash up before pulling out in the afternoon -- southeast to Gunstett. Worked remote and slept in radio control from 6 p.m. to 12 p.m.
On the 11th the 409th and 411th captured Woerth and Walbourg. On the 12th, the 103d took Surbourg. The 103d fought to Climbach on the 14th. Other elements of the 103d entered Rott on the 13th and the Wissembourg area on the 14th. On the 15th at 1305 hours, the 411th crossed the German border. *R-R
Beyond this line, was the German Siegfried line. This well laid out and strongly constructed series of fortifications would be facing our advancing troops and manned by dedicated soldiers who would be defending "homeland" for the first time after having been previously fighting on territory for which they had little regard or respect.
OUR MEN: BECK
Some of us were discussing narrow escapes which is always a favorite subject of combat soldiers. They talk about their escapes like a hypochondriac talks about his operations. We reminisced about the time Lt. BUTLER was on a CP selection party. I happened to be there, too, so I can vouch for the story's veracity.
During our initial assault on the outer defenses of the Seigfried Line last December, we entered the town of Woerth, France. There was a great deal of resistance from Jerry who was determined to stop our advance at all costs. When we got into the center of town about the time the main line of resistance had been forced back. [sic] There was a little harassing sniper fire but it wasn't too bad. Butler was standing by a building showing us how he would park some of the jeeps. There was a series of small garden houses about five feet from where he was standing. He looked in one and said he thought it would make a good garage.
After we had tramped around the area for a while, a couple of doughboys cut loose with a machine gun against one of BUTLER's "garages". In one of those little huts sat two grizzled Krauts peering behind a .50 caliber machine gun! Why they never fired at Butler is a mystery that will never be solved. Butler was too scared to take the trouble to find out. Hell! he was too busy with his laundry! Naturally the Jerries are Kaput!
[Andy Beck note: This story certainly conflicts with the notion that Signal Company Headquarters was "rear echelon"!]
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - DECEMBER
13, 1944 GUNDERSHOFFEN 1 NIGHT
This is the town where some 'murmuring' among the members of the wire crew started. Our crew of about 6 men ate, slept, worked, and were TOGETHER! almost all of the time. At each of our over night stops we would find a house or other building to move into for a very short or sometimes longer period of time. In most situations, we would be removed some distance from our control point which was the main switch board for the division wire communications network. We had to be constantly available to go out and work or respond for other purposes. That meant that it was necessary for us to always lay a short line to our sleeping area. Sgt. JONES had a responsibility to keep in touch with our leaders. There were times when all of us were so cold, tired, hungry, and in such poor spirits that we hated it when he felt that he had to initiate a call to let Sgt. FRAZIER or someone else know we were available. The contemptible expression "Hello, Wirehead - what's up?" started when we were just a little disgusted with our brave and true leader Jones for trying to score points. Of course he had to do his assigned job. The rest of us just had to be mean spirited because we felt like it.
It was as a result of one of these "volunteer calls" by JONES that we went out to lay a line at night. The GIs on the road are very jumpy which is rather unusual. We think that we must be operating pretty close to the front. The truck and its crew are moving so slowly through the very dark night that the two police-up men catch up with them and we are all moving forward as a very cautious unit when the truck being driven by ANANIA almost runs into a German anti-aircraft trailer.
We stop on the road with
the muzzles of four German 50 caliber machine guns pointing at the windshield
of the truck from a distance of about 10 feet. Fortunately the German
gunners had abandoned their firing position a short time before.
DECEMBER 14, 1944 GRISWALD 1 NIGHT - We started moving faster following our more aggressive infantry as we approached the border between France and Germany. Closer to the action, we came upon a jeep that had shortly before our arrival hit a mine. It was badly damaged and the lone driver was dead, a sorry sight.
We bedded down late at night in a lonely deserted house. In the morning we found that the whole corner of the house was missing. Imbedded in the ground, near the destroyed corner, was a very large, unexploded shell that had landed before we had arrived.
By December 14, 1944, there was solid opposition on a front along the Lauter River from Bobenthal, Germany to Wisembourg across the river in France. Climbach in a flat valley in front of this line was a very strong defensive strong point with preset 88mm canons on the high ground, some Mark IV tanks in protected positions, and lots of mortars and machine guns manned and ready.
A direct assault on the town of Climbach, without some way of diverting part of this powerful force was not possible. A platoon of the 614 TD Battalion was chosen to create that diversion.
The platoon with four 3 inch guns drawn by half tracks was an important and very effective part of the assault on the German defenses. By positioning their guns to draw fire and distract the Germans from the coordinated drive of our Motorized Infantry, Combat Engineers, and a platoon of tanks, the 614 T.D. sacrificed 3 of their guns and gun crews to make it possible for our assault to drive onto the high ground and into the strategic position of Climbach itself.
The 614 T.D. had 50% casualties, three of their four guns destroyed, lost two half-tracks and two jeeps. During the battle the fourth gun crew ran out of cannon ammunition and was not able to return fire with their heavier weapon. The men had little choice but to stay in place and defend their position with small arms fire only.
One of their drivers of a support 2 1/2 truck that carried the cannon ammunition would not be deterred from driving toward the gun position that was receiving heavy fire until his truck was hopelessly mired in the mud far short of his goal. The surviving members of the gun crew and others carried the heavy cannon shells across the exposed area to put the remaining cannon back in action.
We were in the woods outside of Climbach on the night of December 13th preparing for the coordinated attack the next morning. We would be backed up by the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, so we felt that this must be a very important assignment. There was a massive artillery barrage during the night by our rear support guns
During the daylight hours of the assault, a flight of P-47 airplanes of the Army Air Corp came over in a strafing air attack on our positions. We were confused at first, but then decided they might be 'planes captured and flown by the Germans. When they swung around for another pass at us, the AckAck and other air defense guns began to fire at them. One of them went down, smoking, about half a mile in front of us, behind some trees. Later, we came up to where it had gone down. When it hit the ground, its huge engine had slid along the ground and had partially fallen into a fox hole, killing the GI in it. It was still smoking as we passed by.
The 103d official record said, "Near Climbach, a flight of P-47s strafing German installations, lost directions and flew over friendly troops. They appeared to be about to dive on the Division CP at Drachenbronn when the 534th AckAck lookout put up a yellow smoke grenade to warn the pilots they were over friendly territory. It is apparent that the historian was no where near the action.
(1993 Editor's note: This is one of a number of reports of air attacks on our friendly forces contained in this report. I believe this one is probably the most accurate and credible.)
OUR MEN: EVANS
We were in Wingen on the left flank of the 411th Infantry Regiment's zone as the battle for Climbach began. Col. Donovan Yeuell quickly moved his advance CP to a house on the side of a mountain looking straight up the valley toward Climbach where he could see the battle unfold and give prompt commands when the situation demanded it.
The attack on Climbach was a difficult problem. It was necessary to advance up open terrain. There was a road along one side of the path of advance but the Germans had zeroed in on every foot of the road and had done the same thing with the open terrain as well. They held all of the high ground and their artillery pieces were well protected and looking right down our throats. An all-negro tank destroyer(TD) outfit (the 614th Tank Destroyers) was deployed in a relatively exposed position to keep the German artillery busy. It was a bloody battle in which the 411th took heavy casualties. Relatively speaking, the 614th TDs suffered even heavier casualties, but they fought gallantly and earned a Presidential Unit Citation for their efforts that day.
The men of the 614 T.D. made it possible for the rest of the attacking force to be successful in defeating the enemy and capturing the strongly defended town of Climbach.
The resolve of the enemy was broken and on December 15, the men of the 103d were the first troops in the 6th Army Group (a number of armies in addition to the 7th Army) to enter Germany across a very small stream near the Lauter River.
OUR MEN: GILL
.....Our first incursion into Germany, at Rechtenbach, proved to be quite noisy but not life-threatening. For a few days they lobbed lots of 88's (with screamin' Meemies, of course) over, not into the village. We figured that since they were now on home ground they didn't want to tear up their neighbors' goodies.
OUR MEN: EVANS
We were now right on the German border and they fought tenaciously for every foot of ground.
On Dec. 15, 1944 at 1305 (1:05 p.m.) 411th Infantry Company I (Item) crossed the German border followed about five minutes later by Company L (Love). These were the first American soldiers in the entire 6th Army Group to enter Germany.
In just one month from its initiation into combat, The 103d Infantry Division had proven its mettle and was now spearheading the drive of the 6th Army Group into Germany.
The Heinies defended bitterly. The first of the Seigfried Line strong points was encountered on the 16th and little progress was made all day but the 411th held onto its foothold inside Germany. They pushed forward bit by bit paying for every bit with casualties.
The 409th Infantry Regiment also entered Germany near Wissembourg and found it slow going. By Dec 21st, the 409th and 411th Regiments had ground out German territory inch by inch as the capture of one Siegfried Line strong point only revealed another. It was like peeling an onion -- take off one layer and there is still a whole onion underneath.
It was beginning to look like we would have to slug it out for every inch. There would not be a major breakthrough anywhere along the line. The 103d Division would pay dearly for every square foot of German soil it captured.
OUR MEN: SEDENSKY
One time BROWN and GALLAGER were "some place else" and I had to fill in at a general-staff meeting. "We will be moving out about 60 miles in that direction - we want that wire line in by--. I said YES SIR!
I was worrying and fretting,
knowing that our crews (magnificent as they always were, the very best)
and field wire just was not going to do that job
When Colonel Brown arrived and I filled him in, he said,"Tell that old A--H--.." I didn't think that a lieutenant should really do that.
OUR MEN: DONLAN -
Thursday, December 14, 1944 - Merkweiler
These towns all have church steeples above the partial destruction. We moved around noon to Merkweiler, several miles northeast. The town, including a rail yard and refinery has been almost completely demolished by 100 of our bombers. We had to lay camouflage nets over our trucks in the "J" Area. Long walk to only fair chow. Slept in the truck off duty and got up to start the truck for the generator and batteries. We stole a goose at night for tomorrow's dinner.
The next day at noon to move again. Went several miles northeast to set up in part of an abandoned hospital (by Nazis). Radio H.Q. had a whole house by itself. Not long after we got there, a German 88 shell landed quite near, so we all headed for the cellar. "J" Area in the woods and slept in truck.
We were again moving toward Germany and one memory of that segment of fighting stands out vividly. By December 15 were in German near Hagenau. This is hilly country, and we had been moving along with skirmishes but constant digging in and moving up. On December 20 our platoon, B company, Second Platoon, was at the edge of the wood with a slope down to a road on our left front. Glen and I were up at the front edge of the woods looking up the road when we noted to Tiger tanks moving gradually with some infantry toward us. I ran back and got a bazooka with some rounds and hollered to an artillery Fire Observer about 50 yards to my left what we saw through our field glasses
C Company was on our right spread out. I could hear the F.O. yelling into the field phone the coordinates of the tanks. The first four rounds salvo came over, unfortunately one of the shells was short and landed in among C Company. I could hear the F.O. screaming into the phone, "You have one gun with a loose trailing arm!"
Just then the second salvo of 105s came in - and the horrible half second sound before the explosion of a shell among us! It landed about 15 feet in front of me - Glen was to my right and slightly back about 15 feet. Others of the platoon and company were scattered out behind us. After my head cleared a bit and I got out of the dirt, I turned back to where someone was hollering, "Medic! Medic!, I'm hit!" - I ran back to check him, it was a slight wound. Someone else was crying for a medic, I suddenly thought of Glen. A top of a tree was down on the ground and under it was activity, the branches were moving about. I ran over, pulled off the big branch, and found Glen Hansen bleeding in great spurts from a shoulder wound that had all but taken his arm off.
As I was trying to help Glen, I heard the F.O. scream, "Stop all firing!" - then he turned toward us, and screamed, "Too late, another salvo is on the way!". The gun with the loose left trailing arm dropped its destruction almost on top the F.O. He was killed immediately and his sergeant wounded.
Working with Glen, I kept calling for a medic, but I remembered the surgical instruments I had picked up from a German ambulance a few days earlier. Another fellow, not the medic, kept the pressure on the bleeding area while I dug the instruments out and clamped two of them on the brachial artery. Glen looked as pale and gray as you could imagine.
The artillery rounds that did get to their destination turned back the tanks and may have gotten one - I am not sure. Glen was more important right then. A medic finally came forward and we were able to put Glen on a stretcher and move him rapidly back down the slope to a medical jeep. Glen was in very bad shape but partially conscious most of the time. Later arm was removed - too much bone, nerves and vessels gone. I still have one of the hemostats we used; the aid station gave it back later!
Later during this same series of operations, our stupid company commander, wanted us to charge up a hill into the face of a well established enemy. There wasn't any way to could be done effectively, they started the charge a couple of times, but were thrown back with a number of losses. Finally, one of the men shot the captain, who was lying in a prone position, the bullet went in along his back and came out his shoulder. Some of the men had talked about this type of action when we had first gone into combat and the captain's decisions had been fatally flawed, but he was never near enough to the action to be at risk. I thought that sergeant Karsener was going kill him a couple of times after he had made very bad mistakes.
After the captain was hit, a lieutenant took command of the company, moved it laterally a short distance and we came up on the flank of the enemy guns and eliminated them quite easily.
OUR MEN: TOM BROWN
Our troops were now fighting in the Siegfried Line. We laid wire to the town of Bobenthal, and the Germans shelled the town the entire night. We were holed up in the basement of one of the houses sweating out each shell.
When daylight came the shelling stopped and we crawled out of our holes. We went to our truck and found the windshield holed by shrapnel and all of our reels of wire had been sprayed with shrapnel and ruined. We had to go back to the supply dump and get a new load of wire. Our truck is pictured on page 103 of the Division History "Report After Action." The photo was taken the day before the shelling.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - DECEMBER
15, 1944 GUNSTEDT 1 NIGHT
Moving very fast. Laying wire and busy but losing a lot of sleep. Situation seems very mobile.
DECEMBER 16 MERKWEILER 1 NIGHT - A swirl of activity! The assault on the Siegfried Line by the 103d Division and its supporting units continued December 17 into December 18, 1944. Small gains were made against the very strong defenses of the well defended bunkers and in-depth fortifications. The Germans were able to use the rugged terrain beyond the forts to prepare a well organized and determined defense. Progress was very slow and losses were increasing for the GIs. The German defensive effort in our sector seems to have increased.
For some reason, we can not figure if we are coming or going- literally. We are hearing stories of strong enemy action everywhere. The infantry men are being pulled out of the line and we are preparing to move in another direction.
During this chaotic period, OUR MEN, and hundreds of thousands Allied and German men were being thrown into the events of the Battle of the Bulge. The eventual role for the 103d division, and some other units of the U.S. 7th Army, would be to provide support for the southern edge of Patton' 5th Army while they dashed northward to help repulse the massive German force that had made a surprise attack in the Ardennes forest.
Our "pull out" from the positions attacking the Siegfried Line was a series of abrupt and disorderly affairs.
Gathering our equipment and personal items, loading, and heading northward without really knowing just where, when, or how we would be stopped was physically and emotionally straining.
The official and personal records for this period of time seem to reflect this confusion and anxiety as well as the movements of groups of men looking for the answer to the question, "What's happening!?".
OUR MEN: DONLAN
- Saturday, December 16, 1944
Morale low -- poor chow, no mail and strong artillery duels. The 103d and 45th Divisions were first in 7th Army to enter Germany yesterday -- good news. Big battles up north, according to Stars & Stripes -- in First and Third Army areas. There are some Maginot line fortifications around here -- all heaps of trash now. Our artillery is really pounding the Siegfried Line. Morale goes up and down -- no mail recently.
On Sunday, December 17, 1944 - Gassed up in morning and got a closer look at the Maginot line. They are poor structurally, but well designed, going eight stories below ground and interconnecting. They had complete living quarters on the bottom floor. Some air activity around C.P. tonight. Radio duty in advance truck at night.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - DECEMBER
17/18 KRIEGSLAZARETT, DACHENBRON??
The team moved into a hospital that had been taken over by some of the Division HQ troops. This was the place where we saw the first bathtub we had seen since we landed in France. We had a wood burning stove for hot water so we all took some baths. This was an event of no small importance because most of us hadn't had all of our clothes off at one time since we left Marseille, and that was long ago.
DECEMBER 19, ROTT 3 NIGHTS - We had a nice place here with Sgt. JACK CONN and his wire team until the Division Signal Officer, LtC. BROWN, took it over and we moved out to sleep in an old German barracks. We went into Germany for the first time from this town and it was a rough trip too, laying wire down a muddy canyon with all kinds of vehicles running over it.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Tuesday, December
19, 1944 - Rott
On the move again -- northeast past Maginot line pillboxes. We entered the well-named town of Rott -- really filthy! We are very close to the German border now. We set up in a German barracks -- had to clean them out and set up for noon chow. This place is really quite a mud hole!
The next day, I took the
remote end radio shift 11 to 6 p.m. A fairly good treat for supper
-- a goose! Locally-procured (or requisitioned!). Morale back
up -- warm floor to sleep on and a good mail call.
15. Christmas 1944 In The Provence of Lorraine
(1995 editor's note: Fifty years after the events of these experiences, there are being produced radio and television programs that review the historical period for our children and grandchildren, and some older folks also. Some the material for this description of the "Battle of the Bulge" came from a Public Broadcasting System program of that same name.)
In August of 1944, it seemed that the road to Berlin ran downhill. Paris was liberated: Allied forces would easily overrun the Wehmacht; the war in Europe was coming to an end. Rumors were circulating that soldiers would be back home for Christmas. Headlines in Washington spoke of the challenge of peace-time conversion. Arms production in the United States was allowed to slow down for the first time in three years.
The initial invasion on the beaches of Normandy and the drive eastward toward the German border had gone well. The invasion by the 7th Army of southern France had also been a success. The period following the two invasions had seen the allies advance more rapidly than had been expected or planned for. In the period following Thanksgiving 1944, it became that apparent the distances from the ports of supply now caused an untimely pause in the advance. The Allies were short of supplies. They had outrun gasoline, ammunition, spare parts and food. An infantry division required 650 tons of supplies each day.
In the relatively static and well ordered period at the end of the year 1944, just before a surprise attack by the Germans, President Roosevelt, the chiefs of staff, and the congress had been considering promoting the senior officers of the Army, Navy, and Army Airforce. In spite of Marshall's influence, he was against it, Congress in December 1944 approved a bill creating new 5 star ranks for the top generals and admirals. In order of seniority, Leahy, Marshall, King, MacArthur, Nimitz, Eisenhower, Arnold and "Bull" Halsey, named later, would hold ranks equivalent to field marshal.
Marshall felt that the existing American "Flag Ranks" were adequate to deal with the situations in the American staffs and the joint British/American staffs. He also objected to the new ranking because he thought it would dim the recognition of General of the Armies John Pershing. Marshall wanted nothing to give offense to the ailing old soldier, chief of staff during WWI and after, who was in Walter Reed hospital and soon to die.*MARS
Generals Marshall and Eisenhower discussed and reach agreement on the promotion of other officers on Eisenhower's staff. Ike's promotion to 5 star general opened the way for other deserving officers to be promoted. Eisenhower suggested the promotion of Omar Bradley to 4 star general as recognition of his excellent service and a reward for having endured the egotistical and wrong headed actions of Montgomery before and during the Ardennes battles.
Marshall agreed to this promotion and suggested four other officers to be promoted to 4 star rank including George Patton commander of the 5th Army and Jacob Devers commander of the 6th Army Group. Ike agreed to the promotions, although he considered one of Marshall's nominees, Devers to be less capable.*MARS
All of this recognition was overshadowed by the attack on December 16, 1944 in the Ardennes forest by a German force of three-to-one superiority in men and a four-to-one advantage in tanks the panzer tank units stave in 3 American divisions, then burst into the rear.
Hitler had used the pause forced upon the allies as time to organize 24-36? divisions into a counter offensive through the Ardennes forest in Belgium. On Saturday, 16 December 1944, a fog and heavy clouds covered the proposed battle front - ideal conditions for the German surprise attack. Low visibility on the ground to obscure troop movements and skies that would prohibit the Allies from using their air forces for bombing, supplying and observation.
The front was held by green untried troops getting experience on a "quiet front" and a few soldiers who had seen more that their share of fighting and needed some rest. The American men in the front lines were in lonely outposts, hunkered down in cold, wet foxholes, cut off from each other.
The first sound of alarm was the first bursts of one of the largest artillery attacks of the war. The German field guns in some sectors outnumbered the Americans 10 to 1.
When the Germans swept forward behind their artillery preparation, they quickly overran the inexperienced 106th Infantry Division that had been committed to be in this "quiet area". There was no thought that they would be required to "hold an active front against a strong aggressive enemy". 4000 officers and men of the 106th were forced to surrender to the Germans after a very desperate but brief fight. These men had been on the line 8 days and combat 3 days. Major General Allen Jones lamented, "I have lost a division faster than any other general in the US Army!"
Only the surrender of American
troops on Bataan in the Philippines during the opening days of the War
in the Pacific was larger in numbers.
The month-long Battle of the Bulge was to be the biggest and bloodiest battle American soldiers ever fought before or since. With attention focused on crossing the Rhine, the Allies were surprised and unprepared for the 30 German Panzer divisions that roared across an 85-mile Allied front on December 16, 1944.
The surprise attack by a massive German force in the Ardennes forest far to the north of our positions in Alsace started the "Battle of the Bulge" which required a large and very rapid re-deployment of most of the Allied force on the Western Front. These were black days for our commanders and troops. What was happening shocked and sobered the military leaders and the general public who were anticipating an early victory in Europe.
German production had reached its highest in the fall and winter of 1944. Underground factories in Germany were turning out tanks, trucks, artillery pieces and ammunition in record amounts. The Allied strategic bombing had not been effective to stopping production.
This great battle was Hitler's
own idea, his generals were against it as a hopeless effort that would
produce terrible losses and hasten the German defeat. Hitler was
gambling not for short range gains but for the huge Allied stores and fuel
dump at Liege, and the harbor at Antwerp that lay beyond. Were his
two panzer armies of the best trained and best equipped troops remaining
in the battered German war machine successful, they would drive a wedge
between the British on the north and the Americans on the south, Perhaps,
just perhaps, he could gain a stalemate in the West and sue for peaceThe
Germans drove forward on an eighty mile front from southern Belgium down
to Edelbrook??? in the middle of Luxembourg. If the Germans could
cause discord between the Allied political and military leaders it might
be possible to get a favorable peace agreement on the western front and
let the Germans turn all of their efforts to defeating Russia in the east.*MARS
Many millions of Germans had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner before Hitler pushed his Volks Grenadier (people's infantry) into this last massive assault. These combat groups composed of cripples, convicts, children and grandfathers were accompanied by Hitler's best troops - the Waffen SS. These elite forces were distributed among "the masses" to give support and direction. The SS enforced a "dedicated service" and "no retreat policy".
The commander of the German forces opposing the 7th Army in Alsace, where the 103d division was operating, had orders to defend the area south of the West Wall (Siegfried line) until the beginning of the Ardennes offensive (the Bulge). However, German reverses at the 7th Army front (the 103d had led the way into Germany for the 7th Army) and the commencement of the Ardennes offensive (on the 16th of December) prompted the German commander Balk, to withdraw his forces to the West Wall line. The order given to the local general was followed by a warning "... the West Wall was to be the final German position---there you die." As a result the German resistance at the West Wall increased and the 103d and other 7th Army units withdrew to France on 22 December. *R-R
In response to the Ardennes
attack by the Germans on the 19th of December, Eisenhower had met with
Devers, Bradley, and Patton at Verdun. The Allied armies under the command
of Montgomery including the US 1st Army were directed to move toward the
south in an effort to cut-off the drive of the German forces and if possible
to prevent their retreat back into Germany when and if the attack could
The US 3rd Army, part of an Army Group north of the bulge in the Allied front under the command of Lt.G Bradley, was directed to move north to form the bottom edge of a "pincers action" and to close the gap through which the Germans would have to pass in attack or retreat. The 3rd Army (Patton), on the south of the bulge was to arrange to counter attack the Ardennes salient theatening Bastogne on its southern flank.
It was not apparent immediately, but the American units in the middle of the German assault against the Allied lines were able to hold and the German panzer forces were forced through a relatively small hole in the front and their angle of attack was deflected southward on the very few available roads rather than westward and they ran into very poor conditions of terrain and roads for the operation of the very heavy panzer tanks. The German attack was held up long enough for Eisenhower to be able to commit his reserve armored divisions to the vital crossroads of St Vith and Bastogne and the 101 airborne division to Bastogne as well. Funneled south to these two road junctions still in American hands the German attack began to pile up.
The 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions were the only experienced and partially rested reserves the Americans had to rush to the rapidly expanding front. Both were far behind the lines in rest area after having been engaged in almost continuous action since the Normandy landings.
The 101st was rapidly moved by trucks to an area of major road junctions near the southern edge of the Bulge at Bastogne.
OUR MEN: EVANS
The weather could only be described as lousy over a wide area -- 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 a small but strategically important town in Belgium, Bastogne.
Their Division Commander, Major General Maxwell Taylor, 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.
McAuliffe and his men stood their ground and became known as "The Battered Bastards of Bastogne".
On 21 December 1944 it began to snow on the fighting men and their support groups. It is interesting to note that this was the first experience most of these American soldiers had with very cold weather and snow. The troops of the 103d division and the US 7th Army who had fought through the Vosges Mountains (that's some of OUR MEN) had this unpleasant experience almost from their first hours of combat.
These men of the Bulge would now have the same problems our infantry soldiers had suffered through. They did not have winter clothes or shoes for more than three weeks after the snow started to cover the battlefield and even then they was not adequate for the severe weather conditions.
Patton's US 3rd Army was
turned from its drive eastward toward the German border and ordered northward
100 miles to support the thinly space troops on the southern edge of the
Bulge. He sent word to Bastogne which had now been surrounded by
the Germans, "I'll be there by Christmas".
Devers 6th Army Group was to occupy the area vacated by the 3rd Army units, halt all offensive operation ie: the West Wall offensive. The 7th Army sector was thus expanded. Patch ordered the 103d Division to a new location west of the XVth Corps. (The 103d was being moved from near the southwest end of the 7th Army to the position on the northeast edge of the 7th Army.) *R-R
The 103d Division was withdrawn from the Siegfried Line and moved around the rear areas of the 7th Army and north-westward to the flank of the Bulge into a position near the left flank of the 7th Army with the 106th Cavalry Group between it and the 3rd Army, where the very intense fighting was taking place, to fight a holding action while the Bulge was contained and reduced. The French/German border is on a northwest-southeast line in this area.
As might be expected, there was some confusion during the time of the northwestward movement. Some of the Signal Company units may have been moving ahead of the reserve-support infantry in the safe rear areas in order to setup command and communications locations near the new positions to be occupied by the infantry front line elements. In the normal situation, the infantry men would have had to be there first to make the area "safe for women, children, and rear area soldiers"!
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - DECEMBER
22, FRANCALTROFF 1 NIGHT
We are in a loose knit motor convoy of lots of our infantry men being carried in trucks borrowed from transportation units. A large assortment of support troops moving also.
We brought along our own chicken to the house where we stayed and the folks here cooked it for all of us to share, it looked like a sparrow in the stew.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Friday, December
Awakened to go on radio shift 3-8 a.m. We put the net in radio silence just before moving. Backtracked through several towns in convoy. I again saw the destruction wrought in Merkweiler by our planes. There was one large smokestack left standing. Have noticed a few more railroads since we left the mountains -- but most of them are out of business. We really froze in the back of the trucks. The sun was out, but gave no heat. We went through Wort and Seur with a beautiful, large cathedral -- also Froschweiler and Niederbronn (fine residential town -- large and hilly). Noticed several coal piles and oil wells along the way. Also -- a large herd of sheep -- new sights after the mountains. This land is fertile and well-tilled. Wooden-shoed farmers pull carts along. Some move, most don't -- Oberbron, Finsweiler, Offweiller, and Rot Bach came next as we moved almost due west. We went for miles past well-timbered forests with many wood piles stacked up. Ingweiler had a beautiful cathedral -- these church towers are high above everything else. Pierre Le Petite, Rauweiler, Inimingler, Liningen and Alberstaff as our convoy snaked through town after town. Towards dark we entered a small, largely-destroyed town. We pulled our rolls into a broken-up house. We picked up a stove today, so two guys slept in the truck -- now with a wooden shell around the radio equipment. We are in town of Frankaltroff. Noticed a large lake on our way today -- also miles of full shell boxes along the roads. We are now about 15 miles behind the lines.
On Saturday, December 23, 1944 - Frankaltroff Worked all day finishing boarding in our trucks as the weather definitely turned colder. At night we took some rations into some people's house and they cooked them up for us -- along with some potatoes and pork of their own, making a good meal. We talked with them all evening. They really hate the Nazis. One young fellow named Josef was a deserter from the German Army. We ran a speaker inside and had music. We slept in the living room by the fire and it was cold and windy outside.
OUR MEN: FADER
....Then the German Ardennes offensive and we were suddenly ordered North toward Metz--bitterly cold, standing up next to truck fenders eating out of our mess kits and careful not to touch metal lest our hands stick to the frozen surfaces and constantly reminded to be on the lookout for German parachutists in American uniforms.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - DEC. 23,
1944 ST JEAN RHORBACH - 23 NIGHTS
The province of Lorraine, where we finally stopped, is a sister province of Alsace where we had been fighting. On December 24, Christmas eve, the 103d was in its new active defensive position. These movements had extended the 7th Army line of defense to 103 miles, with the major part of its force in the northern sector - this was to create defensive problems in the area of Alsace we had left weakened.
The Germans soon would take advantage of that weakness to recover much of the important area that the 103d had fought for and won in the early weeks of December 1944.
After the motor-march from Alsace, we moved into one of several buildings that could have been a boarding school and hardly settled into a very small room for all of the men of the wire team when we were out laying a few lines to attached units.
OUR MEN: KRAFT
The 103d Division was here and there on the Western Front for several months. At one time, when the Battle of the Bulge took place, our Signal Co. and Repair & Supply Group was pushed back into a town called Phalzburg. We stayed there about six weeks, while the Radio and Construction Units of the Signal Co. did their job along with those of the Message Center people to keep Communications together.
The 103d Division Band was also in Phalzburg taking care of the mail, etc. Christmas 1944 was one truck load after another of mail for the whole Division which had to be sorted and sent to each of the other Units in the Division. Due to poor lighting in that town and the boys having to work with flashlights, we ran a line to them from our PE-95.
Before we were shipped over to France, my job (T/4Frank Kraft) was a one man transfer to Supply and Repair, CWO. HOPPEL's group. This was an important part of our Headquarters Section. We supplied the whole 15,000 man 103d Division with service and supply of radios, batteries, etc. Also the units - radio, phones, little switchboards and telegraph sets were our jobs. Sgt Grant's group did all radios and mine detectors.
Sgt. WILLIBRAND's group
did teletype, telephone, switchboard and telegraph sets. All of this repair
and replacement and supply work was done by just 17 men, including our
The Construction section ran the trunks lines between all the distant points. The T&T did all the local lines in each Command Post. That is to our Commanding General, the Chief of Staff, etc.
During the rapid movement of the division before Christmas, our section ended up in a fairly large town behind the lines somewhere and we were mixed in with a lot of other elements of the division. One of these groups was responsible for the sorting and distribution of the mail that had been addressed to our APO (Army Post Office).
On Christmas Eve there was to be a massive distribution of mail that the Army may have held up just for this time, or had not been able to work on because of the movement and confusion.
Just before Christmas, 1944 I had eaten some bad pork and had terrible cramping and no appetite. As luck would have it, the city power went down, so our mail people, with all the Christmas mail were in the dark trying to sort the mail using flashlights (9 dim ones). Outside as I noticed later there were very many 2 1/2 trucks that had yet to be unloaded. They were in trouble. This mail center was in the building next to ours. The man in charge was a Captain. This Captain knew all of our Signal company group would be willing to come and help with the lights, but, except for myself, the rest had gone to the movies, first one any of us had been near.
Guess who go the job to run some power in their building? Gut cramps and all, I managed 2 lines of six lamps each in the mail room. This almost croaked our PE95 3KW power plant, but it hung in really well. All concerned were really happy. The Captain treated me with a double shot of Seven Crown whiskey. Next day my cramps were all gone.
One day later, we had been on the run for two weeks, day and night. Mr. Hoppel was very ill with a bad cold and much fatigue. So upon my 2 stripe authority, I put him to bed with heavy lemon and whiskey toddy. He slept 10 hours and did recover. I saw him in Dallas last year and he did not remember it at all.
Two days before Christmas, the weather cleared, the supply and fire support airplanes began to fly over the battle area and the German offensive began to stall.
After the Germans were stopped, the task for the Americans was to close the very large chasm between the US 1st Army on the north of the Bulge and the US 3rd Army on the south. General Patton wanted to drive straight across the extended German forces while the 1st Army drove south to meet him thereby trapping most of the Germans and putting them out of action.
OUR MEN: EVANS
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 Dec.26, 1944.
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 B26s flew low level sorties against the panzers and ground troops of the Wehrmacht and they broke the back of the German columns.
COMPANY REPORTS DECEMBER,1944
On arrival in division assembly area in new section XV Corps area near Francaltroff, a minimum essential administrative wire network was established and maintained until establishment of Division CP at St Jean-Rohrbach. All available personnel of communication sections within the division were immediately assigned to wire salvaging assignments which were continued to the end of the month.
Telephone and Telegraph Communications: Normal combat and administrative wire nets were installed at following locations during the month of December: Gougenheim, La Walck, Gundershoffen, Woerth, Gunstedt, Merckwiller, Drachenbronn, Rott, Francaltroff, and St Jean-Rohrbach.
A telephone traffic survey was conducted while the division CP was located at St Jean Rohrbach which revealed that a total of 2700 calls were handled every twenty-four hours through the Division Signal Company operated switchboards even though the division activity was more or less in a static condition.
The regular S.O.P. radio nets were installed and continuity of service
maintained with all elements 100% of the time. An additional function
was added to the normal duties of this section; namely, the Aircraft Warning
Alert System mentioned in paragraph 2.
Messenger Service: Scheduled and special messenger service to all division elements, Corps, and attached units involved daily mileage of 406 miles. Fifty percent of this daily mileage is driven under blackout conditions, which to date has resulted in one minor motor vehicle accident.
Rear Echelon installations were made and operated at Marlenheim, Woerth, and Morhange by the Rear Echelon signal operating section.
1. The activities of the 103d Signal Company for 1945 began in St. Jean Rohrbach, France, where the division was occupying a holding position in the line in the sector of the XV Corps. Due to the relative inactivity and lack of movement of the regiments, very little wire construction was required after the initial installation. All lines to regiments and service elements had been 'over-headed', thereby reducing line troubles to a minimum.
2. This relative inactivity of the front line troops left considerable time open for Signal construction troops. The time was utilized for further training. It had been previously observed that in some cases wire teams had failed to utilize to the utmost availability commercial lines running in the vicinity of the attached units. This time was used for on the job of training wire teams in open wire construction and repair. This respite period was also used to conduct on the job training for reinforcements added to the T&T operations section, namely, switchboard operators. Also it was used to increase operating efficiency of some previously trained operators.
From Christmas,1944 to about January 14,1945 the 103d Division was in a typical defensive arrangement. The infantry men were in holes and bunkers along the eastern front of our sector and the Signal Company sections were behind them supplying communications and support as were numerous other service units. This was a time of resupply, training, recreation and routine work for most of the Signal Company. There were adventures and misadventures as mentioned later.
PFC. - SGT. ROGET
At Christmas time in the Provence of Lorraine, our company had been well decimated. I was pretty much running the platoon, I was still only a private first class, but was soon to be promoted to buck sergeant. Sgt. Karsner, the regular platoon sergeant was out with trench foot, all of the other squad sergeants had been killed or wounded. I was in charge of a 3 man squad, each one about 18 years old. I was the only person around who could act as the platoon sergeant.
Acting as platoon sergeant, I lead four soldiers out to relieve the men in the outpost bunkers of the sector we were defending. Our front line boys had taken over German bunkers that had been built in the snow fields and had just turned the gun slots around to face the enemy lines. The men had brought in hay and some old blankets to cover the openings to keep the cold out. They had field telephones connected back to the company CP so they could keep themselves and the commanders informed.
The first bunker that we relieved had a frozen dead German in the corner of an anteroom with a candle on his head. I asked if it wouldn't be better to throw him out back. "No, we are used to him, besides he is frozen into that sitting position and we can't hardly get him out the crawl hole."
OUR MEN: BECK - 17-23 December
We are operating as a well oiled machine now. Everyone plays his position that he knows best. If it brings victory then what the heck, we'll all go home. The boys are starting to feel like combat veterans. They acquire that tough, arrogant, rough and boisterous complex. As for me, I never seem to change. I always feel that I am the same guy. Maybe I have acquired that mean slanted look, or maybe I have become a bit softer than I was. I really don't know. You'll have to tell me when I get back to the states.
We are not starving nor are we freezing to death. I think that the government has done and is doing a splendid job of equipping and feeding us. We don't get steaks or fancy dessert with our chow. It's all a plain basic ingredient of a ration, usually the same thing. But, it's food, wholesome and nutritious. We may get tired of it - but that's only natural. You should see what the Krauts have to eat.
And now I see that it's time for me to crawl into my sack. My sack, incidentally, now consists of the following: a thick G.I. canvas roll as the outer cover, my own sleeping sack with two blankets in it atop the air-mattress, and inside the bag an all wool sleeping sack with another blanket zippered all the way to my forehead, all enclosed in a waterproof cover. I wouldn't call sleeping in that rough at all.
That phrase "since I've been in the lines", kinda gets me. When the hell am I going to get out of the lines?
It's rough alright, but one gets used to it. Remarkable how the human mind and body can adapt itself. Feels just like home. Oh yea!! At least now I can tell my grandchildren that I didn't fight the war in Texas - at least a good part of it I didn't.
OUR MEN: TOM BROWN
On the evening of December 23rd we worked on a troubled line until about 3:00 AM the next morning. Since we had ended up at a CP located in a shelled out tavern, we parked the truck outside the tavern front door, got out our sleeping bags, unrolled them on the straw on the floor and went to sleep. When we woke up the next morning our truck was gone. We lost everything, duffle bags, Christmas presents, heavy clothing, etc. Since Germans dressed in American uniforms were in the area, we assumed that they had stolen our truck. However, before we could even catch our breaths we were ordered to move out on long road move to the north into Third Army territory. It started to snow with the temperature falling to near zero. The roads iced up, and many of the trucks ended up in the ditches. We travelled all night in the back of a two and a half-track damn near freezing to death.
We arrived at our destination about 7:00 AM Christmas morning. And that was the worse Christmas of my life! Since we had no truck we three were assigned to Staff Sgt. LEE's, wire crew to lay wire for one of the regiments.
About two weeks later I was working on the wire when Capt. BECK, the CO of the Signal Company, walked up. He said, "Brown, for losing that truck you must sign this statement of charges." I looked at the statement and it read, "Quantity 1 Three Quarter Ton Truck with winch -- amount $1,875.00." (I will never forget that stupid statement, particularly that winch, which stays burned in my memory) I said, "Captain, that was a combat loss. The Germans stole that truck, and I refuse to sign." With my $30 per month army salary I figured it would take me twenty years to pay the damm thing off. If the Colonel insists then I will request a court martial hearing." Captain Beck fumed a bit and walked away and that was the last I heard of the matter.
OUR MEN: WALDREF
Let's see, Klingenmunster was the town, and I parked my truck right close to the cafe that they were using as the headquarters and went to bed. Fortunately, I took my TO weapon with me, which is a grease gun and my own .45 automatic, which I normally just carried around. Next morning the truck was gone. So, I was a bit embarrassed, I had a few quarts of liquor on it, I was sorry I was losing that!
So they called me into the orderly room and asked me, "Why didn't you take the rotor out of the distributor cap?" I said, "We haven't done it, nobody has told me to do it." There is no key on the truck, they just have a switch. There is no ignition key on these trucks. So they said, "You've lost a truck!" I think I saw them over a couple of days. BERNIE said to me, "Now how are you going to pay for this truck? Do you have any money?" I said, "No Sir. You can take it out of my salary." That was the end of that basic discussion. A week or two later they called me into the orderly room again. Bernie said, "Waldref, I'm going to put you on company punishment for losing that truck." I said, "Yes sir, but what am I supposed to do?" "Well, come down and make a fire in the orderly room before everyone gets up and then go over and help the cooks." A week long KP job.
So, I went down, built the fire. A couple of days later my T.O. weapon, which was a grease gun was spread out on one of the tables. There were several tables. I had my grease gun all apart and I was cleaning all the bullets so they would come out of the clip real easy if I had to use it. I was aiming up toward the ceiling when in comes the cook sergeant, S/Sgt COREY. I didn't realize it, but he thought I was threatening him with this gun, kind of on the table! There wasn't anyone else around and I really frightened him. I put my gun back together and they start going. He said to me, "Waldref, would you like to clean one of these stoves?" He has two guys there. "Carry this stove out here for Waldref to clean." I carried the stove back there, cleaned it up. "How is this sergeant?" "Oh, fine." Then he gets the other two guys to carry the stove back. I realized later that he thought I was going to shoot him, that's why I had the grease gun out! I couldn't understand why he was giving me such deferential treatment. So, this went on for a couple of days and I finally figured out that he was really shocked and thought I was threatening him. I wasn't, I had no idea. I was just sitting there and cleaning my gun.
I realized later on, after the war, that BERNIE put me on this company punishment so that I could not be tried twice. I think he was doing that for me. In other words, if you're tried and punished for a crime, you can't be tried and punished a second time. So, I think that's why he had me specifically on company punishment for the loss of that truck. So, I think without telling me, he was basically doing me a favor, to get me out from paying for the truck.
(1995 Editor's very personal note:
It is not surprising to me that Beck and Waldref were on a familiar first
name basis, ie. "Bernie" and "Jerry". One or the other of them may
have been the most pampered person in the company.
OUR MEN:DONLAN -
unday, December 24, 1944
I was awakened at 4 a.m. to stand guard because of danger of paratroop attack. Germans have been pushing hard through Ardennes up north into Belgium against First and Third Armies. Pulled guard, awakened at 7 to pull out and our crew go on relay. Took off after chow and, even though our truck (Sgt. LAKE) is boarded in, we still froze.
We passed many ruined towns and came to the one in Lorraine where we were to stay Christmas Eve. I can't remember the name. We got a room in a priest's house and warmed up and remoted the radio in there -- and were on silence all day. Saw several shells land nearby and send up spires of black smoke -- another fellow and I looked around the devastated town and went into a church for Christmas Mass. The church tower was partially destroyed, the marble altar ruined and the church roof was off, setting the altar under the open, starry sky. There was a Christmas crib set up and a grotto outside still intact. We attended service and went back to our room to cook up our rations. On the remote from 3 to 6 p.m. Wrote letters, decided I was homesick this Christmas Eve, and reported into Radio Net at 1 a.m. Christmas morning.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
It was on the 24th that a lone German fighter plane flew within a few hundred feet of our truck. As it turned out, he was the only armed enemy that I ever got to see.
On Christmas Eve we moved to Lening, France, somewhere near Metz. It was about this time that stories of German parachute landings abounded. There were many nervous American troops, especially MPs at intersections. I was told that they often asked questions of troops, questions that were designed to detect Germans wearing U.S. uniforms. Who won the last world series game? The prospect of having to establish my identity by answering baseball questions was worrisome... I didn't know one league from another, to say nothing of the outcomes of any games. Fortunately, I was never challenged.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS
It was the Christmas season and this country really looked the part, all snow covered old fashioned buildings, open fields, farm animals in the village - and lots of military hardware, confusion, and occasional sounds and sights of pain and suffering. The Signal company sections had found shelter, many of us, including Sgt. Jones' wire team were staying in a complex that may have been a boarding school.
On Christmas Eve there was a distribution of mail that the Army may have held up just for this time. There were a few letters from home and one or two packages for our group. Bill received a Calculus book and a bunch of lessons from the Army School System that he completely forgotten had been ordered early in the year when time for study may have been available back in USA and in the peaceful Camp Howze.
Christmas morning but that just gave us appetites for a really swell Christmas
dinner. All of us hoped that it wouldn't be like our poor Thanksgiving
meal, and it wasn't.
Somewhere not far from our warm circumstance, GIs were hunched down in holes and bunkers and were not reached by the best efforts of the cooks and their helpers.
OUR MEN: BECK - 25 Dec 1944
Unfortunately we served Thanksgiving dinner on the run. Today, Christmas, was a little better. My mess is situated in an abandoned school-house. It is large enough to accommodate all the men. The boys were enthused to fix it up just a wee bit. To make it something different. They used old cabinets tipped on the sides for tables. Someone found pink and purple cloth. And so we had pink table cloths. Some weeds were gathered and that added a little color. The menu? We had 428 lbs. of roast turkey, cranberry sauce, peas, pears, nuts, candy, jam, coffee and bread and butter. Our ragged old mess kits couldn't hold it all. It was a Christmas, because of its atmosphere, its setting, the circumstances, that the boys will never forget. It was a Christmas - an American Christmas dinner in France.
I really don't know how serious the various shortages are at home. If there actually is a serious shortage it can be attributed to overseas shipments.
Not insinuating that we, here, eat like kings. I refer to such varied articles as cigarettes, gum and foods for special occasions such as turkey. I have cigarettes and gum pouring out of my ears. But, I'll swap places with any civvy back in the states.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Monday, Dec.
25, 1944 - Christmas - St. Jean-Rohrbach
On the set from 6 to 10 a.m. and warmed up by the stove. The priest was very nice to us. We got word we were moving back to the C.P. at St. Jean Rohrbach. We got back in time for a great turkey dinner -- on tables for a luxury. We all felt better now. Worked on the truck and slept on the floor of the truck after warming up in front of a roaring fire. Heard our Division is now in a holding position. We exchanged Christmas greetings far from home.
Wednesday, December 27, 1944 - We uncrated a power unit in the motor pool weighing several thousand pounds. It gave us trouble. Christmas packages from home rolled in -- much to my delight. We all shared. New rule -- all those found without rifle, belt and proper uniform will be fined if caught.
On Thursday, December 28, 1944 - We're in holding position and life getting monotonous. Worked on truck and washed clothes. Slept at night in a cold, boxed-in trailer. But, these G.I. bed rolls (sleeping bags) are warm.
On Friday, December 29, 1944 - Most of day cleaning up new power unit and trailer. Miserable night with cold and touch of flu.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS
The weather at times was really rough, and right in the middle of such a period, Major GALLAFHER the Asst. Division Signal Officer who had come to the army from Michigan Bell Telephone, gave all of us a day of schooling on how to hook our field wire into existing commercial telephone wires. It was one of the roughest days we spent at this set up.
The fiercest battle of the war was going on in the northwest of our positions; in our sector in the area of Sarrgeuemies, the Germans did not choose to attack.
This was just a defensive set-up and once the wire lines were in, most of our time was spent picking up wire and goofing off. We picked up a mile or two of wire almost every day. On the icy back country roads, we would try to find any kind of a structure that resembled a sled; section of fence, old door, sign board, etc. which would support one or two men. When this "towed transportation unit" was tied to the back of the truck by 25 yards of wire it was a great source of recreation until it would self destruct leaving bruised bodies in the debris.
There was a battalion aid
station near here where the wounded men were brought for treatment and
emergency operations if needed before being evacuated to the rear hospital.
Some died during treatment from their injuries, while others were patched
up and returned to service.
A large pile of discarded clothing that had been removed during the course of treatment was there in the snow. Some of it had been cut off of the men, but there were a few things that looked very service able, even if a little dirty.
Bill found an older style olive-drab field jacket that was much warmer, less bulky, and a better fit than the green jackets that most of us had been issued. It appeared to be in very good shape with no apparent damage. Perhaps the soldier had been wounded in the lower part of his body. Bill took it and put the jacket on and used it for almost a week before taking it off. Casually examining it, he saw, there in the middle of the back, between the shoulders was a bullet hole surrounded by a blood stain. The former owner may not have been as lucky as we had assumed.
We also picked up a Browning Automatic Rifle that the crew had for a few days until it became an instrument of nuisance and got us into some trouble.
One of the officers (Lieut. SWEENEY,recently promoted from Master Sergeant) suggested that he had a friend out on the line with the infantry who just might be able to put the B.A.R. to some better use for fighting the Germans, so we gave it to him to pass on.
A possible reason the B.A.R. was at the aid station in the first place was that the former operator had become an attractive target for the enemy. About a week later, the officer told us that the man to whom he had given the rifle was killed the day after he put it into action. The "real war" was still a very mean and deadly experience for many of the infantry men.
We saw a few motion pictures - a first time experience since being overseas.
OUR MEN: HARLON CHAFFEE
I don't remember just where we were, but it was Christmas time, we were in a brick building and had a sheet metal army stove set up in the room. Seems we were there for quite a while. When we would come in at night we would play cards and talk about what we had did that day.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 30
My company has been commended on several occasions by Generals officers. No credit to me. The boys just do a good job, that's all.
The weather is freezing,
of course. The mud has turned to rock. The dew freezes so solid
that it is a blanket of snow all day. I am well dressed for the cold,
my dear sister. Below all my layers of clothes I wear my long johns,
then comes my wool uniform, a heavy G.I. sweater, an all wool muffler that
wraps completely around me, a combat jacket (like a field-jacket), then
my combat coat which is water repellant and has a blanket wool lining all
around (whew!) and buttons up to the neck. On my head I have a wool
knit cap that covers my ears. Then comes my parka hood that is attached
to the coat. The hood covers everything except my eyes nose &
mouth. On top of that comes my helmet liner, then my steel helmet.
Now, for the feet. First comes a pair of light-wool socks, on to
of which are a pair of ski-socks. My feet are then covered by a pair
of shoe pacs with wool shoe pads inside that are an inch thick. The
shoe pacs come up to my knees.
Now, can you picture me? The description I just gave you is for extreme cold of about 30o or 40o below zero. It hasn't gone below 10o below zero - yet!
OUR MEN: DONLAN -
Sunday, December 31, 1944
Greeted by light snowfall in the morning and snappy air. The town takes on a different appearance, with the snow hiding its trash and battle scars. The town cathedral can be seen with its rounded and pointed steeple....
Monday, January 1, 1945, was perhaps the worst single day in Eisenhower's career in Europe as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces. Ike awoke to the word that more than a thousand German planes had struck Allied airfields in a surprise raid at dawn. More than 200 planes had been destroyed on the ground; even Bernard Montgomery's personal C-47 Dakota had been wrecked. From the Ardennes, too, there was little to cheer him. True, the Germans had been stopped short of the Meuse River, but they now seemed hell-bent on capturing Bastogne. Elements of 10 German divisions were attacking the perimeter of the Belgian town from all sides.*WWII
That same day, the Allied
hierarchy of command was wallowing in its greatest crisis of the European
war. An old problem, British Field Marshal Montgomery, was again
pestering Eisenhower to make him overall ground commander. So nagging
had become his insistence on this course, coincident with highly inflammatory
criticism about his handling of the battle in the Ardennes, that Eisenhower
nearly decided to relieve the Briton of command.*WWII
Part of the controversy
was the conduct of the war in the Alsace region of France and all along
that front extending toward Switzerland - the US 7th Army area, "our theater
The Germans were launching attacks in Alsace in hopes of diverting allied forces from the battles in the Ardennes. The scope and consequences of NORWIND, the German campaign, and the response of the Allied leaders, American, British and French, will be covered in more detail in the chapter, BACK TO FIGHT IN ALSACE - OPERATION NORTHWIND.
The British were interested in having the Germans pushed back across the Rhine River in the Alsace area, and then wanted the American forces to return to a concentration on one combined assault in the north area where the Germans had been driven back from the Ardennes battle. Their priority was a grand assault across Northern Germany toward Berlin and the end of the war with the western Allies, and particularly the British occupying all of that territory.
The Americans wanted to establish a very strong force in this southern area of Alsace and then to push the attack into Germany on two fronts. The American political and military leaders felt that the drive into the Bavaria region of Southern Germany and Austria should not be limited by an "all out force" (under a British commander) in the north consuming most of the available men and supplies on the western front.
All of this behind-the-lines, top-level discussion and planning may have been a problem in the strategy and support of our local fighting men. It could not have been much help at a critical time.
Russian forces driving hard on the Eastern front to also conquer, command, and occupy as much of Eastern Germany and the Baltic states as possible were of great concern to the British. Churchill was suspicious of the Russians - believing them to want to push as far into western Europe as they could for strategic and political advantage after the inevitable victory. Ike saw no military importance in pushing deep into Germany or fight in Berlin when that area of post war control was already assigned to the Russians.
President Roosevelt was sick and weak and left more of the decisions to his aides. His trusted military adviser, General Marshall, agreed with Ike. Eisenhower saw the battle as an opportunity to use up the German forces and supplies and to produce a victory that would win the war for the Allies even before they entered Germany. By January, Eisenhower decided this was the Allies' chance to lop off entire divisions of the German army and end the war once and for all, the Germans would be pushed back toward their border by the use of reinforcements which now became available.
More that half a million young men were thrown into the cause, fighting across the rolling hills and dark forests of Belgium and Luxembourg. More than 80,000 Americans were killed, maimed or captured in the battle. Many of the American soldiers who determined the outcome of the battle were barely out of high school, 18-19 years of age. Most of these young men had little field experience much less ever seen combat.
During the worst European winter in memory, 500,000 mostly American men dug out, pushed and pursued the Germans back through the bleak terrain. This was some of the most difficult fighting of the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans had fought through Russian winters, they understood winter warfare. They set up positions on the high ground and in the warmth of the towns - The Americans lived out in the woods, trying to make the hard frozen ground their protection.
The Germans were able to set up strong defensive positions that the Allies had to advance upon through fields covered by German artillery fire. Half of all the American casualties in the battle were caused by artillery.
Even Patton's usually fast moving forces were advancing only a mile each day, the forces on the north were slower.
The suffering of the troops
was terrible - half way through the whole battle, proper winter clothing
and shoes had not reached the front line men. 15,000 GIs had been
pulled out of service with frost bite - some with feet black as coal or
Eisenhower, who had earlier given control of the American units on the north of the Bulge to "Monty", was not able to get Field Marshal Montgomery to execute his half of a pincer movement to be coordinated with Bradley and Patton. Montgomery directed (or misdirected) the type of operation for which he had become notorious. He was on the northern side of what could have been a massive pincer movement but he refused to act. He kept "tidying up his rear" preparing for a dramatic action and all the time complaining that Eisenhower was not a good land commander and should be just an over-viewer and he, Montgomery, would take charge of the land forces on the western front.
The British continued to complain about Eisenhower's leadership and they wanted a ground commander appointed, they suggested that Field Marshal Sir Allen Brooke would be a very capable commander. General Marshall had some doubts about Eisenhower's resolve in dealing with the British, his handling of the Battle of the Bulge and his repeated calls for infantry reinforcements when Marshall thought better use could be made of the available forces and perhaps Eisenhower was losing control of the SHAEF command. Of Marshall knew that replacements from stateside just were not available.
During this crucial period of time Montgomery's complaining and failing to become a part of the necessary combined British/American effort finally became too much for Eisenhower to tolerate. Eisenhower drafted a letter to be sent to the Combined Chiefs of Staff telling them they would have to select either Montgomery or Eisenhower to be the SHAEF commander, he was no longer going to endure the present conditions. *MARS
When that information was revealed to Montgomery, he realized that the Combined Chiefs of Staff would certainly support Eisenhower and he sent a letter to "Dear Ike" that he was going to be "his faithful servant forever."
There was going to be a meeting of the political heads of state and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Malta. Marshall asked Eisenhower if he could meet with him for one day at Malta before Marshall went on to that combined meeting. They met on January 28,1945.
They discussed again the
possibility of Eisenhower combing his support units for men to become replacements
in the combat units. Marshall outlined the lack of available replacements
from any other source. Marshall hinted that perhaps Eisenhower had lost
his sure grip on commanders, the French Ist Army, part of the 6th Army
Group, refusal to obey orders to withdraw from Strasbourg in January and
shorten the lines of defense was symptomatic of a problem of control. So
too was French Marshall Alphonse Juin's assertion that his eight divisions
were too exhausted to fight on.
After much discussion between Marshall and Eisenhower, Marshall approved Ike's two stage plan to end the war, that is, first to bring his armies up to the Rhine and to cross at two separate points. Marshall told Eisenhower that as long as he was chief of staff, there would not be any separate ground commander appointed to work under Eisenhower and interfere with his concept and his control of the SHAEF armies.*MARS
Infantry men were approximately 10% of the total army but they suffered 70% of the casualties! In six weeks there had been about 20,000 casualties. All of the rear areas and the nearby support units were searched for replacements for rifle men. (See the experiences of SMITTY, DONLAN and others during this period.)
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
The Ardennes offensive caused the Army to comb its service units for replacements in the line companies. I don't remember all the details but I was told to report to a medical facility to take an examination...I presume in preparation for putting a Garrand or a BAR back in my Hands. The facility was with in Lening or Morhange. I remember standing in line for the eye exam. The same old chart with the letter E was on the wall. There was a lot of tension in this room...after all things were rumored to be disastrous in the Ardennes. and here were these signal men and others, getting set up to battle those German Panthers with Springfield Armory-1906,.30 caliber rifles! I supposed that my low rank and maybe my former army specialty...rifleman...triggered my presence in this line. My turn came. The medic covered my left eye. There was something that he didn't know.
My left eye was the only one that I could see out of. My right eye had a congenital defect that afforded me 20/400 corrected vision...not enough to distinguish a German helmet from an American at 20 feet! In fact when I was in Company L of the 409th, I shot the M1 left-handed with those hot casings arching over the bridge of my nose. Further, I imagine that when I told the medic I couldn't see the second line, all eyes in that room would be turned on me, a potential malingerer...so I asked the medic to do my left eye first.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 1
Our Chaplain arranged to have some movies for us last night. He set up a projector in one of the old prisons here, put up a sheet and presto! We saw movies. The picture was "Four Jills and a Jeep." Although I wouldn't rate it a ½ star in the states, it was 4 stars over here. The men had a good time. When Martha Raye came out in that tight fitting gown with her bust looking like hill 409 with a shadow, the place was bedlam. The other picture was a short - "The Three Stooges."
I suppose you are wondering how we can see a picture on the front lines. It is quite simple, Roz Honey, and it is done many times. The war goes on, and shells keep zooming high overhead. Of course, not everyone in the CP goes at one time. We go in shifts. Naturally, the activity must be under control.
They tell me that movie stars tour the front-lines. Maybe they do. But I haven't seen any. This is a little too far forward for entertainers, really.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 3
Had the occasion to decorate one of my men, (S/Sgt. BILL DONOHOE). He got the bronze star. Did a nice job of getting wire to an isolated CP.
On the other side of the fence my First Sergeant, FINKBEINER, has been out of action for quite some time. I still don't know when and if he's coming back. Most of it was his own fault. Quite sometime ago, he and I were checking a factory area as a possible CP. Finkbeiner spotted a Kraut potato-masher that laid in a precarious position. Instead of leaving it for the Engineers to detonate, he had to do it himself. As I was trying to make myself understood to an Alsatian about 20 feet away, we hear this loud report. At first, I thought it was another damned sniper who had bad eyesight. But there was me old "first sarge" holding his face. The damned thing had an extra large dose of powder in the detonator. It didn't exactly explode the TNT as that had fallen off. He wasn't hurt bad. Just a long cut on his forehead and a black eye. He didn't go to the Medics until late that afternoon. What they hospitalized him for was something or other in his eye. He's probably having a good time at a General Hospital somewhere, leave it to him. Yes, he got the Purple Heart, but what a way to get it! Sgt. HESS is my acting first sergeant and if Fink don't come back soon I'll promote HESS up the ladder.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - On Monday, January 1, 1945 - New Year -- Same war and town though. Informed our crew was moving out, so we got rations at mess hall and gassed up. We pulled out around 11 a.m. and went towards the Front through the towns of St. Avolo (small city, stretching many blocks), Carling, Lauterbach, and finally a town 5 km from Lauterbach, which was pretty "hot". The Nazis had counterattacked here last night and were supposed to be holding part of the town. On the outskirts of town, we found that the 106th Cavalry C.P. (which we were looking for) was back at Lauterbach, so we double-timed back there. I really had my M-3 ready that time! Country fairly level and wooded. Saw a fleet of "Forts" flying overhead. Set up radio at Lauterbach, started a fire, and had those wonderful K Rations for supper. I took 11 to 3 a.m. shift after we reported into the network. Pretty warm in our covered-in truck.
On Tuesday, January 2, 1945 - Took turns on radio and watched artillery pounding Krauts on a hill on other side of town. Also watched a fairly large fleet of "Forts" bomb enemy tank units and actually saw one of our planes downed. Lot of P-47 air activity also. Visited the town church with interior damage. This town is nearly deserted except for the Cavalry outfit. Good turkey for evening chow.
Wednesday, January 3, 1945 - Snowing again; three good chow meals. Between radio shifts several of us looked at interior shambles of some homes -- shattered glass and lives. Shocked to see two dead G.I.'s lying in a barn. Several people from Division C.P. came up at noon. Fire in truck smoked too much, so we put it out and froze!
On Thursday, January 4, 1945 We found out Lauterbach is in German Territory. Maybe that's why all the population has fled. We picked up a few souvenirs. Lots of snow on ground. Radio network quiet.
Friday, January 5, 1945 - Guys from Division came up with mail and packages to our outpost. We got books for reading, also.
Saturday, January 6, 1945 - We've been in combat about two months now. 12 to 5 a.m. radio shift -- gets tiring. Got a test message today -- 1st time. We were told to keep on "the ball". A breakthrough is expected in this sector. Days overcast and wintry.
Sunday, January 7, 1945 - still in Lauterbach, I pulled 5 to 8:30 shift and another fellow and I went into partially-destroyed church for mass. It was quite cold! Wool caps and sweaters came in handy. Got orders in p.m. to put up a flattop antenna. This gave our output radio signal more strength.
Monday, January 8, 1945 - Pulled 6-12 shift last night and radio communications really bad! We improved it some with the antenna -- heavy snow last night -- like a midwestern blizzard! Ready to catch some sleep when a lieutenant ordered us back to Division. Got loaded up to move when reverse orders came -- stay here -- same old Army! Pulled 1-5 a.m. shift.....from January 8 to 13, we made many changes in our antenna design trying to improve our communications.... The artillery cuts loose every once in a while -- those 155's really rock the place! Our Division is still in a static front.
Saturday, January 13, 1945 - Tried still another antenna this morning. We rotated back to Division C.P. in St. Jean-Rohrbach in afternoon. Lauterbach extends over a long distance with people shifted to the western end of town. Passed a large coal dock and back into France at St. Avolo. The place is alive with French people, G.I.'s and Free French soldiers. Even some of the shops had reopened. We saw about 20 German planes in the distance -- with our ack-ack going up. In addition, we saw for about an hour hundreds of Fortresses winging toward Alsace to hit the German counterattacks near Haguenau.
First clear day, hence all the air activity. Vapor trails from Forts impressive as wave after wave went overhead. Back at C.P., it was impressive to see the elaborate setup for radio control. We heard storms in the Atlantic have delayed our mail.
Sunday, January 14, 1945 - St. Jean Rohrbach - Tough day on K.P. back at the C.P. Went with a driver to get water and we passed bombed-out towns. The Advance for C.P. went out today. Rumors say near La Walch. The Jerries had advanced quite a bit in that area.
Monday, January 15, 1945 - Second day on K.P. even tougher. I learned that an A.S.T.P. friend, Tom Lutze, from our Denton days was killed December 15th in the 409th. Felt bad! Saw with others New York gangster movie, "Unholy Partners".
OUR MEN: BECK - France 4
GALLAGHER has since been promoted to Major. We get along very well and I really like him. Col. Brown is as skinny as ever and always cold. Otherwise he is fine as are all the other officers.
We are operating as a well oiled machine now. Everyone plays his position that he knows best. If it brings victory then what the heck, we'll all go home.
There were two Red Cross women up here today giving out doughnuts and coffee. What interested the boys most wasn't that they were women, but that they were AMERICAN women! I was busy, I couldn't see them.
I admire people like that, especially if they are women. Coming up to the lines completely voluntarily and no strings attached. There are a lot just like them that tour the front.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 5 Jan.
No matter what is written or said about the various branches engaged in war none can compare to the infantry. All branches are doing a magnificent job and none should be belittled. And in some instances we all fight as infantry. But for straight fighting, continually at grips with the enemy in a physical manner, the infantry is far ahead of us.
It is the infantry that attacks, occupies and defends whatever land is fought for. The infantry are the one that first get in there and wade across. None of us can move forward without the doughfeet to push the Hun back. When we retreat, it's the infantry that holds the enemy at bay, while the rest of us go back safely. It's the slogging, plugging infantry that win the battles. We just support them. By "we" I mean every other branch. The infantry is paratroopers, rangers and the motorized troops. They are all doughfeet! And without the doughfeet we might as well go home. My hat (or helmet) is off to the infantry.
Now for my dear Signal Corps. It has been often said that the boys of the crossed-flags are the nerve center of the army. And so we are! Without us there would be no information, no orders/no command. To accomplish this we go from the plodding infantry to the plush of higher headquarters. We are everywhere. We link all branches, all services with one and the other.
Our main threat is artillery, planes and bombs. Occasionally a little small arms fire is thrown in for good measure. We have had more than a taste of it. Some of us have had gulps. After a fashion it's rather tolerable, subject to ones constitution.
A plane, an enemy one, would suddenly come charging out from behind a cloud and come tearing straight for the ground you stand on. For a moment you are frozen. Your eyes are glued to that human bullet. You think, there is a man in there and he is coming at you with a ton of greased lightning, with 8 machine guns ready to bark fiercely in rasping tome at his slight touch of a button. He dives in a crescendo of roaring motors growing louder and louder. Suddenly, as if by instinct you hit a hole, any hole, or a cellar if one is near by, and burrow your body as far down as you can worm that clumsy body of yours. Your heart beats fast (frankly more from the excitement than fear) and you clench your fists. If he starts to pull out of the dive it will be clear for you to look up as his proverbial bolt is shot. Our ack-ack is now pocketing him in a ring of flack. He either pulls out prematurely or gets it. Most of the time he gets hit, and you watch that plane, who only a few moments ago was a roaring lion, go crazily earthward, to hit the ground a mile away in a terrific explosion.
After a while it's rather a lot of fun. The threat of danger is really very little as cellars, buildings or holes are always available. And it's very seldom does the Jerry try such foolhardy tactics. He hasn't the planes to spare.
I hope I haven't scared you in any way. I thought that would cover the subject of strafing. Usually I am fairly safe; sometimes as safe as you are at home. It's more a war of nerves than anything else. I think that slowly we are becoming veteran combat soldiers instead of rookies which we were actually called upon our initial landing.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 8
My little jeep skidded and sloshed but kept on going. I'd like to keep that jeep after the war. It has carried me wherever I wanted to go. Thru rain, sleet, mud, sun and snow. And don't forget wherever that jeep goes so goes my driver Sheldon. Sheldon has been my driver, orderly, messenger and general man Friday for the past 15 months.
OUR MEN: EVANS
On January 8th the 103d Division's Commander, Major General Charles Haffner had to give up his command and returned to the United States due to poor health.
On January 9th, the 103d Division was placed temporarily, in the XXI Corp. By that time the Bulge had been 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 Jan.11th, Brigadier General Anthony Mc Auliffe, the hero of Bastogne, was given command of the 103d Infantry Division. He was immediately promoted to Major General.
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.
In spite of the fact
that this was a period of defense for the 103d Division, the troops in
the line did not have a safe, easy time. In one regiment alone, the 409th,
the month of December saw casualties totaling 589 men. Forty-six were killed
in action and 218 were counted as missing in action. Eight were seriously
injured. Two hundred and fifty-four were slightly wounded in action
while 56 were injured. Six died of their wounds
It is possible that most of these casualties occurred early in the month, but the Christmas and winter defensive in the north was costly. Even when the soldiers were in "quiet zones" the losses were dramatic and tragic.
Andy Beck, Captain Beck's
son, sent the following copy of an official document and some background
information and explanation.
C O N F I D E N T I A L
HEADQUARTERS 103D INFANTRY DIVISION S: 20 January 1945
APO # 470 U.S. ARMY
SUBJECT: Disciplinary Action
TO : Captain Bernard Beck, O1633624, SC, 103d Signal Company,
103d Infantry Division, APO #470, U.S. Army.
THRU : Commanding Officer, Special Troops, 103d Infantry Division,
APO #470, U.S. Army
1. Preliminary investigation has indicated that an offense againstgood order and military discipline hasbeencommitted by you as follows:On or about 8 January 1945 an inspection of the motor vehicles of the 103d Division Signal Company revealed that they were in an unsatisfactory condition because of improper maintenance. Previous to this inspection you had been informed at least twice that the vehicleswere in an unsatisfactory condition and ordered toimmediately improve their condition by vigorous commandsupervision. You have failed to comply with this orderand the vehicle maintenance of your command is still the poorest in the 103d Infantry Division.
It is my intention to impose punishment under Article of War 104.
In accordance with Paragraph 107, Manual for Courts-Martial, U.S. Army,
1928, you are notified of this intended action. You will acknowl-
edge receipt of this communication by indorsement which will include a statement as to whether you demand trial in lieu of action under Article of War 104.
A. C. McAULIFFE
Brigadier General, United States Army,
(Andy Beck comment 1994 - There
is quite a bit of history that is not apparent from this small entry.
Many years ago my father told me that, indeed, there had been lax motor
vehicle maintenance during December 1944. He was admonished for this
and had worked out a program with the other officers to improve the situation.)
OUR MEN: BECK
Andy writes, "On or about 8 January 1945 he and his driver Sheldon got caught in a cross fire between our troops and the Germans. The two of them dove for cover. The jeep trundled on a few feet before hitting something that stopped it. The fire fight raged as the signalmen stayed low. The area was raked with machine gun fire. Fortunately the Germans pulled back and our troops moved up. My dad and Sheldon were unscathed. They got to their jeep and found it had been hit repeatedly. Nevertheless, it started faithfully and the two drove back to Signal Company headquarters. Lo and behold, who should be at Signal Company headquarters but the Division Ordnance Officer. Having expressed his displeasure with Signal Company vehicles just a few days before, he was livid with this jeep in which he counted over 200 bullet holes!
The attached reprimand and fine resulted. According to my father, he explained the situation to General McAuliffe, who was sympathetic. My dad said that McAuliffe had the reprimand removed from my dad's 201 file, but was unable to reverse the fine. Supposedly, this accounts for why the originals of all the documents were in my father's hands, rather than U.S. Army records. This dispute is most likely what is referred to in item 3 of the 2nd indorsement. In any case, it was because of this incident that there was so much emphasis placed on vehicle maintenance in 1945. In fact, this is why drivers names were placed in the windshield of their vehicles.
(1995 Editor's note - It is hard to say just what the main problem was with the Signal Company vehicles, but it may have been that the very nature of their operation away from contact and supervision with the company officers resulted in some deterioration of their appearance. Speaking from my own experience, it almost seems that this period of our assignment in Lorraine should have been a time of getting proper truck service and cleanup. I don't remember that Jones' boys spent much time cleaning or servicing.)
On Jan.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.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 13
Sgt. SWEENY is now 2nd Lt. SWEENY. I gave him a direct commission. With Finkbeiner gone, I promoted Sgt. HESS to 1st Sgt.
On January 12, 1945 I was lying down in a disorderly bunker with my head propped up on my helmet and a coat thrown over me, for whatever comfort that would bring, when I got a 'phone call from the company CP. There were a lot of questions about my background and education that rather annoyed me considering my present poor situation. The caller, Lieutenant White, finally said that I was being considered for a battle field commission, if I would accept it. The offer was quite a surprise, two months before I had been a private first class, before being promoted to sergeant. The following month had been so full of activity that I had not been able to find sergeant strips to sew on my sleeve. I was pleased, I figured I had been doing a lot of the work of a leader and it was about time that I began to be paid for it.
2ND LT. ROGET
On January 16, 1945 I was taken back to Morhange, France and on the 17th I became a 2nd Lieutenant. I was very happy! After being given the Battle Field Commission (BFC) some other men and I who had been promoted were sent to an Officers' Replacement Depot where we were given some training and learned a few of the details and responsibilities of our new positions. Apparently, there was a greater deference between being an "Officer and a Gentleman" and being just an enlisted man than I had ever been able to comprehend and/or understand.
There was some discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of being reassigned as an officer to the division in which We had served as enlisted man. I was asked to serve in the 3rd infantry division which had been in action since 1942 in North Africa - it had a well earned excellent reputation. It seemed to me that I could not make a better choice, I was soon on my way.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Tuesday, January
16, 1945 - Reichshoffen
Loaded up for another move. Our radio truck pulled out at 11 a.m. and travelled east through several large towns, one of them being Sarre-Union. Lots of civilians about. We froze in the back, but got out and jumped around at the breaks. We pulled into Reichshoffen, the new C.P. -- and got a good house for "J" Area. Warm room to sleep in, but smoking fire.
On Wednesday, January 17,
1945 I was on duty on AAA net from 1 to 5 a.m. It was cold even with
a fire going. Sleep, radio duty, chow -- all mixed up in crazy hours.
Don't know day from night. Sat around with other radio section guys
in "J" Area at night with warm fire.
Thursday, January 18, 1945 - We tried to find a barber all over town, but closed because Thursday is a holiday in France. Radio Control is near a crossroads and across from RR 22 depot -- a depot without tracks anymore. Getting used to lack of mail delivery.
In the final stages of the battle the men on both sides were spent. Their resources dwindled - all that was left was survival of the most primitive kind. The German troops were in tatters - if they tried to surrender, they could be shot. German dead froze where they fell. American soldiers sat on them like logs to eat their rations. Wounded men were repaired and sent back to the front repeatedly until they could not return wounded or were dead.
In the last few days of January 1945, the Americans made their way back to the original lines. There had been 16,000 Americans killed in action, 60,000 more were wounded or captured. German casualties were twice that.
There was no ceremony to
mark the end of the battle, the GIs just kept moving forward.
It was the greatest American battle of the second world war, the most costly battle ever fought by Americans in any war. Until then the worst killing field was Gettysburg with 51,000 casualties on both sides. In the Ardennes, American casualties exceeded 76,000 - German losses may have been twice that.
The Battle of the Bulge was costly on both sides. Allied intelligence estimated the Germans had lost as many as 450,000 men including 36,000 captives. At the same time the Americans had suffered 77,700 battle casualties, the majority of these among infantry men.
Eisenhower could ill afford these losses, the shortages in the fighting units were acute. He only had 73 Allied divisions and most of them were seriously under strength in officers and men. These forces were confronting no fewer than 70 badly mauled but dangerous German divisions.
According to a 1953 U.S. Army statistical report, 19,246 American men were killed in action, suffered fatal wounds, or died while being held prisoner in ath Ardennes campaing between December 16 and January 25. The report noted that 62,489 men received non-fatal wounds and 23,554 were taken prisoner, making it the heavies battle toll in U.S. history...
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill told the House of Commons that for every British fatality, 60 to 80 Americans had died. That, he said, justified calling it the greatest American battle of the war and a total American victory,*ROM/JAN,1995
[Some divisions were seasoned but battle-weary like the 3rd, 36th or the 45th. They had suffered heavy casualties and needed replacements and they complained about the quality of the replacements they got: men who knew nothing about the organization of the army, who did not know how to use their weapons, who could not carry heavy weight...The Task Forces and the men of the 103d were "as green as growing corn" or not much riper.
Most of these men had not
been drafted in the usual way: they had been in High School when they became
aware of the college training programs offered by the various service branches.
They had passed the tests which required a high I.Q. (110 at first, raised to 115) and they had been assigned to the Army Specialized Training Program (A.S.T.P.), hoping to graduate in engineering, languages, medicine, psychology... But they were soon disillusioned as the A.S.T.P. was discontinued.
The Army needed infantrymen not brains. Times had changed. The A.S.T.P. had been initiated in 1942 "primarily to ensure a continuous flow of technically and professionally trained men for the prosecution of the war, men who could not procured without deferments if the draft age should be lowered to eighteen... There were strong arguments for training them in colleges and universities. The training and educational facilities of the Army were believed to be insufficient in extent and character to give the type of education required. Moreover the usee of the colleges and universities would protect these institutions from impoverishment or collapse". Thus the GIs who had to face the enemy had received no adequate training as infantrymen and many would die because of their greenness.]
(1993 Editor's note: The preceding comments on the competence of the members of the 103d Division and particularly the ASTP boys was taken from the book Fighting In the Val de Moder. Some of my best friends were members of these splendid groups, they deserve a better appraisal, although I must admit, I was at times possibly "green as moldy corn" found the going "rough as a cob", and did "long for the fields of home".)
OUR MEN: DONLAN - CHRISTMAS EVE
ON THE WESTERN FRONT
My most memorable Christmas occurred forty-nine years ago, on Christmas Eve 1944. I was a nineteen year old radio operator with the 103d Cactus Infantry Division of the U.S. Seventh Army in Europe. Our division had replaced Third Army units that were double timing north toward the Ardennes and Battle of the Bulge. We had also recently entered Germany through the Siegfried Line. Ours was a new division in Europe, having landed at Marseilles in October '44. By mid December we and other Seventh Army divisions had cleared out the Vosges Mountains and were poised on the German border. To our frustration, however, we were halted by late December, and pinned down amidst a harsh European winter.
My Signal Company crew was operating radios from the back of a 3/4 ton weapons carrier. Our job was to maintain radio contact between regimental and divisional command posts. There were sporadic explosions of distant mortar fire and occasional screaming of "88" rounds in our wooded area. To our delight, those sounds had virtually stopped by Christmas Eve. After dark, another crew member and I walked several miles to the nearest village to find a Catholic church where we could attend Christmas Eve Mass.
When we arrived at the village (whose name I cannot recall), it appeared deserted. We figured that most of the townspeople had fled, for many houses and buildings had been destroyed. An eerie silence engulfed the village and fresh snow covered much of the ruins. We talked about how festive it must have been on Christmas Eves before the War.
We found the church by following the other G.I.'s and the few remaining townspeople who were walking towards it. Upon seeing the Gothic style church, I was amazed; for unlike so many of the other buildings in the area, it was nearly intact. After entering the church, and joining the other G.I.'s, I noticed a cold draft coming from above. Looking up, I realized that the dome over the altar had been blown off. We were going to have Christmas Eve Mass under the stars! Cold air flowed down from the dome, but I remember a warm service and a welcome by the priest to both G.I.'s and the German townspeople. Mass began with familiar carols sung in German.
Near the end of the mass, the soldiers and townspeople walked toward the altar to receive communion. We nodded in greeting to the Germans. Suddenly it struck me, "Here we are, supposedly enemies, yet worshipping the same God and receiving communion together." Yes, by attending this Christmas Mass together, we shared our common faith that so many citizens of both our countries traced to Christ's birth. After mass we wished each other a Merry Christmas and moved back over the moonlit snow to our outfits and duties and to continue the war. But for one brief hour that Christmas Eve of 1944, war and its horror seemed to disappear in a quiet German border village.
16. Back To Fight In Alsace - Operation Northwind
The events in "our area of Alsace", while we were engaged far to the northwest in the provence of Lorrain in support of the troops fighting the Battle of the Bulge, are almost unbelievable.
During the absence of the 103d Division from Alsace, the Wehrmacht had attacked in force at a number of points along the extended Seventh Army front that extended from our position at Christmas time in Lorraine southeast to the positions we had occupied in Alsace in early December 1944.
The German offensive against
the U.S. 7th Army in Lorraine and Alsace, Operation "Nordwind" (Northwind)
was designed by Hitler to maintain German possession of the offensive initiative
in the West by mounting another large-scale attack. At the end of
December 1944, Hitler's "Wacht Am Rhein" offensive - known to the Allies
as the Battle of the Bulge - lay foundering in the Ardennes forests of
Belgium and Luxembourg. Even before then, however, the German "Fuhrer",
Hitler, with his generals Rundstedt and Blaskowitz planned an attack that
was to follow the Ardennes push. It would strike in the Sarre Valley, just
east of the 103d Division sector in Lorraine, as well as the former sector
of the 103d, Bitche-Neunhofen area, on New Years eve of 1944. It
was called NORWIND (Northwind).
"Nordwind" would attempt to pinch off part of Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers' Sixth Army Group in the Vosges mountains in northeastern France. According to Hitler, such an offensive "will compel [Gen. George] Patton to withdraw the mass of his forces which are now seeking to relieve Bastogne... with this, the pressure on the south flank in the Ardennes will relax."*WWII
Hitler was well aware of the importance of Strasbourg to the French. Just as he had hoped his Ardennes offensive might sow the seeds of discontent between the Americans and the British, an attack in Alsace might take the French out of the war. As the German leader saw it, the shaky Free French regime, symbolized in the person of General Charles de Gaulle, could hardly survive the loss of Alsace. If the numerous factions of the Communist Resistance took over, the Allied lines of supply and communication might be severely disrupted. Coupled with the recent Allied reverses in the Ardennes, such a success might throw the Western Alliance into chaos. Perhaps the entire Allied coalition would disintegrate.
Eisenhower worried most about Devers' capability to hold his long, 200-mile front that now stretched from Basel, Switzerland, to the Saar. Whereas the U.S. First Army now had a frontage of about five miles per division, Devers was forced to cover eastern France with one division to every 15 miles.*WWII
The day after Christmas, General Devers' G-2 warned him of reports from "excellent agent sources" that enemy units were building up in the Black Forest area for an offensive.
General Devers and General Alexander M. Patch, the commander of his Seventh Army, prudently chose to relocate their headquarters to the rear that same day.
Later in the afternoon (12-26), Devers flew to Paris to meet with Eisenhower. He found the supreme commander still quite preoccupied with the battle in the Ardennes. Ike told Devers in no uncertain terms that he must be prepared to surrender ground, particularly in the deep Lauterbourg salient. "On no account permit formations to be cut off and surrounded", Eisenhower ordered.*WWII
Early on New Year's Eve, General Patch conferred with Haislip and Brooks at the XV Corps (part of the US 7th Army, along with the VI Corps to which the 103d division was attached) headquarters in Fenetrange, being careful to warn them that they could expect to be hit, possibly even that night. His warning would prove prophetic. Punctually at 11 p.m., the first attack started, but it was east of the 103d sector in Lorraine, and it struck the 44th and 100th Division sectors. The German assault began without artillery preparation. At midnight, Even forewarned of the impending German offensive, the U.S. forces there were shaken by the ferocity of the assault.
A quick study of the situation map revealed a greater problem with the Allied salient in Devers' area, which jutted invitingly into the German line as a perfect target for an encirclement. This was territory the 103d and other units had gained before being sent north toward the "Bulge". Holding on to such territory had already cost the Americans the surrender of most of the 106th Division in the Ardennes, and he did not intend to let that happen again.*WWII
The German military operation had begun with a strong armored attack assisted by another two infantry corps on either side of the main assault. The attack had thrust from the Westwall in the Zweibrucken area and then cut south to the Savern Gap. There, the forces of the German First Army had expected to link up with attacks from the east by units under the highly questionable field leadership of SS Reichsfurer Heinrich Himmler.*WWII
The German panzer formations
would be committed to the battle once the Maginot Line had been breached
near Rohrback. If all went well, at least two U.S. infantry divisions
would be caught in the trap in northern Alsace, with Germany recapturing
Strasbourg and routing the French forces in the Colmar pocket.*WWII
As Eisenhower saw it, surrendering the land in Alsace would be of little military consequence, and there could be an additional important side benefit: it would release additional U.S. troops for employment in the Ardennes. All this meant that he could not afford to get too embroiled in the Alsace sector.
General Devers had phoned Eisenhower (1-5) at SHAEF. He worriedly told his chief that "the German is pressing everywhere." Strasbourg, Devers also informed his commander, "was as good as lost." It was obvious to Devers that the German attack intended to envelope the relatively untried U.S. 100th Infantry Division. Eisenhower repeated that the Sixth Army Group must shorten its lines and pull back to the Vosges Mountains. Devers agreed. He would pull his forces out of the salient.
The American commanders were willing to let the Germans occupy Strasbourg for a time, particularly if the French were not willing to fight to free their own national terrain. The possibility of withdrawal to the Vosges created an immediate stir in the French camp. On January 3, de Gaulle showed up at Eisenhower's headquarters at Versailles - Prime Minister Winston Churchill accompanied the French leader as a sort of mediator. Ike started the meeting with a description of his troubles in the Ardennes, the shortage in infantry replacements and the continuing sore spot in the Colmar pocket - an unsaid insinuation that the French had dropped the ball in reducing the German salient there.*WWII
Eisenhower telephoned Devers as soon as the meeting was over. The proposed withdrawal was canceled immediately; the U.S. VI Corps would hold onto Strasbourg. De Gaulle had won.*WWII
The change of orders came on the afternoon of January 3. For a short time, Strasbourg was virtually undefended. The U.S. 3rd Division, which had been defending the largest part of the city from the Germans, had withdrawn from the Alsatian capital, according to the original orders. The same day, General Patch threw in the French 2nd Armored Division to back up the U.S. XV Corps. These forces were deployed along the Marne-Rhine canal in Strasbourg with orders "at the first hint of trouble to withdraw to the Vosges Mountains."*WWII
This penetration of territory that the Allies had previously held was of great concern to SHAEF and the top commanders of the Allies on the western front for several different reasons.
The French, and General
De Gaulle were very distressed that the area in and around Strasbourg had
been lost, and Strasbourg was being threatened.
The civic center of Alsace, Strasbourg, had been part of France since the first World War and at various times in earlier history. It had been invaded by the Germans during their original "Blitzkrieg" early in the war and held by them until recovered by the US 7th Army and the French First Army at Thanksgiving time of 1944.
De Gaulle and his army, however were not at all willing to commit to a vigorous attack on the Germans in the "Colmar Pocket" which was deep in the area they had responsibility for or Strasbourg.
On January 6, General Devers moved the boundaries of the U.S. Seventh and the French First Armies to make the French responsible for the defense of Strasbourg.*WWII
The Germans forces had several days earlier come across a bridgehead north of Stassbourg with strong SS and extreme Nazi supporting troops in a vigorous attack. 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 salient in our lines and there had been a general withdrawal to straighten out the front.
Heinrich Himmler, Nazi Number-Two Man who had taken command of German troops opposite the Seventh Army and the French First Army, opened this drive with very strong forces to make a break through similar to Von Runstedt's in the north during the Battle of the Bulge. The German offensive was strongly supported by infantry, tanks, and support units.
The British were interested in having the Germans pushed back across the Rhine River in this area of Alsace, and then wanted the American forces to return to a concentration on one combined assault in the north area where the Germans had been driven back in the Ardennes battle. Their priority was a grand assault across Northern German toward Berlin and the end of the war with the western Allies, and particularly the British occupying all of that territory. Russian forces driving hard on the Eastern front to also conquer, command and occupy as much of Eastern Germany and the Baltic states as possible were of great concern to the British.
The Americans wanted to establish a very strong force in this southern area of Alsace and then to push the attack into Germany on two fronts. The American political and military leaders felt that the drive into the Bavaria region of Southern German and Austria should not be limited by an all-out-force (under a British commander) in the north consuming most of the available men and supplies on the western front.
All of this behind the lines, top level discussion and planning may have been a problem in the strategy and support of our 103d fighting men. It could not have been much help at a critical time.
The 103d division was relieved in Lorraine by the 36th division on January 14, 1945 and sent on a fast motor march back into Alsace to support and then relieve the newly committed infantry division, the 70th near Lamperstock, France. When the 103d was relieved of its commitment in the Sargumenes defensive positions, an advance group of division CP troops was sent ahead to the southeast to the sector where we had been operating before Christmas.
Sergeant Jones' wire team was a part of that advance group. The next several days were a confusion of movements and activities, but by late afternoon on January 16,1945 when the main body of the Division Command Post personnel arrived in Reichshoffen there was an almost complete installation in place.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS
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.
OUR MEN: TOM BROWN
While in that area we had a heavy German attack, which overran some of our units at Schillorsdorf. We were alerted to move out on a moments notice if the Germans broke through in our area. Fortunately we beat back the attack, counterattacked and whipped them. Just recently I found out that the Germans had named that offensive, "Operation Nordwind."
"Let me tell you what happened to us sometime in February of 1945. We were resting up after Nordwind, and our officers decided we needed a bath (I really don't know why, as it had only been three months since we had one, and by that time all the men smelled so bad that we had gotten used to it). So why hadn't we bathed more frequently? Because we lived outdoors in Europe's coldest winter in 100 years. I think that one month we never had a single day that the temperature rose above freezing. Bathing was impossible unless you were a member of the Polar Club and didn't mind bathing in the polluted streams and rivers! (I forgot to tell you that French farmers fertilized their fields with human excrement mixed with water, and the runoff caused the pollution.
All water had to be purified before we could use it.) The Engineers had set up a bathing facility near a stream complete with water purification and heating. Also they had set up tents and showers and clothes washing and drying equipment. We were herded in to the first tent where we stripped. We then went into the showers and took our baths. Um-m-m-m-m-m, that hot water felt so good! So good that the Engineers had to send MP's with fixed bayonets into the shower room to force the men out!
Next we went into the dressing room where we were issued clean clothing. Clothing that the previous group had deposited, which was washed and dried and given to us. Our clothes were washed and dried and given to the group behind us. It was a nice setup. So three cheers for the Engineers!!!"
OUR MEN: NANEY
And then there was Neifern and Muhlhausen, for just a couple of towns of destruction. Gumbersht-shoffen, so much to make a man wonder "what is the use of going on?" Then we got to Bobenthal and General McAulliffe came in and took things where they should be. He was a great leader. Can anyone remember Bensheim, Germany??? That was where Marlene Dietrich was shacking up with General McAulliffe. Such beautiful memories. Ha Ha!
And another hazard was the French driver, Buddy... if you didn't watch out for him you were in trouble, for he would actually run over you. I don't think they could see past the end of their noses. In Strasbourg we had to be on the look-out for them as well as Krauts and if you were in a narrow street you were in real trouble. Near miss, you bet. And can any of you remember Heidelberg?? And the Displaced Persons Camp? Lt. MacSurley's (??) jeep driver and I took off for the Displaced Person Camp one night. We got on the wrong road, and in backing up we hit a railroad iron on a crossing and did a considerable amount of damage to the rear of the jeep. I don't think anyone knew who did it; at least I hope not. Anyway, that is my confession. I hope it is too late for any harm to be done. Ha Ha! There was a party before we started to the D.P. Camp. No way... we couldn't get in. We sure looked rough, like a couple of hoboes. I think that driver was from Texas... very big guy.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - JANUARY
15, 1945 REICHSHOFFEN 4 NIGHTS
We are back in Alsace to help defend the area we left just before Christmas. The weather is still pretty bad. We ran a few lines out to Worth. The roads are poor, wet and slippery.
This period was spent by the infantry line companies getting into and improving their positions for defense and preparing to attack and regain ground in order to stabilize the front which had become poorly defined. The Signal Company men were involved in developing an effective communications system for the division and its supporting units during a rather confusing period.
At 1200A 12 January 1945, the Division passed to the control of the XXI Corps. Prior to this time assistance was given to wire officers of the 65th Signal Battalion in orienting them on locations of Corps facilities in the Division and adjacent areas. 14 January 1945 relief of the 103d Infantry Division in the St. Jean Rohrbach sector by Task Force Herrin was begun. Relief was completed 17 January 1945. As Task Force Herrin had no organic service troops, it was furnished Signal personnel by Army. This personnel consisted of 105 men and 4 officers from the 250th Signal Operations Company and three wire teams from the 65th Signal Battalion. A Corps order requiring that the entire wire installation of the 103d Infantry Division be left caused the 103d Signal Company to leave behind approximately 180 miles of badly needed wire.
The relief of all Signal personnel was effected and operation turned over to the Signal Operation Company 250th as of 1200A 16 January 1945. Advance Signal Operation Group of the 103d Division departed at 0730A 14 January 1945 to set up operations in old area formerly occupied by Task Force Herrin in the vicinity of Reichshoffen, France. The main body of the Division CP closed into Reichshoffen at 1700A 16 January 1945 where a complete tactical and administrative installation had been completed by the advance Signal Group.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
On the 9th of January repair moved to Morhange, site of a French garrison, and then on to Reichshoffen the 16th, to billet in the railroad station.
The arrival suffered from someone's misjudgment, I was told, because we and the trucks were within range of small arms fire. I remember an all-night of wire and equipment loading and a departure for Pfaffenhofen the next day.
As I recall I was roused out of my sleeping bag during the night to load wire...the word being that the German forces were not far off. In the confusion and darkness I left my wristwatch where my sleeping bag was. Now that I reflect on it, had the VIth Army Group commander Devers and the 7th Army commander Patch, followed Eisenhower's order to get out of Northern Alsace, I might still have my watch!
OUR MEN: EVANS
The 411th remained in its defensive position until it was relieved on Jan 17th and started the 75 mile trek back to Alsace. Once again, our radio truck was loaded with as many G.I.s 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.
Upon arrival, the 411th was designated Division Reserve but names are deceiving. One battalion was immediately detached to the 45th Infantry Division and 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 Hagenau. 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 called off the attack on Jan.19th 1945.
The 411th Regiment was returned to the control of the 103d Division and took up the position of Division Reserve at Bouxwiller, Alsace.
On January 19, 1945, The 103d was back in action on the extreme right of the 6th Corps in the vicinity of Haguenau. There in the biting cold was fought the most bitter battles of the winter.
An attack by the 410th Regiment on the town of Sessenheim in an attempt to pre-empt the pressure of a strong German force was countered by heavy pressure from the enemy with superior forces of infantry, tanks, self propelled weapons and flack wagons. Our men had entered the town after moderate resistance, then the Germans mounted a very strong counter attack and our men were driven out and back into their support troops who also had to withdraw.
Because of top-level confusion, and misunderstanding of the strength and tactical goals of the Germans, by our local commanders, our division fighting men and some of their support units including elements of the Signal Company were placed in untenable positions and then forced to retreat in terrible weather and tactical conditions.
A new line of resistance was established along the south bank of the Rothbach and Moder Rivers between the village of Rothbach and the town of Pfaffenhoffen.
Although they disengaged, the enemy followed up and early reports disclosed heavy troop movements toward Gundershoffen and Reichshoffen, where the Division C.P. had been set up and we were forced to pull back.
The German attacking forces followed close behind through the area of Gundershoffen and Reichshoffen. A line of resistance was finally established between Rothbach and Pfaffenhoffen but it held only for a day or two.
A strategic withdrawal was mandated by the higher echelons at VI Corp or Seventh Army headquarters. It took place on the night of Jan. 21st in a blinding snowstorm. The G.I.s 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 night of January 20/21,
1945 was a very tough, miserable, and sad period for all of us. During
this long night the infantry men retreated under extremely difficult conditions.
A previous thaw had melted some of the snow making the white clothing they had very visible, but the following freezing weather of the night made the icy roads and surrounding fields very inhospitable. Incoming shells, and there were some, ricocheted off the hard surfaces and caused many casualties.
The Signal Company radio units and wire teams that worked closely with the infantry were intermixed with the foot troops, tanks, artillery gun carriages, AA guns, trucks, etc. and although we had trucks to ride on, much of the time was spent off and out of our vehicles slipping and sliding around and trying to lay wire or clear a passage way through the confusing flight of men and material.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS
Sgt. Jones and his boys laid a line from Boxweiller to Imbsheim during the retreat. Usually, we would be following the troops as they advanced. In this case we were trying to leave a wire line behind for the use of following troops to at least be able to communicate with the senior officers who were preceding them.
It was not a very successful effort, as the line was constantly being run over by trucks and tanks. The follow behind police-up men had a never ending job of trying to keep the line intact. This retreat was a terrible physical ordeal for the troops, and the anguish of leaving the Alsatian people behind to suffer the punishment of the oncoming SS troopers was terribly depressing.
The Attacking German SS troops came in close behind the retreating American soldiers, harassing them all the way.
The Infantry boys told us that the night of the retreat was one of their toughest hikes. They slipped and slid for about 28 miles with all of their equipment and ammunition in the same blizzard conditions in which we had been laying our wire line. There was no doubt in any of our minds who had experienced the greater suffering.
We just gone into some shelter when we had to go out and lay another line. We were dead tired when we started out, but the moonlight shining on the snow covered fields, the ridiculous nature of our business, and the euphoria of being overtired soon caused us to begin to laugh and joke until about 5:30 A.M. when we were able to raid the mess hall for some bread and jam, etc. before we climbed into our sacks.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 22
In the PX department, we all did O.K., too. Merchandise is shipped in once a month. Sometimes there are good items and others nothing at all. We pay for it all right, but it's worth it. Tonight, here is what each one of us got:
Two (2) bottles of Ruppert's beer. - and boy! oh boy! does it taste good.
Four (4) bars of candy such as Clark's bar, Milky Way, Butterfinger, etc.
Three(3) cigars each of a different make.
Per every 10 men, a tin of Whitman's chocolate.
Now that's a pretty good sized haul as PX rations run. We really appreciate it.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 26-29 Jan.
Been kind of rushed the last few days, mostly with administrative matters. Paperwork, rather than diminishing in the field, increases. And I am the boy responsible for administration of the signal company.
Many times I have been asked on how different I found the administrative operation in combat from that in garrison. Outside of casualties that are real, and equipment knocked out by enemy action, I find that there is no difference. Inspection and the SOP chicken s-t of this division is the same that it always is. Combat only lends atmosphere, that's all. Of course, the condition is somewhat different in a front line infantry outfit. But, they have to contend with the same thing when they fall back for a breather.
Sometimes, it makes very little difference where your relative location is. No matter how rough the boys in division signal company may find it, it is still a bed of roses compared to the doughfoot, who is actually up there and doing the real honest-to-goodness fighting and killing. As I said (or wrote) once before, my hat is off to the infantryman.
(1995 Editor's note: Pfc. Gordon Roget, formerly of the 103d Division, continued experiencing the life of an infantry soldier. His story is still typical of the experiences the infantry men of the 103d division. For that reason, it will be continued here.)
After Lt. Roget, with his new "Battle Field Comission had been assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, he was given a one-week "Rest and Recreation Leave" in Paris.
He had only his original G.I. clothes and his new "Crossed Rifles" on an officer's shirt with a 3rd Division shoulder patch given to him by an Army Chaplain to wear.
In the swirl of activity
in Paris, he was adopted by two Army Airforce Officers who were anxious
to show him the town. Any officer or soldier wearing the patch of
an Infantry Division that had as much combat history as the United States
3rd Infantry Division was greatly admired by the locals, millitary, civilian
The good times ended all too soon and Lt. Roget returned to the "Real War".
LT. ROGET - 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION
Shortley after I had rejoined it, the 3rd infantry division was involved in action in the Colmar Pocket, a section of France that he been the primary responsibility of the French Army fighting on the southern flank of the U.S. divisions in the 7th Army.
At 15th Regimental Headquarters, I was introduced to Colonel Edison, and after a brief discussion, I was assigned to B Company, 15th Infantry Regiment. In a jeep with a driver who knew the way, I headed toward the front. Coming into the little town of Colmar, the evidence of the war was everywhere. Most dramatic was to see two jeeps off the road near battalion headquarters, they had apparently been caught in an ambush while bringing in new recruits.
One jeep was up against a bank, its driver had been shot through the head, one of the recruits was lying on the ground with a leg still resting in the jeep - he still had on his pack. The second recruit was face down nearby. The other jeep was perched with a wheel in a foxhole, the two new replacements were sprawled in relaxed positions near the shot up vehicle. All of this action apparently occurred in early evening or during the night. We were arriving about mid-morning. My driver was nervous as hell!
In early afternoon, after talking with the battalion commander, I was assigned to a company commanded by Lt. Murphy. The guide took me through a ruble strewn street surrounded by houses and walls pocked marked with signs of recent intense street fighting. There were a number of dead Americans and a greater number of Germans. The runner pointed down some cellar steps and grunted that B company was, "down there."
I walked down the partially destroyed steps, into a dark gloomy area where the was a field phone and the usual boxes, helmets, and war junk scattered around. A kid with reddish hair crawled off a potato bin, kind of straightened up and drawled, "I'm Lieutenant Murphy." I saluted and reported for duty - that was the end of formality. Later in the evening another BFC officer reported to "Murph's command." Before we went out on inspection, Murphy mentioned that he would divide the company between Irv Seehafer and myself - each would have 16 men. Only 32 out of 150 men built up at the last rest and resupply period several weeks before were left in the company.
I made the rounds of my section of the company and found a group of men that were a cross section of infantry soldiers, some who had experience only from the time of the last reinforcing of the company and some who had been with the company on a continuing basis for sometime.
One man, PFC Lotteridge, was especially impressive and my respect for him increased in the days to come. I asked him why he was still a PFC considering his apparent talent and ability. He said that he had been wounded badly through the chest in Italy, before he could gain any rank, and had been recovering until a few days before when he returned to the unit.
We were in action for about a week with our small numbers being reduced a little more by casualties before we got replacements. Two officers returned from the hospital and number of enlisted men were assigned to us.
One of the officers, Lt. Watson, was 32 and had been in action with the 3rd Division in North Africa and Italy and had been wounded several times. He was an old man. In the infantry, if man survives his wounds and is not basically incapacitated, he is sent back to the front to fight again. It did not matter what your emotional status was after prolonged line duty and stress of combat.
Soon after this strengthening of the company, we were in positions at the edge of a woods and defending against an attack by several Mark IV tanks and German infantry. Murphy was on the 'phone directing our supporting artillery in firing on the tanks and troops. One of the tanks, about 50 yards ahead of us, was on fire and had been abandoned. The infantry and the other tanks, just beyond the disabled tank were still advancing on us. Murphy said, "Keep the artillery coming!", then he dropped the 'phone and sprinted out to the tank, jumped up, got the machine gun going against the foot soldiers.
How many he killed and we killed, I do not know, but the citation for his Medal of Honor read "250". The artillery, Murphy's action and ours stopped the attack and we were able to move forward against little resistance.
Later that day, we captured a German military barracks. We held up there for a few days, and then were moved back to an area on the Moselle River for a period of resting, rebuilding and training -our company was too small again for further effective action.
We received replacements
in large numbers from replacement depots along with a few returnees for
hospitals. The company was brought up to almost full strength with
1st Lieutenant Harris as company commander and 4 lieutenants in charge
of the platoons. Murphy was sent back to regimental headquarters
to keep him safe from harm until he could be awarded his medal and sent
on a "victory tour".
OUR MEN: DONLAN -
January 19/20, 1945 - Reichshoffen
Finally got a haircut from a "coiffeur" for 10 francs. Good job and long overdue. It must have been my day, because I and others got a good bundle of mail. We picked up some coal over town for our stoves. The church in town has a date of 1771 on it -- and it still looks good (4 years before our independence!).
On duty in morning, and after chow there were indications of a quick move. The advance went out -- and backwards too! We loaded up and were told to be ready to go on a minute's notice -- counterattack? Probably. On top of that, it snowed all day, too. No word on move by midnight. I had 9-12 shift.
This a very tough, miserable, and sad period for all of us. During this long night the infantry men retreated under extremely difficult conditions. A previous thaw had melted some of the snow making the white clothing they had very visible, but the following freezing weather of the night made the icy roads and surrounding fields very inhospitable. Incoming shells, and there were some, ricocheted off the hard surfaces and caused many casualties.
The Signal Company radio units and wire teams that worked closely with the infantry were intermixed with the foot troops, tanks, artillery gun carriages, AA guns, trucks, etc. and although they had trucks to ride on, much of the time was spent off and out of their vehicles slipping and sliding around and trying to lay wire or clear a passage way through the confusing flight of men and material.
OUR MEN: DONLAN,
January 21, 1945 - Imbsheim
Waited and froze most of night with the move order coming at 4:30 a.m. Froze in back of radio truck as we drove 22 miles southwest in convoy over crowded and icy roads. There were many vehicles overturned in the ditches. We stopped for long waits, and arrived at Imbsheim at 8:30 a.m. Frozen stiff, went to Radio Control, fixing up a bunk and eating noon chow. "J" Area is a single room with plenty of schnapps bottles (full, too!). A full night's sleep was great.
The next day, early, on duty in an elaborate Radio Control Area -- with a battery of receivers, strings of wires, and a large switchboard. There isn't much to the town -- but quite a few civilians still here. A large church with a tall spire is over all. On duty 11 to 3 a.m.
On the night of January 23/24 a strong German attack was made. By January 26, SS Mountain Troops had broken through to Bischolz and Muhlhausen. This was the first and only time that the Main Line of Resistance of the 103d division was ever broken. The Germans penetrated the Main Line of Resistance as far as the village of Schillersdorf.
Then, on January 25, the climax of the battle was reached when McAuliffe's infantry successfully counterattacked the German spearhead near Schillersdorf. With this rebuttal, the Germans relented. Over the next few days, the major German divisions were withdrawn for other more pressing fronts - Himmler's "Herresgruppe Oberrhein" was disbanded. Operation "Nordwind" was over.*WWII
The largest gain of the German offensive had been in the eastern zone, and that came at least partly due to the voluntary withdrawal of U.S. forces from the dangerous forward edge of the salient. The main assault group never got close to the operational objective at Saverne. Against the meager gains of Operation "Nordwind", the Germans had to weigh their frightful casualties in tanks and men - both irreplaceable. Also, there was the effect on morale. By the end of January, the attack had been completely halted all along the line.*WWII
Himmler, glorying in his debut as a field commander, had planned that this series of attacks would recapture Strasbourg. What a tremendous coup if he could announce the German possession of the prize on January 30, the 12th anniversary of Hitler's rise to power! But for all the sacrifice with which the German attacks were pressed, none of the Nazi spearhead ever penetrated closer to Strasbourg than a distance of eight miles. The French had won the battle for their beloved city.*WWII
This German attack would
result in terrible fighting during the worst winter in Europe in 20 years.
A total of 295,000 French and 125,000 American troops (including the 103d)
were involved in the German Operation "Nordwind" and the related battle
to erase the Colmar pocket. Losses were heavy. The battle cost
the Americans alone more than 29,000 casualties, including 7,000 dead.
Like the Ardennes campaign, the fighting in Alsace would also demonstrate
the fragility of the Allied alliance - the French nearly ceased to cooperate
with their fellow Allies during a disagreement over the fate of the city
17. Seven Weeks Rest and Preparation
The aftermath of Schillerdorf in our area of the Western Front was a long, wintry wait for the spring offensive. The Germans had pulled back from their recent gains to more defensivable positions and were content to not attack, but to hold and build up their defenses.
Along the whole Western Front, and the Russian Front also, this was a time of straightening up the lines of our forces and getting ready for a massive push into the heart of Germany.
The 6th Corp had been active and engaged in the nearly hundred days since the 103d had joined it, and some time was allowed for rest and resupply.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 7
Spent a little time this afternoon shooting the bull with Major Gallagher and Col. Brown. We were reminiscing about old times. The Col. and I were telling Gallagher about all the chicken-shit inspections we used to get in the states. And how eccentric the inspectors were.
We had a pretty good time, just talking. Gallagher has a marvelous sense of humor. He kept us laughing all the time.
[Andy Beck note: This entry is interesting in that Captain Beck has been portrayed as quite strict, especially with regard to discipline and inspections. Yet, it may have been that some of that rigidity was forced upon the unit, through him, from the outside. He evidently did not fully approve of that regimen.]
OUR MEN: BECK - France 15
I know very well that wounds and injuries are a daily occurrence. But, when it happens to a close friend or relative, it takes on a different aspect. To see a dead soldier, who is an American, on a battlefield leaves me rather squeamish. When I see that he is wearing the same uniform as I, with its familiar G.I. articles, I feel as if I know him. I have seen many dead Germans. Their appearance, no matter how emaciated or ghoulish, caused no special emotion within. They were like a wrecked vehicle or artillery piece. Inorganic, immaterial.
Sgt. Finkbeiner came back a short while ago. I thought he was all done for. But his eye healed and now he's back on duty.
France 5 March 1945
- My company is spread out about 50 miles from end to end.
More and more I now realize that everything we did back in the States was so much practice. It was all make believe there, and here it is for keeps. No matter what we do I always have that feeling that it's for real. No matter how insignificant the duty, a mistake just cannot be made. After a fashion, it becomes habit forming to do things and make them count.
OUR MEN: BERMAN
During the winter of 1944-45, our 103d Division HQ spent many weeks in Imbsheim, Alsace. Our wire team was billeted in a house on the main street. Our host was a very nice French woman living there with her father. Her husband was pressed into army service by the Germans and she hadn't heard from him in a long time. She'd helped make our life more pleasant by cooking for us many times. Her cellar was full of potatoes and we supplied may item (made available by shrewd bargaining, cigarette trading (and stealing supplies?). We soon became good friends and when we left the area it was a sad parting.
(1995 Editor's note: See BERMAN's "I shall return" in the chapter 'FADE AWAY.)
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
After three days, we moved again, this time to Phalzburg. The sector became almost static and for the first time repair remained in one place. We were fortunate enough to occupy a tavern, not far from the center of town. Other units of the 103d were quartered nearby and the K and C rations were set aside for mess hall food. The mail became more regular. Opportunities to travel back to major supply depots presented themselves, and we didn't move again until the 13th of March.
OUR MEN: GILL
.....Our next couple of moves ultimately landed us back in the Moder river area for what proved to be the winter-holding area. We wound up in Ringendorf, but for some time before arriving there I had a pretty good case of the winter blahs or something. The something proved to be infectious hepatitis, so I was evacuated for what I had been told by the regimental medical officer would be "two or three days".
That proved to be the misstatement of the century, as I barely got out of the hospital in England before VE Day. Slow trips through replacement depots to rejoin the outfit in Innsbruck and a short stay there before joining the 5th Division.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - JANUARY
22, 1945 IMBSHEIM, 7 WEEKS + 4 DAYS
This town was some distance behind the fluid and confused combat lines when we got here, but the combat front moved up to meet our troops the other side of Boxweiller a little distance.
OUR MEN: DONLAN -
Tuesday, January 23, 1945 - Imbsheim
Another fellow and I took a jeep back to engineers to get oxygen and acetylene for welding tanks -- to town of Steinburg. The roads are very slippery. Sent home a package of odds and ends souvenirs. Lots of mail coming in from Stateside -- so have to write a lot answering them.
Wednesday, I got a "chewing out" for being out without gas mask and pistol belt on. We rounded up some lard and made a batch of waffles -- great for a change. Radio shift at 11 p.m.
Thursday, a hum-drum day -- radio shift, chow and cards and letter-writing.
Friday, Still snowing and dreary in this "not much" town. We got a new batch of books in -- welcome. Cleaned rifles, since there was a rumor of inspection about.
Saturday, More snow in Imbsheim. Heard report that a Nazi counterattack was thrown back over the Moder River on our Front. A full night!! Sleep felt great.
Sunday, January 28, 1945 - Came off shift -- to go to mass at H.Q. Company. The chaplain warned us about pillage. Very hungry, but noon chow was poor. Tried to sleep in crowded room before 2 a.m. shift, but it was too noisy.
Tuesday, January 30, 1945 - Now rumors of transfer to the Infantry are out -- they need replacements. Good news is that Russians are reported (in Stars & Stripes) only 90 miles from Berlin.
(1995 Editor's note: The shortage of replacement infantry soldiers was still a problem for the leaders at SHAEF, they were still under pressure by General Marshall, the civilian Manpower leaders, and their own commitment to preparing for the continuing casualties of the present situation and the large "final assaults" into Germany. The process of combing all of the support units for capable foot soldiers was being felt in the Signal Company as related by Donlan. I don't remember being involved in these physical inspections, perhaps I had failed the first cursory examination by the company officers and/or selectors.)
OUR MEN: DONLAN
Wednesday, January 31, 1945 - We all piled in trucks and started for Saverne for our Infantry physical. Went through Hattmotl, Steinburg and finally Saverne. A very large place with lots of Army units and Alsace civilian refugees. Long wait, but I passed and some didn't because of eye problems. Didn't feel as good as for some exams I've passed. Felt kind of glum after returning to Imbsheim. What's ahead? Pulled 1,000 mile routine maintenance check on a truck. It began to thaw and then rain -- sloppy. So put combat boots back on. On duty 6-10 p.m.
OUR MEN: EVANS - February 1945
As was customary, when things settled down, our radio team was relieved by another team and returned to Division for vehicular maintenance and other matters that could not be handled in the field. The Division HQ was located in the small Alsatian town of Imbsheim. The Division radio in the Division 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 the truck 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.
During the February winter doldrums, I was sitting on a rock, 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 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. Its 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.
Donlan diary excerpts are included to describe the nature of a period of rest and reorganization for the 103d Division in general and the Signal Company specifically. Most of these experiences, except the special training and operation of a radio operating team are typical of the day-to-day work and existence of the company.
It must be kept in mind that during this same "quiet, inactive" period for us and other support troops, infantry men of this and other divisions on the western front were fighting and becoming casualties.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Saturday, February
3, 1945 - Imbsheim
Radio duty morning and evening - cards in between. Chow we now rate poor to worse! Saw a farmer herding his sheep up the main street of Imbsheim. He was blowing a shrill whistle and had an intelligent black dog to guide the sheep. Cattle were being trucked away, too - from here to somewhere?
Sunday, Slept till 10 a.m., got up and went to Confession, Mass and Communion in the same place. Chow was poor as usual. Guess it's just a universal complaint of G.I.'s in our circumstances. Russians only 40 miles from Berlin. Studying radio theory in dead time on shift and wrote letters home.
Monday, Came off shift at
6 a.m. and walked muddy roads. Got a ride to Hattmatt and a most
welcome shower. Shaved and played cards when I returned. Back
on duty at midnight.
Tuesday, Days and nights mixed up with changing shifts. Found a lady who would wash my clothes - in a house with green shutters. The town is a sea of mud and we're all looking for mail. Oh well, at least it was payday. Our front stagnant, but Russians moving across the Oder River.
Wednesday, Not feeling too energetic - maybe lack of exercise. Got a letter from a high school teacher telling me of my friend, Harold Class (411th) missing in action. Found out later he was killed in January by a sniper. Radio shift 6-12 p.m.
Thursday, February 8, 1945 - Imbsheim - Same routine - radio shift, muddy walk to chow, cards, reading and writing letters. Received two also. Wish we would move!
Friday, Went on a planned hike into the countryside. Not bad except for the ever-present mud. On duty at night and played several games of chess with Rushing.
Saturday, Missed a call for calisthenics (darn!). Drizzled all day and the worst mud hole is up by the chow hall. Heard my good friend Harold Class was K.I.A. in 411th. Picked up my laundry from the lady in town.
Sunday, Went to 10:45 Mass and saw Gen. McAuliffe, hero of Bastogne and 101st AB there. Roast beef for dinner was pretty good. Night shift after cards and chess games.
Monday, Missed calisthenics again (canceled for rain). We waited in the rain half-hour for chow. The kitchens were moved from the mud hole to across from the church. We got another man on the ATW net so will operate again around the clock.
Wednesday, February 14, 1945 - Imbsheim - Came off shift at 2 p.m. to see sunshine and lots of planes flying. A walk in the country indicated farmers are getting ready for spring planting - war or no war! Off in the distance to the southwest were the purple Vosges Mountains. Ash Wednesday - start of Lent. One letter from home.
Thursday, Radio shift 12
to 5 a.m.; French toast breakfast and slept till noon. On a nice
sunny day we were out to a nearby range for firing practice.
The Yalta conference of the political heads of state and the military leaders started on February 2,1945. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin and their staffs discussed the cooperation of Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union in bringing the war in Europe to a conclusion then the evolvement of the Soviets in the war with Japan, and finally political and economic cooperation after the defeat of Japan into the post-war period.*MARS
The military leaders at that conference, knowing the political considerations and goals of the three big Allied powers, discussed the final strategic moves necessary to connect the Allied forces approaching from the western and eastern fronts preset meeting locations.
The map of the Allied front as of February 8,1945 seems to indicate that all of the important action being planned would take place to the north of the 103d Infantry Division position west of Strasbourg. The timing of the various phases of operation does indicate that there were a sequences of assaults starting near the northern limits of the Allied front and moving southward toward the 6th Army Group, and the 103d division at the lower end of the Allied front.
The tactical judgment may have been to concentrate maximum support elements of the various operations behind a concentrated push toward the Rhine river and the German border.
By the end of February 1945 an overwhelming Allied force pressed hard against the German border. Four million men, most of them Americans were massed into seven field armies composed of 53 infantry and 20 armored divisions, supported by more than 17,500 combat airplanes. The shattered Siegfried line, the West Wall lay behind them, the last defensive barrier, the rain swollen Rhine river was ahead of them.*MARS
This emphasis of operations "some place else" created a period of about 30 days during which OUR MEN seemed to be in a rear resting area when actually the infantry companies were still out there in their defensive positions, watching and waiting for the few German probing attacks which came day or night.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS (MID-FEBRUARY?)
There is some probing and attacking and counter-attacking by our troops who are in holding positions, and the Germans are doing the same thing. Here in the rear areas, we are mostly cleaning equipment, running a few lines, and trying to keep out of one another's way.
In a situation like this, very soon people begin to get on one another's nerves and there were already some hard feeling between members of the Sgt. Jones wire team brought on by recent stress and the undeniable fact that some of us were great guys and the others were low lifers.
Rudy DORTMAN, John ANANIA, and Bill Barclay, members of one of the above groups, went looking for better, less crowded shelter. They saw a little Grandmother who seemed to be living alone in a medium size house (very small by American standards) who just might have room.
RUDY, who spoke German, asked her if she would be willing to share some of her space. She expressed concern that her meager wood supply would not last long in the cold weather. We assured her that we were all great wood gatherers and wood splitters and would keep the home fires cooking and warming.
To illustrate just how fortunate she was going to be, we offered to split some of the wood she already had on hand. First one and then another of us tried his hand at the task while she looked on.
She was not impressed... The little old lady took the axe and while we watched in shame, she split all of the loose wood available as expertly as any North Woods logger.
In spite of having demonstrated that we were not "holztmachers" (wood makers) she invited us in to be her guests for the rest of our time in Imbsheim.
We brought her food, tried to help with the housework, went out with the truck and cut or stole wood, and it was a very good time for all of us.
She was a remarkable person. Her husband had been killed in the first war and she had been alone since then. In a village like Imbsheim, there is lots of local interaction and support and this very nice lady had done well before we arrived, and maybe did better after we left.
Certainly having our "friendly occupation" turn into a "post war" experience a few months later had to be an improvement for many of these folks.
103D DIVISION SIGNAL COMPANY REPORT - FEBRUARY 1945
February 1945 saw
the 103d Signal Company remain in location. During the period, all
installations and quarters were constantly being improved until a garrison
standard was obtained. Daily inspections by the company commander
and first sergeant helped to correct the deficiencies noted. Several
inspections were conducted by the Chief of Staff and Headquarters Commandant.
Daily group discussions were instituted on the subject of trenchfoot by the company aid-man. Although there hasn't been any cases of trenchfoot in the company to date, this preventive measure program will help to keep it that way.
Training groups were organized in the sections for the recently arrived reinforcements. The Telephone and Telegraph sections placed a switch in Bouxwiller under the supervision of a non-com. The Construction Platoon held daily classes in the laying of Spiral-Four cable. The Radio section placed several new men with experienced teams for a thorough indoctrination period.
In order to carry the administration of the company as efficiently as possible, the maximum use is being made of existing personnel. By virtue of hospitalization and subsequent transfer, we now have two first sergeants. One first sergeant (perhaps FINKBEINER?) is similar to a sergeant major in that he is responsible for all records, reports, filing, and personnel. The second first sergeant (perhaps HESS?) is responsible for details, discipline, inspections, and forward selection of CP installations. Four clerks are utilized as follows: Two clerks remain in rear echelon and are concerned only with personnel records. The other two are forward and operate under the "sergeant major" as clerk-typist and file clerk respectively.
The continued drive for betterment in motor and vehicular maintenance met with considerable success during the month. Several Ordinance inspections found vehicles that had been spot-checked in very good condition. During the present lull in movement, advantage was taken to clean up all vehicles. Most of the 1/4 tons were primed and repainted. Drivers were constantly being checked for the cleanliness of their motors and vehicles.
The Motor Maintenance section performed 51 - 1,000 mile inspections, and 13 - 6,000 mile inspections.
The mess hall was moved to a better location in Imbsheim. Tables were constructed out of 1x6 planks and placed in the upper rooms of the house in which the mess is now located.
A Signal Company Officers' Mess was organized for all assigned and attahed officers to mess separately. Two men were assigned as table waiters. They are responsible to the Company Mess Officer.
A Quartermaster laundry unit was made available to the company. All laundry must be placed in one consolidated mattress cover. For this reason most men declined to send their individual pieces, and continued to wash it themselves. Due to the stable situation during the month, losses were greatly reduced. Supply discipline has been considerably tightened in that every article of clothing and/or piece of government issue equipment that is lost, damaged, or stolen, must have a certificate, executed by individual concerned explaining the circumstances. All cases of negligence are placed on Statement of Charges. Also, all sections spent a considerable amount of time on care and cleaning of equipment.
The company was assigned an area, by Division Headquarters, for responsibility of police. The initial police detail was made up of fifteen (15) Prisoners of War captured the day before by one of the infantry units.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
- Friday, February 16, 1945
Back to the range and got my gun working o.k. Also stood range guard for two hours before I could fire. Back to overcast weather.
Saturday, Pancakes for breakfast, read Esquire Magazines, and on duty in p.m. We've had increased German jet activity over our apex lately. As previously stated, our morale goes up and down with mail delivery, chow and weather - kind of down right now. We got in some P.X rations at night consisting of beer, cigars and candy bars - so we enjoyed those - in a party, sort of - while they lasted. There was a fire in the north of town and we helped out in a bucket brigade to put it out.
Sunday, February 18, 1945 - Imbsheim - On duty at 9 a.m. We now have (because of our holding action) a T.6 net in with the regiments - but it doesn't work any too well. Attended Mass at 10:45 - played some cards in the afternoon. Big treat - ice cream for dessert for the first time since leaving the boat. Just wish mail would roll in soon.
Monday, AAW Net in morning and to "J" Area and Motor Pool work in afternoon. Enciphered a long message at Message Center for the T.G. Net.
Tuesday, A real busy day on the T.G. Net - sending and receiving messages with few minutes rest. Would rather be busy! Got lots of practice sending and receiving Code. Bed early after a "no connect" mail call.
Wednesday, Two radio shifts on the Corps Net. Two of us went to the movie "The Song of Bernadette" - very moving story. Little sleep before 1 a.m. duty.
Thursday, Finished a book and a few letters before hiking to next town south of here. Is spring here? The countryside is warming up. Strips of grass in the farm fields are turning green and a few farmers are plowing.
Friday, Went on T.G. (Telegraph?) Net after cleaning up quarters. The C.S. has started with inspections nearly every day. Finally two letters from home arrived (after weeks!). Saw movie "Home In Indiana" - and the 1944 World Series.
Saturday, Five weeks in Imbsheim and a very stagnant front. We had a back-breaking detail hauling rocks to build a driveway outside our house here in "J" Area. Welcome package from home. We all enjoyed it. Lots of Code practice.
Sunday, February 25, 1945 - Sunday like other days. We worked on trucks, and Message Center duty - small poker game at night.
Monday, Worked on a jeep most of day - a tough job of sanding and scraping paint off. After this, K.P. will look good tomorrow.
Tuesday, K.P. also rough - from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pots and pans and slopping around in the mud. All we wanted to eat, but not much consolation. Restless sleep and more good news - Saturday morning Inspections to start soon.
Wednesday, Second day of K.P. "slavery". Was no easier. Really beat out when I got back at night.
Thursday, March 1, 1945 - If March is here, can spring be far away? Finishing touches on jeep and now ready for painting. Took a look at far-off towns from the hill on a clear day. Payday and sent home $17. Ate and went on duty from 7 to 1 a.m. Worked long on decoding a 909 G.P. (group?) message.
Friday, Weather turned colder with snow. Pancake breakfast followed by 1-7 p.m. shift. We cleaned rifles, shoes and uniforms for Inspection Saturday.
Saturday, All that work and got out of Inspection by being on duty from 7 to 5 p.m. But we had the area clean and sharp. Turned combat jacket in at a bad time and it's really cold! Took clothes to my town lady for washing - works out good. Pinochle cards at night, but couldn't sleep.
Monday, March 5, 1945 - Lutzleburg - Funny weather. Started out with sun shining and ended up cold and rainy. Came off duty on AAW Net and sent back to rear echelon as a replacement there. Trip was 25-30 miles in a jeep over badly torn up roads. They were being repaired by our engineers. We passed through Hattmatt, Steinburg and Saverne.
It is a fairly small city with wide cobbled streets (curving) and with opened shops in 2 and 3-story brick buildings. There are several churches and a concrete canal along the edge of town. Unfortunately, the next town is off limits to all troops. We curved up a mountain out of town and saw the red-roofed town stretched out on the plain below. We finally came out on top and to our right stretched the plain known as the Saverne Gap through the Vosges. Next came the large town of Phalsbourg with large rock formations - and peculiar red rock. Next was Lutzleburg where rear echelon is located. Remote and T.G. (telegraph net?) in a well-heated room. Chow, cards, and I had the late shift.
Tuesday, - Lutzleburg, Saverne,
Imbshein - Took the 4 a.m. shift on the set. Nice duty - easy chair
and a fire and a mystery story, since not much traffic. Saw a 2-car
passenger train in town. Town surrounded by steep-rising wooded and
pasture hills. One steep cliff surmounted by an ancient fortress
ruin. The Rhine-Marne Canal goes through town and a curving, narrow
gauge railroad with funny little gondola cars. Rough, fast, bumpy
ride back to C.P. in p.m. We followed the canal straight to Saverne.
Noticed barges (steam) operating on the canal. Railroad went through
tunnels and across a stone arch bridge (partially destroyed and rebuilt).
Hills and evergreens on lower slopes and autumn-leafed trees above.
Many different units in Saverne. The town has a large rail depot
and homes of well-to-do people. The Rhine Canal is flanked by stone
walls. The homes have iron-latticed upper windows - big improvement
over Imbsheim. The scenery was beautiful - like the Delaware River
in the States. Ride got bumpy and rainy, so the tall spire of the
Imbsheim church was most welcome. I wonder how a small farming community
can have such a large, elegant church. Back on duty (radio) 5-9 p.m.
Wednesday, March 7, 1945 - A cold, rainy day, but warmed by pancakes and a hot shower. Picked up a few new books to read. Went down and dragged back a big sack of mail, but received nary a one myself.
Thursday, Imbsheim - Went on shift on the Corps Net 1-5 - chow and bed. Tried to hitchhike to Bouxweiller to a movie, but few trucks, so we walked. Surprised to see factories operating in town and we even walked sidewalks for a change! The movie was "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and a delight to this Irishman! A whole battalion went in ahead of us. Got a ride back in the T & T truck.
Friday, On shift at 7 a.m. and time to get ready for a Saturday Inspection.
Saturday, It was cold standing out for Inspection with only a shirt on. Rifle needed a little clean-up. On shift from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the Corps, A.A. and T.G. Nets. We have new, back-carried S.C.R. 694's (radios) in the Section now and training with them.
Sunday, Shift on radios and no longer allowed to read on shift. Went to church, had pancake breakfast and played cards as our combat lull continues.
Monday, We had a lecture in "J" Area and what to do in case of capture. There is a lot of armor moving up, so we will probably be moving soon. Shift from 1 to 7 p.m. and a murder mystery movie in Bouxweiller. Ride in a weapons carrier and met a friend from the regiments there.
Tuesday, Rumors at breakfast were we would be moving after our long lull in Imbsheim. It was called a "jumpoff". Switched over to voice on the Division Command Net for a change. Like most days - a quiet one.
Wednesday, Night shift from 1 to 5 a.m. and bed after breakfast. We began packing things in the trailer, getting ready for the anticipated move. The Advance left Division C.P. tonight and also a foot 694 Radio Team from our section to a 411th Battalion. Preferred a "K" Ration to tonight's offered chow.
Thursday, March 15, 1945 - ON THE MOVE AGAIN
(1994 Editor's note: It should be apparent that John Donlan has been able to supply much more detail in his reporting than is the case for most of us older folks relying on memory of 50 years past. I asked him to reveal the secret of his remarkable memory and also to help define some of the abbreviations, etc. used in his narrative. The following is his response.)
OUR MEN: DONLAN - 1995 RETROSPECTIVE
The detail in my entries in REMEMBRANCES resulted from keeping a few notes as time would permit during periods of action and then when we were in reserve or rear areas I transcribed them into a spiral notebook.
I had a good memory at the time - that I assure you has since vanished. The diary update was an erratic thing - whenever I got the time - or on some long nights on the radio net when not much was going on.
I served on several radio teams - generally consisting of three men with a crew chief. I believe among several of my crew chiefs were Sgts. LAKE and HELMICK. Our assignment was usually at the Division C.P., maintaining radio communications for the division between the three regiments and the division REAR C.P.
Our radio sets (receivers, transmitters, etc. were mounted behind the cab on the rear deck of a 3/4 ton weapons carrier truck. In the winter of 1944-45, we found scrap lumber and boxed the trucks in, so we had a "do-it-yourself camper". We even found old wood burning stoves and put a pipe through the roof. Nights in Alsace got mighty cold!
In addition to the regimental radio teams, I also served on an anti-aircraft warning radio net at division C.P. for several weeks.
I believe the T,G Net meant a telegraph wire net from division C.P. to regimental CPs. This possible only when we were stagnated or in reserve or holding action - not when we were in rapid movement.
Imbsheim in February 1945 was definitely a holding period and there was wire strewn all over the little town of Imbsheim - connecting division back to Corps and forward to the regiments and battalions.
So basically, there were two types of communication - telegraph wire (phone), and radio. I suppose there was also a third, couriers via jeep or messenger runner.
All of these modes were coordinated through the Message Center which encoded and decoded messages going out an in for security. I might add that radio commutations was sometimes limited by factors such as the following: limited range in the Vosges mountains of too great distance between radio sets, particularly when the division or regiments were moving rapidly. Of course, in rapid movement situations, wire/telephone - telegraph weren't too good either because of time to lay wire point-to-point.
Sometimes communications just broke down for hours or even days.
These radio crews at division CP worked closely with division personnel and those at regiment CPs worked closely with regimental staff.
Battalion and company maintained their own radio and 'phone communications systems.
A three-man crew would usually be 4 to 6 hours on duty and rotate. We often ate chow (when available) at regimental CPs of C or K rations at our truck.
AAW Net in my diary referrred to a separate radio network ( apart from division communications) beamed into a tracking system for enemy aircraft. It was meant to provide early warning (whien possibe) of enemy that might sweep in low and strafe the divison CP and headquarters' units. It was in conjunction with a Corps (or Army) radio system outside our divison but whieh we were constanly receiving and sending information. There were few strafing incidents that I recall.
The "J Area" was the area in the division CP designated for all radio operation to regiments, Corps, AAW. etc. to be centralized for command purpose. It might be a deserted house, tavern (in one instance) or even out in the open. I"m not sure if telephone and telegraph were in the J Area, but I don't believe so. J Area was often locate close to the message center area.
I"m a bit hazy on the meaning of "T.G. Net". I believe that at time we operated as telegraph operators sending coded messages vis wire. This would be during periods of long holding action or when radios were not efficient for various reasons.
The "Enciphering Machine was a secret mechanical device ( the M209 Converter) which turned a "clear text" message into a garble of 5 letter groups printed on a narrow paper tape that could be cut and pasted onto a message form with a proper addressee and addressor. These messages could be sent by radio, wire-telegraph or motor/foot messenger.
The "Corps Net" was the radio network between 6th Corps and the divisions located in that Corps. I believe the 6th Corps contained the 3rd Infantry Division, 45th Infantry Division, 100th Infantry Division, 103d Infantry Division, 12th?? Armored Division. It was to keep communications between these divisions and 6th Corps, and in some cases, communicants between the attached divisions.
C.S. was the GI lingo for "Chicken S--t". We didn't appreciate inspections in a combat zone, but Capt. BECK thought otherwise!
The Saturday inspection as I recall was an inspection by the section officer, NCO In Charge, and Capt. BECK. The inspection was of uniforms, quarters (sleeping and operations), equipment, trucks and weapons. It probably only happened once or twice when we were in a holding orstagnant operation.
I only vaguely recall the "back carried" SCR694 radios. They were made principally for communication between regiment, battalion and company. We probably had them in the division CP as emergency backup or "special situation" of our normal equipment.
Radio operators at rear echelon cleaned up and checked over their radio sets, trucks, washed clothes, wrote letters, and occasionally saw a movie or USO show.
After the western allies had recovered from the shock of the reverses of the Battle of the Bulge, it was apparent that the Germans would not be able to defend against the allied assaults of Eisenhower's proposed Broadfront Advance. The British seemed to agree to this approach for several weeks, but then as the Russians began to make rapid advances toward the west and Berlin, Churchill and the British Military Staff again began to promote their plan for a single strong thrust by the western allies into the heart of Germany and toward Berlin.
Montgomery, not Bradley would lead this assault of a force composed primarily of American forces. Tactically and politically this proposal was not acceptable to Marshall, Eisenhower or the majority of American civilian and political leaders.
Montgomery's 21st Army Group on the northern edge of the Allied front would confront poor tank terrain, a low, marshy plain crisscrossed with streams and canals. The battle to take Berlin would cost as many as 100,000 casualties, Bradley estimated, "a pretty stiff price to pay for a prestige objective."*MARS
In the last 6 weeks the
German defensive forces had partially broken up as separate units and regiments
had moved back across the Rhine hoping not to be trapped by the advancing
Patton and elements of his 5th Army were able to sneak across the Rhine in small boats 70 miles south of the Remagen riverhead. At a cost of just eight dead and twenty wounded, Patton had mounted the first amphibious crossing of the Rhine since Napoleon and had given the Americans a second solid foothold across the river.
By the first of March, three
Allied armies stood poised for a last drive into the heart of Germany.
Berlin was not considered a major tactical goal by most of the SHAEF staff,
they realized that the Russians were only 50 miles from Berlin at that
time and it was not likely that a force from the west could cover a much
greater distance in any reasonable time to arrive before the Russians.
Berlin was already designated to be deep within the Russian post war zone of occupation, British, American or French forces in Berlin would have to withdraw.
Of course, there were political considerations and disagreements for the western allies. Churchill and Britain were much more concerned, as they had been from before the very first days of the war, with the problems that would occur in the post war period with Russian occupation of such a large part of Germany and eastern Europe.
The Broadfront Advance started in earnest early in March 1945 by the allied armies on the north of the western front. Eisenhower was pushing his forces eastward toward Germany across the Rhine river and northward toward Denmark in hope of avoiding collision with the Russians near Berlin. The allied forces on the southern front were directed southward toward southern Germany and Austria.
On March 15, 1945, The 7th Army started an offensive attack of almost continuous action until the war in Europe was over. The very limited action of the last 7 weeks or more was over.
1. The Division Command Post was located in Imbsheim, France, during the entire month of February, thereby necessitating only a few minor additions to the original installation to furnish facilities for command posts of attached units.
addition to normal operating functions, technical training was carried
on throughout the month by the various communication sections as follows:
a. Wire Section: Each wire crew was taken individually and given on the job instruction in the installation and maintenance of spiral four cable, and also further instruction and practice in the installation and maintenance of open wire construction.
b. Telephone and Telegraph Section: A switch was installed at Bouxwiller and one trunk to each regiment terminated at this point. This added additional facilities for training operators. The section installed a telegraph net to include the Division Command Post, Rear Echelon, and the three Infantry Regiments. In addition to the above, the section conducted traffic surveys, signal security surveys, and an intensive education campaign in telephone discipline.
c. Radio Section: In addition to the normal functions of operating the Division Command Net and the Corps Net, this section operated the telegraph net installed by the telephone and telegraph section for further code training of radio operators. Dummy traffic was transmitted continuously over this net; seventy-five (75) percent of this traffic was encoded in M-209, thereby providing additional training for code personnel; fifteen (15) percent in AFCODE; ten (10) percent in clear.
d. Message Center Section: Training in the duties and responsibilities of dismounted messengers was conducted in this section for recently added personnel.
(1995 Editor's note: Late one evening during the St.Louis Reunion, a small group of men was sitting in a corner of the "hospitality room" that had been arranged by PAUL GRANT (a world class arranger). As I remember that loosely coupled group it consisted of SEDENSKY, the most senior, ROREM, the most junior and innocent, ANANIA, the most jolly and relaxed, and Barclay, the most anxious to record what was said - particularly if it was embarrassing.)
SEDENSKY: You know what surprised me, when the ASTP program broke up and they flooded us with everybody, all of these 18 to 21 punk kids, just like high school letting out. I think that just about everyone of them worked out, at first they thought they were in college or something, taking a final exam "in the army", and then they learned what they had to do.
I think all of you turned out real good. Guys that go to school to learn to be an engineer, or what ever you were going to be and you come out of there and you are on a big truck hauling wire around like a laborer of something.
BARCLAY: "The ASTP boys on our wire team had it terribly tough because we had some of these grouchy "old hard-heads" like ANANIA, (interuption)---John, I am telling the story here---we only had one on there, a sterling character and John was on this guys back all the time, it was dreadful.--- You're going to get a chance to read this over, John, and you can complain to the publisher, or the Company secretary, Harold ROREM, here."
SEDENSKY: The other thing that gets me about the construction section especially: every team was like a family, the Sergeant was the father and the men on the team were his sons. I saw very little if any, where they had trouble within the team, They had screw-balls within the team, like John, and you, Bill.
BARCLAY: We argued back and forth with JONES, but we managed to get the job done. You know, when you live that closely there are conflicts and jealousies, and misunderstandings - and with the fatigue and the strain like that.
What we had on there, during the main part of the war, was (Eugene) JONES and ELLIS - one of the 2 Ellis boys, not brothers. We had the smaller of those two boys, WILBUR, not MARVIN, he was driver part of the time and ANANIA was driver part of the time. Then, we had RUDY DORTMAN, and I was there. And then we picked up a couple of guys from repple depple. One of these guys, was "PoP" KRUEGER, he was older than we were, he was 35 or something like that - he had been around, was just barely drafted, he was out of shape physically.
And then we had a fellow named MATRICARDI, he was a tall Italian fellow, kind of a "wild, free spirit". He was in with a crew of guys that he wasn't that well acquainted with.
BARCLAY: "The ASTP boys on our wire team had it terribly tough because we had these "old hard-heads" like ANANIA, (interuption) ---John, I am telling the story here---we only had one on there, a sterling character and John was on this guys back all the time, it was dreadful.--- You're going to get a chance to read this over, John, and you can complain to the publisher, or the Company secretary, Harold ROREM, here."
18. Massive Attack By Allies - March 15, 1944
March 15, 1945 OBERMODERN, FRANCE
Our division and most of the 7th Army have been in a "holding position" for several weeks - we have not been pushing the Germans and they have not been pushing back. From this strategic deployment of a very large force - Moder River Line - the 7th Army will start an offensive attack of almost continuous action until the war in Europe will be over.
The Germans have had lots of time to prepare their defenses and to calculate "fields of fire" and predetermined settings for their artillery fire so that certain road junctions, stream crossings, terrain markers, etc. can be defended to the best possible advantage. The troops in defense have a great advantage after a long period of preparation for defense.
APO 470, U.S. ARMY - 11 MARCH 1945
ADVANCE CP GROUP
1. The Signal Company advance CP group will consist of two (2) parts, namely:
a. Part 1 - Headquarters and Supply.
Purpose - select new site, Co-ordinate messing and supply, meet main body.
Personnel - Supply Officer - in command.
Mechanic (also drives 1/4 T)
b. Part 2 - Mess Section.
Purpose - To feed approximately 75 to 100 men for
approximately 24 hours.
Personnel - One (1) 1st Cook T/4 - in charge.
One (1) 2nd Cook T/5, one (1) cook's
helped, two (2) KP's.
2. The advance CP group should be prepared to depart approximately 90 minutes after the order is given for a movement. In this respect, rations should be grouped accordingly so as to be easily handled for immediate loading. Personnel should know whether or not they are a part of the advance group.
3. Gasoline will be carried in whatever mode of transportation the supply officer decides. Approximately 75 to 100 gallons should be brought forward.
4. The one (1) mechanic shown in par 1. a. will perform any necessary 2nd echelon repairs within the scope of tools available. He will also be responsible for the selection of the Signal Company Motor Park.
5. The supply officer will select the locations, and/or
arrange for billets.
Capt, Sig C.,
MONTHLY REPORT OF ACTIVITIES - MARCH 1945
103D DIVISION SIGNAL OFFICE
1. The activities of the 103d Signal Company for the first fourteen (14) days of March were normal, operating functions at Imbsheim, France, plus a continuation of the technical training program that had been inaugurated in February for all operating sections.
2. On the evening of 14 March 1945, the 103d Signal Company again resumed tactical operations by establishing an advanced command post at Obermodern, France. This town was the jump-off point for the 103d Division's second assault on the Siegfried line. After a small penetration of the Line in December 1944, the Division was withdrawn and assigned a sector in the XV Corps area.
The morning of 15 March 1945 at the jump-off hour, regiments
equipped with portable SCR-694 radios manned by Signal Company personnel
and followed by foot wire teams of the Signal Company crossed the MLA (Main
Line of Attack) and headed for the Rhine River. A number of casualties
were suffered by Signal personnel due to the heavy artillery and mortar
fire and the large number of mines encountered in the initial jump-off.
Wire communications were maintained continuously for the first eight (8)
hours of the assault, but were only sporadically maintained the next eight
(8) hours due to heavily mined roads and blown bridges. Once the
bridges were completed and roads swept, motorized wire teams followed right
along with the regimental commanders. Numerous times from the morning
of the 15th of March until the Siegfried line had been completely penetrated,
it was necessary for repairmen to make repairs under severe mortar and
artillery fire. Radio again played a very essential part in the progress
of the attack and the reporting of positions when a Task Force composed
of elements of the 761st Tank Bn. and one battalion of the 409th Infantry
Regiment was formed. A Division SCR-193 radio team was attached to
the Task Force for contact with the Division Command Post. This Task
Force (Task Force Cactus?) overran several retreating convoys and captured
a large number of prisoners and at no time was out of contact with the
Division Command Post. After the breaching of the Siegfried Line,
the 14th Armored Division passed through the 103d Infantry Division.
The passing through of this Armored Division necessitated the normal SOP
of replacing the entire wire network and radio was again the primary means
of communication until wire was restored.
3. Construction and Telephone and Telegraph Sections: Division Command Post installations were installed and operated at the following towns: Obermodern, Gumbrechtshofen,
OUR MEN: TOM BROWN
After a month we were moved back into our old Seventh Army area, and things were quiet until March 15th when the entire American Army opened up a huge attack on the Germans. For hours and hours our artillery pounded the German positions. About noon we were ordered to lay wire into the town of Nieffern. Just before the entrance to the town we encountered a blown out bridge which the engineers were in the process of replacing. There was a traffic jam of vehicles waiting for the engineers to finish, and every so often the Germans would shell us with 88's. It was a ticklish situation made more dangerous by the trees that lined both sides of the road, which caused tree bursts when the shells hit them and showered shrapnel downward making shelter in the ditch no shelter at all. We were lying in the ditch beside the road. Some GI's argued that in standing up we would make smaller targets for tree burst shrapnel raining downward on us. But others said no, that sometimes the shells came in without hitting the trees and exploded on the ground, which made a person standing up a more likely victim. So it was damm if we did and damm if we didn't. To our relief our SGT. LEE came up and ordered us out of there and to go back when the bridge was completed. It made sense to me!
After about an hour or so we went back. I found the place in the ditch where I had been lying and there was an American helmet all bloody with a shrapnel hole in it and some bits of brains in the helmet liner. Some poor guy had taken my place when I left and had gotten killed.
The town of Nieffern was the most destroyed town I have ever seen.
The entire town was nothing but rubble.
OUR MEN: EVANS
The artillery barrage that opened our offensive toward St.Die' on our very first day of combat was impressive but paled in comparison with the artillery display preceding the jump off of 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.
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 KRUMPF! of incoming shells grew louder.
I mumbled, "I'm glad I'm not over there".
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."
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.
Col. 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 be certain 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.
March 15, 1945 is a day I will never forget. 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 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 firing.
Early that morning, our wire team led by Sgt PAUL MURRAY went to the "wirehead", the point in the Division Command Post where we would secure our telephone wire for connection into the communication control switchboard. I learned that I had a special assignment as a part of a two man team to hand-carry a telephone line following the advancing infantry soldiers. MELVIN YUDS would be my partner. We were a strange physical combination. Yuds was tall and well built, while I was smaller and not nearly so strong. We would carry a steel reel containing a half mile of telephone wire that was rolling on a pipe axle held on each end by one of us.
Yuds was the newest member of our 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 and active assignment and were now again ready for "front line" duty. We would never have time to learn his background.
That morning the signal company was also assigning a special radio team of T/5 SEYMOUR FADER and BILL BALLANTINE to closely follow these same advancing infantry men. In the confusion of the day, I am not sure if the two teams even were aware of the other. The radio men were also kept from completing their assignment. FADER has told that story; BALLANTINE was wounded, evacuated, sent to the Repple-Depple and never returned to the 103d Signal Company.
The assignment of these special communications teams was unusual.
Normally, the infantry company, and battalion units would supply their
own radio and wire communications back to the regimental commander who
would then communicate through the well equipped Division Radio and Wire
Teams that were assigned on a permanent basis. Perhaps it was planned
that the two special teams would speed communications during the rapid
movement and changing situations of this large scale attack
YUDS and I immediately started following our advancing riflemen and laying our wire which was to be an important element in the communication with the division C.P. The American artillery barrage that had preceded our advance had been awesome, the heaviest I had experienced in the war. Fog covered the countryside, a result of the phosphorous and high explosive shells we had thrown at the Germans.
Our infantry men 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 over. We were moving and dropping continually. The wire reel got heavier and heavier and since I was much shorter than Yuds, it leaned on me more. Yuds realized this and several times he carried the reel by himself 15-20 yards at a clip. We began to see casualties - theirs and ours. Pretty grim stuff.
As we entered a woods, the German fire became more intense. We tried to phone back to wirehead - it was a dead line, perhaps the wire had been cut by a shell burst. This experiment wasn't going to work, however, we continued on. The only 103d Signal Company men we saw since our advance started was the two-man radio team. I recognized FADER while both of us were hugging the ground, we were trying to "dig-in".
About 20 minutes into the wood it happened. A tremendous explosion hit near us. I was thrown up and backward many feet. My M-1 rifle took off into a tree where the stock cracked and splintered. My helmet landed about 20 feet away. I was badly shaken and scared but I seemed O.K. I looked around and saw Yuds crumpled on the ground and not moving. I turned him over and saw that he was terribly wounded in the stomach, side, and arm. He was unconscious. I shouted for a medic. An infantryman stopped to help and a medic arrived a minute or so later.
The medic said there were abandoned German bunkers all over and that we needed some cover before Yuds could be treated. We 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 his condition, and I thanked God for that.
The medic and the infantry man left and very soon an Infantry lieutenant appeared near the bunker looking for his men and he wanted me to accompany him. Just about then ARTHUR DECKER, one of out wire-team members appeared looking for me and Yuds to rejoin that group. That saved me from becoming an interim infantry man.
Decker and I headed back. The German shelling was not as heavy as before. I picked up a carbine to replace the M-1 rifle I had lost. It stayed with me 'til the end of the war.
We headed toward an engineer-built bridge leading into town. MP's near the bridge waved at us frantically to move faster. As we 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. We followed the MP's into a building and immediately went headlong down a stairs. We were not hurt, we landed into some poor villagers using this cellar as a bomb shelter.
Some time later, the shelling stopped and we moved out and
found our wire team a few blocks away, where I reported Yuds condition.
OUR MEN: FADER
Next in the memory list is the March breakthrough of the Siegfried line and the crossing of the Rhine. For some reason one of the infantry companies needed a portable radio and another BOITOS "volunteer". BALLANTINE and I were selected, along with Adams (I think). The radios were new to us--never used before. With a quick orientation, we were off. One carried the transmitter, another the hand-powered power unit, the third all the other paraphanalia. We walked with the infantry and came to a minefield which the engineers had marked with a rope as being the safe path. We were told to walk on the rope and not to either side. There was one casualty, an infantryman who thought otherwise. We crossed the minefield into a patch of woods and all hell broke loose. The Germans had the area zeroed in with mortars. Shrapnel and bits of wood flew everywhere with everyone hugging the ground, not knowing what to do. There was no office in the area. I looked around and noticed mounds around us and crawling to one saw that they were abandoned German bunkers dug into the floor of the woods. Just as I got back to BALLANTINE he got a piece of shrapnel in his leg. I dragged him to a bunker and then called all the others to get into the bunkers, which they did. BALLANTINE had a knife which his brother sent him and he wanted it. So I went out and got it for him, but by then the mortar fire had stopped. Back in the bunker with the knife when a 1st Lt. appeared and found out that I had been the one to get the men into the bunkers.
He told me that he would recommend me for "whatever". (I later found out that our esteemed Captain Beck would not approve it (a bronze star). I was told that we and our radio were not needed and to return to our unit and so back to the SC.
When I got back--BALLANTINE had been taken to the aid station and then a hospital--I found a different BOITOS. He must have heard what had happened for from then on he was a very pleasant Master Sergeant. [For years after the war he sent me Christmas cards.] Shortly thereafter I got another stripe (T/4).
(1993 Note. Pierce Evans reports that a radioman, BILL BALLANTINE, was wounded seriously enough that he never returned to the Signal Company although he was seen at a couple of replacement depots late in the war.)
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS
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 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 bore 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 so when we started out in the morning we 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 like ours, but probably much better than the cold and ice our soldiers had seen when they were last fighting. We 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. We moved out of the town with our lines.
Even this close to the action, 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 should be reasonably safe.
It was almost impossible to hang wire on the small trees that lined the road 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 sad, 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 (our fill-in light artillery) had hastily set up their guns and the crews were taking cover in fox holes that had already been dug by the Germans who had defended the position. These black negro troops were excellent soldiers, very fast, accurate, "brave, clean and reverent" and had some of the best chow lines that we occasionally dropped in on when we were far afield and hungry.
It was impressive to see them come up the road and go into action with their guns without a lost motion and be 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. This was also a position that the enemy had calculated for coverage by their artillery fire.
The engineers were trying to clear the debris in order to put in another bridge to carry the traffic of the convoys already 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 and blown off one of its tracks and was disabled. The tank men were close by. One was drooped 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, we were interested in the current action we could see from a position that was not exposed nearly as much as the engineers and others nearer the stream. ANANIA and Barclay and ??? had gone forward past our 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 must be put in operation.
While we were back at the truck, and as JONES was calling back to Division HQ to tell them of the delaying situation, we heard an explosion at the bridge-site. We hurried back to see what was happening. One of the mine sweepers had walked onto a wooden 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 in 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 we watched he hit another shoe-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 we were expecting. With a feeling of sorrow and helplessness we 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.
We all started away from the truck for some reason when the barrage of 88mm German artillery shells began to fall almost on top of us.
The best cover we could find for protection from the shrapnel was the ditches along the road edge - about 8 inches of depression. The scream of the incoming shells gave us slight warning but, by the time the first or second one landed, we were making the best of this cover.
The shells came in about five or six second intervals and from the start it was evident that the target was our truck and the large, iridescent red, friend-or-foe aircraft identification panel we had 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 us - it didn't seem we had any extra safety at the time.
DORTMAN and maybe some of the other fellows were on the side of the road getting the most of the shrapnel. He started wiggling away from the truck but the frequency of the shell bursts didn't allow for any long periods of movement. RUDY ended up 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 some one had been hit.
Each shell sounded and felt like it was right under or on top of us, and threw shrapnel and pieces of the road and countryside on us so that we thought we couldn't escape injury of some kind.
JOHN ANANIA and Bill B. 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 mine explosions victims.
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 enough to save his life (we think).
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 - we hadn't even thought of that, and we put him in the jeep.
The medic 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 - Major or Lt. Colonel had arrived to take charge of the situation and had put him there.
Those victims of the mine explosions were strange. 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 first-aid treatment must have had a drug in it to put this man so at ease.
Our truck was badly damaged; three flat tires, radiator blasted in many places, shrapnel holes in the body and windshield. We backed it down the road a little bit and tore the red panel off of it.
JONES called in to the wire-head to tell them of our shelling. They sent out a larger truck to tow us 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!!
We rested and ate and thought that we had a pretty rough time. Returning from the mess hall we learned that Sgt. JACK CONN had been killed and DONALD, "BUNNY" ROGERS had lost a leg and the rest of the men on that wire team were also in the hospital.
Someone said that they had gone out to finish the line we had started and their truck had taken the wrong road out of the little town up the way and they had run onto a string of road mines.
These were the only really serious injuries the original men of the 103d Signal Company had during the war. Unfortunately one of the men who joined the company from a replacement depot, MELVIN Yuds, later was killed while carrying a reel of wire across a field.
These replacement men usually came from either of two sources, he may have been previously taken out of action for some injury or other reason, or he had just come fresh from the USA. The loss of a single man is a tragedy.
Just before this Jump-Off action started, drivers and mechanics had been ordered to tape a Thermite grenade to the steering column of each vehicle. The stated purpose of this extremely dangerous procedure was to make it possible for the driver to set-off the grenade before he was forced to abandon the vehicle. It was a stupid order. Most of those grenades were removed as soon as the crews realized that accidental or other discharge of this terrible device could be terrible.
On the day of the big assault, March 15,1944, we were sent out to retrieve a damaged vehicle. While we were doing this, Sgt. JACK CONN and his team were sent out to do one of my Jobs. Their 2 1/5 ton truck hit some mines in the road, CONN who was riding in the passengers seat was killed and "Bunny" ROGERS, the driver lost a leg. The other members of the wire team, riding in the back of the truck were badly shaken.
An event like this, in which we could have been out there, leaves a feeling of guilt for a time.
OUR BOYS: SEDENSKY
At the time of the big assault, March 15, 1944, I was making the assignments for the wire-crews and was aware of the danger to all of the crews of the company from land mines, tank mines on the road and off.
I don't know who the wire team I was talking to, but I said, "If you are going along and you don't see any of our troops out there close to the front lines - stop look around."
This is another of those experiences that are tough to recall. They were driving along and hit mine and were blown up. It was a 2 1/2 ton truck.
The good memories - that doctor, he went up in his jeep and just followed their tracks on the road and he was able to save that fellow's life who had his leg blown off (DONALD "BUNNY" ROGERS). Sgt. JACK CONN was dead, the rest of the crew was suffering wounds. "Bunny", he was a replacement from 'repple-depot.
There was a big husky fellow, replacement, and we had to lay a line crossed a field, we couldn't use vehicles, we will take him - he could carry one of those 1/2 mile reels of wire. He was killed (MELVIN Yuds). There were only 2 in the company that were killed.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Thursday, March 15, 1945
Thought I was going to sleep after 1-5 a.m. shift, but was shortly awakened with news we were moving out - real quick. Our radio truck moved through Boxweiller and on to Obermodern. Roads were "Texas-like" in their dust. The town extends blocks either side of the "highway" through town. Between us and the next town of Zutzendorf is an open, heavily-mined field. Roofs are all angles and shapes. The occasional mortar bursts and machine-gun fire tell us we are pretty far forward. Pulled into "J" Area in a large house across from the depot. Four trains come into the depot and little French freight cars are on a siding. There is the usual gate-guarded rail crossing. Listened to 410th 2nd Bn. SCR 300 radio reports. The Jumpoff occurred at 5 a.m. this morning and 103d is in the thick of it - with very tough going. We have another Task Force out. Helped lay the 28 line to Radio Control, chow, and found a place to sleep on the fourth floor. Duty 4-7 p.m. Many Army units staying in town's farm houses. Heard one of our construction boys was killed when their truck hit a mine. Several were badly injured. Also one of our 694 boys got a shrapnel wound.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS
We worked the better part of the day (March 15) and that evening we started out to lay a division advance line to Gumbrechshoffen, a small village in an area of rolling hills and green fields.
The plan was to go as far forward with the truck 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 town behind us.
JOE ATERNO, the jeep driver for the division signal officer, met us at that point and took JONES, ANANIA, and Barclay back toward the action area with some reels of wire that could be laid by hand.
We didn't get far in the jeep before LT COLONEL BROWN met us and said it would not be possible for the jeep to go any further without drawing enemy fire.
We unloaded our equipment and John and I took off laying a single wire circuit down a dirt country road through the hills and fields. Jones was carrying the extra wire reels forward to a point where the wire being laid would run out. The colonel was right about the enemy fire. The Krauts must have seen us from a distant observation point and directed mortar fire our way occasionally. They were landing far enough away not to hurt anyone, but close enough to cause the wire layers to jump in a lot of muddy holes and delay the operation a bit.
Half way to the mine field on the edge of the village, we passed through a gully. Some members of a mortar squad, who were lying and sitting there waiting for the medics to come and evacuate them, told us not to take any chances. The jerry fire had been pretty rough and that they had been victims of it.
We went out, after a brief discussion convinced us that the mortar men were sincere, but probably still shaken from their experience.
We continued to lay our 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
I picked up a carbine to replace the heavy M1 rifle that we seldom carried - of course we didn't have 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 we continued on 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 us jumping. While I policed the wire out of the road, John 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 we would hit the ground in pit or shell hole each of us had picked out with an eye to the future.
Passing the mortar squad equipment again, each of us picked up a combat jacket liner with fur on the inside and we 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 our boys to act like "strangers".
We took another wire circuit down to the edge of the mine field and then went back up to the top of the hill to wait for the wire-truck.
LT. ROGET, 3RD DIVISION
I had an opportunity to go on a rest leave in Paris in early March of 1945. LOTTERAGE, who had at last received the recognition he deserved, had been made a sergeant and he took control of my platoon during my absence.
After a wonderful week, I headed back to my unit with mixed feelings, I was glad I had been able to get away for a brief period, but I was concerned that just before my return the division and my platoon had gone into action in a massive attack on March 15, 1945 without me.
In the attack, as the company advanced, an artillery round had dropped in between the company ahead of B Company and my first platoon leading it. It killed the battalion executive officer and Sergeant Hansen who was in my spot at the head of the platoon, Sergeant Lotterage was further back talking to one of the other officers.
The company had fought its way to the leading edge of the German Siegfried Line. I was anxious to rejoin my platoon. A guide led me forward crawling through the dragon-teeth ahead of the German bunkers that were the main defensive elements of the fortifications. It was difficult and perilous going, small arms fire had many of the troops pinned down in place. My platoon was strung out along the shallow winding trenches leading up to a pill box, it was about 3 o'clock in the morning, they had been on the move since early yesterday.
As we made out way along the trench, the men gripped my hand with emotion, they were glad to see me back. Most of these soldiers were 18-20 years old. I was not much older than most of them and had been in combat a long time without being wounded or killed, and had come up through the ranks, so this inspired them a lot. I sensed it, this was a tough situation, all of us needed as much encouragement and support as we could get.
I made my way along the trench, so dark, but suddenly brilliantly lit when the flares went into the air. Then the mortars would drop all around. At the entrance to the pill box there was a passage way that sloped down to a concrete wall, and behind this wall, on either side, were concrete steps down into the entrance to the pill box. We stomped over a body on his back, head down the steps with blood all the way down to the bottom.
Inside the pill box was chaos. B Company had captured
this emplacement in the early afternoon of the day before - it became the
only safe haven for some of the men from other companies. It was
crowded to overflowing - air circulation was a constant problem, the German
pumps were working poorly.
Soon as I got into the pill box, I questioned where Sergeant LOTTERAGE was. Then I found out who was on the steps. I became quite upset that everyone coming or going into the pill box was stomping down over one of the best soldiers I had ever met. But the many lose their dignity when fear takes hold.
The story was that a captain had gone out of the pill box to relieve himself - a mortar came in and he was badly hit (soon died) and Lotterage had gone out to pull him in. He too, fell to a mortar round and fell backwards onto the steps. I got one of the fellows to help me move LOTTERAGE off the steps and place him beside the captain. So sad, the loss of such and intelligent, good soldier who had already served his country with so much sacrifice.
In the early morning, the mortar and artillery fire decreased and the men from the other companies that had crowded into the pillbox Company B had captured before I rejoined them, move out laterally to their assigned positions.
I was given the assignment to use a reinforced squad to attack the next pillbox in depth of the German line. Carrying an explosive satchel charge and my Thompson machine gun, I crawled ahead of the men expecting never to reach my destination - the German defenses had been set up for covering cross fire of open areas through which we had to approach, I knew that with my satchel and being in the lead, I would be a prime target. We reached the entrance to the pill box after extreme physical and emotional efforts, it was empty! - the Germans had withdrawn.
We moved on another 100 yards and set up a defensive perimeter. The sweating radio operator relayed the news of our position and condition. We were ordered to push on until resistance was met. We met it -a determined resistance was encountered, but I was able to direct our supporting artillery fire in to help us move forward. The Silver Star medal I was to receive later, stated we had captured 17 Germans after the battle, with the number of dead not recorded.
We had now broken through the Siegfried Line, the days and
nights run together as we pushed into Germany. We were into the last
of March and the weather was warmer. As we moved forward, I was aware
that time was running out on me statistically, I had been in combat since
early November and that was a long time for front line soldiers.
The 3rd Infantry Division had over 39,000 casualties by the end of the
war, that was two and one half times turnover.
On March 22,1945 as we worked our way through a village we had attacked, checking for soldiers that had been bypassed, two Germans came out of a building with their hands up. One still had a rifle in his hand. I turned my head slightly and motioned with my right hand for the GI covering on the other side of the street to move up. As I had turned my head, the German brought his rifle down and fired at me in one fast movement. The bullet went through my right hand thumb and forefinger. It was a silly move for me to let the German keep his rifle, and sillier for him to shoot. Even if he had killed me, the covering man surely would have dropped him. I brought my Thompson up firing - the silly man was dead.
I felt that bullet clear up to my shoulder. I sent my machine gun back to headquarters, for use by some other leader, and walked back through the village to the Battalion Aid Station. This was the start of a very long journey back through hospitals, meeting many badly wounded American and German men, seeing some of them die and others undergoing painful recovery.
I was in hospitals through April. I am sure that when the cast came off my hand and it had healed a little, I could have been sent back to the front, but the attending doctor kept me in the hospital. I wanted to get back for some stupid reason I can't explain, and I am sure the doctor saved my life by resisting my crazy loyalty to "the boys". Many of the men in my platoon were wiped out by snipers in Munich; the fellows later told my they had burned down seventeen houses in one block getting the snipers.
(1993 Editor's Note: Lt. Roget rejoined the 3rd Infantry Division in Austria for a period of occupation. He stayed in Europe some period of time after most of the men of the 103d Infantry Division had returned home.)
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Friday, March 16, 1945 - Obermodern
Multiple shifts on the Division Command Net as the weather turned warm and sunny. A bit of relief - saw the tallest man in the world. He is 8' 6" and weighs 280 lbs. - a real giant. Our advance moved out tonight. The Germans have sown thousands of mines up here. At night, heard many bombers overhead heading for "Krautland".
OUR MEN: HARLON CHAFFEE
When we were putting up wire and I was tying a line on a down spout of a building a sniper came close enough that I got a face full of wood splinters. I got hit once behind the ear with shrapnel. The medic said he couldn't get it all out, so I still have what remained, it doesn't both much. I feel I'm one of the luckier ones.
I did receive a Purple Heart medal.
MONTHLY REPORT OF ADMINISTRATION AND SUPPLY ACTIVITIES
103D DIVISION SIGNAL COMPANY - MARCH 1945
The service elements of the 103d Signal Company contributed its small share to the big jump-off on 15 March 1945 in that there was a ceaseless flow of maintenance, supply, and administration to the operating sections.
During the first half of the month, operations consisted of
a duplication of the month of February, namely, a stabilized position.
Following the 15th of March 1945, the company was continually on the move,
installing and maintaining communication facilities for the Division.
Our supply routes grew longer and our personnel were further scattered.
The selection of billets and installations was hindered by both the rapidity and frequency of moves. Areas for selection presented still more difficult a problem. Buildings were demolished, fields were mined and streets were filled with debris. The initial location for company headquarters was in a mansion in Obermodern. Facilities were excellent. This position, however, was the last of the better places procurable until our attack slowed down. Personnel records, files, and administrative operations continued as normal.
During the month, the company suffered many vehicle disabilities. On the 15th of March, one two and a half (2 1/2) ton truck was completely destroyed as a result of hitting a pattern of fifteen (15) mines. An inspection revealed no salvageable parts, except for the possibility of a tool or two.
Two vehicles had shell fragments pierce the radiators, fender, and motor. With extraordinary skill and strong supervision both vehicles were placed back in operation within a few hours.
Two captured German vehicles were added to the company.
One was converted into a spare-parts truck for the motor section.
The other was converted into a radio repair truck.
Looking For Someone in the Signal Company?