American soldiers of the 3rd Battalion of U.S. 119th Infantry are taken prisoner by members of Kampfgruppe Peiper in Stoumont, Belgium on 19 December 1944

American soldiers of the 3rd Battalion of U.S. 119th Infantry are taken prisoner by members of Kampfgruppe Peiper in Stoumont, Belgium on 19 December 1944

The Battle of the Bulge was turning into one of the largest battles that the US would ever fight. Eventually they would suffer around 89,000 casualties, including 19,000 dead, in the space of just over a month.

Several of the Allied commanders were now welcoming the attack, an opportunity to hit the Germans hard if they could just contain them and then attack across the base of the German advance.

For the men in the middle of the battle it was a different story. William F. Meller was in the 110th Regiment, 28th Division. His 11 man section, manning a point just opposite the Siegfried Line, held out for almost 12 hours on the 16th December until, out of ammunition and surrounded, they were forced to surrender.

What followed was a miserable experience, shared with 23,000 other US troops who were taken prisoner:

20 December 1944

The train stops and we all get out. This sorry lump of humanity begins to move, then gradually develops into a group of individuals. As we climb down to the ground, the guards remind us they are watching us. It is getting tougher and tougher climbing in and out of the boxcar. These old civilian guards should be home with their grandchildren, not here, where they might be killed at any moment.

We relieve ourselves, then line up to fill our canteens from a faucet. No one asks if the water is clean or contaminated. No one cares. War is humbling. We have no dignity, look filthy, feel filthy, and we are at the bottom of the pit.

If the Germans are trying to break our morale, it won’t work. We have no morale. The snow—covered mountains around us remain cold and hostile. It has been four days now, and we have been fed nothing.

The genius standing next to me says, “Sarge, they’re not going to shoot us, they don’t have to. We’re going to starve to death.”

“Shut the hell up.” There is no use threatening anyone with punishment or promising violence. No one gives a damn. We just have to tough it out, period.

The German soldiers don’t look much better than we do. Some of them look disabled and some look older. They may have been injured in combat and are now only fit for this type of duty. Most are privates, plus a few noncommissioned officers. None of them look happy to be here.

They seem to be afraid of the American planes. They may be thinking about what would happen if we all jumped them right now. I know we are thinking about it. If we jump them, some of us will be shot. There is no doubt in our minds that we can take them. The problem is that we don’t know where we are. We don’t know how far it is to the American lines. I know we are east of the Rhine River because I saw it last night as we passed over.

The man next to me says, “We ought to jump them.” “Do you want to be the first?” He doesn’t answer.

We are herded back inside. I take a careful look at the train; it’s a long one. I don’t know where the guards ride; it must be in one of their own boxcars. The civilian guards carry old bolt-action rifles, while the soldiers carry submachine guns. I’m not afraid of the rifles, but the submachine guns are something to take seriously. The threats of these weapons keep us in line.

We are back inside. It seems we get out to relieve ourselves only when the train stops because of American planes in the vicinity; in this case, the engine unhooks and heads for the near- est tunnel for protection. The sergeant knows what he is talking about.

See William F. Meller: Bloody Roads to Germany: At Huertgen Forest and the Bulge–an American Soldier’s Courageous Story of World War II

German picture of Americans taken prisoner during their Ardenne offensive.

German picture of Americans taken prisoner during their Ardenne offensive.

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Dec

19

1944

Screaming Eagles of 506th PIR arrive in Bastogne

This dead Yank was felled while fighting with fellow soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, to drive Nazis from a heavily wooded area near Bastogne, Belgium, where Germans were entrenched. (original Signal Corps caption)

Men were left at appointed posts to guide any others who might find their way back. Orders came out to hold the village at all costs. Strong points were lined around the northern section of the village. In buildings and good protection the men of the Company built their strong points.

Dec

18

1944

US 23rd Regiment holds the line against 12th SS

German troops in a 'Schutzenpanzerwagen' during the Ardenne offensive.

The snow-covered area to the rear of the house became the beaten zone for countless tracer bullets. Tank fire crashed around the building. Artillery fell without pattern in the snow. The night was ablaze with more noise and flame than I had thought possible for men to create. Here was a ‘movie war’. Here was Armageddon.

Dec

17

1944

SS Kampfgruppe Peiper massacre US troops at Malmedy

The 84 bodies of the POWs, covered by snow, were found on 14 January 1945.

Every truck and halftrack that passed fired into the group, and why I didn’t get hit too bad . . . I was in the front, right in the front, the first or second or third right in the front. Each track that came around the corner would fire right into the group in the middle so that they wouldn’t miss anything, that’s why I didn’t get too badly hit.

Dec

16

1944

Hitler launches surprise attack in Ardennes

A Nazi soldier, heavily armed, carries ammunition boxes forward 
with a companion in territory taken by their counter- offensive. A scene from a captured German film. Belgium, December 1944.

With nothing on our left and out of sight of our platoon on the right, it felt almost like we were against the entire German Army. I was horror-stricken. There was no thought of running away or surrendering. I had an absolute conviction to fight to the death, while being certain we would be killed.

Dec

15

1944

Nightmare of the hellship Oryoku Maru continues

On the morning of December 15, 1944, aircraft from the USS Hornet again attacked the Oryoku Maru as it was moving across Subic Bay toward Olongapo Point.  This time one bomb made a direct hit on the hatch of the aft cargo hold killing about 250 POWs. Later that morning the surviving POWs were allowed to jump off and swim to shore.

A Jap guard came over to where I lay and started to prod me on with his bayonet. I didn’t move fast enough to suit him so he jabbed a little harder. The bayonet entered my bad leg in two places. I didn’t feel it though, but as soon as I was on my feet and laboriously making my way to follow the line of men in front of me, my leg started bleeding profusely, running down my leg and leaving a small pool of blood with each step I took.

Dec

14

1944

POWs under attack on the hellship Oryoku Maru

A pre war post card of the Japanese liner the Oryoku Maru. The prisoners were packed into the holds of the ship, below decks.

This was not the only death that occurred at the hands of our men. Another young lad went out of his head and began calling to the Japanese sentry and attempting to get up the ladder to get at him. The gist of his shouts was that he had suffered all that he intended to and that he would kill the dirty bastard or die in the attempt. In order to protect the majority of those of us in the hold from threatened hand grenades, it was necessary to quiet this man; such effort being too great for the blow killed him.

Dec

13

1944

Sachsenhausen concentration camp – new arrivals

Sachsenhausen, north of Berlin, was established in 1936 for German detainees. It was also an administrative and training centre for the SS. Prisoners in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, Germany, December 19, 1938.

The aged are allowed to die here. The process is short, but not painless. It’s terrible to see them. Those who come from Poland, for instance, have nothing to put on but the rags issued here, and it’s the depth of winter. Only a very few have anything on their feet but wooden boards tied on with straps or string. Of course they get pneumonia, tuberculosis and other illnesses and succumb in hundreds.

Dec

12

1944

Hitler’s last briefing – for a new offensive

The vigorous Hitler who had captivated huge audiences earlier in the war was no more.

As soon as hope of a victory disappears, the test of endurance will not be accepted with the same willpower with which, for instance, a fortress fights as long as it still has hope for relief. It is, therefore, important to remove the enemy’s confidence in victory from time to time, by making clear to him from the beginning, through offensive actions, that the success of his plans is impossible.

Dec

11

1944

US Surgeon describes American and German casualties

US Army Surgeons operating under canvas in a Field Hospital.

It is constantly amazing the terrific tenacity to life that these boys manifest. It is impossible to exaggerate what wonderful patients American boys are. They are brave and patient, seldom complaining, always cooperative. They accept pain without moans. They seldom become demanding of attention, no fussing for little things, nor claiming petty comforts as their due.