The United States would suffer over 550,000 casualties in north west Europe between the invasion of France in 1944 and the end of the war, 104,000 men would die in this theatre alone. The British were now struggling to replace the casualties that they had sustained. America had a steady supply of young men who would fill the gaps in the ranks. There were men yet to cross the Atlantic who would have still have time to die in the cause of freedom.
In March the casualty rate was similar to that of July 1944, the height of the Normandy fighting. Amongst those arriving fresh to the battlefield and yet to see action was eighteen year old rifleman Jack R Blann:
We moved out of town a little distance directly toward Cologne and soon came to the top of a hill where there were bodies of dead Germans laying everywhere. There were two German Mark 5 tanks knocked out over on one side of the hill and there were dead German soldiers laying all around the vehicles. We felt that this action must have occurred all day before, although the vehicles were still smoking.
Beside one of the vehicles, we noticed that one of the Germans was still alive, even though he had been blown almost in two and his legs were missing. His eyes were open and he was moaning. There was no way that this man could recover from such wounds. In fact, we couldn’t understand how he had managed to live this long. We were all disturbed by the suffering that the man must be enduring, so one of the officers walked over and closed the man’s eyes, and shot him in the head with his forty five.
From the hill, you could see the battle line still quite some distance in front of us and you could see the bursting artillery in the distance all along the front. The panorama stretching before us reminded me of some of the panoramic drawings of battles that I had seen in Life Magazine. The line seemed to bulge out in the direction of Cologne and it looked as if some of our troops must be getting pretty close to the big city.
At this time, a big armada of B-26’s flew over and began to bomb Cologne and the roads around the city. We were so close to the bombers that we could see the bombs as they left the planes. There was no flack going up against them, probably because the retreat had thrown the antiaircraft defenses into confusion.
Some of the men looked around the dead Germans on the ground around us to see if there were any valuables that might be worth picking up. As for myself, I never became hardened enough that I could loot the dead. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the dead soldiers. It was hard enough to just look at these men, killed at such a young age.
One good looking young German boy had long black hair that was usually combed straight back from his forehead. Now it had fallen forward over his face. I could see myself lying there.
We left the hill and went down into a little ravine where we waited for our orders. While we were there, chow came up and we had a hot meal. I picked up some old German and French money laying on the ground in the ravine, probably discarded by some of the looters because it apparently had no value.
Then it began to sprinkle, and we began huddling around each other to talk about what the future might hold for us. All of us were hoping that maybe we would never catch up with the front line, but of course, we all knew that sooner or later we would.