Cut off in Butzdorf, surrounded by Germans

Men keep toppling over my shoulders. I struggle up for air. A wild-eyed kid holds up his hand. “Look, my thumb’s blown off!” The ragged stump is maroon like our basement floor at home. We’re all bunched up on a stairway. Guys are lying on the floor and propped in corners. I look around . . . what is going on? I see the drawn, bearded faces, torn clothes, staring eyes, yards of dirty bandages. Men are muttering, babbling. No, I decide, it isn’t possible. The shell—shocked stand up and look at us. “Can’t you see I’m bleeding?” they whimper. No one answers…

The sketch map that Morton completed just after the Battle of Butzdorf.
The sketch map that Morton D. Elevitch completed just after the Battle of Butzdorf.

The closing stages of the Battle of the Bulge were fought just as ferociously as the beginning, if the Allies were winning it was at a price. In many places the gains that were made were subjected to immediate and repeated German counter-attacks. For example the US 90th Division seized the town of Oberwampach and then spent 36 hours facing down nine counter-attacks.

With the Germans on the back foot the US Army tried to exploit the situation with another push into the Saar ‘triangle’, between the Moselle and Saar rivers, a move which would take them over the Siegfried line. German resistance was galvanised against any such breakthrough.

For the infantry men of the 94th Division who found themselves at the spearhead of the attack, nearly a week would be spent virtually cut off in the town of Butzdorf. Private Morton D. Elevitch found himself and part of his platoon cut off in a ruined house by themselves. On the 17th they found themselves facing a combined Panzer and infantry attack:

Walters is popping away at the heads. I tell him don’t, we’ll only draw direct 88 fire. I was right. The room was quivering. Our ears were ringing. Our chests were throbbing. We shook like wet washing — a cold, creepy uncontrollable shaking. Only our minds remained clear. The rubble was piling high in the center of the room… our ceiling was ready to bury us beneath it.

Solemnly we discussed our procedure when the Germans, expected momentarily, entered the house. “Walters,” I say, “it seems we are in a position not particularly desirable to our state of welfare. Our careers are jeopardized. I strongly urge that we prepare for the worst.” We agree to hide in wine barrels, hoping for an eventual American victory. Someone is pounding on the wall.

Chandler is hit… a slug caught him in the head… he plunged head first down the cellar stairs… Walter’s eyes are big and brown and expectant. For the first time in our lives we know the feeling of utter hopelessness, the dread sensation of approaching doom. The turmoil within us almost gives way, but we are listening for our artillary. When it comes, it is right on top of us.

Luckily the patterns had been drawn in on us, keeping the Germans at a reasonable distance. This factor alone, saved us.

Walters has his hands in his pockets, looking out the window. A shell bursts outside the window to my right rear. Shrapnel wirrs across the room, cuts through Tom like a sewing needle, slicing a path from head to stomach. He explodes apart in a torrent of blood. “Get out the door!” I shout. With his hands still in his pockets, he turns halfway, starts to jerk forward, choking, gasping, sputtering, then settles face down to the floor, gurgling away his life.

At the head of the stairs I collapse in a pool of Chandler’s blood, tell them Walters is hit. Kettler and Doc take off and return with something still. Jenkins and I force our eyes away. We know Walters is dead.

We give up our guard posts altogether, leave one man atop the stairs, and slump down in the basement. Chandler is groaning. Boomer is shaken to tears at the sight of Tom. He tells us to pull out. The machine gunners had long ago departed. We’re to try to reach Tittengen under smoke.

At the door Chandler breaks down: “I can’t make it.” “You’ve got to try.” One by one we make our suicide dashes, passing pleading men. I sail through a doorway of beckoning hands ahead of a whistling 88. Now that we’re gathered in this place and the CP next door, the Germans can concentrate their fire. They do.

Men keep toppling over my shoulders. I struggle up for air. A wild-eyed kid holds up his hand. “Look, my thumb’s blown off!” The ragged stump is maroon like our basement floor at home. We’re all bunched up on a stairway. Guys are lying on the floor and propped in corners. I look around . . . what is going on? I see the drawn, bearded faces, torn clothes, staring eyes, yards of dirty bandages. Men are muttering, babbling. No, I decide, it isn’t possible. The shell—shocked stand up and look at us. “Can’t you see I’m bleeding?” they whimper. No one answers…

We finally crowd into a tiny room beneath some stairs … still the men on the outside keep getting hit. For four hours we stand shoulder to shoulder, softly talking, sweating, shaking. The smoke had failed us — lifted before it hit the ground. We’re to try to make a run for freedom when it gets dark. Meanwhile we’re ordered to return to our positions.

Some men go back, find Germans, kill them, rip open ten in one boxes, urinate on the food [to deny it to the Germans who were often relying on capturing Allied supplies], return to us. Others go after the wounded. Sgt. Flynn lugs in a box of ten in ones. Courteously we divide up the cold food and pass it around. From a can of corn I get needed water.

This is just a small part of the vivid description that Morton D. Elevitch jotted down immediately after that battle and later developed into a more coherent piece. His letters home served as an outlet for him, containing not only contemporaneous accounts but cartoons and sketches, they were finally published in 2003 Dog Tags Yapping: The World War II Letters of a Combat GI.

Prisoners of War were used extensively by the 94th Division to carry their many casualties to the rear.
Prisoners of War were used extensively by the 94th Division to carry their many casualties to the rear.

Norwegian Resistance sinks troopship with timed mines

Eleven limpet mines were care fully loaded in to the dingy along with two Sten guns, ammunition and grenades in case they had to fight their way out of any trouble. The two men removed their boiler suits and stepped into the dingy in preparation to pushing off. However, a German patrol boat pulled up alongside the wharf and began a searching amongst the timbers. Manus and Nielsen laid low in their boat daring not to breathe, but the Germans were not the most observant and soon left. After a suitable period waiting for the all clear the intrepid duo pushed off.

Norway had been under German occupation since 1940.
Norway had been under German occupation since 1940.
British deception plans had forced Hitler to keep many troops in Norway, waiting for an invasion that never came.
British deception plans had forced Hitler to keep many troops in Norway, waiting for an invasion that never came.

Way back in 1940 Churchill had sought to ‘set Europe ablaze’ withe the establishment of the Special Operations Executive which supported resistance groups throughout Europe. A series of very significant sabotage operations against the German nuclear programme had been mounted in Norway. Even though Norway now appeared to be something of a backwater, which the Germans surely would wish to evacuate at some point, there were some very determined members of the Resistance who wanted to carry on the fight. Attacks on German troops meant fewer men who might be transferred back to Germany to carry on the main battle.

One man who had already been involved in a number of successful sabotage operations, as well as escaping from Gestapo custody when he was arrested in 1941, was Max Manus. On the 16th January he would successfully carry out an audacious attack on German shipping, carrying his explosives into Oslo harbour right under the noses of the Wehrmacht. He did so at a time when the Germans were on high alert for sabotage attempts, with soldiers positioned around the docks with orders to fire at anything floating in the water in case it might be a frogman.

The following report reads like it might be fiction, perhaps from an episode of Mission Impossible, but comes from the Special Operations Executive’s file recommending Max Manus for the Distinguished Service Order:

Manus planned and carried out the operation which saw the sinking of the ship ‘Donau’ approx 9,000 tons and the damaging of the ‘Rolandseck’ of approx 2000 tons.

It was not a straight forward operation as the limpet mines, the rubber boat and other equipment had to be concealed first on a wharf in Oslo harbour that was used for the embarkation of German troops. This in itself was a hazardous operation, but the shear audacity of Manus’ methods saw him through.

Brazen use was made of a well of a lift which led from the deck of the wharf to the lower platform whereby the equipment could be stowed. To get through the guard entrance at the dock a decoy vehicle was used with the occupant creating a nuisance of himself with the guards.

The second vehicle, with Manus and packed with all the equipment was then waved through … the ruse had worked. But to Manus’ chagrin the wharf was full of Germans. However, fortune favours the brave and with great daring, and in full view of the Germans, the equipment was unloaded close to the lift. The car was then driven out of the dock.

Later, when the wharf was clear of Germans, the equipment was stowed away in the lift and taken down to the lower section. Manus was aided by two loyal Norwegian workers.

The plan was to attack a large, heavy transport ship, but Manus had to wait some days until a suitable target presented itself. On the 15th January the ‘Donau’ arrived from Aarhus and Manus made the decision to attack her (NB. The ‘Donau’ had previously been used to transport Jews from Norway to Germany whereby many of them were taken to Auschwitz where their lives were sadly and cruelly taken).

Early next morning, Manus, with a helper met with his dock contact, but the man was not at all optimistic. The water surrounding the wharf was full of floating ice, a German soldier had recently fallen in and a search was in progress and finally a number of horses had been tied off to the door entrance which led to the lift. Manus decided to carry on.

Manus and his companion, Roy Nielsen dressed in full British battle-dress with over 100 metres of cordtex tied around their waists, but all concealed under boiler suits, approached the dock guard and proceeded to take part in a comic sketch to aid them through the gate…

Nielsen ‘slipped’ on the icy ground, much to the amusement of the guard … it worked, though, and they were through, despite a cursory inspection of their papers.

Once again the sheer audacity and bravery of the Norwegians had come to the fore. However, the atmosphere was still tense as the guards that were posted on the wharf to protect the ‘Donau’ regularly aimed their rifles and shot in to the water at anything that was suspicious.

Fortunately, the horses had been embarked and the door was clear to enter. The lift was positioned so that the two men could slip underneath it. Looking through a small chink they could see Germans approaching, but all the Germans wanted to do was to get out off the wind. There was at least 8 degrees of frost and it was exceptionally cold in the biting wind. After a while the Germans moved on and Manus’ contact on the docks carefully locked the door.

A rope ladder was let down amongst the wharf timbers but soon the rungs were full of ice: the rubber dingy was also lowered and blown up to the covering tune of a German sergeant drilling an unfortunate squad.

Eleven limpet mines were care fully loaded in to the dingy along with two Sten guns, ammunition and grenades in case they had to fight their way out of any trouble. The two men removed their boiler suits and stepped into the dingy in preparation to pushing off. However, a German patrol boat pulled up alongside the wharf and began a searching amongst the timbers.

Manus and Nielsen laid low in their boat daring not to breathe, but the Germans were not the most observant and soon left. After a suitable period waiting for the all clear the intrepid duo pushed off.

The going was tough as they inched their way forward through the ice using oars and an axe. Navigating carefully alongside the ‘Donau’ they placed their limpets aft of the engine room. With all the limpet mines in place they made their way back to the wharf, but then noticed the ‘Rolandseck’ arriving on the other side of the wharf.

Manus knew this was too good an opportunity to miss. Despite both men being soaked through and very cold, they fetched the one remaining limpet from their improvised store. The German patrol boat returned once again, but as before it failed to spot the armed Norwegians and once it had moved off the duo paddled their way alongside the ‘Rolandseck’ and planted their limpet on its side.

During this operation the ‘Donau’ left its mooring moving into open water with two tugs attending alongside. This meant that light now streamed under the wharf making it even more hazardous for the men as they returned, but to their relief nothing untoward happened and they made it safely back to their timbered shelter.

The dingy was disposed off by knifing and the men once more donned their boiler suits. Suddenly, the sound heavy steps approached the door way and then men stood ready with their Sten guns cocked for action, but to their immense relief it was their contact who had come to open the door. The men stepped out on to the wharf and made their way past the guard at the dock entrance who again laughed at Nielsen’s unfortunate earlier ‘accident’. Manus and Nielsen stepped aboard a tram and made their way home.

At 22:00hrs the ‘Donau’ was in the sound just off Drøbak having just dropped off her pilot. The Captain had just increased speed when the explosion occurred. The Captain attempted to beach the ship and ran her ashore at full speed with crew jumping off in all directions. Despite the beaching the ship settled at the stern and sunk in 25 metre of water’.

It is not known how many casualties there were aboard the Donau, although a large amount of equipment was lost, as well as many unfortunate horses. Roy Nielsen was to die in a Gestapo round up of resistance fighters on 4th April but Max Manus managed to evade the same series of raids. He went on to be awarded Norway’s highest military honour the War Cross, for the second time, for his part in this raid. Read more about his career at Nuav.net.

Max Manus, a leading member of the Norwegian Independent Company, a group within the British SOE.
Max Manus, a leading member of the Norwegian Independent Company, a group within the British SOE.
The SS Donau which was being used by the Germans  as a troopship. Earlier in the war she had been used to transport Norway's small Jewish population to Germany - almost every one of them was subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.
The SS Donau which was being used by the Germans as a troopship. Earlier in the war she had been used to transport Norway’s small Jewish population to Germany – almost every one of them was subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.

The beginning of the POWs 1000 mile march west

We marched nearly all of the first night, eventually stopping at a barn, where we lit fires and melted snow in our dixies, adding milk (klim) to provide a hot drink (no rations were provided by the Germans). The next day we marched on again, with the sound of Russian artillery in the background. As the packs on our backs were too heavy, most of us used makeshift sledges to pull our possessions along. As the days went by we got weaker; the built-up stock of food reserves had gone, we were plagued with lice and dysentery, and frostbitten limbs turned gangrenous. We were sometimes bundled into barns at night, but on at least one occasion we spent the night in an open field with no food at all.

The destroyed city of Warsaw, January 1945.
The destroyed city of Warsaw, January 1945.

With the new Soviet offensive under way the German pretence that the Eastern front could be held quickly evaporated. After all the years of tyranny and murder, from the first Jewish ghettoes in 1940 through to the wanton destruction of the city following the 1944 Uprising, the Germans finally left Warsaw without a fight on the 15th January. One of the few men left in the city to greet the Soviets was Wladyslaw Szpilman who had miraculously survived alone in a wrecked building.

Suddenly hundreds of thousands of people, and very soon, millions of people were on the move. After denying the situation for so long the Nazis finally began to evacuate westward. Nazi propaganda had painted a fearful picture of how the Red Army would treat civilians, so almost anyone with German connections joined the retreat. Alongside them were the inmates of concentration camps, where the merciless ‘death marches’ would prove to be a new method of mass murder. In scarcely better circumstances thousands of prisoners of war also began the trek westward.

Henry Owens had been captured in France in 1940 after the Highland Division was forced to surrender at St Valery. A new ordeal now began for him as he began the ‘1000 Mile’ forced march to the west:

In early January 1945, as the Russians made advances from the Vistula, the Germans decided to withdraw the POWs from the camps. The allies were destroying communications, and the Germans decided to force us out on the march again.

It was pitch dark when we assembled outside the gas works at Elbing, after our guard had warned us that “You are now back in the Front Line, any attempt to escape and you will be shot!” Snow had been falling all day; it must have been at least six inches deep. It was still snowing, and there was a bitterly cold wind, the temperature was well below freezing, around minus 30 degrees Celsius.

Over the years as POWs, we had accumulated extra clothing etc. from parcels sent to us through the Red Cross. We had hurriedly to decide what to leave and what to take, as everything had to be carried by hand. Preference was of course given to the small, built up stock of tinned food and powdered milk. I still had my army kitbag, so I put as much in this as I could carry. As we entered the main road in Elbing, there was evidence of the Russians‟ penetration, bodies lay about in the snow, and German troops dressed in all-white uniforms and heavily armed were moving east past us. It would appear that the Russians had attacked under cover of darkness, shot up the town, and retreated again.

We rendezvoused with other British POWs who had been in prison camps in the Elbing area, and were marched out, apparently making for the Baltic Coast. After marching for some time, we came across a long column of civilian refugees, who had been travelling in high-sided horse drawn wagons loaded with all theirworldly possessions. The column was at a standstill. Apparently they were held up because the crossing over the river Vistula was for the use of military traffic only. How long they had been there I do not know, but many had frozen to death still in their wagons, other bodies lay at the side of the road. They looked like wax dummies. We helped ourselves to any food we could find in these wagons, and marched on and crossed the Vistula towards Danzig.

It was on this section of the march that I faltered. I felt terribly tired, with a sinking feeling, as if the cold had affected my stomach. I sat on one of the abandoned carts and rested. Darky Bryant and other comrades pleaded with me to carry on, otherwise I would freeze to death or be shot. After a short while I recovered my strength, and from that moment, I did not falter for the rest of the march.

We marched nearly all of the first night, eventually stopping at a barn, where we lit fires and melted snow in our dixies, adding milk (klim) to provide a hot drink (no rations were provided by the Germans). The next day we marched on again, with the sound of Russian artillery in the background. As the packs on our backs were too heavy, most of us used makeshift sledges to pull our possessions along. As the days went by we got weaker; the built-up stock of food reserves had gone, we were plagued with lice and dysentery, and frostbitten limbs turned gangrenous. We were sometimes bundled into barns at night, but on at least one occasion we spent the night in an open field with no food at all.

It was not only British POWs on the march. It seemed that the whole of the civilian population of the Baltic States and East Prussia were fleeing from the Russians, some no doubt collaborators who feared for their lives. There were also Russian, French, and POWs of other nationalities. This all added to the food problem. Rationing had obviously broken down, and the Germans could not provide for themselves, even less for the refugees and POWs, these were low priorities. It was tragic to see POWs who had survived the horrific march into captivity from Dunkirk and St. Valery four and a half years previously, going down with dysentery, gangrene, and frostbite, and having to be left behind to die or be shot. There was no backup transport to take away the sick; you just left them behind, hoping they would survive, perhaps in a Russian hospital.

We marched twenty to thirty kilometres a day, with the sound of Russian artillery to our rear. Sometimes we rested for a whole day, and tried to tend our feet and other problems, but there was no remedy for worn out boots. Many carried on the march with rags bound around their feet, and my pal Darky ended the march with a pair of rope sandals.

When we rested for the night in barns etc., we never took off our boots, because we would get them stolen, or our feet would have swollen that much, we would not get them on again.

As far as food went, we only received one hot meal in the four months of our journey. That was beans, which gave most of us the runs. The Germans did, infrequently, give us some black bread and ersatz coffee, but most of the time we lived off our wits, stealing from farms, begging, or offering to supply a note saying that the donor had helped an allied POW with food so that the Russians would not harm them. It worked sometimes.

Read the whole of Henry Owens account of life as a POW at 51st Highland Division. Members of the same Scottish regiments were now fully engaged in the bitter cold of the Battle of the Bulge.

A POWs map of the 'death march' from eastern Poland to the west.
A POWs map of one of the ‘death marches’, from Stalag Luft IV in eastern Poland to the west.

Joy as Germans begin to fall back again in Poland

Impression? Who knows how it feels to be condemned to death and placed in front of the firing squad when suddenly a messenger comes racing up at the last moment carrying a pardon? Truly the Germans words were like a pardon for those of us who had been condemned to die. Now I no longer cared about him. I understood what the wagons loaded with suitcases meant: They were running away, they had been beaten. For us this meant the first spark of freedom.

Soviets soldiers advance on a village - the officer in the foreground is armed with captured German submachine gun MP-40.
Soviets soldiers advance on a village – the officer in the foreground is armed with captured German submachine gun MP-40.

On the 12th the Red Army began its final offensive to push the Germans out of Poland and pursue them into Germany itself. German intelligence had been warning about an impending assault but Hitlers response had been ‘the Eastern front will have to make do with what it has got’. There were no reserves left to divert there. When the final assault began the Soviets made dramatic breakthroughs that created panic evacuations amongst the occupying Germans in the rear.

After over five years of Nazi occupation the sight of the Germans in retreat was scarcely believable for those who had survived. Francisco Grunberg had led a precarious existence, as a Jew living in Warsaw undercover, then her family were evicted from Warsaw along with the rest of the population. Since October she had been living in a filthy hovel in rural Poland, living off little more than half-rotten potatoes, living in fear that one day they might be discovered as Jews:

It was 14 January 1945, I think, when we saw some German soldiers driving wagons loaded down with suitcases and bags. Trudging behind the wagons came the German officers – dirty, without their belts, with drooping heads and downcast eyes, which they would only lift now and then to see what lay ahead. We didn’t know what it meant; we thought some German unit was intending to put up here.

We were worried; the idea of having Germans right under our noses was no cause for joy. All of a sudden there was a knock at the door. I opened and two officers stepped in, as dirty as the others, with no weapons or any insignia. They sat down and asked for some coffee. Katarzyna lit a fire. They asked me if I was from Warsaw. I nodded my head.

They offered me a little roll of candy drops. The idea of taking anything from them disgusted me, so I placed the candy on the stove behind the pots, and there it sat until it melted into a smoking red magma that seemed to me a kind of symbol for the bloody martyrdom of the jewish nation.

I looked those two representatives of German culture right in the eye; I studied them closely and could not fathom how these people, who were created in the likeness of other people on earth, could commit the kind of bestial deeds we all knew so well, of which the mere recollection causes us to shudder.

One of them was a real chatterbox. He started to tell me he had walked all the way from Stalingrad, where the Germans had disgraced themselves by losing the battle. Now he was probably going to continue escaping on foot all the way to Berlin, because Ivan (the Soviet army) was already in Nowe Miasto.

That bit of news took me completely aback. I stared at him so wide-eyed I must have looked half crazed, because he tugged his comrade by the sleeve and said, “Look at the impression my bit of news has made on this woman, Is she scared or what?”

Impression? Who knows how it feels to be condemned to death and placed in front of the firing squad when suddenly a messenger comes racing up at the last moment carrying a pardon? Truly the Germans words were like a pardon for those of us who had been condemned to die. Now I no longer cared about him. I understood what the wagons loaded with suitcases meant: They were running away, they had been beaten. For us this meant the first spark of freedom.

Freedom! The word had lost all meaning for me. I turned away from the German and joined my husband and son in the corner. Their faces, too, showed unbounded astonishment and joy that the long-awaited moment had finally arrived – and calmly with no more slaughter or battles or similar horrors.

The Germans left. I was overcome by a nervous trembling; I was shivering as with fever. Maybe the moment wasn’t so close after all. Maybe something unexpected would happen. Maybe tragic moments were still in store for us.

Should we go to Nowe Miasto? Or were the Germans killing people on the road? Maybe they’re going to burn down the village without letting anybody out. What should we do? How should we proceed? It was too much for me to handle, I just kept going in circles doing nothing.

Meanwhile my son and husband were laughing, and saying that the Germans wouldn’t hurt us; they just wanted to get away as quickly as possible. We were crazy, utterly intoxicated with the news, to the point of being delirious. Nobody gave a thought to peat or potatoes, although we didn’t have anything; we just stood by the window and watched the fleeing Germans.

Michal Grynberg (ed) Words to Outlive Us: Voices from the Warsaw Ghetto

German newsreel from 25th January purporting to show determined resistance by the German armed forces to the Soviet attack:

German troops carrying ammunition on a sled take cover from Soviet fire.
German troops carrying ammunition on a sled take cover from Soviet fire.

Battle of the Bulge – Germans attempt to escape

Corporal Wachter’s head was smashed and there were lots of holes in his coat. The man had a foreboding about his fate On the night before, he had said: ‘I will not see my family again, nor my Saxon home.’ ‘Why should you not survive the war? We all still have this hope at least,’ Paul interposed. ‘No, I can feel it.’ ‘It will turn out all right,’ said another soldier. ‘No, not for me,’ was his point of view. He survived this discussion by a few hours.

"Dead German lies in ditch along route of Third Army Division advance near Langlir, Belgium." 13 January 1945.
“Dead German lies in ditch along route of Third Army Division advance near Langlir, Belgium.” 13 January 1945.

In the face of all the evidence Hitler had clung to the hope that something might be achieved by his Ardennes offensive, even after the German attacks had been halted. Only on the 8th had he authorised a withdrawal from the tip of the attack and it would not be until the 15th that he finally accepted that nothing would be achieved. By the end of the month the Germans would be back virtually where they started.

It had always been a gamble, a gamble that depended on Germans breaking through very quickly and seizing Allied supply dumps, particularly for fuel. That had failed, the Allies had been able to stiffen their lines very quickly. Now the Allies were able bring up strong counter-attacks, fully supported by their great material advantage.

For the German soldiers in retreat the Ardennes were now becoming a trap, a killing zone that in places would be worse than the retreat from Normandy.

Gunther Holz:

While our batteries had to cadge for a couple of shells, the enemy supply units drove to their vast supply depots and woe betide the depot commander if he failed to make the required quantities available at once. Where our gunners fired 100 shells, 2,000 shells were fired back from the other side and what we called co-ordinated fire was normal harassing fire in the eyes of our opponents.

From morning till evening American fighter-bombers dominate the sky, firing at anything that moved, no matter whether a vehicle or a single man. Only full cover and not the slightest movement ensured survival. In addition bomb carpets are dropped by small units of 20 to 30 four-engined aircraft on recognized troop concentrations.

'Thousands of cans of gasoline are stacked ready at the side of a Belgian road. It was such fuel dumps that were to prove so vital to the German offensive.'
‘Thousands of cans of gasoline are stacked ready at the side of a Belgian road. It was such fuel dumps that were to prove so vital to the German offensive.’

Obergrenadier Freund:

During the night before 13 January 1945, the Americans shot as much as they can. The shells fell within the German lines. There was a hell of a noise. The soldiers were lying underneath the tanks or have found shelter elsewhere. The Americans want to fire a lane into the German front in order to get east faster.

Someone screams: ‘Enemy tanks.’ Everyone shoots as much as they can The night is as light as day because of the exploding shells. Everybody is nervous. A German tank drives over a poor soldier.

Some soldiers lie in the trench and lower their heads. Though all the rattling and cracking, Paul suddenly hears a scream. He turns around and sees one of our own tanks standing in front of him. It had driven right over the legs of some poor fellow.

Half an hour later the uproar is over. It gets quiet again. Carefully, everybody who is still alive crawls out of the foxholes. The wounded are bandaged and carried off. The other soldiers inspect the whole area.

Behind a hedge eight killed Americans are lying The dead are searched for something to eat. The soldiers are always hungry and the supply does not work at all. Regular meals have been a thing of the past for some time. Whoever finds anything eats it. The Americans had enough on them. Dry bread, tins of all kinds and even toilet paper are in the combatants’ packages.

A direct hit struck the command and reconnaissance vehicle. Three men were killed at once. Private First Class Kessler was alive, but shaken. He stood there white as a sheet. Death can pass you by so fast.

The command and reconnaissance car was at the crossroads. The three dead soldiers were lying next to it. Han said, after he saw his killed comrades: ‘They have had an easy death. Nobody had to suffer.’ Shell splinters had cut offthe head of Master Sergeant Preiss He was a good guy, but that does not count in a war.

Corporal Wachter’s head was smashed and there were lots of holes in his coat. The man had a foreboding about his fate On the night before, he had said: ‘I will not see my family again, nor my Saxon home.’ ‘Why should you not survive the war? We all still have this hope at least,’ Paul interposed. ‘No, I can feel it.’ ‘It will turn out all right,’ said another soldier. ‘No, not for me,’ was his point of view. He survived this discussion by a few hours.

There was no time to mourn. The very next moment shell fire may start and then there would be even more dead and wounded .. In a small village graveyard the three soldiers dig a grave. They put the dead into it and have a short memorial. More ceremonies are not foreseen for front-line soldiers. The soldiers shovel earth back into the grave and the war continues One less day at the front. But how much is one day?

These accounts appear in Nigel Cawthorne (ed): Reaping the Whirlwind: The German and Japanese Experience of World War II

"We were getting our second wind now and started flattening out that bulge.  We took 50,000 prisoners in December alone."
“We were getting our second wind now and started flattening out that bulge.
We took 50,000 prisoners in December alone.”

Battle of the Bulge: Infantry attack on coldest night

An attack was mounted, but the odds were uneven – it was ‘A’ Company against enemy armour – and the attack was unsuccessful. Later that night a further attack on the farm was made, but it was found abandoned by the enemy. We heard the enemy tanks pulling out. The temperature had dropped well below zero, in fact it was one of the coldest nights during the coldest winter for 40 years. We did not wear our great coats in the attack, but had only our oil-skin gas capes, which kept us dry but not warm. Additionally we had had no rest for over 20 hours, and our exhaustion made us feel colder.

Men of 1st Glasgow Highlanders, 52nd (Lowland) Division wearing winter camouflage, prepare to go out on a patrol near Gangelt in Germany, 10 January 1945.
Men of 1st Glasgow Highlanders, 52nd (Lowland) Division wearing winter camouflage, prepare to go out on a patrol near Gangelt in Germany, 10 January 1945.
Men of 1st Glasgow Highlanders, 52nd (Lowland) Division wearing winter camouflage on a patrol near Gangelt in Germany, 10 January 1945.
Men of 1st Glasgow Highlanders, 52nd (Lowland) Division wearing winter camouflage on a patrol near Gangelt in Germany, 10 January 1945.

The Allied counter-attack in the Ardennes continued. Some of the men in the line were equipped for the bitter winter weather and issued with snow camouflage. Other were not and there are quite a few accounts of troops improvising with the use of bed sheets, sometimes taken from civilian houses, which they draped over ordinary uniform. There was an additional hazard as well – at times it was to become so cold that personal weapons began to freeze up.

Private Tom Renouf, of 7 Platoon of “A” Company, 5th Black Watch describes an attack made by his Company on 12th January. They attacked in an area where the Germans where making a determined stand because it protected one of the routes that their main forces were withdrawing through. Renouf was struck by the absolute destruction of the village of La Roche which they passed through on the way to their start line. As they left the village they passed badly wounded men falling back from an earlier attack:

We moved out of La Roche uphill into the forests. It was about 1400 hours, the sky was heavy with clouds, it was now a dark day, with snow still falling. We travelled up this road for about one and a half miles, ‘A’ Company now in the lead, but not our platoon. There were many stops and starts and there were a few shells coming into our direction. By this time we were beginning to feel the cold.

The leading section reached the open ground and was making to the Fme du Vivier when they were fired upon by an enemy tank. One man, Alexander Close, was killed others were wounded but the section was able to withdraw. The Company was deployed in defensive positions and told to ‘dig in’. The ground, however, was too hard to dig slit trenches. So we had to lay down in the snow among the trees, seeking what cover we could find. By now it was beginning to darken.

Our platoon was deployed on the left hand side of the road, where we were mortar bombed. Since we had no adequate protection from slit trenches, several of the platoon were hit (Stan Suskins for the third time). The farm building was shelled by our artillery.

An attack was mounted, but the odds were uneven – it was ‘A’ Company against enemy armour – and the attack was unsuccessful. Later that night a further attack on the farm was made, but it was found abandoned by the enemy. We heard the enemy tanks pulling out.

The temperature had dropped well below zero, in fact it was one of the coldest nights during the coldest winter for 40 years. We did not wear our great coats in the attack, but had only our oil-skin gas capes, which kept us dry but not warm. Additionally we had had no rest for over 20 hours, and our exhaustion made us feel colder.

Our bodies were chilled right through and our limbs were beginning to lose all feeling. Only by moving and stamping our feet could we fight the cold. Our hands were completely numb and our rifles were like solid ice, and beginning to be seized up with frozen bolts.

When the cold seemed to be at its worst and we seemed to have reached a limit of endurance, we were rescued once again by our wonderful Platoon sergeant, Bob Fowler, who – like a big St.Bernard – appeared with a large mug of rum, and dished out two large spoonfuls to everyone in the section. After this I began to feel my body again, although I still did not feel my limbs.

The forward platoons had reached the crossroads, where there was a row of cottages, one of them a Cafe/Bar. There had been a skirmish and an exchange of fire. The Germans had been driven out but none of them had been injured or taken prisoner. By this time it was nearly dawn, we were still crouched in the ditch and I remember being so tired that as I lay back against the wall I fell asleep. I slept for 20 minutes until we moved on.

When I awoke I was numb with the cold, but much revived. “A” Company occupied the crossroads and Major Mathew, M.C., the Company commander deployed the three platoons in defensive positions. My platoon fortunately occupied the cottages, but the other platoons were out in the open.

Day came with clear skies and the sun shining brightly. It had been one of the worst nights during the campaign, mainly because of the extreme cold and the utter exhaustion. Inside the cottages we relaxed our vigilance and lay down to rest.

Their ordeal was not yet over, with the bolts on their rifles frozen and inoperable, they nearly panicked as they faced what they thought were German panzers approaching. See 51st Highland Division for the full account of the attack on Hubermont.

An officer of a reconnaissance patrol in snow camouflage, 15 January 1945.
An officer of a reconnaissance patrol in snow camouflage, 15 January 1945.

A war artist in the mountains of Italy

Shells drop nearby in the evening and an officer is wounded. Luckily not too seriously, but when he was brought into the Mess and laid on the sofa he was grey, speechless and sweating with shock. Touching concern of his batman. Later the M.O. arrives with ambulance and after a first aid dressing to leg and back he is taken away. Sit next to the Brigadier at dinner, which was really wonderful, the best I have had in Italy, the Brigade H.Q. having discovered a wonderful woman cook. Sleep well and am warm for the first time for four nights.

"Through Castel del Rio, a little mountain village packed with army transport, then on over some spectacular Bailey bridges and into the quiet of the forward area ..." Ardizzone describes his journey on 10th January 1945.
“Through Castel del Rio, a little mountain village packed with army transport, then on over some spectacular Bailey bridges and into the quiet of the forward area …” Ardizzone describes his journey on 10th January 1945.

The Italian Front had become rather neglected after D-Day in Normandy. If the Allies did not have the strength to break through, after the diversion of troops to France, they were still holding down significant German forces.

One man had a particular affection for Italy, official War Artist Edward Ardizzone. In January he returned for another visit. There was much that he could have covered and there was no requirement for him to visit the front lines, yet he seems to have been under some personal obligation to do so:

11th January Thursday

Idle morning by the Mess fire trying to warm up after another cold and sleepless night. To the Guards Brigade in the afternoon. Heavier firing as we passed. Pack mules slipping and sliding on the icy road. Arrive about tea, find them very comfortably established in a big farmhouse.

Shells drop nearby in the evening and an officer is wounded. Luckily not too seriously, but when he was brought into the Mess and laid on the sofa he was grey, speechless and sweating with shock. Touching concern of his batman.

"an officer is wounded. Luckily not too seriously, but when he was brought into the Mess and laid on the sofa he was grey, speechless and sweating with shock. Touching concern of his batman."
“an officer is wounded. Luckily not too seriously, but when he was brought into the Mess and laid on the sofa he was grey, speechless and sweating with shock. Touching concern of his batman.”

Later the M.O. arrives with ambulance and after a first aid dressing to leg and back he is taken away. Sit next to the Brigadier at dinner, which was really wonderful, the best I have had in Italy, the Brigade H.Q. having discovered a wonderful woman cook. Sleep well and am warm for the first time for four nights.

12th January Friday

The Brigadier and his aide take me with them on their visit to Company and Battalion posts in the mountains — a tremendous walk through deep snow and up icy slopes which nearly kills me. Realise how unfit I am. At one moment thought I would have to give up.

Posts usually in small, grey mountain farmhouses, but the highest, on a great snow’ ridge, consisted of holes dug in the hillside covered with tarpaulins. Another a combination of holes and a burrow in a ruined farmhouse.

We are dressed in snow suits of white linen, as much of the way under observation. Finally We reach an A.D.S. in a small farmhouse where we collect a jeep and travel by an appalling steep and bumpy track, deep with snow and ice, down to the river. We cross by a footbridge and the last short walk home was precipitous and awful. Being tired I fell over at least half a dozen times.

See Edward Ardizzone: Diary of a War Artist.

A Soldier Shaving in the Snow, Tuscany 1945
A Soldier Shaving in the Snow, Tuscany 1945

Lucky escape for B-24 Liberator bomber crew

Jack and I could not see through the iced-up windshields and windows. We had to continue our descent to keep air speed above stalling. Through a small clear place on my side window I saw men running at full speed, and I also saw that we were about to touch down. I assumed those men were running from a building of some sort and we were lined up to hit it. Without any thought and perhaps with instinct, I pushed full left rudder that caused the airplane to slew around to the left and we touched down in a sideways attitude. The landing gear snapped off, the two outside engine propellers broke off and went cartwheeling across the airfield.

"Ruthless Ruthie" (6X-I -) Consolidated B-24J-155-CO Liberator Serial number 44-40317 854th Bomb Squadron, 491st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force Blew the tire on the left-main landing gear and the right gear collapsed causing the plane to go off the runway while taking off on April 16,1945.
“Ruthless Ruthie” (6X-I -)
Consolidated B-24J-155-CO Liberator
Serial number 44-40317
854th Bomb Squadron, 491st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force
Blew the tire on the left-main landing gear and the right gear collapsed causing the plane to go off the runway while taking off on April 16,1945.
"Shady Lady" (IO-T) Ford B-24J-1-FO Liberator Serial number 42-50759 715th Bomb Squadron, 448th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force Skidded off runway at RAF Station,Lissett,Yorkshire,England on November 16,1944. She was salvaged later that week.
“Shady Lady” (IO-T)
Ford B-24J-1-FO Liberator
Serial number 42-50759
715th Bomb Squadron, 448th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force
Skidded off runway at RAF Station,Lissett,Yorkshire,England on November 16,1944. She was salvaged later that week.
"Don't Cry Baby" (EE Q-) Consolidated B-24J-130-CO Liberator Serial number 42-110084 565th Bomb Squadron, 389th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. Pictured after crash landing at Charing,Kent,England on July 17,1944. Mission to Belfort,France. Note that both inboard engines have the props feathered.
“Don’t Cry Baby” (EE Q-)
Consolidated B-24J-130-CO Liberator
Serial number 42-110084
565th Bomb Squadron, 389th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force.
Pictured after crash landing at Charing,Kent,England on July 17,1944. Mission to Belfort,France.
Note that both inboard engines have the props feathered.

The hazards of flying in wartime were numerous and not all were related to the enemy. The aircraft were often pushed to the limit. In inhospitable conditions on open airfields the maintenance crews struggled to keep them properly serviced, always under pressure to keep a minimum number ready for operations. Aircraft that probably shouldn’t have been allowed to fly were pushed into service to make up the numbers. In such cases it was often a matter of luck whether a crew discovered the faults before they had gone too far … and even more luck might be needed to get back safely.

Oak Mackey, a co-pilot on a B-24, describes just one incident in which the crew were lucky to walk away from a broken aircraft:

The date was January 10, 1945, a bad day for the Jack Clarke crew of the 392nd Bomb Group of the Second Air Division of the Eighth Air Force. I, Oak Mackey, was the copilot; Brad Eaton, navigator; Bob Lowe, bombardier, E.C. Brunette, engineer; J.T. Brown, radio operator, Ralph Heilman, nose gunner; George Peer and John Heckman, waist gunners; and Kevin Killea, tail gunner; perhaps the best crew in the 8th AF.

We were awakened at 02:00 a.m. for briefing at 04:30 a.m. The target was Dasburg in the Bastogne area to support our ground troops there. The weather was absolutely atrocious – through the night there had been a combination of freezing rain, sleet, snow showers and fog. The runways and taxiways were covered with a sheet of slippery ice.

At briefing we learned that our usual B-24 was not available and we were assigned the squadron spare. We were a deputy lead crew and would be flying off the right wing of the lead plane of the leading squadron. Upon reaching our assigned airplane we found it had not been warmed up, the engines were cold and very difficult to start. Only after much cranking, priming and cussing were we able to get them running. We were supposed to be two for takeoff just after the Group lead airplane. By now most of the entire Group had departed.

We made our takeoff, climbed through the overcast to on top of the clouds and had the rest of the Group formation in sight. At this time the #3 engine propeller severely over-speeded, probably because of congealed oil trying to pass through the propeller governor. This is a serious problem – because of the engine over-speed the engine might turn to junk, or the propeller might come off the engine and pass through the fuselage or hit the other engine on that side. Jack told me to shut down the engine and feather the propeller. I reduced power to the engine and pushed the feathering button. It immediately popped out again, for it is its own circuit breaker. Brunette was sitting between Jack and me on the cockpit jump seat, as all good engineers should. He pushed the feathering button in and held it there which caused the secondary circuit breaker to pop open, which he immediately held down with his other hand, a risky procedure as it could cause the feathering oil pump motor or associated wiring to catch fire. Oh-so-slowly the prop blades turned to the feathered position and engine rotation stopped.

With one engine out and a loaded airplane there was no way we could stay with the Group. We were now in the vicinity of Great Yarmouth, so we flew out over the North Sea and dumped our bombs. We left the arming safely wires in place so the bombs could not explode.

As we turned to go back to our base, the #2 propeller ran away, compounding our numerous problems. We got the engine shut down and propeller feathered with less trouble than we had with #3. A B-24 cannot maintain airspeed and altitude with two engines out and full fuel tanks, and we gave careful consideration to bailing out but decided to stay with the airplane for a while and conserve altitude as best we could. The weather at our airfield near Wendling had not improved, but we had little choice but to try to return there.

We were about due south of Norwich ten miles or so when we spotted an airport through a hole in the clouds, our first good luck of the day. We descended through the hole in the clouds and had gone through the before-landing checklists, lowered wing flaps to the landing position, extended the landing gear, and were turning to line up with a runway from west of the airport when the thick bullet-resistant windshield and side windows iced up, a common occurrence when descending through a temperature inversion. We could not pull up and go around with the landing gear and flaps down with only two engines operating – we were committed to landing.

Jack and I could not see through the iced-up windshields and windows. We had to continue our descent to keep air speed above stalling. Through a small clear place on my side window I saw men running at full speed, and I also saw that we were about to touch down. I assumed those men were running from a building of some sort and we were lined up to hit it. Without any thought and perhaps with instinct, I pushed full left rudder that caused the airplane to slew around to the left and we touched down in a sideways attitude. The landing gear snapped off, the two outside engine propellers broke off and went cartwheeling across the airfield. We slid sideways on the fuselage for a long way on the ice and snow; it seemed like forever. The fuselage was broken behind the cockpit area and the nose tilted up, which enlarged the window to my right a bit so that I was able to go through it with my backpack parachute on. Likewise Jack went out the left cockpit window. I ran along the right side of the airplane, stopped at the waist window to look in to see if everyone was out, continued around the tail and there they were, all nine of them and no one had a scratch. We had landed at Seething Airfield, home of the 448th Bomb Group, and we had missed the control tower by only 100 feet or so.

This photo was taken by someone standing on top of the control tower at Seething before the snow melted (but not the day of the crash). #186 had nearly slid into the tower, but came even closer to hitting the latrine which was located no more than 50 feet in front of the tower. A B-24 belonging to the 448th Bomb Group is taxiing by on the far side of #186.
This photo was taken by someone standing on top of the control tower at Seething before the snow melted (but not the day of the crash). #186 had nearly slid into the tower, but came even closer to hitting the latrine which was located no more than 50 feet in front of the tower. A B-24 belonging to the 448th Bomb Group is taxiing by on the far side of #186.

An ambulance pulled up in a few minutes and took us to the base hospital where the doctor looked us over to be certain there were no injuries. For medicinal purposes, someone brought out a bottle of 100-proof rye whisky. We took our medicine like real men. Someone called our base at Wendling and a truck came for us in an hour of so. So ended a bad day for the Clarke crew. It could have been much worse.

Read the whole of this story, and the remarkable sequel for Oak Mackey many years later, at BBC People’s War.

US bomber B-24 Liberator of USAAF 465th Bomber Group  US bomber B-24 Liberator of USAAF 465th Bomber Group after crash landing in the Poltava airfield, Ukraine, Jan 4, 1945. Poltava was the main airfield of Operation Frantic, a USAAF "shuttle bombing" operation sending bombers to hit German targets and then land in locations in the USSR. This system extended the range of US bombing significantly. The operation though fizzled out because of Russian underlying hostility and refusal to protect the Frantic bases adequately.
US bomber B-24 Liberator of USAAF 465th Bomber Group
US bomber B-24 Liberator of USAAF 465th Bomber Group after crash landing in the Poltava airfield, Ukraine, Jan 4, 1945. Poltava was the main airfield of Operation Frantic, a USAAF “shuttle bombing” operation sending bombers to hit German targets and then land in locations in the USSR. This system extended the range of US bombing significantly. The operation though fizzled out because of Russian underlying hostility and refusal to protect the Frantic bases adequately.
B-24 h-10-DT Liberator flown by the Spotted Ass Ape", serial number 41-28697, from 754-458 Squadron 7th bombardment after the landin gear colapsed on the field near the British airfield Horsham St. Faith on the 9th March 1945.
B-24 h-10-DT Liberator flown by the Spotted Ass Ape”, serial number 41-28697, from 754-458 Squadron 7th bombardment after the landin gear collapsed on the field near the British airfield Horsham St. Faith on the 9th March 1945.
Consolidated B-24 Liberator  "468" B-24M-5-FO Liberator s/n 44-50468 740th Bomb Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force. Crashed on take off from San Giovanni Field,Italy on April 12,1945 killing 6 of the crew.
Consolidated B-24 Liberator
“468”
B-24M-5-FO Liberator
s/n 44-50468
740th Bomb Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force.
Crashed on take off from San Giovanni Field,Italy on April 12,1945 killing 6 of the crew.

A Platoon watches and waits in the snow

To move in the Platoon forward areas was a very tricky job and a real nightmare after dark as the ground between the trees in a 40 yard deep belt was criss-crossed with numerous thin steel wires attached to hand grenades and magnesium flares bound to the trees. If any person was careless or unfamiliar with the traps a touch on a wire set off a glare of light or an explosion, sometimes both, by means of pull-igniters.

Infantry of 53rd (Welsh) Division in the snow near Hotton, Belgium, 4 January 1945.
Infantry of 53rd (Welsh) Division in the snow near Hotton, Belgium, 4 January 1945.
3-inch mortar team of 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment in action during the advance of 53rd (Welsh) Division towards Laroche in Belgium, 5 January 1945.
3-inch mortar team of 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment in action during the advance of 53rd (Welsh) Division towards Laroche in Belgium, 5 January 1945.

While the southern end of the British forces in Holland and Belgium joined forces with the US Army to counter the German Ardennes offensive, the remainder of the British line was largely static.

As a young officer with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers Peter White was coming to terms with his responsibilities. The troops were spread out over a long thin line – and there was room for the enemy to infiltrate between his own positions and the next regiment along, over 500 yards away. Just because it was a relatively quiet sector did not make it any less tense, and there was more time to dwell on the discomforts:

One of the most unexpected and odd reactions I had begun to notice, and for which I was most grateful on my later occasions in attack, was, firstly, how much responsibility kept one’s mind off oneself and next, however afraid one was — which for hours at a time might be intense – I found the fear of showing it to one’s men (which would have been fatal) was always so much stronger that in effect it cancelled the primary fear out. This discovery at times so intrigued me as to cause a paradoxical feeling almost of elation.

To move in the Platoon forward areas was a very tricky job and a real nightmare after dark as the ground between the trees in a 40 yard deep belt was criss-crossed with numerous thin steel wires attached to hand grenades and magnesium flares bound to the trees. If any person was careless or unfamiliar with the traps a touch on a wire set off a glare of light or an explosion, sometimes both, by means of pull-igniters.

To add to this menace one often had to contend with a blanket of snow covering the wires, darkness and a batch of falling mortar bombs to speed one’s steps to comparative shelter. These trip-wires and aa belt of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines out in the field were, together with the tired eyes of underslept Jocks, the only way of being warned in time of an attack or patrol coming on top of us.

As the enemy patrols usually wore white smocks as snow camouflage they were hard enough to detect visually even in daylight. Many a time the weight of snow on the wires or an overtired Jock whose eyes had started to play tricks with him set off a burst of firing, a blast of explosion or a glare of brilliant light.

Frantic activity ensued until the cause was established and then a message was sent back to a worried Company HQ to explain the alarm. The wide gap between ourselves and the Royal Scots caused me continued uneasiness.

I was amazed at the way the Jocks took to and stuck the appalling conditions day after day in the cold and night after night with up to seventeen hours of darkness to anxiously watch through. Each slit trench had two Jocks who shared the duty in two-hour shifts of watching and attempted sleep in the frozen mud and straw of the trench bottom in hoar-frosted clothes.

Cpl Beal, one of my Section Commanders in the most isolated of the Platoon positions overlooking a snow-covered track into the woods, set up notoriety for seeing things during his spells on stag. Almost every night we heard the lonely chatter and echo of his Sten gun at some time or other. He was killed a few weeks later.

It was becoming steadily more difficult to keep properly awake or anywhere near warm, both problems being linked into one as a vicious circle: it was nearly impossible to get warm enough to get to sleep and the less sleep we had the colder we felt.

Our cold or tepid scratch meals of tins and biscuits, sweets, chocolate and bread probably did not help. Each plop of snow slipping off a tree somewhere or a twig cracking in the frost sounded to our taut senses like stealthy footfalls and brought one with a jerk out of chilled tired-eyed fatigue on stage to peer with anxious intensity and quickened pulse into the monochrome of snow-blanketed monotony.

See Peter White: With the Jocks: A Soldier’s Struggle for Europe 1944-45

Private G Carnally eats his midday meal in a trench in the snow, while manning part of the front line along the River Maas in Holland, 8 January 1945.
Private G Carnally eats his midday meal in a trench in the snow, while manning part of the front line along the River Maas in Holland, 8 January 1945.
Vickers machine gun crew of 'A' Company, 2nd Middlesex Regiment, 3rd Division at Grubbenvorst, Holland, 13 January 1945.
Vickers machine gun crew of ‘A’ Company, 2nd Middlesex Regiment, 3rd Division at Grubbenvorst, Holland, 13 January 1945.

Battle of the Bulge – three Medal of Honor heroes

As he jumped to his feet 10 yards from the gun and charged forward, machine gun fire tore through his camouflage robe and a rifle bullet seared a 10-inch gash across his back sending him spinning 15 yards down hill into the snow. When the indomitable sergeant sprang to his feet to renew his 1-man assault, a German egg grenade landed beside him. He kicked it aside, and as it exploded 5 yards away, shot and killed the German machine gunner and assistant gunner. His carbine empty, he jumped into the emplacement and hauled out the third member of the gun crew by the collar.

American soldiers of the 84th Division are shown moving up to new positions through the snow covered countryside in Belgium. Co. I, 333rd Infantry regiment 1/5/45
American soldiers of the 84th Division are shown moving up to new positions through the snow covered countryside in Belgium. Co. I, 333rd Infantry regiment 1/5/45

If the 82nd Airborne Division found themselves facing second tier troops, it was by no means the case across the whole of the battlefield. Although Allied commanders could feel reasonably confident that the tide had turned, the situation varied greatly. For many men, facing German counter-attacks, it did not feel that they were in the ascendant.

January 8th saw three different men, fighting in different locations along the front, awarded America’s highest award for valor. These citations give us some idea of the intensity of the individual battles being fought on this day.

Sgt Day G. Turner
Sgt Day G. Turner

Sgt Day G. Turner, Company B, 319th Infantry, 80th Infantry Division, Dahl, Luxembourg, 8 January 1945:

He commanded a 9-man squad with the mission of holding a critical flank position. When overwhelming numbers of the enemy attacked under cover of withering artillery, mortar, and rocket fire, he withdrew his squad into a nearby house, determined to defend it to the last man.

The enemy attacked again and again and were repulsed with heavy losses. Supported by direct tank fire, they finally gained entrance, but the intrepid sergeant refused to surrender although 5 of his men were wounded and 1 was killed. He boldly flung a can of flaming oil at the first wave of attackers, dispersing them, and fought doggedly from room to room, closing with the enemy in fierce hand-to-hand encounters.

He hurled handgrenade for handgrenade, bayoneted 2 fanatical Germans who rushed a doorway he was defending and fought on with the enemy’s weapons when his own ammunition was expended. The savage fight raged for 4 hours, and finally, when only 3 men of the defending squad were left unwounded, the enemy surrendered.

Twenty-five prisoners were taken, 11 enemy dead and a great number of wounded were counted. Sgt. Turner’s valiant stand will live on as a constant inspiration to his comrades. His heroic, inspiring leadership, his determination and courageous devotion to duty exemplify the highest tradition of the military service.

Cpl Vernon M Frazier who served in Company C, in action alongside Sgt Turner’s Company B, describes the fighting in more detail at Battle of the Bulge Memories.

Charles F. Carey , Jr.
Charles F. Carey , Jr.

Technical Sergeant Charles F. Carey, Jr.:

Technical Sergeant Charles F. Carey, Jr., ASN: (6253699), United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty on January 8 and 9, 1945, while serving with the 397th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division, in action at Rimling, France.

Technical Sergeant Carey was in command of an antitank platoon when about 200 enemy infantrymen and twelve tanks attacked his battalion, overrunning part of its position. After losing his guns, Technical Sergeant Carey, acting entirely on his own initiative, organized a patrol and rescued two of his squads from a threatened sector, evacuating those who had been wounded.

He organized a second patrol and advanced against an enemy-held house from which vicious fire issued, preventing the free movement of our troops. Covered by fire from his patrol, he approached the house, killed two snipers with his rifle, and threw a grenade in the door. He entered alone and a few minutes later emerged with 16 prisoners. Acting on information he furnished, the American forces were able to capture an additional 41 Germans in adjacent houses.

He assembled another patrol, and, under covering fire, moved to within a few yards of an enemy tank and damaged it with a rocket. As the crew attempted to leave their burning vehicle, he calmly shot them with his rifle, killing three and wounding a fourth.

Early in the morning of 9 January, German infantry moved into the western part of the town and encircled a house in which Technical Sergeant Carey had previously posted a squad. Four of the group escaped to the attic. By maneuvering an old staircase against the building, Technical Sergeant Carey was able to rescue these men. Later that day, when attempting to reach an outpost, he was struck down by sniper fire.

The fearless and aggressive leadership of Technical Sergeant Carey, his courage in the face of heavy fire from superior enemy forces, provided an inspiring example for his comrades and materially helped his battalion to withstand the German onslaught.

American Infantrymen pause to rest, just past Amonines, Belgium. This snow makes the fighting very rough in this area.
American Infantrymen pause to rest, just past Amonines, Belgium. This snow makes the fighting very rough in this area.
Russell E. Dunham
Russell E. Dunham

Technical Sergeant Russell E. Dunham Company I, 30th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. At about 1430 hours on 8 January 1945, during an attack on Hill 616, near Kayserberg, France, T/Sgt. Dunham single-handedly assaulted 3 enemy machine guns. Wearing a white robe made of a mattress cover, carrying 12 carbine magazines and with a dozen hand grenades snagged in his belt, suspenders, and buttonholes, T/Sgt. Dunham advanced in the attack up a snow-covered hill under fire from 2 machine guns and supporting riflemen.

His platoon 35 yards behind him, T/Sgt. Dunham crawled 75 yards under heavy direct fire toward the timbered emplacement shielding the left machine gun. As he jumped to his feet 10 yards from the gun and charged forward, machine gun fire tore through his camouflage robe and a rifle bullet seared a 10-inch gash across his back sending him spinning 15 yards down hill into the snow. When the indomitable sergeant sprang to his feet to renew his 1-man assault, a German egg grenade landed beside him. He kicked it aside, and as it exploded 5 yards away, shot and killed the German machine gunner and assistant gunner. His carbine empty, he jumped into the emplacement and hauled out the third member of the gun crew by the collar.

Although his back wound was causing him excruciating pain and blood was seeping through his white coat, T/Sgt. Dunham proceeded 50 yards through a storm of automatic and rifle fire to attack the second machine gun. Twenty-five yards from the emplacement he hurled 2 grenades, destroying the gun and its crew; then fired down into the supporting foxholes with his carbine dispatching and dispersing the enemy riflemen.

Although his coat was so thoroughly blood-soaked that he was a conspicuous target against the white landscape, T/Sgt. Dunham again advanced ahead of his platoon in an assault on enemy positions farther up the hill. Coming under machinegun fire from 65 yards to his front, while rifle grenades exploded 10 yards from his position, he hit the ground and crawled forward.

At 15 yards range, he jumped to his feet, staggered a few paces toward the timbered machinegun emplacement and killed the crew with hand grenades. An enemy rifleman fired at pointblank range, but missed him. After killing the rifleman, T/Sgt. Dunham drove others from their foxholes with grenades and carbine fire.

Killing 9 Germans—wounding 7 and capturing 2—firing about 175 rounds of carbine ammunition, and expending 11 grenades, T/Sgt. Dunham, despite a painful wound, spearheaded a spectacular and successful diversionary attack.

Only Russell E. Dunham survived the war and lived to die in his sleep aged 89.

This burning home near Lomre, Belgium, drew a heavy barrage of enemy shellfire which wounded a Signal Corps Photographer 1/16/45
This burning home near Lomre, Belgium, drew a heavy barrage of enemy shellfire which wounded a Signal Corps Photographer 1/16/45