2. A force of cruisers and destroyers successfully attacked shipping in Bardia harbour (Libya-Egyptian frontier) on the 6th July and sank two military supply ships. Our ships were attacked from the air without result. Aircraft from the Fleet Air Arm at Malta carried out a dive-bombing attack on Catania aerodrome on the same date; 9,000 lbs. of bombs were dropped and four big fires were started in the hangars and workshops. A combined Fleet Air Arm and E.A.F. raid was also carried out successfully on Tobruk. The destroyer Zeffiro was sunk and 1 other destroyer, 1 submarine and a number of merchant ships damaged.
3. Early on. the morning of the 8th July H.M. Submarine Phoenix reported a force of 2 enemy battleships and 4 destroyers proceeding on a southerly course about 200 miles east of Malta, and later in the day another force of 6 cruisers and 7 destroyers was sighted by our aircraft proceeding north 60 miles north of Bengazi. At this time a strong force of the Mediterranean Fleet, consisting of 3 battleships, 4 6-inch cruisers, 1 aircraft carrier and 11 destroyers, was at sea but well to the eastward of these positions. While passing between Cyrenaica and Crete our ships were continuously bombed and H.M.S. Gloucester was hit on the bridge, killing the Captain and inflicting further severe casualties.
On the morning of the 9th numerous reports from our aircraft indicated that an enemy force of 2 battleships, 6 cruisers and 11 destroyers had been joined by several more cruisers and destroyers from Augusta. This force was sighted by H..M.S.Neptune at 1507 and shortly afterwards the Commander-in-Chief reported that he was engaging the enemy. A short and confused action resulted, the enemy retiring under cover of a smoke screen soon after the heavy ships became engaged. H.M.S. Warspite obtained one hit on an enemy battleship at long range. A torpedo attack by aircraft from H.M.S. Eagle is believed to have resulted in 1 cruiser being hit. Subsequently a damaged enemy cruiser was reported to be in tow about 70 miles from Messina at 1900. The Mediterranean Fleet suffered no casualties either in material or personnel other than those in the Gloucester.
From the NAVAL, MILITARY AND AIR SITUATION to 12 noon July 11th, 1940, as reported to the British Cabinet.
On the 31st October 1944 there had been a very successful attack on the Gestapo HQ in Aarhus. On that occasion the low flying aircraft had put bombs right in the centre of the Aarhus University building used by the Nazis, killing an estimated 200 members of the Gestapo. Around 30 imprisoned Danish resistance fighters also died. The raid had been urgently arranged because resistance leader Pastor Sandbaek had been captured and was being tortured there – by good fortune he was one of the few who was dug out of the ruins alive.
The reasons for the return to Oslo on the 31st December 1944 were very probably similar, the silencing of imprisoned resistance members who might betray others under torture. The precise reason was not given to those participating in the raid. Canadian Bob Boyden was one of those flying with 627 Squadron who later remembered the raid:
Our first information about the trip to Oslo was that we were to fly to Peterhead in the northern part of Scotland which would be our advance base. Peterhead was an American base for B17s and would cut off at least two hours flight time and give us a good start. The trip would be a long one – four to four and a half hours – and that can be very tiring if weather conditions require continuous instrument flying or if there are a few unfriendly happenings along the way. Briefing told us that Oslo was the target – not target for tonight – as this would be a daylight raid, which we did not do very often. In fact, I believe I flew only three trips in daylight. It’s quite different as you feel like you stand out like a sore thumb.
At this time of our action against the enemy, we flew to our destination at 28,000 feet and around the target area we would descend to 3,000 feet to look over the area for a pre-determined aiming point. We would then dive to 1,000 or 500 foot levels. After we had done our marking, we would climb back to 28,000 feet and return to base. This time, the target had flak positions and the German Navy was in the Oslo Fjord. W/C Curry was our new squadron commander and would lead the group which was made up of two flights of six Mosquitoes each. F/L Mallender would lead the second wave.
The North Sea is a long trip and we had been told that the water was so cold, we’d last only two minutes. I don’t remember worrying too much about it – it was such a beautiful day. We realised and enjoyed the scene below us – snow covered mountains and bright sunshine. F/O Willis and I did not talk much, if at all. Each of us absorbed in his own thoughts, thinking of what could happen and Willis no doubt wondering what this bastard was going to do next. We cleared the Norwegian coast, with the Oslo Fjord to our right. The target was ahead of us but not in sight, lost in the haze. Suddenly bursts of flak came up, seemingly one for each aircraft and right on altitude. This was the first time that I had seen, heard and smelled it all at the same time as we flew through the cloud.
W/C Curry called out to descend to target, probably with his usual “Tally-Ho”: he started the dive with us following his movement. No 2 disappeared from my view and left a gap between the leader and myself. He told No 2 to close in and after a couple of instructions like that I realised I was the one he called No 2. I had already pushed up my throttles at the start of the dive to close the gap. I broke radio silence to tell him I was No 3 and closing fast.
Everything happened so quickly. We had, of course, fooled the flak defences by our diving attack and at last – the target. Bomb doors open, wait for the right moment, push the button, hold 1,000 feet. I felt concussions that closely followed one another. There was no smoke, no dust. I then pushed lower over the city and I remember seeing an open-air skating rink with people skating around, unaware of the chaos and explosions behind them.
Suddenly, No 4 was descending down on top of us. Once again I had to break silence. A mountain loomed up right in front of us and as we changed our straight and level to a steep climb, flak came off the mountain, then we were up and over. Curry ordered us to break up, every man for himself.
I was doing a left-hand turn to head back when I saw a valley to our right. I slid down into the valley and kept at a low level. We passed over the coast and I began the climb back to our operational altitude of 28,000 feet. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and no enemy aircraft were in the vicinity. I didn’t know until years later that the second phase did not drop their bombs. All they saw was smoke and dust at the target site.
The trip back to Peterhead was uneventful. Those Mosquitoes were really smooth and reliable and much credit must go to the manufacturer and of course our aircraft mechanics who worked hard to keep them flying.
All aircraft returned to base and all had some flak marks. Mine also had a cracked landing light cover, which they said had been caused by the concussion. Only one crew member was injured by shrapnel.
Bob Boyden was awarded the DFC for his part in this raid. See 627 Squadron in Retirement for the full story from the RAF perspective
Only the first six of the twelve aircraft on the raid dropped their bombs, the smoke obscuring the target for the second wave [But see comments below]. The RAF at first believed the raid had been successful but it later transpired that the Victoria Terrasse building that housed the Gestapo was undamaged. Instead other civilian buildings had been hit and one bomb had bounced off the ground and hit a crowded tram, killing 44 civilians. In total 78 Norwegians were killed and 27 Germans. It was the worst single incident in Oslo during the war.
Th Japanese were now hopelessly outgunned by the overwhelming might of the U.S. arsenal.They could only resort to suicidal tactics in an attempt to slow the inexorable progress of US forces, which were island hopping towards the Japanese mainland. On land Japanese forces were digging themselves in and fighting to the death. At sea no Allied ship was safe from kamikaze attack, and almost any plane that came within range was liable to be shot out of the skies with every gun available.
Sy Kahn was sweating it out on the transport ship USS La Salle which was part of a convoy of almost 500 ships forming up off New Guinea. As a member of the 495th Port Battalion of the Army Transportation Corps, his principal role was loading and unloading ships, although they were regarded as reserve troops for combat should the need arise. They knew they would be amongst the later waves to land on Luzon:
December 30 1944
Early this morning, about 2:00 A.M., I was waked by the “general quarters” alarm and by the blaring PA, “All men man your battle stations.” I dressed and took my life preserver and headed for the deck. In the ‘tween deck I heard the pounding of ack-ack and the chatter of machine guns. Upon reaching the deck, I saw that all fire was directed immediately over our heads.
It was a very bright night, full moon, and the luminous plane was easily spotted quite high up. With red lines of bullets chasing him and ominous black puffs of exploding 90s all around, he flew very fast, headed away from us toward open sea and a thinnish cloud bank.
Just before getting to the bank, two 90s shells burst close on each side of him. A moment later he was in the thin clouds which weren’t adequate cover. The ship’s machine guns continued to rattle, but the range was too great for anything but ack-ack.
Just as I thought he was about to get away, he began to dive out of the cloud he had sought for cover. A moment later a huge streak of flame burst from the falling plane, now out of control.
The Jap fell a long way, burning brightly and viciously all the way down. I could hear the whine of the motor as he fell earthward in ever-increasing speed. The pilot didn’t have a chance; he burned like tinder. It was the clearest sight I’ve had of a hit Jap plane.
While he fell, all the men aboard were silent and fascinated by the orange streak that marked the end of a life and enemy. No guns fired. As soon as he hit the water, a tremendous yell split the air, and we continued cheering, me included.
He fell in the sea some distance away and continued to burn brightly for some 10 minutes after crashing. Soon there was just a tiny, diminishing flame — the fiery and brief marker of one less enemy.
Undoubtedly the Japs have wind of this convoy which is forming all up and down the New Guinea coast. I hope we have all the aircraft carriers rumored. It is said there are 200,000 Japs defending Luzon.
Leyte is taken and mopping-up operations remain. Our report states that we lost about 2,700 men in that campaign to the Japs’ 113,000! I It is difficult to believe these figures. If these odds are anywhere near accurate, it is a decisive victory. [Actual postwar figures: Japanese casualties numbered 67,000; American casualties were 3,504 killed and 11,991 wounded]
There is continued air attack on Luzon, on Clark and Nichols Fields, and other less famous ones, with 214 Jap planes on Luzon reported destroyed so far, that many less we’ll have to face. The Japs shelled Mindora (ineffectively, it’s stated) while we sank three destroyers and scored hits on a cruiser and battleship!
The battle in Europe continues to sway from side to side, and we all hope that this will prove the last German offensive, the last spurt of flame before the candle goes out.
It had never been easy for German commanders to argue with Hitler. After the 20th July bomb plot it had become virtually impossible. By the time Hitler had briefed his Generals for the Ardennes offensive the paranoid atmosphere surrounding him meant that anything less than whole hearted support was likely to be interpreted as defeatism, which was now equated with treachery.
Major-General F. W. von Mellenthin had already been pulled out of the line for making an “unauthorised retreat” during the fighting in the Autumn and put in a general reserve of officers on the General Staff. On 28th December he was recalled and given command of 9th Panzer Division. It was his job to retrieve what he could from the situation:
On the 29th I set off for 9 Panzer Division, which was in the wooded hills north-west of Houffalize; the ice-bound roads glittered in the sunshine and I witnessed the uninterrupted air attacks on our traffic routes and supply dumps. Not a single German plane was in the air, innumerable vehicles were shot up and their blackened wrecks littered the roads. When I reached my Headquarters I found that we were holding the most forward positions in the defensive line of 5 Panzer Army.
Looking at the situation map I noted the violent American attacks on both flanks and the grave danger facing the Panzer divisions in the noose of the salient. But we were ordered to stay where we were and so we did, defending ourselves with mobile tactics.
Most of my men were Austrians, and in spite of heavy losses their morale was still high. The Panzer regiment was left with twenty tanks, and the two Panzer Grenadier regiments each had about four hundred men. But the artillery regiment was very strong and of high quality.
We beat off the American attacks until 5 January, when orders were received to get out of this hopeless position and withdraw eastward; I was put in command of the rearguard of 5 Panzer Army.
My experiences in Russia stood me in good stead; I knew all about the problems of moving through snow and ice – a subject in which the Americans still had much to learn. By day our armoured group resisted in chosen positions; all movements were carried out at night to evade the fighter-bombers, but even so concentric artillery fire on our flanks inflicted considerable casualties.
By mid-January 9 Panzer Division had reached the line of the River Our, where we stood firm on the original start line of the offensive.
The results of the Ardennes fighting were more than disappointing; we had suffered excessive losses in men and material and only gained a few weeks’ respite.
It is true that American forces were moved from Lorraine, and the pressure on Army Group G slackened; however, this relief was only temporary (at the beginning of January Army Group G was strong enough to launch an offensive, which had some prospects of recapturing Strasbourg). The same results could have been achieved by a limited attack at Aachen, after which our operational reserves could have been switched to Poland.
The Ardennes battle drives home the lesson that a large-scale offensive by massed armour has no hope of success against an enemy who enjoys supreme command of the air. Our precious reserves had been expended, and nothing was available to ward off the impending catastrophe in the East.
The Allies had begun their counter-attack against the German Ardenne offensive and by the 27th the siege of Bastogne had been lifted. It remained close to the front lines. The Battle of the Bulge was still very far from over – but from now on would be dominated by the Allied attempts to push the Germans back.
Amongst journalists covering the war perhaps none was more remarkable that Martha Gellhorn, whose determination to get as close to the front as possible led to many evasions of Allied officialdom, including impersonating a stretcher bearer to get onto the beaches of D-Day.
As soon as the siege of Bastogne was lifted she set off to see for herself:
They all said it was wonderful Kraut—killing country. What it looked like was scenery for a Christmas card: smooth white snow hills and bands of dark forest and villages that actually nestled. The snow made everything serene, from a distance.
The road to Bastogne had been worked over by the Ninth Air Force Thunderbolts before the Third Army tanks finally cleared the way. A narrow alley was free now, and two or three secondary roads leading from Bastogne back to our lines.
“Lines” is a most inaccurate word and one should really say “leading back through where the Germans weren’t to where the Americans were scattered about the snowscape.” The Germans remained on both sides of this alley and from time to time attempted to push inward and again cut off Bastogne.
A colleague and I drove up to Bastogne on a secondary road through breath-taking scenery. The Thunderbolts had created this scenery. You can say the words “death and destruction” and they don’t mean anything. But they are awful words when you are looking at what they mean.
There were some German staff cars along the side of the road: they had not merely been hit by machine—gun bullets, they had been mashed into the ground. There were half—tracks and tanks literally wrenched apart, and a gun position directly hit by bombs.
All around these lacerated or flattened objects of steel there was the usual riffraff: papers, tin cans, cartridge belts, helmets, an odd shoe, clothing. There were also, ignored and completely inhuman, the hard-frozen corpses of Germans. Then there was a clump of houses, burned and gutted, with only a few walls standing, and around them the enormous bloated bodies of cattle.
The road passed through a curtain of pine forest and came out on a flat, rolling snow field. In this field the sprawled or bunched bodies of Germans lay thick, like some dark shapeless vegetable.
We had watched the Thunderbolts working for several days. They flew in small packs and streaked in to the attack in single file. They passed quickly through the sky and when they dived you held your breath and waited; it seemed impos- sible that the plane would be able to pull itself up to safety. They were diving to within sixty feet of the ground. The snub—nosed Thunderbolt is more feared by the German troops than any other plane.
You have seen Bastogne and a thousand other Bastognes in the newsreels. These dead towns are villages spread over Europe and one forgets the human misery and fear and despair that the cracked and caved-in buildings represent.
Bastogne was a German job of death and destruction and it was beautifully thorough. The 101st Airborne Division, which held Bastogne, was still there, though the day before the wounded had been taken out as soon as the first road was open.
The survivors of the 101st Airborne Division, after being entirely surrounded, uninterruptedly shelled and bombed, after having fought off four times their strength in Germans, look — for some unknown reason — cheerful and lively. A young lieutenant remarked, “The tactical situation was always good.” He was very surprised when we shouted with laughter.
The front, north of Bastogne, was just up the road and the peril was far from past.
At Warnach, on the other side of the main Bastogne road, some soldiers who had taken, lost and retaken this miserable village were now sightseeing the battlefield. They were also inspecting the blown-out equipment of two German tanks and a German self-propelled gun which had been destroyed here.
Warnach smelled of the dead; in subzero weather the smell of death has an acrid burning odor. The soldiers poked through the German equipment to see if there was anything useful or desirable. They unearthed a pair of good bedroom slippers alongside the tank, but as no one in the infantry has any chance to wear bedroom slippers these were left. There was a German Bible but no one could read German. Someone had found a German machine pistol in working order and rapidly salted it away; they hoped to find other equally valu- able loot.
The American dead had been moved inside the smashed houses and covered over; the dead horses and cows lay where they were, as did a few dead Germans.
The German attempt to break through the Allied lines at Bastogne finally came to nothing. The besieged town had received air drops on the 25th and 26th. Late on the 26th outside units broke through and this relief line was consolidated on the 27th.
It had been a hard fought battle. The Germans knew that their whole offensive would come unstuck if they could not break through here. The defenders, almost all of them pushed into hastily prepared positions at short notice, many of them ill equipped for the winter conditions, had held off repeated attacks that grew ever more desperate as the Germans realised they were running out of time.
The 101st Airborne Division, and a large number of smaller units attached or incorporated within it, were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation:
These units distinguished themselves in combat against powerful and aggressive enemy forces composed of elements of 8 German divisions during the period from 18 December to 27 December 1944 by extraordinary heroism and gallantry in defense of the key communications center of Bastogne, Belgium.
Essential to a large scale exploitation of his break-through into Belgium and northern Luxembourg, the enemy attempted to seize Bastogne by attacking constantly and savagely with the best of his armor and infantry.
Without benefit of prepared defenses, facing almost overwhelming odds and with very limited and fast dwindling supplies, these units maintained a high combat morale and an impenetrable defense, despite extremely heavy bombing, intense artillery fire, and constant attacks from infantry and armor on all sides of their completely cut off and encircled position. This masterful and grimly determined defense denied the enemy even momentary success in an operation for which he paid dearly in men, material, and eventually morale.
The outstanding courage and resourcefulness and undaunted determination of this gallant force is in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.
General Orders No. 17, War Department, 13 March 1945.
It didn’t occur to us, until it was all over, that the eyes of the world were on the 101st Airborne Division and the attached armour during the defence of Bastogne.
The first thing we heard was that we’d been ‘rescued’ by the 4th Armoured Division. Now I, and everyone else in the 101st, resent the implication that we were rescued or that we needed to be rescued.
When General Taylor arrived on the 27th the first thing he asked me was what kind of shape we were in. I told him, ‘Why, we’re in fine shape: we’re ready to take the offensive.’ General Taylor said: ‘I should have known it, but all that stuff I read in the newspapers was beginning to worry me just a little.’
The fact is we were thinking about what a tough time the Kraut was having. We Weren’t alarmed about our own position at all. After all, we’d deliberately jumped into that kind of position in Normandy and Holland.
For the first three days we gave the Germans the licking of their lives . . . the Troop Carrier Command did a great job on the supply end too. They brought us all the ammunition, rations, and other equipment that we needed. Our morale was always tops.
Good morale is just as contagious as panic can be. We had several thousand reinforcements — attached troops — and they caught the infectious courage of the old men of the 101st right away.
Airborne Divisions always have good morale. We were fortunate enough to have been associated with the First and Sixth British Airborne Division up around Arnhem. They don’t come any better.
No one should be surprised at what the 101st Airborne Division did at Bastogne. That’s what should be expected any time of airborne troops. With that kind of troops I, as a commander, can do anything.
It was this war zone that Prime Minister Winston Churchill had chosen to fly to on Christmas Day. He now tried to broker a peace with the assistance of the Greek Archbishop. He was accompanied by his private secretary, John Colville, whose diary provides many insights into the life of Churchill during the war. On the 26th December they were on board HMS Ajax in Athens’ harbour:
This morning the sun is shining brightly and I have just persuaded the P.M. to get up and go out on the quarter-deck. From the bridge one can see the smoke of battle in the street fighting west of the Piraeus, and there is a constant noise of shell-fire and machine-guns.
We had a splendid view of Beaufrghters strafing an E.L.A.S. stronghold on the side of one of the hills surrounding Athens. Four of them went round and round, diving with all their cannons blazing and then joining in behind the tail of the preceding aircraft to continue the process. As E.L.A.S. seem to be deficient of flak, however well provided they may be with other weapons, the Beaufighters seem to be having a very pleasant time.
There is no nonsense about fraternising among the troops here, who, to a man, consider E.L.A.S. and all their works utterly loathsome. I have spoken to several and I gather that there is a general sense of anger at the attitude of the British press and certain elements of the Labour Party.
Nobody here has any illusions about the real character of the rebels. On the other hand E.L.A.S., in spite of their diabolical activities, have a strangely obliging side to them. For instance, the telephone exchange is in the hands of E.L.A.S. but they have never yet made any difficulties about our telephoning messages from the aerodrome to G.H.Q., even though these, in the form sent, provide them with no useful information. Macmillan says that they possess many of the qualities and defects of the Irish.
The above was written after lunch and it is now 11.45 p.m. with the bag almost closing.
This afternoon’s events were the purest melodrama. Just before we left the ship we were straddled by shells and another fell quite close as we landed. The meeting with the Greeks was preceded by long sessions at the Embassy, in which the Archbishop figured prominently.
There were photographs in the garden and the Prime Minister made a stirring speech to the staff of the Embassy thanking them for their excellent work in arduous conditions. This gave enormous pleasure both to Leeper [the Ambassador] and to the staff. It looked as if E.L.A.S. would not turn up for the meeting and the Archbishop had made his opening speech and the P.M. was halfway through his, when there were noises off and three shabby desperadoes, who had been searched and almost stripped before being allowed to enter, came into the dimly-lit conference room.
All the British delegation, the American, the Russian and the Frenchman, rose to their feet, but the Greek Govern- ment remained firmly seated. The P.M. was only prevented from rushing to shake the E.L.A.S. people by the hand by Field Marshal Alexander’s bodily intervention.
The proceedings then began all over again and, with the sound of rocket- firing Beaufighters, and bursting mortar shells without, the light of a few Hurricane lamps within and the spectacle of what was surely the oddest galaxy of stars ever assembled in one place, one had continually to rub one’s eyes to be sure one was not dreaming.
The weather turned clearer but colder on Christmas Day, finally allowing the Allied fighter bombers to enter the battle. The Germans remained frustrated, not having made the progress they had sought, in several places they sought to make a final push, sensing that the Allied response was now gathering pace.
For tens of thousands of men the day was spent in a slit trench on the Belgium- German border
December 25, and a Merry Christmas to you.
Last night after chow we relieved a squad that had been on line for several days. So I spent Christmas Eve and will spend Christmas Day in a dugout facing the German lines. Ah there, Adolf! Frohliche Weinachten!
It was a beautiful and grim Christmas Eve. Shorty and I spelled each other on guard throughout the bitter cold night.
The cold I could endure, but an additional misery landed on me in the middle of the night. I got the GIs! That’s always a tragedy, of course — although in nonnal life, with the luxury of a civilized bathroom at hand, it would seem only an embarrassing annoyance – but this time the tragedy was of major proportions.
You see, our dugout is on the crest of a hill, smack in the middle of an open ﬁeld and with never a bush or tree to provide cover. It’s not modesty that bothers us, you understand: it’s snipers.
We peer anxiously in the direction of the German lines, unbutton our pants in the dugout, hold them up with one hand while we clamber out, and get the business over in a hurry. We wipe on the run — our naked and chilled buttocks quivering in anticipation of a bullet — and button up again when we’re once more safe in the dugout.
A half-naked man crouching on a hilltop is a defenseless creature, unnerved by the constant sense of his nakedness framed in the sights of an enemy riﬂe. I winced and shook each time I dropped my pants, expecting every moment to be caponized by a German sniper who combined marksmanship with a macabre sense of humor.
The artillery ﬁre was heavy until midnight. Then it died away, became sporadic. (Because it was Christmas Eve? I wonder.) In the strange silence, the war seemed remote, and I was several thousand miles from Belgium for a few moments.
We got no breakfast this morning, Christmas morning. Our squad leader forgot to send a messenger to tell us to come to chow. We waited and hoped and peered anxiously for sight of the runner until there was no longer any point in hoping. Except that it was Christmas morning, I didn’t mind the missed meal: my interior was worn out from my late tussle with the Gls.
Later in the morning I opened a can of C rations, made a little coffee, and ate two dog biscuits. Shorty opened a can of hash and ate it cold. Christmas breakfast! We munched in unhappy silence, and I brooded over the memory of our customary Christmas stollen (how ironically German!), so richly stuffed with raisins and nuts and citron.
Not very far away Russel Albrecht was having an even worse time of it:
Then the next day was Christmas Day, and that was the day I crawled into Malmedy. I had called on the phone and asked there was any way to get some aspirin for the pain in my chest – I couldn’t stand even a teaspoon in my pocket, it felt like it was too heavy against my chest. They called back and said, “You have permission but you don’t have to do it. If you want to get on your hands and knees and crawl into Malmedy” – which was probably a quarter or a half mile, a pretty good distance. “You have our permission because there are some doctors there. You can get something from them.”
Well, then about noon on Christmas Day, that’s when I decided to go into town. I just kind of lay ﬂat in the snow and sneaked along staying behind whatever I could. I got in there and saw some smoke coming out of a house, and I went over there. Some tankers and TDs had plugged up the windows, and they had a stove going in there. I got some hot water and made a cup of coffee, some powdered stuff, I wrote a note to Lorraine and the girls and told them to mail it.
They told me that down about three or four houses some doctors had moved in. I went down there, went in, and the doc came out of the dining room. He had a turkey leg in his hand he was chewin’ on. That’s as far as the Christmas dinners got. He stuck a thermometer in my mouth and so forth.
I sat there and he went back in to chew down some more turkey, and then he came back in and looked and kind of frowned — he got some more equipment, started testing and pretty soon he told the guys, “You get a stretcher for this guy.” They got one and I had to lay on there and they pinned a tag on my jacket: “Bronchitis, Pleurisy, and Pneumonia.”
They wouldn’t let me even get up from the stretcher, let alone go back to the hole like I was going to.
I later learned when I asked some of our fellows about my buddy in the hole that the next day he got a direct hit and was killed.
In besieged Bastogne the 101st Airborne were to come under the last but most desperate attempt by the Germans to break through the perimeter. Schuyler Jackson was in the Champs area:
They hadn’t come at our area during the first days there. The temperature, though, was around zero. There were a couple of replacements who actually froze to death while on duty. I would always have two guys go out there to keep the men awake and prevent them from freezing.
When one of our planes was shot down, I took a fleece-lined jacket from the body of one of the crew. It sounds terrible but he had no more use for it.
There was a bridge in front of us. We had planted explosives but the detonatorfroze when they hit us on Christmas Day. Their infantry rode on the tanks and we were picking them off. I got mgself a bazooka and hit one in the motor. The crew came out fighting. They did not surrender. We had to shoot them.
We had originally put mines in the road but, because we expected the relief column, we pulled them off to the side of the road. When the German tanks came, some of the commanders must have thought the roads mined. They drove off on the side and exploded our mines.
We had enough ammoat our spot and stopped them cold. The last tank was turning back, and going up a rise. I fired the bazooka – and it was a one-in-a-million shot – dropped right down the turret. Except it didn’t explode. The loader had forgotten to pull the pin on the rocket. He got some fancy cussing from me. But the tank didn’t get away. Somebody else destroyed it.
The British 9th Royal Tank Regiment were awoken at 6.30 am on Christmas Day and half an hour later departed for Liege in Belgium to strengthen the Allied lines. Sergeant Trevor Greenwood had the benefit of of lodgings in one of the surviving civilian houses – but it was neither comfortable nor safe:
Weather bitterly cold with heavy frost all day, but good visibility and dry. Plenty of our aircraft overhead.
Flying bombs too frequent for my liking — they seem to arrive every half hour. Usually preceded by ‘siren’ giving a few seconds warning. As soon as bomb motor becomes audible, the family in this house stand by the cellar door ready to dive down below, in case the thing heads for this locality. A beastly business, terrifying for everyone.
Slept up in bedroom, but spent a few uneasy hours listening for the ominous roar, and then waiting the crash as the engine cuts out…
While 9 RTR was in reserve 3rd Royal Tank Regiment were fully engaged:
…the Black Bull tankies now had two medium gunner regiments on call and on Christmas Day went on the offensive. The Germans were running short of petrol and the objectives were the recapture of Sorrines, Foy-Notre-Dame and Boisselles. Sorrines was easy but the bag in Boisselles was substantial.
Then a squadron of US Lightning ﬁghter-bombers ground strafed 3 RTR and again an hour later. Foy-Notre-Dame was ablaze and together with the US 2nd Armoured Recce Squadron, an allied combined operation, many Germans, vehicles and halftracks were captured.
In all the three villages at the ‘end of play’, an immediate search was made for wines and spirits. The Chateau cellar at Boisselle was productive and at 0130 the Americans were terriﬁc, they produced wine, K rations and stories equally quickly.
An American Captain carried round gin, brandy and rum. It had been one of the most exciting Christmas Days of one’s life. The next two days saw devastating attacks by RAF Typhoons as the German Panzers withdrew, leaving scores of petrol-less tanks and AFVs behind them.
The German V1 attack on London had been defeated by intensive air defences and then the advance of the Allies in Europe. V1 rockets continued to be targeted on Antwerp and Holland in an attempt to disrupt the Allied supply lines – with little significant effect.
However there remained on alternative means of targeting the rockets at Britain. The forerunner of the air launched cruise missile was a Nazi adaptation to use Heinkel bombers to get the V1s within range of Britain and fire them whilst in mid air. They could only be crudely targeted and the ultimate destination was only determined by the engine cutting out, as before. 1,176 missiles were launched against Britain but a large proportion either failed to launch properly or failed to reach the land.
Once again the Allied superiority in cracking German codes was to give them a huge operational advantage. Although they could not completely neutralise the attacks they could be in precisely the right position to fight back.
Richard Leggett was a Mosquito pilot who participated in the counter-arrack on the Heinkels in the early hours of Christmas Eve, 1944:
The British ‘Y’ Service would get information that V1-carrying Heinkels would be taking off, and we’d be told that at such and such a time they would be in place. No other op was as tidy as this. We looked at our watches and thought, ‘My goodness, they’ll be here in another few minutes’; and sure enough, right on the button, it would all happen. It was a question of whether you’d be the lucky one because there were lots of us.
I looked at my clock and knew that at around 02.30 hours there would be several Heinkels in the usual place. The enemy obviously did not know we were going to meet him.
Being in a position to stab him in the back in the dark was a nice way to fight a war. One was mentally tuned to this. We felt sorry for our bomber chaps. We in the night fighter force didn’t have to drop bombs on women and children. We had to kill Germans who were trying to do things to our women and children with nasty weapons. It was a very clear and clean way to fight.
Sure enough, almost on the dot we saw the flash of a V1 being launched. At the same time ground control said they had contact.
There might be twelve, thirteen, fourteen of these Heinkels, all doing it at once. It was a timed op. Then they’d turn to port. I don’t know why but they always did this. Then they would go down very rapidly and head for home. Our job was to lose height quickly, go below 100 feet and pick up the Heinkel.
The Mk X was a good AI, but there were a lot of sea returns and it depended on the expertise of the navigator. I had a very good one. Sure enough, the Heinkel turned left and at two to three miles we got a contact.
It wasn’t a good night. There was rain and ‘stuff’ about. The Germans only came when the weather was bad.
We started to close. It was still dark and there was a lot of cloud. You knew perfectly well that on our straight and level course behind him we would get a tremendous wash from his engines. I felt it. Then for some reason, he started to turn away slightly, as if he had an indication that we were behind him. It foxed us a bit.
Eventually, it settled down again. I closed in on him. It was in cloud. Guns and sights were harmonized at about 200 yards but we could not get a visual, although we could feel his slipstream We dropped away and my navigator picked up contact again.
Some people might have lowered their undercarriage at this point, but l didn’t like to. I had as much flap as I dared and managed perfectly well. We waited and we waited.
Off Den Helder I was getting concerned. We’d followed him for fully fifty-five minutes. We waited as patiently as one can in this situation and eventually, as the dawn was coming up I closed in at 300 yards range. I fired my cannon in his slip- stream and had to put on a lot of throttle to prevent a stall.
I got a number of strikes on it and that was it. The Heinkel went in very quickly. When we broke away the cloud base was only at 200 feet. It was a beautiful morning.
31 of the 45 missiles launched on this night fell on England (although accounts vary), with the worst single incident being in Oldham where 27 people were killed. The times of the attack differ from that given by Leggett.
The Ardennes offensive was a last throw of the dice for Hitler. So desperate were the Nazis that they resorted to outright deception in an attempt to sow confusion and alarm amongst the Allies. Hitler had turned to Otto Skorzeny, mastermind of the scheme that released Mussolini from Italian captivity, to head a behind the lines operation with English speaking German troops in American uniforms, driving American jeeps and tanks.
There was not nearly enough American equipment available to supply the force that was originally envisaged. The men involved in Operation Greif then got tangled up with the huge tailbacks of military traffic in the narrow lanes of the Ardennes. The element of surprise was lost before they could they could make much impact.
While they did not achieve the level of confusion amongst the Allies that had been sought, and most of the spies were caught quite quickly, their existence led to many rumors and much alarm within Allied ranks. There were numerous incidents of American servicemen, including many senior officers, being closely questioned about their knowledge of arcane aspects of American sport and geography, in order to test their authenticity.
The alarm even spread to the office of the Supreme Allied commander, General Eisenhower, as described by his Naval Aide, Captain Harry C. Butcher:
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23, 1944
I went out to Versailles and saw Ike today. He is a prisoner of our security police and is thoroughly but helplessly irritated by the restriction on his moves. There are all sorts of guards, some with machine guns, around the house, and he has to travel to and from the office led and at times followed by an armed guard in a jeep.
He got some satisfaction yesterday in slipping out for a walk around the yard in deep snow, in the eyes of the security officers quite the most dangerous thing for him to do, but he had the satisfaction of doing something he wanted to do. I told him he now knows how it must feel to be President and be guarded day and night by ever-watchful secret-service men.
The restriction is caused by information from Intelligence officers of Hodges’ First Army, who cross-examined a German officer captured at Liége the night of December 19. He was one of a group of English-speak ing Krauts [Shows I’ve recently been with GIs who were in Italy and Africa] who had infiltrated through Allied lines in American uniform, driving an American jeep and carrying American identification papers.
The leader of this group, which specializes in kidnaping and assassination of high personages, is a character named Skorzeny, who, reputedly, rescued Mussolini. He is said to have passed through our lines with about sixty of his men and had the mission of killing the Supreme Commander.
One of their rendezvous points is said to be the Café de la Paix in Paris, just around the corner from the Scribe. There German sympathizers and agents are supposed to meet Skorzeny’s gang and to furnish information about General Ike’s abode, movement, and security guard.
The men were described as completely ruthless and prepared to sacrifice their lives to carry out their mission. All personnel speak fluent English. Similar attacks on other high officers have been given to other infiltrators, numbering about 150.
Some units might have with them in their vehicle a German officer in uniform and, if questioned, would tell a false story that they were taking an important German prisoner to higher headquarters in the rear. They carry capsules of acid to be thrown in the faces of MPs or others to facilitate escape. Skorzeny’s group may be in staff cars, civilian cars, command and reconnaissance cars, as well as jeeps.
Already about 150 parachutists wearing American uniforms or civilian clothes have landed in the U. S. First Army’s area. Many of them have been captured, but some are still at large. Those in uniform are not wearing dog tags, but all carry explosives and have a new type of hand grenade discharged from a pistol.
Our security officers are always supercautious, and with this alarming information, I can readily understand why they have thrown a cordon around the Supreme Commander, yet he is thoroughly disgusted at the whole procedure and seemed pleased to have someone to talk with like me, seemingly from the outside World.
Ike was as calm as he ever is, and, except for the irritation caused by his confinement, was cheerful and optimistic.
Over all, he felt that the situation was well in hand; that there was no need for alarm; that he and his senior commanders had taken prompt steps to meet what he figured was the Germans’ dying thrust, and if we would be patient and the Lord would give us some good flying weather, all would be well and we would probably emerge with a tactical victory.
He added that it is easier and less costly to us to kill Germans when they are attacking than when they are holed up in concrete fortifications in the Siegfried Line, and the more we can kill in their present offensive, the fewer we will have to dig out pillbox by pillbox.