February 1945

Feb

18

1945

Cliff climb assault surprises Germans on Riva Ridge

When the advance teams reached the top at approximately midnight, they signaled to the 1st Battalion units below that they could begin the ascent in force. These units advanced in a column of companies toward the foot of Riva Ridge and then split up, each taking a different route up the face of the cliff. Fortunately, the haze which hung over the lower elevations of the ridge continued to help conceal the attacking mountaineers. With a biting and wet wind whipping them about, the climbers clambered cautiously up the wet rocks with the aid of the preset ropes, fearful that any dislodged rock that clattered down the cliff face would be followed by bursts of enemy machine guns and grenades.

Feb

17

1945

‘The only way out’ for an infantryman

In the middle of the curses and attempts to regroup Jerry Defensive Fire came down. We hit the ground, “B”, “D” and the German prisoners in a hopeless jumble. The gunnery was, fortunately, of a low standard as no shells came in among us. One straggler on the edge of the ditch was hit in the shoulder as he dived into the trench, rolling to the bottom in a shower of earth and stones. We bandaged him as neatly as we could. He didn’t seem too bad, so we said how much we envied him, wrapped him in his gas-cape to prevent shock and gave him a cigarette. From the smile on his face we gathered that “Jack” was certainly All Right.

Feb

16

1945

Bombs and shells pound the surface of Iwo Jima

Black smoke covered the island, and shrapnel was flying all over the place with a shrieking sound. Trees with trunks one meter across were blown out of the ground, roots uppermost. The sound was deafening, as terrible as a couple of hundred thunderclaps coming down at once. Even in a cave thirty meters underground, my body was jerked up off the ground. It was hell on earth.

Feb

15

1945

Shot down and in the hands of the SS

Three SS officers proceeded to question me for several hours, then stripped me of all my clothing, wrapped me in a blanket and took me about 16 kilometres by horse and wagon to a point somewhere west of the Rhine. We arrived at a German evacuation hospital, where there were about 300 wounded Germans and where they left me for a day and a night with no medical attention. Then we started on another trip further into Germany, to the finest hospital one could ask for anywhere — large, modern and shining. Here at last, I thought, was a chance to have my wounds dressed.

Feb

14

1945

Ash Wednesday in burning Dresden

At the beginning people had got hold of a little tea somewhere and distributed it by the mouthful. Soon there was nothing at all, not a drop of water, not even for the wounded and dying. The medical orderlies complained that they could not help anyone. The vigorous Waldmann felt tormented by thirst to such a degree that he literally began to fade away. He fell asleep, started up in a wretched state, he had been dreaming of drinking. New medical orderlies came. One put a bottle to Waldmann’s mouth.

Feb

13

1945

Operation Thunderclap – RAF start firestorm in Dresden

I was last to mark, being in my bombing dive when the Master Bomber called “Markers to clear the target area”, followed by “Main Force come in and bomb”. Having released my markers and pulling out of my dive, two things caused consternation – first there, right in front of me were the spires and turrets of Dresden Cathedral, secondly, some of the Lancasters were a bit quick to drop their Cookies, much to my discomfort. The aircraft was rocked and buffeted just like a row boat in a heavy sea. It was on this occasion that I learned why the safety height to fly when 4000lb bombs were exploding was a minimum of 4000 feet.

Feb

12

1945

The horrific ordeal of the Sandakan death marches

The PoWs carried all the food including that for the guards. The route of the Death March, climbing up to 1,000 metres in some places, was along jungle tracks some of which the prisoners had to hack through thick jungle. The route crossed and re-crossed rivers which, as it was the monsoon season, were full in full flow. Humidity was extreme. There were no medical kits for the PoWs and drinking water was direct from the streams, rivers, swamps or puddles. It was a case of march or die, which developed into march to die. Any prisoner that stopped was shot, bayoneted or clubbed to death; there were also occasional strangulations.

Feb

11

1945

Infantry battalion attack into the Reichswald Forest

Shells were bursting in the trees, not in ones or twos, but by the score, throwing great splinters of steel and wood at the men lying prone in the ditch. We heard the pop-pause-pop-pause-pop of the mortars, flattened ourselves and counted twenty; and down they came all round us, bursting in the treetops, on the road, everywhere. There was a nasty little yellow rifle grenade, too (it was one of these which had wounded the Colonel) which we had not met before and did not want to meet again. Casualties were mounting, and still the stonk of high explosive continued.

Feb

10

1945

Japanese infiltrate US lines during Manila battle

As we resume our advance, I hear what appear to be four bursts of static from an infiltration warning device speaker, followed by four violent blasts, probably the explosions of landmines buried in the area. Now there can be no delay. I blow the whistle for the assault. The results achieved are the destruction of 12 or 13 men, three medium field shelters and two 45mm mobile guns with their vehicles. We continue the advance, still seeking the enemy. Recovering from their shock, enemy soldiers oné by one commence firing from the ridge line extending in front of us. Undeterred, we continue to advance.

Feb

9

1945

Mustang v Me 109 dogfight in the cloud over Germany

I had just turned the 434th around the backside of our box of bombers and was heading parallel to their course on the right side of the stream, when I spotted a gaggle of shadowy contrails sneaking along the top of that cirrus bank and headed in the direction of our bombers. I was about to turn to intercept them when the 435th flight sailed past just to my right. I wondered what in hell they were doing so close to the bombers. By all rights those enemy fighters (and that’s all they could have been) were their responsibility. I held my turn and watched the 435th go scurrying along out of sight. My God, a whole squadron, and it was obvious not one of them had spotted the enemy.