Battle of the Bulge: Infantry attack on coldest night

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

"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

"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

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

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

Battle of the Bulge – the 82nd Airborne attacks

A patrol, growing when Lt. Thomas of a Cavalry reconnaissance squadron started across the snow with rifle grenades, attacks German snipers discovered on the outskirts of the newly captured town of Beffe, Belgium. Lt. Thomas was followed by volunteers consisting of the members of his squadron, an infantry headquarters company and an infantry company. The attack was launched with rifle fire, fragmentation rifle grenades, hand grenades, riflers, BARs and bazooka company armed with machine guns and light mortars. Twelve Germans were killed in the engagement. (A Co., 1st Bn,, 290th inf., 75th div., B troop. 1/7/45)
A patrol, growing when Lt. Thomas of a Cavalry reconnaissance squadron started across the snow with rifle grenades, attacks German snipers discovered on the outskirts of the newly captured town of Beffe, Belgium. Lt. Thomas was followed by volunteers consisting of the members of his squadron, an infantry headquarters company and an infantry company. The attack was launched with rifle fire, fragmentation rifle grenades, hand grenades, riflers, BARs and bazooka company armed with machine guns and light mortars. Twelve Germans were killed in the engagement. (A Co., 1st Bn,, 290th inf., 75th div., B troop. 1/7/45)

Whether or not Hitler had admitted to himself that the gamble of the Ardennes offensive had failed, his Generals were discreetly trying to pull back and save some of their best troops from annihilation. Second tier troops were pushed into the battle to hold the line and cover the withdrawal of the SS, Paratroopers, and others.

These troops were not nearly as committed as those that had launched the offensive, and some were only serving in the Wehrmacht at gunpoint. The same situation had been encountered in Normandy. There was no way out for these men, just the hope that circumstances would allow them to surrender. Often it did not.

James Megellas, an officer with the 82 Airborne Division, describes the situation at this time, and the progress of an attack made on the 7th January:

The enemy we were encountering now offered only sporadic resistance, bearing little resemblance to the elite SS units we had faced earlier. What we saw now were poorly trained and led German soldiers, a hodgepodge of service troops, conscripts from satellite countries, and young and old recruits scraped from the bottom of the manpower barrel. They did little more than slow our advance and certainly posed no serious threat to our reaching our objectives. However, German artillery was having an effect and continued to be a factor to contend with.

In addition to the casualties from German artillery and snipers, the severe Belgian winter was taking a toll on our ranks. Men were being sent to the medics with swollen feet, barely able to walk. Some of the least affected were kept overnight, treated at the aid station, and returned to their units. The more serious cases were hospitalized.

Many men lost toes; in some cases amputation of feet was necessary. If frostbite was not quickly and properly treated, gangrene set in, requiring amputation. During the Battle of the Bulge, about 45,000 U.S. combat soldiers most susceptible to the cold were removed from the line because of trench foot.

On 7 January, we, accompanied by two supporting tank destroyers (TDs) , moved out to seize Petit Halleaux and control of the high ground overlooking the Salm River. Along our entire front line, only a few enemy units made a determined effort to impede our advance.

Sergeant Charles Crowder recalled: “We had walked about four or five miles through two feet of snow and had taken up positions on the high ground overlooking Grand Halleaux. . . . At daybreak, I left with three men — Albert Tarbell, Andy Kendrot, and Joe Ludwig — to return to our starting point and escort a jeep carrying ammunition and rations to our lines. On the way back, we encountered no opposition; but about halfway back to the Company, we ran into small arms fire.

We dispersed and returned fire, and in about 10 minutes, it was over. Five enemy were killed and one who was talking in a language I did not understand was badly wounded. Someone said he was speaking Polish and wanted help, that he was in terrible pain. One of our men said, ‘I’ll help him,’ pulled out his pistol, shot him in the head, and said, ‘Now he’s not in pain.’

Four of these men were wearing American fatigue clothes underneath a German overcoat and cap. I believe now that these were Polish men we found on this patrol with two Germans behind them. They opened fire on us but hit no one. I believe they would have surrendered if they had a chance.”

Technical Sergeant Eddie C. Heibert, H Company, was a rifleeman in Murphy’s platoon. The following is his account of that action: “One of our two supporting TDs struck a Teller mine and was knocked out about 800 yards from the town. Six of our men were killed or wounded. At this point, enemy machine guns opened up on us and we were pinned to the ground. I saw Lieutenant Murphy crawl forward for about 50 yards under a curtain of murderous machine gun fire and call for the remaining TD to come up to him. The TD silenced two of the enemy machine guns.”

Private First Class David E. Ward Jr., a rifleman in Murphy’s platoon, added the following to Heibert’s statement: “Lieutenant Murphy then returned to us and organized us into two squads and led our attack on the town. When we reached the town, Lieutenant Murphy ran from house to house, under heavy enemy fire, firing his Thompson submachine gun and throwing hand grenades, forcing many of the enemy to surrender.”

The Germans sustained heavy casualties before over 200 men surrendered, the remnants retreating over the bridge from Petit Halleaux to Grand Halleaux.

See James Megellas: All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe.

Infantrymen move along a road through Beffe, Belgium, which was hit by Nazi mortars 1/5/45
Infantrymen move along a road through Beffe, Belgium, which was hit by Nazi mortars 1/5/45

USS Louisville’s second Kamikaze attack in two days

The U.S. Navy battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) leads USS Colorado (BB-45), USS Louisville (CA-28), USS Portland (CA-33), and USS Columbia (CL-56) into Lingayen Gulf before the landing on Luzon, Philippines, in January 1945.
The U.S. Navy battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) leads USS Colorado (BB-45), USS Louisville (CA-28), USS Portland (CA-33), and USS Columbia (CL-56) into Lingayen Gulf before the landing on Luzon, Philippines, in January 1945.

As the US Navy began the bombardment of Luzon, ‘softening up’ the defences prior to amphibious assault, they encountered the Japanese suicide ‘Kamikaze’ planes in ever more persistent attacks. With Japanese airbases within easy reach and the use of Kamikaze pilots now one of their main tactics the US ships had to face an unprecedented onslaught, with many ships being hit more than once.

The USS Louisville had been hit on the 5th January with one man killed and 52 wounded, including the captain. The following day she was attacked by six successive planes, five were shot down but one got through:

The USS Louisville is struck by a kamikaze Yokosuka D4Y at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945
The USS Louisville is struck by a kamikaze Yokosuka D4Y at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945

John Duffy was one of the men on board the USS Louisville dealing with the aftermath:

All of a sudden, the ship shuddered and I knew we were hit again. I was in charge of the 1st Division men and I yelled. “We’re hit, let’s go men!” I was the first man out the Turret door followed by Lt. Commander Foster and Lt. Hastin, our Division Officer, then a dozen more men. The starboard side of the ship was on fire from the focsle deck down.

One almost naked body was laying about ten feet from the turret with the top of his head missing. It was the Kamikaze pilot that had hit us. He made a direct hit on the Communications deck.

As the men poured out of the turret behind me they just stood there in shock. Explosions were still coming from the ammunition lockers at the scene of the crash. We could see fire there too. Injured men were screaming for help on the Communications Deck above us. I ordered two men to put out the fire on the starboard side by leaning over the side with a hose. That fire was coming from a ruptured aviation fuel pipe that runs the full length of the forecastle on the outside of the ship’s hull. That fuel pipe was probably hit by machine gun bullets from the Kamikaze just before he slammed into us.

Although there was no easy access to the deck above us, I ordered several men to scale up the side of the bulkhead (wall) and aid the badly burned victims who were standing there like zombies. I also ordered three men to crawl under the rear of Turret 1’s overhang, open the hatch there, and get the additional fire hose from Officers Quarters. These three orders were given only seconds apart and everyone responded immediately, but when they got near the dead Jap’s body, which was lying right in the way, it slowed them down.

I yelled, “Carl Neff, grab his legs.” As I leaned over the body, I noticed that all he had on was the wrap-around white cloth in his groin area. I then grabbed him under the arms and lifted. When I did this, his head rolled back and his brain fell out in one piece onto the deck as though it had never been part of his body. I told Carl, “Right over the side with him.” Then I immediately went back and scooped up his brain in both hands and threw it over the side. To the men who had no assignment, I shouted, “Get scrubbers and clean up this mess.”

John Duffy was awarded an individual commendation for his actions : “displayed outstanding diligence, skill, bravery, and intelligence in combating fires and rendering aid to the wounded.” This account appears at Kamikaze images which explores both American and Japanese attitudes to the Kamikaze pilots.

The strike on the Louisville was also notable for the death of Rear Adm.Theodore E. Chandler, commanding the battleships and cruisers in the Lingayen Gulf. He was badly burnt when his Flag bridge was engulfed in flame – but later waited in line for treatment with the other men. However his lungs had been scorched by the petroleum flash and he died the following day.

USS Columbia is attacked by a kamikaze off Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945.
USS Columbia is attacked by a kamikaze off Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945.

A list of ships with their casualties resulting from “Kamikaze” hits in the Philippine area during the month of January:

USS Cowanesque (2 killed, 2 wounded);
USS Dyke (sunk with all hands);
USS Ommaney Bay (6 killed, 65 wounded, 85 missing at time of report);
USS Helm (6 wounded); USS Louisville (1 killed, 75 wounded);
USS Orca (4 wounded);
HMAS Australia (first hit: 25 killed, 30 wounded; second hit: 14 killed, 26 wounded);
USS Manila Bay (10 killed, 75 wounded);
USS Walke (15 killed, 32 wounded);
USS R.P. Leary(1 wounded);
USS Newcomb (2 killed, 11 wounded);
USS New Mexico (30 killed, 87 wounded); USS Brooks (3 killed, 10 wounded);
USS Minneapolis (2 wounded);
USS California (41 killed, 155 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Southard (6 wounded);
USS Columbia (first attack: 20 killed, 35 wounded; second attack: 17 killed, 8 wounded, 7 missing at time of the report);
USS Louisville (28 killed, 6 wounded, 10 missing at time ofreport);
USS Long (7 wounded);
USS LST 918 (4 killed, 4 wounded);
USS LST 912 (4 killed, 3 wounded);
USS Callaway (30 killed, 20 wounded);
USS Kitkun Bay (16 killed, 15 wounded);
USS Mississippi (8 wounded);
USS Leray Wilson (7 killed, 3 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Dupage (35 killed, 157 wounded);
USS Gilligan (2 killed, 6 wounded);
USS Bellknap (19 killed, 37 wounded);
USS Dickerson (13 wounded);
USS LST 778 (7 killed, 12 wounded);
USS Zeilen (5 killed, 32 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Salamaua (10 killed, 87 wounded, 5 missing.)

Action Report, COM Luzon Attack Force, Lingayen.

The kamikaze aircraft hits Columbia at 17:29.
The kamikaze aircraft hits Columbia at 17:29.

The Red Army prepares for the final offensive

Soviet T-34 tank with troops cross the highway Zhitomir-Berdichev, past a burning tank Pz.Kpfw. VI "Tiger". 1st Ukrainian Front, 5th January 1945
Soviet T-34 tank with troops cross the highway Zhitomir-Berdichev, past a burning tank Pz.Kpfw. VI “Tiger”. 1st Ukrainian Front, 5th January 1945

Although battles raged in the Ukraine and in Budapest much of the Eastern front was relatively quiet. The rapid Soviet offensive that had pushed into Poland in the Autumn had paused over the winter. Stalin was building up an even more enormous force before his final push into Germany itself.

German intelligence was well aware of the impending threat, although much of the information was discounted by Hitler and the High Command. In fact there was little they could do about it anyway. What little spare resources that could be found had been diverted for the last desperate push in the Ardennes. Now that last hope appeared to be faltering.

The Red Army was nearly ready to strike. Nicolai Litvin was currently the staff driver for the 352nd Rifle Division:

About 5 January 1945, the commander of the 65th Army, Colonel General P. I. Batov, paid a visit to our division. Together with Dzhandzhgava [commander of the 352nd], they went to examine the place that had been designated for the breakthrough of the enemy’s defenses in the coming offensive.

The generals were dressed in sheepskin coats and wearing simple officer’s caps on their heads. There were no shoulder straps on their coats. The adjutants remained at the divisional command post while I drove the officers to the front lines. As I drove, the generals talked about the forthcoming offensive, about the preparations for it, and about possible start dates.

I overheard Batov telling Dzhandzhgava: “You know, some Americans in the Ardennes have turned chicken and buggered of nearly 300 kilometers to the rear. Churchill has asked Stalin, ‘For God’s sake, start your offensive sooner.’ We’ll have to start our offensive a week earlier. We must have everything ready.” In this way, I learned that the Stavka had moved up the start date for our offensive.

I returned to the jeep and waited, while the generals made their observations, then walked around the trenches, bunkers, and gun pits, checking out the soldiers’ readiness and morale. While I waited, I sat down with some fellows and told them, “You know, there’s a commotion back at divisional headquarters. Someone is firing at the Germans, but neither our scouts nor the Germans can figure out where the firing is coming from.”

I looked at them. The guys in the group exchanged glances, grinned, and then took me to show who was firing. When the Germans had retreated, following their early October attack, we took over some of their positions and combined them into our new defensive line.

Some soldiers found a place where a few German “Vaniushi” had been positioned, six-barreled rocket launchers that brayed like donkeys when they hurled their rounds toward us. As soon as we heard the distinct sound of a “Vaniusha” firing, we immediately shouted, “Brothers, a donkey! Take cover!” This meant that rockets were now headed our way, and that soon there would be explosions.

When the Germans had retreated, they had left behind piles of these rockets — it seemed, as many as had been delivered to the position. Our soldiers had found them and thought to give them a try. They would take a rocket, lay it on the breastwork of the trench, and then fire at this percussion cap at the base of the rocket with their avtomat [automatic rifle]. The rocket would explode, and the shell would fly off in the general direction of the German lines. Therefore the Germans could not figure out from where the fire was coming.

German Nebelwerfer missiles in flight
German Nebelwerfer missiles in flight, fired during the Warsaw Uprising

When the generals had returned from their visit to the front line, I told them about the “disturbers of the peace.” General Batov said, “Well, show us.” The guys and their sergeant showed them on the spot how they “fired” the rockets. Batov said, “I don’t have anything in my pocket. I only have this Order of the Red Star. I award it to the sergeant for coming up with this ‘technique’ of harassing the enemy. Award the remaining troops yourself, Vladimir Nikolaevich [Dzhandzhgava], under your own authority”

I returned to the Willys [Jeep], and the generals came back later, at sunset, and we headed back to the 354th’s command post.

See Nikolai Litvin: 800 Days on the Eastern Front: A Russian Soldier Remembers World War II. For a review of this memoir see Kansas Press.

The German Nebelwerfer (“Smoke Mortar”) had been developed before the war while German armament developments were restricted by the Versailles Treaty. Although it did fire smoke mortars for use on the battlefield, right from the start it was also capable of firing high explosive and poison gas missiles – matters that were concealed from international observers. The psychological effect of the sound of a battery of Nebelwerfers being fired during the Blitzkrieg was regarded as a particular asset of the weapon.

Contemporary German film of the Nebelwerfer in action:

A German Nebelwerfer unit in half tracks earlier in the war.
A German Nebelwerfer unit in half tracks earlier in the war.

V2 rockets bring sudden death to London

The mobile launchers for the V2 were extremely hard to track down - and would continue firing to the end of the war.
The mobile launchers for the V2 were extremely hard to track down – and would continue firing to the end of the war.

The German V2 rocket programme continued, with most rockets aimed at either Antwerp or London. The 4th January was a particularly bad day for casualties in London, with a number of rockets falling in heavily populated areas.

Fifteen V2 rockets are known to have been fired at England on 4th January 1945. They were all aimed at London but fell over a wide area from Hertfordshire in the north-west to Essex in the north-east and Surrey in the south. Several exploded prematurely in the air or fell in open countryside causing no casualties, but five fell within London causing fatalities. The worst incidents were in West Ham, (14 Dead, 30 seriously injured), Dalston (15 dead, 27 seriously injured) and Lambeth (43 dead, 26 seriously injured). V2.com has a comprehensive list compiled by a team of international researchers.

There was no warning, no sirens or even the sound of an approaching rocket. The sound of the rocket exploding was the first thing that survivors heard, then the sound of the sonic boom of the rocket, travelling faster than the speed of sound – and sometimes the brief roar of the rocket itself as it hurtled to earth caught up with it.

The aftermath of the rocket that hit Dalston Library on 4th January 1945.
The aftermath of the rocket that hit Dalston Library on 4th January 1945.

Minnie Rapson was a young mother in Dalston, London Borough of Hackney, north east London:

In January 1945 I was nursing my by-now four–month-old son by the fire when I suddenly felt a terrible crunch as if the walls had caved in.

The fireplace poured with soot all over us and for a time I could not get myself together. Then baby screamed and holding him tight I staggered dazed to the door. Passersby were as dazed as I was, and some of them were badly cut.

Help came from some American soldiers, who soon got busy helping us all. Then we realised what had happened. A V2 rocket had demolished our library in Forest Road, burying many people mostly children, who at four o’clock came out of Holy Trinity School and went to change their books.

There was a paper shop on the corner of Woodland Street, owned by Mr and Mrs Feather. Mrs Feather was killed – it was heartbreaking. Many of the children we knew so well were also killed.

All that sad night we could hear the rescue work going on and the ambulances coming and going. Holy Trinity Church became a mortuary.

To add to the misery it was snowing and bitterly cold. We laid down on our bed that cruel night: we had no roof and no windows but when we thought of the tragedy around the corner we knew how fortunate we were, because one of those poor children could have been my son who might have changed his library book that very time.

See Silent Cacaphoney, and also a subsequent newspaper article.

The site of the V2 rocket explosion which demolished Lambeth Public baths.
The site of the V2 rocket explosion which demolished Lambeth Public Baths.

Six year old Diane Hazelwood in Lambeth, south London, had a narrow escape. This was one of the worst V2 incidents in London, demolishing a block of flats and killing 47 people:

By the time the doodle bugs and rockets started, I suppose I was beginning to understand wartime.

My youngest brother John had gone off to the D-Day landings 8th June 1944, with the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, and been killed on 19th June 1944. He was only 19 years old. He is buried at Banneville-La-Campagne cemetery just outside Caen, France. I loved John dearly, he had been on a short leave before going away and he couldn’t wait to go; I said goodbye before going to school and still remember the horrid feeling I had that day that I would never see him again. Can you feel that at 6 years old? well, I did and I can remember the empty feeling in my stomach when the telegram came and Mum just stood looking out of the kitchen window. I knew what it was and I ran to get a neighbour to take care of her, I’d never saw her cry before (or since) and God knows she had a lot to cry about.

I suppose the incident that really topped the lot was 4 January 1945 when the Lambeth Baths received a direct hit from a V2 rocket; 37 people were killed. Amazingly enough our little back room was not damaged at all but the white tiled wall adjoining it in the square of the flats was leaning at a very peculiar angle. I’d been in bed, was awoken by my Aunt Kit and Mum lifting me out very gingerly because once again the windows had blown in and my bed was full of broken glass! I was cut on the face etc and got taken to relatives along the Kennington Road for the rest of the night.

The wall eventually collapsed at about 4 o’clock in the morning. I can remember my sister Betty arriving in a near state of collapse, she had been to the Regal Cinema in Kennington Road and on hearing that the flats and baths had ‘caught it’ she had run all the way home, scared to death; I can remember her hugging me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. The Lambeth Baths were no more but the room was still used. That night also saw the end of the Ideal Methodist Mission where I had received many little wartime parcels from America.

See BBC People’s War for the full story.

The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945, .
The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building on the other side of the road from Lambeth Baths destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945. The photograph was apparently taken on the following day and graphically shows how a 5 storey building was reduced to rubble.
A police officer examines the remains of a V2 that hit London in September 1944.
A police officer examines the remains of a V2 that hit London in September 1944.

Battle of Bure – Paratroopers v Tiger Tanks

A 6th Airborne Division sniper on patrol in the Ardennes, wearing a snow camouflage suit, 14 January 1945.
A 6th Airborne Division sniper on patrol in the Ardennes, wearing a snow camouflage suit, 14 January 1945.
A Bren gunner in the snow on the front line in Holland, 7 January 1945.
A Bren gunner in the snow on the front line in Holland, 7 January 1945.

The British 6th Airborne Division had been recalled to England following Normandy. When the Battle of the Bulge broke out they were amongst the reserve troops swiftly brought up to mount the allied counter-attack. In early January the German forces had reached the village of Bure, Belgium, where the tip of their advance came to a halt. The 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion was ordered to attack Bure on the 3rd January.

Major ‘Jack’ Watson recounts how their attack almost failed before it started when they were subjected to devastating fire as they were forming up, when about a third of the force become casualties:

We marched to a wood which overlooked Bure, our first objective. This was the furthest point in the German offensive to which the German tanks had advanced. Our task was to evict them from Bure.

The forming-up was “A” Company on the left, “B” Company on the right, and “C” Company in reserve. My task was to attack Bure with “B” Company to secure the high ground. We were formed up ready to go in at 13.00 hours on 3rd January. It was a bloody cold day, still snowing heavily, and even going through the wood to the start line was very difficult because the snow was as much as three or four feet deep in some places. We were wearing normal battle equipment, parachute smocks, helmets.

We formed upon the start line and looked down on this silent and peaceful village. The Germans knew we were there; they were waiting for us and as soon as we started to break cover, I looked up and I could see about a foot above my head the branches of trees being shattered by intense machine-gun fire and mortaring. They obviously had the guns on fixed lines and they pinned us down before we even got off the start line. This was the first time I’d led a company attack and within minutes I’d lost about one-third of them.

I could hear the men of my left-hand platoon shouting for our medics. We were held up for about 15 minutes because of the dead and wounded around us but we had to keep moving. We were about 400 yards from Bure and so as quickly as I could, I got my company together and gave the order to move. We had to get under the firing and get in the village as soon as possible. On the way down I lost more men including my batman. One man took a bullet in his body which ignited the phosphorous bombs he was carrying. He was screaming at me to shoot him. He died later.

We secured the first few houses and I got into one with my Company Headquarters. What I did not know was that “B” Company had also suffered badly in the attack. Their company commander, Major ‘Bill’ Grantham, was killed on the start line together with one of his platoon commanders, Lieutenant Tim Winser. His Company Sergeant Major, Moss, was mortally wounded. The remaining officers, apart from Lieutenant Alf Largeren, were wounded. He led the much depleted company to their objective, but was later killed during the day, trying, with hand grenades, to clear a house held by a German machine-gun post.

Once I had got into the village it was difficult finding out just what was going on. I pulled in my platoon commanders to establish that they were secure and to start movement forward. It was eerie. We would be in one house, myself on the ground floor and my signalman telling me that there were Germans upstairs, and at other times they would be downstairs and we upstairs. It was a most unusual battle.

Our numbers were getting very depleted as we moved forward from house to house. I eventually got to the village crossroads by the old church. In the meantime I had informed my C.O. exactly what was going on, and he decided to send in “C” Company, who were in reserve, to support me. By that time their 60 ton Tiger tanks started to come in on us. It was the first time I had seen Tigers, and now here they were taking potshots, demolishing the houses. I moved from one side of the road to the other deliberately drawing fire. A tank fired at me and the next thing I knew the wall behind me was collapsing. But, a PIAT team came running out, got within 50 yards of the tank, opened fire and smashed the tank’s tracks. They were very brave. It went on like this all day – they counter-attacked, but we managed to hold them. They pushed us back – we pushed forward again.

The 'King Tiger', or Panzer VI B , had up to 7inch thick armour at the front.
The ‘King Tiger’, or Panzer VI B , had up to 7inch thick armour at the front.
A soldier from the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, 7th Armoured Division, emerges from his foxhole armed with a PIAT, 28 December 1944. The Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank fired a 2.5 pound charge which was effective up to 100 yards away for armour less than 4" thick, although a skilled user could only accurately hit such a target about 40% of the time.
A soldier from the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, 7th Armoured Division, emerges from his foxhole armed with a PIAT, 28 December 1944.
The Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank fired a 2.5 pound charge which was effective up to 100 yards for armour less than 4″ thick, although a skilled user could only accurately hit such a target about 40% of the time. The user usually sustained bruising from the recoil.

It became difficult to keep the men awake – after all they were tired, we had no hot food. All through our first night they were shelling and firing at us and we were firing back. When we told H.Q. we had German tanks in the area they decided to bring in our own tanks in support, but they were no match for the Tigers. We had Sherman, and by the end of the battle 16 of them had been blown up. We were reinforced by a company from the Oxf and Bucks, commanded by Major Granville – by that time I was down to about one platoon in strength. The Oxf and Bucks went forward, but they were not out there very long before they were forced back into our positions.

I will always take off my hat to Color Sergeant ‘Harry’ Watkins. How the hell he found us I do not know, but he did. We were still scattered in the houses along the main road in the center of the village. He brought us a stew which was good and hot, and we were able to get men into small groups to have food and then get to their positions in the houses.

At one point in the battle, Sergeant Scott R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps], went forward in an ambulance to pick up casualties. A German Tiger, which had been fighting us all day, rolled forward alongside him, and the commander seeing him unafraid said, “Take the casualties away this time, but don’t come forward again, it is not safe”. Even Sergeant Scott knew when to take a good hint!

This whole of this account and many more individual stories can be read at Henri Rogister’s Battle of the Bulge Memories.

The original recommendation for the MC awarded to Major Watson can be read at Paradata

Lieutenant P Bickepsteth of 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade briefs his men during a counter-booby trap patrol in the village of Nieuwstadt, Holland, 3 January 1945
Lieutenant P Bickepsteth of 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade briefs his men during a counter-booby trap patrol in the village of Nieuwstadt, Holland, 3 January 1945
Troops of the 1st Rifle Brigade take cover as a mortar bomb explodes in a stream in the village of Nieuwstadt, north of Sittard, 3 January 1945.
Troops of the 1st Rifle Brigade take cover as a mortar bomb explodes in a stream in the village of Nieuwstadt, north of Sittard, 3 January 1945.