The cold hard wet slog continues across Holland

Another time a heavy German gun pinpointed us, and began to drop enormous shells around Company Headquarters, ranging us carefully. Craters were steadily torn up, slowly creeping closer, until they were straddling us. Our croft was not strong. At length we fled, and in the nick of time, tumbling from the cellar with no dignity at all, map-cases flapping, wireless headphones flying; the lot of us. The next two shells were direct hits. The croft caved in on itself and the cellar ceiling gaped at a smudgy November sky. The big gun stopped…

Infantry and carriers of the 15th (Scottish) Division
Infantry and carriers of the 15th (Scottish) Division, during the assault on Liesel, Holland, 2 November 1944.
Churchill tanks of 4th Grenadier Guards near Liesel-Meijel, 1 November 1944.
Churchill tanks of 4th Grenadier Guards near Liesel-Meijel, 1 November 1944.

Robert Woollcombe wrote a noted memoir of his service with Kings Own Scottish Borderers as they crossed north west Europe from France to Germany in 1944-45.

In November 1944, they, like a large part of the British Army, were still stuck in Holland, where he recorded his general impressions:

The burnt villages dotted back, the riddled church spires, and here a burnt-out tank with the whole turret knocked cleanly off and deposited some yards away by one frightful blow from a powerful gun.

The miles of signal cable stretching rearwards through the slush. The ubiquitous Redcaps on traffic control at every churned crossroads. A German motorcyclist, mistaking his way, careers slap up the road to Deurne village into a column of our troops moving up to take their turn in the trenches, and crashes from his machine.

Here a heavy lorry that has skidded into a ditch at a wild angle; the driver and his mate sitting near by, marooned on a petrol tin, chewing sandwiches. A crew from the Reconnaissance Regiment huddled in the shelter of a grey armoured car in their thick waterproof overalls, their goggles pushed up, brewing tea.

The blinding flashes of the big guns at night, and the eerie, unwavering beams, far back, of Monty’s Moonlight; and patrols, creeping over the marsh and dykes, cursing it at the skylines.

The new O.C. “A” Company sticks his face with glinting spectacles in the top window of our croft to observe a spandau position. Instantly a vigilant shower of bullets rattled through the roof — he swore afterwards that he had seen them coming – and he spun from the ladder on which he was standing and crashed to the floor, his finger snicked as though by a penknife.

For a moment I thought he was dead, and was bending over him when another burst came through the tiles. There was a tap where a bullet grazed a couple of inches from my brain, leaving a slight dent in my steel helmet.

Another time a heavy German gun pinpointed us, and began to drop enormous shells around Company Headquarters, ranging us carefully. Craters were steadily torn up, slowly creeping closer, until they were straddling us.

Our croft was not strong. At length we fled, and in the nick of time, tumbling from the cellar with no dignity at all, map-cases flapping, wireless headphones flying; the lot of us. The next two shells were direct hits. The croft caved in on itself and the cellar ceiling gaped at a smudgy November sky. The big gun stopped…

We had thrown ourselves into a section of large concrete drainpiping, conveniently half-buried in the kitchen garden by the original civilian occupants of the place, to form a shelter against the day when the war might sweep over them. It was uncomfortable, dark, and you could barely stand upright, and all curves – but safe.

Inside there was a desperate smell, and a Dutch family, who were in fact the rightful owners of the now-destroyed croft.

We bundled them and their personal belongings, from food to pieces of furniture, on to the Company carrier and evacuated them. The carrier looked like something from a Chaplin reel, only not so funny.

We then found it necessary to empty our new abode of various utensils full of excreta and urine. The family, with small children, had been hiding there for about a fortnight.

There were a few clear days, but most of the time it was raining, with mud and slush being mashed up everywhere and the weather growing colder.

See Robert Woollcombe: Lion Rampant: The Memoirs of an Infantry Officer from D-Day to the Rhineland

Contemporary newsreel of British in Holland with section on specialist amphibious transport:

A despatch rider pushes his motorcycle along a flooded road in Holland, past an artillery tractor which has got stuck in a ditch, 8 November 1944.
A despatch rider pushes his motorcycle along a flooded road in Holland, past an artillery tractor which has got stuck in a ditch, 8 November 1944.
German prisoners captured by 53rd (Welsh) Division in Holland, 17 November 1944.
German prisoners captured by 53rd (Welsh) Division in Holland, 17 November 1944.

A US Army patrol sets out to get prisoners

As the squad leader, I was next, a buck or staff sergeant, carrying an M1 rifle, bandoliers, grenades, and a knife. At this period during World War II, there was little chance that today’s infantry squad leader had come off the boat with the same grade. A squad leader directed and led eleven men. He was combat experienced and had come up through the ranks, by attrition.

An American patrol in the Hurtgen Forest in late 1944.
An American patrol in the Hurtgen Forest in late 1944.

In early October 20 year old Private William Meller had arrived on the borders of Germany and joined I Company, 110th Regiment, 28th Divison as a rifleman. The bitter struggle for the Huertgen Forest was now fully engaged and casualties were mounting. By mid November Meller was Sergeant Squad Leader. He would be taking on even more responsibilities during the next month, before he found himself in the Ardennes in mid December.

For the moment, he like all the men around him were concentrating on surviving. The orders to participate in an 11 man patrol to go out and get prisoners on the 13th Novemember were unwelcome:

There was one thing above all others that an infantryman did not want to hear, and I had just heard it. Very seldom did we catch an enemy sentry by surprise or capture the enemy without someone getting hurt.

Meller describes the composition of the patrol:

We began the patrol formation with two scouts out front. They carried M1 rifles with ammunition bandoliers over their shoulders, and hand grenades. Their job was to lead the patrol and keep it out of trouble. Usually this job fell to first—class privates.

These men commanded respect, and they deserved it. They knew where we were going and would find the best way to get us there. They were the eyes and ears and signaled the leader upon contact with the enemy or when reaching the objective. They reminded me of books I had read about Daniel Boone and how he made his way in the wilderness.

Sometimes the scouts even looked like Daniel Boone. They usually drew enemy fire. This was a dangerous job. Scouts were valuable. When they’re skillful, they’re invaluable. So much depends upon their skill and judgment. We’ve lost many of them.

The platoon guide came next with an M1 rifle, bandoliers, and grenades. Sometimes he followed in the rear. He was the equivalent of an assistant platoon sergeant; they worked closely together. A guide was a staff or technical sergeant who had come up through the ranks. If he had been around for a while, he was a blessing.

Next was the platoon leader, a first or second lieutenant, depending on his longevity. He carried a carbine, a Colt .45, and grenades. The platoon leader was supposed to give the orders and the sergeant saw that they were carried out. The platoon leader and the platoon sergeant were closely allied.

The platoon sergeant was really the key, as he usually had all the combat experience and general know-how. He did his hest to keep the officer out of trouble, which also kept us out of trouble. We learned to depend upon the platoon sergeant.

Infantry platoon sergeants were technical sergeants, highly regarded and worth their weight in gold. He carried an M1 rifle, bandoliers, and grenades. He was our backbone; don’t leave home without one.

The reason for this was simple: a platoon sergeant came up through the ranks. By the time he had earned five stripes, he had had combat experience and been around for some time. He had already heen a squad leader and understood the duties. He had also been a rifleman and knew the hazards. Just the fact that he was still alive spoke for itself.

On the other hand, infantry replacement platoon leaders were usually fresh off the boat with little or no combat experience. They didn’t really know how to stay alive, but they were supposed to lead forty men. When a platoon leader was new, he was a detriment and ripe for the casualty list. If he hung on, he was promoted to company commander. Either way it was a high-turnover job.

As the squad leader, I was next, a buck or staff sergeant, carrying an M1 rifle, bandoliers, grenades, and a knife. At this period during World War II, there was little chance that today’s infantry squad leader had come off the boat with the same grade. A squad leader directed and led eleven men. He was combat experienced and had come up through the ranks, by attrition. Today, we had no assistant squad leader. The combat infantry division was built from the base of competent squad leaders.

The radioman, a private, stayed close to the platoon leader, carried a Colt .45, and hoped he wouldn’t have to use it.

A first—class private or corporal carried a Browning Automatic Rifle. This is a heavy, cumbersome weapon that makes considerable noise when fired. It poured out .3O—caliber bullets similar to a light machine gun. Because of the noise it creates, it often drew enemy fire.

For this reason, some soldiers were reluctant to carry the BAR. But the firepower of this weapon was most welcome in a combat squad. When the enemy heard that noise, they knew exactly what it was and, more so, where it was. This in itself was dangerous. The ammunition carrier, a private, handled the bulky ammunition clips for the BAR man. He also carried a Colt .45 or M1 rifle and was ready to take over if the BAR man went down, which they often did.

In the rear followed any number of riflemen the platoon leader designated. These riemen were privates. They carried M1 rifles, bandoliers, and grenades.

See William F. Meller: Bloody Roads to Germany: At Huertgen Forest and the Bulge–an American Soldier’s Courageous Story of World War II

This may have been how the average US soldiers approached battle. It was not the way of James Spurrier Jr, who was known to the US Army as Junior J. Spurrier because of the way he had filled in his enlistment form in 1940.

On 13th November Spurrier earned a reputation as a “One Man Army” and a Medal of Honor for his role in capturing the town of Achain almost single-handed:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy at Achain, France, on 13 November 1944.

At 2 p.m., Company G attacked the village of Achain from the east. S/Sgt. Spurrier armed with a BAR passed around the village and advanced alone. Attacking from the west, he immediately killed 3 Germans. From this time until dark, S/Sgt. Spurrier, using at different times his BAR and Ml rifle, American and German rocket launchers, a German automatic pistol, and handgrenades, continued his solitary attack against the enemy regardless of all types of small-arms and automatic-weapons fire.

As a result of his heroic actions he killed an officer and 24 enlisted men and captured 2 officers and 2 enlisted men. His valor has shed fresh honor on the U.S. Armed Forces.

US soldiers examine the equipment in a captured German position in the Hurtgen forest.
US soldiers examine the equipment in a captured German position in the Hurtgen forest.

One Day in a Very Long War

The four engines revved up to their maximum 8,800 horsepower and then, at fifty-second intervals, the planes slowly started off down the mile—and-a—half runways. Though the thunderous pounding of piston engines was heard instead of the whine of jets, the Superfortresses were very much the ‘Jumbos’ of their day, dwarfing other bomber types and with extremely slender wings whose slight swaying seemed altogether inappropriate to the task of getting even the four massive engines airborne let alone the rest of the enormously long plane.

Men of 2nd Platoon, D Company, 39th Infantry Regiment in action during the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest
Men of 2nd Platoon, D Company, 39th Infantry Regiment in action during the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest

World War II Today examines aspects of the war on a daily basis. In many cases the background to any individual incident featured here could form the basis of a whole book, and in many cases they have been written. John Ellis took an alternative approach when he wrote One Day in a Very Long War – he looked at the entirety of the war through a wide variety of different incidents happening on one day, 25th October 1944.

To illustrate his approach three different short extracts are reproduced here, illustrating just a few off the diverse perspectives on the war that illustrate the impact of a truly global war.

The personal experience of the infantrymen who were on the front line of the conflict in western Europe. Here he examines:

the relentlessly grim day—to—day existence all along First U.S. Army’s front. In 28 Infantry Division, for example, there was a growing number of non—battle casualties. Many were trench-foot cases, also known as immersion foot, a term of First World War vintage and describing a condition very akin to frost-bite.

It was the result of getting one’s feet wet and not being able to dry them for hours, even days on end. The feet went numb, turned purple and in extreme cases the nerves died and gangrene set in. In such circumstances toes and sometimes the whole foot had to be amputated.

The only effective way to keep trench—foot at bay was to wash and vigorously massage the feet twice daily, apply liberal amounts of talcum powder and, above all, change into dry socks. It was a cause of particular frustration, therefore, that at this time socks were one of several items of winter clothing in short supply.

Behind the divisional lines the dressing stations and field hospitals were full of such cases.

“If they were lucky the medics caught the complaint in time and they would be put to bed in long lines of cots on which lay soldier after soldier, their feet sticking out from under the blankets, with a little ball of cotton wool separating each toe.”

One such rifleman spent fully ninety days in hospital in the autumn of 1944 after taking his boots off for the first time in two weeks. His feet appeared blue and frozen as soon as he removed his socks but he simply fell asleep while trying to rub them back to life.

The next morning “my feet were like balloons, so red and swollen I couldn’t put my shoes on. Some guys had big black blisters and a couple of guys had to get their feet cut off. The doc says you get that from not changing your socks when your feet are wet. Christ, what the hell you gonna do when you’re living in a hole for two weeks and the water’s up to here and Jerries are shooting at you so you can’t go no place? Christ, I’m lucky I’m here at all.”

U.S. Navy destroyers and destroyer escorts laying a smoke screen during the Battle of Samar, 25 October 1944. Note the splashes from Japanese shells.
U.S. Navy destroyers and destroyer escorts laying a smoke screen during the Battle of Samar, 25 October 1944. Note the splashes from Japanese shells.

The strategic perspective of two great forces of the United States Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy as they clashed off the Philippines during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf. The two surface fleets met at the Battle of Samar on the 25th October:

Admiral Kurita had spotted the Americans at almost exactly the same moment that he was discovered. He reacted to the sighting just as quickly as Sprague and gave immediate orders for ‘General Attack’.

Unfortunately the order came only a few minutes after an earlier one to deploy from a five—column cruising formation to a circular one on a more easterly heading. ‘General Attack’ was very much a free-for-all manoeuvre, leaving direction and choice of targets to individual captains, and coming in the middle of another change of formation it caused considerable confusion.

Even before battle was joined, in fact, Kurita had already made his most serious mistake, attributable, no doubt, to the fact that he had now gone 72 hours without sleep and was still not recovered from his bout of dengue fever.

No historian of the battle has seriously quarrelled with S. E. Morison’s judgement that the order was “a fatal error. Kurita should have formed battle-line with his . . . battleships and . . . heavy cruisers, which would have allowed his superior firepower to count, and he should have committed [destroyers] immediately for torpedo attack. But complete surprise seems to have deprived the Admiral of all power of decision, and the result was a helter—skelter battle. His ships . . . were committed piece- meal and so defeated.”

A B-29 Superfortress in flight.
A B-29 Superfortress in flight.

Also considered are the technological achievements that were winning the war for the Allies, not least the extraordinary developments in aeronautical engineering that had taken place in just a few years. Now from some of the remotest parts of the world the US was able to launch devastating firepower against Japan itself:

On this bright morning, at each of the nine bases around the Kwangchan—Likiang—Kumming triangle, some fearsome aircraft were taxiing forward for take—off. They were carrying 500—lb M—64 general-purpose bombs and M-67 incendiary bombs, at a ratio of two to one, and fully loaded each aircraft weighed 65 tons.

The four engines revved up to their maximum 8,800 horsepower and then, at fifty-second intervals, the planes slowly started off down the mile—and-a—half runways. Though the thunderous pounding of piston engines was heard instead of the whine of jets, the Superfortresses were very much the ‘Jumbos’ of their day, dwarfing other bomber types and with extremely slender wings whose slight swaying seemed altogether inappropriate to the task of getting even the four massive engines airborne let alone the rest of the enormously long plane.

A major consideration on the 25th October mission, as on any long- range sortie, was fuel efficiency.

After take-off the planes levelled out at about 5,000 feet and the pilots eased back the throttles and settled down to a ‘lean burn’ cruising speed of around 200 m.p.h. Greater speed could have been achieved at 20,000 feet, in the more rarefied atmosphere, but the climb would consume lots of fuel as the aircraft was still very heavy with well over 6,000 gallons of aviation gasoline in the tanks.

So wherever possible the climb was delayed until they neared the target area and the enemy defences, by which time climb would consume probably 20 per cent less fuel.

The planes remained at high altitude over the target itself and each man donned his flight suit and oxygen mask as the planes were depressurised to prevent explosive decompression if the hull should be punctured by enemy fighters or flak.

See John Ellis: One Day in a Very Long War

Belgium: US troops stuck on the Siegfried Line

After that tragedy they began to probe every inch of ground with trench knives, gently working the knives in at an angle, hoping to hit only the sides of mines. This way they came upon many devilish little mines handmade from cottage cheese-type crocks and sealed with wax. Their only metal was the detonator, which was too small to be picked up by mine detectors.

A wounded US soldier is attended to during fighting in the heavily wooded Ardenne region, Autumn 1944.
A wounded US soldier is attended to during fighting in the heavily wooded Ardenne region, Autumn 1944.

On the left flank of the Allied advance the British and Canadians held a section of Holland and the coast. At least here, even with the polders and the dykes, there was some scope to bring the armour to bear.

For the American Armies further south there was a new type of terrain to adjust to – densely wooded hills and mountains. The Schnee Eifel Forest lay in the north then the Hurtgen Forest, further south lay the Vosges region – all of it would serve to slow up the US advance. In addition, all along the line down the German border lay the static defences of the Siegfried Line.

George Wilson was a platoon leader with F Company of the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division:

A new phase of the war began when the GI’s met stiffened enemy resistance at the Siegfried Line and at the same time ran perilously low on gas, ammunition, food, and other necessities. The rugged terrain of the Schnee Eifel forest, with its dense woods, steep slopes and ravines, poor roads, and strategically placed pillboxes, gave the Germans a telling tactical advantage. From behind these natural and manmade defenses, a very few Germans could pin down a great many attackers.

Wilson’s unit arrived in the area in mid Ocotober, they had to accustom themselves to the gloom of forest and new threats:

My platoon had just begun to dig in when we were suddenly attacked by about forty Germans, who ran at us shooting, taking cover behind trees as they moved in. We instantly dropped our shovels, lay down in the shallow beginnings of our foxholes, and fired back with all we had.

All they seemed to have were single-shot, bolt-action rifles, and these quickly proved no match for the volleys of our Browning Automatic rifles (BARS) and semiautomatic M-1s. The Krauts were stopped about seventy five yards in front of us. They probably came upon us by accident, and they didn’t seem organized. It now looked as though they might be regrouping to continue the attack, so I called for artillery.

Our artillery forward observer, a very young chap who was new to us, started off by giving us a real thrill. His first rounds were not the standard High Explosive. They were lethal white phosphorus, designed to burn through anything. They also fell short, hitting high up in the huge maples directly overhead. Smoking hot metal rained down all around us.

I screamed at him to cease fire and raise his guns, and his next rounds were right on target, bursting in the trees just over the Germans, seventy five yards out from us. About a dozen of the 105s blasted in over the Germans with a thunderous racket, and that ended any attack plans they might have had. They collected their wounded and took off to the rear.

The forward observer apologized for the short rounds. He actually had called for smoke shells to point out the target but got thermite instead, and thermite sometimes docs fall short.

It was there in that green forest that we ran into the most frightening weapon of the war, the one that made us almost sick with fear: antipersonnel mines. By now I had gone through aerial bombing, artillery and mortar shelling, open combat, direct rifle and machine gun firing, night patrolling, and ambush.

Against all of this we had some kind of chance; against mines we had none. They were vicious, deadly, inhuman. They churned our guts.

They were planted a few inches below the soil and covered by leaves or natural growth that left no sign. Not a bit of ground was safe. They went off if you stepped on them with as little as five pounds of pressure, or if you moved their invisibly thin trip wire. The only defense was to not move at all.

A mine usually blew off one leg up to the knee and shattered the other, which looked like it had been blasted by a shotgun at close range. If the man was not killed instantly, he needed immediate attention due to shock and loss of blood.

Soon each of the line companies had lost men to mines, and the rest of us were afraid to walk anywhere. A call went out to the engineers and the pioneer platoons, which had specially trained men, who cleared paths through mine fields. Each path was about three feet wide and was marked by white tape.

The specialists used mine detectors very slowly and deliberately; yet despite their care, an engineer lost his leg in one of the cleared paths.

After that tragedy they began to probe every inch of ground with trench knives, gently working the knives in at an angle, hoping to hit only the sides of mines. This way they came upon many devilish little mines handmade from cottage cheese-type crocks and sealed with wax. Their only metal was the detonator, which was too small to be picked up by mine detectors.

The engineers and pioneers worked day and night for several days on what had to be one of the nastiest jobs of the war; each probe could be a man’s last.

George Wilson: If You Survive: From Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge to the End of World War II, One American Officer’s Riveting True Story

Germans civilians caught in Battle for Aachen

Unfortunately, that was not all. Terrible things happened: Three Americans came to search the house for German soldiers. They were most friendly and polite. The commanding officer, a young, handsome, adorable boy… Yes, I was young! And then the unthinkable: they combed through the house and the factory… but they did not find anything, of course. The situation eased. They stayed for a while to discuss the situation.

GI M1919 machine gun crew in action against German defenders in the streets of Aachen on 15 October 1944
GI M1919 machine gun crew in action against German defenders in the streets of Aachen on 15 October 1944

The greater part of the German western defensive line, the ‘Siegfried Line’, lay in densely wooded and mountainous regions. However part of it ran through the town of Aachen in west Germany and it was here that the US Army encountered some of its bloodiest urban fighting of the war. The battle in and around Aachen lasted from the 2nd to the 21st October.

Much of the civilian population had been evacuated but by no means all. Marianne Schmetz, 17 years old in 1944, recalls the situation in the town during the battle:

My father told me: Write it all down, you are good at it – and today, I am glad to have this diary from the time of the occupation time. My parents, my three siblings, my uncle’s family with five children and three grandparents in all, we lived in my parent’s house at the factory site, at some distance from the residential area Aachen-Forst (now Philipsstraße) – in the middle of the combat zone.

A cousin had got an induction order – what should we do? My uncle and my father said: ‘the boy stays here; he will not be used as cannon-fodder’. Of course, it was dangerous for him and for all of us! But my father trusted in us kids and always said: ‘We have to survive this war and when the Americans come, we will be doing better here than anywhere else.’

That is what happened then. Constant bombardments – we only lived in the cellar, more or less, and we listened to the radio – enemy radio channels – always having a globe with us to keep ourselves informed about the course of the war. During the days, we cleared away the rubble as much as possible and we patched the damages caused by the bombardments at night. The Americans came closer and closer and so did the ground fighting. And we were in the middle of the no-man’s-land. Wehrmacht artillery fire on the one side and the Americans from the other. Even though we got used to, there was danger at any time.

The Americans were there yet – we could see them in their positions. Once – we were petrified with horror – a black American soldier looked through a hatch straight into our air-raid shelter where we stayed most of the time. Fright and fear! I shouted: ‘Do not shoot. I’m alone!’ Minutes of anxiety… But we have not been harmed – whoosh, and he was gone.

Unfortunately, that was not all. Terrible things happened: Three Americans came to search the house for German soldiers. They were most friendly and polite. The commanding officer, a young, handsome, adorable boy… Yes, I was young! And then the unthinkable: they combed through the house and the factory… but they did not find anything, of course. The situation eased. They stayed for a while to discuss the situation.

The officer stood at the window, talked to his fellow, took off his helmet and lighted a cigarette. Our eyes glued to his face. Then a shot was fired…, he toppled and died instantly. Incredible! Just in front of us. We have been shocked! What would happen now? Gunfight? Retaliation against us?

None of this. When the situation seemed safe, the comrades recovered the body. They kept friendly and polite, something which was beyond our comprehension. One of them even thanked ‘the lady’ as they called my mother. They acted so correctly – we had got used to each other, we showed mutual respect and we had even nearly made friends with each other. We didn’t feel threatened by the Americans at any time, to the contrary!

One more occurrence from these times… It might have had devastating consequences: a German soldier penetrated into our house, ran upstairs and fired a volley from our windows to the American positions. Utter horror on our part. Heaven helped us, if the attacked would have answered in the same way. They did not. Two defenseless families were seriously threatened.

It also happened that you came under yourself: One day I was sitting in the tram, when an English low-flying aircraft started to fire at it. People rushed out in a terrible panic, getting into safety. It was a lucky escape! Back home safely. My mother was so relieved each time.

One day, heating and electricity failed. We used candles. Then water failed as well. Fortunately, an old neighbor had advised us to stock water: tubs, kettles, buckets were filled… They have saved our lives. So did the help of other people. I will never forget: an old man from the neighborhood always brought our bread – he dared to come every day!

I did not experience the end of the battles and the actual surrender directly. We have been a good way off the city. Therefore, the situation remained fuzzy for a while. But the moment when it all became clear was the liberation for us.

Up to the present day – although many people might not understand – I am infinitely grateful to the American soldiers for having liberated us from dictatorship and for helping us with the reconstruction!

For more German perspectives on the Battle for Aachen see FreeAachen44, available in German and English.

Sherman tank and M10 tank destroyer on the streets of Aaachen, October 1944.
Sherman tank and M10 tank destroyer on the streets of Aaachen, October 1944.

Audie Murphy gets second Silver Star in three days

But the Germans are full of surprises. Before night, my company is pinned to a hillside. The krauts, who usually choose elevations for defensive stands, have fooled us in this instance. They have dug in by a dry stream bed at the base of the slope. Trees, cut and arranged in haphazard crisscross patterns, completely conceal their positions. They let us move over the hilltop, and then tear into our ranks with rifle and machine-gun fire. Mist gathers in the lowland, further hindering visibility. Crawling over the slope on our bellies, we try to pry out the enemy locations. But the camouflage is perfect. There is but one thing to do. I borrow a walkie-talkie radio and start maneuvering a patrol down the hill.

A US Army mortar team in Italy, earlier in the war.
A US Army mortar team in Italy, earlier in the war.

Alongside the French troops approaching the Germans in the Vosges region were the US 3rd Infantry Division. Amongst their number were Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, already veterans of Sicily and Italy. In the densely wooded area they were held up by a German strongpoint at L’Omet quarry in the Cleurie river valley.

A publicity shot of Audie Murphy after he began his film career.
A publicity shot of Audie Murphy after he began his film career.

On 2nd October Platoon Sergeant Audie Murphy of had successfully led his patrol in the ambush of a German machine gun post, for which he was awarded the Silver Star. He had already been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry during the Allied landings in southern France on 15th August. He describes the situation that his division faced on 5th October:

The troublesome spot is finally recognized for what it is: a point, consisting of a few acres of ground, so strategically located and fanatically defended that nothing short of a full-scale assault can eliminate it. While we hold the lines, phases of the attack are co-ordinated by tired, worried officials of the division.

Our armor pours five hundred rounds of high explosives into the quarry. At the same time a saturation mortar barrage is laid on the area. When the fire lifts, we drive up the slopes and are again hit hard by the fanatical enemy.

A battalion, heavily supported by artillery, tries a flanking movement while we remain in a blocking position. For a whole afternoon and night, the battle rages. The next day my company gets its orders to jump off. Under a creeping mortar barrage, we scramble up the hill, by-pass the quarry proper, and go over the crest. The ugly job of cleaning out the quarry has been assigned to other units.

But the Germans are full of surprises. Before night, my company is pinned to a hillside. The krauts, who usually choose elevations for defensive stands, have fooled us in this instance. They have dug in by a dry stream bed at the base of the slope. Trees, cut and arranged in haphazard crisscross patterns, completely conceal their positions. They let us move over the hilltop, and then tear into our ranks with rifle and machine-gun fire.

Mist gathers in the lowland, further hindering visibility. Crawling over the slope on our bellies, we try to pry out the enemy locations. But the camouflage is perfect. There is but one thing to do. I borrow a walkie-talkie radio and start maneuvering a patrol down the hill.

A tense silence comes over the area. Phantomlike, we slip through the trees with senses alert for an ambush. Brrrrrp. A man carrying two cases of machine-gun ammo is hit in the side. He lets out a scream and collapses. The metal cases clatter on the rocky ground.

Immediately our position is swept with fire from five machine guns. The bullets zip three feet from the ground. We lie on our backs, seize our trench shovels, and frantically start scooping holes in the stony soil.

The Germans lower their angle of fire. A man is hit in the chest. Pieces of his lungs spatter the ground. His flesh quivers; and he gurgles, “Oh God, oh God.” Two men rip off his shirt. A blast catches them. They sink over the wounded man and are still.

It was at this point that Murphy went forward alone and radioed the co-ordinates of the German positions to the mortar crews further back. He briefly describes this part of the episode in his memoirs – but he maintained this position for over an hour while under continuous direct fire from the Germans. Eventually the mortar fire overcame the German position after fifteen were killed and thirty five wounded.

Murphy was awarded the Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for his Silver Star for this incident. Shortly afterwards he received a battlefield commission. On the 26th October he was wounded by sniper fire and hospitalised – but not before he had shot the sniper between the eyes. This is another episode described in Audie Murphy: To Hell and Back. Although he contracted gangrene in this wound it was still not the end of his war.

US Army mortar team in action.
US Army mortar team in action.

The defence line stiffens on the German border

Shortly before complete darkness, I ordered to pull back and only kept outposts on the clear hills outside the woods, facing north and northwest. A patrol confirmed our concerns from late afternoon. The opponent had practically encircled us; Some houses were in flames in Ramonchamp, situated some five hundred to one thousand meters south of us in the valley. One could clearly hear the bustle of vehicles and voices in the clear night. We were surrounded.

German citizens prepare the defences in the Vosges region, overseen by the Wehrmacht.
German citizens prepare the defences in the Vosges region, overseen by the Wehrmacht.
German Grenadiers in a defence position on the Adriatic front October 1944.
German Grenadiers in a defence position on the Adriatic front October 1944.

In the Vosges mountains, approaching Germany from the south west, the Germans now found themselves facing the French again, this time equipped by the Americans and part of the broad Allied attack. The surviving officers of the German Army were now very experienced, most having been at war for five years. With their home country at their backs, fighting in terrain that did not suit Allied armour or air forces, thy a would be a formidable opponent.

Due to casualties Georg Grossjohann had just taken over command of his regiment. They were trying to establish a defensive line in the thickly wooded countryside – but it was difficult to establish how far the French had penetrated. Grossjohann suddenly saw a man in the bushes ahead taking aim at him – and instantly emptied his magazine in reply:

With more leap I stood next to him. He was a very young officer, not Algerian or Moroccan, but a blond Frenchman. I had hit him in his thigh, close to his torso, and I saw right away that any help would be too late. He still managed to ask me for his morphine needle, which every American – and therefore French — first-aid kit contained.

I stayed with him for a few moments and tried to give him some encouragement, but then I had to go on. In more than four years of war, our souls became callused, although without this protection, we probably could not have endured so much!

The more deeply we moved into the thick forest, the more dispersed our lines became, because we had to secure our western flank at least scantily. Yet, in the end, I had to give up. With barely 150 men, one could not mop up an extremely clever opponent, presumably superior in numbers, in five to six kilometers of thick forest. We also had an uneasy feeling that the Algerians or Moroccans had already passed us in the north, and that it was only a flank guard that we were fighting. This feeling would become an extremely unpleasant reality by the evening.

It was, therefore, not feasible to advance any further. It also appeared to me to be extremely risky to leave my thin line of defense in this dense forest during the night. My aide-de-camp and I noticed at dusk how clever and dangerous the opponent was.

For some time, there had been total silence and we had a short exchange of thoughts as we were standing in a clearing. Suddenly, a shot was fired, and a messenger who had come with us stood for a second as if frozen, then fell to the ground. Upon my rather frightened call, “Fiege, what’s the matter?” he answered in clearly understandable words, “I am dead, Herr Major!” Seconds later, that’s what he really was. One could move only with the most extreme caution. Comrades carried the dead back as usual, wrapped in his ground sheet.

During the long war I had experienced many things, but a messenger reporting his own death was one of the more macabre.

Shortly before complete darkness, I ordered to pull back and only kept outposts on the clear hills outside the woods, facing north and northwest. A patrol confirmed our concerns from late afternoon. The opponent had practically encircled us; Some houses were in flames in Ramonchamp, situated some five hundred to one thousand meters south of us in the valley. One could clearly hear the bustle of vehicles and voices in the clear night. We were surrounded.

After my return to the command post, I heard the rattle of shovels in the dark. When I questioned what they were doing there, they answered, “We’re digging a hole for Fiege!” Exhausted and depressed as I was, I just could not control myself anymore and yelled, “This is not a hole, you idiots, this is a grave!” Right away, I regretted my outburst, since the poor guys were at least as depressed and worn out as I was. Their irreverent expression was only a kind of cover for their stress. , This nocturnal episode was always one of those especially deep impressions I had of the war.

SeeGeorg Grossjohann: Five Years, Four Fronts: A German Officer’s World War II Combat Memoir

German troops ended in a counter attack near Memel on the eastern front, October 1944.
German troops ended in a counter attack near Memel on the eastern front, October 1944.
'Nothing should be allowed to fall into Soviet hands' - livestock is driven back to German held territory in the east. October 1944.
‘Nothing should be allowed to fall into Soviet hands’ – livestock is driven back to German held territory in the east. October 1944.

One man’s valiant attack wins the battle


29 September 1944: One man’s valiant attack wins the battle

Still completely ignoring the heavy spandau and mortar fire which was sweeping the area, once again he crossed the wall alone to find out whether it was possible for his platoon to wade the dyke which lay beyond. He found the dyke too deep and wide to cross, and once again he came back across the wall, and received orders to try and establish his platoon on the enemy side of it. All this time the area was subject to intense cross machine-gun fire and mortaring.

Men of the King's Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) moving up, Holland, 19 September 1944.
Men of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) moving up, Holland, 19 September 1944.
A member of the PAN (Partisan Action Netherlands) guides British troops to German positions near Valkenswaard, 25 September 1944.
A member of the PAN (Partisan Action Netherlands) guides British troops to German positions near Valkenswaard, 25 September 1944.

As the Allies came to terms with the failure of Market Garden to provide a dramatic new breakthrough, the men in the field had to come to terms with a relentless war with no swift end now in sight. After the rapid advances after Normandy they now came across a much stiffer German defence line. Robert Woollcombe with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers sums up the mood at the end of September:

The heavy grey days passed. Days of local infiltration and counter-attack; perpetual stand—to; and artillery fire churning along drear tree—lines. Godforsaken tracks that led nowhere or anywhere. The snarl of the hidden spandau in a fir plantation.

The strange voice in German sounding through a wood where the Divisional I.O. broadcast propaganda, and R.A.F. Typhoons circling in the sky. And lonely, derelict farms, and more dull names. . . . Gasthuishof. . . . Fratershof. . . . and some benighted buildings through the woods called Olland: for these names were now the work of the devil. And thoughts turned with persistence to when the relief might come.

For moral fatigue was on everyone. The strength was low. Replacements were not catching us up. There were not enough officers, nor enough N.C.O.s, and not enough jocks. We had come a long way. There were many enemies. There had been no proper respite or refit since leaving England and it was so throughout the Division. In three months its casualties had reached a total of 7000 killed, wounded and missing.

It was so throughout the Army, and men were beginning to talk about the Army now. Caen to Arnhem had been the road, and the Army, men were saying, not without peculiar pride, was “played out”.

But the Americans in their great numbers were spreading over the West, and soon it was being rumoured that still another United States Army was concentrating behind the Front, to carry the last phase of the war into Germany. Which did not work out quite like that.

September went out and the war carried on. It was Nicht Kaput.

See Robert Woollcombe: Lion Rampant: The Memoirs of an Infantry Officer from D-Day to the Rhineland

Yet even if men were tired of the war, the war went on. Elsewhere on the British front they were coming to terms with a completely new terrain, a land of polders and dykes. It was to prove to be a miserable place to fight the war as winter approached. In places the line was as fiercely fought over as ever:

Corporal Harper VC
Corporal Harper VC

In North-West Europe, on 29th September, 1944, the Hallamshires attacked the Depot de Mendicite, a natural defensive position surrounded by an earthen wall and then a dyke, strongly held by the enemy.

Cpl. Harper was commanding the leading section in the assault, with his objective a length of the wall. The enemy was dug in on both sides and had a perfect field of fire across 300 yards of completely flat and exposed country.

With superb disregard for the hail of mortar bombs and small arms fire which the enemy brought to bear on this open ground, Cpl. Harper led his section straight up to the wall and killed or captured the enemy holding the near side.

During this operation the platoon commander was seriously wounded. Cpl. Harper at once took control of the platoon. He reorganized it. The enemy on the far side of the wall were at this time throwing grenades over the top. Cpl. Harper at once climbed over the wall, himself throwing grenades, and in the face of heavy close range small arms fire personally routed the Germans directly opposing him. He took four prisoners and shot several of the remainder of the enemy as they ran. The prisoners he brought back across the wall.

Still completely ignoring the heavy spandau and mortar fire which was sweeping the area, once again he crossed the wall alone to find out whether it was possible for his platoon to wade the dyke which lay beyond. He found the dyke too deep and wide to cross, and once again he came back across the wall, and received orders to try and establish his platoon on the enemy side of it. All this time the area was subject to intense cross machine-gun fire and mortaring.

For the third time he climbed over alone, found some empty German weapon pits and himself providing the covering fire urged and encouraged his section to scale the wall and dash for cover to those trenches. By this action he was able to bring down sufficient covering fire to enable the rest of the company to cross the open ground and surmount the wall for the loss of only one man.

Cpl. Harper then left his platoon in charge of his section commander and once more walked alone along the banks of the dyke in the face of heavy spandau fire to find a crossing place. Eventually, he made contact with the battalion attacking on his right and found that they had located a ford.

Back he came across the open ground and, while directing his company commander to the ford he was struck by a bullet which fatally wounded him and he died where he was hit, on the bank of the dyke.

The operation was more difficult than expected due to the Battalion on the right, which was doing the main attack, crossing the start line very late, with the result that at the time of the platoon attack all enemy weapons were concentrated on it.

The area attacked was very heavily defended and from this area 93 prisoners were eventually taken and some 30 dead Germans counted. The success of the Battalion in driving the enemy from the wall and back across the dyke must be ascribed to the superb self-sacrifice and inspiring gallantry of Cpl. Harper. His magnificent courage, fearlessness and devotion to duty throughout the battle set an example to his men rarely equalled.

Such conduct in the face of direct close range enemy fire could have but one result. But before he was killed, Cpl. Harper by his heroism had ensured success for his Battalion in a most important action.

His action, moreover, enabled the main objective to be reached by the battalion on the right who, together with another battalion, were completely checked on other parts of the front. The success of the attack on the Depot de Mendicite can thus fairly be attributed to the outstanding bravery of Cpl. Harper.

Men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment rest in a Dutch village, 24 September 1944.
Men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment rest in a Dutch village, 24 September 1944.
A Vickers machine-gun team of 7th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, 59th (Staffordshire) Division in position in a field of corn at Someren in Holland, 21 September 1944.
A Vickers machine-gun team of 7th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, 59th (Staffordshire) Division in position in a field of corn at Someren in Holland, 21 September 1944.

Italy – hilltop attack and room to room fighting


28 September 1944: Italy – hilltop attack and room to room fighting

I called to one of my soldiers, “Give me your Tommy gun!” I put that over the top and tried to make sure that I’d finished him off. He fell partly behind the door, so I then had to fire the Tommy gun through this rather thick door. A rather brave German soldier, only just visible around the doorway, dragged the officer away out of sight, and so that was that. That was how close the contact was there.

The three Humber armoured cars of 8th Army Tac HQ's Defence Company, 27 September 1944.
The three Humber armoured cars of 8th Army Tac HQ’s Defence Company, 27 September 1944.
Sherman tanks of 26th Armoured Brigade, 6th Armoured Division, lined up on the road north of San Benedetto, in preparation for the final push to Forli, 27 September 1944.
Sherman tanks of 26th Armoured Brigade, 6th Armoured Division, lined up on the road north of San Benedetto, in preparation for the final push to Forli, 27 September 1944.

In Italy the assault on the Gothic Line continued. It was a process familiar to most involved in this campaign – attacks on prepared German positions on higher ground. Sometimes the terrain offered the chance to bring up tanks in support but often it did not.

On 28th September A Company, 16th Durham Light Infantry were ordered to attack a group of farm buildings just below the Casa Ricci ridge. They were supported by tanks, although the infantry were ambivalent about their value, they were difficult to communicate with and changed the way they might otherwise have approached an assault.

When the Captain commanding the Company fell injured it fell to a young Lieutenant to take charge of the attack, Lieutenant Russell Collins:

I was told to take over. The assault was launched by then and we had to get on with it. The idea was that the tanks would fire smoke canisters and put down the smoke screen to protect us as we actually charged the buildings. Now as we faced the two buildings, we were approaching the one to the right of the road, in fact the whole of our force was. So perhaps we were coming in by the right flank a little bit.

I led the men right through this smoke area but the tanks were still firing these smoke canisters. They were things weighing about five or six pounds and dropping on you from perhaps a hundred feet in the air — it could have been very nasty. But I mean there was nothing for it but to press on, luckily nobody was hit by them.

We burst through and got into the right-hand farm house. The enemy had gone into the rear rooms, but we were able to get into the rooms nearer to us and I secured the first, the nearer building.

… [the tanks that were supporting them were driven off after coming under German 88mm gunfire]

We put around such defences as we could, but the right tactic would be to exploit beyond the objective to anticipate the counter attack. Although we had gained the objective, we were really very insecure there. They were massive buildings and they weren’t on the very top of the hill.

Obviously the Germans hadn’t given it up, they’d just withdrawn to re-group. There was a sense of foreboding, that the Germans were going to counter-attack again, they hadn’t given up, they hadn’t withdrawn and we were very exposed there.

I put out such machine gun posts as I could and observation posts. Our gunner OP was a chap called David Purnell, he had the whole thing under observation, he controlled the battery and he did it extremely well. But I remember him coming up on the blower to me, we had reasonable radio contact then. He was asking what protection we had because he was planning supporting fire. “How close could our shells fall? Were we sufficiently protected?” I just had to use my judgement about that, but he actually made the calculations and directed the fire.

When the Germans did counter-attack they just arrived in numbers, mainly from the left hand side as we looked forward beyond the building which we’d evacuated, so they got back into there.

Then they actually got into the building that I was in and the Italian family were still there in the building. There was an ordinary standard doorway about eight feet high and a kitchen dresser blocking across it.

I became aware suddenly of a great excited conversation going on on the other side — I could hear an Italian woman’s voice and a German man’s voice. So I got hold of a chair and got up on it. I looked over the top of the dresser and there, about eight feet away, was this very large German officer, with his steel helmet, haranguing this poor woman as to where the British Were.

So it was a question of what to do. I had no option really, I wasn’t going to draw attention to my presence. I drew my pistol and fired at him. You always have to aim a little low, I tried to fire at his head but I got him in the throat actually. He fell like a sack of coal, the woman screamed and they hid under the table.

I called to one of my soldiers, “Give me your Tommy gun!” I put that over the top and tried to make sure that I’d finished him off. He fell partly behind the door, so I then had to fire the Tommy gun through this rather thick door. A rather brave German soldier, only just visible around the doorway, dragged the officer away out of sight, and so that was that. That was how close the contact was there.

But in fact as their numbers were coming up, David Purnell brought down this divisional concentration of fire all around us. Really it was very good infantry and artillery co-operation, because I knew exactly what our situation was and was able to convey it to him.

Anyway the attack was repulsed and the main thing that broke it up was the artillery fire. We were really hanging on quite honestly by the skin of our teeth and were really pretty insecure.

See Peter Hart: The Heat of Battle: The 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, 1943-45

A Churchill IV (NA 75) tank of 25th Tank Brigade passes through the narrow streets of Montefiore, 11 September 1944. NA 75 versions of the Churchill were fitted with 75mm guns from salvaged Sherman tanks.
A Churchill IV (NA 75) tank of 25th Tank Brigade passes through the narrow streets of Montefiore, 11 September 1944. NA 75 versions of the Churchill were fitted with 75mm guns from salvaged Sherman tanks.
The Grant tank of 8th Army Tac HQ's Defence Company, 27 September 1944. This was General Montgomery's command tank at El Alamein and was a permanent feature of 8th Army Tac HQ.
The Grant tank of 8th Army Tac HQ’s Defence Company, 27 September 1944. This was General Montgomery’s command tank at El Alamein and was a permanent feature of 8th Army Tac HQ.

The ‘Great Swan’ through France into Belgium


1st September 1944: The ‘Great Swan’ through France into Belgium

[E]arly in the morning, the French population came to life and offered us any drinks we wanted. It was a party atmosphere. The French called us all ‘Tommy’. We realized we were now in the battlefields of the First War which our fathers had known so well. A common joke was ‘Come away from her, she’s probably your sister.’

A Bren gunner of the 5th Coldstream Guards covers a street in Arras, 1 September 1944.
A Bren gunner of the 5th Coldstream Guards covers a street in Arras, 1 September 1944.
Sherman tanks of Guards Armoured Division entering the outskirts of Arras, France, 1 September 1944.
Sherman tanks of Guards Armoured Division entering the outskirts of Arras, France, 1 September 1944.

After the weeks stuck in the grinding battles of Normandy both the British and the Americans were rapidly advancing through France. For the British, bypassing the Channel ports still occupied by the Germans, the contrast was so great and the progress so easy that the thrust north west was described as ‘swanning along’ – and the advance was nicknamed the ‘Great Swan’.

They were now passing through territory that many of their fathers in World War 1 would have been terribly familiar with. The older men, which meant most of the senior officers including Montgomery himself, had direct experience of fighting here less than thirty years earlier.

Captain Geoffrey Picot describes the progress of his infantry battalion, behind the armour:

…generally the battalion would travel behind an armoured force, and whereas the armour might have to keep going continuously, we would move by bounds, waiting till the tanks had a lead of ten or twenty miles and then travelling that distance in one spell. We would then harbour up and wait possibly a few hours or a few days till the armour had gone twenty miles ahead again, then bound forward to catch them up. The tactical role of the armour was to get moving and keep moving; our tactical duty was to mop up everything they left behind and form a firm base behind them wherever they went.

Our battalion column contained something like 130 vehicles; thus if lorries were forty yards apart we would take up three miles of road. We had to watch the spacing, because if vehicles bunched too closely together they would present a tempting target for the German air force. On the other hand, if they were spread out too much we would occupy a lot of road space and that would make progress slow, as we were just a small part of a great column.

On a typical move an armoured division, with 200 tanks, three battalions of lorry-borne infantry and a vast assortment of other vehicles, would lead, followed by an infantry division of which we were but a ninth part. With ambulances, supply vehicles, repair trucks and lorried equipment for supporting weapons added in, the two divisions would contain thousands of vehicles, so if the infantry were to be anywhere near the armour, and supplies anywhere near either of them, each vehicle would have to keep reasonably close to the one in front of it.

We were frequently warned to expect opposition from the German air force, for as we drove eastwards we would be approaching their bases, but not once did they trouble us.

On these long moves from Normandy to Brussels no infantryman footslogged. Speed was essential in pursuing this defeated enemy, so riflemen were bundled into lorries, Bren gun carriers, jeeps, vehicles of all descriptions — but mainly 3—ton TCVs (troop-carrying vehicles) — and driven forward.

When fighting was likely to develop they jumped out of their vehicles and ran into battle formation. The scare over, or the battle over, whichever it proved to be, back in again, and press on.

See Geoffrey Picot: Accidental Warrior

Sherman tanks of Guards Armoured Division pass a British First World War memorial at Fouilloy during the advance towards Arras, 1 September 1944.
Sherman tanks of Guards Armoured Division pass a British First World War memorial at Fouilloy during the advance towards Arras, 1 September 1944.

Rifleman ‘Roly’ Jefferson of 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade:

[E]arly in the morning, the French population came to life and offered us any drinks we wanted. It was a party atmosphere. The French called us all ‘Tommy’. We realized we were now in the battlefields of the First War which our fathers had known so well. A common joke was ‘Come away from her, she’s probably your sister.’

At first light we found ourselves sitting astride the approaches to Amiens. [Later on.] The bridges over the River Somme were intact. There was some fighting but nothing like that in Normandy.

At times we could hardly move for the frantic cheering crowds who swarmed onto our vehicles and showered us with fruit, flowers, champagne and wine. We were embraced by women, children and old, bearded men with tears of joy streaming unashamedly down their faces. We pushed on again. It was farcical. The celebrating population were holding us up during the day.

Another night drive took us through famous First War battlefields of Arras, Loos and Lens. We told ourselves we would soon be re-occupying the trenches which our fathers had so bravely defended in their war.

We passed too, numerous huge War Cemeteries. They all looked so neat and tidy, even though under German occupation for four years. We choked back emotion as we contemplated with pride those heroes of a different age. We travelled by day and by night.

We passed signposts marked Ypres. As we neared Armentieres, we joked about whether we would meet the Mademoiselle made so famous in the First War song. There were signs to Dunkirk too. At least we were avenging the humiliating defeat inflicted by the Germans there.

See Patrick Delaforce: Marching to the Sound of Gunfire: North-West Europe 1944 – 1945

A group of German officers captured at Avesnes by 11th Armoured Division, 1 September 1944.
A group of German officers captured at Avesnes by 11th Armoured Division, 1 September 1944.
Part of a railway train carrying 120 flying bombs to their launch sites, which was attacked and destroyed by Hawker Typhoons at Schulen, Belgium, on 1 September 1944. This close up of the wrecked trucks shows the remains of the anti-aircraft gun platform, or 'flak' truck.
Part of a railway train carrying 120 flying bombs to their launch sites, which was attacked and destroyed by Hawker Typhoons at Schulen, Belgium, on 1 September 1944. This close up of the wrecked trucks shows the remains of the anti-aircraft gun platform, or ‘flak’ truck.