Japanese infiltrate US lines during Manila battle

An American soldier in Manila rescuing an injured Filipino girl (February 1945).
An American soldier in Manila rescuing an injured Filipino girl (February 1945). Defying orders from General Yamashita, Japanese Marines in Manila went on a barbaric killing spree. MacArthur refused to bomb the city. The Japanese who refused to surrender had to be rooted out building by building. Civilians were not just caught in the crossfire. The Japanese actually sought out civilians to kill. An estimated 100,000 civilians perished, most were killed by the Japanese on purpose.
Citizens of Manila run for safety from suburbs burned by Japanese soldiers, 10 February 1945
Citizens of Manila run for safety from suburbs burned by Japanese soldiers, 10 February 1945

A week earlier Japanese officer Fuzuko Obara had led his platoon on an infiltration patrol to gather intelligence. They had snatched a Filipino guerrilla who had been fighting alongside the invading US forces. He does not record what information they obtained from this man, nor how it was obtained. Then in the afternoon of 9th February he was ordered to make a night attack on the positions he had earlier reconnoitred:

The reaction of my men is simply this: they begin to check and recheck their arms and equipment. Scanning their faces, I find them calm and unruffled, scarcely changed except for a look of anticipation The captured guerrilla has been killed.

Sunset is near. Without conscious will or interest, I find scenes of the distant past flashing through my mind like so many lantern slides. ‘Still attached to worldly desires,’ I scold myself, but the more I try to shake off these memories, the more they crowd in on me, memories of childhood, of my mother, of my wife ‘What is this,’ I say to myself. ‘I am a living, breathing man, who should be directing his thoughts towards a clear view of present realities.’

By 2400 hours we have safely penetrated the enemy’s security perimeter without being detected From here on, each squad is to proceed on its own. The 3rd Squad, which I attach myself to, has proceeded about 50m when we discover an enemy infiltration warning trip-wire and communication line, which we promptly cut.

As we resume our advance, I hear what appear to be four bursts of static from an infiltration warning device speaker, followed by four violent blasts, probably the explosions of landmines buried in the area. Now there can be no delay. I blow the whistle for the assault.

The results achieved are the destruction of 12 or 13 men, three medium field shelters and two 45mm mobile guns with their vehicles. We continue the advance, still seeking the enemy. Recovering from their shock, enemy soldiers oné by one commence firing from the ridge line extending in front of us. Undeterred, we continue to advance.

At this time we begin to receive intense fire from a variety of weapons Before me, about Sm away is a machine-gun, and there is another about 30m to my right. Good I take a hand- grenade and throw it. In the violent explosion that follows, one machine-gun and seven or eight men are destroyed at a blow.

Meanwhile the enemy is receiving fierce fire frontally. However bullets from all directions are beginning to fall like raindrops around us. The concentration of fire produces a surprisingly beautiful effect with its tracers. Ricochets arch into the sky. The danger of encirclement is increasing, so I order a withdrawal to the first assembly point, during which we are subjected to enemy pursuit fire. At the assembly point, I find that three men are missing.

They do not return. At the time we were under enemy fire, it seemed to me that no one was hit. Still, were they, after all, killed by those enemy bullets, or wounded, or fallen victim to guerrillas? Such are the unpleasant thoughts that float unbidden through my mind.

Eventually the missing three men managed to return independently to their hidden camp in the jungle. Obara records his emotional reaction. Although by this stage the US forces were engaged in heavy fighting within Manila and were successfully pushing the Japanese back, he apparently has no idea what the wider situation is at all and is pleased with his successful attack:

then there is a warm lump constricting the throat and suddenly hot tears begin to flow.

This was our baptism of fire under American bullets. It has been good experience, and serves to reinforce our determination that they shall be destroyed without loss to ourselves.

The diary of Fuzuko Obara was found on his body later during the battle and translated by US Intelligence. These and more extracts appear in Nigel Cawthorne (ed) : Reaping the Whirlwind: The German and Japanese Experience of World War II.

The following US Army documentary begins in a very dated way but contains much graphic battle footage from the Battle of Manila.

Operation Veritable – British and Canadians attack

Infantry and armour in action at the start of Operation 'Veritable', 8 February 1945.
Infantry and armour in action at the start of Operation ‘Veritable’, 8 February 1945.
Sherman tanks assemble for the start of Operation 'Veritable', 8 February 1945.
Sherman tanks assemble for the start of Operation ‘Veritable’, 8 February 1945.

On the northern flank of the Allied front in north west Europe the British XXX Corps and the 1st Canadian Army now launched a massive assault on the German lines. Operation Veritable pushed south east to join up with the US Ninth Army and force the Germans up against the Rhine. The month long battle was intended to coincide with Operation Grenade, the US Ninth Army pushing north west in a pincer movement. However after the Germans flooded the ground in front of the Americans, preventing any attack in the south, Operation Veritable went ahead anyway.

The British and Canadians found themselves constricted by the terrain of the Reichswald Forest and progress was slower than expected over the wet, muddy battlefield.
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Lieutenant-General Horrocks who commanded XXX Corps, writing after the war, describes how the attack was launched:

By the evening of 7th February our concentration was complete, and the woods and outskirts of Nijmegen were thick with troops, guns, vehicles, workshops, tanks—all the paraphernalia of modern war. It would have been almost impossible to drop a pea into the area without hitting something. This was probably the last of the old-type set piece attacks because, in face of the threat of tactical atomic missiles, no concentration like this can ever take place again.

Though the difficult and complicated concentration had been achieved secretly, our prospects of a swift success had dwindled since the original plan had been made. The thaw had been a great blow, because in front of us in that low-lying valley the going was certain to be bad. Luckily for my peace of mind I did not realise then just how bad.

The second handicap concerned the attack of the American 9th Army. The Germans had wisely blown the dams, and the Roer river had become so flooded that no passage over it would be possible until the flood waters had subsided. How long this would take was anybody’s guess.

The flood would enable the Germans to concentrate every available reserve against us. We were faced with a battle of extermination, slogging our way forward through the mud. Not a pleasing prospect at all.

With these thoughts in mind I climbed into my command post for the battle in the early hours of 8th February. It was a cold, grey, miserable dawn with low clouds and rain, heralding several days of stormy weather. My command post was a small platform half-way up a tree, and from here I had a wonderful view over most of the battlefield. The noise was appalling, and the sight awe-inspiring.

All across the front shells were exploding. We had arranged for a barrage, a curtain of fire, to move forward at a rate of 300 yards every twelve minutes, or 100 yards every four minutes, in front of the troops. To mark the end of the four-minute period when the guns would increase their range by 300 yards they all fired a round of yellow smoke.

So it was possible to follow roughly the progress of the attack, and down in the valley, behind this wall of shells, I could see small scattered groups of men and tanks all moving slowly forward. I was also able by wireless to keep in accurate touch with what was happening.

This was the biggest operation I had ever handled in war. Thirty Corps was 200,000 strong that day, and we were attacking with five divisions in line supported by 1400 guns. It soon became clear that the enemy was completely bemused as a result of our colossal bombardment; their resistance was slight.

The main trouble was mines —and mud, particularly mud. I am certain that this must be the chief memory of everyone who fought in the Reichswald battle. Mud and still more mud. It was so bad that after the first hour every tank going across country was bogged down, and the infantry had to struggle forward on their own. The chief enemy resistance came from the cellars in the villages.

A Churchill tank ploughs along a muddy, heavily rutted forest track in the Reichswald during Operation 'Veritable', 8 February 1945.
A Churchill tank ploughs along a muddy, heavily rutted forest track in the Reichswald during Operation ‘Veritable’, 8 February 1945.

It has been said that no two attacks are ever alike, and that was exemplified in this battle. Every night as soon as it was dusk, the 3rd Canadian Division set out on what were almost maritime operations, each one designed to capture one or more of the villages which, owing to the flooding, looked like small islands jutting out of the sea. Artillery would fire on the village while the Canadians in their buffaloes (amphibious vehicles) sailed off across the intervening lake and carried out their assault.

Buffalo amphibious transporter of 79th Armoured Division, 26 January 1945.
Buffalo amphibious transporter of 79th Armoured Division, 26 January 1945.

On their right was an entirely different type of operation carried out by the 44th Brigade of the 15th Scottish. Their task was to breach the northern extension of the Siegfried Line, consisting of anti—tank ditches, mine-fields, concrete emplacements and barbed- wire entanglements.

Not one single man was on his feet. The ofiicers controlling the artillery fire were in tanks. The leading wave of the assault consisted of tanks with flails in front beating and exploding the mines to clear passages through the mine-fields. Then came tanks carrying bridges and fascines on their backs to form bridges over the anti—tank ditch. The next echelon was flame- throwing tanks to deal with the concrete pill—boxes, and finally infantry in cut-down tanks, i.e., with the top taken off, called kangaroos.

Infantry of 53rd (Welsh) Division in a Kangaroo personnel carrier on the outskirts of Ochtrup, 3 April 1945.
Infantry of 53rd (Welsh) Division in a Kangaroo personnel carrier on the outskirts of Ochtrup, 3 April 1945.

These proved a great boon in the closing stages of the war. They were, I believe, a Canadian invention emanating from the brain of one of their most famous corps commanders, General Simonds. I once saw a whole brigade of the 51st Highland Division in these vehicles being heavily shelled by the Germans. I thought their casualties were bound to be high, but they had only two men wounded.

That night the Germans breached the banks of the Rhine upstream, and the floods started to rise, spreading over our one road. Nevertheless the advance was going well, and I was delighted to hear that the 15th Scottish were moving into the outskirts of Cleve.

See Sir Brian Horrocks: A Full Life

Lieutenant-General Horrocks, March 1945
Lieutenant-General Horrocks, March 1945
The German town of Kleve, photographed from a low-flying Auster aircraft, a few days after the major Bomber Command raid on 7-8 February 1945, carried out as a prelude to Operation 'Veritable', the British and Canadian advance to the Rhine.
The German town of Kleve, photographed from a low-flying Auster aircraft, a few days after the major Bomber Command raid on 7-8 February 1945, carried out as a prelude to Operation ‘Veritable’, the British and Canadian advance to the Rhine.

US 4th Division takes Hill 553 from the SS

 US Army M4 Sherman tanks somewhere in Europe, circa 1944-1945
US Army M4 Sherman tanks somewhere in Europe, circa 1944-1945

The US Army were now pushing into Germany, as the Allies moved up to the Rhine, which would be the final obstacle before they could move into the heart of the Reich. Despite being exhausted by the failure of the Ardennes offensive, many elements of both the Wehrmacht and the SS continued the fight as vigorously as ever.

George Wilson was an officer with Company F, the 22nd Infantry Regiment, US 4th Infantry Division. They had fought their way across Europe since D-Day but the demands of battle were relentless. They had made a night attack on SS positions on Hill 553, only to be ousted by an immediate SS counter attack. The orders came straight back – an immediate daylight attack had to be launched in order that other units would not be outflanked.

They were assigned some tanks and tank destroyers but it was discovered that the ground was too soft for them to to accompany the infantry. Instead they quickly improvised the tactics to allow the armour to provide the necessary fire support. A ‘creeping barrage’, in which the artillery fire slowly moved ahead of the advancing infantry – keeping the opposing defenders heads down until the last minute, always included the risk that some shells would fall short. This was an even more intimidating variation on the same tactic:

We brought our men up against the high bank of the road out of sight of the enemy and lined up the tanks and TDs along the flat stretches, giving them specific target areas in the patches of woods. They would be firing directly over the heads of our advancing men, and they‘d usehigh-explosive shells to keep the Germans under cover while peppering the area with their 30-caliber and 50—cali- ber machine guns. The artillery F0 was also with us, and he had the same targets.

Captain Newcomb then had the men spread out widely, and he personally led them out onto the open hill slope as I directed the tanks and TDs to commence firing.

The only problem in the beginning was the stunning shock waves from the 75mm and 90mm rifles of the armor as the men were still close in. Many of the men had to sling their rifles so they could get both hands up over their ears. The rolling thunder of the big guns made it impossible to tell whether the enemy was firing back; I could not see any evidence of incoming artillery.

With Captain Newcomb in the center and the platoon leaders and their platoons spread out to his left and right and behind him, the attack moved in orderly fashion with everyone walking very fast.

I was coordinating the whole show. The crucial decision, for which I was already tensing though» I had a few minutes yet, was when to lift the straight-line, overhead fire of the tanks and TDs. Artillery was also laying down an intense barrage on the hilltop, but its shells arced in with plenty of clearance of the ground troops and could be lifted later.

The tough decision was when to lift the 75s and 90s. If I stopped the firing too soon, the Germans would rush out of their bunkers and blast our men when they were exposed on the open slope. If I waited too long, I might wipe out my men from the rear.

I was sweating, but at least I could clearly see the men and the shell bursts of our 75s and 90s. I watched closely through my binoculars as the advance continued, and I knew the men were scared to death hearing their own shells whip a few feet over their heads while waiting for the enemy to open up.

All I could do was watch and worry. It was the first time I’d directed that kind of fire, and I could only hope this was not the first time the armor had done it. I also knew that short rounds cropped up occasionally, and I gave a fleeting worried thought to the workers back in the States who had packed the shell cases. Now and then I put down my field glasses and checked the men directly because I didn’t want the magnification to make me think they were closer to the top than they actually were.

When I finally gave the command to fire, the barrage was extremely intense and accurate, giving us exactly what we wanted. The Krauts could not come out in that awful blasting; they must have been terrified, strained to the limit of their nerves. Our men continued to walk rapidly up the slope, and I knew they were not getting any return fire because none of them hit the ground.

My moment was almost at hand, and I watched closely through my field glasses. When they seemed to be only a hundred yards from the edge of the woods I couldn’t hold out any longer, and I signaled the tanks and TDs to cease firing. The artillery F0 then raised his range slightly to clear our men as they reached the edge of the woods. As they got near the bunkers the infantry was firing from the hip.

Most of the Germans were so shaken that they stayed in their shelters. They offered almost no resist- ance as our men moved in and captured them. Their SS commander tried to get them to fight but was unsuccessful. I made my way quickly up the hill, and when I arrived a few minutes later everything was completely in our hands. and our boys were jubilant.

German prisoners were being led out, along with an arrogant SS officer in full dress uniform and long coat. He was mad as hell, and I only wished I could understand his German sputtering.

See 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

Furious Fourth has more on the 4th Division.

The M36 Tank Destroyer had been brought in service in September 1944, bringing the necessary fire power to deal with the German Panthers and Tigers.
The M36 Tank Destroyer had been brought into service in September 1944, bringing the necessary fire power to deal with the German Panthers and Tigers.

Close shave with a stay behind Japanese suicide bomber

The Campaign in Mandalay February - March 1945: British infantry advance along a dusty road to Mandalay.
The Campaign in Mandalay February – March 1945: British infantry advance along a dusty road to Mandalay.
Men of the 36th Infantry Division push a CMP truck up a muddy slope on the road to Mandalay, February 1945.
Men of the 36th Infantry Division push a CMP truck up a muddy slope on the road to Mandalay, February 1945.

In Burma, the British Fourteenth Army had got across the Irrawaddy and secured the bridgehead on the other side. They were now preparing for an advance south, which would take them to Meiktila and Mandalay.

George Macdonald Fraser was a young soldier who had just joined his platoon of infantry. The Border Regiment were drawn from men living on the borders between England and Scotland, many from Cumbria, with its distinct dialect. They were veterans of the Battle of Imphal and he was very much the junior man on the platoon, with little experience to compare with theirs.

While out on a 20 man patrol it was his privilege to carry a large tin of fruit, which would be shared amongst them that evening. Losing his footing he dropped the tin down a 15 foot mud ravine – a nullah – and of course he felt compelled to retrieve it.

Down in the nullah he discovered three bunkers. Feeling embarrassed to call his fellow soldiers to help him investigate some deserted bunkers, he discovered that the first and the third were definitely empty:

I came out of that bunker feeling pretty heroic, and was retrieving my fruit tin when it occurred to me that I ought to go into the second one, too, just to make a job of it.

And I was moving towards it when I heard a faint, distant whistle from over the top of the bank — little Nixon, for certain, wondering where his wandering boy had got to. I ran up the nullah, and found a crack in its side only about twenty yards farther on. I scrambled up, heaving the tin ahead of me, clawing my way over the lip to find Nick standing about ten yards off, and Sergeant Hutton hastening towards me with blood in his eye.

“Where the hell ’ave you been?” he blared. “Wanderin’ aboot like a bloody lost soul, what d’ye think yer on?”

“There were bunkers,” I began, but before I could get out another word Nick had shouted “Doon, Jock!” and whipped up his rifle.

How I managed it I have no idea, but I know my feet left the ground and I hit the deck facing back the way I had come. Whatever Nick had seen was in that direction, and I wanted to get a good look at it — I suppose it was instinct and training combined, for I was scrabbling my rifle forward as I fell and turned together. And I can see him now, and he doesn’t improve with age.

Five yards away, not far from where the bunkers must have been, a Jap was looking towards us. Half his naked torso was visible over the lip of the bank — how the hell he had climbed up there, God knows — and he was in the act of raising a large dark object, about a foot across, holding it above his head. I had a glimpse of a contorted yellow face before Nick’s rifle cracked behind me, three quick shots, and I’d got off one of my own when there was a deafening explosion and I was blinded by an enormous flash as the edge of the nullah dissolved in a cloud of dust and smoke.

I rolled away, deafened, and then debris came raining down — earth and stones and bits of Jap, and when I could see again there was a great yawning bite out of the lip of the nullah, and the smoke and dust was clearing above it.

“Git doon!” snapped Hutton, as I started to rise. Suddenly, as if by magic, the section were there behind me, on the deck or kneeling, every rifle covering the lip, and Hutton walked forward and looked into the nullah.

“Fook me,” he said. “Land mine. Fook me. Y’awreet, JocK?” I said I was.

“Wheer th’ell did ’e coom frae? The booger!”

I told him, no doubt incoherently, about the bunkers: that I’d checked two and been on the way to the third when Nick had whistled. “It looked empty,” I said.

“Well, it bloody well wasn’t, was it?” he shouted, and I realised he was not only angry, but shaken. “Duke, giddoon theer an’ ’ev a dekko! Rest o’ you, git back in extended line — move!”

Nick was recharging his magazine. I realised that I was trembling. “Land mine?” I said. “Did you hit it?”

“Nivver,” said he. “Ah hit him, though. Naw, he would have it wired. Suicide squad, waitin’ to blaw oop anyone that cam’ near ’im.” He grinned at me. “Might ha’ bin thee, jock boy. Ye shoulda give us a shout, man.”

I explained why I hadn’t, and he shook his head. “Nivver ga in on yer own, son. That’s ’ow ye finish up dyin’ Tojo’s way. Ye wanna die yer own fookin’ way.”

“Git fell in, you two!” It was Hutton again. “Standin’ aboot natterin’ wid yer thumbs in yer bums an’ yer minds in neutral! Awreet, Duke? Ad-vance! Coom on, it’ll be bloody dark in a minute!”

There is a memorable end to this account of one of his first infantry patrols but you will have to read George MacDonald Fraser: Quartered Safe Out Here to discover more. As vivid and entertaining as any of his Flashman novels, this is the work of a born story teller.

Men of the 6th Gurkha Rifles go into action at Singu on the Irrawaddy bridgehead, with Sherman tanks in support, February 1945.
Men of the 6th Gurkha Rifles go into action at Singu on the Irrawaddy bridgehead, with Sherman tanks in support, February 1945.(But see comment below)

Japanese spirits remain high as the Battle of Manila begins

The 1st Cavalry fighting in the streets of Manila.
The 1st Cavalry fighting in the streets of Manila.

The US invasion to retake Luzon in the Philippines had gone relatively well so far. On the 3rd February US forces reached Manila and a terrible bloodbath began to unfold – as the Japanese chose to make this their last stand and fight to the death. It was to become the largest urban battle of the Pacific theatre. First the US forces had to overcome some fanatical resistance on the edge of the city.

Fuzuko Obara was a Japanese officer or NCO who had been transferred from Manchuria to the Philippines to bolster the defences before the expected American invasion. He and his unit had an uncomfortable time camping out in the jungles of Luzon, on the outskirts of Manila. Obara’s new posting began with a spell of dysentery and things continued to get more uncomfortable:

When the enemy swoops and wheels overhead, we take cover in the shelter of the trees the drops of sweat little by little begin to dry, and as they evaporate, leaving the salts, our bodies appear white Our food ration is 400 grams of uncooked native rice, some salt, and leaves of the wild sweet potato.

Camping out in a river ravine, trying to keep themselves concealed, would prove to be extremely testing. Everything soon became covered in a green mould:

Immediately we are enveloped in humidity as in a cloud of steam. The hot moist air in the grove is seething with mosquitoes. You only have to clap your hands to crush five or ten of the insects. They come at you from all directions. Each day’s work lays out one or two with malaria.

As well as malaria, ringworm and other afflictions, most of them began to suffer from a chronic fungal infection ‘athlete’s foot’, which became so bad that it was painful to walk. Nevertheless Obara’s spirits and morale remained high, believing that he was engaged in a sacred Imperial cause:

The bond of affection among comrades-at-arms is a noble feeling. I wish the people at home could witness this, and I wish especially they could see the contrast with the selfishness of American individualism. This nobility of character, this highest love! Amid steaming heat and clouds of humidity, and the invisible poison of the striped insect.

Finally on the 4th February they were to sight the enemy for the first time:

4 February 1945:

Manila is on fire. The tempo of gunfire is increasing. The shelling is averaging about one report a second. There may be some naval bombardment from enemy ships that may have slipped into Manila Bay. Enemy planes have intensified their disruptive raids.

Now with my own eyes I see enemy ground forces, armoured units. I see for the first time enemy vehicles on land. I look at them and think: ‘Those are the enemy’s. Those tanks are enemy tanks. There is the long-awaited enemy.’

Suddenly one of our automatic cannons on a neighbouring hill is seen to belch an intense burst of fire. An enemy Douglas light bomber emits a fierce spurt of flame and appears to be falling. As I am thinking, ‘We got him’, the falling plane, manoeuvring desperately, is seen to be making progress towards his own armoured units until, just before it appears about to crash, a parachute suddenly is seen to unfold and comes drifting down. ‘The bum made it,’ someone says, and I hear the disappointment in his voice.

Later that day,as night approached, Obara was ordered to lead an infiltration patrol through US positions.

We receive with gratitude the Imperial gift of o-saké [rice wine] When it becomes quite dark, we begin a stealthy advance towards our objective The stars are shining and the sky glows with the fires still burning in Manila, but in the tall grass and gullies it is so dark that we can see scarcely an inch ahead.

It becomes difficult to keep a sense of direction. We are among the enemy now, so it is essential to avoid making the least sound Completely baffled as to the best way to proceed, we seem to have fallen into a queer world of illusion The ravines are choked with thickets, principally bamboo. Our progress is as little as a single metre in five minutes

As dawn approaches, we are able finally with great difficulty to infiltrate to a position at one comer of our objective area. I send out a patrol. They discover a Filipino guerrilla.

I put my field glasses to my eyes, and there they are. I count ten American soldiers in khaki, accompanied by five or six guerrillas in white shirts, guarding a mobile 45mm cannon. To see enemy soldiers with my own eyes affects me deeply. These are enemies of the Divine Land and they must pay dearly.

Perhaps tonight we will launch and attack to destroy this enemy we now see With the coming of daylight, an observation plane hovering in the skies seems almost to tease by threatening to fly over us. All this time I am nervously wondering, ‘Now will we be seen?’

The diary of Fuzuko Obara was found on his body later during the battle and translated by US Intelligence. These and more extracts appear in Nigel Cawthorne (ed) : Reaping the Whirlwind: The German and Japanese Experience of World War II.

Casualties amongst Filipinos were high. The Japanese would burn a home and kill those who fled the fire.
Casualties amongst Filipinos were high. The Japanese would burn a home and kill those who fled the fire.

The Execution of Private Eddie D. Slovik

Soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division parade down the Champs-Élysées in Paris on August 29, 1944. The division was the first American division to enter the capital after its liberation. The 28th is the oldest Division in the US military and is known as the 'Iron Division'.
Soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division parade down the Champs-Élysées in Paris on August 29, 1944. The division was the first American division to enter the capital after its liberation. The 28th is the oldest Division in the US military and is known as the ‘Iron Division’.

Born in 1920 Eddie D. Slovik picked up three convictions for breaking and entering, theft and disturbing the peace in 1932. He was convicted of drink driving in 1939. As a minor ‘criminal’ he was classified as 4F and his draft was deferred in 1941. By 1944 the US Army was in need of manpower and he was reclassified as A1. He trained in the United States and then arrived in France with a shipload of “replacements” – it was only when they arrived in Europe that they were assigned to the regiments who needed men to replace battle casualties.

A knocked-out German PzKpfw IV tank with the burnt bodies of two of its crew in the Falaise pocket, 24 August 1944.
A knocked-out German PzKpfw IV tank with the burnt bodies of two of its crew in the Falaise pocket, 24 August 1944.

The truck carrying Slovik and fellow soldiers to the front passed through the aftermath of the Falaise Gap battle, one of the most gruesome sites imaginable. Eisenhower himself had described it:

The battlefield at Falaise was unquestionably one of the greatest “killing fields” of any of the war areas. Forty-eight hours after the closing of the gap I was conducted through it on foot, to encounter scenes that could be described only by Dante. It was literally possible to walk for hundreds of yards at a time, stepping on nothing but dead and decaying flesh.

It was not an experience likely to encourage any of the raw replacements on their way to their first combat posting.

Private Eddie D. Slovik was assigned to Company G, 109th Infantry, 28th Division. He did not last very long. On the day that he joined his rifle company they came under artillery fire in the town of Elbeuf. The next day the company moved out and he stayed where he was. It was a fairly common occurrence. Slovik gave himself up to a Canadian Provost unit and spent six weeks with them, before being returned to his unit. No action would have been taken for his absence if he had now rejoined this unit. However Slovik made his position abundantly clear, handing in a note:

I Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik No. 36896415 confess to the desertion of the United States Army. At the time of my desertion we were in Albuff in France. I came to Albuff as a replacement. They were shelling the town and we were told to dig in for the night.

The following morning they were shelling us again. I was so scared nerves and trembling that at the time the other replacements moved out I couldn’t move. I stayed there in the foxhole till it was quiet and I was able to move.

I then walked in town. Not seeing any of our troops so I stayed over night at the French hospital. The next morning I turned myself over the Canadian Provost Corp. After being with them six weeks I was turned over to the American M.P. They turned me loose.

I told my commanding officer my story. I said that if I had to go out there again I’d run away. He said there was nothing he could do for me, so I ran away again and I’LL RUN AWAY AGAIN IF I HAVE TO GO OUT THERE.

Although Slovik was invited to tear up the confession he refused. Unlike the 40,000 other cases of absent without leave or desertion in the US military during the war he made no attempt to conceal or even excuse his behaviour. He even went on to endorse the statement:

I have been told that this statement can be held against me and that I made it of my own free will and that I do not have to make it.

On November 11, 1944, Slovik, charged with desertion, appeared before a nine-man general court-martial. There was very little to consider because Slovik was openly admitting the offence. At the time the 28th Division was engaged in the bloody battle for the Hurtgen Forest. The unanimous decision was that the offence called for the death penalty.

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.

The case then went before Major General Norman D. Cota, Commander of the 28th Division, to review the sentence of the court martial.

Given the situation as I knew it in November, 1944 I thought it was my duty to this country to approve that sentence. If I hadn’t approved it — if I had let Slovik accomplish his purpose — I don’t know how I could have gone up to the line and looked a good soldier in the face.

The case then went all the way up to Eisenhower, who reviewed the case on the 23rd December, at the height of the ‘Battle of the Bulge’. Slovak’s appeal for clemency was denied. He had apparently been offered the chance to go back to a Rifle Company, the position he was trained for. Slovik implicitly refused to do this, although he claimed he wanted to be a a “good soldier”. Eisenhower confirmed the sentence of death.

There was still one more review of the legality of the decision by the Assistant Judge Advocate General for the European Theater of Operations:

This soldier has performed no front line duty. He did not intend to. He deserted from his group of fifteen when about to join the infantry company to which he had been assigned.

His subsequent conduct shows a deliberate plan to secure trial and incarceration in a safe place.

The sentence adjudged was more severe than he had anticipated but the imposition of a less severe sentence would only have accomplished the accused’s purpose of securing his incarceration and consequent freedom from the dangers which so many of our armed forces are required to face daily.

His unfavorable civilian record indicates that he is not a worthy subject of clemency.

Eddie D. Slovik
Eddie D. Slovik

And so Eddie D. Slovik was sent back to the 28th Division for execution.

Triblive has an account of the execution on the 31st January 1945 by Nick Gozik, who had been ordered to attend as a military witness. He states that Slovik had been reconciled to his sentence of death by this time:

“I’ve seen a lot of people in the service who didn’t want to die, but he knew he was going to die. He knew what to expect, and he was going to abide by it.”

“He paid the price of several thousand people deserting during the war,” Gozik said. “Believe me when I tell you, to me, he was the bravest soldier I ever met.”

He recalls that he heard the catholic priest say Mass with Slovik immediately before the firing squad were given their orders, and then the final exchange between Slovik and the priest:

“‘Eddie,'” the priest said, “‘when you get up there, say a prayer for me.’ Eddie said he would.”

Others report that his last words were:

“Don’t worry about me. I’m okay. They’re not shooting me for deserting the United States Army – thousands of guys have done that. They’re shooting me for bread I stole when I was 12 years old.”

Although the firing squad consisted of twelve handpicked marksmen, eleven of whom had live bullets, the volley did not kill Slovik outright. The doctor who was supposed to certify death found him still breathing:

“I heard the doctor say, ‘What’s the matter with you guys? Can’t you shoot straight?’ “

Slovik then died as the firing squad reloaded for another volley. He is the only member of the US military to be executed for desertion since the American Civil War.

Audie Murphy’s single handed battle, kills 50, holds line

Winter in northwestern Europe, 1945 - conditions on the Ardennes front.
Winter in northwestern Europe, 1945 – conditions on the Ardennes front.

Audie L. Murphy had come a long way since he had landed in Sicily in 1943 as a Corporal and the runner for B Company, 15th Infantry Regiment. A string of promotions and medals had been accompanied by a number of wounds and incapacitation with Malaria. In October 1944 he had been awarded two Silver Stars and a battlefield commission – but had also been shot in the leg and during subsequent hospital treatment had had muscle removed after gangrene set in. Many men would have taken a long time to recover from such a wound but in January 1945 Murphy rejoined his regiment and soon was back in the thick of the action.

On January 23, the 30th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division had reached the outskirts of the village of Holtzwihr, the wooded area known as the Bois de Riedwihr. They suddenly encountered 10 tanks and accompanying infantry and sustained heavy casualties before they were forced to withdraw.

On the 25th Company B of, 1st Battalion, 15th Regiment was ordered to attack the same ground again. Losing six out of seven officers and 102 out of 120 men killed or wounded they penetrated 600 yards into the woods and held their position overnight. The eighteen surviving men led by Murphy found it impossible to dig foxholes because of the frozen ground – but they were re-inforced by some Tank Destroyers before dawn and later by a Forward Artillery Observer.

Audie Murphy describes the position on the 26th as they waited in the freezing cold for the German counter-attack which must inevitably come. Their orders were to hold the position and wait for re-inforcements:

Checking the other men, I find that our right flank is exposed. Some unit failed to get up on schedule. The morning drags by. A forward artillery observer with a radio joins us. The icy tree branches rattle in the wind. Again I contact headquarters. “What about orders?” “No change. Hold your position.”

At two o’clock in the afternoon, I see the Germans lining up for an attack. Six tanks rumble to the outskirts of Holtzwihr, split into groups of threes, and fan out toward either side of the clearing. Obviously they intend an encircling movement, using the fingers of trees for cover. I yell to my men to get ready. Then wave after wave of white dots, barely discernible against the background of snow, start across the field. They are enemy infantrymen, wearing snowcapes and advancing in a staggered skirmish formation.

One of our tank destroyers starts its engine and maneuvers for a firing position. It slides into a ditch at an angle that leaves the turret guns completely useless. The driver steps on the gas; the tank wallows further into the ditch; the engine dies. The crew bails out and takes off for the rear.

“I’m trying to contact headquarters,” shouts the artillery observer. I had forgotten about him. We cannot afford to have the radio captured. “Get to the rear,” I holler. “I’ll get the artillery by phone.” “I don’t want to leave you.” “Get going. You can’t do any good. Just take care of that radio.”

I grab a map, estimate the enemy’s position, and seize the field telephone. “Battalion,” cheerfully answers a headquarters lieutenant. “This is Murphy. We’re being attacked. Get me the artillery.” “Coming up.”

“I want a round of smoke at co-ordinates 30.5 — 60; and tell those joes to shake the lead out.” “How many krauts?” “Six tanks that I can see, and maybe a couple hundred foot soldiers supporting.” “Good god! How close?” “Close enough. Give me that artillery.”

I hang up the receiver and grab my carbine just as the enemy’s preliminary barrage hits. It is murderous. A single tree burst knocks out our machine-gun squad. The second tank destroyer is hit flush, and three of its crew are killed. The remainder, coughing and half-blinded, climb from the smoking turret and sprint down the road to the rear. At that moment I know that we are lost.

The smoke shell whizzes over, landing beyond the oncoming Germans. 200 right; 200 over. And fire for effect.

Our counterbarrage is on the nose. A line of enemy infantrymen disappear in a cloud of smoke and snow. But others keep coming.

The telephone rings. “How close are they?” “5O over, and keep firing for effect.” That artillery curtain must be kept between us and the enemy. The tanks are now close enough to rake our position with machine-gun fire. Of the hundred and twenty-eight men that began the drive, not over forty remain. And I am the last of seven ofiicers. Trying to stop the armor with our small arms is useless. I yell to the men to start pulling out.

“What about you?” shouts Kohl. “I’m staying up with the phone as long as I can. Get the men back, and keep them grouped. Candler will help you.” “Candler’s dead.”

The telephone rings. “How close are they?” “50 over, and keep blasting. The company’s pulling back.” I raise my eyes and see that the men are hesitating. Clapping down the receiver, I yell, “Get the hell out of here. That’s an order!”

Kohl says something, but his words are lost in a shell burst. He shrugs his shoulders, beckons with his thumb, and the men stumble through the woods, casting worried glances backward. I seize my carbine and start sniping. The advance wave of infantrymen is within two hundred yards of my position.

The telephone rings. “How close are they?” “50 over. Keep it coming.” Dropping the receiver, I grab the carbine and fire until I give out of ammunition. As I turn to run, I notice the burning tank destroyer. On its turret is a perfectly good machine gun and several cases of ammunition. The German tanks have suddenly veered to the left.

See Audie Murphy: To Hell and Back.

A German picture of their troops successfully attacking during January 1945.
A German picture of their troops successfully attacking during January 1945.

The official citation for the Medal of Honor:

Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry.

Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone.

Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy.

He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back.

For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank.

Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw.

His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50.

Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.

A post war photograph of Murphy in dress uniform complete with all his medals. Now famous as the the most decorated soldier in the U.S Army he was to go on to have a successful career in Hollywood.
A post war photograph of Murphy in dress uniform complete with all his medals. Now famous as the the most decorated soldier in the U.S Army he was to go on to have a successful career in Hollywood.

Another day, another infantry attack

A soldier 'firing on German positions' from a ruined house in the village of Bakenhoven, Holland, during 12th Corp's offensive in the Dieteren area, north of Sittard, 16 January 1945.
A soldier ‘firing on German positions’ from a ruined house in the village of Bakenhoven, Holland, during 12th Corp’s offensive in the Dieteren area, north of Sittard, 16 January 1945.
Troops from 4/5 Royal Scots Fusiliers, 52nd Infantry Division, in the ruins of the village of Stein, Holland, 19 January 1945.
Troops from 4/5 Royal Scots Fusiliers, 52nd Infantry Division, in the ruins of the village of Stein, Holland, 19 January 1945.

In Holland the British Army were trying to keep the pressure on the Germans with continued attacks. The 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division found itself in a particularly wet and uncomfortable spot near Nijmegen, where it was often impossible to dig trenches because the water table was so high.

Kasteel Hemmen or Castle Hemmen was not a castle at all but a fine country house. It had already been captured by the Allies some six weeks before, but they had to abandon it when the Germans flooded the the surrounding area, leaving it in a very exposed position. Now another attack was to be made.

The plan was for the infantry to advance supported by tanks, with an artillery barrage to support them as they made the final attack. Of course things did not go according to plan, the tanks were unable to traverse the icy ground – but the attack went ahead anyway. Corporal John Oakley’s platoon was to make the a frontal assault up a tree lined avenue, while two other platoons advanced through the woods.

A pre war postcard of Kasteel Hemmen
A pre war postcard of Kasteel Hemmen.

Oakley, eighteen years old at the time, describes the attack on the 20th January 1945:

However, our progress up the tree-lined road continued. Lieutenant Kernick was leading the Platoon up the right side of the road, with two sections. I was leading the remainder, my section on the left using the trees as cover, darting from one tree-trunk to the next, exposing ourselves as little as possible to the small-arms fire, which was increasing as we got nearer.

At this stage we would have welcomed the artillery and mortar barrage on the enemy positions to keep their heads down as the German defenders, now about 200 yards away, were able to fire at us and the rest of our Company on the left, almost with impunity, apart from a few bursts of fire from our bren-gunners. The German defensive positions were in front of ‘The Castle’ and appeared to be comprised of low mounds of stone and rubble from the ruined building protecting their trenches, which could not be dug very deeply because they would have flooded from the general surrounding water-level.

The final advance, over about 100 yards to the objective would have been suicidal without an artillery barrage and we had been suffering casualties on both sides of the road as we were nearing the end of the avenue. At this stage, Lieutenant Kernick shouted across the road “how many of you are over there Corporal Davies?” Up until then I had been too busy to note who I had with me while bullets were cracking past me or thudding into the tree trunks which I was using as my cover. I was surprised to find that I was on my own and reported accordingly. He shouted “We are not going to get much further, give us some covering fire and we will get ourselves out of here”. I poked my head round the base of the tree-trunk protecting me and popped away with my sten-gun at the German positions. My efforts were probably completely ineffective as this crude little submachine gun was very much a close range weapon.

I then had a better idea. In my left hand ammunition pouch I had the spare magazines for my sten-gun but in the right hand pouch I had a Mills grenade which is a high-explosive and also a phosphorous grenade. I had never used either in combat but had done so in training and from that experience I knew that the phosphorous grenade created a lot of smoke. I threw it into the road and it made ideal cover for our withdrawal.

The first man I passed on the way back was Private Brown – “Brownie” to everybody in the Company – I don’t think anybody ever knew his Christian name!. He was courageous, almost to the point of recklessness sometimes. He was the comedian of the Platoon and one of his regular remarks was “No bloody German is ever going to kill me”. He had a terrible wound in his head and was dead. “Brownie” always wore his steel helmet on the back of his head and it appeared to me that from the position and severity of the wound, a bullet had hit the under rim of his helmet and ricocheted down into his skull, whereas if he had worn his helmet in the proper manner the bullet probably would have hit the crown of his helmet and been deflected upwards, leaving him unharmed and no doubt he would have regaled us with some amusing remarks about the incident later.

I was relieved to find Ellis and Bryson, our Bren-gun team both uninjured a little further behind, told them we were abandoning our advance for now and to get back to somewhere safer with the rest of the Company while we still had the smoke cover, through which the occasional burst of small arms fire was coming.

I then came upon “Hughsie”, Private Hughes. He was the veteran of our Platoon – 26 years of age and he seemed like an old man compared with the rest of us. He often grumbled that he was a trained driver/mechanic and he had no business in a Rifle Company. Hughes had a bullet wound in the chest, together with some lesser wounds in his arm and he was in a bad way. With that, two of our stretcher bearers arrived on the other side of the wide water-filled ditch at our side of the road.

Hughes was a smallish man and I managed to lift him to pass him over to the stretcher bearers but had to do so via the icy cold water which was about three feet deep. Hughes was groaning and was weakly muttering something incoherent in between his groans but was being comforted in a rather rough sort of way during the handover to the stretcher bearers who were saying something like “come on Hughsie, stop your moaning and don’t be such a cissie, we’ll soon put you right.” He died some minutes later.

I got out of the water on the ‘safe’ side of the ditch where the remainder of the Company , (including the rest of our Platoon who had got back across the road safely, bringing their wounded), had taken up defensive positions – the ground was rather too hard to dig in and in any case the water table would have flooded our slit trenches once we were down a couple of feet at the most.

The next morning, with ample artillery support, and our own bren-gun carriers (light armoured vehicles) equipped with flame-throwers, ‘The Castle’ was captured with comparative ease and few casualties on our side

Private Thomas Vernon Brown, service nr. 14719016, died 20 January 1945 at age 21.

Private Albert Hughes, service nr. 4198168, died 20 January 1945 at age 26.

Read the whole of John Oakley’s account at secondworldwar.nl, a site with a number of recollections by Allied soldiers including men from the US Rangers and other American units.

Carriers and other vehicles including ambulances near a ruined windmill during the advance in Holland, January 1945.
Carriers and other vehicles including ambulances near a ruined windmill during the advance in Holland, January 1945.

Youngest Victoria Cross in the war is posthumous

5.5-inch howitzers of 236 Battery, 59th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, firing at dawn, before 12 Corps' attack in the Sittard area of Holland, 16 January 1945.
5.5-inch howitzers of 236 Battery, 59th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, firing at dawn, before 12 Corps’ attack in the Sittard area of Holland, 16 January 1945.
Infantry of 6th Cameronians, 52nd (Lowland) Division, passing Sherman tanks near Havert in Germany, 18 January 1945.
Infantry of 6th Cameronians, 52nd (Lowland) Division, passing Sherman tanks near Havert in Germany, 18 January 1945.
Men of 4/5th Royal Scots Fusiliers pass between a Sherman and a Churchill tank during 52nd (Lowland) Division's attack towards Stein from Tuddern, 18 January 1945
Men of 4/5th Royal Scots Fusiliers pass between a Sherman and a Churchill tank during 52nd (Lowland) Division’s attack towards Stein from Tuddern, 18 January 1945

While the US Army were fighting against determined German resistance in the ‘Saar Triangle’, further north the British were encountering similar difficulties in the Roer Triangle, on the border of Holland and Germany, between the Maas and the Roer rivers. Operation Blackcock had been launched on the 14th and also sought to breach the Siegfried Line and push into Germany.

Nineteen year old Dennis Donnini was from Easington Colliery, County Durham, the son of an Italian immigrant father, Alfredo Donnini, and English mother, Catherine Brown. He had two older brothers, Alfred had been captured at Dunkirk in 1940 and was a prisoner of war, and Louis had been killed in May 1944. His two sisters served in the ATS in Britain. There was little doubting the family’s loyalty to the Crown, yet his father Alfredo had been interned as an ‘Enemy Alien’ because he had been born in Italy, even though he had lived in Britain for over 40 years.

Dennis Donnini
Dennis Donnini

At just 4ft 10ins tall Dennis Donnini would only just have made it into the British Army. He seems to have been full of determination, he told his mother when he left home for the last time “When I get there, I’ll finish the war”:

In North-West Europe, on 18th January 1945, a Battalion of The Royal Scots Fusiliers supported by tanks was the leading Battalion in the assault of the German positions between the rivers Roer and Maas. This consisted of a broad belt of minefields and wire on the other side of a stream.

As the result of a thaw the armour was unable to cross the stream and the infantry had to continue the assault without the support of the tanks. Fusilier Donnini’s platoon was ordered to attack a small village.

As they left their trenches the platoon came under concentrated machine gun and rifle fire from the houses and Fusilier Donnini was hit by a bullet in the head. After a few minutes he recovered consciousness, charged down thirty yards of open road and threw a grenade into the nearest window.

The enemy fled through the gardens of four houses, closely pursued by Fusilier Donnini and the survivors of his platoon. Under heavy fire at seventy yards range Fusilier Donnini and two companions crossed an open space and reached the cover of a wooden barn, thirty yards from the enemy trenches.

Fusilier Donnini, still bleeding profusely from his wound, went into the open under intense close range fire and carried one of his companions, who had been wounded, into the barn. Taking a Bren gun he again went into the open, firing as he went.

He was wounded a second time but recovered and went on firing until a third bullet hit a grenade which he was carrying and killed him.

The superb gallantry and self-sacrifice of Fusilier Donnini drew the enemy fire away from his companions on to himself. As the result of this, the platoon were able to capture the position, accounting for thirty Germans and two machine guns.

Throughout this action, fought from beginning to end at point blank range, the dash, determination and magnificent courage of Fusilier Donnini enabled his comrades to overcome an enemy more than twice their own number.

Men of 4/5th Royal Scots Fusiliers interrogate German prisoners during 52nd (Lowland) Division's attack towards Stein from Tuddern, Germany, 18 January 1945
Men of 4/5th Royal Scots Fusiliers interrogate German prisoners during 52nd (Lowland) Division’s attack towards Stein from Tuddern, Germany, 18 January 1945
Men of 7th Armoured Division stand over the corpse of one of the defenders of Schilberg, 19 January 1945.
Men of 7th Armoured Division stand over the corpse of one of the defenders of Schilberg, 19 January 1945.

Cut off in Butzdorf, surrounded by Germans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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