[…] After manning a defensive position on the German border East of Grossbeek in the Netherlands for about a month, alternating one week in the front lines and one week in reserve, we were relieved by the Canadian Troops and moved out on foot and then trucked to a Military Camp near Sissonne, France for refitting and replacements of personnel, which by this time we sorely needed!
On December 18 1944, we were alerted for a move to Belgium to help stop von Rundstedt in the Battle of the Bulge. We were loaded into open-bed semi-trucks. There was standing room only. As we drew closer to Belgium, we were leaning against or laying on top of each other. The cold was terrible! A few hours after unloading at Werbomont, Belgium, we started marching in the night to take up defensive positions along the Vielsalm, Salmchateau, Joubiéval, Regné highway (RN-89).
We marched in single columns on each side of the road, a few tanks proceeding down the road were driving blacked-out so that we had to watch out carefully not to be run over. We beat the Germans to the highway and set up a defensive position.
Artillery barrages could be heard in the distance as other units engaged the Germans but it soon was our turn when a column of over 100 German vehicles were sighted to our front. An attack was made on Joubiéval by the Germans but Able 325 drove them out. Baker 325 made an attack on Regné and drove the Germans out of there. Further to our right, the Germans overran the Baraque de Fraiture crossroads where Fox 325 was in a fight for its life!
On December 24, we had orders to withdraw about 8 miles to a new defensive position (giving up all we had taken and held as so high a cost). We heard later that Monty (FM Montgomery) wanted us to tidy-up the line a bit. In a farmhouse where we were, there was a mother with 2 children. I thought how awful for us to pull out and leave them. We spread out in a column of fours on the road as we pulled back. You could hear a pin drop! There was not talking, because there was every possibility the Germans were right behind us, as well as all around us to the sides. The artillery barrages were constant, rolling like thunder and flashing like lightning, partly to cover our withdrawal and partly to hold the Germans at bay while we were making a vulnerable movement.
As we moved, carrying very heavy loads, it started snowing. Later there was a little moonlight making the scene both terrible and beautiful with the snow on the many pines of the Ardennes Forest. None of us spoke of Christmas although it was Christmas Eve. We were all too intent on survival! A bridge across a small stream ahead of us had been blown by the Engineer Troops. We had to detour off the road, through a field and either jump or wade the freezing water of the stream. It was bitter cold.
Our march started at 0100 on December 24. We walked until 0500 on Christmas morning before reaching the new positions where the 508-PIR was dug in. Some men had frost bitten feet and I recall one man who had the diarrhea so bad that he could not hold it, but he did not fall out of the march. There was no alternative, no recourse, there was no ambulance following us. There was no one behind us but more Germans!
Upon reaching the 508-PIR lines, we were trucked about 5 more miles to the village of Vaux-Chavanne where we dug in fast and waited. The next morning about 0500 we were hit by a German attack. We fired more 60-MM Mortar rounds stopping their attack the morning of December 26 than in similar fight for the rest of the war! Without any doubt, our mortar section helped hold our positions on that day.
The next day, we moved out of this village and took up a defensive position holding the right flank of the 82-A/B. We got our Christmas turkey dinner outdoors in the cold, in the deep snow drifts, while we were in reserve waiting to start an attack on January 3 1945. We jumped off through deep snow. Left our overcoats on a pile to be brought up forward later, if a truck could get through. It was bitter cold, no place to go to get warm and all the time moving like a pack of hunted animals, however, we were the hunters in this attack!
About the second or third night of this attack we found a large barn and got all bedded down for some rest. At night, about 2200, we got orders to move out to fill a gap in the front lines. It was a nice moonlight night, the terrain was rolling low hills with some timber and open fields. Sgt Virgil Chandler, (Edwardsville, IL), Pfc Virgil Hardin (Louisville, KY), Pfc Steve Suslee (Southern IL) and I proceeded to dig a position for our mortar in an open field. After clearing the snow away, we used a pick and shovel and dug through a foot of frozen dirt. We found some straw to put in the bottom of the hole to help keep our feet warm.
On January 10 we were within sight of the village of Sart and Grandsart where we had started our withdrawal to tidy up the lines as ordered by Monty back on December 24. So much for giving and regaining ground already won! We were squeezed out of the attacking column and went into reserve. On January 12, we were trucked to the village of Pepinster, Belgium for a short rest while we were in Corps Reserve. We were scheduled to be billeted in a large empty textile factory building which had no heat and no place to sleep but on the freezing concrete floor.
The people of the town soon came by the doors and windows of the building and with their fingers would indicate how many men they could accommodate in their homes. Soon I was comfortable in one of the homes for the first time in many weeks.
The family would even warm bricks for us to use to warm our beds! One of my buddies in this house had frostbitten toes. They were dead, white and without feeling. On January 25, we again loaded on trucks to move out. We told our family we were going further back for a rest, but they watched and saw that the trucks were heading back to the front. They knew we were going back to fight the Germans.
We moved south to Vielsalm and on the way we passed the infamous Malmedy crossroads where a group of American soldiers had been massacred by the Germans. One of these victims had been with me in Basic Training back in the states. Fighting the snow drifts the next week was almost as bad as fighting the enemy. It was slow going as we alternated battalions in the front line of attack.
We were in the heavily wooded area of the Ardennes. There were very few roads and most of them were secondary tram roads or logging trails. Shelter of any kind was at a premium. We were happy if we found a deserted log bunker built by the enemy or perhaps the Americans who had been driven back out of the area earlier as the big German offensive had started and overrun them.
Our present attack started at Born, Belgium, a small village between St Vith and Malmedy. We were attacking northeast through a sparsely settled area toward the German border at Neuhoff-Udenbreth.
On February 1, we pulled up in a wooded area where we could look out across the snow covered landscape and see the villages of Neuhoff-Udenbreth, Germany. The Siegfried Line with its concrete pillboxes and Dragon’s teeth tank obstacles ran along the outskirts of the towns. This was the German border. Their Fatherland. We knew we would now have an even fiercer fight on our hands as the Germans were being pushed back into their own homelands at last. They would fight more desperately.
Some German fortifications had been found empty, so to determine if the Siegfried Line was manned in this area, a limited probe patrol was made. At about 1600 just after dark on February 1, the 3d Platoon of Cjarlie 325 under Lt Harry Teras, moved out from the woods in attack formation. The Germans were there. They waited until the patrols were well out in the open. They let loose such a withering fire that many men were wounded and killed. There was no cover out there, only a few sparse and dry bushes without leaves.
Some men got back to the woods but others lay in the snow, not moving until after darkness fell and then they crawled back to the woods if their wounds permitted it. The able bodied of the 3rd Platoon went back out after dark to bring in the seriously wounded. One of the men wounded here was Clem Puetzer. Clem spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair as a result of these wounds.
The regimental staff had gotten their answer. The Siegfried Line was indeed manned and fully alert to our presence. For the attack, which started before daylight the next morning, Charlie 325 was designated battalion reserve. The front line attacking companies got well into the dragons teeth and the pillboxes by fighting for every inch. The interlocking fields of fire between all these obstacles made any movement virtually suicidal and many men were casualties.
While this fight was in progress, taking heavy shelling, tank fire, automatic weapons and anti-tank fire, it seemed that possession of the town was in doubt. I saw Col Charles Billingslea, our Regimental commander, go down the road and a little later Gen James M. Gavin came through. Billingslea went down to take personal, direct command. He walked erect and strode purposefully ahead, taking no evasive action. He seemed a fearless individual. Gen Gavin did the same.
I have the greatest admiration for the bravery of each of these two men and for the example they set for the troops.
When we, as reserve, moved up into the town at last, there was still much fighting. On our way down the same road the Gen Gavin and Col Billingslea had traversed, I saw many casualties. One was a lieutenant who had been hit directly on the Lt‘s bar on the front of his helmet. A shocking sight, as was the high number of dead along this road. Our front line was now in Germany itself. We were occupying the Siegfried Line. We were told to stay in our foxholes or in one of the concrete bunkers abandoned by the enemy.
The 2/325 repulsed a serious counterattack on Udenbreth. We were occupying Neuhoff. One of our men who couldn’t follow orders too well, went out to an old outhouse toilet to relieve himself. While he was seated there an incoming 88-MM shell blasted the toilet to bits and he got a hole the size of a mess-kit blown out of his hip area.
That night, Lt Smith took Sgt Chandler, myself and four others from our squad, on a patrol to make contact with the outfit on our left. As we proceeded through the snow and cold, we came out of a woods and onto an open field between two patches of timber. Crossing this open field, Lt Smith stepped on an anti-personnel mine and it blew off his foot, right at the ankle joint. Sgt Chandler put a tourniquet on the leg to stop the bleeding and we started to retrace our steps through the snow. We had no stretcher to carry the wounded Lieutenant on. That was the most awkward load I have ever tried to carry.
When we got him back to the company CP, we loaded him on a jeep and he was driven back to the battalion aid station.
We saw more action several times before the war ended but nothing was as severe as the fighting through the Belgian Ardennes Forests.
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European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
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(NB : Published for Good – October 2019)