The 612-TDB was a unit of the US Army during World War II. It played an instrumental role in defending Höfen (Germany) during the Battle of the Bulge. The twelve 3 inch (76.2-MM) guns of Able 612-TDB were integrated into the defensive positions of the 395-IR (99-ID) and were key to keeping the attacking 6.SS-Panzer-Army from gaining essential objectives in the first days of the offensive.
The 612-TDB was activated as a light battalion at Camp Swift, Texas, on June 25 1942, under the command of Lt Col W. A. Hedden. The cadre of 2 officers and 73 enlisted men were from the 631-TDB. All of the tank destroyer battalions used the same logo, that of a panther eating a caterpillar tread. The logo was widely used at Camp Hood where Tank Destroyer forces were trained, on uniforms, equipment, and official Army publications.
For advanced training as a self-propelled unit, the battalion first moved to Camp Hood, Texas, on March 3 1943. The battalion moved back to Camp Swift on June 14 1943 and participated in the Third Army Maneuvers in Louisiana from September to November 1943, then returned to Camp Swift. On December 20, the battalion was reorganized as a towed battalion utilizing 3 inch guns and on March 26 1944 traveled to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, arriving on March 29. The battalion embarked on the Ile de France, on April 5, at the New York POE, and sailed on April 7 for Europa.
After arriving in England, two platoons of Baker 612 were the first elements to sail from England aboard an LST on June 12, arriving in France two days later. They immediately moved into positions to support the 2-ID, with the mission to provide anti-mechanized protection for the Division.
The remainder of HQs and Able Cos as well as elements of Baker and Charlie arrived on June 16. From June 20 to July 10, the battalion protected the division from anti-mechanized attack, with elements harassing the enemy with high velocity interdiction fire. All during this time the enemy was looking down on the US positions from Hill 192, and kept the US units covered with continual harassing mortar, artillery, and long range machine gun fire. On June 25, the rear echelon arrived from England, which completed the battalion’s presence in Normandy. On July 3, the battalion lost its first member in a combat death.
During the month of August, the battalion participated in the siege of Brest helping to breach the old city walls. The unit was credited with destroying multiple pillboxes, dugouts, machine gun emplacements, one ammunition dump, anti-aircraft guns, large caliber artillery pieces, houses and a large hotel. In destroying these enemy installations and material, the company inflicted more than four hundred casualties upon the enemy. The battalion then participated in the attack on St Marc, and although subjected to exceptionally heavy 88-MM fire, found it necessary to move to positions fully visible to the Germans so they could place direct fire on German installations.
Two platoons entered the city of Brest on September 12, following closely on the heels of advancing infantry. During the engagement, they received intense sniper fire. Gun crews knocked out a pillbox and several enemy observation posts during the day.
Despite heavy counter battery and sniper fire on all gun positions during the final five days of the siege, Baker’s second platoon fired approximately 200 rounds per day and eliminated a number of pillboxes and other reinforced positions, enabling units of the 29-ID to steadily move forward. To be effective, tank destroyer guns operated within the front line rifle platoons. We left our assembly area near Landerneau, France, at 1300 on the afternoon of September 27, heading for the Western Front.
The first two days were uneventful, as we covered around 300 miles, stopping at dusk by pulling off the main road. We slept beside our vehicles, by the side of the road, wrapped up in our blankets. We had been traveling in the direction of Paris by way of Rennes, Laval, Le Mans, Chartres and on the third day we left our bivouac near Châteauneuf. We passed through part of Versailles towards Paris. It was an event we had all long anticipated, but not like it happened. Our convoy whistled through Paris at better than 40 miles per hour. It was an attractive city, the Mademoiselles looked very nice, but who can say for sure when moving as fast as we did. At any rate, Paris did not show any battering from the war, although some airports which had been used by the Germans had been unmercifully pounded, with many planes of all types left destroyed on the ground. As we were leaving Paris we did catch a glimpse of the famous Eiffel Tower in the distance. In regard to the speed with which we went through the city, three of our half-tracks overheated, and had to stop in the city. That night we halted near St Quentin.
We drove all the next day from early morning until past midnight, driving by blackouts as we approached enemy territory. It was after 0100 in the morning of October 1 when we reached our ultimate destination, a bivouac area near Steinbruck, Belgium, in the vicinity of St Vith, practically on the German frontier.
We had made the long trip with no accidents, and only one vehicle, a half-track, had fallen out en route for repairs. It arrived one day later. We learned with relief that we were back under the command of the 1-A. There in our assembly area, we rested and performed necessary maintenance, as much as we could in view of the highly inclement weather. It rained daily, the mud was thick, and at night it became so cold that the mornings found frost on the ground.
On October 4, our CP moved to Lanzerath, and our platoons took up positions along the front in that area. This was memorable for it gave us several new experiences. The CP had been in a house once before, for a week on the outskirts of the Brest Airport, but aside from that we had carved our homes from the ground ever since we had come to France. Now the entire company was located in houses along the front.
It was a new and most welcome policy for the weather had become quite cold. Then, too, we had always operated in support of the infantry, but now there was no infantry or any other troops, the sector was defended just by our company. Most of our 3-inch (76.2-MM) guns were put in barns. A few were put in possible firing positions.
Everything was hidden or camouflaged. Squads of men were placed along the front of our sector as outposts in houses. Our company, in effect, was the long thin line of the front. Machine gun posts were established, patrols were made daily into enemy territory.
In the next 19 days, until October 29, we remained in these positions. Most of this time we had a couple officers and 36 enlisted men from the Belgium Army attached, however, they were not very active. During this period, principally as a result of our patrols, we took 13 enemy prisoners, killed 1, and wounded 3. Many of the patrols ran into enemy fire, but we suffered no casualties in our company. One of our attached Belgium soldiers was missing in action. The company command post was shelled by heavy enemy artillery on the night of October 8 but no damages or casualties were suffered, and aside from that our sector was quiet. We had one man missing during this period. He had been attached to us from Charlie Co, and he insisted on going deer hunting in no man’s land. He was not seen or heard of again.
On October 23, the company CP moved to Manderfeld, and all the platoons shifted positions also. When the move was made to Manderfeld, the Belgian Forces were all released from attachment and our own 1st Recon Platoon was attached.
Manderfeld was only a few kilometers from Lanzerath and though we had fully withdrawn from the Lanzerath area, a few days later, our second platoon moved back and set up outposts in that sector. The new positions we had taken up were the same as we had withdrawnfrom, namely, outposts and machine gun emplacements. The platoons continued to send out patrols, and a constant vigil was kept over our sector. In addition to maintaining our sector of the front, we had two of our 3 inch guns set up in anti tank positions at Roth, Germany, as support for the defending unit there. As a result of the patrols our company bagged another 14 prisoners and killed 2 of the enemy while in these positions. There were no real skirmishes or actions of any size although several of the patrols ran into fire fights. From these patrols came much information as to the strength and disposition of the enemy.
Up until December 12, when we were relieved, there were never any indications of enemy concentrations of power. From our outposts in Lanzerath, the Germans could be seen moving about in Losheim, Germany, on the hill across the way, the frontier being just between the two towns. From observations and patrol reports, the coordinates of several enemy machine guns were obtained, but due to some strange policy, our artillery, whose quota of rounds was very limited, was not allowed to fire on these targets.
Yet the German artillery was evidently not under the same restriction for they shelled us from time to time. On four occasions they threw barrages of shells into Manderfeld, some of which landed uncomfortably close to our command post positions.
During this period we suffered 3 battle casualties, all lightly wounded, and had a couple vehicles knocked out by shrapnel. The enemy also made patrols, several of which were beaten back only after they had encountered machine gun fire from our alert outposts. One such patrol, on October 31, managed to slip in close to one of the 3d Plat’s outposts. They threw hand grenades at the house in which the post was located, and knocked out the half-track with two of their potato masher grenades. The patrol was driven back by small arms fire from the house, and it was not known whether or not any damage was inflicted on the patrol, due to the darkness of the night.
It was also in October that we had our first experience with Hitler’s V-1. We saw the flame from the jet moving rapidly across the sky at night, and as it drew nearer and passed overhead, we could hear the irregular sputtering of its jet propulsion. At first, the sight of these buzz bombs was quite a novelty, but they soon became commonplace, as many of them passed overhead directed at targets deeper in Belgium and France. So many of them passed over our sector that AAA outfits were moved into the vicinity. We were soon dodging our own ack ack fire, as low bursts of shells would go astray.
The V-1 was an exceedingly small target and moved tremendously fast. It seemed to us that the ack ack fire was useless, but we were told that it was not necessary to hit the buzz bomb, that near misses had the effect of turning it from its course. Nevertheless, we did not like our friendly ack ack fire, for some of the rounds knocked holes in the nearby houses, and to tell the truth, we were not any too anxious to have any of those infernal machines detonated in our immediate vicinity.
On November 30, a buzz bomb crashed into a house on the outskirts of Manderfeld, just 150 yards south of the CP. We felt the concussion, and we saw what was left of the house, which was practically nothing. It had been scattered over a 75-yard area. Only the battered remnants of three walls remained and it was impossible to tell that it had been a three-story house before. Several other V-1s had fallen within a radius of a mile or so.
We had heard the blast and the concussion had shaken the windows. We had all continued to believe, however, that the ones falling in our area were defective and not directed at us. But early in December, one crashed into the house on the corner less than 100 yards from the CP. Fortunately, it did not detonate, the area was immediately evacuated within a several hundred yard radius until a bomb disposal unit arrived and disarmed the contraption. From then on when we heard the irregular throbbing of an approaching buzz bomb, we would pause from our activities, and wait until it had passed over. We were sweating them out.
The first snow fell on November 8 while we were in Manderfeld. It snowed for three days to blanket the ground by a good two feet. Since the weather was consistently cold now the snow lasted for over two weeks. Some lively snowball fights ensued. There were some civilians in the town, and a few of the more comely young ladies were the attractive and not too unwilling targets for the missiles. Actually they did a little more than take care of themselves, for these girls were strong from hard labor, they could dish it out too.
We had stayed in Manderfeld so long that we really felt quite at home there. The town was in the Malmedy Province. In fact Province of Liège, but the people, although theoretically citizens of Belgium were nearly all of German birth and descent. For the province had been German until given to Belgium after World War I, and it had been one of the first provinces retaken by the Germans in this war. The people spoke German, and we were never too sure where their sympathies were in this war. St Vith, a larger town to the west of us ten miles, had been strongly pro German. However, the civilians never gave us the slightest bit of trouble in the Manderfeld area, and indeed, they were extremely cooperative.
Early in December, S/Sgt Brannon, the platoon sergeant of the 3rd Platoon, received a battlefield commission and became 2/Lt Brannon. Sleepy Brannon had been a very capable and popular leader in Able 612 since its organization, and news of his commission was received everywhere with approval. He immediately was given the leadership of the 3rd Platoon which he had helped train and lead for two years.
We really had it made in Manderfeld. All the men in the company were stationed in houses, where they were warm and comfortable, despite the rigors of winter outside. Each man had his own individual bed. There was ample living space for all. We had much leisure time, duties were relatively light, and we all more than caught up on our reading and our correspondence. We ate very good, for not only were we drawing good rations, we were also supplementing our regular diet with succulent steaks. The Germans had deserted the area in [no man’s land] leaving many cows behind.
Our informal volunteer patrols would go out from time to time and return with choice beef cuts on the hoof. To top it all off, the last few weeks that we stayed in Manderfeld the electricity was restored and we were really living in luxury.
What few radios we had were brought into use. We heard the AEF broadcasts, and it was a genuine pleasure to hear a radio again. The comfortable surroundings in which we were established gave many of us our first opportunity to indulge in a card game since coming to France.
All in all, the time we spent in this area was the most pleasant that we had ever spent in the army. We had at last found a home in the army. These things we remember best about the Manderfeld sector, and it was with genuine regret that we heard disquieting rumors about leaving there. During this time passes to Paris were authorized and we sent our first men in November. We were permitted to send a man at intervals from then on until we reached Kassel in Germany and the distance became too great. Rest camps had also been set up by division and by corps, and we were given regular quotas for both camps. Every man in the company had an opportunity to go to the division rest camp at Vielsalm, Belgium. The rest camp provided warm showers and a change of clothing, in addition to USO shows and recreational facilities. In the town of Vielsalm, the bars were open, and they did a thriving business from the thirsty men. It was something different, and provided excellent relaxation from the humdrum routine of our daily life.
Yet many times we had idly speculated upon the ease with which an enemy attack could roll through our lines in this sector. We were alert, but we had neither the strength nor the weapons to check any large force, and we knew there were no reserves behind us to call upon. Our lines were so thin, it was so far between our posts that it would have been possible to march a company through our posts without it being detected. We were not, however, alarmed because we had every reason to believe that the enemy was just as weak as we were in this sector. We were therefore; very disgruntled at being withdrawn from our positions on December 12, although subsequent events showed that it was the best thing that ever happened to us.
It was a cold bleak day on Dec 12 when, having been released from Task Force X. Task force X was formed of HQs Co and Able Co 612, King 612, Cannon Co 9-IR, Dog 741-TB and the Belgian Namur Co (Belgian Secret Army), with Lt Col Jos M. Deeley in command. The CP was established in Manderfeld, and the mission was the defending on a 9000 yard front facing the Siegfried Line in the vicinity of Manderfeld. Baker 612 was attached to the 23-RCT in the vicinity of Winterspelt and Charlie 612 (less 2 Cos attached to the 38-IR, in the vicinity of Bleialf, Germany). Charlie 612’s 2nd Platoon was attached to the 9-IR
Our company pulled out of the positions we had occupied in the Manderfeld sector. Snow was falling, and the roads were coated with ice as we drove some 20 miles back through St Vith, then north to Sourbrodt. We arrived there early in the afternoon, billets were crowded, but it was only for one night. We slept on the floor, crowded, but anything was better than the biting cold of outside. The next day we moved from the battalion assembly area at Sourbrodt to Höfen, just over the Belgian border in Germany, where the platoons took up direct fire positions. We viewed the seemingly quiet town askance as we moved into it, for it represented the first time that our company had completely moved its operations onto German soil. Then, too, we had heard rumors that we were to take part in a big drive to crack the Siegfried Line.
All during the autumn months the 1-A had been hammering at the German line in the sector just north of Höfen, and had made slow progress against fanatic resistance. It seemed that it was the mission of the 2-ID to flank these defenses that had proved so troublesome.
Our first few days in Höfen were deceptively quiet. One battalion of the 99-ID, which occupied the town, had been there for a month and seen no action on the part of the enemy. We got all our positions set up, and became comfortably established in houses. We had just become relaxed in our new surroundings when all hell broke loose. Early in the morning of December 16, the Germans rocked our little town of Höfen with a heavy artillery barrage, throwing shells all over the area.
The infantry called us to warn us of an enemy attack, and just at that time small arms fire sounded from one of our outposts manned by a squad from the 3rd Platoon. It was pitch black. The hour was 0530. The air was filled with the whining and crashing of shells as our artillery went into action to answer the German challenge. Everyone was officially alerted, but it was unnecessary for we were all up and in arms.
The 3rd Platoon post, which had opened fire, now had a machine gun in operation also. The post was near the crest of a hill, about 200 yards from the company CP. The tracers were plainly visible, but due to the extreme dark and the slope of the hill, the command post was unable to contribute supporting fire. Another squad of the 3rd Platoon nearby moved their machine gun out of the house to the road where they could fire supporting fire. The beleaguered post was under heavy and small arms fire, nearly surrounded, and the reinforcement was badly needed. There were so many of the enemy attacking that it seemed that our thin infantry line must have been broken or withdrawn.
A call to the battalion command post assured us that the infantry line was still intact, and that they would not withdraw. The machine guns were still chattering and small arms barked continuously. The situation was extremely grave, not only for the hard pressed outpost, but for the entire sector, for if the Germans succeeded in cracking into town, their initial striking force could be swelled to a thousand or more men in a few minutes, and then all our defenses would be flanked and could be attacked from the rear. We could not have held the town, and it is doubtful if any of us could have escaped. We learned later from German prisoners that such was their plan, that a large force was waiting to wade in if a wedge could be driven into our lines.
As the battle raged around our outpost, our artillery continued to pour shells into the draw up which the enemy was attacking. The enemy artillery was still active, but it was far outnumbered now by the tremendous amount of American artillery, for it seemed that every piece within miles was firing on our sector. It was at this stage of the battle that we received one of those rare breaks that turn the tide. An artillery shell set fire to the house directly in front of our besieged outpost, and as the flame swept over the house, it threw illumination all over the scene to the great aid of the defenders. They could now see the area they were defending, the attackers were forced to take cover, and they sought refuge in a house further down the slope.
There they were pinned down as our men poured fire into the doors and windows. We all sweater out those incredibly long minutes until daylight. As darkness waned and streaks of gray began to show in the East, the battle subsided, then ceased entirely. The bid by the enemy had failed. We had held the town !
Around seven o’clock when it was light enough to move, several of the men led by Lt Brannon, covered by the machine gun from the outpost, went down to the house in which the enemy had sought cover. They dragged 18 prisoners out of the house, 6 of whom had been wounded. In the house they also found a couple infantrymen who had been taken by the Germans in the attack when they over ran the infantry post. In addition, there were 10 dead German soldiers counted in the immediate area.
There was no way to estimate the number of German dead and wounded that had been taken back by the withdrawing enemy, but there was every indication that a considerable number of casualties had been evacuated. We did not escape shot free in the battle, for we lost one man who was wounded by small arms fire. Although, the 3rd Platoon had borne the brunt of the attack, every man in Höfen had felt the strain, for the artillery barrages had been the heaviest we had ever undergone. Every area had been subjected to fire, but fortunately we suffered no casualties there from.
A one-man volunteer patrol from the 1st Platoon had toured the front just after daylight, and he returned with 3 German prisoners whom he had taken from a machine gun and mortar position. He had compelled them to carry the mortar back to our lines. He also reported that no man’s land was littered with German dead and wounded, that the entire area was completely torn up from artillery fire. And even as we relaxed and considered the battle won, that afternoon around 1730 hours enemy artillery shells began falling in the company command post area.
The houses adjoining the command post were hit several times, but our command post was not touched. We suffered no casualties, although two jeeps in front of the command post were knocked out. The communication wires were cut, and the wire crews went out to repair them. As night fell, we argued the advisability of sleeping in the cellars; they were cold and damp, but much safer. Many men moved to the cellars that night.
The next morning early we were alerted for an enemy attack, and the artillery barrages began to thunder again. The enemy threw many shells into Höfen, but our artillery sent them back ten for every one they threw. The attempted attack was beaten back before it reached our lines by the deadly accuracy of the American artillery. All during the day the enemy threw in harassing artillery fire. We suffered no damages or casualties, but the communications were severed often and the wire crews were very busy.
There was little sleep the night of December 17. Most of us by now were sleeping in the cellars where there was no heat and the temperature was below freezing. Moreover, the cellars were crowded and damp. But, perhaps the main reason there was so little sleep was that by now we were all fully aware of the grim situation confronting us.
Late that afternoon we had learned that the Germans attacking on a broad front had made a major breakthrough in the lines just south of us. Not only were we faced with a possible loss of our supplies, but we faced the grim prospect that we might be surrounded.
Many German Panzer divisions were sweeping westward on a wide front below us. Then, too, we knew that we were squarely in the way of one of the major German drives, that they wanted Höfen at any cost, so that they could drive into the Eupen, Verviers, Liege area, which was the supply area for the 1-A (Soumagne).
If they could get through our defenses, there was nothing but artillery behind us and they could not check an attack, they could cut the link between the 1-A and the 9-A, and seriously cripple the 1-A. We must hold at any price, we knew the Germans would attack again. Guards were doubled. The night was never quiet, shells fell every few minutes, and many of our own shells so close that it was almost impossible to tell if they were incoming or outgoing.
The enemy artillery barrage opened at 0330 on the morning of December 18. It was heavy, and while it was still in progress the enemy attack began. This time the enemy threw in armor too, for approximately 20 tanks were estimated to be supporting the attack. Our artillery opened up, by now we had learned that we had one battalion of 155’s and four battalions of 105’s in direct support of our sector, it was easy to see that we had for the air was mad with screaming shells as they battered the attacking enemy. Our artillery hammered away for hours, the German armor was driven back, but many of the attacking paratroopers managed to reach our lines. There was much small arms fire all along the front, so we sweated out those long hours of darkness every man at his post.
The German tanks tried a flank attack, and again our artillery drove them back. Some of the enemy infiltrated our lines. The tanks that had been unable to reach the town now began firing direct fire at the town. One could hear the muffled boom of the gun, a shrill whistle, and a blast as the projectile struck. Evidently the enemy had decided to shoot the works for they unleashed their rockets against us now.
It seemed like hundreds of them at a time would come screaming at us. In the distance they made a humming noise, which increased in pitch to a screaming whistle as they approached. It was a grand gigantic Fourth of July celebration when they crashed and cracked all over the area, but considerably more deadly. But, despite the enemy’s barrages of artillery, rockets and direct fire, all their attacks were beaten back. None of us who weathered the stormy days at Höfen can ever give too much praise to the American artillery. We loved them !
Again, as daylight approached the fury of the attack subsided. As we counted noses and checked up, we found that we had one man killed by small arms fire, and two men lightly wounded. We had one 3-inch gun knocked out, and two jeeps hit by enemy shells.
Not long after daylight, we suffered a further blow when Lt Penton, platoon leader of the 2nd Platoon, and one of his men were wounded by small arms fire. Daylight made possible the mopping up of the paratroopers who had infiltrated our positions. The 1st Platoon killed one and took five prisoners, while the 3rd Platoon killed one in their area.
The forces that had attacked were estimated to be of regimental strength. This day passed much like the proceeding two days, but in addition to the harassing artillery and rocket fire, our day was made further miserable by spasmodic bursts of direct fire from enemy tanks. They moved into concealed to fire again. The rockets fell all over the town from time to time, they always came in great numbers. Telephone lines were severed, and repaired many times. Checking the lines became a dreaded ordeal, for a barrage was just as apt to fall while the line was being checked as not. Several times the line crews were caught in the open, but no one was hurt. We checked all the houses in our vicinity for paratroopers who might have infiltrated, and as long as we remained in Höfen this check up became part of our daily routine.
During the afternoon of the 18, we received very bad news. Baker 612 and our 1st Recon Plat attached, had been surrounded in Büllingen, Belgium, by a superior force of enemy Panzer, and had been compelled to surrender. They had just moved into the town, and many of their 3 inch guns were still coupled to the half-tracks. They did manage to get 1 gun in action, and it accounted for 2 tanks, before the sheer hopelessness of the situation induced the surrender.
They were suffering casualties, and they were unable to make a defense. A few men made a run for it and escaped to tell the story. The overall picture was gloomy too, for the German offensive was still driving westward unchecked. The weather had been cloudy and overcast, so much so that our superior air force was unable to help.
In our general area, the veteran 2-ID, which had launched a successful drive into the Siegfried Line a few days prior to the German offensive, had been compelled to give up its hard won emplacements in the line and fall back into defensive positions. Despite the confusion and the fact that their right flank had been turned, the division had done a masterful job and was now presenting a strong line to the enemy in our south. We were confident that they would hold, that was the only cheerful note in all these troubled hours.
In view of the importance of our position, and the fate of Baker 612, we were determined that we would hold. There would be no surrender or retreat. By now the terrific strain was beginning to tell on everyone, faces were drawn, we were all tired from lack of sleep, and coffee and cigarettes were inadequate nourishment. An estimated 500 rounds of enemy artillery fell in our company area on December 18, and the constant battering affected us all. Houses in Höfen were hit many times and shell bursts in the front yard were no novelty. The night brought darkness, but little relaxation as spasmodic shelling continued. There were reports of enemy patrol activity to increase the tension. Our own artillery was very active. We constantly prayed that they would not run out of ammunition.
The next morning we received bitter news. During the night an enemy combat patrol had penetrated the lines, and surrounded one of our posts. They had attacked it with automatic weapons and hand grenades. One man escaped to tell about it. The machine gun had been jammed when a bullet had bent the receiver and put it out of action. Several of the men had been wounded and further defense being futile, the post had been compelled to surrender. We suffered eleven men missing in action, some wounded, but all prisoners. This was the heaviest single blow that our company had ever had to take, and we all felt deep personal loss. There had been an attack by the enemy, but it had been beaten back.
The shelling continued throughout the day, and approximately 600 rounds fell in the area but no casualties resulted. The strain had been terrific; two of our men showed signs of cracking up and had to be evacuated. The rest of us gritted our teeth and reflected on how much worse it would have been had we remained in the Manderfeld – Lanzerath sector that had been completely overrun the first day of the German offensive. We looked at the sullen gray skies and low clouds that held our air force on the ground, and cursed our evil fortune. The German drive into Belgium was still unchecked, and we began to wonder.
Another attack was beaten back on December 21, but by now it began to appear that the Germans no longer had the confidence of their first attacks that had swept almost into town, and at one time had threatened to surround us. They seemed more content to sit back and hurl their rockets and artillery at us. We suffered no casualties or damages, other than the severance of communications, which kept the wire crews busy. Some paratroopers had been dropped during the night, and our third platoon killed four, while the second platoon killed one and captured one. We had no good news to cheer us, but we were becoming expectant, we felt that the tide was turning. There was no attack on December 22. As on the day before, only about 50 rounds of artillery fell near our positions.
We had one man lightly wounded. The news was all good, the German drive had been slowed considerably. The skies had cleared, and the allied air forces were out in great strength hammering the enemy. The tide of battle had turned. The next day approximately 150 rounds of artillery fell in our areas, and although the second platoon command post was hit twice, we suffered no casualties. A buzz bomb fell about 150 yards from the first platoon but inflicted no damages. Two days later we had one man lightly wounded, but the fight for Höfen was over. The Germans did not attack again, nor did they throw much artillery until the day we left.
On the morning of December 29, as we were preparing to move out, the 1st Platoon was shelled and we had one more casualty. It was with genuine relief that we departed from Höfen. We had been through hectic days there, and our company had suffered much. These had been days of trial for the American armies; they had stood the test and were now hammering the enemy back to where he had started from.
We left our 3 inch guns behind us, in the positions where they had been dug in, and there they were taken over by the TD Company that relieved us. The 3 inch guns were of no use to us now, although they had served us well as we had served them, for we were withdrawing from the front in order to effect a reorganization of our battalion, from which we were to emerge as a self propelled company.
It was a long cold 45 miles from Höfen to a place know to us as the Château, and located around 3 miles east of Verviers, Belgium, where we were billeted while the steps necessary to our reorganization were taken. Living conditions were cramped, as most of our battalion was assembled within the one large building that constituted the Château. For two days we waited while the necessary paper work was done, and then we received our new weapons, the M-18 Tank. They were light, highly maneuverable, fast tanks. They weighed about 18 tons, mounted 3 inch guns (76.2-MM), and were capable of terrific speeds even in reverse. For a few days we had classes on the guns, intercom and communications system, driving, and other orientation sessions.
Then, on January 2 1945, we moved out of the Chateau in Verviers. Through swirling snowflakes, and over icy roads we made our way back to the front. The company moved into the town of Elsenborn, Belgium, with the 2nd Platoon in Nidrum, some 3 miles away. This sector of the front was already heavily defended, since it was the northern pivot of the 1-A’s line during the Battle of the Bulge.
Our mission was to select positions along the front from which it would be possible for us to check a tank attack should one come. It had been snowing for several days. The snow was deep; the days were cold and dark. We all lived in houses, and everyone stayed indoors as much as possible. The civilians had been evacuated from the town, as they had been at Höfen.
Still, we made the necessary reconnaissance trips, and all drivers and tank commanders familiarized themselves with the routes to our selected positions, the terrain in general, and possible enemy approach routes. Aside from this, and any necessary maintenance on the vehicles, we devoted all our energies to keeping warm. The entire month of January was characterized by snow and biting cold.
On January 10, enemy mortar shells fell in the area of the CP and the platoons. There were no casualties, although, one jeep was damaged by shrapnel. On January 12, two men were lightly wounded when they set off a Booby Trap while on reconnaissance in Germany. The very severe weather hampered any would be operations, and the front on our sector was comparatively inactive. On January 20, the company command post and two of the platoons moved to Camp Elsenborn, slightly over a mile away. We had only bare buildings for barracks, and we jokingly called it our concentration camp since it was surrounded by barbed wire, but it was considerably better than staying outdoors. While we were there, each of the platoons had an opportunity to fire indirect fire. They alternated at the positions, firing several hundred rounds each.
In the meantime the Russians, who had not launched any large attack for many months, suddenly burst through the German lines, which ran roughly north and south through Warsaw, Poland, and began to drive with great power towards Germany. For weeks they recorded deep advances, before they were finally checked at the Oder River, less than 40 miles from Berlin. During their drive, we eagerly awaited every bit of news. It was grand for our morale, and for the first time we felt a true appreciation for our allies on the other side of Germany.
On January 26, while moving into a direct fire position, one tank hit an enemy mine. One man was lightly wounded when it blew a track. The next day, the company CP moved to Nidrum, only 2 miles away.
The same day the 2nd Platoon positions were shelled, and shrapnel lightly wounded one man. On the last day of the month, the infantry pushed off again. We were once more headed into the German defenses, and into Germany itself.
On February 1, the Company Commander’s group moved forward to an advance command post beyond Büllingen. The platoons were already on the prowl in support of the infantry. To the 2-ID, the route was an old one, for they had fought their way into the Siegfried Line here, just before the German offensive in December had turned their flank and they had been compelled to withdraw.
In another day they had driven into the Monschau Forest, and retaken Heartbreak Crossroads, almost without a fight this time. In the vicinity of this vital crossroads were 27 large steel reinforced concrete pillboxes, which had been a costly and difficult line to crack some six weeks before, when our infantry had taken them the hard way. We all breathed much easier when the resistance was light this time. Driving beyond Heartbreak Crossroads, so named by the infantry for obvious reasons, we passed through the major defenses of the enemy lines.
On February 3rd, the platoons and advance command post reached the Schlieden – Harperschied sector. Here, the German defenses stiffened, and we checked our attack to wait for the forces on our flanks to catch up with us. We had spearheaded the 1-A drive for an advance of approximately twenty miles. We had suffered one casualty, but we had come through some intense artillery fire, and we had been fortunate that we had not had more casualties. The 3rd Platoon had fired 4 rounds of HE and several hundred rounds of 50 caliber at German personnel, killing 15 of them.
The area we had advanced through had been heavily pounded by our air forces as they had struck at retreating enemy columns withdrawing from the Battle of the Bulge. Nearly all of the buildings had been partially destroyed, and there were very few good roofs if any within twenty miles. The house that served as the company command post at Harperschied had a shattered roof, and rain or snow dripped through. The front view from the house revealed nothing but a shambles where the buildings in front had been leveled to the ground by direct hits. Aside from minor changes in positions, we remained in this sector until February 24. The biting cold weather of December and January had passed; and it was becoming much warmer.
There were a few snow flurries, but the winter’s snow had melted and the spring thaw had set in. The platoon positions were shelled from time to time. On February 9, the 1st Platoon had one M-18 and one M-20 damaged, but no casualties. On February 16, we had one man killed by enemy artillery fire when the 2nd Platoon was shelled at Bronsfeld, Germany. We had one other man lightly wounded by enemy artillery in this sector.
On February 24, the entire company moved to Dreiborn, a distance of six miles. Here, we performed whatever maintenance was required. We remained at Dreiborn until March 4. We were expecting to move daily, and we had the feeling that our next move would be an all out drive on the Rhine River. The Germans had been compelled to withdraw some troops from our front to check the Russian drives, which they had finally been able to do.
But, now, the entire American front was beginning to erupt, and on March 4 we moved into action. We had one platoon with each battalion of the 9-IR (2-ID), and we began the series of moves that took us to the Rhine in one week. Our route twisted and turned through one small German town after another, but ever we drew closer and closer to our objective.
Most of the towns were taken without much opposition, and the white flags flew from every building, even the barns. This was the vaunted Fatherland of the Nazis but the people had no stomach for a fight. They were thoroughly whipped and they knew it. We moved several times a day, and our days were long. We had two men wounded by artillery fire on this advance.
On March 7, the 2nd Platoon knocked out 9 general vehicles killing approximately 100 Germans. While on the same day, the 3rd Platoon ran into some opposition : knocked out one Mark VI King Tiger, 4 Field Artillery Guns, 3 Anti-aircraft guns, 1 machine gun nest, and 4 general purpose vehicles. In addition, the 3rd Platoon captured 4 vehicles and some 30 prisoners. On March 10, the 2nd Platpoon had another inning with the enemy and fired 11 rounds of HE and 700 rounds of 50 caliber to account for an estimated hundred Germans. Until we had begun this drive we had seen few German civilians, since they had either fled before our attack or been evacuated.
During our push to the Rhine, we lived in houses with German civilians. They were segregated in one section of the house for security purposes, and all conversation with them was forbidden. Yet, it was impossible to avoid all speech and to see their attitudes. They were shocked at the swiftness of the American advance, a little afraid of us but curious about us, and relieved that the long war was over for them. Their minds had been poisoned for so long by German propaganda, that despite the fact that we were conquerors, they were still arrogant and could not conceive of themselves as being losers in a total war.
They would argue and wheedle until the American soldier raised his voice or showed anger. It was obvious that the average German thought that he was a superior being, could not understand that we insolent Americans could order him around, but had sufficient respect for force to obey. They knew the war was lost, and would give us no forcible resistance, but they were still German and it took a show or threat of force to remind them that they now occupied a subordinate position.
Our drive to the Rhine halted in the vicinity of Waldorf, the company command post being located there on the March 10. In the meantime, the entire American front had been active, Koln had fallen to the 1-A, which had closed its front all along the west bank of the Rhine River. The company was assembled in Burgbrohl on March 12 where we performed maintenance and prepared for the next move. It was while we were there that we learned that the 1-A had seized intact a bridge over the Rhine at Remagen, and had succeeded in establishing a firm bridgehead over the Rhine.
This was remarkably good news and we didn’t need a crystal ball to see that the Remagen Bridge led to the end of the war. We felt that we were destined to join the bridgehead forces. The bridgehead was just north of us along the river, and we saw several of the German planes, which attempted to bomb the bridge. As we waited for the orders that would take us over the Rhine, we reflected upon the swiftness of the drive that brought us to the Rhine. Would we move as rapidly into the Germany beyond the Rhine, would the white flags continue to wave, and would the war end soon ! We wondered much, but not many opinions were expressed. Even as we sat in the warm spring sun at Burgbrohl, the platoons brought in six German prisoners including an officer.
For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Email : gunter [at] eucmh.be
Thank You for your support !
(NB : Published for Good – July 2019)