The Strafing, November 1944
B Battery, 387th Field Artillery Battalion
This occurred just east of the German town of Weisweiler near a coal mine.
It was quite cold at the time and we had dug a pit large enough for the gun crew and we also had our field phone down there. The whole thing was covered with a tarp. We also had a small coal stove which we carried along with us for warmth.
One night we heard a low flying plane coming at us with all guns blazing and as he neared us he dropped two land mines that landed one on each side of our tractor.
Well you should have seen the wild panic that went on in the dugout. Everyone hit the dirt, including the hot stove which landed in a corner spilling hot coals on the ground. As soon as it was light enough, we went out to survey the damage and the tractor was the only victim. The machine gun bullets had hit it in the rear and worked their way along the canvas roof and through the windshield. The land mine had riddled both sides of the tractor. In fact, the whole thing looked like a big Swiss cheese.
Had Adams not been away at the time, he surely would have been killed as it was his habit to bed down for the night in the vehicle, whereas Boyd Allen slept on the floor with the rest of us. Scratch tractor number two.
We then were working on our third tractor. Lucky for it the war ended without further loss to our wheels.
That pilot knew exactly where we were, but fortunately for us, he was about thirty feet off his mark.
Me -- A Baker Man?
Nelson C. Eaton
Headquarters, 929th Field Artillery Battalion
Perhaps at no time during the war did I receive more personal satisfaction for work being done as the thirty days after May 8, 1945. We had our usual rounds of celebrating the end of the war which included killing a fifth of Schenley Reserve that was saved just for this occasion. Also, a lot of us got our first good night of sleep for several months.
This very day we had been pulled back from the front and assigned as a camp headquarters to a German prisoner of war camp. Our mission was to feed, re-cloth, clean up, and de-louse some 9,000 French and Polish soldiers who had been captured by the Germans and sent to this camp near Halle. Then we were to ship them by train back to their own country.
Early on the morning of 9 May, the Colonel called me in and said, "Lt. Eaton, these men are hungry. Bake them some bread."
Little did I realize the implications, but like a good soldier I went to work. First I had to get an interpreter who could speak for me in French and German. The next thing I did was to get a French lawyer who had learned to bake bread in the French army. The three of us arrived in this town and found three bakeries, two of which were not in operation and one was baking bread when it could get ingredients. We made arrangements to take over all three bakeries and to start to clean them up and put them in operation the next day.
That night we called for volunteer bakers from the French and Polish soldiers. We needed about 72 bakers to work three shifts at each of the three bakeries. Much to our surprise out of the 9,000 we got only eight people to report for work the next day, and half of those were friends of the lawyer. He had talked them into helping. Really though, I didn't criticize them as most of them had been PW's for over a year and their morale was low. We took the eight in to work and to get ingredients, fuel, etc. in order to start baking bread. That day I told the Colonel I wanted all the candy, cigars, and all the cigarettes he could get. That evening I gave each of the eight quite a handful and then took them back to camp for the night. The next morning we had 160 volunteers. We took our pick for the seventy-two and had during the next month people begging to help, because we treated them well and had a good time, as well as baked a lot of bread.
The flour, salt, sugar, yeast and what ever else one needs to bake bread was our chief concern. Our artillery battalion S-4 tried his best and even one day came in with a truck load of what someone sold him as flour. One of the bright Frenchmen, I can see him yet, took a sample, mixed it with water then laughed and laughed as he said, "Plaster." Finally, the first week I went down to Leipzig, took a military government officer with me, and went to a grist mill at the edge of the city. I told him every other day I would send a truck down there for a load of flour. When he asked who would pay for it, the American officer spoke up and said, "Military Government." We got our flour, and I hope he got his money.
We were able to get sugar and yeast in abundance in spite of the fact there hadn't been any around in Germany for several months.
The French like their bread to set for about three days before eating. Well, we baked and hauled, baked and hauled, and stored the extra in the back rooms of different headquarters in camp. Each man was eating close to a half a loaf a day. We gave each man a loaf as he got on the train to return home. Needless to say, everyone in camp knew me and as I drove thru, everyone greeted me as the "Baker man."
My workers were the most wonderful group I ever saw, and as I said, we treated them right. One day they reported they had found a barn and upstairs were stored some new shoes, but the owner would not let them have any. I told them to show me the place and at gunpoint the owner allowed them all a new pair of shoes.
We had plenty of sugar and I told them to look around for canned fruit, as a result they had fresh pie at all times. One day they asked me, thru my interpreter, for dinner that evening. You never saw such a feast of meat, etc. They had a big cherry cobbler about 3'x2' and 3" high, right in the middle of the table. They had decorated it with whipped cream. They were all laughing and singing and really having a good time. Of course, it added to the gayety for each of them to have a German Fraulein by his side enjoying the feast also.
The owner of the one operating bakery asked if he could use his own bakery for eight hours a day. Since he had treated us so nicely and the townspeople were so helpful, we not only let him use the bakery but supplied him with flour as a thanks for helping to get the PW's back on their feet and on their way home.
My thanks was in knowing a job was well done.
Crossing the Roer River
Glen E. Lytle
Company K, 413th Infantry Regiment
Having lived on the west bank of the Roer River for approximately two months in what was written up in "The Stars and Stripes" as the closest outpost to Berlin during the 'Battle of the Bulge", we were now ready to move on.
Approximately ten days prior to our crossing of the Roer River, we moved from Rolsdorf to Mariaweiler a short distance to the north. Late the evening of February 22, 1945, the kitchen supplied us with a hot meal, and we also were informed that this was the night for another boat ride, across the dam-filled Roer River.
This brought memories of the crossing of the Mark Canal near Standaabuiten in Holland, and whether we would make it. We knew it would come, and several had fears they would not make it, and expressed those feelings to others.
Sometime in the early morning hours on February 23, word came down through the ranks that we were to move out and move to the south toward that suburb of Duren where we had spent so many cautious nights watching the west bank of the Roer River for any infiltrating German soldiers. As we worked our way to the area where the boats had been brought in, our platoon came to a small building on the east side of the roadway. We held up in the cellar or underfloor area of this building until the hour of 0245 when the line of the Roer River burst into a ball of fire. For 45 minutes every gun of the Division Artillery, attached units and the heavy weapons of the units fired the barrage on German emplacements on the east side of the Roer. The structure that we were in felt like a haven for a time and some tried to steal a wink or two. At 0330 we assembled at the boats to move down to the water and make the trip to the east bank.
Not having any light, except for the flares and fires created by the barrage, it was difficult to find your footing. Unfortunately there were several S-Mines that were detonated on the way to the river bank. This not only wounded several from the third platoon, but also mortally wounded one of the fellows who had the premonition that he wouldn't make it.
With the help of the engineers, we were lucky enough to secure a boat which didn't leak too bad, as the shrapnel from the artillery and the mines had riddled some of the plywood transportation. Our short trip across the Roer seemed like a lifetime due to the German machine gun fire and the mortar shells coming in. As I recall, we managed to steer a fairly direct route to the east bank, as we made only one 360 on the way. As we landed on the opposite bank, I made it without hitting the water, thanks to the engineer holding the boat so that I was able to jump on to shore. I immediately searched in the dark for a hole to jump into for protection. Unfortunately I found one already occupied by a dazed German. Fortunately he was ready to end his part in the war and was waiting for an appropriate time to surrender, he had just reached that moment.
Our first objective was the paper factory a short distance to the east of the river. The barrage had apparently had its effects on the German defenders, as the assault on the paper factory went on without too much resistance. Once inside, the black became blacker except when the flares would shine through the holes in the roof created by shellings over the previous couple of months.
As dawn appeared, we found the Germans were waiting for some light to begin their sniping. This made for an interesting predicament; they were familiar with the layout of the factory and used the access and service tunnels to their benefit. When they realized they were considerably outnumbered, it didn't take long for those who had survived to surrender. The Germans troops in the area were apparently old or very young, as one prisoner we took was a fuzzy-faced 14-year-old.
With the paper factory secured, the next objective of K-413 was the asylum at the top of the 140-foot high hill in Duren. Our CO, Hayden Bower, with orders to take the asylum by 1500 hours, outlined a plan for a direct assault straight up the hill and requested artillery for 1415.
Lt. John Cook took the 1st platoon along the scenic route up the road with some cover, whereas the 3rd platoon, led by Lt. Harold Coffin, took a direct route up the hill following some aiding artillery fire. Fortunately, the open field was very lightly dusted with snow, making the S-Mines visible and we were able to step through the mine fields without setting off even one. We actually double-timed up the hill most of the way, according to Sgt. James McBride of San Augustine, Texas.
When we entered the campus-like setting at the top of the hill, Paul Groop spotted a lady disappearing down the other side of the hill pushing a baby buggy. There was cognac and food on the tables and some of the candles were still burning in the buildings. I don't know what kind of a party occurred that night, but I'll bet it was a noisy one.
Needless to say, 80 men captured our objective by 1453 and Capt. Bower called the colonel and reported we had completed the task seven minutes early. This task was accomplished without a casualty, except for the large hole torn in the left arm of my field jacket by a tree burst of a mortar shell just as we arrived at the first building of the campus. Although we called this an asylum, it was actually the "Health and Welfare Institute" of Duren. The patients had all been removed in the prior months and it had been used for observation due to the view of the west side of the river.
We buttoned up for the night just to the east of the asylum and endured a heavy counterattack early the next morning, and being surrounded on three sides, it was another night without rest. The objectives on each side were accomplished in the next 24 hours and we began to enjoy our hard-earned quarters. Then a field hospital decided to make a real hospital out of the complex.
In a day or two we began to enjoy some relaxation at the asylum and watching the doctors work by looking through the windows. Having feet requiring size 13AA shoes/boots, I was nearly the only one in the company without combat boots at that point. Watching the surgery going on in the building, an amputation provided an excess pair of combat boots. Unfortunately the size was not correct, but with a pocket knife, I cut the tops off and was then equipped with combat boots. However, it took me several days to find some nylon thread to hand stitch them to my shoes.
On the 25th of February I had bridled a horse that was at the compound and had mounted it bareback, along with a G.I. who needed to go to the aid station. Within a few hundred yards, there was the rumble of the 3rd Armored Division recon troops as they started up the hill, and as they approached the asylum, the 88s came screaming in. The horse rared; we both slid off the rear and raced to the nearest building for cover. As I entered the door into the lobby from the east, the men from the 3rd Armored Division recon had bailed out of their vehicles and came into the lobby from the west. To my surprise I stood face to face with my college roommate, Leonard Peterson. I had not seen him in 2-1/2 years, since he left school to enter the service. Unfortunately a two or three minute visit was all that was allowed as the 3rd recon moved through us. We completed the visit on several occasions after the war.
In our never-ending scenario, off we moved to Manheim to the east and toward the great city of Koln.
Mark River Crossing
Holland, October 29, 1944
Company B, 415th Infantry Regiment
After our company had moved and dug our foxholes a couple of times on the 28th, we were marching to a new position. While marching, we were given a number of a boat and were told that this would be our boat. Since we could not see any water around, naturally, this caused quite a lot of confusion in the ranks. We finally did arrive at a field that had a lot of large row boats laying on both sides of the field. We picked up our numbered boat and started walking with it. About eight to a boat. It wasn't until we started to get sniper fire that we realized we were going to make a river crossing under fire.
We crossed the river without too much fire. The company held up a short time on the bank of the river and then we went up over the road toward a farm house that was at the side of the road that was perpendicular to the road we crossed. I went past the house and dug a foxhole across the ditch. I was in the ditch a short time later relieving myself, when a couple of shells started hitting around my position. Leaning against the side of the ditch, I was able to see that a German tank drove up to 50 or 70 yards of our position and was shelling us. One of the shots hit in back of me on the other side of the ditch, and the concussion of that knocked me out. I do not know how long I was out, but it could not have been too long. I jumped back into my foxhole. I had three rifle grenades. I lobbed the grenades and hit him with one of them. Since it hit him in the front, it did not do much to him. The only thing it did was to keep him back. He backed up to between the two farm houses and shelled us from there. This was at least 100 yards away. I could see men running across the area. I kept firing at them. I did see one man climb on the tank and he must have been talking to the men inside. I fired a shot at him. It happened to be a tracer bullet. It went right between him and the tank. I kept firing at them until I ran out of shells. The only ammo I had left were three hand grenades.
It got sort of quiet after a while. The tank did not fire at us any more. After it got dark, I just stayed in my foxhole and waited to see what was happening. I was not in touch with any one at this time. I don't know how much later it was, but I heard rumbling to the rear. In the silhouette I saw three tanks and some infantry. Naturally, I thought they were GIs. I was going to say that there was a tank up front until I heard them talking. I realized they were not talking in English. I just got down in my foxhole and hoped they would pass. Instead, they parked right next to me. They were talking in a couple of groups. One group was in front of the tanks another was between the tanks and two of them were beside the tank right across the ditch from my hole. They were talking and did not seem to notice my hole at first. They stopped talking and one of them looked over my way and got on his toes to get a better look. The only thing I thought of to do was pull the pin on one of the grenades and toss it at them. When the handle clicked, I could hear one of them say "Was is das." It landed right in front of them and exploded. I don't know what happened to them, because I pulled the pin of the other two grenades and tossed them at the other two groups and started running. I was hit by a piece of shrapnel as I was running. I don't know if it was my own or the artillery that had been coming in the area.
When I started running, I realized that two other GIs were coming from the side of me. The one did not have a rifle. We came together and started running for the rear. We ran into two German infantry. The Germans had encircled our position. one of them said "Hands up." The three of us were now in a group at arms length apart. Since I was out of ammo and the other guy had no rifle, there wasn't much we could do. The other guy with us said "No" and shot one of them in the stomach. He went down screaming, but the other German shot the GI and he just dropped. The German held the gun on us while he bent down at his buddy. He just kept screaming "Hans, Hans." After a while, others came along and took us back to their headquarters. I was in a field hospital for a while where they operated on my arm. They cut away the loose skin and flesh without any anesthetic. From there I was sent to a hospital. Later I was sent to a prison camp.
NORDHAUSEN, April 1945
Nelson C. Eaton
Headquarters, 929th Field Artillery Battalion
After newtralizing the Rose pocket southwest of Paderborn, we moved east some 150 miles, meeting little resistance along the way and came, one nice sunny afternoon, to the beautiful little city of Nordhausen. We were to stay there for the night, so we acquired a house for the headquarters and prepared to rest. It wasn't but a few minutes until we received word from one of our infantry companies that they had found something big but couldn't make it out, nor could they get in. The Infantry Battalion Commander said he would go down and have a look, and asked me to go along. We arrived at this large wire and board fenced-in area with a strong lock on the gate. We soon had the lock broken, and what we found inside was beyond explanation. words cannot tell the story. It seems this was a political prisoner of war camp run by the SS (Schutzstaffel) Troopers of Hitler's Elite Corps. Any German who said anything against the Nazi regime was taken prisoner and sent to this camp. The natives said that the SS had moved out and locked up the camp the day before.
Here at this camp they used the prisoners to work on and in a factory that was located to the north of the town. Here there was a little mountain where they had dug out tunnels thru the rock and had their buzz-bomb factory there. The next day I visited this factory and there were two tunnels, one a mile long and the other 1.2 miles with connecting tunnels between. The tunnels were some 100' wide. Inside these tunnels was a production line for the making of the buzz-bombs that were fired on England after the invasion of France. There were several bombs in several stages of completion on this production line. We were told the prisoners were made to work in these tunnels until they dropped, then were taken aside, fed some soup, allowed to sleep awhile, then gotten up and made to work some more.
All this could be believed, because back at the camp there were no live prisoners, and how many were buried we didn't know, but there were hundreds, maybe thousands, laying around in nearly every state of decomposure. Some bodies were laying in open trenches, some were stacked in buildings, and others were piled out in the open. Most of them, you could see their spinal columns thru their stomach muscles, and their appendages were nothing but skin and bones. Walking thru a building we saw movement from one of the bodies. A lieutenant picker the body up with one hand and put it in his jeep and took him to one of our hospitals. This was the only prisoner that showed life in the whole camp. Of primary importance was to get the bodies buried, so that evening an order was issued for every man in town to report the next morning with a blanket in order to carry the bodies to a common grave. A rather amusing thing happened across the street from our headquarters. The man of the house thought we were going to kill them, so that night he hung himself in his garage.
The stench at the camp was nearly unbearable, and it was a common sight to see the soldiers with a handkerchief over their noses, trying to filter out the odor. I well remember four army nurses coming into the camp to look around, and they soon left, saying it was more than they could stand. The next day it seemed life personnel from all the higher headquarters were there for investigation, so that afternoon we moved on, leaving the clean up and speculation to them.
All the people in town knew there was a camp at this location, but I understand that few knew the purpose and conditions at the camp. Recently there was published in the American Legion magazine an article on how they found the blue prints of the V-2 bombs in a cave some few miles from this factory.
Well, there it is in all its horror. As was mentioned, this was the work of the SS Troopers, and I might mention that from that day one, few of the Schutzstaffels were taken alive as prisoners by our unit.
Thank goodness we won the war.
The Case of an Errant Grenade
Company D, 415th Infantry Regiment
The place was a small town somewhere between the Ruhr and Rhine Rivers. We would travel by jeep in convoys until we ran into some opposition and then hole up until the resistance let up. At this one town (I don't know the name), it was getting late in the afternoon when we began to get some mortar and artillery rounds coming in rather close. We decided to hole up in some of the houses on the outskirts of town.
We observed some smoke coming out of a house about 100 feet to the right of the house we were occupying. It appeared that each time some smoke came out of the chimney there would be more mortar or artillery shells landing in our general area. We didn't know who was in the house so it was decided that my squad should check out the house to see what was going on.
We advanced cautiously until we reached the front door - which we proceeded to open without any keys! Straight ahead was a stair going down to the cellar and we could see a number of people huddled in fear of the Americans they knew were in the area. They had one of those smelly lamps which provided the only light.
I went down the stairs with my rifle at the ready and forgot that I also had two hand grenades handing from my jacket collar. Since the stairway had a low ceiling, I had to bend quite low so I wouldn't bang my head. I was only about half way down the stairs when one of the grenades fell off my jacket and rolled down the stairs. One of the German men in the basement grabbed the grenade - and reached up to give it to me. Phew!! For a minute I thought I would get the grenade back with the pin pulled. As it turned out those people in the basement were elderly civilian men and women and they were just trying to keep warm by burning wood in the stove. We checked the stove and with our very limited use of German told them not to put any more wood in the stove until we moved out of town.
As we went up the stairs to go back to our own house we had a real surprise. Here was the nose of a bomb (a big one) sticking through the stone wall, right next to the stairs. Apparently it was a dud that never exploded. You can bet we moved faster after seeing that. Now I wonder who got the job to disarm that bomb and remove it after the war was over.
To Friends Back Home In 1945
A Battery, 387th Field Artillery Battalion
Dear Joe and members of the Converting Department,
I received your package containing cake, candy, nuts and pretzels, tonight. Everything was in good condition. Thanks a million. Things like that really taste good over here. Theres no P.X. around the corner; just the ruins of another house.
There isnt a heck of a lot to write about, especially since I just wrote a few days ago.
How would you like to hear about one day of combat? I couldnt say typical day of combat because there is no such thing, to my knowledge. Ive yet to see two days the same. Perhaps Ive told this before, but here goes anyway.
I was there, on the liberation of a little town in Holland. After going as far as possible in the jeep, I got out and walked, with the doughboys. After walking several miles, with no excitement, everyone dove for a ditch. It was a false alarm but you cant land knee deep in water and not get wet feet. I got wet feet; all the way up to the knees.
On I walked, for a couple more miles. Through woods, country and tiny villages. As I walked, people threw apples and pears. Sometimes the women would bring hot coffee along the way; doing their bit to show their appreciation of being freed. When we neared the town, a Dutch patriot showed the leader where the Germans had left land mines, and booby traps at a railroad crossing. The Dutch said the Germans had left the town. However, caution prevailed. By now it was nearly dark and the center of town reached with no excitement. Suddenly there was a whistle and a bang, as a shell hit about half a block away. The next few were landing just across the street but by then I was in a house. The man and woman living there spoke English. They served tea and were very pleasant. I left there late at night to look for the place I was supposed to be. The night was dark and rainy. It isnt a nice feeling to be wandering about the streets of a strange town after dark, when you dont know how many snipers it hides. While hunting for this place a followed a few guards bringing in a few P.W.s. Suddenly a shot rang out and a man fell, yelling and sobbing, but the sniper had shot one of his own men. The P.W. died there shortly. Somehow you just dont feel worry for a dead German: a dead horse arouses more feeling.
I found the place for which I was hunting, a short time later. It was an old barn. I had no blankets and my feet were still damp so I burrowed into a pile of dry bean pods to spend the few remaining hours of the night.
The evening before, the people stood around in little excited groups, jabbering among themselves and waving at us.
This morning it was different. People of all ages and both sexes were dressed in their best, scurrying everywhere. Everyone wore an orange hair ribbon, arm band, buttons, or carried an orange flag to denote their loyalty to the royal house of Orange. Orange flags, the Dutch flag, and allied flags flew from windows and buildings everywhere. Where they hid all these things while the Germans were there, I dont know, but somehow they did. While I waited there on the corner, a young Dutch lad came over and talked to me. He spoke English well. In a few minutes a couple girls came by and they too stopped and talked. I asked how they learned to speak English. They told me they had studied it for three years. "We knew you would come", they said. Ive heard that often. They said the Nazis were cruel. They enforced a strict seven oclock curfew even in the summer-time. The one girl said that they took everything they wanted and she put special emphasis on the "everything". I was telling them a little of the U.S.A. and they were telling me a little of Holland, when a commotion started up the street. The girls said that the underground had just caught another Nazi Collaborationist and would soon deal with him. By evening several houses were marked with big swastikas. One had a few words on the door. I was told that the mans wife there "went with many Nazis."
Soon the ones I was waiting for came and I had to leave. Im still sorry that I didnt get the addresses of the young trio for I know that they could write English because the one girl writes to a girl in England. I think she and my sister would have enjoyed corresponding.
Oh yes, the girl above was quite excited with the prospect of seeing her boyfriend again. He was working with the underground, somewhere beyond the reach of the Nazis. He could visit her again, now, she thought.
So ends the story of the first twenty-four hours of a liberated town. It makes you feel pretty good to be cheered and befriended by the people of those towns. You know that you are doing something. Of course, there are towns that must be won, house by house, blasted and battered to trash and rubble, but this was one of the better towns to remember.
Here there are no cheers, waves, and friendly smiles but they arent expected. If you see a civilian, you ignore him. You arent rude, nor are you friendly. They just cant be trusted. I once thought that there must be good Germans who didnt believe in Hitler but Ive changed my mind. I have yet to enter a house that has no sign of Nazism, no swastikas, no pictures of Hitler, no photos of uniformed youth, no copies of Nazi books, or booklets, and Ive been in many houses.
The story of Nazis destroying Religion isnt quite true here in Germany. Theyve merely incorporated it with Hitler. Cards with pictures of Christ and Hitler on it are not uncommon. Nor are pictures of Hitler with a sort of halo over his head.
All in all, Ive learned to hate the German, and all he stands for. When a German plane is shot down near us, we cheer as we once did at our ball games.
Golly, this is almost a book. Id better dry up for the time being.
(Somewhere in Germany)
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