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October 2020
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US Army

Lt Eric F. WOOD and the 589th Field Artillery Battalion

Lt Eric F. WOOD and the 589th Field Artillery Battalion

Lt Eric F. WOOD
The next three days we traveled by truck through France and into Belgium, arriving in the vicinity of St. Vith, Belgium on the 8th of December.  We passed through the towns of Amiens, Cambrai, and Maubeuge and saw a lot of bomb craters and German equipment which had been destroyed and even some of the trenches remaining from the First World War.  We went into bivouac near the village of Wallerode, Belgium.  On December 9th we moved into line about 1.5 miles south of Auw, Germany.  We replaced a battery of the 2nd Infantry Division, gun for gun, as the 106th was relieving this division in the line.  We were later told that when we had registered our gun (this is when the guns were aligned and coordinated for battle) our gun had fired the first round for our division.  The days between December 10th and the 15th were spent in getting used to living in the field and firing missions at targets in Germany. The men we relieved had built a hut, so we didn’t have to live in tents.
 
Everything was peaceful.  We were told that this was a quiet sector and that we were just to get used to combat.  We fired a lot of harassing missions at night, mostly aimed at sounds heard by our forward observers.  The weather during this period was cloudy, with fog lasting for most of the daylight hours.  We saw a lot of German VI rockets, (more commonly known as Buzz Bombs) fly over our position.  We were positioned under the path of their targets in Liege, Belgium and the English mainland.
 
I will include excerpts from the 589th Field Artillery Battalion history to relate what happened to our battery and battalion on the 16th of December 1944, the day the Battle of the Bulge started….
 
Our first day of real battle was very harrowing.  Our gun was unable to fire on the tanks which appeared in front of our position since a log fence had been built around our gun and one of the upright posts of the fence was right in line with the tank.  Also, a German artillery shell had buried itself in the mud about 20 feet in front of our gun, but luckily it was a dud and didn’t explode.  That night, as we were loading up to move back to a new position, machine gun fire with tracers continually flew over our heads.  We were on the edge of a wooded area and the Germans were firing just above the tops of the trees.  The enemy must have mistaken the tree tops for the ground.
 
We left the position and it took us all night to travel only a few miles back toward the little village of Schonberg, Belgium to the location that had been picked for our new position.  As soon as our section was told where to go into position, we got busy and unhooked the gun from our 6 X 6 truck and unloaded all our ammunition.  The other three gun sections seemed to be distracted and hadn’t unhooked their guns or done anything to get ready to fire.  No sooner had we made everything ready than someone came running down through the position yelling “March Order!  Get out of here, the Germans are coming!”  A weapons carrier then pulled into the lane between where our truck had parked and the howitzer and the weapons carrier got stuck in the mud.  We closed trails on the gun and were able to roll the gun out by hand.  We were then able to push the weapons carrier out and finally were able to move our truck down to the ammunition so that it could be reloaded onto the truck.  We hooked up the gun to the truck and drove out to the road with the hope that we were on our way to safety in St. Vith.  The other three sections had driven off at the first shout.
 
We had driven just a short distance down the road and started down the hill into the little village of Schoenberg when we suddenly saw a German armored vehicle parked in the middle of the road.  We subsequently found out that the machine we had thought was a tank was really a self-propelled gun.  Our driver stopped at once.  None of us fired our small arms, nor did the German fire at us as he was parked so that his gun was aimed down the hill and not directed toward our truck.  The German then drove off down the hill and around a curve, where we lost sight of him.  Immediately thereafter a jeep pulled up behind us and our Executive Officer, Lieutenant Eric Wood, jumped out and asked us why we had stopped.  We told him we had just seen a German tank.  He said “It couldn’t be.  It was probably an American tank”.  He climbed into the cab of our truck along with Cpl. Knoll, our driver, and Sergeant Scannapico our section leader, and said “Lets go”.
 
So off we went, down the hill, around the curve and on toward a little stone bridge, which crossed the Our river into the middle of the little village of Schonberg.  The Lieutenant then saw a tank parked to the side of a house and said “See, it’s an American tank”.  Then he looked again and said “No it isn’t!  It’s a German tank!  Pour on the gas!”  As we passed the tank the German fired at us and missed.  Pvt. Campagna, who was manning a bazooka, fired at the German and also missed but he hit a house and blew a hole in the side of it.  We then thought we were home free and on the road to St. Vith but when we went around a curve we faced another self-propelled gun with its cannon pointed right at us.  We also saw about three or four German soldiers with automatic weapons beside the gun.  Cpl. Knoll stopped the truck and we enlisted men jumped off the truck to the Left into a ditch. Lieutenant Wood jumped out the right side and ran up the hill into the woods.
 
Immediately after we had left the truck the German’s self- propelled gun fired a round into the motor of our truck, blowing metal and shrapnel all around.
 
One American truck had been stopped before ours and when we escaped from the truck to the ditch, we found that we had joined a Lieutenant Colonel and four black soldiers from an American 155 mm artillery battalion.. After discussing the situation, and realizing that there was no cover to run to and that our few carbines would be almost useless against a bunch of automatic weapons, we decided that to do anything other than surrender would be automatic suicide.  We walked out of the ditch with our hands in the air.  Once out of the ditch, we found the truck driver, Cpl Knoll, lying in the road, shot through both ankles and also wounded with shrapnel from the artillery round which had been fired into the motor.  The Germans searched us, taking food, cigarettes, watches, etc. -- items that they thought might be useful to them.  They subsequently indicated we should start back up the road towards Germany.
 
By this time many other trucks from the 589th Artillery Battalion had come down the hill, been stopped and had their occupants captured by the enemy.  These prisoners too were making their way back up the road to Germany toward the POW camps.  I indicated that I would like to stay with the wounded CpI. Knoll and they seemed to give me the okay.  He wasn’t bleeding badly, but I am sure he was in shock.  The German infantry started coming by and every so often I would be called back to the road to be searched again till I had nothing left of value.  There was really nothing I could do for the wounded man except keep him company and hope a German medic would soon come to his aid.  Shortly thereafter, an officer came along, and with his pistol, let me know I had better start up the road into Germany.  Unfortunately, I had to leave Cpl. Knoll to his fate, which was, I found out later from his parents, that he was killed in action.
 
I started up the road and noticed Sergeant Scannapico’s body lying by the side of the road.  At which point he had left the truck I never found out, but he had probably left the cab to shoot at some infantry soldiers he had seen and was shot down.  By this time, American artillery shells being fired from somewhere near St. Vith were falling on the road which we had come down from the second position.  I did not want to walk through this barrage.  I soon noticed a lane taking off to the left.  Since there was no one to tell me which way to go, I started up this lane.  I noticed other Americans were following me.  Since there was no guard with me, I supposed that there was a guard somewhere in the back of our little column.  I kept walking up the lane.  The lane turned into a path and then finally ended up in a clearing in a wood.  About twenty or so Americans followed me into the clearing.  I asked, “Where is the guard?”  They answered “We thought he was in the front.”  Not knowing where we were or which way we should go, we started walking north away from Schonberg.
 

We walked until we came to another small village, which I think was Herresbach, which is located about two miles north of Schonberg.  Seeing no enemy, we went to the village.  Thinking that this was just a small battle, and that the Americans would be back through on the morrow, we decided to hole up in the basement of one of the houses for the night.  The owners of the house we chose seemed to be friendly and even cooked some potatoes for us.  In the middle of the night we heard lots of stamping upstairs followed by a voice calling down the basement stairs, “You are prisoners of the German Army!”

 
We had inadvertently crossed the border into Germany during our walk through the forest and someone from the village had turned us in.  My memory of the journey from the front to the prison camp is rather sketchy.
 
Source: Battle of the Bulge February 2001

Cpl J. Don HOLTZMULLER

"A" Battery

589th Field Artillery Bn

106th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium