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US Army

A Poor Set-Up at Best

 

A Poor Set-Up at Best
 
One afternoon during the first days of the Bulge (I don't remember the exact date), six members of my squad and myself, mine platoon, AT 289, were ordered to set up a road block together with a tank destroyer on a hillside road in the vicinity of Grandmenil, Belgium.  When we arrived at the site the tank destroyer was already in place at a 90 degree bend in the road and its crew was camouflaging their machine with nearby pine limbs.  Our truck driver Joe Pieprzyca (yep, the spelling is correct) backed our 6x6 truck and mines trailer about a quarter mile from a stream bridge to a spot about 50 yards down the road from the tank destroyer.  A rather trivial point to make at this time, but it's significance will be seen later.
 
We spent the remainder of the day light hours scratching out a shallow, poor foxhole in the frozen ground and rocks, and assembling a "daisy chain."  In case you may have forgotten, a "daisy chain" is a group of anti-tank mines tied together about two feet apart with a length of rope long enough to extend out to the location of its operators.  In this case from the far side of the road where the mines are assembled to the foxhole where we sat waiting for a tank to come down the road.  The object was to let the tank get almost to the "daisy chain" rope and then pull the mines suddenly into the path of the oncoming tank.  Incidentally the name "daisy chain" originated from the fact that those who operated "daisy chains" often wound up pushing up daisies.
 
So now with the road block established, the tank destroyer crew waited in their vehicle and two of us at a time sat one hour on duty and two hours off duty freezing in our foxhole while waiting for the enemy.  During the off duty, we tried to thaw out enough in the back of the 6x6 to sleep but it was almost hopeless.  And it was cold!  All six of us had frost bite if not frozen hands and feet, to this day I still feel the effects of that night.  Both of my hands and feet cannot take any cold weather and my feet have such poor circulation that I cannot wear anything but 100% cotton socks.  So back to the ordeal.
 
The night passed relatively quiet with only sporadic small arms fire and an occasional mortar in the distance.  So then between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning, day light had overtaken darkness and our daisy chain was essentially worthless since all of our activity could easily be seen in the snow.  So we mines men crawled out of the foxhole, and the 6x6, and started trying to warm some C rations on the 6x6 engine.  We had a hell of a time getting the truck started but it finally cranked up and that may have saved our lives.
 
The tank destroyer crew joined us and we all ate the warmed rations and tried to thaw out our numb bodies.
 
The woods were noiseless and I was planning to drive back to our company CP and get further orders, when a tremendous blast occurred!  We turned and saw that the tank destroyer was an inferno with fire belching out of every opening in it.  How in the world that German tank made its way out of the woods and got close enough (about 100 yards away) to destroy the tank destroyer without our hearing it, is something we will never know.
 
With nothing left to fight a tank with, everybody including the tank destroyer crew piled into our truck (thank God the engine was warm) and Joe "put the pedal to the metal."  I was watching fearfully as we made a complete U-turn at the stream bridge, fully expecting to get another round or more from the German tank as we come into his view at a point about 75 yards directly behind the burning tank destroyer.  But he must have seen all of our activity in the snow between the mines and our foxhole and retreated because he was not in sight as we raced on by on our way to the CP.  And so ended that road block mission.
 
We were not sent back that night, thank God.  I don't know why, but probably because it was an extremely poor set-up at best and we were lucky we all weren't killed which we would have been if that German tank would have just came around the corner after he knocked out the destroyer.
 
Source: Battle of the Bulge February 2002

 

Beldon PETERS

Photo: Amarillo.com

Died July 29, 2008

289th Infantry Regiment

75th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium