US Army

What Did the General Know?

What Did the General Know?

Over the years, there has been much speculation about prior knowledge of the great build-up of German forces prior to the December 16, 1944, attack that became known as “The Battle of the Bulge.”  As a participant, it is easy to forget much of what happened those many years ago.  At the same time, there are events that are recalled with relatively good clarity.  This is about a visit by Major General Norman “Dutch” Cota to my platoon approximately one week before the battle started.
My two months of active duty with “I” Company, 110th Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, started vin mid-October where I joined them as a Pfc going through the repo-depo routine after crossing the Atlantic in September 1944.  In late October, my first combat experience took place in the dreaded Huertgen Forest.  In about three weeks of bitter fighting, the 28th’s combat casualties exceeded 6,000 men (compare this with the total casualties of Operation Iraqi Freedom where ten times as many troops were involved!).  On a bitter, cold day in mid-November, the 28th Division was relieved and we headed to the “quiet front” overlooking Germany in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.  About 15 bedraggled survivors were unceremoniously dumped off our deuce and a half-truck after a harrowing all-day drive on very ice roads in sleet.  Our position was a farmhouse very near the junction of several key roads that led into Germany, and also west to Bastogne, Belgium, and other villages/towns north and south in Luxembourg.
A few hundred yards to the northeast of our farm, lay the deserted village of Wahlhausen.  About one mile to the east was the Our River, and on the far bank of the river in Germany was the village of Gemünd.  Shortly after arriving, some replacements were added to our unit, which then had about 25 men.  We were designated the 2nd Platoon even though a platoon would normally be 40-50 men.  With all of the loses being lost in the Huertgen, our leader was a sergeant, who stayed in the house with a radio man and a medic.  The rest of us stayed in the barn which had a cement floor and was open to the elements with a strict “no-fire” rule—the same as in the Huertgen.  However, we didn’t complain because this was close to luxury next to a fox hole with a foot of snow all round it!
Our main tasks were maintaining outposts around the farm, occupying a house in Wahlhausen overlooking a valley that led to Germany and the Our River, and patrolling to the Our near Gemund.In later November, we were aware of increased activity on the part of the Germans.  Tank engines were being tuned up, weapons were test-fired, and there was a bridge being built over the Our River.
All of these activities were duly reported to our Company “HQ”, located in Weiler, Luxembourg, about two miles to our south.  We assumed that these reports were passed along to the regiment and division.
Sometime in early December, while about a dozen of us were around the farmhouse, we had an unexpected visitor.  Without advance notice, a command car flying the two star flags of a major general accompanied by two jeeps with well-armed GI’s stopped at our position.  Our sergeant gathered us together and there was General Cota, smoking a very large cigar.  He stood up in his command car and obviously had something to tell us.  The closest that I can recall what he said is as follows; “Men! There’s going to be a great battle fought here.  It’s a great honor for any soldier to fight for his country, have his blood spilled on the battlefield, and be carried off.”
As he talked a few of us surmised that he may have fortified himself with a little schnapps to ward off the cold in the open car.  He was surely entitled to do that.  After his short exhortation his group sped off to the north, and other positions similar to ours. 
Just a week or so after his visit, his forecast and opportunity for us to fight and shed our blood came true on December 16, 1944, when at 0600 hours a horde of Germans from the 5th Parachute Division came across the Our River in boats.  We were able to hold them off all day until nightfall when they had finally completed the bridging and a panther tank came to our position firing 88’s directly at our position.  With more infantry also swarming all round our position, we were forced to surrender.
“It was only in the past few years that certain information has come to me that has enabled me to get a better picture of what actually happened and a clearer idea of the circumstances. 
Regarding General Cota, I never knew that he was a very brave general!  Regarding “Citizen Soldier,” by the late Steven Ambrose, as a brigadier general and assistant commander of the 29th Division, he was in the first wave to assault Omaha Beach on D-Day.  He was with the first troops who got off the beach and personally led an assault on a fortified position. 
Additionally, a retired teacher and now an historian of the battle, Marcel Scheidweiler, of Weiler, Luxembourg, has given me some very valuable information including the pictures of Farm Schmuelen which, it turns out, was the name of our farm where we spent 30 days in 1944."
Source: Bulge Bugle February 2004

Pfc Russell E. KUEHN

"I" Company

110th Infantry Regiment

28th Infantry Division


Battle of the Bulge,