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US Army

Remembering Another Enemy: Cold Weather

Remembering Another Enemy:

Cold Weather

 
Although the information we had received about the Battle of the Bulge from articles in the Stars and Stripes was old and sketchy nevertheless the situation must have required help from our division, as we headed north in trucks on January 6, 1945.  We were always kept in the dark by our company commanders as to where we were headed next, except the immediate objective of a hill, town or stream as we departed Monneren, Alsace-Lorraine, France.
 
We kept track of any major towns or cities that we passed through, however, and when we reached the city of Luxembourg, we knew we were nearing the fighting and reasoned why we had been pulled back from our foothold across the Saar River in December 1944.  This must be something big, and as we continued north after spending all night in the truck sitting up in what was below zero weather, we started to see our ambulances coming back from the front.  I recalled seeing a road sign point directions to the Town of Wiltz, Luxembourg and of St Vith, Belgium, which I later learned had been flattened by a battle in which the 7th Armored Division had heroically held up the German advance for a time to enable American defensive positions to form farther back in Belgium, back in December 1944.
 
Our division was evidently going to strike the enemy on the left flank of his salient into the American positions.  I remember our trucks moving up the road with a steady stream of ambulances moving down the other side as we could now hear the noise of battle near the front.  It was here that General Patton later wrote that during that afternoon he drove through the 90th Division who stood up and cheered as he passed.  These men did this in spite of spending a great many hours in truck at 6 degrees below zero and in spite of all the wounded coming down the other side of the road.
 
I didn't see the general, but feel certain this is the place he wrote about, figuring he passed through the 90th Division ahead or behind our particular truck.  We stayed the night in a farm house that had just been liberated by other American forces that we would soon be relieving.  The warm accommodations were welcome after two bitter cold days in the truck.
 
The father of this family in Luxembourg brought out an all-wave table model radio that he had kept hidden from the Germans, and our squad gathered around it to listen to BBC and other broadcasts, including Nazi propaganda broadcasts in English.  Somehow I ended up sleeping on the living room rug instead of in the hall, which was a big treat.  Actually, we grew to become thankful for just little things, like a clean drink of water, or warm water to shave in.
 
The next day we had a festive celebration dinner of chicken (procured by our squads' backyard "recon" crew) and dumplings.  The farmer, his wife and 15 year old daughter ate with us.  He spoke little English, but we enjoyed sharing his jubilation of liberation.  It was a fine dinner all around and made us feel very satisfied.  We stayed again through the night and moved out the next morning.  I had gotten rid of the bazooka, but found a different responsibility with my new mobility, that of taking turns being the "point" man for the squad.  When in the lead, you had to be very alert for any movement or sounds up ahead, but with the ground now completely covered with a white blanket of snow, it was easier to detect the enemy.  We still just had our leather boots and our feet were cold all of the time.  Foxholes were harder to dig, and even though strapped to our sides, the water in our canteens would always be frozen by morning.  We were getting three square "K" ration meals per day though and used the cartons to make a fire to melt our water.
 
After digging our two man foxhole at night, and spreading down our raincoats on the ground, each having one blanket, we placed one doubled under us and one doubled over us for what warmth we could get for one hour of sleep.  At daybreak, a normal day would include, since we were already dressed, of thawing our water and eating our "K" ration breakfast.  Our latrine was a slit-trench, and we has soap and ice-cold water for our hands.  We now had wool gloves with leather palms, and stocking-cap style helmet liners which would pull over our ears.
 
Following breakfast our squad leaders would receive instructions about our objectives for our platoon leader, a 2nd lieutenant.  We made certain our little cardboard fires were out and then folded up our blankets in our little combat packs, attached our shovels to our belts, shoulder-strapped our rifles and got ready to move out.If there was no enemy fire, leaning up against a tree lent support to the various paraphernalia that you had to carry.  The M-1 weighed 9 pounds, extra ammunition, two grenades, canteen, pack, shovel, bayonet and helmet must have weighed at least 20 pounds, making it almost easier to walk and get all those things on a synchronous motion than to try to stand still in one place.
 
Then we reminded whoever's turn it was to be point or scout, and upon command we moved out, almost always in single file with about 15 feet between squad members, as an average distance, which varied according to terrain, enemy location, etc.  Advancing through woods, up a road or through an open field was always a cautious affair, looking to see what might be in the next group of trees, over a small rise or behind a hedgerow, particularly troublesome because they were usually built partially of stone, with a thick hedge on top to obscure your vision.  The Germans were to use the hedgerows to good advantage as we were soon to learn in the Battle of the Bulge.  Advancing up a hill was also a grueling ordeal, moving cautiously or quickly as the conditions dictate.
 
The mental stress was more tiring than the physical strain though (I thought).  And even though you didn't find enemy for hours or sometimes a full day, several "breaks" a day besides lunch were necessary and welcome, unless of course, the enemy was encountered or an incoming shelling attack was experienced.  All the "break" had to be was a drink of water, an extra "K" ration dog biscuit, a cigarette for some, where possible, or a stick of gum to provide a few minutes away from the concentration of advancing.
 
Often times there was a few extra minutes for lunch, other times on the move it was eaten later in the afternoon, sometimes on the move, and other times, of necessity, skipped entirely.  The Battle of the Bulge was fought largely in overcast weather and there was about an average of 8" loose snow on the ground, depending on the area, and the temperature probably averaged about 20 degrees overall, although usually not windy.
 
When dusk arrived, we would try to stake our foxholes in a defensive perimeter to the front in case of counter attack, unless we planned a night attack.  There were times when we would have our foxhole well started, or even completed, when we would be ordered to change our positions to be on the line with other units.  Sometimes this change came after dark, making another hole more difficult to dig, as you couldn't see the rocks, or even worse obstruction, roots, while digging.  We usually ate our supper ration as a reward after the hole was completed.  We felt more protected then, and one of us could relax at a time to partake of food.
 
There wasn't much of a ritual to get ready for bed—no clothes to change, no shaving or even taking off the helmet.I usually tried to brush my teeth and then tucked the breakfast "K" ration under my armpit before retiring for an hour, to keep in thawed for breakfast.Our feet were becoming almost as big a concern now as the enemy and during this period of time we started losing men we could afford to spare to frostbite, trench feet, and frozen feet.
 
We weren't getting our usual dry change of socks every few days, and it didn't help to bare your wet foot in below-freezing weather.  So most of us tried to keep wiggling our toes while on night guard duty, or during periods that we weren't marching during the day.  But we all soon became run down and tired due to the strain of combat and being outside in the cold for an extended period so that many just gave up the additional effort to take care of their feet.
 
This, then, comprised what was a representative day of the foot soldier during the Battle of the Bulge except for the various experiences in combat, which we were very soon to encounter.
 
Source: Bulge Bugle August 2007
Reuel LONG

Company "E"

357th Infantry Regiment

90th InfantryDivision

Campaign

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium