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US Army

Rockerath-Krinkelt and vicinity, December 16, 17, 18, and 19th, 1944

 

Rockerath-Krinkelt and vicinity

December 16, 17, 18, and 19th, 1944

 
The weather was winter with snow two to four inches on the ground.  It was snowing, foggy with poor visibility.  Sometimes you could see for a mile or two.  It was cold - below freezing with winds about 10 to 15 miles per hour.  There was a rising fog mostly at night and morning.  The enemy was the German First Panzer Corps and the 12th S.S. Panzer Division.  They used foxholes, booby traps, barbed wire, mines, tank obstacles, pill boxes (steel and concrete), machine guns, burp guns, mortars, tanks, artillery, screaming mimies and potato mashers to defend the Rohr Dams.
 
Our main objective was to smash through the Wahlerscheid crossroads, obtain control of the Rohr River dams. However, on December 17th, we were informed that the attack plans were changed, and that we would be diverted and turn south in defense of the Rocherath-Krinkelt area.  Some of "D" Company's close at hand equipment consisted of three sections of .30 cal water-cooled machine guns (two per section), ammo (tracer and ball), three sections of heavy 81 mm mortars (2 per section) for a total of six in our platoon.
 

The Wahlerscheid crossroads
 
One Jeep and trailer per section and the trailer carried three types of ammo, two bazookas plus rockets.  We also carried hand grenades, supplies, sleeping bags and mortars when practical.  My personal attire and equipment was long underwear, two long sleeve undershirts, one O.D. pair of wool trousers, one O.D. wool shirt, two pairs of wool socks, one pair combat boots, one pair galoshes, one pair insulated tankers overalls, one field jacket, one wool cap, one helmet liner, one steel helmet, one pair of wool gloves, one water canteen, one trench knife, first aid kit, T.C. kit (knife and pliers), 45 pistol and holster, light pack, "K" rations, canteen kit, raincoat and blanket.
 
December 16, 1944, we marched single-file beyond the Wahlerscheid crossroad and across country and finally entered a woods.  The trees were about fifty feet tall and darkness was approaching.  Two of four Sherman tanks entered the woods followed by a jeep.  The jeep ran over a mine and the tire and wheel flew straight up about forty feet.  They had sand bags in the floor of the jeep so it didn't turn over.  The jeep person ran away from it unhurt.  We were told that we could spend the night here and to dig in.  I started digging, the ground was covered with snow, and frozen-digging was tough.  My slit trench was about 6 inches deep -not nearly deep enough.  Suddenly we got incoming mail. I dove into my slit trench.  Two guys jumped on top of my back.  Usually the Germans fired a few rounds, but not this time, we were showered.  Shells came down, exploding in the trees and spraying hot shrapnel all over the place.  When the shelling ceased, I went through the woods for our sleeping bags in our trailer, which was parked at the edge of the wood.  By the time I got there, it was pitch dark.  Somehow I found my way back to my squad, without stepping on a mine.
 
December 17, 1944, it was cold that morning and I was cold all over, especially my feet, it felt like I was walking on rocks.  We shouldered our heavy weapons (81mm mortar tube) and started moving out of the woods toward our objective.  We walked in two parallel columns, 25 yards apart following the path made by the lead GIs.  As we left the woods we plodded through an area of evergreens.  The evergreen trees were -about ten feet high.  We passed crews firing 4.2 mortars and exchanged chatter with them.  As we proceeded farther through the green fir trees, someone in the column to our right and front stepped on a personal mine.  All I saw was a steel helmet blown straight up (about 35 feet) in the air.  I heard someone call for the medic and we continued forward.  Later in the day, we were informed that the attack plans were changed.  To the rear of the regiment, defensive positions were overrun and an immediate disengagement was ordered.  The route was covered by German artillery, nebelwerfer and tank fire.  Enemy thrust began before darkness set in.  We were turned south and headed for Rocherath.
 
We reached the Wahlerscheid crossroads where we loaded our mortar equipment onto our jeep trailer.  We marched single file toward Rocherath.  The road was a hard surface secondary that engineers had scraped, banking the snow on each shoulder.  As we got closer to town, two or three miles, we heard the terrible sounds of war.  We could see and hear gun flashes, booms, small arms, burp guns, nebelwerfers and screaming mimies (shells came out of a smooth bore with no rifling).  Consequently, the shell lopped end over end, making a humongous screaming noise.  Then there was the explosion when it hit the ground.  They resulted also in a lot of duds because many hit the ground at angles that prevented the detonator to function.  I couldn't believe that we were going into that town, but we did.
 
Darkness was fast approaching.  It seemed so odd that we were going into that town and all of the vehicles were coming out as fast as they could.  One 2 1/2 truck took a shell burst, the driver lost control and ran off of the road, just missing me but ran over Bill Nellegan who was behind me, breaking his legs.  We proceeded into the edge of Rocherath and entered a house that was previously cleared by riflemen.  There was no sleep for anyone and no conversation.  Everything seemed so disorganized.  That morning we found ourselves confronted with problems.  We found ourselves on the front lines with action all around us.  German tanks and infantry were all around town.  I didn't see any search lights.  On the 17th we learned that the Germans had lined up our men from "D" company and shot them in cold blood.  Vaughn's name was mentioned, he was hit in the leg, played dead and later escaped.  There was another man who played dead and escaped, but I don't remember his name.  We sweated it out until morning.
 
December 18, 1944, in the morning one German tank positioned itself not over forty yards from our house.  It fired its machine guns toward a partially sunken road where a group of GIs were running in a crouched manner.  I could see the tracers going over their heads and it appeared as though they weren't scoring any hits.  Dan Browzowsky and I went out of the house to our trailer and got our two bazookas and two bags of rocket ammo.  I was a trained bazooka man.  We went back into the house and were met by Lt. Horner, he inquired as to what we were planning so we told him about the tank and that we wanted to have our equipment just in case.  Horner then organized two bazooka teams.  He sent Dan and me upstairs to watch the front of the house.  We peeked out of the window and Jerry tanks drove by with Germans on top and about 5 running behind them.  They were gone before we could even load our bazooka.
 
Downstairs the team faced a different situation.  A GI from the 99th Division manned our other bazooka.  He and his assistant were able to fire a rocket at the tiger that was 90 degrees and about 35 to 40 yards from the front of the house.  They scored a direct hit on the tank and caused some damage.  The tank crew spotted our location and attempted to traverse their turret gun toward our house.  For some reason unknown to me, they couldn't traverse far enough to get us in their sights.  Then we hear the German tankers start their engine to jockey the tank around to blast the house.  In the meantime, our bazooka team had reloaded, fired and scored another hit.  This shot was very effective.  The tank engine quit, the hatch opened and the tank crew emerged.  Our guys immediately picked them off with their carbines.
 
Some time elapsed and we had a chance to talk things over and I suggested that we reconnoiter the tank and drop a phosphorous smoke grenade down the hatch.  One of our men did just that and set it on fire.  As I walked to the rear of the tank, I saw a German tanker lying in a rut made by the tank track which was about two feet wide and one foot deep.  I passed by the German and believed him to have died with his eyes open.  However, I noticed as I walked by him, his eyes followed me.  I called out to my buddies that he was wounded but still alive.  We decided to pick him up and carry him into a nearby barn attached to the house.  We put him on the floor and gave him a cigarette (at that time we didn't know they were hazardous to your health - no labels!).  Another GI said he would inform the medics, and we left. We ventured out into the street where we saw two more disabled Jerry tanks.  One was on fire and the other one was kaput.  I remember seeing some sort of community building down the street, a school house or a church maybe.  We returned backed to the house and spent another uneasy night - no sleep and no noise.
 
December 19, 1944, everyone in the house had a "K" ration.  Cox and I walked through a barn attached to the house.  We entered the back yard and looked in the two-seated outhouse.  We saw that someone had stored 6 rounds of light mortar ammo in it and that some uncouth person had urinated all over both seats.  Cox and I decided to use other facilities (dug a hole).  We were about twenty feet from the outhouse when we heard an 88 shell coming in.  We started to hit the dirt, but it was too late.  The shell made a direct hit on the outhouse, destroying it.  Cox yelled "I'm hit" and I said "I am too, let's get out of here".  We ran through the barn and into the house.  Our medic was there.  Cox had been hit in the leg.  My biggest wound was in my arm.  A piece of shrapnel went through.  I was sprayed with it, some pieces lodged in my hand and some in my neck.  The medic sprinkled sulpha powder on my arm and applied the dressing.  Siegfried came with a jeep and they put us on it and took us to the battalion aid station.  The medics at the aid station told Cox he was a litter patient.  They asked me if I could walk and I said "yes".  I got in the back of a 2 1/2 ton truck with a Red Cross flag.  Cox and I were separated.  I have never seen him since.  They said there was only one road open to Liege and they hoped we could make it.
 
"D" Company and others left Rocherath and went to Elsenborn ridge because it was more defendable.  The town was then leveled by American artillery.  While I was in Liege a buzz bomb hit nearby.  We were in the mess hall and heard the engine cut off.  We dove under the tables and the bomb hit so close that it shook the building.  They put us on a train to Paris the night before the German planes bombed the hospital.  We got on another train that took us to Cherbourg.  The night before, a German "U" boat sunk an American troop ship.  Many of those men were brought to the hospital.  We boarded a converted hospital ship and headed for England.  I got to go to Church services and I had much to be thankful for, especially the guy who dirtied the outhouse seat and saved my life.  The sailors gave us a nice Christmas dinner.  Next we were sent to an Air Force Hospital in Birmingham, England.  After recovering, I rejoined the Second Division near the Remagen Bridge.
 
Source: ??

By Pfc Donald C. VERHOTZ

 

"D" Company,

38th Infantry Regiment

2nd Infantry Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium