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US Army

1-1/2 Unforgettable Days in Kesternich

1-1/2 Unforgettable Days in Kesternich

 
(The following article appeared in the December 1, 2007, newsletter of the VBOB Central Indiana Chapter.)
 
Early afternoon of December 15, 1944, word was received by the 2nd Battalion Headquarters that “E” Company, under the command of Captain Alfred E. Fix, had reached its objective (after heavy losses) on the northeast end of the town of Kesternich, Germany.  After receipt of this information, the Battalion S2 (Captain Bruebeck) instructed me to locate Company “E” and escort Captain Fix back to Battalion CP which had been relocated to near the center of town.  The trip down the street alone with my M-1 was a little spooky, but no sniper or enemy fire was encountered.  Company “E” was located digging in along the ridge on the outskirts of town.  Captain Fix was found in about the last house on the street on the northeastern edge of town.  Soon after we started our return trip we were greeted with a barrage of mortar/artillery fire necessitating a short stay in a small concrete woodshed, but we reached the Battalion CP okay.
 
The remainder of the afternoon was rather quiet with respect to enemy fire.  However, about dusk all hell broke loose as heavy enemy artillery, mortar and small arms fire started coming in.  Before this started, it is believe that the company commanders had already returned to their units.
 
The situation in and around the area of the 2nd Battalion CP was about like this: A contingent of Battalion Headquarters personnel were in the Battalion CP and remnants of Company ”G”, under Captain Sperry were in and around the brick building across the street from the CP.  The Battalion Commander, Colonel Ladd, was in the Battalion CP when the counter-attack started.  There was certainly an atmosphere of bedlam, confusion and yelling of instructions.  Someone yelled for me to take some men and guard the house next door on the west side (American side).  Four others, including John Lanahan, of my I&R squad, joined me in the house next door.  We knelt with our guns pointing out the windows overlooking the main street and the action.  The German machine was firing down the main street toward the west.
 
Our machine gun, located behind a wall in front of the building occupied by Company “C” across the street, was firing east down the main street.  This was quite a display of fireworks in the dark since both machine guns were firing tracer ammunition with one of every few bullets glowing in the dark.  The enemy bullets were zipping past several feet in front of us and appeared to be the German machine gun one of our battalion jeep drivers (I think his name was Chastain from Alabama) somehow made his way back to Simmerath to get reinforcements (truck drivers, cooks, etc.)
 
It seemed as though only a few minutes had passed from the start of the counter-attack that we heard and saw the explosion of the German hand grenade that was thrown under our machine gun located across the street.  We also heard the yell of pain of those hit by the grenade.  Shortly after our machine gun was knocked out, we clearly heard, “We have you surrounded, do you want to surrender?”  We could hardly hear the response but apparently Colonel Ladd, or his representative, gave a positive response as shortly torches were lit by the Germans and we could see our soldiers being marched from the building across the street.  At this point, we felt that we could not escape and one of us said, “Let’s hide in the hay.”  All five of us hurried to the rear of the building.  Three hid under the hay in front of the door to the outside.  Two of us hid on a ledge above and to the side of the door.  We were barely in place before the squeaky door was pushed open, a light was shone over the barn and hay and a voice said, “Anyone in here?”
 
Of course, we remained very silent and felt great relief when the door closed and no bullets were sprayed into the hay. (To me the voice sounded like that of a GI and I guessed it was that of a GI with a gun in his back.)  Our hopes of escape diminished as we could clearly hear the enemy troops digging in on the west side (American side) of the building and activity all around.  Since it was very cold, we all managed to dig under the hay to get warm and sleep some.
 
Sometime in the night or early morning of December 16, my buddy John Lanahan nudged me and whispered, “We had better get out of here.”  We dug from the ahy and walked around the loft.  We could clearly hear the German activity and talking on various sides of the building.  All we could do was dig back under the hay and wait for something positive to happen.  Sometimes later the next day we heard a lot of gun fire coming from the west (American side).  We all rushed to the front of the house and saw American troops in the street.  We then joined in the Battle.  Shortly after the American patrol rescued us a decision was made to call off pursuit of the enemy.
 
 Two damaged Jagdpanzer abandoned in Kesternich after its fall to troops of the
311th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division, January 1945. (Signal Corps)
 
We, the rescued, were told to remain in the basement of the house diagonally across the street from the building in which we had hit, and that we would be picked up later.  This was the same building in which part of Company “G” was located and in front of which our machine gun was firing when knocked out by the German grenade.  By this time, we were pretty tired and hungry, and needless to say we were quite relieved, thankful and happy when we finally boarded a truck to be taken to the rear.
 

Source:Bulge Bugle, May 2008

By T/Sgt Ervin HARDISON

Company "HQ"

310th Infantry Regiment

78th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium