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US Army

My Bulge Experience

My Bulge Experience
 
My first operation in the Battle of the Bulge was in the town of Niederwampach in Luxembourg.  “A” and “B” Companies had attacked Niederwampach and were held up, so they asked me to go around the left flank and attack from the rear.
 
In an attack position such as this, I always attacked with two platoons forward and one in support, and my position is always in between and slightly to the rear of the two attacking platoons, so I can keep abreast of what’s going on and if I need to commit my support platoon, I’ll know where to do it.
 
In approaching Niederwampach, the two platoons split up a little bit, so the village in my immediate front had not been cleared.   I entered this building with my command group.   When I say command group, that was just myself, my communications sergeant, the radio operator and my Messenger.
 
We entered the barn part of this building, and when I first entered, I turned around and started to say, "I don’t believe there’s anything in here."  There was a platform of hay on the right side, the platform was about waist high, and the hay was a little higher than that, and It started to move.  So we squared off toward that hay with our weapons, and a German said, "Nicht schiessen! Nicht schiessen!" which meant, "Don’t shoot."
 
I said, "Hande ho. Hande ho."  Put your hands up.  So they put their hands up and come out and surrendered, there must have been ten or twelve Germans.
 
When they surrendered, there was another group of four or five men who came out from the stall behind us, and they surrendered.   I heard a commotion over my head and I looked up and there’s a German descending from his rafter up there, and I noticed that he had hand grenades around his waist belt.  He came down and surrendered.
 
To this day we don’t know why they did this.  I bring it out just to show you how lucky I was all through this combat over there.  And then I had my other platoons clear out the other buildings, and we captured Niederwampach.
 
From Niederwampach, we were to go and take Oberwampach, Luxembourg.
 
Before we left, the battalion commander informed me that the situation was serious, but it wouldn’t become critical as long as we could prevent the Germans from widening the gaps in our lines.  They were sending me into Oberwampach, which was in the shoulder of this breakthrough, with orders to hold it at all costs. Don’t let the Germans widen the gap.
 
In moving across the open fields to get to Oberwampach, we came under machine gun fire from a position on our right front.  So I said to the radio operator who’s carrying the SCR300 radio on piggyback right beside me, I got the transmitter radio calling for artillery fire to neutralize this machine gun fire.  This radio operator now is shot through the head and falls dead at my feet while I’m on the transmitter making that message.  There are bullets whizzing around pretty close.
 
Instead of getting artillery that time, one of the tanks that we had in support took care of that machine gun next.
 
Another man picked up the radio for me and we moved on into Oberwampach, and took Oberwampach with very little resistance.  It was about dusk, and before I got my security all arranged.  Why?  A German halftrack towing a 120-millimeter mortar and a crew of 12 had moved into our midst.  We didn’t know it at the time, but they moved into one of the buildings.  They didn’t know we were there and we didn’t know they had moved in, until I sent my messenger back to one of my other platoons.  He went back to the building where this platoon had originally been.  He opened the door, and it was full of Germans.
 
It looked like we’d have a firefight right in our midst.  Two platoons were going into position, so I took another platoon and gave them the mission of knocking out or capturing these Germans, and I told everybody in the company to keep their heads down because we’re going to have a fight right in our midst.
 
So this platoon got in a semicircle around that building, and they opened up on it.  They fired a few rifle grenades, and when the rocket launchers fired, one of these Germans put up a white flag. But only six of them surrendered.  See, that’s what the Germans will do sometimes, they’ll surrender some while the others get away.  So in the dark these other six escaped through the darkness while we stopped shooting.
 
Well, these Germans are all six foot blonds, and they had Adolph Hitler shoulder patches.  They were part of Hitler’s elite guard.  In other words, up until this time they had been protecting Hitler’s headquarters, and this is the first time I guess that they had actually been committed to hard fighting.
 
We were literally fighting Hitler’s supermen.   They all had the same blood type, so if they had to have a transfusion, they didn’t have to be checked out, they’d just take one man to another.
 
I questioned them, and found out they were part of a panzer division moving into the area.  I sent them to the rear.
 
Based on that information, I asked the battalion commander to send me some more weapons to defend against an armor type attack.  He sent me a platoon of tanks and a platoon of tank destroyers, and I deployed them.  It’s a good thing, because the Germans launched an attack at 3:30 in the morning.  And if we hadn’t rushed up those tanks and tank destroyers, they would probably have overrun us the first night.
 
Let me add this: This little knoll, the high ground on our right, gave us good observation of one of the Germans’ supply routes to the troops that surrounded Bastogne and we were shooting up those vehicles.  They sent elements of a panzer division to knock us out.  We ended up in somewhere between a 36 and a 72 hour battle, night and day.  When the Germans were not making a ground attack, they were bombarding us with artillery fire and direct tank fire.
 
All of their attacks were at night except one. And this was their last attack, I’ll get into that in a moment.  But when these battles were going on, two of my senior platoon sergeants come to me said, "Captain, this is the roughest that we’ve ever experienced." They said, "We think we had better withdraw, if not we’ll probably have to surrender." 
 
All I had to tell them we’re going to hold until the last man.  I was no hero.  Those were my orders. Knowing that at some time, if the Germans got these tanks into our position, we’re out of ammunition and there’s nothing we could do to resist, I would surrender or tell the men to bug out.  But I couldn’t tell these men that at that time.
 
Now these sergeants were brave. They’d fought the Germans longer than I had. They’d fought the Germans in Sicily, in Africa, and they’d been with me from Normandy in five major battles through the French Maginot Line, the German Siegfried Line.  So they were just stating the facts and I agreed with them.  But, I had to do what my job was at the time.
 
We did hold.  And rather than go into a lot of these operations up until the last attack, it was either on the 18th or the 19th of January, the Germans made their main effort to overcome us, and they made this attack in daylight hours.
 
They hit my right flank where I had a platoon on this knoll I told you about with four tanks and I estimate a platoon of infantry.   Coming across a big long rolling ridge to our front we could count 11 German tanks. There was infantry riding on the tanks. There was infantry in halftracks following over this ridge just as far as we could see, and they were shooting everything they had while they were moving in.
 
I got on the telephone with the battalion commander, and I asked him to give me all the artillery fire he had available.
 
He turned me over to the artillery liaison officer of the battalion, and he asked me to zero one gun in on this target. I had two observation posts set up, one in the right platoon and one in the left platoon, with wire communications to them, so through them we relayed information. We zeroed one gun on this target, and the artillery officer said, "Fire for effect."
 
He had nine battalions, that’s 108 artillery pieces, that hit that target at one time.  You never saw such a slaughter in your life.  These Germans were turning around and withdrew, they didn’t make a tactful withdrawal, it was every tank and man fleeting for his life.  Nothing could have overcome that. It’s impossible.  Some of my men were firing standing up, like shooting ducks in a pond, but they were so far away they’d be lucky if they hit anyone.
 
The Germans withdrew and they didn’t fool with us anymore.
 
One other incident took place that I think is of interest.
 
My company command post in Oberwampach was set up in a home of the Schlling family.  When the Germans were shelling us, a five-year-old boy got excitedly dashed out the front door, into the impact area of the artillery.  A 20-year-old soldier dashed out to rescue the little boy. They were both mortally wounded.
 
The soldier asked someone to rub his left arm, he claimed it hurt him.  I did rub his arm, and he turned blue and died. 
 
The little boy died slowly in his mother’s arms, and to see the grief this mother was going through, really brings some strong lessons to you.
 
This soldier’s name was Sergeant Whitfield.  He was 20 years old.  I recommended him for a decoration and he got it.  He was a true hero.  He gave his life not in defense of himself, but to rescue an innocent little boy, and truly he earned his decoration.  (The Distinguished Service Cross.)
 
After the battle, we picked up a German soldier who had been wounded.  He had been shot in the leg apparently with a .50-caliber bullet, and he laid out overnight in this freezing, subzero weather.  Both his arms and both his legs were frozen stiff as a board.  He begged us to shoot him.
 
I couldn’t do it.  I asked for a volunteer.  Even if he survived, he’d have to have both arms and both legs amputated, and this could have been a mercy killing.  But these battle hardened soldiers who had been fighting Germans a few minutes before would not volunteer.  One soldier, out of sympathy for the suffering and bravery of this soldier, lit a cigarette and held it to his lips so he could smoke.  Another soldier brought him a hot cup of coffee and held it so he could get coffee until we got the litter jeep up there and sent him to the rear.  I’ve always been curious to know what happened to him, but believe he probably died before they got him back to the aid station.
 
After this battle, the division decoration board section came down and they said that with what happened down there the men deserve some medals. They said, "We want to write you up for a DSC."
 
And I said, "No.  Every man in the outfit deserves it as much as me and some of them more than I do,"  I was really being honest about it.  I wasn’t trying to collect medals.  I was trying to save as many of these men as I could from getting killed in this terrible war.  I don’t know whether I would have received it or not, but I wouldn’t even let them write it up.  I told them about the experiences of this platoon on the right flank.  I had to withdraw them a couple times because the Germans wrestled that knoll from us and we retook it.  There were some heroes up there and I asked them to check it out and see if they could find out who deserved it from the group.
 
A couple of weeks later, the battalion commander informed me that there was an exchange of foreign decorations, and that a British Military Cross would be presented to one officer per infantry regiment, and that in our regiment, the regiment had asked that each battalion submit the name of two officers for their recommendations and their preferences.  From among those names they chose me to receive the British Military Cross. I take this as the best reward, or the best compliment, that I could have for my experiences during World War II.
 
After the Battle of the Bulge, there was still some fighting to do…
 
 Source: Bulge Bugle August 2003

By Captain Arnold L. BROWN

 

Dead February 7, 2010

"C" Company

358th Infantry Regiment

90th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium