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US Army

Close Contact with the Germans

Close Contact with the Germans
 
We were now fighting Hitler’s First SS Division.  This was his best division which had direct orders from Adolph Hitler himself to kick our A’s out of there.  We actually beat them up pretty bad in Mortmain, France.  I heard that Axis Sally was on the radio and say this time they were to annihilate that 30th Division.  After we got done with them in Stavelot, the Germans dismantled their division.  The Germans had about twenty-nine Divisions of their best troops that returned from the Russian front to throw in this battle, so there were many SS Troopers.
 
We came to the little city of Stavelot, Belgium.  The Germans gave us a hell of a fight and ran us out a couple times, and finally we went back in and stood our ground.  It was about Christmas time.  Fighting in the city was different.  In the city we had buildings to go into get away from the cold and snow that was always there.  We didn’t have to dig foxholes in the city.  The temperature was from plus twenty to minus five for the entire Bulge Battle.  I spent my twenty second birthday in this city, and it could have been on this day that a sniper almost got me. 
 
We left Stavelot around the first of January, 1945.  The other Companies caught up with us and then we were out in the field all the time, sometimes digging three foxholes a day.  We did most of our moving at night so the enemy could not see us.  It was so cold I would hock down in the foxhole on my heels, and shiver so hard that my teeth would rattle and my knees would get sore and hurt just from shaking.  There were at least three nights I thought I would just freeze to death and not wake up.  When morning came the honeycomb frost would be about three inches thick at the top of the foxhole, pretty and crisp.  All we wore was our wool uniforms, wool overcoat, and socks, knit woolen cap, helmet liner, steel helmet and wool gloves.  I had no real boots, only combat boots that were twelve inches tall. 
 
One of the nights, we got into position and they talked about holding there for a day or so.  I got a very nice foxhole dug, put twigs in the bottom and laid some pine twigs over part of the top which got it pretty warm.  I was going to have a warm night at last.  It was all ready, the best foxhole I ever dug.  About ten in the evening the word came out, “We’re taking off.”  I was so discouraged I didn’t care if someone would shoot me right then.  This may have been a lucky break.  We hadn’t gone seventy five feet and run into an evergreen clumps; evergreens around a foxhole.  I think six Germans were in there.  They didn’t want to give up first and I thought we were going to have a little gun fire.  We were all ready to let them have it when they finally came out and gave up.  If anyone would have let one shot go we would have had a slaughter.  The snow was so deep that we would trade off with the front guy to cut the track.  We walked all night, and I told the officer we most probably were going behind the German lines. 
 
About four in the morning we came on a hill that overlooked a small group of homes in the valley.  The Germans were eating their breakfast.  I could hear their silverware rattle (that is close combat).  We stopped to dig in.  I told my foxhole buddy to start cutting twigs with his pocket knife for we needed a cover over.  When the Germans find out we were this close they would have all kinds of artillery coming in.  With this being in a wooded area, those shells would hit the trees and explode and send shrapnel down on us.  After getting those twigs across the foxhole we would throw ground on top to keep shrapnel from hitting us. 
 
This was OK.  I was in my knees, digging as fast as I could with my rifle standing against a tree about eight feet away.  Someone down the way from me called out, “there are Germans behind you”.  As we have done many times, we would kid someone even if we were to get killed the next minute.  I never paid attention to this, though in the corner of my eye I thought I caught some thing.  When I stopped to look around there stood three German SS soldiers with their burp guns and hands up.  They were close enough that I could have shaken hands with them.  The first thing I thought, “My rifle!”  There it was eight feet from me against the tree.  Right away they asked to give up, saying, “Comrade, comrade.”  I’ve been lucky throughout the war.  I have taken so many prisoners; I don’t know if I looked so forgiving.  Later I found out that we dug our foxholes in the same area the Germans were dug in.  After we found out about that we took a lot of prisoners. 
 
On another night we marched most of the night coming to our position and the ground was frozen.  This time I found a German foxhole.  It was pitch dark and I got down on my knees to feel around in it to see if there was a German in there.  It was empty, but he must not have had too much training on digging, for it was too wide and not deep enough.  But I managed to squeeze under in it.  This one had a cover with ground over it.  This was my luck, for the Germans shelled the area all night.  I could hear and feel those shells go off all around this foxhole. 
 
I had a hard time getting out.  The ground on top had settled down with weight and it was smashing me.  I managed to get out.  When I did, I found a lot of my of my buddies that didn’t get cover lying all around in pieces.  One look and all I could do was to walk away.  The officer was getting the guys ready to march out; there were only eleven GI’s.  We were standing in a group waiting for two guys that were still coming.  After five minutes I got the feeling that we should spread out, for we were a perfect target for the Germans.  So I walked out away from the group.  The officer ordered me to come back to the group and I told him it was a good target for the Krauts; but he insisted.  As I walked back a shot come in.  An 88mm artillery shell, it was a tree burst about fifty feet away, and again I took off.  I knew that the next one would be right on us.  I have seen this happen too often.  The officer insisted that we group up.  Well I did obey his orders and I just got back when this 88 mm shell came in and exploded, maybe eight feet from me.  I was looking right at it; just a big three-foot orange ball of fire.  Thank God I was ok, my buddies not so lucky. 
 
The day went on in those foxholes; we were gaining ground mostly in the night.  There was less opposition from the enemy since they could not see us come.  There were a lot of surprises though.  The weather was our worst enemy as we were always trying to keep from freezing.  I think I was out there two weeks at a time without seeing the inside of a building.  It’s amazing how much torture the body can take. 
 
Sometime during the first part of January 10th, 1945 near Five Points (Baugnez Crossroads), they took part of the GI’s back off the lines to a town named Spa, Belgium.  They took us to the bath house, “Spa.”   It was the first bath I had in a couple months.  It was the first time I had my shoes off, or any clothes changed during that time.  This was a copper bath tub and mineral water was used.  Our clothes were so dirty they could stand up.  We got all clean clothes.  This sure felt good, and the best part was that we could walk around without being shot at.  What a difference! 

The bast House, Spa

One afternoon we got ready to take a small town.  This was something different.  It was the first day attack we had for a long time.  Being about a half mile from the town, the tanks started to come up from the forest behind the infantry.  One of the tanks stopped about fifteen feet behind my foxhole.  I told him to get back in the forest since the Krauts would start firing at him, but no they let it there.  It wasn’t long and the shells started coming.  Our foxhole wasn’t dug big enough since we were only going to be there a short time.  My buddy was in the foxhole.  When the shelling started, there wasn’t room for me to get in.  I dove in and layed across my buddy, figuring I would be killed anyway and maybe could save him.  With hands over my head, I just said LORD here I come.  I never ever heard so much shrapnel around my head.  It was like having a hive of bees dumped on me, and to this day I don’t understand why this didn’t burst my eardrums.  I think they shot about three shells at the tank.  They did explode that tank and killed everyone in it.  We were about fifteen feet from it.  Again I was thankful for all those prayers going on back home. 
 
On the front line all your senses work better than ever.  I knew the sound of each tank, plane, gun or anything.  I knew whose artillery made each sound.  It was called survival.  We got so far ahead of the rest of the units that we had to hold our position for several days sitting in those foxholes and freezing to death.  It wasn’t so bad when we moved every day and dug a couple foxholes to keep us half warm.  The Commander and Medic usually came around each day since so many men were getting frostbite.  This time when they got to my position I felt like I was getting a cold, so I asked the medic for an aspirin or something before it would hit me.  He told me I should give my BAR to my buddy and got back to Company aid.  I told him I didn’t feel that bad and I wasn’t going to walk a half-mile in the snow.  This situation went on and about an hour later the Medic and the Officer came back to me, and insisted I go back. 
 
When they came back to me it rang a bell.  What do they know that I don’t?  I’d better follow orders.  I gave my BAR to my buddy and took his M1, and headed back to Company Aid.  I didn’t go far when I quickly learned what the problem was.  I could hardly walk.  When the blood started to circulate in my feet, it felt awful.  I was in luck when a weasel came along bringing food to the lines.  He give me a lift to the Company Aid station, which was an old brick house that was partly shot away.  I got inside and there lay a few GI’s.  I’ve never seen people so tough and brave as I have ever seen in combat.  This was the 22nd of January 1945.  I never knew this date until fifty years later and the people from the Anniversary Committee in Stavelot told me.  I will always say that this saved my life. 
 
When the doc got to me, I said my feet were hurting, he told me to take off my shoes.  He took a pin and started to prod around and I couldn’t feel a thing.  He told me to lie on a stretcher.  I told him I could walk to the ambulance.  He gave me orders right there that I was not to walk on my feet.  (The only way you get off the front lines it for them to carry you off).  That afternoon they took me to a field hospital, which was a tent.  I was laid on a cot with white sheets.  There was heat in the tent and hot soup.  If heaven is better than this I got to see it.  And if hell is as bad as the front lines, you better be good.  I’ve gone through all but four days of the Battle of the Bulge.  My number would have come up if I hadn’t got off the front lines.  We were in the Dillburg Forest, not far from Recht, Bois d’Emmels, near Rodt and overlooking St Vith, Belgium.
 
In those six weeks of the Battle of the Bulge, Americans had over ninety thousand casualties, more than 2000 per day.  Some guys only lasted a day in combat.  It was the largest battle ever fought in the world.  From this field hospital on the 24th of January, I was taken to a hospital in Paris, France where I was for nearly ten days.  I was then transported to an England hospital.  I reentered the war as a 1st Sergeant at a POW camp.
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle August 2013
By Pvt Raymond J. WENNING

"A" Co

117th Infantry Division

30th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium