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US Army

Bonnerue, Belgium

Bonnerue, Belgium 
 
As was always the case, the foot soldier never was informed of anything beyond what he was supposed to do in the immediate area.  We rarely knew where we were located and, more importantly, where the enemy was located and in what strength.  Our world was limited to what we could see and when it was snowing, that wasn’t very far.  Following our arrival in Belgium, we were separated into separate combat units and given very vague details about what our objective was to be and the time frame in which we were to accomplish our mission.  On either December 27 or 28, our entire regiment (347th Infantry) moved out across snow-covered fields in a north-east direction.  A battalion of Sherman tanks had been assigned to work with us. 
 
What happened during the next few days could easily fill the pages of a book.  We had not traveled very far when we came in contact with a large enemy force consisting of infantry and many German Tiger tanks with 88mm guns.  For a couple of days (and nights) there were intense artillery barrages, tank battles, rifle fire and machine gun bursts.  The weather prevented any air support.  Within my immediate area, we lost 3 tanks from 761st Tank Battalion and countless casualties.  Losses on both sides were heavy and we paid dearly for the little ground we gained.
 
It was either January 1 or 2, 1945 that we occupied a small hamlet of several hundred people, known as Bonnerue. We did not learn until days later why this little village was so important and so viciously defended by the Germans.  It was located adjacent to a highway that ran east and west from the area of Bastogne to St. Hubert, which was a main supply line for the advancing German forces in their drive to capture the main Belgium port of Antwerp and divide the British and American forces.
 
Little did we know what a hornet’s nest we had stirred up.  As long as we held Bonnerue, the Germans had use longer and secondary routes to funnel their supplies to their advancing troops.  We were truly a most unwelcome thorn in their southern flank. After occupying Bonnerue, there was a continuous attempt to push us back south of the highway.  Somehow, we managed to hold the little town.  We had a large force of infantry foot soldiers around the town with that repeatedly repulsed German attacks.  We had 3 of our 57mm AT guns set-up plus a number of bazookas to counter any tank attack.
 
On the morning of January 6th, we heard the unmistaken sound of approaching tanks.  We had the AT gun set up in a small barn yard so that it could be seen until a tank was within 20 yards.  We manned the gun, as we heard a tank coming down the street.  I stood behind the barn door with a Thompson sub-machine gun…about 10 feet from the gun.  We sent two guys around back of the barn with a bazooka.  As the approaching tank came around the corner of the barn, his progress was stopped by a disabled German assault gun sitting in the street.  In order for the tank to get around it, they would have to make a sharp maneuver through the barnyard.  It stopped and one of German tankers opened the hatch cover and stood up so that his whole upper body was exposed.  I waited for our guys to fire the AT gun, but nothing, happened. All I heard was the G— d thing won’t fire.
 
With that I opened up my machine gun and emptied a whole clip at the tanker.  He fell from sight.  The tank started to backup.  I ran to the hay loft and looking down from above could see I had a perfect opportunity to lob a hand grenade in the open turret.  It exploded, the tank stopped for few minutes and then slowly began to back off obviously there must have been a survivor.  Behind the barn and house, we heard a couple of loud explosions.  Our two guys with the bazooka (Walter Cassidy & Arthur Goldschmidt had caught a tank broadside, destroying it.  (Note: That tank sits there today as a memorial to our squad and that battle.)  Later I learned the reason our gun would not fire was due to the fact they forgot to release the safety on the firing mechanism. 
 
In hind sight, it was probably a blessing because at such close range the exploding shell from our gun could well have injured or killed us with flying shrapnel.  Our other two 57mm guns were destroyed by tank fire with a number of casualties.  We were surrounded by infantry, but when one tank was destroyed and another seriously damaged, there was a general withdrawal to several hundred yards out of town.  We had stopped a major attempt to reach the highway.  The two men (see above) who destroyed the tank with the bazooka were awarded the Silver Star and given promotions to rank of sergeant.  I was awarded the Bronze Star. After things had quieted down and we realized just what we had been through, we all experienced an aftershock of severe shakes that lasted for several hours some people call it combat fatigue.  During the engagement, you never think about the danger you are facing.  It is only after the fact that you realize that it could have been your final moments on earth.  Under cover of darkness, we were relieved and took off to St. Hubert.  We arrived about the same time as the Free French Forces of The Interior (FFI) and shared in the liberation of St. Hubert.  We were elated that none of our squad of eight was injured or killed.
 
Footnote: As of today, the residents of Bonnerue remain grateful for what we did in liberating the town for their parents and grandparents. One local citizen is writing a book about the events of those winter days in 1944-45. I have had the pleasure of exchanging information with him via e-mail and regular mail.  It is gratifying to know our mission has not been forgotten after all these years.
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle website 2013
By Pfc Harry J.  WINTEMBERG

 

3rd Battalion

 

"AT" Company

 

347th Infantry Regiment

 

87th Infantry Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium