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US Army

Battle of the Bulge -- 68 years later

 

Battle of the Bulge -- 68 years later
 
I was discharged from the service in December 1945.  One year after the beginning of the “Battle of the Bulge.”  My family constantly quizzed me on a day to day basis.  “Do you remember where you were on Christmas Eve?”“What about New Year Day?” Etc… Etc…
 
There hasn’t been a Christmas Season these past 67 years that my mind doesn’t wander to these hectic 40 days (December 16, 1944 thru January 25,1945.What made these 40 days of my life so special? I relive them every year.  I have lived 33,235 days of my 91 year life.  
 
Why has this period left such a profound effect on me?  
 
We serviced the 33rd Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division.  The table of Organization for an armored regiment consisted of 3 tank battalions; each tank Battalion consisted of four tank companies each company consisting of 17 tank crews or 204 tanks and crew members.  In addition each regiment had a Headquarters Company, Maintenance Company, Reconnaissance Company, and a Service Company.  Of the sixteen armored divisions in Europe in WWII only two were considered heavy armored divisions. The second (Hell on Wheels) and the third armored were the only two armored divisions with regiments. 
 
I was a high speed radio operator in our Company Commanders halftrack.  Our 45 trucks were assigned to the respective companies to supply them with fuel, ammunition, food, clothing and various other duties such as picking up the dead, supplying the companies with replacements, taking members to R & R, Picking up prisoners and taking them to the rear.  Some of these duties left a mark on me and my emotions.  Example: Picking up our dead and placing their frozen bodies in our trucks.  Often these returning trucks were loaded with replacements that had spent Christmas at home on furloughs prior to being sent overseas.  One occasion when we delivered these fresh troops to their respective companies they encountered some heavy fighting and in a two day period, ten of these replacements were killed.  Can you feel the emotions of their families?  How would you feel using the trucks to pick up our dead soldiers and several hours later take a load of German prisoners to the rear assuring them safe passage to the States? 
 
Being on the radio while stationed in Breinig (near Stolberg Germany) we began getting disturbing news as early as December 14th.  About the heavy movement of equipment near the German/Belgium/Luxembourg borders.  Evidence that forebode action was to take place.  Our intelligence ignored this information as diversionary distractions.  We finally started our retreat on December 18th and were part of the main defenses of the Northern flank.  I’ll never forget as we pulled out of Breinig, the towns people lined up on the streets and bid us goodbye.  Many of them crying. 
 
You must remember that period of time in the fall of 1944 from September 15 thru December 18. We had been in this area for a period of 3 months. Long enough for the Germans to learn that we were not the bad guys the Nazi party led them to believe.  We even shared the churches on week end and it was a sobering thought to see the natives fervently praying for their sons, brothers, husbands’ safe return.  Just as our relatives were doing in the States. 
 
As we left Breinig and headed westward in retreat, it was a nightmare of bitter cold, muddy and slippery roads and heavy fog limiting visibility.  On many occasions we had to stop until vehicles in front of us were winced back on to the road or if mired too deep they were left for the following maintenance crews to handle. 
 
Adding to the fog and pitch black night, hundreds of German buzz-bombs were being sent our way. Several crashed nearby.  One narrowly missed our General Rose’s jeep and knocked his driver out of his vehicle.  There was an icy paralyzing mist over the entire battle front.  A cloud of fine driving snow glazed the roads to slippery ribbons.  Snow drifts covered extensive fields of anti-tank mines and the hard frozen ground made digging foxholes impossible.  The Ardennes looked like a Christmas card, but it was agony all the way.  Because of poor weather conditions our air force was grounded until Christmas Eve thus preventing the one strength we had - that of bombing the German advancing columns.  Fortunately we had some good weather for a few days and the tide of battle began to change. 
 
I went through the five major campaigns in Europe .Normandy, Northern France, Central Europe, The Rhineland and the battle of the Bulge.  Why does the Battle of the Bulge keep popping up more than the other campaigns?  Our Unit saw a lot of horror in Normandy.  The armada of planes we witnessed on July 26.  It was H Hour.For the greatest combined air/ground operation in the history of modern warfare.  This was the “big push” the St. Lo breakthrough.  Thousands and thousands of B-17’s, B-24’s and British Lancaster’s dropping their bombs on the heavily fortified German headquarters.  This was a clear day and the thousands upon thousands of planes obliterated the sun. 
 
Who can ever forget the slaughter that occurred during the Central Europe campaign in Mons, Belgium when units of the Third Armored and Big Red One had a field day when two German Armies jostled to get through the narrow intersection in Mons.  The two American units took over 50,000 prisoners during the German retreat to their Siegfried line. There were untold enemies that were killed.  We got an education when the Belgians, oblivious to the gun fire were risking their lives to cut up the horses that were shot during the skirmish/The Germans at times used horses to pull their equipment.  The Belgians were deprived from meat during the Nazi occupation, probably never before in the history of warfare has there been so swift a destruction of such a large force. 
 
Who can ever forget what we encountered at the tail end of the Rhineland campaign as we overtook the Nordhausen concentration camp.  Hundreds and hundreds of bodies were piled high waiting to be put in the incinerators.  Some of the bodies were still moving and you could hear an occasional muted groan coming from the heap.  These poor souls were starved to death and left to die on this pile.  The stench was terrible, conditions filthy and the task at hand was monumental.  Sorting out these bodies was a ghastly and sickening task.  I had no appetite for 3 days.  We were told there were about 2,000 prisoners in this camp. 
 
As I review these campaigns, I come to realize why the Battle of the Bulge left such an impact on me. The Ardennes was one of five battle stars.  Even the bitterness of that terrible campaign, the cold, the pain, and the horrible weariness of unending combat flowed together and was fused in one vast, foggy recollection.  It was like an arctic nightmare in which only the most jagged edges of pain might be recalled. 
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle November 2013

By Sgt William B. RUTH

 

"SV" Company,

33rd Armored Regiment

3rd Armored Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium