US Army

Tank Battle

Tank Battle
Our wall-less castle kept us out of the wind, but thank God it was not bitter cold. On the 17th of December one of our squads from the Divisional M P Platoon of the 99th Infantry joined us. They pulled in just north of our castle in two six-bys about 50 yards away. Johnny Strange said they were taking over a former Jerry barracks they had stayed in before just up the hill from us. It held about 20 men and equipment. I said I’d see him tomorrow, but I had a feeling I would never see him again.
Their squad had 13 men. The following night all but one, a guy we called Pop, because he was 39 years old, were killed by .88 barrage. Pop happened to be behind a door. The shell hit the building, their corporal got a direct hit and immediately disappeared, to be plastered all over the room. They died at the snap of a finger. Harold was waiting for an appointment to the Military Academy at West Point. This guy knew exactly what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. His appointment came through four days after his death. All of them were overseas no more than a month or so. This was their first time under fire.
The next morning the Jerries jumped us with a squadron of Stuka-dive bombers. You could hear them coming. We went out in the road thinking they were ours. Then they started peeling off. Everyone you laid eyes on was running every which way. Miller and I dove for one of the inside comers of our castle. We got there as one and hung onto each other. The interim between the peeling off and the initial impacts of the bombs was enough to scare you to death. You get five of the mostly ghastly combination of sounds you would ever want to hear. The peeling off of multiple planes, the diving, the pull up, about this time you’re asking your maker to please help. The screaming of the bombs, followed by the dribble explosions all around you. When it’s done you can’t help thinking how or why you were still around. I survived air raids, but Stukas?
The perimeter of one of the bomb craters was on the other side of the wall Miller and I were crouched behind. I had a buzzing in my head for two days and a case of vertigo. The wall standing about ten feet high fell on top of us. A lot of guys died, including a direct hit on an ack-ack pit killing everyone in it.
Late the next afternoon a jeep pulled up. A colonel asked Sergeant James, "How many men do you have?" The sergeant replied, "Eight, Sir." He said, "Sergeant," pointing to a field across the road, "have them dig in on the other side of the road.You may very well earn your CIB tonight." And off they went. We stood there looking at each other, no one said a word. We crossed over and started digging in.
I chose a spot about 30 yards in from the road. Tom Tompkins was the only to dig in beyond me. The rest dug in along the roadway. By the time it was dark everyone was settled, the only thing you heard was the wind.
My foxhole was about two and a half feet deep by a foot and a half wide, and over five feet long. Hell, I was only about 5’4" at the time. Shortly, I fell asleep.
Pow! Pit-tu! Blam, and I was on my knees, eyeballs popping out of my head. Pow! Pow! Pit-tu! Pit-tu! Blam! Blam! The shells were flying right over my head. You could see them go by. About 100 feet away was a tank, how he got there is beyond me. Then it started. There were more tanks behind him. The only thing on my mind was "Hail, Mary', full of grace"- It wasn’t bad enough that they opened fire, but then someone started shooting back. The shells were so many they would collide and fly upward. Then it stopped. I snuck a peek at the closest tanks - Pow ! Pit-tu! Blam! -right over my head. I actually saw a Jerry standing on top of the tank.
By this time I was numb to thinking. I thought the next time that gun goes off, he’s dead-you could see [him] by the flash of the gun. I dropped myself over the edge of the foxhole, my piece pointing in the same direction. Pow! Pit-tu! Blam! My heart almost stopped - he wasn’t there. He was in the turret! All you could make out was his head and shoulders. I said, "Now!" I rolled out of the hole and rolled down the slope toward the edge of the road. I stopped abruptly, realizing I had rolled against someone. Ya know -- Jerries have a definite smell of ersatz cigarettes and leather. For a couple of minutes, I didn’t move a muscle. The firing stopped. I assumed this guy was dead. I sat up real fast and threw myself over the lower part of his body to get away from him.
Halfway over he had me by my jacket. I twisted out of his grasp, horror was overwhelming, reaching for my trench knife in my legging. I was on top of him swinging at where his head was. I hit him in the side of his head. Why hadn’t I just stabbed him I thought. I rolled off of him backwards and got into the gully at the edge of the road. Pow! Pit-tu! Blam! It stopped. I snaked my way across the road and crawled up against the shot wall of our castle. I laid up against the wall trying to become a part of it. The tanks were shifting around. Then it was quiet. I crawled around to the side of the building, and to the rear comer. There I was lying at the edge of the crater where Miller and I had crouched together during the air attack. Finally, I got to the edge of the pine line about 100 feet behind our castle. I chose a thick pine, lying on my stomach, head against the trunk and facing the shooting. Everything was quiet.
Eventually I dozed off. Next thing I knew it was getting light. I watched the fog rising slowly off the ground. It looked like I was the only person on earth. I was lying there thinking of Mom and Dad and praying to God for help.
Someone was coming down the road and calling. Then I heard him distinctly. "Tom, hey, Tom. Yankee." ,It was Sergeant James looking for Tom and me. I yelled, "Sergeant, over here." He came running over to me saying, "Are you alright?" "Yeah," I replied. "Where’s Tom," he asked. I told him I didn't know, that he dug in beyond me.
We crossed over into the field. Sergeant said, "Where’d he come from? He wasn’t there when we dug in last night," pointing to the jerry lying on his back. I looked closer, he had a welt on his temple. "My God," I thought. I looked toward my trench knife in my legging and then I realized that in my panic I had struck him with the butt end of the knife and not the blade. He was badly wounded from another wound. He probably grabbed at me for help and instead I hit him. "Shit," I thought. We yelled to Tom and he poked his head out of his foxhole, looked at us and made a long drawn out excremental remark. No one in our squad got hurt. When the shooting started, they were near the edge of the road. They got into the ditch on the side of the road and took off in the direction of our lines. You can’t fight tanks with small arms.
(Those nine days, December 16th to 25th, were almost two life times. Out of the total mount of our two squads of 21 men, 12 were KIAs, 2 were MIAs. I wound up in the 2nd Evacuation Hospital in Eupen, and after a week or so was sent to a rehab hospital in Dinant, France. Two years ago, by the grace of God, I located Bill Tompkins, known as Tommy. Fortunes of War? Someone up there sure liked us.)
Source: Bulge Bugle November 2000

By Jerry C. HRBEK

428th Military Police

Escort Guard

Attached 99th Infantry Division


Battle of the Bulge,