Thursday, October 23, 2014

Surviving a Patrol, Immendorf, Germany: December 1944-- As told by Roscoe C. Blunt, Jr., 84th Infantry Division

     A platoon leader, a typical 90-day wonder, came by and asked for volunteers to accompany him on a reconnaissance patrol.  Still not very wise to the ways of the army, I volunteered.  He said we would be reconnoitering in front of CHARLIE Company.  I was to wear only a field jacket, wool cap and carry no weapons.  We were to scout the area on an intelligence-gathering mission and not engage the enemy; and if we were discovered, we were to try to escape rather than put up any resistance.      
     Not too pleased about infiltrating unarmed behind German lines, I stuck a knife in my boot, a P-38 German pistol under my shirt and a D-ration chocolate bar in a jacket pocket.  The lieutenant briefed me on the terrain we would cover and the password for the day.  We would be back before dawn he said.
Roscoe C. Blunt, Jr.; age 19, 1945
     ... At the edge of town we started to crawl, and soon I was covered with mud, nature's own camouflage.  I made my way through a break in the stone wall and over a hump on the ground.  It was a dead German.  I recoiled, but after my heart stopped pounding and I settled myself down, I continued on.  After a hundred yards or so, I was exhausted with mud down my back and thoroughly soaked by the rain when suddenly, I heard a whispered challenge, "Orphan." "Annie," I responded quickly.  It was a CHARLIE Company forward position.  I told him I would be out in front of the lines for several hours and to pass the word along in case there were any trigger-happy new replacements on the company line. 
     As I crawled, I instinctively felt before me for trip wires, mines, or barbed wire.  I tried to orient myself with landmarks I had studied on the map at the briefing, but I couldn't see anything.  It dawned on me as I crawled forward that I was lost, so I decided to abort the mission and crawl back to our lines.  Every direction I probed seemed strange to me and I couldn't find any landmarks.  Also, I hadn't seen or heard the lieutenant for quite a while.  An American machine gun opened up in the distance, but the echo distorted its direction.  I dug my face into the mud and waited for the firing to stop.
     Sensing a form before me, I hoped it was one of the buildings in Immendorf.  It turned out to be a huge tree.  I didn't remember any that large left standing back in Immendorf.  I had been crawling deeper into German territory and away from our lines in Immendorf.  I became aware of other forms and knew I was in a wooded area where, I hoped, I could get some shelter from the rain.  I crawled to the base of another tree before realizing the tree was a Wehrmacht sentry towering above me only inches away, huddling from the weather. 
     Sizing up the situation quickly, I realized I couldn't go back and I couldn't move forward or around him without being discovered.  There was only one alternative; to eliminate him silently.  Slowly rising to my feet with P-38 in hand, I hit him as hard as I could at the base of his skull.  He collapsed without a sound.  I took my knife, rolled him over and drove it into his throat with a vicious twist.  In the rain I heard a soft gargling sound as I plunged the knife repeatedly up to the hilt into his chest.  Stabbing him took all the strength I had in my arms.
     I lay on the ground panting, my heart again pounding in fear.  It was my first kill with a knife.  I had been baptized with the sentry's blood all over my arm.  I was near sheer panic, but I had to find a way to get away from there as fast as I could.
     "Wer ist da?" (Who is there?), a muted voice called out.
     "Es ist nur mir" (It is only me), I answered in frightened desperation. "Ich musz pisse." (I have to piss.)
     "Sei ruhig" (Be quiet), the voice admonished.
     In a rush, my breath came back, for I had been holding it for what seemed like five minutes.  My mind became twisted with terrified thoughts.  Daylight was starting to come on and I remembered a dead GI I had seen who had been found by the Germans with a German pistol in his possession.  They had rammed it down his throat and fired it, blowing the back of his neck off. 
     I didn't want to be captured with a P-38, but I hung onto it anyway.  At least if I had to, I could give it a fight as long as the eight-round clip lasted.  My chances of making it back to my lines were growing slim and I forced myself to face my dilemma. 
     I crawled into a dried-up brook bed and waited, trying to figure a way out of my predicament.  Bushes on both banks offered  excellent cover that I hoped would buy me some time.  In the pre-dawn I could make out a German bivouac with men washing, shaving and cleaning their weapons about 150 feet away.  From their routine manner, it appeared they had not missed the sentry, yet. 
     I could see a tank, two .88s, stockpiles of ammunition and supplies and a large group of soldiers digging in.  They had slipped in during the night and apparently were planning to defend the area.  This information was needed back in Immendorf, but there was no way to get there and no one to give it to. 
     Later, the early morning sun warmed me slightly and started drying my soaked uniform.  About noon, I tried to break off pieces of by D-ration and soften them in my mouth without being seen, but the brook bed was only about a foot deep. 
     As I watched the Germans, a commotion started and two of them came into the bivouac area carrying the dead sentry.  I heard the word "Patouille" (patrol).  They were unaware the sentry's killer was still only a few feet away and, fortunately for me, they didn't bother to search. 
     At the sight of the dead sentry, a wave of nausea came over me.  I quickly scratched out a hold in the gravel, placed my face in it and vomited up pieces of the D-ration I had been eating.  They didn't hear me.  I decided to wait until nightfall and again try to make it back to Immendorf. 
     At dusk, I chanced raising myself up--hopefully still hidden by the bushed-- to search to Immendorf.  As I did so, a Mauser rifle shot cracked near me.  I slammed my face back into the gravel, angry I had given my position away.  The shot was only a German soldier shooting as a rabbit supper. 
     With each call of nature, I could not move, not even roll over without being seem by the Germans, so each time I was forced to wet my pants, the price I paid to stay alive. 
     I lift my head slightly, shooting quick glanced around the countryside.  Behind me to my left I could see rolls of defensive barbed wire, meaning the American lines had to be in that direction.  I waited until it was pitch black and started crawling.  My body ached all over from lying cramped in the ditch for so many hours.  I crawled as far as I could on my stomach and then scrambled to a kneeling position.  I wormed my way through the barbed wire, and thinking I was safe at last, stood up and started walking toward the town. 
     "Buck," a voice called out.
     I forgot, the password is changed every day.  "Orphan Annie" was no longer the password of the day.
     "Rogers," I gambled.
     "Buck," the voice repeated.  The outpost hadn't heard my reply.
     "Rogers," I yelled back.  "I'm an American.  I've been lost on patrol since yesterday.  I don't know today's password.  For Christ sakes, let me in."  
     "Buck," he yelled back for the third and last time before I knew he would start firing.
     I dropped to the ground and yelled, "You dumb son-of-a-bitch, I'm an American."
     "Advance and be recognized," the voice instructed.  I stood up and approached the outpost. 
     "What's your company?" he quizzed me.
     "What's your company commander's name?"
     "Captain John Bowen."
     "Where ya from?"
     "Worcester, Massachusetts."
     "Where do the Red Sox play?"
     "Fenway Park, Boston."
     "OK. C'mon in," the sentry said, apparently satisfied. 
     "The password is 'Buckshot' not 'Buck Rogers,'" he told me.
     I had guessed incorrectly, and had almost been shot because of it.  I had crawled back through DOG Company's line, about a quarter mile off course from where I had started the night before. 
     The lieutenant had returned without me, giving me up for dead or captured.  When he saw me, he was anxious to get any information I might have.  I described what I had observed, even though I was confident the lieutenant would take full credit when the information was passed up to battalion.
American Infantry move past a knocked out Panther tank in Immendorf, Germany; Dec. 1944
     Then I wolfed down some food and returned to my billet to change uniforms and sack out for a few hours, only to find all my gear missing.  The squad, thinking I was dead, had divvied up my possessions.  Begrudgingly they returned everything, even my Christmas packages from home. 
     I was instructed to show company officers on a map the coordinates of the German position.  A few minutes later, the area was pounded by 105-mm and 155-mm howitzers.  They must had hit the supply dump, for I saw black smoke curling upward from where I estimated the German position to be. 

Roscoe C. Blunt, Jr.

PURCHASE Inside the Battle of the Bulge by Roscoe C. Blunt, Jr. HERE

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Near Beek, Holland- Operation Market Garden 1944: Dwayne Burns 508th PIR, 82nd Airborne

1 Lt. Polette, 508th, 82nd Abn
Up the road heading for Beek to counterattack the 3rd Battalion came what looked like an enormous slice of the German Army.  My view was limited through the trees, but there were more enemy troops than I had ever seen at one time.  They were walking along in three columns at route-step and they didn't even know we were right there above them. 
     A realistic guess would be that this was a battalion, maybe reinforced, or some other portion from a larger unit.  What really set it off was the staff car with the top down and some high-ranking officer riding in the back, acting like he was number one.
     Hollywood could not have created a better scene.  They had come right up the road toward us as if they had never heard of the American Army.
     With them right under our noses I found myself nearly afraid to breathe lest they hear me.  Since we were limited in numbers I thought maybe if we stayed hidden they would just pass on by and go into town where the 3rd Battalion plus F Company could show them a real good time.
Lt. Polette, probably at the Sissone Wishing Well 
     "My gosh, what are we going to do?"  I said. "There are so many of them." 
     Polette was right beside me but I didn't really know who I was speaking to.  I guess I was talking to myself, because Polette suddenly swing his Thompson machine gun off his shoulder.  I looked over at him and he turned and looked back.
     With a quick double shift of his eyebrows he said, "Let's go get 'em."
     His voice sounded so causal and his expression so smug, one might think we were sitting in a pub and were going to try to pick up a couple of girls at the next table.  I wanted to ask, "Get 'em with what?"
     Without another moment's hesitation, and even though we were greatly outnumbered, he took off down the hill.  I was still trying to ready my own weapon and join the run when Lieutenant Polette starting firing his first shots.  Now, it must be explained, all the troopers of F Company would have followed him to hell and back if the lieutenant said we could do it and would lead the way, so down the hill we went.  This action isn't in the books and remains unknown in war history, except for the few troopers who were there and survived, but it had to be one of the greatest classic battle charges of the European campaign.  
     There were only thirty or forty of us on that part of the hill, but there were several hundred enemy soldiers at the bottom.  Slamming down the hill, firing from the hip and screaming at the top of our lungs, we acted like crazed Indians on the warpath, and suddenly this hill was the Little Big Horn, with General George Custer waiting below.  
     Despite being few in number we had great willpower, and with each step, with each scream, our spirits became wilder.  The Germans we unleashed ourselves upon must have felt our energy.  They likely had sensed our determination and, not knowing our true head count, had surely visualized their own massacre.  Our advantage was the tree cover and the Germans were in the open.  The platoon was spread wide, and below it must have sounded like the gunfire came from the entire hill.  The Jerrys broke and ran like whipped puppies.  It almost looked like an organized move.  That is to say, they all turned tail and ran as one.  We started to cut down the hill at an angle and ran after them until we got to the road.  There Polette called a halt.  
     He shouted his orders, "This is as far as we go! Pick your targets."  He dropped down on one knee for better aim, and his Thompson jumped every time he cut loose.  
     I took a place at the roadway's edge and picked a target.  Down on the flats the Germans were running for their lives.  There was no cover.  All they could do was try to get out of our range.  There were so many of them I found it unusually hard to concentrate on one mark at a time.  
     Only one German seemed willing to stand and fight, and he was in the back of the staff car, madder than hell.  His driver had turned off the road and was gunning ahead of the rushing retreat.  The officer stood up, shouting and waving his arms, trying vainly to get his men to stop and reorganize.  But the soldiers had the bit in their teeth and there was no stopping them.  We urged them to continue on their way with a helpful repetition of small-weapons fire. 
     As the last Germans made his escape to a range of safety, we finally stopped firing and sat down to watch them finish their way across the flats.  Between the two sides, one could see scattered pieces of equipment and dead or writhing Krauts for a thousand yards.  The "devils in baggy pants"-- the German nickname for us paratroopers-- had scared them off again. 
     After a brief pause from our mad sprint down the hill, we withdrew back to the top and set up an organized defensive position in a pear orchard.  The view was good there.  We knew it was only a matter of time, however, until the Germans would regroup and start back.  Maybe this time they'd hit us with artillery fire.  But we figured they wouldn't try coming across the open flats again. 

"JUMP Into the Valley of the Shadow"- Dwayne Burns 
pages 121-123


Monday, September 15, 2014

Lewis P. Fern- 504th/82nd ABN and Robert G. Cole- 502nd/101st ABN; Inextricably linked

Fern during training at Ft. Benning, 1941
I've been reading "Babe Ruth, the Bride, the Battle: The Remarkable Life of Paratrooper Lewis P. Fern" written by Cyndi Todd. 

Not only was Lew Fern the grandfather of friends I grew up with in the Philippines, but he was one of our nation's first paratroopers.  He was a jumpmaster, and  left the army as Captain Fern HQ/2/504/82nd Airborne.  His first combat jump was Operation Husky; Sicily, July 1943.  He then jumped at Salerno.  He earned the CIB, and his ETO ribbon bar has 4 campaign stars and 1 arrowhead.

This book is extraordinary because it includes many photos, maps, and the entire unit journal of the 2nd Battalion, 504th PIR, 82nd Airborne from pages 87-180. 

Lt. Col. Cole describing the June 10 battle of Carentan, 1944
What got my blood pumping was on page 44 when I discovered that Fern's recruitment and training officer for a short time at Fort Benning in 1941 was none other than First Lieutenant Robert G. Cole.  Both Cole and Fern were in the 501st during this short period.  Cole rose quickly in rank, and ended up a Lt.-Col. in the 502nd/101st Airborne Division; Lew Fern a 1 Lieutenant in the 504th/82nd Airborne Division. 

Colonel Robert G. Cole is a personal hero of mine.  Many people know about his Medal of Honor citation for his charge to take Ingouf farm in Carentan during the Normandy campaign.

This discovery and connection is particularly poignant as it is the eve of the 70th anniversary of the  Market
Garden drop (Sept.17, 1944).  Cole would lose his life 1 days later on September 18, 1944, hit by a German sniper with a kill shot to the head, from a distance of 300 yards.  Cole had raised his head momentarily out of a tank to scope his position in order to place orange identification flags for a pilot asking his position.  

"Cole affirmed Lew's belief about being a parachute soldier, by telling him it was going to be the best experience of a young man's life." - pg. 44
Later on, when Fern had been trained and he was at the door of an A-23 Transport for his first jump out of a plane on the way to earn his wings "he was not nervous because he had confidence in what he had been taught by Lt. Cole, who was a man of faith."  (pg. 51).  Fern was one of 5 men chosen to take this jump, and he was ready. 

Although he was jumpmaster, Lt. Fern jumped first instead of last on the Sicily mission, as "a few of his men were hesitant to jump out of the airplane".  Fern went on to lead his men through "the jaws of death" as his C.O. Lt. Col William Yarborough described it after they jumped into Salerno. 

The men who fought, bled, and died during Market Garden are particularly on my mind.  Cole lost his life, and Fern made it through.  And while Fern and Cole were never in combat together, Cole had an indelible influence on Fern's leadership and combat abilities. 

Here are  two  YouTube videos of Cole recounting the attack on Carentan

Attached is a photograph of Lew Fern at Ft. Benning while in training under Cole, (pg. 45).  (Fern is wearing the A-2 cloth helmet, which was replaced by the Riddell plastic helmet later in 1941.)  The next photo is of Lt. Col. Cole recounting his experiences in the battle for Carentan.  It is a still from the YouTube video linked above. 

Purchase "Babe Ruth, the Bride, the Battle: The Remarkable Life of Paratrooper Lewis P. Fern" by Cyndi Todd HERE

Thursday, August 21, 2014

PATROLS Parts 1 & 2 - William A. Foley, Jr.

Understanding Patrols: 

"Ambush on a German Patrol" by William A. Foley, Jr. 
"The front lines in World War I were continuous trench systems well manned for several hundred miles, and it was dangerous in the extreme for even small patrols to try sneaking through these trenches to the rear.  But in this war, both armies often established strongpoints and placed small groups in isolated points in between.  They ran contact patrols to their right and left to check on their security and to try to intercept any enemy's attempts at infiltrating a patrol to the rear.  Both armies used patrols to actively probe and locate weak points and then would attack in strength.  If a breakthrough occurred, the attackers would attempt to roll up the lines to the right and left, as well as penetrate the rear.  In general, one-third of the defensive force was located to the rear of these weak points.  If a breakthrough happened, this reserve was employed as a counterattacking force.  The U.S. Infantry of World War II was a triangular design.  One of the three rifle platoons in the line company normally was kept in reserve.  The battalion having three rifle companies help one in reserve; and, of course, one regiment of the three in a division was held in reserve.  All of these units were rotated in turn so the men in the foxhole line could rest and refit in the rear for hours or days."

"Visions from a Foxhole:  A Rifleman in Patton's Ghost Corps"
-- William A. Foley, Jr. pgs. 40-41

On scouting on patrol:

"Officers, noncoms, and machine gunners were the most apt to be hit by something because they moved around more than members of a squad...
     But the man at the point, the scout, moves to unfamiliar territory, leading a patrol or heading a column of hundreds of men strung out behind-- his second scout often moved thirty yards to his rear.  The scout's job is to choose the best route possible and to see or hear the enemy soldiers-- or even smell tobacco smoke (if the wind is right)-- before he is seen.  he must use arm-and-hand signals to warn and instruct.  Either a sergeant or officer joins him where he is concealed; or, when he senses danger, he moves to the rear fifty yards or so to confer with the decision makers.
"Scouts Dig In" by William Foley Jr. 1945
     An alert enemy always has the advantage.  They are usually concealed and dug-in while he is in the open and moving.  The enemy knows his area and the scout does not.  An experienced outpost or MLR* will allow the scout to move past and then quietly will take him prisoner.  Perhaps the second scout would meet the same fate.  Therefore, the rest of the column unsuspectingly could move up and into devastating small-arms fire and mortar shells.  No matter how to looked at it, a scout had a heavy responsibility and an awfully good chance of having his punctured body tossed into the back of a six-by-six truck.
     My feelings were definitely mixed when informed I was to be a scout.  I met the sergeant's eyes, and controlling my fear, I nodded and said, "Okay, Sarge."  And while hoping it would be a one-shot deal (no pun intended), I was inwardly thrilled at the prospect of the experience.  But I would have been happy to see someone else do it."

--19 year old William Foley, Jr., outside Orsholz, Germany, January 30, 1945
Pages 41 and 42, "Visions from a Foxhole: A Rifleman in Patton's Ghost Corps"- William Foley, Jr.

*Purchase "Visions from a Foxhole" HERE via Amazon
*Purchase a print of "Ambush on a German Patrol" and "Scouts Dig In" as well as many prints of Foley's wartime drawings HERE

*Main Line of Resistance

Thursday, June 5, 2014

D-Day Quotes 1st Infantry Division- OMAHA Beach, June 6, 1944

Anonymous Pfc, US 1st Infantry Division
16th Inf. Regiment, 1st Inf. Division, Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944
There were men crying with fear, men defecating themselves.  I lay there with some others, too petrified to move.  No one was doing anything except lay there.  It was like a mass paralysis.  I couldn't see an officer.  At one point something hit on the arm.  I thought I'd taken a bullet.  It was somebody's hand, taken clean off by something.  It was too much.

Captain Joseph T. Dawson, 16th Infantry Regiment, US 1st Infantry Division, aged 30
Captain Joseph T. Dawson landed with G Company, 16th Infantry,
1st Infantry Divsion during the assault on Omaha Beach.
Dawson being awarded the Distinguished Service
Cross, the second highest award for valor from the US Army,
for his actions on D-Day. 
The beach was a total chaos, with men's bodies everywhere, with wounded men crying, both in the water and on the shingle.  We landed at high tide, when the water was right up to the shoreline, which was marked by a sharp-edged crystalline sand, like a small gravel, but very, very sharp.  That was the only defilade which was present on the beach to give any protection from the fire above.  That was where all the men who had landed earlier were present, except for a handful who had made their was forward, most of them being killed
...The beach sounded like a beehive with the bullets flying around.  You could hear them hit and you could hear them pass through the air.  

16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Inf. Division, Omaha Beach

Capt. Edward W. McGregor, US 1st Infantry Division
My impression of the beach when I landed was, 'This is a rough place to be.'

From the book "D-DAY The Normandy landings in the words of those who took part"
Foreward by Field Marshall Lord Carver, Edited by Jon E Lewis
Pages 103 and 104
Purchase "D-DAY..." here: Amazon
Top and bottom photos by Army photographer Robert Capa

D-Day Minus 1

Do yourself a favor today June 5, 2014, and watch this 16:53 minute clip titled "D DAY MINUS 1"

"Yes, their mission had been successful. But, this down payment on freedom ran very high."

Friday, February 7, 2014

Captain Andrew Haldane; K/3/5 1st Marine Division

Captain Andrew Haldane, K Company, 3/5 1st Marines
     "Johnny Marmet came striding down the incline of the valley to meet us as we started up.  Even before I could see his face clearly, I knew from the way he was walking that something was dreadfully amiss.  He lurched up to us, nervously clutching the web strap of the submachine gun slung over his shoulder.  I had never seen Johnny nervous before, even under the thickest fire, which he seemed to regard as a nuisance that interfered with his carrying out his job.
     His tired face was contorted with emotion, his brow was knitted tightly, and his bloodshot eyes appeared moist.  It was obvious he had something fearful to tell us.  We shuffled to a halt.
     ..."Howdy, Johnny," someone said as he came up to us.
     "All right, you guys, let's get squared away here," he said looking in every direction but at us.  (This was strange, because Johnny wasn't the least reluctant to make eye contact with death, destiny, or the general himself.) "OK, you guys, OK, you guys," he repeated, obviously flustered.  A couple of men exchanged quizzical glances.  "The skipper is dead.  Ack Ack has been killed," Johnny blurted out, then looked quickly away from us. 
     I was stunned and sickened.  Throwing my ammo bag down, I turned away from the others, sat on my helmet, and sobbed quietly.  
     ...Never in my wildest imagination had I contemplated Captain Haldane's death.  We had a steady stream of killed and wounded leaving us, but somehow I assumed Ack Ack was immortal.  Our company commander represented stability and direction in a world of violence, death, and destruction.  Now his life had been snuffed out.  We felt forlorn and lost.  It was the worst grief I endured during the entire war.  The intervening years have not lessened it any.
Andrew Haldane, 1941
     Capt. Andy Haldane wasn't an idol.  He was human.  But he commanded our individual destinies under the most trying conditions with the utmost compassion.  We knew he could never be replaced.  He was the finest Marine officer I ever knew.  The loss of many close friends grieved me deeply on Peleliu and Okinawa.  But to all of us the loss of our company commander at Peleliu was like losing a parent we depended upon for security-- not our physical security, because we knew that was a commodity beyond our reach in combat, but our mental security.
     Some of the men threw their gear violently to the deck.  Everybody was cursing and rubbing his eyes.
     Finally Johnny pulled himself together and said, "OK, you guys, let's move out."  We picked up mortars and ammo bags.  Feeling as though our crazy world had fallen apart completely, we trudged slowly and silently in single file up the rubble-strewn valley to rejoin Company K.*

Andrew Haldane receiving Silver Star for actions on Cape Gloucester

*At the time of Captain Haldane's death, the bulk of Company K was operating with its parent battalion (3/5) on Hill 140 within the Umurbrogol Pocket.  In an attempt to orient himself to the strange terrain his company was occupying, Haldane raised his head and looked over a ridge.  A sniper's bullet killed him instantly."  (He was killed October 12, 1944.)

--With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge, pgs. 150-151

Purchase With the Old Breed here:  "With the Old Breed" via Amazon

Wednesday, January 22, 2014