05 November, 2011

05 November 1944


438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
Germany
5 November, 1944       1100

My dearest darling Wilma –

I’ve just finished sick-call and I thought I’d get started on this before lunch. I’ve been kept busy the past 24 hours or so and there’s no telling when I’ll be interrupted. There was no mail yesterday for anyone. In the evening we were supposed to have a movie – something called “The Primitive Man”. We never did get to see it because something went wrong with our projector – so we ended up playing bridge again, drinking a bit of Rhine Wine – and spent a pleasant evening. I was disturbed by a couple of little things before finally getting to sleep. In the middle of the night, 0315 to be exact, I was awakened by a tapping on my window; I was sure it was parachutists – but dammit – I had left my pistol in the dispensary. Anyway I yelled out and heard a woman’s voice and the voice of one of our guards. There was a woman about to have a baby and they needed a doctor. I didn’t know the woman, but we’ve been in town long enough now so that everyone, I guess, knows where the ‘Herr Doktor’ lives. It’s been a long long time since I’ve been called on a civilian night case. I got up, went over to the Dispensary and managed to get together a kit. The delivery was easy and all went well. The mother had a nice little baby boy – about 7 lbs I should say – and she was happy because she had 3 girls. The father, incidentally, is dead – about 2 months ago, I believe. As I walked back to my room I couldn’t help but appreciate the paradox of our being here to kill Germans – and yet bringing new ones into the world who may be fighting in some other war. Oh well – he’ll be named Fritz – after his father – and he really is a cute baby.

In one of your letters of last month, dear, you mentioned you were surprised that I might be willing to leave the lucky 438th to join a hospital perhaps. I admit – that was a change in policy for me, but the longer we stay in a war area, sweetheart, the more aware you become that there just isn’t such a thing as a lucky outfit; everyone gets his share – from what I’ve been able to observe. That reminds me – you also mentioned that Les was now in France. Do you know his outfit – or address? See if you can get it for me, dear, – you never can tell, I may be able to look him up. And also by the way, dear, who told you I was near Aachen? Yes, it did keep us up, – and more than that.

You really gave me a comfortable insight into home life one day when you wrote about my coming home after a hard day’s work and relaxing, etc. One thing you must remember, though, and that is that a doctor doesn’t come home – very often his day is right at home – and even if his office is in another spot, he is still at home part of the day. In other words, darling, you’ll have to see me on and off during the day as well as at night. Will that be all right? But the picture of us – even in the mind – spending a quiet evening at home – sure is a pleasant vision and oh how often I think about it! And don’t you worry about my being lonesome these days; there’s nothing you can do more than you are, dear, and that is to continue to write me the sweet and thoughtful things you do. That’s all I want and need right now.

You mentioned your Birthday present and being excited about it. I hope you won’t be disappointed – but it was all that was available. Incidentally – I do hope it gets to you. There are now two parcels on the way – it’s over two weeks now, I guess. I haven’t had them returned and I just hope they get through. Oh yes – neither parcel is marked in such a way that you could tell which is your present – so you can consider either one as it; better still – if you get them – call them both your Birthday gift.

Well, darling, I was not interrupted, but now it is near time to eat and I’d better be off. So I’ll say so long once more – but only in writing – because actually, dear, I am with you every part of the day – in every sense of the word – except physical.

Regards and love to the folks – and

My sincerest love –
Greg

* TIDBIT *

about Schmidt, Kommerscheidt and Vossenack
3-5 November 1944



Perhaps the most comprehensive collection of materials concerning "The Battle of the Huertgen Forest" is found on Scorpio's Website. Most of the following has been extracted from various parts of that site.
Schmidt
While the successful capture of Vossenack on 3 November 1944 had earned praise from the 28th Division commander, Major General Cota, the failure of 1/112 (1st Battalion, 112th Infantry) to cross the Kall, or even advance much past Germeter, had been disappointing. The next day, 3/112 had been chosen to lead the next attempt. The new plan had called for a movement through Vossenack, bypassing the defended woods to cross the Kall at the Mestrenger Muhle (shown on the map above) and then move on Schmidt. 1/112, less B Company, would follow the 3rd Battalion, and Armored 707th Tank Battalion was to support the entire operation. This time, the attack had been startlingly successful, with the German defenders in Schmidt caught by surprise and driven out handily.

A state of euphoria had swept the division and corps headquarters. Unfortunately, the 3rd Battalion had been the only unit from the 112th that had reached Schmidt on 3 November. The battalion also had been without armor support. The only route into Schmidt open to the division had been the Kall Trail and this route had been proving to be nearly impassable for armor. The 3rd Battalion had been dangerously exposed and its only anti-tank weapons had been mines and bazookas. Its soldiers had become cold, wet, and exhausted. Leaders and soldiers alike had sought out warm buildings during the night and had prepared only the most rudimentary of defenses. The battalion had sent out no patrols during the night leaving the commander blind to what was around his bunk.

The 109th and the 110th had made no progress on 3 November. In the south, tough German defenses had continued to hold the 110th in check. Casualties for the regiment had mounted steadily. The infantry units, unsupported by tanks, had continued to force the assault despite the heavy casualties. By the end of the day, they still had had nothing to show for their sacrifices. In the north the initial success of the 109th also had ground to a halt. At dawn the 109th had fought off two counterattacks and subsequently had canceled plans for its own attack toward the town of Huertgen. Much like the forward elements of the 112th, the 109th had found itself surrounded on three sides by well dug-in defenders.

Then, in the early hours of 4 November, disaster had struck when a strong German counterattack, composed of armor from the 116th Panzer Division and infantry forces from the 89th Infantry Division, had attacked the 3rd Battalion in Schmidt just after dawn. German artillery had conducted a brief but fierce shelling of the town immediately prior to the German assault. The shelling had stunned the American infantry in their hastily prepared positions.

The German infantry had followed the shelling by attacking the town from almost every angle. German tanks, impervious to the bazooka fire of the American infantrymen, had followed close on the heels of the attacking infantry. Due to communications difficulties, American artillery had not begun to provide support until the German attack was over an hour old. Confusion within the 3/112th had grown rapidly and soon had turned into panic. Soldiers had begun to flee for the woods and leaders had lost all semblance of control. In little more than three hours of fighting the Germans had recaptured Schmidt and the 3/112th had ceased to exist as an effective combat force.

Kommerscheidt
The German counterattack next had struck the 1/112th, defending the village of Kommerscheidt. Here the American defenses had been better prepared and had had armor support in the form of three Sherman tanks. Leaders also had rounded up and put into the line approximately 200 of the panic-stricken soldiers from Schmidt. The defenders had beaten back the German attack, though not without substantial losses. Early the next morning, nine tank destroyers and six tanks had further reinforced the position at Kommerscheidt. This discouraged any immediate German efforts to launch another counterattack on Kommerscheidt.

Meanwhile, in the Kall gorge the Germans had gained the upper hand. They had infiltrated the main supply route and had mined the trail, leaving both the 3d Platoon, Company B, 20th Engineers, and two squads of the 3d Platoon, Company C, 20th Engineers, unaccounted for. Company A, 20th Engineers, was still virtually intact in a defensive bivouac near the entrance of the trail into the woods southeast of Vossenack. A four-man security guard was presumably still at the Kall bridge, but for all practical purposes the enemy controlled the vital river bridge. The 28th Division's G-2 Periodic Report for 5 November, in making estimates of enemy capabilities, had failed to mention the possibility of enemy action coming down either end of the undefended Kall gorge.

The Kall Trail, from Vossenack toward Kommerscheidt

Vossenack
At Vossenack the situation was perhaps worst of all, though its seriousness was perhaps not so readily apparent. Remnants of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, still held the town, but they had been subjected to three days and four nights of murderous fire from German artillery, self-propelled guns, and mortars. The men had undergone about all they could stand.

Early in the morning the 2d Squad of the 1st Platoon, Company F, under Staff Sergeant Charles W. Cascarano, in position at the head of a shallow wooded draw leading into the positions on the east, saw about twenty Germans moving in a column of twos through the wooded draw toward its positions. The squad's automatic rifleman sprayed the Germans with fire, wounding nine, killing four, and putting the rest to flight. The wounded Germans lay where they had fallen for about: four or five hours, moaning and crying, before five German medics with a cart: picked them up.

The enemy shelled the open ridge with artillery from the direction of the Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge and with self-propelled guns and tanks, sometimes firing twenty or thirty rounds at one foxhole before shifting targets. The men noticed no lessening in the fire even when American planes were overhead. In the Company E area, four men who were using a barn for shelter were buried in an avalanche of baled hay when the upper part of the barn collapsed from a direct artillery hit. Frantic efforts by others of the company to dig out the men were unavailing, and the building burned.

Just before dark enemy shelling methodically wiped out six men in two-man foxholes of Company G along the trail that was an extension of the town's main street. When the men near by saw their companions blown to bits, some pulled back to the houses, leaving an undefended gap of more than a hundred yards in the center of the defense. Efforts by officers of both Company G and Company F to fill this gap went for nought. The troops ordered into the holes, utterly fatigued, their nerves shattered, many of them crying unashamedly, would return to the dubious protection of the houses.

The regular Company E commander, 1st Lt. Melvin R. Barrilleaux, who had returned the night before from a Paris leave, visited his platoons after dark. He found most of his men so affected by the shelling that he felt they all should be evacuated. Many were in such a shocked, dazed condition that the platoon leaders had to order them to eat, and one platoon leader was himself evacuated for combat exhaustion. Virtually the same situation existed in the other three companies.

The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Theodore S. Hatzfeld, had himself become a virtual combat exhaustion case. He insisted on remaining at his post, but Captain John D. Pruden, the battalion executive officer, conducted the major command functions. The company commanders reported the situation to battalion; battalion informed them it was being reported to regiment; and no relief came.

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