My section has come back from a tour of duty at the battalion OP in Hillbringen, and they have moved into a comfortable house in Budingen, complete with running water, beds, stoves, and a well-equipped kitchen. They bring with them a phonograph in good condition, and forty odd records. We have a new RO-Lt. Fray. He has just received his whiskey ration, and in honor of my return he breaks out this whiskey and we have a small party. Chapman and Manning have received packages from home containing food; we eat, drink, play the phonograph, sing, and have a fine time. We turn in at about 2300. Artillery fire is unusually heavy to the north. "First Army must be making a push," one of us says.
Guns are still drumming in the north when we wake on the morning of Dec. 16th. Rumors are already floating when we reach the kitchen truck for breakfast: German patrols have crossed the river to the north, and one of them has grabbed four men out of division headquarters. The Germans are counter-attacking across the Roer. We are going to pull out and go to a rest camp. No, we're staying here for ten more days.
At 2100 we are alerted to move on 30 minutes notice. We load our vehicles, roll our bedrolls, and wait. At 2400 we decided no movement is coming off; Phillips goes to the CP with the peep with instructions to come back and notify us as soon as the battery commander gets March Order. The rest of us flop on mattresses, full field, and sleep. Phillips wakes us at 0530: The column moves out in 30 minutes, he says. We mount up on the halftrack and peep and move up the road to our place in the battery column.
It is still dark when we move out. We roll steadily west and south and cross the river at Sierk, into Luxembourg. The day is clear and sunny, almost warm. The column halts not far from the river. We eat K Rations and throw the packages on the road; a colonel from division headquarters comes along and sees the paper and gives us hell. We get out and police up along the road beside the vehicles. After two hours the column begins moving again, slowly, west and north on the highway which runs through the city of Luxembourg. Queerly, the streets are lined with civilians watching our column pass; the old men are grave, and the women weep. Young men hold up two fingers spread in the V-sign, and children wave small American flags. What kind of a deal is this we ask ourselves. Howcome these people are all excited, when the war moved away from here three months ago?
We find out when we pull into Kopstal, after dusk. Guns thunder in the east, and the horizon flickers steadily with their flashes. Ack-ack searchlights probe the dark skies nervously. We pull our vehicles into a field on the edge of the village, and the battery-commander calls up the chiefs of section. He gives us all the information he can: the Germans have launched an offensive through northern Luxembourg and southern Belgium, using plenty of tanks and aircraft. We will probably be committed before morning, and when we move out of here, we may go out shooting. We will eat a hot meal and-as soon as billets are arranged for-we will bed down and get as much rest as possible.
Through Lt. Fray's French and my German we manage to get rooms for ourselves-and for Lt. Fox and Phillips, my peep driver-in a large and comfortable brick house. Vachon takes care of the rest of the section in a tavern, where the men have to walk only ten feet from their beds to get a beer at the bar. But Lt. Fray and I have the choice billets of the town; we have hot baths in a real bathtub, we have ham-on-rye sandwiches and beer wit the family, listen for a while to their radio, and bed down at 2300 in featherbeds with sheets.
I am awakened by Lt. Fray snapping on the light in my room and yelling at me. "Let's go, Sergeant. If we had been at Fire Direction half an hour ago we would have been too late." I shake Phillips and dress quickly. My watch says 0200. We pile into the peep in a drizzling rain and slam down the street toward the tavern. The section is dressed and are rolling their bed-rolls. We climb into the half-track and follow the captain's peep to Fire Direction. Anti-aircraft guns are firing two kilometers away, and we can hear the plane's engines.
Fire Direction is in a blacked out schoolhouse. As soon as all battery commanders, RO's and FO's are there, the colonel briefs us. "The Germans have crossed the Sure river here," pointing to a wall-map, "here, and here. Tanks and infantry SS and SS Panzer. They're through our outpost line on the river, and we're all there is between them and Luxembourg city. Get your maps and overlays, and be ready to move out in 15 minutes. Be sure you've got full gas tanks and plenty of machine gun ammunition and grenades. The liaison officer will guide you up to your team commanders. Good luck."
Lt. Fray and I work feverishly, scotch-taping map sheets together and marking overlays, and I go out and get the half-track and peep turned around. Chapman gets two more cans of gas and pours them into the half-track tanks. Temple checks the machine gun. The lieutenant climbs in and we follow the half-track ahead. We move slowly in total blackout. It is a dark night. We join our tank-infantry team in Gonderrange, find our place in column and Chapman cuts the engine of the half-track. We doze and smoke cigarettes-shielding them carefully below the armor-until dawn. Then the column moves out, eastward into a misty rain, tanks in the lead. We go through Junglinster and Altrier, and make contact with German infantry in the woods near Michelshof. Our lead tanks blaze away into the woods with 76s and machine guns, and the infantry dismount from their half-tracks and fan out to the right of the road. The column halts while they comb the woods. They bring in a couple of prisoners, who are promptly questioned. A command peep buzzes up to the head of the column and there is a conference. Shortly another team passes by us on the highway and drives straight ahead. We turn left down a graveled road into Scheidgen. There a platoon of Panzergrenadiers unwisely attempt to stop our tanks with machine guns and bazookas. The last one dies in a cellar after MM 76s have blown in the side of the house and our infantry has worked in close enough to throw grenades through the cellar window.
Fire Positions Selected
Our tanks select good firing positions among the buildings and our infantry sets up machine guns in cellars and digs in along the north and east edges of the town. My section sets up in a house; it is protected from artillery fire by houses on three sides, the cowshed is large enough for our half-track, and underneath is a good cellar in case the war gets rough. Manning runs the radio cable into the house and runs a telephone line to the team-commanders CP. Temple and I set up a Cal-30 machine gun on a table in the back of the room of the house, covering the open field to the east. The word comes down to expect a Jerry counter-attack with tanks and infantry; we get set and wait. In half an hour German artillery begins dropping shells into the village--88's and 105's. At first they come in from the east and northeast; then from the northwest, north and southeast. We are being shelled from five directions. Luckily for us, the village is on low ground, with hills on three sides of us, and the German guns are obviously firing by map. Most of the shells go over; a few tear off the roofs of houses. A tank destroyer platoon, shooting indirect fire from the field to the west of the village, opens up and silences one German battery.
We sit in Scheidgen 42 hours, waiting for a German counter-attack that never comes off. As artillery observers, there's little that Lt. Fray and I can do; we can't see anything to shoot at. We listen to our radio and from the messages that come over, plus what information we get from the tankers, we learn that the German attack has swung around to the north. Heavy fighting is going on near Consdorf, Waldbillig, and Diekrich. In our sector the Germans have been stopped, mostly by artillery fire. We're spread out so thin that we haven't enough tanks and infantry to counterattack. We sweat it out, staring into the rain, listening to German and American artillery groping for one another in the mist.
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* Much thanks to Rob Floerke, son of Vernon Floerke for contributing this series by Paul Gawthrop, discovered in his dad's Wartime scrapbooks.