On the morning of the third day Manning receives a message over the radio: we are to report to Fire Direction immediately. We go back up the gravel road to the main highway, turn right and roll until we see "A" Battery in position on the right of the road. We find out from the Exec Officer where Fire Direction is and go down there. The S-3 gives us a new assignment; we're to report to a task-force commander in Junglinster, and act as forward observers for a platoon of assault guns. We find the CP in Junglinster, get four hours sleep, and shove off with the column on a night march northeast to Larochette. Our task force, together with a task-force from another division is ordered to drive the Germans out of Waldbillig. Lt. Fray and I watch the attack from a hill, which we use as an OP. It is the most beautifully coordinated tank-infantry attack I have ever seen. Our artillery pulverizes the town; tanks deploy along the crest of a ridge and open up with machine guns and 76's; our infantry calls us over the peep radio and we go back to the half-track. An urgent message has come from Fire Direction; we are to report there as fast as we can move. Back we go, through Christnach, Larochete, and Junglinster, then up the highway to Altrier. The colonel gives us our orders: we're to go up the road to Michelshof, and report to a lieutenant of Combat Engineers. This lieutenant has two platoons of engineers, two light tanks and a TD. At Svheidgen are four tanks and a platoon of infantry. These two small forcers, plus our own battalion of field artillery astride the Luxembourg-Echternach road, are all there is between the Germans and Junglinster. The lieutenant and I look at one another and do a little mental arithmetic; three platoons and seven tanks-that's two hundred men-plus our artillery battalion-eighteen 105's, a few machine guns and bazookas, and four hundred men, eighteen guns, five 76's, two 37's and a few machine guns to cover a front that would normally be assigned to a division of fifteen thousand men.
The colonel continues: our Piper Cubs have spotted German tanks and infantry moving southwest down that road. We are to register the battalion on the road, and hold the Jerries off with artillery fire until reinforcements move up from our rear.
It is midnight and soft slushy snow is falling. We ease up that road, moving quietly as a half-track can. There are woods on both sides of the road and the night is quiet. Too quiet. It is cold, but I sweat, crouching over my machine gun. Temple watches the left with a BAR: Lt. Fray covers the right with a submachine gun. Manning is ready with a grenade in each hand. We live seven lifetimes before we creep into Michelshof and an outpost challenges us. Lt. Fray whispers the password and a guide helps me maneuver the half-track in through a narrow archway into the courtyard of the farmhouse. Manning and I run the radio cable into the farmhouse, while Lt. Fray takes the range and compass off the map, adds 500 yards for safety and sends back the data to Fire Direction for the registration. Due to map-error, the shell bursts just short of the crossroads by the farmhouse. The lieutenant curses German maps in general, adds six hundred to the range and tries again. This time he gets the burst where he wants it-on the highway at the edge of the next woods. He leaves the telephone, comes into the farmhouse and we sit on the floor, smoking and waiting for the Jerries to try their luck.
The first German attack comes about noon the next day. And it is so insane that at first we hesitate to open fire. A swarm of small figures boil out of the woods six hundred yards to our front and move across the open field toward us. At first we think they may be American infantry-one of the companies which has been cut off along the river and is now trying to cut its way back to our lines. But the mob shakes itself out into a long skirmish line, and moves steadily toward us at a walk. At four hundred yards there is no mistaking the long, gray-green overcoats, the black boots, and the leather cartridge belts. The engineers open up with rifles, BAR's and machine guns, and the one light tank still in ooperating condition opens with 37 and machine gun. Lt. Fray yells into the telephone, but the line is dead. Twite, Vachon, and Temple relay commands by voice from the lieutenant to Manning, at the radio. "Fire Mission. Fire Mission. Concentration A-17 is 300 over. Infantry counter-attack. Request battalion." The first salvo blots the Germans out with black smoke and flying mud. The engineer's machine guns rattle steadily, rifles and BAR's crackle, and our lone light tank gunner has a field day with his 37. Our battalion repeats fire for effect one time and our small arms blast away for twenty minutes. The engineer lieutenant blows his whistle and gives Cease Firing. The smoke blows away.
Three hundred yards to our front is a dark spot in the snow, two hundred yards deep and three hundred yards wide. One hundred forty-two dead Volksgrenadiers are picked up there later. None get back into the woods. One man, wounded, crawls in and surrenders in the late afternoon. I questioned him for the engineer officer. He is half-frozen, bleeding and badly frightened. He says that it was supposed to have been a battalion attack, with a platoon of tanks in support. One company was to hit our right flank, one the left, and his company was to attack us frontally. "Where are the tanks", I asked him? He shrugs; they have never showed up. What about the other two companies? Probably, he says, they saw what happened to us. Our medics bandage him and haul him away in a peep.
But the other two German companies have not forgotten us; neither have their tanks. The infantry sets up their mortars and begin dropping shells into our courtyard, and soon 88s tear holes in our roof and batter the third story of our farmhouse. However, the house has stone walls two feet thick, and mortars and 88s do little damage to the first floor and the cellar, where we are. We have a few men wounded in the courtyard by mortar shells and the cellar becomes an Aid Station. The medics are short of materials but they function swiftly and efficiently. Their lone peep shuttle back and forth, under fire, and they evacuate all the wounded. In the night a company of infantry from a crack Third Army division moves in and reinforces the engineers.
Germans Try Attacks
Next day the Germans try couple of half-hearted attacks but these do not prosper. Our company of infantry then attacks and drives into the woods a few hundred yards. A forward observer party from another artillery battalion comes up and relieves us and we go back to Fire Direction, all of us riding the half-track. Our peep has taken a direct hit from a mortar and is no more.
Our battalion displaces that night and we ride with the battery column. At midnight the battery goes into position near Fishbach, but does no firing that night. My section digs slit trenches and beds down. The snow has stopped falling and the night is clear.
I am awakened at dawn by the sound of airplane engines, hundreds of them. For the first time in over a week-a week during which rain and mist and fog kept our planes grounded-our Air Force is out in force. Bombers and fighters go over by the hundred, by the thousand, thundering steadily east. This is the morning of December 23, the morning von Rundstedt's bulge started shrinking.
The battalion displaces again this day, moving north far enough so that we can shell German rocket batteries on the north side of the Sure river. All day long the bombers roar overhead. Next day our bombers come over again, all day, and our artillery hammers the south flank of von Fundstedt's bulge. Our mail catches up with us on Christmas Eve, and everyone gets packages. I eat fruitcake, lying on straw piled in an old German machine gun emplacement roofed with a tarp. Christmas Day our bombers roar over all day, formation after formation hammering east. The mess-sergeant and cooks justify their existence by cooking a better turkey dinner than they ever did in the States. On the 26th we are pulled out of the line and sent south into France for a rest. One Combat Command is cut off in Bastogne, with the 101st Airborne and the rest of division is battered and tired. But we've accomplished our mission; no German reached the Meuse river or Luxembourg city, save as a prisoner of war. And while we fought it out with the Germans in the rain and mist of northern Luxembourg and southern Belgium, Gen. Patton has moved the Third Army up from the Saar and swung it into line. Von Rundstedt's part is over.
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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.