Reprinted from The Bulge Bugle, November 1990
Of all my World War II memories those of the first few days of the Battle of the Bulge remain the most vivid.
On Dec. 16 our positions, which were in a densely wooded area, abutted the International Highway at the Belgium-Germany frontier. Immediately in front was a ditch paralleling the two-lane macadam highway, and beyond there was a cultivated field which offered a field of fire of 100-500 yards. The terrain then dropped off, and the edge of the field was our horizon. By walking about 100 yards to our right, however, we could see the dragon-teeth tank traps and beyond the pillboxes of the Siegfried Line.
I was on sentry duty from 4 to 6 on the morning of Dec. 16. Toward the end of my watch, I saw that the horizon was brightly lit, as if by searchlights. On other occasions, there had been some illumination of the sky at night in the direction of the enemy, but it had never been as bright as on this night. I became concerned and considered calling Staff Sergeant Enloe, our platoon sergeant, whose sleeping hole was the first squad’s area. I hesitated, however, since Sgt. Enloe was a very deep sleeper, and when I had called him on another occasion, I had found it difficult to wake him up. In the meantime, I heard conversation about 100-150 feet to my right; perhaps with a better view the sentries there were able to discern the reason for the light. On my left, however, all was quiet. Finally, I decided to waken my relief a little early, and for a few minutes we wondered about the light on the horizon. I then entered my sleeping hole, but I recall sensing that this morning there was something wrong. In addition to the light, perhaps subconsciously, the warnings which we had been given recently were contributing to my uneasy feeling. About a week earlier we had been visited by an officer who urged us to so improve our fighting holes that we “would be able to live and fight in them for days, if necessary.” Then came the engineers who installed trip wires and flares in front of our guns. Finally, there were the words of the mortar forward observer who told us of seeing a large number of wagons ostensibly filled with hay or straw (which, as he said, undoubtedly concealed supplies). However, I was cold and sleepy and wanted to rest; I am sure I did not think of these things at the time.
I had just taken off my boots when the first shell struck. We had had some minor harassing fire before, so I was not concerned, but the volume of fire increased rapidly. There were tree bursts, and shrapnel was entering the small opening of my sleeping hole. I put on my boots and was outside seconds after the shelling stopped. My fighting hole was on the other side of the first-squad machine gun, so I dropped into the nearest foxhole, which turned out to be Sgt. Enloe’s (he occupied mine during the ensuing fight).
By the time I reached the hole the first-squad gun had started to fire and the second-squad gun began shortly thereafter. The bright light, which would have silhouetted the attacking Germans coming over the rise, was gone, and I had difficulty picking out targets. Tracers and one or two flares revealed bodies crawling toward us. I was firing my carbine more rapidly than I had ever done before; I noticed that the first-squad gun on my right was firing effectively; the second-squad gun on my left was firing a little high.
Suddenly I heard a shout in German a few yards in front of me. I recognized only the last word – “Hitler!” Then there were two sharp explosions one or two yards to my right – hand grenades – followed by a burst of burp-gun fire. The bullets dislodged dirt and stones in front of my hole, and they struck me painfully in the face. It occurred to me that I might be exposing myself too much. The fighting hole was well built, narrow, relatively deep and with a firing step. However, Enloe was significantly shorter than I, so I had to crouch in a narrow space in order to place my weapon at the level of the top of the hole.
Gradually the firing decreased in volume. The attack had failed. With the increasing light I could see at least a dozen bodies lying in front of us. To my right, just at the edge of the highway, a German lay with his body pointed directly at our gun. He was so close that I was concerned that the gun could not be depressed far enough to stop him, so I fired two rounds into his body. He was already dead.
Directly in front of me, about 15 yards away, a German soldier raised his head and threw away his rifle. I called out instinctively, “Kamerad, kommen sie hier!” Sgt. Enloe ordered everyone to hold his fire, and the soldier rose and walked toward me, crossed the highway, and stumbled through the ditch. He was a handsome young man, not more than 18, wearing a snow cape, and with a faint smile of relief on his face. His eyes never left my face or the carbine I had trained on him. One of the B Company sergeants had him stand with legs apart against a tree and relieved him of his grenades. The soldier, fearing that he would be shot, began to cry. He would probably have been the first German I would have had to face in hand-to-hand combat if the enemy had crossed the highway. A rifleman was assigned to bring him to B Company headquarters. There may have been German penetration some distance to our left, along the path to headquarters, and I was told later that both men were killed on the way back. I tend to believe this not to be true, since I know that one of our walking wounded did make it.
Shortly after this, the burp gunner, probably the officer who earlier had tried to exhort his men, tossed away his weapon, tentatively raised his head, and slowly began to get up. Several rifle shots were fired, and he dropped to the ground and did not move again.
From the edge of the field a German with a light machine gun on a sled stood up, shouted something, and pointed to the blood at his abdomen. He continued to call to us, either begging us to help him or to finish him off, I could not determine which. After about 15 minutes, he fell to the ground and was still.
All was quiet the rest of the day. At about four in the afternoon, we received word from the right that a German attack might be developing. I recall Sgt. Enloe’s words to me as we prepared to fight again – “good hunting,” he said, as calmly as if we were starting out on a pheasant hunt in Pennsylvania. But there was steel in his eyes. The attack never materialized. (Sgt. Enloe received a battlefield commission, was transferred to a rifle company, and was killed in action some weeks later while leading an attack on German positions. He was a cool, intelligent, and very courageous soldier.)
The night seemed endless. All of us were on high alert. German patrols were operating in our rear. An occasional burst of automatic-weapon fire to the ground, designed, I suppose, to draw our fire, revealed in the flashes Germans as close as 50 yards behind us. From continually staring to our front I began thinking that I saw in the misty darkness some of the bodies move. Our squad sergeant said I was seeing ghosts. However, as dawn came one could see that at least three bodies had vanished, including that burp gunner who had tried to surrender. Perhaps both of us were right about what I had seen.
We were immensely relieved to have passed through the pre-dawn and dawn without another attack, but at about eight o’clock, we were told that our position was untenable. We fell straight back, reached a dirt road just in time to see a group of mortar men pulling out with a jeep and trailer loaded with ammunition, and continued further on to what appeared to be a headquarters area. There was something of a clearing and a dirt road. Many of the trees had been cut down and the troops had actually built tiny log cabins for themselves.
Quite surprisingly all was calm and quiet the rest of the day and that night (although again we did not sleep_. I had the impression that perhaps we were being shielded by some unit, conceivably one that had been in reserve. I don’t recall our even setting up a defense line or perimeter.
Next morning we were told that the Germans were deploying large patrols, up to 100 men, and that they were attacking scattered units such as ours. We started to leave the clearing for the woods. The machine gun was moved to the edge of the clearing and was trained on the road, when my squad sergeant sent me back for more ammunition. Just as I picked up two boxes, I saw and heard coming down the road a large group of smiling Germans, herding and prodding in front of them some of our soldiers. The GIs were being forced to shout, “Surrender, Americans.” I recognized some of the members of one of our mortar platoons. Still carrying the ammunition, I ran back to the gun just as some of the men were moving into the woods.
Then began a very strange 15 hours. We moved along a barely discernible path in the forest, led by an officer whom I did not recognize. He was understandably thoughtful and somber and looked at a map frequently. At one place we left the forest and crossed an open field in groups of two or three, running as fast as we could, and reentered the forest. Occasionally we would stop, and immediately we would begin digging in. We had no shovels, and because of the tree roots we made little progress. At one point, we were told that we would make a stand where we were; however, we remained there for only about one hour. The situation was eerie – there was no sound of fighting anywhere nearby, the forest was enveloped in mist, and we had no idea where we were or to where we were going.
The day wore on and with the mist it was becoming dark early. We emerged from the forest and entered a very large cleared area sloping upward. We came to a dirt road, passed a burned-out jeep, and then saw far ahead up the hill the barely discernible outlines of a building. The second gunner and I began to argue about the name of the town we were approaching. We were stopped by a burst of automatic weapon fire – the tracers passed far over our heads. Although the ground was saturated from the run-off of the melting snow, we began digging in. Our squad sergeant called us and said we were turning back. We had been at the head of the column; when I turned around I was surprised at the number of men behind us – perhaps as many as 75. In their midst there was a tall, strongly built German prisoner. He was turning his head, glancing quickly and anxiously, obviously looking for a chance to escape. The rest of the column moved into a draw or ravine which ran at roughly right angles to the direction in which we had been moving. The approaching darkness, the gloomy aspect of the draw, and the stress of the past three days suddenly began to affect me. I began to feel that this would be my last day alive, that I would not see another dawn.
Although we were moving through the draw in increasing darkness, the cloudy sky was reflecting fires that were burning not far off. To this illumination was added the occasional glow of rockets passing overhead. We were obviously near areas of combat.
At one spot there was some small-arms fire. I looked across the draw and saw, in the dim light, paper or wooden targets in human form – this had been a practice range, but now the shooting was apparently being directed from the target area to the other side. The draw narrowed somewhat and we came under artillery fire. There was at least one air burst; later I speculated that perhaps we had been shelled by our own artillery. In dropping to the ground, I knocked off my helmet, and the machine gun I was carrying at the time hit me on the back of the head. I am sure I would have felt more pain if my adrenalin level had not been so high. We rushed through the narrows, heading none of us knew where. A soldier approached me begging for help. He had been struck in the throat by shrapnel, could scarcely speak, and smelled of blood. I could only offer encouragement, urging him to keep moving. He turned to someone else. I learned later that he did not make it.
The group began to move more slowly. We were emerging from the draw, the light from the bright orange sky revealed that an orderly column was being formed. I recognized the voice of a sergeant from one of the rifle companies, encouraging us and urging us to keep moving. We had reached American lines. We had survived to fight another day.
Lionel P. Adda, D/393