The following story is from the
"War Diary" of John Kline, a nineteen year old Squad Leader, Heavy
Machine guns, 2nd squad, 1st Platoon, M Company, 423rd Infantry
Regiment, 106th Infantry Division.
We left the woods near St Vith for front line positions. Our
destination was a defense line in the Ardennes forest atop the Schnee
Eifel (Snow Mountain). The positions were 12 miles east of St. Vith and
were in Germany.
A name we would learn to remember, Schönberg, was 9 miles east of
St Vith and 3 miles west of our positions. We were facing the German
troops from emplacements on the East slopes [reverse slopes] of the
German Siegfried Line, known as "The German West Wall." We took over
positions held by the 2nd Infantry Division and exchanged much of our
new equipment for their old. The exchange was to be made as quickly and
quietly as possible. The 2nd Division was being transferred to Aachen
to participate in an attack on the Roer Dam area. My machine gun
position was a log bunker with field of fire obstructed by dense
forest. Conditions were quiet. Excellent chow was served twice a day.
Historians and military strategists, argue that the Schnee Eifel
positions should never have been occupied. They say that it was
impossible to launch an offensive from there. They argued that the
positions presented no defense against an assault from the east. This
the Germans proved, on Dec 16, as they cut off our positions by
attacking around the north and south ends of the Schnee Eifel. They,
the crystal gazers, were right. A static defense line was not the
answer for a thinly spread force. Any penetration through our lines
would result in disaster.
M Company, 423rd Regiment, was assigned positions along the front line
to support the rifle companies. An Infantry heavy weapons company, like
ours, is equipped with 81 mm mortars and water cooled 30 caliber
machine guns. A rifle company, is equipped with automatic weapons and
mortars, but they are 60 mm mortars and air cooled machine guns. Our
duty is to support the various rifle companies of the 3rd Battalion,
423rd Regiment. They are, I, K and L Companies. Such was our deployment
along the tree covered ridge atop the Schnee Eifel.
The Ardennes forest is, for the most part, heavily wooded. It is
interlaced with many small logging trails, fire fighting lanes and
streams. We slept in rough, but warm dugouts and enjoyed solid gun
bunkers. Built by the 2nd Division, they were built of logs, with a log
and earth roof. We completed our changeover with the 2nd Division as
darkness came. We had no time to become acquainted with the territory
around our new positions. Because of that, and since were fresh and
inexperienced troops, our first night was unforgettable. We were
facing, for the first time, an enemy that we only knew from newsreels
and training films. It was a sleepless and anxiety filled night.
I can personally confirm that a snow covered tree stump will actually
move. That is, if you stare at it long enough - and if you are a young,
nineteen year old machine gun squad leader peering, into the darkness,
towards the enemy through a slit in a machine gun bunker. Every sound
is amplified, every bush could be an enemy crawling towards you. Your
eyes grow bleary from staring into the darkness. You are happy when the
relieve crew shows up. The next day, you take a good long look at the
stump that moved during the night. You take note of all unusual
objects, and then things start to settle down.
There were two gun emplacements (bunkers) for my machine gun squad. One
was higher on the hill, and the other a couple of hundred yards down
the slope. When we first moved in, our gun position was in the lower
bunker. After the first night we were asked to move back up the slope,
to the alternate bunker. For what reason, I don't know. We did
appreciate the move, for the alternate bunker was much warmer and
drier. As in the lower bunker, there were "trip lines" running from the
bunker down into the forest and through the barbed wire. The lines were
attached to hand grenades and flares that were placed in their shipping
containers attached to the trees. If we detected movement in the area
beyond the barbed wire we could pull a trip line. This would cause a
grenade to explode, after it was pulled from its container. A flare
could be ignited to light up the area in the same manner. Our field of
fire was good, but very limited. The 2nd Division had cut down a lot of
trees and cleaned out the brush. However, the forest still offered the
enemy excellent cover.
I remember one day being convinced that I could see a vehicle, in the
woods, several hundred yards down the hill. The contours of the hill
and the thick forest were playing games with my imagination. When I
looked at it from another vantage point, the illusion disappeared.
There was one rifleman to the left of my bunker. He was entrenched in a
log covered foxhole. According to members of the patrols, this rifleman
was the last person between my machine gun emplacement and the 422nd
Regiment. The 422nd Regiment was reported to be five miles across a
valley. The two regiments sent alternate patrols across the unoccupied
space each half hour. They reported very little German activity.
The first days passed without incident. The most excitement we had in
my bunker area was when a nearby 50 caliber machine gun started
blasting away. The gunner had become bored and decided to kill a deer.
We left the bunker area twice daily to eat our meals in a mess tent. It
was back of us, to the West, on the opposite side of the hill. To get
to it we had to walk along a trail, through a clearing, and down the
other side. The Germans had the clearing zeroed in. As we crossed the
clearing, we had to be prepared to hit the ground in case they decided
to harass us. The 2nd Division's squad leader that I relieved, said two
men had been killed crossing the clearing a few days ago. Our daily
trips to the mess tent were something to look forward too. The food was
good and the Mess Sergeant seemed to be friendlier since we have moved
up to the front lines. I did enjoy those meals, there were generous
portions and we could chat with the others and get brought up to date
on the local news.
History shows "The Battle of the Bulge" started at 0530 on the morning
of December 16, 1944. Because we were high atop the Schnee Eifel and
out of the mainstream of the German Offensive, we were probably the
last to know that it had been launched. I cannot remember any evidence
or any sounds that would have indicated to us the size of the battle
that was to take place. A battle that was to become one of the largest
battles in the history of World War II. The 40 days that battle raged
were the coldest and snowiest weather remembered in the Ardennes Forest
area. More than one million men, 600,000 Americans and 500,000 Germans
and 55,000 Englishmen fought in this battle. 32 American, 3 British and
29 German Divisions were in the battle before it ended. The Germans
suffered 100,000 killed, wounded or captured. There were over 81,00
American casualties, including 23,554 captured and 19,000 killed. The
British suffered 1,400 casualties and 200 killed. Each side lost 800
tanks and the Germans lost 1,000 aircraft. The Malmedy Massacre where
nearly 90 American Soldiers were slaughtered was the worst atrocity,
against the Americans, during the European Campaign.
My division, the 106th Infantry Division suffered 416 killed in action,
1,246 wounded and 7,001 men missing in action. Most of these casualties
occurred within the first three days of battle when two of the three
regiments were forced to surrender. In losses - the German Ardennes
Offensive, later to become known as "The Battle of the Bulge," was the
worst battle for the Americans in World War II.
Our company commander set up his headquarters in one of the enormous
Siegfried Line bunkers. The bunker was not completely demolished, as
they usually were. The underground rooms were intact and accessible. He
had taken a room several flights down. The command bunker was on a
crest of a hill. The firing apertures faced west towards Belgium, the
backside towards the present German lines. There were steep slopes on
either side, with signs and white caution tape warning of "Mine
Fields." There was a pistol belt and canteen hanging in one of the
trees on the slope. Apparently, some GI had wandered into the mine
German activity was reported along our front on the 17th (remember the
Bulge started on the 16th). The commander called me back to the command
post. He informed me that I should be prepared to move my gun to his
area to protect the commandpost. While visiting with him, I noticed
that he was very nervous. His 45 Colt pistol was on the table, ready
for action. Our Master Sergeant who was also present, seemed equally
concerned. Later I was to learn the reason for their anxiety. I
suspect, in retrospect, that they had been made aware of the German
breakthrough. Yet did not yet know the importance of the news.
While in the vicinity of the command post bunker, I watched a U.S. Army
Air Corps P-47 Thunderbolt chase a German Messerschmitt (ME 109)
through the sky. They passed directly in front of us. Our area being
one of the highest on the Schnee Eifel, gave us a clear view of the
surrounding valleys. The P-47 was about two hundred yards behind the
ME-109 and was pouring machine gun fire into the German plane. They
left our sight as they passed over the edge of the forest. We were told
later, that the P-47 downed the German ME-109 in the valley.
As it turned out, my machine gun was not moved to the command post.
During the night of the 17th we heard gunfire, small arms, mortars and
artillery. We also could hear and see German rocket fire to the South.
The German rocket launcher was five barreled and of large caliber. The
rocket launcher is called a "Nebelwerfer." Due to their design, the
rockets make a screaming sound as they fly through the air. Using high
explosives, but not very accurate, they can be demoralizing if you are
in their path of flight.
On the morning of the 18th I was instructed to report to the mess tent
for a briefing. As I was walking to the tent I noticed two German
prisoners being guarded by an American GI. They were setting under a
tree near the mess tent. During the briefing we were told that the
Germans had broken through our supply lines. This turned out to be
true, however, we were not informed of how grave the situation was. The
facts were ,as you will read later, that we were cut off from the rest
of the division early in the morning of the 17th. The artillery and
rockets that we had heard to the South, were sounds of the battle that
was taking place at Bleialf, a small village on the road between
Prüm and Schönberg. The 423rd Anti-Tank Company who had that
defensive area had been thrown out of Bleialf on the 16th. They used
all available troops in the area and pushed the Germans out of Bleialf,
only to be overrun again on the morning of the 17th. They were
overpowered by the tremendous numbers of German troops heading
northwest up the Bleialf-Schönberg road. The Germans had closed
the pincers behind us, at Schönberg. We were like a boulder
protruding from the middle of a stream. This proved the military
strategists to be correct. A mountain is not the place to be when you
have no support.
But, I am getting ahead of my story....
We were told to eat a big breakfast because we were going to hit the
road. We were ordered to head west and join with the rest of Regiment.
Presumably to make our way to St. Vith. The cook made stacks and stacks
of pancakes. We all ate like it was our last meal. Little did we know
that this would be our last decent meal for the next four months. We
then prepared to leave our positions taking only the bare necessity and
as much ammunition as possible. Our personal gear was in our duffel
bags, stacked near the mess tent. I had an old Kodak Autographic camera
in my duffel bag. It had been given to me as a gift by a high school
classmate. I always regretted the loss of that camera. One of my active
hobbies after the war was "photography."
We left our Schnee Eifel positions, heading west towards
Schönberg. I was in my squad jeep, with my driver and gunner. We
were traveling between columns of troops that were afoot. At that time
I was not familiar with the names of the villages or towns in the
vicinity. In my studies after the war I read that we evacuated from the
Schnee Eifel positions west through Halenfeld. Then took a right fork
at Oberlascheid to Skyline Drive. Then near Radscheid a left then a
right (northwest) onto a logging road leading into the woods
overlooking Schönberg. (This special note added during my
update of this diary March 1993...)
In 1987, I read a book written in 1985, A Time for Trumpets, by Charles
B. MacDonald. He had written another book just after the war, Company
Commander, which was about his infantry company that fought in the
Bulge. He was the youngest company commander in the European Theater of
Operations in World War II. He had spent five years prior to
publication researching the battle, traveling to the area and gaining
information from many of the participants. His book explained in more
detail what happened during the Battle of the Bulge and seemed to be
written from the ordinary soldier's viewpoint. For whatever reason,
this book turned me on. I began to think back, my mind searching for
details of my personal experiences, and at the same time trying to
remember the names of my buddies, who I seemed to have pushed out of my
mind for all these years. Eventually, from April 1987 to this date,
March 1993, I have located or accounted for 77 of my former buddies
from "M" Company. Of this number 10 have passed away. One of those that
I contacted early in my search - 1987 - was Colonel C.C. Cavender, the
Regimental Commander of the 423rd Combat Infantry regiment, of which
"M" Company was a part of. I was privileged to have the Colonel as my
roommate at the 106th Infantry Division Association's 1990 Annual
Reunion in Sacramento, California. At that time the Colonel was 92
years of age. We spent hours talking about his and the 423rd's part in
the Battle of the Bulge........
Colonel C. C. Cavender told me that we, the 3rd Battalion of the 423rd
Regiment were attempting to get to Radscheid to assist the 2nd
Battalion of the 423rd Regiment. They were engaged in a fire-fight
along the Bleialf-Schönberg road during their attempt to cut the
road which had been taken by the Germans. He told me that originally
the two regiments were to march south of Schönberg and make their
way back to St Vith to join the rest of the division in a defense
situation. Instead of assisting the 2nd Battalion Colonel Cavender
received orders to move the 3rd battalion to the right of the 2nd
battalion and head it toward Schönberg. The route was to be
through the hilly woods, later identified as "Linscheid Hill" southeast
of Schönberg, Belgium. According to orders, we were to cause
utmost damage to the German troops there and continue to St. Vith.
Colonel Cavender, after the war, received much criticism for moving the
3rd battalion to the right around Puett. In a recent conversation,
October 1989, with him, he said, "Those were the orders I received from
General Jones." He then told me more about the battle at Bleialf. He
formed a provisional battalion, the 423rd Anti-Tank Company plus a
mixture of men from other units. This provisional battalion threw the
Germans back on the 16th, only to be thrown overrun again on the 17th.
After moving into the Schnee Eifel front line positions he, Colonel
Cavender, inspected the whole area, including the area around Bleialf.
Accompanying him was his counterpart, Colonel Boos, the 2nd Division's
Regimental Commander. Colonel Cavender expressed concern to him, to
about the open corridor from Prüm to Schönberg. It was
defended by a thin line of troops. He was concerned, as had been his
2nd Division counterpart, that in case of an attack there was a lack of
secondary defense. His fears turned out to be true. When the Ardennes
Offensive broke, the Germans poured around the Schnee Eifel from the
South, through the Prüm Corridor. They then closed the pincers by
joining with the Germans coming into Schönberg from the North
along the Andler-Schönberg road. he asked what reserve or "backup"
resources were available and Colonel Boss replied, "None."
In November of 1989 Colonel Cavender sent me two packets of his
personal papers. These are mostly personal letters from 423rd Regiment
friends and from a few of the division officers. He had explain, after
the war, his reasons for his strategy during the first three days of
the Bulge, and also explain the reason he surrendered his regiment on
19 December 1944. I have read and reread these papers, many which
relate to what happened during that period. I can confirm that those
facts I mention above are the same as his written notes and papers and
his conversations with me on the telephone since 1987 as well as our
personal visits in 1990 at the reunion in Sacramento.
It seems, at least to me and some of my buddies, that the Prüm
Corridor, the area that the 423rd Anti-Tank Company was defending and
the Losheim Gap, the area that the 14th Cavalry was defending, were
left open for a purpose. Could that be true? Were we part of a
calculated risk, or were we setup? It looks as if we will never know.
I, personally, can only relate what we were told as we left the Schnee
Eifel to march to the rear towards Schönberg Belgium (about three
miles to the West). There we were to meet a combat team of an armored
division in Schönberg, Belgium. Later, after getting underway, we
were informed that the Germans had encircled us, and that we had orders
to fight our way through Schönberg and try to reach St. Vith. In
fact, he Germans did occupy Schönberg, the promised armor was not
After the war I learned that on the 16th of December 1944, part of the
German 18th Volksgrenadier Division and the Fifth Panzer Army's Fuhrer
Begleit Brigade [Tank Brigade] broke through the 14th Cavalry Group,
who were on the left flank of our division (north of us on the north
edge of the Schnee Eifel). The Germans drove through along the
Andler-Schönberg road. They were in Schönberg on the 17th. We
did not leave the Schnee Eifel until the 18th of December, 1944.
The 423rd Regiment's Anti-Tank company at Bleialf, on the South edge of
the Schnee Eifel, had been overrun on the 16th by troops from the
German 18th Volksgrenadier Division. A miscellaneous group of troops,
including the remains of the Anti-Tank company had recaptured it. Then
on the 17th the 18th Volksgrenadiers made a final plunge and once again
broke through Bleialf. They were pushing towards Schönberg, a few
miles to the Northwest. We were to see them hit our backside during the
night of the 18th and 19th as we overlooked Schönberg from
Linscheid Hill southeast of the town. Both German units, those from the
North down the Andler-Schönberg road and the ones on the South on
the Prüm-Schönberg road had converged on Schönberg. They
had closed the pincers. By that action the 422nd Regiment, and my
regiment,423rd Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division were trapped in
the Ardennes forest southeast of Schönberg. Considering that,
Captain Hardy, my company commander had reason to be nervous when they
talked to me on the 17th, as he explained that I was to bring my gun
crew back to his Command Post to guard it. He must have been aware of
the seriousness of the situation as it developed, but did not reveal
that to any of our personnel that I can learn. Whether he was aware or
not will never be learned. He was killed on the morning of the 19th,
when the battle opened up on the Schönberg Hill.
German units involved in the battle:
The 18th Volksgrenadier Division was formed in Denmark around the cadre
of a Luftwaffe field division, with fill ins from the Navy. It was at
full strength [17,000 men] and had two months experience, in defensive
positions in the Eifel area. [The 106th Division was not at full
strength. They probably were at less than 12,000 men. They had 5 days
experience on the front line]. The Fuhrer Begleit Brigade, under
control of General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel, was built
around a cadre of troops from Hitler's headquarters guard. It included
a tank battalion from the Gross Deutschland Panzer Division (still on
the Eastern Front). It was strongly reinforced with assault guns [large
caliber guns mounted on tracks]. They were equipped with 88mm and 105mm
pieces from the 460th Heavy Artillery Battalion.
It should also be noted that even though there were many young German
troops and some fillers from other branches of service, the German unit
commanders were veterans. The 106th Division commanders were, with a
couple of exceptions, facing the enemy for the first time. The complete
surprise of the attack, the overwhelming numbers of German troops and
the static position of our two regiments atop the Schnee Eifel
eventually led to our defeat and capture.
Our column did not come under fire until we were near our destination,
a heavily wooded area (Linscheid Hill - Hill 546)southeast of
Schönberg. As we approached the logging trail, near Radscheid, we
were shelled by German 88's. My driver drove the jeep into the ditch on
the right side of the road. A bazooka-man had hitched a ride on the
jeep over the right rear wheel. As we hit the ditch, his weapon fell
apart. The rocket fell out and landed in the mud along side of me,
where I had fallen. Fortunately the bazooka rocket did not arm itself.
As I picked myself up, I noticed a pair of German binoculars lying in
the ditch. I picked them up and hung them around my neck. They were
probably left there by German troops who had been patrolling in this
area. I have often thought, "What if they had been booby trapped?"
A point where my memory fails is that I cannot remember what happened
during the night of December 18. It would have been logical to set up
defensive positions and sleep in shifts, which we probably did.
However, my mind is completely blank about the events of that night. M
Company men I have met in recent years, 1988 and 1989, tell me that we
spent most of the night trying to get our jeeps out of the mud. The
number of vehicles on the road and an unusually warm spell caused the
fields to be very muddy. The weather turned much colder and stayed that
way until after the end of January.
Battle positions: In early morning of the 19th I received orders to
position my 30 cal water cooled machine gun in the edge of the woods
overlooking Schönberg. I was high on a hill, overlooking a slope
leading into a valley. I could see, about 1,000 yards to the Northwest,
the house tops of Schönberg.
Company M, 423rd Regiment, my unit, was assigned to support L Company,
a rifle company, who were preparing to enter Schönberg. They were
advancing down the slope, attempting to enter Schönberg along the
Bleialf-Schönberg road which was several hundred yards in front of
my gun position, in the edge of the woods. The town and area was
infested with Germans, but from my position I saw no sign of them. I
saw little, except the roof tops of Schönberg ahead of us, and a
few of our troops on the slope below us.
A rifle company to our rear, Company I, 423rd, were waiting on orders
to proceed down the hill in support L Company. It was about 0900 when
we were suddenly hit by very heavy artillery fire. It seemed that all
hell had broken loose. The shells were exploding all around us, on the
ground and in the trees. Men were screaming for Medics. I heard during
the day that M Company's Commander, Captain Hardy, had been killed and
the Executive Officer, Captain Wiegers was blinded by a tree burst.
There was a terrible lot of confusion at that time. I thought to myself
that the officers could be from one of the rifle companies. That was
not so, our officers were hit by tree bursts. This turned out not to be
all true - Captain Hardy was killed by the very first tree burst as the
German shells landed in the woods around us. Captain Wiegers, although
hit, was not blinded. I learned in 1988 that he rode a tank out of the
officers camp, Oflag 13C, Hammelburg, during an attempted break-out.
Read the book about Patton's raid on the Hammelberg Oflag, where he
tried to rescue his son-in-law. The name of the book is Raid.
Hammelberg was about 80 miles behind the existing front lines. Most of
our officers ended up being held at Oflag 13C. After the aborted
attempt by Patton to liberate the camp, the Germans put all the
officers on the road, marching in the direction of Bavaria. Colonel
Cavender, 423rd Regimental commander, was wounded on that march. He and
others were caught in the target zone of hundreds of bombers. Cavender
spent several months in the hospital as a result of his leg wounds..
During the day, Smitty, my gunner was injured in the leg by an
artillery shell. I was hit on the backside of my right boot on the same
burst. My right overshoe and combat boot were ripped. I sustained a
small wound in the area of the right Achilles tendon. (In the
excitement and trauma that followed, I did not realize I had been
hit.)It was not serious enough to prevent me from walking and
eventually healed. I learned later, after returning home, that Smitty
had his leg amputated in a German hospital and had also suffered
stomach wounds. His stomach wounds caused him to be unable to continue
to work after 1963. He is one of the first men I discovered in 1987,
after reading MacDonald's book that I mentioned earlier.
The first hostile artillery barrage, at 0900, was unbelievable in its
magnitude. It seemed that every square yard of ground was being
covered. The initial barrage slackened after forty-five minutes or an
hour. I could hear men from "L" Company, on the slopes below, screaming
for medics. Shortly after that the shelling started again. The woods
were being raked throughout the day by a constant barrage of small arms
and artillery fire. We were pinned down in the edge of the woods and
could not move. I found some protection in a small trench, by a tree,
as the shelling started. It must have been scooped out by one of the
riflemen the night before. The front of the trench, pointing towards
Schönberg, was deeper than the back. My feet stuck up above the
ground. I suppose that was the reason I suffered a leg wound. At one
point during the shelling, I heard a piece of metal hit the ground. It
was a large jagged, hot, smoking piece of shrapnel, about eighteen
inches long and four inches wide. It landed a foot or two from my head.
After it cooled off I reached out and picked it up. I don't think is
was a mortar or a 88mm shell. It might have been flak from an
antiaircraft shell. I read in 1987, in MacDonald's book, that the
Germans had many antiaircraft guns (88s and 128s) with them during
their Ardennes Offensive. They were for protection in case the weather
turned better. They knew for sure that the Allied air support would
eventually come. The German antiaircraft gun is capable of being used
to support ground troops. This is done by elevating the guns downward,
and firing timed bursts or tree bursts into the trees that explode on
contact. There is very little protection as the fragments rain down
from above. They also had 20mm antiaircraft guns, mounted on quad
mounts and half-tracks. They were fired into the tree tops, and
sometimes at point blank range, causing severe damage to our troops.
The tree bursts, exploding high in the trees, were hard to hide from.
They caused many casualties. There is no doubt that they were used to
The weather was overcast and foggy and did not turn to the better until
December 21st or 22nd. The sky cleared and it got much colder, as we
were then walking, as prisoners, back into Germany. When the weather
did clear, the Germans had the opportunity to use those antiaircraft
guns for their intended purpose, for there was much Allied air
activity. There is no doubt that it was their fortune in having their
antiaircraft battalions near Schönberg, as we approached it from
the East. Those guns were a decisive factor in the outcome of the
battle for that city. We had very little artillery support. I learned
after the war that the 423rd's artillery support, the 590th Field
Artillery to the rear, was overrun by the Germans troops that were
fighting westward towards Schönberg along the
On the Schönberg Hill, rifle companies, mortar and machine gun
squads were being pinned down in the woods. In the confusion, caused by
the demoralizing artillery fire, they were being separated from each
other. The 422nd and 423rd Regiments lost track of each other. The day
was going bad. There were no targets in view, at least from my point of
view. The Germans were waiting for their artillery to neutralize us,
before they moved. With the ravaging artillery fire, and no chance of
counter artillery, we were literally sitting ducks. There was some
action on the edges of the perimeter. From my position I could see two
German tanks. They were scouting around the area, in the edge of the
woods near Schönberg. One of them threw out a smoke grenade. I was
not able to identify any German infantry troops, prior to being
captured. I learned later that the tanks I saw were mopping up troops
that were pinned down in the fields and road below. Most of the action
occurred early in the fight, between the rifle companies below us and
the Germans across the road. L Company, in trying to push into
Schönberg, was caught in the ditches and fields. It was their men
that I could see and that I could hear screaming for help. They were
being ripped to pieces by the tremendous artillery barrages.
Unfortunately our machine-guns, at least mine, was placed too far back
of the infantry company as they attempted to get into Schönberg.
Normally, we would have moved forward, but the same artillery that was
destroying L Company was also hitting us. At the same time German
troops coming up the road from Bleialf were hitting us from the rear.
This trapped some of the reserve companies who were preparing to come
forward to assist L Company.
One of those rifle companies was I Company, 423rd. In 1987 I acquired a
list of the 106th Division members belonging to "The Veterans of the
Battle of the Bulge. I called one of the listed men, Harold Gene Songer
of Danville, Illinois. (6/4/87) He as a former member of I Company,
said, " Yes, I was in the woods - don't know exactly where. He sais,
"I" Company was being slaughtered. A sniper was killing a lot of them.
We had spotted the sniper, nearby, in a clump of bushes. The range was
too short for the elevating mechanism. My squad leader (mortars) was
trying to elevate the mortar, by holding it vertically. He was killed
by a bullet in the temple. Another mortar man and I grabbed the mortar
and dropped three shells in the area of the sniper, killing him.
"Songer, like myself, was captured. He ended up at Stalag IV-A,
Hohenstein, near Dresden".
From Norman Gruenzner's Postal History of American POWs: World War II,
Korea, Vietnam [State College, Penn.: American Philatelic Society,
1979]. Stalag IV-A was located close to Hohenstein, near Dresden. The
American camp population in December 1944 was 300. In February 1945 it
reached 2,217. There were several work detachments, living in a variety
of places. One group lived in Dresden. There were eleven British work
detachments, but only three or four American work groups. The camp was
closed in March 1945. Songer asked, " Were you in the prison train that
was bombed on Christmas Eve?" My answer, "I was in a small barracks in
Dockweiler, east of Pruem, on Christmas Eve. We were not put into
box-cars until 30 December, at Limburg." That story follows.
The German troops advancing from the Southeast, along the Bleialf-
Schönberg road were the ones who took over ourartillery battalion.
I remember throughout all the shelling watching a Tech Sergeant, I
thought from one of our mortar platoons, walking and running through
the woods giving orders. He was trying to get troops moving. The
mortar, antiaircraft and artillery fire was fierce. Trees flying
through the air, shell were bursting every where. I hope he made it. He
was a very brave soldier, but was exposed to fierce, ravaging artillery
fire. At one point, as I looked to the right along the edge of the
woods, I saw six or eight ground bursts, probably 88's. They hit in a
small area along the tree line where several soldiers were trying to
find protection. One of those men was hurled through the air and his
body was wrapped around a tree trunk several feet off the ground. There
were continuous cries from the wounded screaming for Medics. The woods
and open areas on the slope leading to the road, was littered with dead
and wounded. Some time between 1600 (4 p.m.)and 1630 (4:30 p.m.)an
American officer, accompanied by a German officer told us we were
surrounded. He told us that we were cut off from the other battalion,
the 422nd, and that our Regimental Commander, Colonel C. C. Cavender,
was ordering us to surrender.
As the history of this battle shows, we were surrounded on all sides by
German troops. They were heavily armed, with many mortars, antiaircraft
guns, assault guns and artillery pieces. They were being reinforced by
more and more troops from the Southeast and there would have been no
possibility of reversing the battle situation. We disabled our weapons
by breaking them on tree trunks or by taking them apart and throwing
the parts in different directions. After that the Germans led us to a
clearing in the forest and directed us to throw down our equipment.
E.g.: ammo belts, packs, hand-grenades and trench-knifes. I quickly
disposed of the German binoculars that I had found earlier. We were
lead in a small column down to the Schönberg-Bleialf road in front
of the rifle companies. There were Germans on one side of the road and
Americans on the other. They had been facing each other, in a fierce
fire fight, from ditch to ditch. There were many dead, both Americans
and Germans. The wounded were still crying for help. As we approached
the Schönberg road, it seemed that hundreds of Germans rose up out
of the field.
There was a German truck burning in the middle of the road. Behind the
truck was an American infantryman lying in the middle of the road. He
was dressed like an officer, but with no insignia, as would be normal
in combat. His was wearing his winter uniform, a heavy winter coat,
ammo belt and canteen. He was lying on his back, as if he were resting.
The body had no head or neck. It was as if somebody had sliced it off
with a surgical instrument, leaving no sign of blood. All my life I
have had flash backs of that scene and I still find it hard to believe.
I always wonder how it happened. He was the only soldier, either
American or German that I saw laying on the road. There were many
wounded and dead in the ditches and fields as we were led out of the
woods. The Germans then walked us in columns to Bleialf (recorded in my
diary as "St. Beliath"), where they herded us into a church court yard.
I probably recorded the church name by mistake. It had turned dark and
the temperature was dropping. Most of us were without overcoats. We had
only our field jackets and our winter issue of "Olive Drab" uniforms
with long johns. I recall that I wore two pair of pants, my longjohns
and my field jacket. We had to sleep on the ground. I remember how
nervous I was. Every little sound was amplified. I wondered what was
going to happen to us when day break came. We had nothing to eat since
early morning, December 18th. (remember, the pancakes).
To read the complete diary go to: http://www.mm.com/user/jpk/wardiary.htm
Formerly Sergeant Squad Leader
2nd squad, 1st Platoon,
M Company, 423rd Infantry Regiment
106th Infantry Division, WWII
Originally transcribed from the 1944 diary in June 1987. Updated
November 1989, word corrections and reformatting July 1993.