John J. SCHAFFNER, Battery A, 589th Field Artillery Battalion, 106th Infantry Division. 

The Baraque de Fraiture crossroad

December 19-23, 1944

  The following text is a part of the WWII memoirs of John R. SCHAFFNER

The EUROPEAN CONTINENT

          9 December 1944, the battalion moved into the line east of the town of Laudesfeld and about one and a half miles west of Auw, Germany. The 589th FABn took over the positions of the 15th FABn. The Battalion command post was set up in the kitchen of a substantial German house. The firing batteries took over the dugouts and log huts vacated by the men of the 15th FABn. The howitzers were put into the same emplacements dug by the 15th and in some cases they were simply swapped since it was easier than trying to extricate the pieces already in place. "A" battery was placed on the south side of the road to Auw and "B" and "C" batteries on the north side. There was much snow here and the drivers were having big problems once they left the hard road. Service Battery was sent into a position a few miles to the rear, about four miles south of Schoenberg, Belgium. The veterans of the 2nd Division assured their successors that they were in a very quiet sector where nothing ever happened. They hated to leave and when the 589th men saw what relatively comfortable quarters the 2nd's men were leaving they could understand that. We had been prepared to pitch puptents. I shared a dugout that was roofed over with heavy logs and had a jerry-can stove. Just like up-town. Things were looking up. By 1630 registration was completed by "A" Battery and the battalion fired harassing fire that night. We were feeling rather secure. After all, our infantry was between us and the Germans. It sounded good to me.       

          December 10 to 15 - The 422nd Infantry Regiment, which the 589th FABn was supporting, was occupying the first belt of pillboxes of The Siegfried Line, which had been cracked at this point the previous fall. The Germans were well dug in opposite the 422nd in pillboxes and held other defensive positions in the area of the Schnee-Eifel, a wooded ridge about 3 miles to the front. The enemy communications center for this area was Prum, which was at maximum range (12,000 yards) for "A" Battery.                        

          During this period there was little activity other than a few patrol actions. Few observed missions were fired due to the poor visibility. The battalion did, however, have a substantial unobserved, harassing program that was fired every night. The forward observer adjusted by sound, using high angle fire, which made it necessary to re-dig the gun pits. Alternate positions were selected and surveyed by the survey officer and his party. There were some reports of enemy activity but nothing, apparently, more than routine truck and troop movements. Headquarters Battery crews reported being fired upon on the 15th and that night an enemy recon plane circled the area for an hour or more. Numerous flares were seen to the flanks of the battalion and an enemy patrol was reported to be in the area. During this period most of my time was spent at various outposts near the battery position. There was nothing to report. At night, watching across the snow covered fields, one's eyes tend to play tricks. On more than one occasion an outpost guard would fire away at some movement out in front of him, only to find out in the morning that he had "killed" a tree stump or boulder.        

          Early in the morning, before dawn, at 0605, on 16 Dec. our position came under a barrage of German artillery fire. I was on guard at one of our outposts, and though I did not realize it at the time, was probably better off there than with the rest of the battery. We had a dug-in .50 Cal. Mg. so, it being somewhat protected, I got down in the lowest possible place and "crawled into my helmet." Trying to get down as far as possible, I found my buttons to be in the way. During the shelling, many rounds exploded real close and showered dirt and tree limbs about, but also there were quite a few duds that only smacked into the ground.  Those were the "good" ones as far as I was concerned. After about 30 minutes the shelling ceased and before any of the enemy came into sight I was summoned to return to the battery position. We apparently did not suffer any casualties, even with all the shells that fell around the battery position. I did not have the foggiest notion what was going on except that we were under attack and things were becoming serious. (Frank Aspinwall reported in his book that from an inspection of the fragments, somebody determined that the enemy was using 88mm, 105mm and 155mm guns. I can't imagine that anyone was actually concerned about that bit of trivia at the time.)  Wire crews were sent out to repair the phone lines that were out. At about 0800 the battery positions again came under heavy artillery fire, and again no casualties were reported.

          At about 0900 communication was again established with Division and with the 422 Infantry Regiment. However the lines were soon shot out again by the enemy artillery and after 1300, the battalion was, for all practical purposes, isolated from it's supported regiment.       

          The Battalion Communications Officer and his assistant Comm. O. went forward to the Infantry Regimental C.P. after 0900 and while returning were fired upon and the Comm. O. was wounded. He was brought in and later evacuated.     

          At 0915 a report was received of enemy patrols in Auw. An observer from "C" Battery went forward to a position commanding a view of Auw and from there directed effective fire on the town until he was pinned down by small arms fire. "C" Battery was unable to bring guns to bear on Auw due to a high mask of trees between it and the target.       

          At about 1030 a patrol was sent out, as additional security, to man defensive positions along the road from Auw. Since it was now apparent that the enemy held Auw, an attack from that direction was expected. This patrol soon reported small arms fire from enemy infantry moving out of Auw. An O.P. was set up in the attic of a building being used as quarters for part of Headquarters Battery. At about 1500 three enemy tanks were seen coming along the road from Auw toward the battalion command post. At about 400 yards range the lead tank opened fire on one of our outposts damaging three machine guns. Small arms fire was directed against the tank, but it just "buttoned up" and kept coming. When it came within range of our bazookas, they fired, and one hit and immobilized the lead tank. It was immediately hit again by an "A" Battery 105 howitzer and burst into flames. The enemy crew bailed out and was killed by small arms fire. The second and third tanks also took hits but were able to withdraw to defiladed positions. One of the tanks kept up harassing fire from a hull down position but counter fire was directed at it, and it is believed that it too was knocked out. The effective work of this patrol and our firing batteries kept the whole battalion position from being overrun that afternoon.       

          The 2nd Battalion of the 423rd Regiment, in division reserve, was ordered to hold positions in front of the 589th while it withdrew to the rear. ("Strategic Withdrawal" they call it.) Meanwhile, the 589th held on in the face of heavy small arms and machine gun fire until the infantry was able to move into position shortly after midnight.       

          Anticipating a move, a recon party had been sent to select positions for a relocation about 3 miles south of Schoenberg, near Service Battery's position on the Belgian-German border.      

          About 0400, on the morning of the 17th, the battalion was ordered to move out for the new position. By now the enemy was astride the only exit from the "C" Battery position so that it was unable to move. The Battalion C.O., Lt.Col. Kelly, and his Survey Officer, stayed behind and tried to get infantry support to help extricate this battery but they were not successful. The infantry had plenty of their own problems. "C" Battery never was able to move and was subsequently surrounded and all were taken prisoner, including the Battalion C.O., Col. Kelly, and the Survey O.       

          While all this was happening, I was given orders by Captain Brown to take a bazooka and six rounds, and with Corporal Montinari, go to the road and dig in and wait for the enemy to attack from "that" direction. This we did, and were there for some time waiting for a target to appear where the road crested. We could hear the action taking place just out of sight, but the battery was moving out before our services with the bazooka were required. As the trucks came up out of the gun position we were given the sign to come on, so Montinari and I abandoned our hole, and bringing our bazooka and six rounds, climbed on one of the outbound trucks. I did not know it at the time, but my transfer from "A" Battery to "B" Battery was a lucky break for me. (Since Captain Menke, "A" battery C.O., got himself captured right off the bat, and I probably would have been with him.)       

          "A" and "B" Batteries moved into the new position with four (4) howitzers each, the fourth gun in "A" battery not arriving until about 0730. Lt. Wood, with the section, struggled to extricate the howitzer with the enemy practically breathing on them. Bn. HQ. commenced to set up it's C.P. in a farmhouse almost on the Belgium-Germany border, having arrived just before daylight. At about 0715 a call was received from Service Battery saying that they were under attack from enemy tanks and infantry and were surrounded. Shortly after that, the lines went out. Immediately after that a truck came up the road from the south and the driver reported enemy tanks not far behind. All communications went dead so a messenger was dispatched to tell "A and "B" Batteries to displace to St.Vith.       

          The batteries were notified and "A" Battery, with considerable difficulty got three sections on the road and started for St.Vith. The fourth piece, however, again was badly stuck and while attempting to free the piece, the men came under enemy fire. The gun was finally gotten onto the road and proceeded toward Schoenberg. Some time had elapsed before this crew was moving.       

          Battery "B" then came under enemy fire and it's bogged down howitzers were ordered abandoned and the personnel of the battery left the position in whatever vehicles could be gotten out. I had dived head first out of the 3/4 ton that I was in when we were fired on and stuck my carbine in the snow, muzzle first. In training we were told that any obstruction of the barrel would cause the weapon to blow up in your face if you tried to fire it. Well, I can tell you that it ain't necessarily so. At a time like that, I figured that I could take the chance. I just held the carbine at arm's length, aimed it toward the enemy, closed my eyes and squeezed. The first round cleaned the barrel and didn't damage anything except what ever it might have hit. As the truck started moving toward the road, I scrambled into the back over the tailgate and we got the hell out of there.      

          Headquarters loaded into its vehicles and got out, as enemy tanks were detected in the woods about 100 yards from the battalion command post. Enemy infantry were already closing on the area.       

          The column was disorganized, however, the vehicles got through Schoenberg and continued toward St.Vith. The last vehicles in the main column were fired on by small arms and tanks as they withdrew through the town.       

          As the vehicles were passing through Schoenberg on the west side, the enemy, with a tank force supported by infantry, was entering the town from the northeast. Before all the vehicles could get through they came under direct enemy fire. The "A" Battery Exec., Lt. Eric Wood, with the last section of the battery, almost made it through, however, his vehicle, towing the howitzer, was hit by tank fire and he and the gun crew bailed out. Some were hit by small arms fire. Sgt. Scannipico tried to take on the tank with a bazooka and was killed in the attempt. The driver, Knoll, was also killed there. The rest of the crew was taken prisoner, but Lt. Wood made good his escape (and that's another story). Several other of the vehicles came down the road, loaded with battalion personnel and were fired on before they entered the town. These people abandoned the vehicles and took to the woods and with few exceptions were eventually captured.                            

RETURN TO BELGIUM 

          The remainder of the battalion assembled again west of St.Vith where they were joined by Service Battery of the 590th FA Bn. They were ordered into position north of St.Vith to establish a road block to protect the town. Later, that night, they were withdrawn to a bivouac area in the vicinity of St.Vith. 

       [Italics indicate data from After Action Reports from National Archives]

18 Dec 44:

0100: Arrived at bivouac vicinity of Poteau

0730: Left bivouac and proceeded northwest until halted by enemy attack.

0800: Set up road block.

1000: Withdrew to south through Beho.

1600: Column divided, firing battery going to Cortil and remainder going west on road to Salm Chateau (sic) and LaRoche.

1700: Closed at Cortil and prepared for indirect fire.

2100: Withdrew to RJ west of Bovigny and set up road block. 

          December 18 - After this halt, orders were received from the Division Artillery Commander, General McMahon, to proceed to the west and be prepared to take up positions in the vicinity of Recht. Seeing him on the road that day, I spoke to him         personally and he assured me that he didn't know any more about our situation than I did. The battalion was halted at 0100 and remained on the road until 0700 when it began moving forward again. At about 0800 the column was halted again and word passed down that enemy tanks and infantry had attacked HQ Battery, 106th Div. Arty. on the same road to the west. The column was turned and pulled off the road into a clearing. A perimeter defense was organized and a road block set up with  two guns covering the approach from the north. A noon meal was served. Orders were next received to withdraw to the vicinity of Bovigny. What was left of the battalion loaded up and  proceeded to the designated place in good order.      

          The preceding night the Germans had dropped parachute troops into the area near St.Vith. They were not in great strength but they did a lot of shooting and spread confusion along the communications routes west of St.Vith.      

          At Bovigny the C.O. of the 174th Field Artillery Group requested that the three howitzers remaining with the battalion and the personnel be sent to positions near Charan. This was agreed to and the battalion was split into two groups: Group A composed of the three 105 howitzer sections, Fire Direction Center people, most of the officers, and part of our meager ammunition supply. I was with this group. Group B was composed of the remainder of the battalion plus some men from the 590th Service Battery.       

          Group A departed for Cortil, went into position and laid the guns to fire on Charan. The town was reconnoitered and no enemy was found so the group was withdrawn to Bovigny for the rest of the night. Observers were sent out with the outposts and preparations made to fire on any enemy coming on the scene. Group B left Bovigny and traveled west through Salmchateau and bivouacked for the night on a side road near  Joubieval.                                       

BARAQUE de FRAITURE, BELGIUM

       [Italics indicate data from After Action Reports from National Archives]

19 Dec 44:

0700: Returned to Cortil and prepared to fire on Charan.

1100: Withdrew to Salm Chateau.

1500: Left Salm Chateau for Baraque de Fraiture

1600: Closed 500 yards west of Baraque de Fraiture and went into position for indirect fire on enemy personnel and an enemy road block. Supplies were received from Vielsalm. 

          On 19 Dec 1944, in the afternoon, what was remaining of the 589th FABn arrived at the crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture to establish some kind of blocking force against the German advance. Whether or not there was any intelligent planning involved in this move I really don't know. I had the feeling that nobody knew anything, and that we would resist here in this place as long as possible and hope to get help before we were blown away. There were approximately 100 men and three 105mm howitzers to set up the defense at this time.       

          The weather was cold, wet and foggy with some snow already on the ground. Visibility was variable, clearing from maybe fifty yards to two or three hundred on occasion.       

          I didn't even know who was in charge of the rag-tag group that I was with until I saw Major Elliott Goldstein out in the open, verbally bombasting the enemy (where ever they were) with all the curse words he could think of, and at the top of his booming voice. I thought at the moment that he won't be around too long if there are any Germans out there to hear him. Apparently there were none, he drew no fire. I was taking cover behind the rear wheel of one of our trucks at the time and felt rather naked.       

          The three howitzers were ordered into position to defend the crossroads and I was told to go out "there" and dig in and look for an attack from "that" direction, still having no idea of the situation. Most of the night was spent in the foxhole. All was quiet on the front line. When I was relieved during the night to get some rest, I tried to find a dry place in the stone barn to lay down. The floor was deep in muck, but the hay rack on the wall was full of dry hay so I accepted that as a good place to sleep. Pushing the cows aside, I climbed into the hay. I guess that the cows just didn't understand, because they kept pulling the hay out from under me until I became the next course on their menu. Anyway, it wasn't long until I was outside in another hole in the ground.        

       [Italics indicate data from After Action Reports from National Archives]

20 Dec 44:

1600: Returned to Baraque de Fraiture and went into position to form a road block against attack from the south or west. Joined by elements of the 203rd AAA and 87th Reconnaissance.

2400: German patrol reported in front of minefield to the south. Fired on with our .50 machine gun.

          Next morning, 20 December, the weather remained miserable, cold, wet and foggy with a little more snow for good measure. If the enemy was around, he was keeping it a secret. The day went very slowly. (This kind of time is usually spent getting your hole just a bit deeper, you never know how deep is going to be deep enough.) Now and then one of our guys would pop off a few rounds at something, real or imagined.       

          We were joined by some people of the 203rd AAA, 7th Armored Division equipped with M-16 half-tracks mounted with a brace of four .50 caliber machine guns and a M8 Scout Car with a 37mm cannon. I thought at the time, I'd hate to be in front of that quad-50 when it went off. Little did I know at the time that I would be.  (I only saw the one Half-Track then, but the official books reporting the action mention that there were four of these M-14s present.) This weapon was positioned to fire directly down the road to Houffalize. Frank Aspinwall also reports that we were joined by a platoon of the 87th Recon Squadron.       

          Later in the evening, Captain Brown sent me, with another "B" Battery G.I., Ken Sewell, to a foxhole in the ditch at the side of the road to Houffalize, about a couple hundred yards out from the crossroads (hard to remember the distance exactly). We were the outpost and had a field telephone hookup to Captain A.C. Brown's CP. Captain Brown told us to just sit tight and report any movement we observed. There was a "daisy chain" of mines strung across the road a few yards ahead of our position to stop any vehicles. The darkness was made even deeper by the thick fog that night, with a silence to match. Now and then a pine tree would drop some snow or make a noise. I think my eyelids and ears were set on "Full Open".       

          So, here we sat in this hole in the ground, just waiting and watching, until about midnight, when we could hear strange noises in the fog. It was very dark and our visibility was extremely limited, but, we were able to discern what was making the strange noise as about a dozen Germans soldiers riding on bicycles came into view. They stopped in the road when they came on the mines. Being unaware of our presence, not 10 yards away, they stood there in front of us, in the middle of the road, probably talking over what to do next. We could hear the language was not English and they were wearing "square" helmets. Sewell and I were in big trouble. This was a first for us, to be this close to the enemy. Thinking that there was too many for us to take on with a carbine, I took the telephone and whispered our situation to Captain Brown. His orders were to, "Keep your head down and when you hear me fire my .45 the first time we will sweep the road with the AAA quad 50's. When that stops, I'll fire my .45 again and then we will  hold fire while you two come out of your hole and return to the CP. Make it quick!" And that's the way it happened. That German patrol never knew what hit them. On hearing the .45 the second time, Ken and I left our hole, and keeping low, ran back toward our perimeter. I was running so hard that my helmet bounced off my head and went rolling out into the darkness. I thought, "to hell with it", and never slowed down to retrieve it. I lost sight of Ken and honestly don't remember ever seeing him again. (I heard many years later that he was captured along with Bernard Strohmier, John Gatens and others after the Germans took the crossroads.)     

          By calling out the password "Coleman," I got safely past our perimeter defense and was then shot at (and missed) by somebody at the howitzer position as I approached it. After a blast of good old American obscenities they allowed me through and I reported to Captain Brown. (The official book says that there was an eighty man patrol from the 560th Volks Grenadier Division and the 2nd Panzer Division out there that night. Maybe the rest of them were back in the fog somewhere.)        

       [Italics indicate data from After Action Reports from National Archives]

21 Dec 44:

0530: Attack on position by German troops on foot. Attack repulsed with no casualties. Enemy abandoned six dead. Fourteen prisoners were taken.

1200: Bn Comdr informed he would withdraw to Bras that afternoon, leaving the 87th Reconnaissance to hold position. German attack anticipated.

1700: Germans attacked in fog. Set up road block. Attack repulsed with many casualties

2100: Squad from the 504th Parachute Infantry arrived and was sent out on patrol 

          The next morning, 21 Dec., I was sent forward to have a look around and found several dead German soldiers in the snow. I was not at all comfortable with that, and was happy to have not found any live ones. The enemy had apparently pulled back after we had cut down their advance group the night before.       

          All that day was spent digging and improving our defensive perimeter. We were given some "warming time", off and on, inside the stone building being used as a CP. At one point, I was detailed to guard two German prisoners that were brought in. I never learned the circumstances of their capture. One, an officer, spoke good English and warned us that the German Army was coming through us and would kill anyone in the way and push the rest into the English Channel, so, we could save everybody a lot of trouble by surrendering to him right then and there. Right.       

          There were some American stragglers in and out during the day. A few stayed, some left. I really didn't know what was going on, or who they were. I was mostly out of touch, occupying a foxhole. Apparently, there was still one of the roads open to our forces to the west. At one point a Sherman tank came along and was set up in front of our CP and fired a few rounds across the field and into the forest at some distant soldiers running from tree to tree for cover. I supposed that they were enemy, too far off to see for sure. I doubt that any were hit at that distance in any case.       

          That night, after the initial attack, I recall being in my foxhole, waiting for the Germans to come at us again. The realization came to me that I was involved in a real risky business. The area was lighted by the flames of a store of fuel drums burning throughout most of the rest of the night and reflecting eerily on the snow covered ground. The only sounds were that of the fire and the crying for help from the wounded enemy who were laying out there just out of view. I stayed in the foxhole all night and never did discover what finally happened to them, apparently their people abandoned them. Later, I heard that one of our medics went out and checked on them and did what he could. Over the years I continue to feel some responsibility for their fate, since it was me who called for the fire on them when they first approached the crossroads. Responsible, yes; sorry, no. It was them or me.       

          A lot of things go through your mind when you think that it is your time to die and I can clearly remember, laying in that cold hole in the ground that could shortly be my grave, thinking that I had not even experienced being "in love" yet. I definitely did not want to die in this strange place. I prayed to God, Jesus, and every other deity that I could think of, for help. In later years I heard the expression that, "there were no atheists in foxholes". You can believe that.  

      [Italics indicate data from After Action Reports from National Archives]

22 Dec 44:

0530: Barrage fired to discourage expected enemy attack. This fire heard by approaching relief column which deployed.

1230: Company from the 325th Glider Infantry arrived as reinforcements and were sent out to dig in. Met by heavy mortar fire and were driven in. Casualties were evacuated and 589th took over while the 325th reorganized.

1400: Scout Sgt., Btry “A”, 54th FABn reported his unit was in support of out outposts.

1630: Major Parker, 589th, injured by mortar fire and evacuated. Major Goldstein assumed command. German infiltration into woods to the north. 

          Very early, in the dark, the next morning (22nd Dec.), the Germans attacked again and we were subjected to small arms and mortar fire off and on all day. At one point, mortar rounds were landing real close to my hole and, I was feeling very exposed with no helmet to crawl into. I could hear the mortar fragments and bullets smacking into the ground around my foxhole. Most of the mortar rounds were falling farther in toward the buildings. I saw one hit the roof of Captain Brown's CP. It must have been during this time that Major Parker was wounded by a fragment. I'm not sure about that since I didn't actually witness it. There was a G.I. in a foxhole next to mine who would not fire his weapon. When I called to him to fire, he just looked at me. I didn't know him and don't know his fate either, I could not understand why he was not willing to help himself (and the rest of us). I have read since that this is not an unusual occurrence. There are always a certain number who will not squeeze that trigger, even when their life is threatened.       

          Late in the afternoon several tanks were heard approaching our position. Thankfully, they were ours. They rolled out in the open and fired their big guns into the German positions and I thought, no problem now, with all this help the day is saved. It got quiet again. And then the tanks left. Looked like we would be hung out to dry, but it did stop the enemy attack for a while. Thanks, tankers. Too bad you couldn't stay for dinner.       

          After dark, I was moved in closer to the CP and dug another hole along with a G.I. named Randy Pierson. One of our guys made a run from hole to hole tossing everybody something to eat. I caught a box of "wet-or-dry" cereal and ate it dry.  The two of us spent the night in the hole. One of us would sleep an hour and the other keep watch and then we would alternate. This was the only kind of rest that anybody got. We had dug our hole reasonable deep and then further fortified it with some fence rails that we cris-crossed in front of it. I was sure that we would be attacked that night. I had 30 rounds of carbine ammunition remaining and a knife that I placed on the ground where I could reach it. I prayed that it would not be necessary. It got very cold that night and the enemy did not attack. It was another very long night.       

          Once in a great while I get asked, "How do you take care of your (personal) business when you get the urge at a time like this?" Well, to answer that, I can tell you, that you pick a time like this, when everything is quiet and dark, get out of the foxhole and let it go, as quickly and quietly as possible where ever you think the enemy might step in it. If you are under fire, you just do it in the foxhole and then throw it out (in the direction of the enemy, of course).       

          At the time, the weather was our worst enemy, but then in the morning things changed and weather took second place. 

       [Italics indicate data from After Action Reports from National Archives]

23 Dec 44:

0430: SS troops attack from the southeast, east and north. Attack repulsed and an SS Lt. And Sgt. Were taken prisoner. Two SS divisions reported approaching from the south. Platoon of TDs from the 43rd TD Bn arrived during the night.

0900: TDs are surrounded and surrender.

1000: Company from the 509th Parachute Inf. Bn. Moved in from the north, recaptured the tank destroyers and prepared to attack  to the west. German artillery and mortar fire was heavy and all wire was out so new wire was laid to all command posts.

          Throughout the engagement Captain A. C. Brown was in command of the howitzer crews and the defenses around the house at the southeast of the crossroads. He was assisted by Captain George Huxel, Asst. S-3 and 1st Lt. Thomas J. Wright. Since there was no telephone communications to the howitzer crews and .50 cal. Machine guns, when an attack was started these officers would go to the guns and direct their fire. On the morning of the 23rd of December Captain Huxel was injured by a mortar fragment but refused to be evacuated. That morning Captain Brown and Lt. Wright in turn went out in full view of the Germans and adjusted battery A of the 54th Armored FAB on German infantry attempting to infiltrate around their position.

          Orders were given by Major Goldstein to all elements to move out to the east and south in order to permit the armored vehicles to maneuver. The TD’s were ordered by Major Goldstein inside the perimeter and plans were made to repel an attack which, according to the prisoners, was planned for that night. Since the radio no longer functioned, the battalion commander, Major Goldstein, moved north towards Manhay to report on the situation to Col. Richardson, 3rd Armored Division and to attempt to get reinforcements. Shortly after he left an artillery barrage commenced which lasted for about twenty minutes, after which German Tiger tanks and SS troops attacked.

1300: Bn Comdr (Ed. Major Goldstein) left position to attempt to get reinforcements and to report critical situation.

1520: Enemy artillery barrage starts, lasts for twenty minutes, followed by attack by tanks and SS troops from south, east and west. Our armor was knocked out.

1700: Position overrun by enemy

          The Battalion Commander, Major Goldstein, was unsuccessful in getting reinforcements from Col. Richardson prior to the attack. After the attack the forces at the crossroads were completely encircled and reinforcements were unable to get in. A new line was set up south of Manhay.      

          23rd Dec. It seems that the Germans had come closer each time our perimeter got smaller, and were ready to end it. The sequence of events on this day I cannot accurately recall but I was in and out of foxholes and, on occasion, running into the shelter of the stone building for a warm-up (or thaw-out).  The fog would roll in and out giving us limited visibility. I would fire at anything I saw moving around in range of my hole. This weather was tough on us, but I think it was to our advantage from a defensive point of view. I'm sure our enemy was not able to determine exactly what he had to overcome to take the crossroads. Whenever he came into view we would drive him back into the fog. Our ammunition was running out. I had one clip of carbine rounds and could find no more. Word had come around that, when the ammo ran out and the Germans came, it would be every man for himself, escape if you could, otherwise a surrender was prudent. I never heard this as an order directly from an officer but it did not take a genius to assess our situation. We were apparently surrounded, but the Germans were taking the easiest route, the hard surface roads. That left the fields open.       

          Late afternoon, probably after 1600, the final assault came. Mortars, small arms, and fire from tanks. I was in the stone building, sitting on the floor with my back to the wall. Harold Kuizema was with me. This room must have been a kitchen at one time because I recall a wood burning cook stove and a G.I., who I didn't know, trying to heat something at it. Something big hit that wall and exploded it right over our heads into the room. It must have hit high or it would have gotten the both of us. As it was, it filled the room with debris and dust. That was all the motivation we needed to leave there. To wait for another one never crossed my mind. We (Harold and me) went to the front door. They were coming and we were going. It was that simple. Some of our people were going to the cellar. I didn't like that idea. So, once outside, I crawled to the road and the ditch. There were some cattle milling about on the road, and much smoke, so I got up and ran through the cattle to the ditch on the far side and once again dropped down to avoid the German fire. On this side of the road was a snow covered field, very open, but it was "away" from the attack, so that's the direction that I took. Not far into the field Harold went down. As I got to him, I saw two G.I.'s approaching from the other direction. It was apparent that Harold was not going any farther on his own so between the three of us we moved him the remaining distance to the shelter of the woods and into the company of a patrol of infantrymen from the 82nd AB Div. When we reached the shelter of the woods and I looked back at the crossroads, the whole sky seemed to be lighted by the flames from the burning building and vehicles. Harold, having rather severe wounds, was evacuated and I received permission to tag along with these 82nd AB Div G.I.'s, which I did until late sometime the next day (24th) when I was able to locate some 106th Division people. There were some vehicles from the 589th with this group that were not with us at Parker's Crossroads and one was loaded with duffel bags - mine was with them. Another miracle, clean underwear and socks.  (I still have that same duffle bag.) 

               [Italics indicate data from After Action Reports from National Archives]

 24 Dec 44: Battalion reassembled at Eronheid. 

  The remnants of the battalion were assembled in the vicinity of Eronheid, moved to Hoyment on the 25th, Dolembreux on the 26th, and were told they would be reorganized. After drawing equipment, in preparation for the reorganization, the battalion was moved to Xhos on the 27th and was notified that it would be disbanded. On the 1st of January 1945 the majority of the personnel remaining were transferred to the 591st FABn and the 592nd FABn.

      ******************************************************************************

         For the action at Baraque de Fraiture, so briefly described  above, the 589th FABn received the following citation:  

                                                                   

Award of Croix de Guerre With Silver Gilt Star   

Decision No. 247                   

                                                                   

589th Field Artillery Battalion (105 How)       

                                                                   

The President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic cites to the Order of Army:                      

                                                                   

CITATION                              

                                                                   

             A remarkable battalion whose brilliant conduct was greatly valued during the battles of St.Vith and Manhay on 16 to 23 December 1944. Attacked by an enemy operating in force but filled with the desire to conquer at any cost, it remained in position and, with direct and accurate fire, kept the attackers from access to vital communications south of Manhay. Short of food, water and pharmaceutical products, the 589th Field Artillery Battalion endured three attacks without flinching,  inflicting heavy losses on the enemy and forced him to retire.                                                                                              PARIS, 15 July 1946    

                                            Signed, BIDAULT        

          General of the Army JUIN                                 

          Chief of Staff of National Defense                      

        ******************************************************************************

                 During this next period of time, while the 589th was missing from the division, the units severely under strength were officially deactivated, the 589th and 590th FABn's and the 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments in particular.        

          On January 22, 1945, the Baltimore, "The Sun", newspaper published a report headlined, "ONLY 300 ESCAPED FROM 2 REGIMENTS." It goes on to detail how the 106th Infantry Division caught the full force of the German offensive and suffered 8,663 casualties, including 416 killed, 1,246 wounded and 7,001 missing in action. I can not imagine the anguish felt by those families, having sons involved in the action there, as they read that report. I came through relatively unscathed and have always wished, over the years, that there could have been some way to let my parents know that I was O.K. I wrote and mailed letters when possible, but there was considerable time before they arrived home. About that time there were many other articles in the newspapers referring to the "Battle of the Bulge" and the many casualties suffered by the American units involved in the fighting.                             

WITH THE 592nd FIELD ARTILLERY BATTALION 

          Since there was no more 589th FABn, I received an assignment with the 592nd FABn, 106th Div, and was detailed to their Fire Direction Center as a fire controller for one of the batteries of 155mm howitzers. My job was like being a "middle-man". I received fire missions from the forward observer, computed the range and direction from guns to target, and relayed this data to the firing battery. At times, the fire missions were requested as "T-O-T" (Time on Target). For this, every battery within range of the target was given the fire mission. The individual controller would determine the shell’s time in flight for his battery and give the command to fire so as to have shells from all guns fall on the target at the same time. There were usually more guns participating than one would want to count and the shells of every caliber flying overhead on the way sounded like nothing else you have ever heard. Whatever was on the receiving end was always obliterated. We were working on the northern flank of the "bulge" near Stavelot and Hunningen during the final drive that broke through the Siegfried Line the second time.        

          This duty was a "piece of cake", compared with what I had already experienced, and I was employed with this unit for the remainder of time we were in action moving eastward. Occasionally I would have to operate with the forward observer, but not too often. That was risky business.      

          One day I received a letter from Mrs. Veda Stoll, Bob Stoll's mother. She had not heard from Bob for some time and, since she knew that we were buddies, wrote to me asking if I had any knowledge of his whereabouts. By this time the U.S. newspapers had run stories detailing the "annihilation" of the 106th Infantry Division. Also, I knew that almost nobody from C Battery escaped from our first positions facing Auw, Germany. She must have been frantic for news. I wrote to her and tried to give her encouragement that Bob had been made a prisoner and was now "out" of the war and much better off than she imagined. The first part of that statement was true, but our guys had no picnic as prisoners. Many died before they could be liberated. Eventually, she did find that her son was a POW and he was of course liberated near the end of hostilities.       

          The date and place has been long forgotten, but it had to be somewhere in the Eastern part of Belgium, probably in later January or February. The time finally came to get a bath and change into clean underwear and socks. I was picked, along with about a truckload of G.I.s from our unit, to make a trip to Spa, Belgium for the cleanup. I can only presume that we were selected because we were the ones who were the dirtiest at the time. I had always taken any opportunity that I could to wash out underwear and socks. It wasn't that often, but I believe that it kept my foot problems to a minimum. I kept a sock in each back pocket to dry and whenever I had the chance, I changed and put the dry ones on and the ones I was wearing went into the pockets.       

          We could not have been very far from Spa, as the trip did not take too long. Spa had been a popular health resort prior to the war and was equipped with lavish Roman style baths, fed by the local mineral springs. Our truck stopped in front of a building that reminded me of a Roman temple, marble columns in front and all. We lined up at the door and, as someone came out, another would go in. When my turn came, a woman dressed in a white outfit, like a hospital worker, took me by the hand and led me down a marble corridor lined on both sides by marble bathrooms. These rooms were huge by the bathroom standards that I was used to. She led me into a vacant one having a large bathtub in the center, elevated on a marble base. She then went to the tub and started both taps running to fill the tub and then left the room. Since there had been no conversation between us, I presumed that I was on my own now.    

          The tub was about half full when I stripped down to my birthday suit and prepared to get in. About then, my attendant came back into the room, stuck her hand into the water, and said, "NO, NO, Too Hot!!" So I just stood around and waited for her to adjust the water temperature until she finally judged it to be OK for me to use. I sure could have used her to wash my back, but I guess she had other duties to perform. I had to dress into my cruddy old uniform when I finished but at least I was clean underneath for a while. And it was a big moral booster. On a few other occasions we had a chance to bath in the "engineer's showers". This was a setup where the Engineer unit built a maze of water pipes with shower heads spaced a few feet apart near the river bank. Water was pumped from the river, through a filter, and then into a heater for the showers. The whole thing was usually screened by a tarp stretched around it. This setup could handle a lot of guys at one time. Army efficiency was at its best.       

          On another occasion, maybe near the end of February or into March, our unit moved into the remains of a village to take up our positions to provide artillery support for the advancing infantry. Of course, the first item of business is to find the most comfortable "accommodations" that we could. While inspecting one of the remaining houses still standing, I heard one of the guys, Briggs Hoffman, call out from a room upstairs to come up and take a look at what he discovered. He was checking around for booby-traps when he discovered a storage space in the wall, hidden by the bed. On putting a flashlight in there we discovered it to be holding about thirty or so bottles and several pieces of cured meats. It was a very likely set up for a booby-trap. Being cautious about such things, the next thing to do was to see if it really was a booby-trap, so we proceeded to carefully tie strings around the necks of the bottles and the pieces of meat. From a safe distance, we then tugged at the newfound treasures with enough commotion to set off any infernal device the Germans may have left us. Nothing happened. On examination we concluded that we had rescued some very fine brandies and cognac, and cured hams similar to the kind we get in the states known as "Smithfield." That night we fried up some cured ham in brandy. Not bad, and a welcome break from "C" rations. The booze was "divvied up" with the guys in the squad, each one storing several in his bedroll. Some of it survived until V-E Day, but not after.        

          During these times we did not stay in one place long. The forward momentum of the American Army was carrying us further east every day. My feet, as was most everybody's, were suffering from being cold and wet too often. I did not realize it at the time, but I had all the effects of frostbite. It was apparently from those days in the wet foxholes around Baraque de Fraiture.  I was changing to my dry socks whenever possible but it was not enough. I had developed large, water filled, blisters that made it difficult to get my combat boots on over, but once they were on I could manage pretty well. When we had a chance to sleep I took off the boots and kept them in the bedroll with me to dry out as much as possible. Also, I would puncture the blisters and place my feet through the bottom of the bed roll so they could get air. When my feet warmed up they itched as if I had a bad case of poison ivy. I used a good bit of G.I. foot powder on them and that seemed to help.      

          Again the date and place eludes my memory, but not the incident. I was detailed to accompany the Lt. and a radio operator to the observation post of the day. It turned out to be the attic of a farmhouse located where we had a view of the front and were able to direct artillery fire when requested. During a quiet time, the Lt. told us that he was going outside to take care of "personal business." He was equipped with a new weapon that I had not seen close up before. It was a .45 caliber M3 sub-machine gun that was known as a "grease gun", because that is what it looked like. He left it with us when he went outside. That was a mistake. Curiosity got the best of me so I picked it up for a closer examination. It had a small crank handle on the side that must have been put there for a purpose, but what ? I cradled the gun in my left hand and pulled the handle back with my right hand. It was spring loaded and when I let it go, the gun said, "BANG!!!!" and a bullet went out the window. SURPRISE!!!! There were no Germans in sight, so when the Lt. came back he said, "What are you guys shooting at anyway? You want to give away our position?"  We gave him some lame excuse and it all went away when we got a fire mission.  I believe that it was in this same house that I found a sewing machine and made myself a sleeping bag using two GI blankets and a shelter-half for a cover.                

        JOHN R. SCHAFFNER                        Revised 16 January 2002

 

Note: The 106th Infantry Division officially returned to the U.S., arriving in New York  on 1 October 1945 and was deactivated at Camp Shanks, N.Y. on 2 October 1945. 

                                                                    EPILOG

            If one should believe, that since it is fifty-plus years later, the people of Belgium and Luxembourg have forgotten the sacrifice made by the Americans on their behalf, one should think again. In those small countries that were subjected to the worst conditions that a war can bring, there are constant reminders everywhere. Monuments that mark sites of the conflict between the two armies have been erected at many, many locations. Military Cemeteries, containing many thousands of graves of fallen American soldiers and airmen, are meticulously kept. On holidays the local people will place flowers at the monuments and decorate the graves of the G.I.'s that they have "adopted."  And, they have all been adopted.  They will not forget. 

From: "John Kline" jpk@mm.com To: "!!!!106th Inf Div Assoc. Members" 106th.inf.div@mm.com Subject: Order of Battle, 106th Inf Div, WWII

Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2001 11:04:53 -0600

   Credits to: Shelby L. Stanton, Captain U.S. Army, Retired

  Author of Vietnam Order of Battle World War II - Order of Battle

  U.S. Army ground force units from battalion through division, 1939-1946

  Galahad Books, New York   Library of Congress Catalog Number: 84-8299

  ISBN: 0-88365-775-9   106th Infantry Division

  15 Mar 43 activated at Ft Jackson S.C. and moved 24 Jan 44 to Second Army No.5 Tennessee Maneuvers; transferred to Camp Atterbury Ind. 28 Mar 44; staged at Camp Myles Standish Mass 0 Oct 44 until departed Boston P/E 10 Nov 44; arrived England 17 Nov 44 and landed in France 6 Dec 44; crossed into Belgium 10 Dec 44 and returned to France 16 Mar 45; entered Germany 25 Apr 45; arrived New York P/E I Oct 45 and inactivated at Cp Shanks N.Y. 2 Oct 45.

  Campaigns: Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, Central Europe

  Aug 45 Loc: Bad Ems Germany

  Typical Organization (1944):

  422nd Infantry Regiment*                   81st Engineer Combat Bn

  423rd Infantry Regiment*                  331st Medical Battalion

  424th Infantry Regiment                   106th Cntr Intel Corps Det

  HHB Division Artillery                    Headquarters, Special Troops

  589th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm)   Hqs Company, 106th Inf. Div.

  590th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm)   Military Police Platoon

  591st Field Artillery Battalion (105mm)   806th Ord. Light Maint. Co.

  592nd Field Artillery Battalion (155mm)   106th Quartermaster Company

  106th Reconnaissance Troop, Mecz          106th Signal Company

  820th Tank Destroyer Battalion (attached 8 Dec 44-4 Jan 45)

  440th AAA Auto-Wpns Battalion (attached 17 Dec 44-25 Dec 44)

  563rd AAA Auto-Wpns Battalion (attached 9 Dec 44-18 Dec 44)

  634th AAA Auto-Wpns Battalion (attached 8 Dec 44-18 Dec 44]

  *Destroyed in Schnee Eifel salient 19 Dec 44 near Schonberg; rebuilt in France but did not rejoin division until 16 May 45.

  Typical Organization (1945):

  3rd Infantry Regiment*                    81st Engineer Combat Bn

  159th Infantry Regiment*                  331st Medical Battalion

  424th Infantry Regiment                   106th Cntr Intel Corps Det

  HHB Division Artillery                    Headquarters, Special Troops

  589th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm)    Hqs Company, 106th Inf.Div.

  590th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm)   Military Police Platoon

  591st Field Artillery Battalion (105mm)   806th Ord Light Maint. Co.

  592nd Field Artillery Battalion (155mm)   106th Quartermaster Company

  106th Reconnaissance Troop, Mecz 106th     Signal Company

  *Attached to division 16 Mar 45-past 9 May 45 to replace 422nd, 423rd Inf Regts.

    Overseas Wartime Assignments:

  VIII Corps - 29 Nov 44 Fifteenth Army - 10 Mar 45

  XVIII (A/B) Corps - 20 Dec 44 Advanced Section, Communications Zone

  V Corps - 6 Feb 45 (attached) - 15 Apr 45

  Commanders: MG Alan W. Jones: Mar 43

  BG Herbert T. Perrin: Dec 44

  MG Donald A. Stroh: Feb 45

  Killed in Action: 417 Wounded in Action: 1,278 Died of Wounds: 53

Prisoners: 6,697**

  *'6,500 eventually returned to military control after being captured in the German Ardennes Counteroffensive.

  106th Infantry Division Combat Narrative

  The division landed in France on 6 Dec 44 and replaced the 2nd Inf Div in the Schnee Eifel sector of Belgium on 11 Dec 44. The German Ardennes Counteroffensive struck the division on 16 Dec 44, the 424th Inf being at Winterspelt and the 422nd and 423rd Inf Regts being in the Schnee Eifel salient.

   Both 422nd and 423rd Inf surrendered on 19 Dec 44 after being encircled in their area near Schonberg the previous day. The 424th Inf was pushed back across the Our River, losing most of its equipment, and joined other divisional remnants to hold St Vith 20-21 Dec 44, being reinforced by the 112th Inf of 28th Inf Div 19-23 Dec 44.

    From 24 to 30 Dec 44 the 424th Inf was attached to the 7th Armd Div and participated in heavy combat around Manhay, and then was withdrawn to Anthisnes Belgium. The 424th Inf took over defense of the Wanne-Wanneranval region 9 Jan 45 and the division had a second regiment attached, the separate 517th Prcht Inf, 11-17 Jan 45. On 15 Jan 45 the division consolidated and cleared Ennal. It then assembled at Stavelot on 18 Jan 45 and the 424th Inf was again attached to the 7th Armd Div 23-28 Jan 45 where it fought at Meyerode and around St Vith.

    The division moved to Hunnigen 7 Feb 45 and the 424th Inf was attached to the 99th Inf Div 5-9 Feb 45. The 424th Inf then advanced along the high ground between the Berk and Simmer River until ':t reached Olds on 7 Mar 45. It was then sent for rehabilitation and the division given a security mission along the Rhine River until 15 Mar 45, when the division was withdrawn to St Quentin to be rebuilt.

    The division was reconstituted 16 Mar 45 when the 3rd Inf and 159th Inf were attached to replace its surrendered regiments. It then moved back into Germany 25 Apr 45, but was relegated to duty processing prisoners and performing military occupation of secure areas. The 422nd and 423rd Inf were newly formed in France from replacements and attached to the 66th Inf Div for training purposes 15 Apr 45, and were still in this capacity when hostilities were declared ended on 7 May 45. 

 

From: "John Kline" <jpk@mm.com>

To: "!!!!106th Inf Div Assoc. Members" <106th.inf.div@mm.com>

 Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2001 12:05:45 -0600

 My understanding is that even though we wore the "Golden Lion" patch, it had not been officially authorized. One example is: There were distinctive metal "Regimental" crest pins that had been designed, ready for production, but did not get "officially recognized" because the war ended. Take your choice - an insignia that would be officially recognized, and the war continue. OR one that was not officially authorized, and the war ENDED. I Opt for the later.

 John Kline

 

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