DIARY ENTRY #8
By Don R. Marsh
5 October 1944
On 5 October 1944, CC”A” crossed the Wurm River
near Palenberg, Germany and attacked east through Ubach, seizing Baesweiler and
Beggendorf by 7 October 1944, despite heavy resistance by all arms. Didtweiler
was also secured. CC”A” remained in a defensive role until 16 November 1944;
during this period the Command patrolled actively at night and employed
systematic fire by massed artillery to inflict heavy casualties and destruction
on the enemy, in addition to disrupting supply and their communications. Dug-in
tanks, tank destroyers and infantry held the front line, while defeating and
destroying numerous enemy patrols and raiding parties.
Brigadier General Collier, CC”A” CG, ordered Lt. Moll
to have the wire team run wire to these forward units. Realizing the danger for
the wiremen, General Collier ordered an M-8 Greyhound Recon car from the 82nd
Recon and an M-5 Stuart light tank from the 66th AR for protection as
we ran the lines into German territory. The two armored vehicles had the
firepower to protect us from enemy patrols, but not from the infrequent
shellfire that landed. General Collier then moved his Command Post and
Headquarters to a two story red brick schoolhouse situated on the corner of a
critical crossroads. The intersection was formed by Highway #B 221 (Roermonder
Strasse) leading south to Aachen and #L 225 (Baesweiler Strasse) leading east to
The mild temperatures of fall were near the season’s
end as November had arrived. Now the rainfall increased daily making conditions
in the field more miserable than usual. Mud added to the difficulties facing the
men on foot, tank, trucks, jeeps and anything with wheels or tracks. The
increasingly cold weather winds didn’t help matters either. The former German
occupants of the homes in the area had fled east across the Roer River, vacating
their homes that made them fair game for the GIs seeking shelter.
Before we had the opportunity to go house hunting, we
were quartered in the schoolhouse with the rest of the personnel in CC”A”
Headquarters. After the first few days of the mandatory requirement of “Stand
By” 0530 hours at our vehicles with engines started and running, we got Lt.
Moll’s OK allowing us to find our own accommodations without complying with
the early morning wake up policy. Within one hundred yards, we found a perfect
set-up; a former butcher shop with living quarters in the rear and bedrooms
upstairs. We bootlegged a 110-volt power line, using field wire to tap into a 24
hour running generator operated by our friends with the Command Radio half-track
of S/Sgt. Tommy Spiers. This gave us a single light bulb after dark for our
essentials – playing pinochle. The Cut Break tank crew became nightly visitors
and card players. It was generally my luck, or lack thereof, to draw Virgil E.
“Bazooka” Appleton, Cut Break’s tank driver, for my partner. Pinochle was
just not his game. But he was entertaining with his Tupelo, Mississippi southern
drawl and colorful speech containing expletives. Some of which we could not
understand at times. Even Jones, our other redneck rebel couldn’t, but it was
good for laughs.
Directly across the street from our butcher shop home,
the 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion Batteries had set up their
105mm cannons and fired all hours of the day and night on call. Rumor had it
that they lost two wiremen to a German night patrol while repairing lines to
their Forward Observers, something that gave us concern.
To make the 2 km run from CC”A” Hqs to Baesweiler,
we had to drive past the Carolus Magnus coal mine, on the right side of
Baesweiler road, with its towering slag pile and water tower; the latter was
shot full of holes as a suspected observers point early on. Just beyond that
point was the long red brick wall, also pock marked with shell holes from our
tank fire. That whole stretch of road was under observation by the Germans who
would send in a few rounds with any noticeable movement of two or more vehicles
during daylight hours. They seldom fired at fast moving single vehicles.
In the beginning, the schoolhouse at the crossroads
sporadically drew fire off and on, as the Krauts correctly assumed that we would
utilize it in some capacity. After two weeks went by, the schoolhouse and corner
intersection drew enemy shellfire at all hours of the day and night. Apparently,
the Krauts knew it would support the use as a command post headquarters and they
had the coordinates to zero in on it. Plus the nighttime aerial surveillance
would show a fairly large concentration of vehicles parked around it. That was
one more valid reason for the wire team’s move to other quarters.
While the rest of the wire team opted to sleep in the
basement of the butcher shop, for obvious safety purposes, both Charlie Boss and
I decided to sleep in the large upstairs ”airy” front bedroom that contained
two big beds. Each bed had a decent mattress and a real goose down comforter.
One slight draw back was that the roof was missing some slate shingles here and
there; these open “skylights” permitted us to gaze up at the British search
lights, to the north, criss-crossing the skies to provide artificial moonlight.
On one night, I lit a cigarette and looked across the room where I could see the
red glow from Charlie’s cigarette, so I knew he too was awake. The sound and
whistle of incoming shellfire roared over the top of our house, then the crashed
as they hit near the corner -- causing Charlie to say, “Marsh, did you hear
those incoming? Those bastards on the corner are catching hell tonight.” Then
he made that cackling sound of his laughter, rolled over and went to sleep. With
his gallows humor, the thought of Officers being punished was justified – or
else it was better them than us!
In time, our units occupied Setterich, the site of the
century old windmill, Loverich and Puffendorf. This meant more lines to run and
repair when the line is knocked out by shellfire or torn up by the tank tracks.
Repairs at night were the toughest. Broken phone wires …walking along the
shoulder of the road in the pitch dark, seeing real and imagined corpses staring
back at you; while all the time holding a piece of the broken wire running
through your hand and being careful where you step is a real character builder.
Up ahead, a hundred yards or more, your partner in the jeep has shut off the
motor and is walking back towards you to find the break. The rain and the mud
make it all more of a challenge, but later in the snow and cold it was even more
difficult. Using wire cutters and making a splice means taking off the gloves
that were inadequate in the first place, then touching that cold steel served to
expedite repairs. Then test the line and hope there is an answer on the other
end. Using the EE8A field telephone with the hand crank you’re able to turn
the crank and if there is resistance, the line is working; if the crank spins
free, there’s nothing on the other end. Meaning more than likely there is more
than one break in the line and your night is not finished.
Just about this time, Lt. Moll received a “Dear
John” from this steady girl friend and totally came unglued, drinking heavily.
We kept him under wraps for a full day and night, telling the Command Post that
he was out checking on a radio relay crew. It was right after this incident that
Moll noticed that his private stock of gin was disappearing and his cognac
tasted weak. The culprit, Charlie Boss, had been taking swigs of the stuff
daily. To cover it up he told Moll the gin evaporated once it was opened. By
adding small amounts of water to replace the nips he took, he told Moll the
French were selling the officers cheap cognac in their liquor ration. Moll
On 16 November 1944, the attack called Operation Queen
was launched which brought the front to the Roer River. After very heavy
fighting and large tank battles, the Command seized and secured the line from
Ederen, Freialdenhoven, Merzenhausen and Barmen by 28 November 1944. The enemy
described this series of actions as being the greatest tank battle ever fought
on any front. Division records later claim that the enemy lost 90 tanks in this
battle, which lasted twelve days; 830 enemy were killed and 2,385 Germans
captured, all from first line enemy tank and infantry divisions. The 2nd
Armored Division losses were also considerable; our casualties were 203 killed,
including Lt. Colonel Charles E. Etter, 2nd Battalion, 41st
Infantry Regiment, KIA 18 NOV 44, with 198 missing in action and 1,104 wounded.
The Germans employed all arms very aggressively in a
desperate effort to check the advance by CC”A.” Numerous counter attacks by
strong forces of German armor and infantry, supported by artillery and direct
fire weapons, were beaten off with heavy loss to the enemy. The resistance was
so fanatical that three days were required to clear and secure the little
village of Merzenhausen against the largest types of enemy armor, dug-in
infantry and direct fire weapons and against concentrations of enemy artillery
and mortars. The Combat Command remained in a defensive position on the West
bank of the Roer River until 3 December, at which time it assembled in
Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1944, the CC”A”
Mess Sergeant, S/Sgt Zimba had fed us the typical turkey dinner and we ate to
dullness. By now the wire team had a few new faces and a few old faces. Jones,
Veno, Hull, Donahue and I were the old –timers.
were Newland, Elfer and Waldroop. In their places were Charlie Boss, Walter
Hogan (our Florida Indian), Glenn E. Springer and John C. Yahne. Sgt. Jones had
to send some of the replacements we received back to the Signal Company, as they
just didn’t cut it. One guy in particular comes to mind that told Jones, “We
can’t go back up there (to repair a line out), it is too hot up there and
we’ll get killed.” He was gone the next day – fear, whether real or
imagined, is contagious and you can’t keep men like that around.
turkey dinner meal we were back in the butcher shop playing pinochle when the
phone rang. Somebody handed the phone to Jones and said it was Lt. Moll. Moll
said the line to the 3rd Battalion of the 41st Armored
Infantry Regiment located in the Setterich/Puffendorf area had gone out and
General Collier wanted it put back in ASAP. Jones looked around the room and had
no volunteers. Our eyes met and he said, “Marsh, you take the machine gun.
Hull you ride with us.” I got my gear, checked my .45 and crawled in the back
of the jeep, sitting on the spare and checked the 30 caliber machine gun mounted
on a swivel base tripod welded to the floor between the two front seats. Our
wire jeep had neither a top nor windshield. Jones carried his Thompson
sub-machine gun in the boot and Hull his .30 carbine in the passenger seat, as
Jones took the wheel.
The jeep flew over the damp cobble stone roads in the
total darkness as we approached the silent village. Right about this time I had
a hunch things weren’t looking right. We weren’t long in waiting. Jones
slowed the jeep to a crawl, expecting any minute to be challenged by the guards
on a roadblock asking for the password. Dead silence greeted us. All three of us
knew there was something wrong – either Jones had taken the wrong turn leading
into town or we missed a turn off. Jones gave it a try by calling out
“Princess Pat” – the code name for the 3rd Battalion. After
three more tries and no answer Jones decided to backtrack.
He spun the jeep around and I could feel the sweat
running down my armpits while keeping a firm grip on the machine gun. No sooner
had Jones made the turn when we could hear the telltale mortar sounds of
“crump, crump” landing in the village. Jones gunned the jeep and we were
hauling ass. It was pitch black as I was staring straight ahead into the
darkness when all of a sudden – BAM! The last sound I recall hearing was an
explosion. Next thing I crashed against the machine gun and went over the top of
Hull onto the hood of the jeep and down onto the road in the adjacent ditch. I
thought we had hit a land mine.
When I came to, I discovered I was in a sugar beet
field next to the road and couldn’t move. My right hand that had gripped the
MG felt like it was broken; my chest took the blow in my sternum and solar
plexus from the MG. It knocked the wind out of me, while my face and shoulder
bounced off the canvas-covered hood. Jones was moaning in pain and Hull cut both
shinbones as he was slammed against the dashboard.
After we gained our senses, we discovered that Jones
had driven head-on into an approaching ambulance from our own 48th
Medics. Neither driver saw the other coming as it turned out. The cats-eyes of
the vehicles are too small to see at that on-coming speed until it is too late.
But Jones made out like a burglar – a “Million dollar broken arm” and a
ticket home to the USA, after stopping enroute in England to set his broken arm.
Talk about a lucky break! Hull and I were not so lucky.
After spending a night on a stretcher in a field aid
station, a doctor determined I was fit to be returned to duty, although banged
up pretty bad. No heroics, no glory, no Purple Hearts – just another day in
Uncle Sam’s Army. Veno came to pick up Hull and I the next morning then take
us to the scene to find my helmet. It was in a field behind white tape marked as
a minefield. By then, the jeep was stripped of every removable useable part,
including the MG and of course Jones’ Tommy gun. We later learned that the
infantry outfit, Princess Pat, had inexcusably failed to follow SOP to notify
the switchboard before disconnecting and moving to a new location.
A couple days later, a forty-eight hour pass to Paris
opened up. I was the first of the lucky ones at CCA, along with a jeep
messenger, by the name of Cleo Norris from Oil City, Louisiana to receive a
pass. The long drive to Paris in GI trucks would require that we spend an
overnight the first night on the road in St. Trond, France, reaching Paris the
next day. We checked into the St. George Hotel and went out on the town (Pigalle).
As for the rest of the city, the “joy” of Paris was a unique chance to
consume inexpensive warm wine and be mesmerized by the ambrosia resulting from
hours quickly winding down, I was fortunate to meet a young very attractive WAC
who was stationed in Paris with SHAEF Headquarters. I met her in a café where
Americans hung out. I was at a table next to hers. I hadn’t been able to take
my eyes off of her and was spell bound just looking at her and listening to her
talk to her WAC companions. Whether her friends tipped her off or when she
glanced over at me looking at her, she brazenly asked, “Well, what are you
staring at?” I grinned and with a shrug frankly told her I was captivated by
her stunning good looks and the sound of her voice. Honesty is the best policy
of genuine sincerity. After groans from her WAC friends about “what a line”
she was all smiles with my flattery. I followed with, “I’m just a lonely
soldier” that brought more guffaws and laughter. After more banter I seriously
asked her, “Can we get acquainted?” She accepted my offer to sit at my
table. We hit it off and spent most of the night asking and answering each
others questions. I thoroughly enjoyed just being able to converse with her. You
never realize just how important it is until you’ve been deprived of the
sensual sounds of the American female voice for more than a year. As she had a
midnight bed check, I walked her to her WAC-hotel quarters. The experience made
the trip more than worthwhile -- with a fond memory of her and Paris.
were strict with the rear echelon personnel who were required to wear neckties
and caps – we wore neither and were not bothered; combat units were excluded
as they noted our triangle 2AD shoulder patch. While the MPs would not harass us
for lack of uniform requirements (caps & neckties) they always checked your
pass expiration date. On the last day, they rounded up many of us and
“escorted” us to the collection point – Place de Concorde. We bid Paris
adieu. There we were loaded back on trucks, making the overnight stop once again
at St. Trond, before arriving back in Germany. Back to war.
On 3 December 1944, the Headquarters for CC”A”
moved into the city of Baesweiler. The wire team occupied a small house in the
center of town about a block away from the HQS. Among the many citizens of
Holland who volunteered their services to assist us, one stands out above the
rest – Colonel Adrian Paulen, or “Dutch” as we referred to him. He served
with us from 16 September 1944 to 18 January 1945. Dutch was our liaison officer
and had been a member of the Heerlen Dutch underground resisting the German
occupation. Very fluent in the English and German languages and very dedicated.
He was well liked by the staff of CCA, especially General Collier.
The CCA HQS personnel occupied what had been a
gasthaus with extra rooms. The Communications Sergeant, S/Sgt. Clyde Weibe,
consumed far too much booze one night and unfortunately, while sick to his
stomach, he vomited on Dutch’s bedroll, in which Dutch was sleeping. The next
day Sgt. Weibe was sent to the rear and a replacement was required. That was
left to Lt. Moll to find a replacement.
Rather than requesting a Sergeant from the Signal
Company, Moll called on an old friend from the past at Tidworth Barracks,
England. He sent for the former Master Sergeant Charles Tichacek, from Garfield,
New Jersey, who had been the ranking man in the Signal Company, until Captain
Henry J. Stuart, busted him to Private and kicked him out of the Company.
Tichacek wound up in the 66th Armored Regiment Maintenance Battalion.
Now a Staff Sergeant, he arrived at CC”A” to take over as the Com Sarge in
the Headquarters under Moll. Charlie chose to stick close to the wire team and
we developed into life long friends for more than 50 years. Charlie, being a
full blooded Czechoslovakian, naturally I called him “Pollock.” He in turn
called me “Irish.”
The XIX Corps and the 2nd Armored were
under the command of Lt. General W. H. Simpson and the Ninth US Army, also then
headquartered in Heerlen, Holland.
mid-December, Charlie Boss had a recurrent attack of malaria, first acquired in
North Africa. The medics came and hauled him away in an ambulance and that was
the last we saw of Charlie. His departure presented a new problem – we needed
a driver for the wire truck, a converted six wheel stick shift Dodge ton and ¼,
a former weapons/personnel carrier with the rear seats removed.
The Signal Company was disingenuous and said no one
was available, so Bill Veno asked me to take over as the new driver, a job I
would keep until the end of the war. The wire truck driver holds a critical spot
on the team in that he is the “point man” and the guy out front making the
decisions which fork in the road to take. Choose the wrong fork and you could
all wind up dead or Prisoners of War – which happened to other wiremen. The
ever-present danger of land mines in unchecked/unsafe areas is never far in the
back of your mind as you drive along the shoulder of the road trailing wire off
the back of the truck.
Lt. Moll stopped at our house on 16 December to alert
us that Von Rundstedt had broken through the American lines in the Belgium
Ardennes and that we were alerted to move with a three-hour notice. The Battle
of the Bulge, a white hell, had begun.
reproduction, in part or whole, is prohibited without written permission
from the author, Don R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family