G Company's War
Two Personal Accounts of the Campaigns in Europe, 1944-1945
By Bruce E. Egger, Lee MacMillan Otts, Paul Roley
The University of Alabama Press Copyright © 1992 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
October 25-November 17, 1944
OPERATIONAL BACKGROUND Following the invasion of France on June 6, 1944, and a protracted slugging match in the hedgerows of Normandy, the Allies had been able to effect a breakout at St. Lo in late July. Suddenly the war had been transformed from a series of bloody assaults into one of movement as the Anglo-American armies swept across northern France.
Leading the way in this spectacular advance was General George Patton's much publicized Third Army. But in late August, as a severe fuel crisis loomed, General Eisenhower had made the difficult decision to give first priority on supplies to Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery's 21st Army Group in its northeastward thrust into Belgium and toward Germany's vital Ruhr industrial area. This meant that the Third Army's advance would have to halt for lack of gasoline. (See Map 1.)
Although Patton was able to resume operations within a few days, the pause had proved to be fatal to Allied momentum. The Germans had been busy feeding in reinforcements, particularly on the Third Army's right flank, which faced the main invasion corridor leading to the Saar Basin and on to Frankfurt. The days of easy pursuit were over; the Wehrmacht had made a remarkable recovery, and the American advance in Lorraine during September was bitterly contested. The Third Army quickly moved to the Moselle River, but the attempt to advance beyond that line provoked strong resistance.
By late September, also, a new logistical squeeze was developing. The operations in Holland, against Aachen in the northeast, and the attempt to advance east of the Moselle all combined to strain to the breaking point the existing port facilities and the supply and communications systems in northern France. The shortage of artillery ammunition was becoming critical, and another gasoline famine was looming. Eisenhower therefore decided that priority had to be given to Montgomery's efforts to secure the port of Antwerp, which had long been considered the only solution to the Allies' supply problems. The corollary of this decision was that the Third Army would have to go over to the defensive. Thus it was that in early October, when the 26th Division was assigned to Patton's forces, a period of quiet had settled in on the Third Army front that was to last until early November.
In the meantime, the Yankee Division was being fed into the lines to give it combat experience for the coming offensive. On the morning of October 22 the 328th Infantry suffered its first serious losses when the 1st Platoon of Fox Company (2nd Battalion) ran into a buzzsaw on a combat patrol just south of the little town of Vic-sur-Seille and lost twenty-four of the original forty-three men, including several who were captured. (Of the twenty-eight replacements sent to the 2nd Battalion on October 25, F Company got twenty-five; the remaining three, including Egger, were assigned to G Company.)
Four days later the 328th moved in to relieve its sister regiment, the 104th Infantry, in the vicinity of Bezange-la-Petite on the extreme right flank of the Third Army sector (see Map 2), where Egger and his fellow replacements would soon join their units. With Lee Otts still en route to England, we now pick up Bruce's account. [PR.]
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EGGEROct. 25, 1944. A shipping list, which included our entire company, came out this morning assigning us to the 26th Infantry Division, Third Army. Trucks took us to division headquarters near Nancy, where we had a clothing inspection before being assigned to regiments. Two of my friends from the 97th Division went to the 101st Regiment and Bob Dixon and I were sent to the 328th.
On the way to regimental headquarters we drove through Nancy, a bustling city with large numbers of people and soldiers on the streets. The traffic was mostly military vehicles. It was after dark when we arrived at the headquarters of the 328th. I wanted to stay in a barn full of hay, but we were moved to a field where we were told to dig a foxhole. The guards told us a German patrol was supposed to be in the area, but Dixon and I thought that might be a story to impress the replacements.
Oct. 26, 1944. We had a hot breakfast with the medics before moving by vehicle to 1st Battalion HQ. On the way we passed a jeep that had been blown up when it ran over a mine. The two occupants were lying at the edge of the road with all but their feet covered by blankets. Artillery pieces were dug in on both sides of the road. Whenever one fired we involuntarily jumped.
Dixon, Erickson, Giovinazzo, and about twenty others from our replacement group were assigned to F Company. Cullison, Davidson, and I went to G Company in the 2nd Battalion. We were to stay with the 1st Battalion until our outfit came off the line.
Oct. 27, 1944. Dixon and I improved our foxhole, which was at the foot of a slope near a creek. We also visited with the others and wrote letters. Occasionally a German artillery shell went over, but none landed near us. Not used to being on the receiving end of artillery, we wasted no time running to our holes.
Dixon was twenty-five years old and although he had been married three years, he and his wife didn't have any children, which he regretted. He had been an Air Force cadet at Kansas State College while I was there in ASTE He was one of what we called "grounded butterflies." The Air Corps had decided they had an adequate supply of pilots, bombardiers, and navigators, so the program was disbanded along with ASTE Dixon had been in my company with the 97th Division but in a different platoon, so I didn't know him until we shipped out as replacements.
Oct 28, 1944. It had been raining, so we pitched a tent over our foxhole. We spent most of the day visiting, sleeping, and writing letters. Dixon spent time studying a book to learn German.
Oct. 29, 1944. The 1st Battalion had church services this morning in an open field. The service was interrupted by a barrage of 88mm artillery, which the Germans used for antiaircraft, antitank, and antipersonnel. Their tanks were also equipped with 88s. The shells didn't land near us, but the shelling broke up the church service.
Oct 30, 1944. It started to rain again after two days of sunshine. Our foxhole, which was at the base of a slope, was receiving water seepage, but we managed to plug the leaks with sod. All the foot and vehicle traffic was causing the area around the kitchen to become muddy.
A company filed past us this morning on the way to the front lines. The men didn't seem very enthusiastic about moving up.
The replacements for the 1st Battalion had been assigned to their respective companies and we 2nd Battalion replacements were moved up to join our companies on the front lines. A jeep took Cullison, Davidson, and me to G Company Headquarters in a small village near Bezange-la-Petite. On the way up we passed several burned-out American and German tanks. The G Company Command Post, or CP, was in the basement of a building whose upper stories had been almost leveled by artillery. Only portions of the walls were left standing. The sounds of machine gun fire and exploding shells were much closer. The mail clerk, jeep drivers, and several helpers stayed in the basement. We didn't tell them we had eaten our evening meal before we left, so they prepared canned eggs for us over a small gas stove. The basement had a musty smell, but it was warm and dry and more comfortable than a foxhole. Candles furnished our light.
Oct. 31, 1944. The front lines were only about three-hundred yards from town. Captain Paul Carrier, the Commanding Officer of G Company, decided to leave us at the Company CP, since it was only possible to move into position under the cover of darkness and the 2nd Battalion was due to be relieved soon. I went upstairs several times to look around, but it was not safe to venture very far from the security of the basement. The small farm village where we were located had no civilian population left. There wasn't a building in town that hadn't suffered damage from artillery.
Pfcs. Larry Treff and Carl Anderson came in from the front after dark. They both had diarrhea, a messy situation when you can't leave your foxhole. They heated water on the gas stove, bathed, and changed underwear. They were keyed up and talkative after being confined to a foxhole and so close to the Germans.
Nov. 1, 1944. The 1st Battalion relieved the 2nd Battalion after dark and we went back into reserve. I was one of the four guides assigned to take the G Company platoons back to the rear-area positions the 1st Battalion was vacating. Fog had settled in, providing good cover, and there were no problems during the exchange or the walk back to the rear. The kitchen had hot coffee for the men. I could hear some of them talking most of the night while I was on guard duty.
Nov. 2, 1944. Cullison and I had taken over the foxhole I had shared with Dixon, who had gone to F Company. It was still raining and the water table was rising. We kept throwing sod in the hole so we wouldn't be sleeping in the water. By the time the leaks were stopped the hole was almost at ground level. We were not that concerned about artillery, since none had landed in our vicinity.
A thousand pair of feet on top of the previous traffic soon turned the kitchen area into a sea of mud. The troops who had come off the line were unshaven and dirty and most were taking action to remedy the situation since being clean shaven was one of General Patton's requirements. Three hot meals were served daily. We had two hours of guard duty at night. George Company had suffered one man killed and three wounded so far. All the casualties had been from shrapnel.
Nov. 3, 1944. Cullison and I dug a hole on higher ground to avoid the seepage and pitched our tent over it. A stray cow wandered into camp this morning and some of the fellows promptly killed and butchered it. A bottle of wine was issued to every three men. By the time I went on guard at 2200, the one-third of a bottle I had drunk was causing stomach cramps. Before I got off guard I had diarrhea and spent the rest of the night and morning running to the latrine. The water was all right here. It was the wine you had to watch out for.
Harold Clark [pseudonym], Captain Carrier's runner, shot himself in the foot today while cleaning his carbine.
General Patton talked to most of the officers in the 26th Division today and told them the Third Army would be making a big drive soon.
FROM EGGER'S LETTER OF NOVEMBER 3
I haven't seen any action yet, the closest I have been is about a half mile from the front. The men who have been there say I don't have much to look forward to.
Mud and rain are two things I'll remember about France.
If I make it through this winter I'll be satisfied as long as I have a roof over my head and three meals a day. A person never appreciates anything until conditions worsen. You would be surprised at how little the men here complain.
They gave us a bottle of wine for every three men. Don't worry, we are drinking it very sparingly and it isn't very strong....
I guess there is no picnic ahead for me. I only hope and pray that I can take it like a man and do my part.... I know if your prayers and everyone else's mean anything that I'll come through alright.
Nov 4, 1944. I felt weak and sick this morning so I went to the medics, who gave me some pills. The runs stopped by mid-morning and I felt good enough to ride back to Regimental HQ for a shower. I saw several dead cows, killed by artillery, lying in the pastures on their backs, legs sticking straight up. As they began to decompose the body cavities filled with gas, causing the carcasses to roll onto their backs. The people here had lost their homes, livestock, and probably most of their possessions.
The quartermasters had set up big tents with shower stalls and wooden slat floors. I don't know how the water was heated, but I know that we hated to leave the warmth of the shower and return to the cold and mud of the foxholes.
Nov. 5, 1944. A Red Cross clubmobile was at the battalion area in the afternoon with coffee, doughnuts, phonograph music, and two pretty American girls to remind us of home.
It had rained all day and the foxholes were full of water. It was impossible to keep ourselves or our blankets dry and free of mud. I felt discouraged today, probably because I was not feeling good.
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OPERATIONAL BACKGROUND Despite the strong resistance encountered on all fronts in September and October, the Allied high command was convinced the German army would crumble under continued pressure. The unremitting rains of October may have made the lives of the troops miserable and complicated the battlefield situation, but the generals considered that, with victory seemingly so close, operations had to continue. The decision of late September to halt the advance of the Third Army had been dictated by an untenable logistical situation, but that problem was well on the way to resolution. By mid-October, then, Eisenhower's headquarters was cranking out plans for a general offensive on all fronts.
The broad strategy would remain the same. Primary emphasis would be on Montgomery's northern thrust, assisted by Hodges' First American Army, toward the Ruhr industrial area, thence across the Rhine, and ultimately on to Berlin. At the same time Patton's Third Army would drive northeastward through Lorraine and in the direction of Frankfurt.
In the Third Army sector, XX Corps would envelop Metz while General Manton Eddy's XII Corps, to which the 26th Division was attached, would advance on the right. The Yankee Division's 328th Infantry, with Pfc. Bruce Egger one of the new replacements in its 2nd Battalion, would be on the extreme right, or southern flank of the XII Corps (and the Third Army) line, which abutted on the Marne-Rhine Canal. The date of the attack was set for November 8.
General Patton was brimming with his usual confidence. "It is 132 miles to the Rhine from here," he told the new 95th Division on November 4, "and if this army will attack with venom and desperate energy, it is more than probable that the war will end before we get to the Rhine." What he failed to foresee is that a total of 7.2 inches of rain would fall on Lorraine in November, as contrasted to the normal precipitation of three inches for that month, turning the terrain into a sea of mud and exacting a heavy toll upon troops not equipped by their government for such miserable combat conditions.
The role of the 2nd Battalion of the 328th Infantry was to take the town of Moncourt. The more than two hundred men who ended up as casualties there were not informed that this was merely a diversionary action; the main attack was occurring farther to the north. [PR.]
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EGGERNov. 6, 1944. Orders came down this morning that the 2nd Battalion was to relieve the 3rd Battalion on line in the late afternoon.
I was assigned to the 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon. Cullison was sent to the 1st Platoon and Davidson went to a machine gun section of the 4th Platoon. The supply sergeant gave me a duffel bag and I turned in my extra clothes, a blanket, gas mask, razor, notebook, and some other personal gear. Gas masks were not carried in the field; the high command evidently thought there was not much risk of the Germans using poison gas.
We moved out shortly after I joined the platoon, so I didn't have a chance to become acquainted with the members of the squad. Carl Anderson, whom I had met at the Company CP, introduced me to Ed Evans, Charles Foster, Joe Treml, Frank Kuchyt, Harry Lee, Allan Parlee, Ernie Viscio, and Tom Twardziewski. Anderson, Evans, Foster, and Treml were all transfers from ASTP. S/Sgt. John Saulenas and Sgt. George Kearny [pseudonym] were the squad and assistant squad leaders, respectively. The men spoke highly of Saulenas, although of late he had been nervous and irritable. Some of the men thought Kearny was not very intelligent and mostly talk. T/Sgt. Edward Zabloski was the platoon sergeant and S/Sgt. Wallace Sullivan was platoon guide. Larry Treff was the only other man I knew in the platoon.
We moved out just before dark in single file. Traveling was difficult. At times we would sink to our knees in the mud, and I was soon wishing I had left more of my gear back in my duffel bag. We passed through a draw in which the burned-out hulks of four American tanks stood. We walked about two miles before the squad split up. Kearny took Foster, Evans, Kuchyt, Lee, and me to a small cement pillbox on a hill, while Saulenas and the rest of the squad went to a bunker about four hundred yards away, near the woods. The rest of the platoon and the 1st and 4th Platoons dug in behind us while the 2nd Platoon was in the woods to our right. Kearny immediately posted a guard. He did not pull guard, but the rest of us were on two and off eight.
The pillbox was drier than the holes we had left, but it was crowded for five men. There was no room to stretch out, so I sat on my pack and tried to sleep. By 2000 the roof had begun to leak and by midnight the floor was muddy and water was running in the open doorway.
When I went on guard at 2000, it was still raining and so dark that I could only see a few feet. The wind was so strong it would have been difficult to hear or see anyone approaching or for a patrol to find their way. German artillery kept landing close enough that I could hear the shrapnel whistle as it passed overhead. (Continues...)
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