Tuesday, January 27, 2015

19. A 70-Year Memory: Liberation

While the 10th Armored was regrouping in the west, the Red Army was moving westward. What they discovered in Poland has defined the depths of what humans can do to each other. Later in the spring the 10th Armored would be involved in liberating one of the camps. But this day is to be remembered as well. It is still, 70 years later, the symbol of incredibly inhuman actions. Around 1.1 million people died there. It's name should still bring chills to anyone with a conscience.


From Wikipedia:
As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was evacuated and sent on a death march. The prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on January 27, 1945, a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the following decades, survivors such as Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and Elie Wiesel wrote memoirs of their experiences in Auschwitz, and the camp became a dominant symbol of the Holocaust.
Never again!

Commemorative flowers on the rail track in Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Sunday, January 18, 2015

18. Battle Weary and Ready to Move On

16-18 Jan 1945:
The weary, triumphant Tigers (Combat Command B) take their final ride through Bastogne’s rubble strewn streets. There had just been another blizzard. [Note: There are different dates in different places on the date of leaving Bastogne by CC B and the 10th Armored.]

No matter- the Battle of the Bulge was over and the outcome of the war was pretty much a certainty. It was a bloody and traumatic time. Over 600,000 Americans (and another 120,000 Allied soldiers) were involved. Over 300,000 German troops were active. That means over 1,000,000 soldiers were involved in that small area of northeast France.
  • American Casualties: 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded, 23,000 captured or missing.
  • British Casualties: 200 killed, 969 wounded, and 239 missing.
  • German Casualties: 67,200 – 100,000 killed, missing, captured, or wounded
It is interesting to note that there are no "After Action Reports" for the 80th Medical Battalion for December 1944 and January 1945. In the intensity of the battle, the ongoing uncertainties and the general "fog of war" many papers and records were lost. They will resume in February.

Many times in my reading I have come across the term, "Fog of War" in relation to the Battle of the Bulge. I did some digging and with the help of Wikipedia (naturally) I found that the term goes back to the late 19th Century and is credited to the German von Clausewitz in the early 19th Century. Here's Wikipedia's opening statement:
The fog of war (German: Nebel des Krieges) is the uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations. The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding one's own capability, adversary capability, and adversary intent during an engagement, operation, or campaign. ...
War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.
Carl von Clausewitz
As I have read through many accounts of the Battle of the Bulge and looked at countless pictures of all kinds of armored warfare and medical care in the midst of World War II, I have been struck by the incredible intensity that these men were under. For many the days were almost certainly endless, one day running into the next. Nights being regularly disturbed by artillery, hunger and cold. Days blinded by snow or the intense light when the sun came out and reflected from the ground.

Those in Bastogne had the worst of it- far greater than any of us can ever imagine. The sublimation of fear was a necessity. What does that do to a person psychologically? How does a soldier cope other than to grow emotionally numb? I would think that if you allowed any emotion to break through, the worry would be that all the emotions would break as well. One thing that could not be afforded was that kind of flood.

But even beyond Bastogne itself, the ongoing uncertainty of the direction of the war would have been just as difficult to cope with. Somewhere in the midst of all that was the one medic that I would come to know as my father. I am learning more about his life than I have ever known. I, too, leave the Battle of the Bulge now. I have thought and read about it for months in preparation for these weeks. I will continue to research and read for it is an important part of our American history. But I also feel it had a great deal to do with who my Dad became- and perhaps in some family memory who I have become as well.

17-18 Jan 1945

Sgt. Benjamin B. Barenbrugge wrote a memoir years later that is in the Wartime Memories Project. He tells what happened next, as the 10th Armored returned to its original mission- the clearing of the Saar-Moselle Triangle. He describes in general what the rest of the war would be for the 10th:
Our orders were to push the Germans further back into Germany. The Army engineers literally built our bridges as we moved. They got a good workout. The Germans blew every bridge across each river we had to cross. Our engineers built new bridges made of large rubber pontoons, lashed together and anchored to the riverbed. They placed steel grid channels across the pontoons; spaced far enough apart to accommodate our tank tracks. I really felt sorry for these engineers, as this was a hard and dangerous job. German artillery would blow these bridges up as fast as they built them. Then our artillery had to go to work and knock out their artillery. Sometimes this went on for days. When we could, we would rest up in some little nearby town. We made three major river crossings: the Saar, Rhine and Danube. We took over 150 towns and cities. Some of the major ones were Trier, Kaiserlautern and Mannheim.
--Wartime Memories Project

The rest of the 10th Armored had been in Metz since the end of December. There Nichols describes that they were
able to lick [their] wounds and rest for the long battle journey across Germany yet to come. On January 17, the division moved southward to Faulquemont, France, where it was rejoined by Colonel Roberts' Combat Command B.... For nineteen days the Tigers were engaged in a three-fold program of unit training, providing a counter-reconnaissance screen west of the Saar River, and at the same time, holding part of the Army's front line.
The weather, of course was awful and many vehicles slid off the icy roads into the ditches. They made it, though, and spent the rest of January in the Faulquemont area.

10th Armored (minus CC B) moves from Metz Jan 18

Combat Command B joined the Division at Faulquemont
[Note: Google maps are obviously contemporary. I use them to show distances and locations.]

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

17. The New Year Begins

As 1944 turned into 1945, the Battle of the Bulge continued, although it was probably clear that the Allied forces were on the offensive now. The battle around Bastogne had broken the siege, but not the ongoing fighting. The story remained the weather, the coldest weather in the area in thirty years. Here's some of the information of the last week or so from a history of the 4th Armored Division:

Friday, December 29
Weather: Arctic air, heavy snow, blizzards, greatly reduced visibility. Wounded, if not quickly evacuated, died of exposure

Saturday, December 30
Weather: Early AM fog, then clear enough for flying. Extremely cold. So cold that plasma freezes in aid stations and men die for lack of it. A wounded soldier not immediately evacuated dies of freezing

Monday, January 1, 1945
Weather: Morning cloudy and dark. Afternoon clear and cold.
In Bastogne area, all Third Army guns fire New Year's salute from 2359 to 0019. Reports that artillery causes heavy enemy losses.
Ambulance in Bastogne

Tuesday, January 2
Weather: Clear enough to fly.
Bastogne: Hitler again orders the capture of Bastogne. At 0200 the Luftwaffe bombs the 6th Armd Div west of Bastogne.

Monday, January 3
Weather: Cold, no air support possible in stormy weather.

Thursday, January 4
Weather: Miserable .

Saturday, January 6
Churchill, British leader sends letter to Roosevelt praising the bravery and skill of American soldier. Effort to heal wound caused by Montgomery. {British commander Montgomery had made some disparaging remarks about the American troops and Eisenhower's leadership.}

Sunday, January 7, 1945
Weather: Cold, deep snow on ground
Allied Leadership Crisis: Montgomery calls press conference in which he intimates that he had saved the Allies during the crisis days of the Battle of the Bulge. Newspapers in England and the United States carry the story. Many British editors enlarge on Montgomery's role. Bradley and Patton explode. Bradley holds oneof few news conferences to explain why Montgomery had been given the two American Armies. Winston Churchill later (January 17) makes a historic statement in Parliament to soothe situation.


By this time, the news embargo had been at least eased. High Schuck, war correspondent for the New York Daily News, reported on January 4:
With the U.S. Third Army- As details of fighting in the early stages of [the Battle of the Bulge] emerge... it becomes more and more apparent that the initial... impetus of the German drive was broken by isolated American units which chose to fight to the last cartridge against overwhelming odds.
It was such a last-ditch effort by ... part of [the] 10th Armored Division which kept the Germans from capturing the City of Luxembourg and its road network over which Lieutenant General George S. Patton later moved his divisions to launch a counter-attack. And it was that kind of American resistance that centered around Berdorf, 17 miles northeast of the City of Luxembourg. [That is the area where most of the 10th Armored, minus Combat Command B, were located.]
Memorial in Berdorf to the 10th
The parts of the Battle away from Bastogne did not, of course, get the huge press that Bastogne did. But it allowed the Allied forces to be as successful as they were. As the 10th (minus CCB) headed back toward Metz, Prince Felix, Crown Prince of Luxembourg, visited the 10th's commander, General Morris. As Nichols reports it, he brought
Plaque on memorial in Berdorf
the heartfelt thanks of his people and declared that the Tenth had saved Luxembourg from certain capture by the Germans as a result of the courage and superior combat shown by the Armoraiders.