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Saga of the 99th Infantry Division


Saga of the 99th Infantry Division
 
John Wresinski and I were members of “H” Company, 393rd Infantry Regiment, in the 81 mm mortar platoon. Our 2nd Battalion having been attached to the 395th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, and this to support the 2nd Infantry Division in its attack north to the Roer River Dams in Germany on the 13th of December 1944.  Three days later, we marched right into Hitler’s greatest counter-offensive, the bloody Battle of the Bulge.  We began now to reverse our forward advance and form a defensive corridor through which the forward elements of the 2nd Division could affect an orderly withdrawal.  We extricated ourselves down a crooked escape route between the beleaguered 394th Regiment and our 1st Battalion, 393rd Regiment.  Bone tired, weary and hungry, our withdrawal began a series of stopping, digging in, moving out, stopping, digging in and moving out.  Fortunately we were only bothered by occasional random shelling and small arms fire (the main German counter-attack proceeded on either side of our right and left flanks).  Finally, we were ordered to stop our withdrawal adjacent to a secondary road running east and west.
 
At this selected point Bob Mikesell, 5th Squad Leader, and I, 1st gunner, dug out our mortar emplacement followed by a two man foxhole for ourselves.  All others in the platoon, except one, John Wresinski, did likewise.  Against “SOP” (standard operating procedure), John seemed to be wandering around aimlessly scrounging for an extra “K” ration when Bob instructed me to “get on his ass and to begin digging himself a foxhole.”  I did after which he retorted, “F… that sh…!   I’m tired of digging!  Move in, move out, dig in, move out!  We’ll be here less than an hour at the most until they have us move out again!”
 
John proved right.  Just after dark, our battalion Commanding Officer received orders to move south in the direction of the twin villages of Rocherath and Krinkelt where we would be hooking up with our two other battalions.  We rolled up our packs again, loaded mortars and machine guns on our shoulders and started trudging again through the steady light snow toward our prescribed rendezvous point with our sister battalions.  We maintained reasonable intervals between ourselves in a long winding column and carefully stayed one or two tree depths inside the wood line on our right so as not to be visible for the Germans who could be heard on the high ground less than a mile on our left.
 
Now approaching the towns of Krinkelt and Rocherath, some three miles from where we departed, we could hear louder crackling sounds of small arms and heavy artillery, not to mention the back and forth creaking sound of bogey wheels on the big German Tiger tanks and our own over-matched Sherman’s.
 
Obviously, one hell of a fight was now going on to gain possession of the valuable crossroads and communication centers in these twin villages.  Shortly, we could see less than a mile distant the town of Krinkelt completely lit up with flames, the entire dark sky turned crimson from the fires.  We worried about our 2nd Division buddies and our other two battalions.  How in hell were they going to be able to suddenly detach themselves from such an intense occupation with the enemy?  Our “Front Line” Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Peters, or “Pete”, as he preferred, had a bad taste in his mouth and smelled a rat.  Just suppose, he thought, that “Goddamn Kraut commander” got into our communication line, tried to decoy our unit to a non-existent friendly sister unit’s meeting place and set a neat little ambush by his panzers?  What a disaster that would be.  Believing that help was on the way from us, our 1st Battalion will refuse to extricate itself from Rocherath and will be cut off from the left by the panzers and on the right by the inferno ranging in Krinkelt.  This will leave us sitting ducks for a direct assault by two columns of “King Tigers” belching fire and trampling over our thin line of human infantry.
 
Checking and rechecking through the combat team commander back to Division Headquarters and General Lauer, the truth soon became evident: those orders to move onto this area and vacate our previous temporary defensive line had been duped into our communications lines by “Jerry’s” using letter perfect English, part of a master plan for confusion and destruction.  A complete group of English-speaking Germans, specially trained for this endeavor, dressed in American gear, misdirected traffic as "MPs.“  We discovered this ruse in time!Our column now came to an abrupt halt as we could see and almost feel the flames of Krinkelt licking at our heels.  Ordered back from whence we came, we reeled around 180 degrees and trudged along the exact path we had just made, cold, tired, hungry, but frankly glad to be heading away from the inferno that continued to rage in the twin villages.  Our return was twice interrupted by random enemy shell fire in the area hoping to catch us off guard.  In spite of sustaining several wounded, we were able to make our way back to those now good looking, previously dug foxholes, about 3:00 a.m.  We plopped bodies hurriedly, grasping for a few hours’ sleep, oblivious to occasional stray rounds of artillery and intermittent small arms fire emanating from the perimeter outposts of our new defensive position.
 
Mikesell and I had reset our 81 mm gun in place and slid down into our foxhole when a serious amount of enemy shelling began saturating an area about 100 or so yards north of us.  The sky lightened, the ground trembled and trees burst which told us that perhaps the Germans discovered we were not fooled into the ambush.  They apparently knew we were returning to our former positions and were now going to lay it on us with comprehensive artillery!
 
Amidst this near chaos a familiar dog face appeared at the edge of our foxhole… it was John Wresinski pleading, “I’ve got to get down before they start shelling inside this road… can you guys move over… please?”  “Hell, no!”   Mike screamed.  “God Damn you, Wresinski… we told you we dig in every time we stop… you were told that last evening… now get the hell out of her and start your own GD hole!”  Mikesell was boiling mad, almost to the point that John would get hurt in order to learn a good combat lesson.  But for some unknown reason, I became somewhat empathetic and I called out to John, “Cross the road…just on the other side…that big old artillery emplacement… around the perimeter are dugouts… they’ll give you protection.”
 
“I saw those little holes yesterday, Sid,” John replied, “and they ain’t worth a shit!... besides I’m scared to go over by myself, there ain’t another GI dug in on that side!” 
 

“Bull shit, Wresinski… get your ass over there before a piece of that ‘88’ busts you in the ass!”screamed Mikesell. “Come on and go with me, Sid, I can’t see a GD thing and I’m not even sure where the emplacement is…”

 
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” I said.  I climbed out of our hole and began to lead him across the road, found and jumped into the big gun hole and pointed him to one of the little hutches dug off the edge of a big circle and started to head back to my own accommodation with Bob Mikesell.  The shelling traversed back in our direction and Wresinski grabbed my arm… "Stay here with me.”   I don’t know why but I said OK and we slithered into the shallow dugout.  The artillery had some plywood boards used to crate big guns and those had regularly become portable proofs for the narrow holes.  Now, at least, we were covered, but we had a big problem:Wresinski was 6’2” and 1 6’0”, and as we lay sideways in our cramped dugout, our feet protruded into the big round gun circle.  “To hell with it I thought and closed my eyes exhausted.”  Forty-five minutes later, just before daylight we were awakened by the rumble of those bogey wheels.  A piercing round of ‘88’s whistled over our heads as a German tank neared.  We heard a tank turret rotating toward us, another round seeming to skim the plywood over our heads.  Wresinski crossed himself.“God help us,” he murmured, which caused a terrifying fear to enter my mind.  We didn’t dare move, obviously we couldn’t see out, and so I pictured a giant Tiger tank commander peering out of his turret window rotating around the perimeter of the big circle and finally stopping and uttering.  “Achtung, Amerikannischer, fier einse, fier tsvie!”
 
Terrified, John whispered, “Can you turn your head enough to see out?”

 

“Hello no!” I said visualizing us getting blown to bits.  “I’m not moving!  And don’t you dare!  If that Kraut sees our motionless feet he’ll take us for dead.”  We barely breathed.  The bogey wheels rumbled, squeaked; another burst, but this time from more of a distance.  Then the next burst seemed to be further, at least 200 yards away.  Other tanks rumbled by, but thank God they seemed to veer past us.  A sliver of daylight appeared in our hole.  I gingerly eased my way out, feet first, caught a glimpse of the departing tanks and relaxed.  However, Wresinski and I saw the “meat” wagons, quite busy, hauling dead and wounded out of the area.  The panzers had taken their toll, four of them had surrounded our general area and poured shells in taking out a great number of personnel.
 
The good Lord was with Wresinski and me on that cold winter night and I have often wondered why.
 
Source:Bulge Bugle, May 2001
Cpl Sidney D SALINS

Company "H"

393th Infantry Regiment

99th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium