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US Army

Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes) 84th I.D.

Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes)
84th Infantry Division
 
My part in the Battle of the Bulge could be said to have started 75 miles north of Marche, Belgium, when my anti-tank platoon was attached to the thinned ranks of G Company, 2nd Battalion, 333rd Regiment, of the 84th "Railsplitter" Infantry Division.  
 
 We entered the front line into German-dug foxholes on the night of December 15, aided by low light of British searchlights playing onto the sky.  I carried a bazooka, but had it knocked from my left hand when a piece of shrapnel hit the bazooka and the tips of my fingers, leaving my fingers numb for hours.  We spent three days and three nights in those holes in 38° light rain and mud except to brave snipers and scattered artillery shells in order to evacuate wounded, bring up rations, or whatever.  We were shelled heavily twice each day.
 
Some hours later, early morning of the 16th, Hitler's armies launched their surprise attack through the Ardennes forests of Belgium, taking a heavy toll of our young soldiers.  Our General Boiling got word to get the 84th to Marche and to hold the Marche to Hotton roadway "At all costs".  Bolling got there by 7 p.m. on the 20th, and the 334th Regiment began arriving by 10 p.m., followed by the 335th, and lastly by my 333rd, which had still been on the front lines near Geilenkirchen on the 18th.  We were held in reserve until we got new men and re-organized.
 
General Eisenhower in his Crusade In Europe said "The northern flank was obviously the dangerous one and the fighting continued to mount in intensity."
 
Author Charles B. MacDonald in his A Time For Trumpets adds that "As General Boiling readily deduced, the Germans needed Marche, for the town was as much a road center as was Bastogne."
 
On the 22nd of December elements of our 2n Bn., 333rd, were strung out along a sloping road with five 57 mm anti-tank guns, dozens of bazookas, several 50 caliber machine guns, and several 30 caliber machine guns trained on a small bridge which had been mined to be blown if necessary.  We were still holding that area on Christmas day and a few days afterward.  The weather had turned terribly cold. Fires were forbidden except for small gasoline burners to heat coffee.  Canteens froze solid and burst open.  We tried to sleep, huddled together sharing blankets.  We learned to keep an extra pair of socks tucked under our shirts to keep them warm and dry.  It snowed and got deep.  By some accounts the temperature dropped into the low teens.
 
Nights were long, starting about 4:30 p.m. and light came about 7:30 a.m., making guard duty trying and dangerous.  Two hours on guard and four off was the usual, causing intermittent sleep, at best.  Just keeping warm a problem. Sheets of newspaper slipped between layers of clothing were great windbreakers.
 
Willard "Bud" Fluck
 
Germans in American uniforms and driving our vehicles were behind our lines.  We were ordered to stop all vehicles and question the occupants about things we would know but Germans might not.  We worked in pairs, one approaching the vehicle, the other hidden.  Colonels and generals found themselves answering who was Mickey Mouse's girlfriend.  Then-we heard about the Malmedy massacre, and in our rage, we swore to take no prisoners.  Actually, that didn't hold later on.
 
When we first moved into Hotton, the enemy was close, but we didn't know how close, so motor engine noise was kept low or off entirely and our 57's were manhandled into position without talking and made ready next to one of the houses.  Nothing. Next morning as we waited in the kitchen, an artillery shell blew in part of the wall and knocked over the pot-belly stove next to us.  No injuries.  At midnight of New Year's Eve Jack and I were on guard nearby with a "daisy chain" of anti-tank mines.  Tied about 18 inches apart they were in the ditch on the side of the road, and we had the end of the rope on the other side.  If a tank came, we were to pull the mines onto the road, and run.  No tanks, but exactly at midnight both our and German artillery let loose with a barrage at the other that was like nothing we had ever heard.  Heavy artillery whistled over our heads in both directions.  We heard the gun blasts and the explosions on both sides of us.  By the 26th the whole front was quiet, and then the British came into Hotton and took our positions.
 
In his memoirs Winston Churchill wrote, "The wheel of the Fifth and Sixth Panzer Armies produced bitter fighting around Marche, which lasted till December 26".  By then the Germans were exhausted, although at one time they were only four miles from the Meuse and had penetrated over sixty miles.  Balked of their foremost objective, the Meuse, the Panzers turned savagely on Bastogne....."
 
It took a few days to get re-organized, but on January 3, 1945, the 84th was paired with the 2nd Armored while the 83rd was paired with the 3rd Armored for the start of our-counter-offensive to choke off the tip of the German penetration.  Our pincer move was to start at Manhay and end at Houffalize where we were to meet the Third Army coming from the south, only about half our distance.  The following days are confused in my mind, for we seemed always on the move from one short stay here or there to another place with a name.  I remember Odeigne.  During a lull we walked up a hill to a small one-room schoolhouse and just missed being hit by a mortar shell tree-burst. I took a little time to inspect the classroom.  I found many French translations of our fairy tales and cowboy stories.  In the cellar of the schoolhouse we found about forty civilians crowded into a space too small for ten.  As I came down the path again I stopped to look at a dead G.I. nearly covered with snow. His arm and part of his head could be seen.  I wondered whether his mother would ever see the watch still on his wrist.  The next day it snowed and kept on snowing.  Roads became almost invisible, and vehicles slid into ditches.  Tanks made the hard surfaces slick as ice.
 
In a blinding snowstorm our E and F Companies launched an attack to take and secure the La Roche Road. No tank support.  The snow was too deep and the terrain too difficult for them.  An F Company patrol secured the vital crossroads where the La Roche Road and the Houffalize Road met.  This feat had deprived the enemy of the only two first-rate roads to the east, and has been considered the turning point of the Ardennes operations.  The enemy had been taken completely by surprise.
 
It was near here that a patrol of eight of us were sent to bring in a group of about 35 or 40 German prisoners being held by two GIs.  I was the third man, sent along as interpreter.  We waded through waist deep snow for some distance and then onto bare ground which had been blown clear.  The Lieutenant, in the lead, saw the Germans just inside a grove of pine trees and started into the grassy area.  There was an explosion and I felt a puff-of air on my face.  The sergeant two steps ahead of me had stepped on a German Shu mine and lost his foot.  I backed out; the lieutenant re-traced his steps and got out.  What to do?  He ordered two of the biggest men to get the sergeant out.  There was another explosion and another foot gone, while the third man had shrapnel up and down his right side.  The second man was laughing.  He was going back to a nice warm hospital bed.  The lieutenant called for a jeep and they were all taken back to the Battalion Aid Station.
 
We found a path around the mine field and using my Pennsylvania German, I got the prisoners lined up, yelled some bad words at them, and marched them off to the La Roche-Houffalize crossroads, where the MPs took them back.  Foxholes were not always safe havens.  Just before the minefield incident.
 
I vividly recall what it did to one' German.  He was no deader than many others, but his torso was frozen solid and half hanging on the edge of the hole.  His head was gone, his insides had slid to the bottom of the hole, and his chest cavity was blown open.  I couldn't help thinking how nice and clean and pink and shiny the cavity was.
 
In Laroche, our squad found protection in the basement of a building mostly destroyed by artillery and by a fire.  It had a concrete first floor and one wall in danger of falling down the stairwell, so we knocked more of it down and descended into the basement.  Nice and warm from the heat of the first floor.  Then we began to be too warm,, so we peeled off some outer clothing.  Then our shirts. I don't recall going any farther.  Oh, but it was great to be warm for a few hours.
 
Again, we moved a lot.  The war for the ordinary foot soldier is only just where he is and how far he can see around himself.
 
Battle in The Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) ended officially on January 25, 1945.  But the front line was still not back to where it had been before the 16th of December, 1944.  So the 84th was put to work again to erase the holdouts east of Houffalize.  Beho was our Battalion's last objective to help in that effort.  On the way there, through Bovigny, every vehicle in the convoy bogged down in the deep snow.  It took hours to get to Bovigny and then start for Beho.  There was still enemy resistance, but our slogging riflemen accomplished the task.
 
I can never say enough for those men who walked into the face of the enemy knowing they could be wounded or die at any time.  They were the heroes.  I was just one of the lucky ones.  I can claim nothing spectacular; but I was there.
 
S/Sgt Willard H. (Bud) FLUCK

H.Q. Company

333rd Infantry Regiment

84th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium