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US Army

We were Trapped at Bihain

 

We were Trapped at Bihain 

 

(Be sure to visit Emanuel Lamb for more of this story.)

 

http://www.battleofthebulgememories.be/stories26/32-battle-of-the-bulge-us-army/434-december-26-1944-with-the-331st-infantry-regiment.html

 

My name is Michael Catrambone.  I was a member of Hq. Company, 2nd Bn., 331st Infantry Regiment of the 83rd Infantry Division engaged in battle during the Battle of the Bulge.

 

During the winter of 1944 the Germans decided to make one big drive to split the Allied forces into fragments and force us to reorganize our offensive positions.  It was called the Battle of the Bulge.  The commander of the 2nd Battalion, 331st Infantry Regiment, 83rd Division was Lieutenant Colonel Leniel E. MacDonald, of Tupelo, Mississippi.  I was a member of Hq. Company, 2nd Battalion and the Colonel Mac's radio operator.

 

Our battalion had just come through some tough times in Belgium and found ourselves waiting for orders to leapfrog a company who had just taken the village of Bihain.  The plan was to move into Bihain, secure it and relieve the unit that was there.  A unit from the 329th comes to mind, but I can't be certain.  However, the Colonel decided that he, S/Sergeant Warren O. Fogle (assistant to Captain William Waters, the S3), and I would move up to Bihain that evening and try to get some sort of command post established to facilitate the battalion move the next day.

 

US Troops at Bihain, Belgium (Photo N.A.R.A.)
 

Wars are not quiet.  There is always some type of noise: rumbling artillery, sporadic gunfire, thanks on the move, people roaming from place to place... the result of many men and much equipment on the move.  We arrived in the middle of the night and the village seemed deserted.  There was no one around, no sentries, no lights, no activity... nothing.  It occurred to us that this was very strange but we had come to set up a command post so we moved into the village.  It had been so heavily bombarded that selecting a safe house was virtually impossible.  We finally came upon a house, which was semi-intact, parked the Jeep alongside, and after seeing what was left of the interior, made our way through the rubble to the cellar.

 

It was one room with a dirt floor and a huge pile of potatoes in one corner.  A table in the center of the room, some candles, and a few chairs made up the furnishings.  Colonel Mac said, "OK boys, this is it."  We set up.

 

My job was communications.  We wanted to let the rear echelon know where we were and what we were about to do.  I took my 610 radio and went up the stairs and up to the second floor looking for a good place to stick my antenna out a window.  The house was in shambles, so I went to the attic, punched a few shingles out of the roof and inserted the antenna.  I had just begun to make my call to Battalion headquarters when I heard gunfire.  Someone was taking aim at my antenna.  I quickly took it down and waited.  After what I thought was an eternity, I tried raising the antenna again.  More gunfire, only this time it was a machinegun and the rapid b-r-r-r-r-r- was unmistakable... it wasn't one of ours.

 

I hurried down to the cellar and told Colonel Mac and Sergeant Fogle what had taken place.  We didn't know exactly what had happened because we were under the impression that we were there to relieve our troops in the morning.  I moved back up to the attic, peered out and saw the street crawling with Krauts.  I hurried down and reported my discovery.  We were trapped!  They had seen our Jeep and were waiting for someone to show up.

 

It took several hours to make contact with our backup troops.  When we did, we found there had been a miscommunication.  The company we were to relieve in the morning left that evening instead.  The Germans saw what happened and moved back into Bihain.  Of course, we became a strategic listening post and we were able to direct the attack from within the village.  In hindsight, although the three of us were in a difficult position, it was an extraordinary situation.  It took our troops 3 days to force the Germans out again.  In the meantime, we holed up in the cellar while the Germans tried to get us out by firing their tank canons into the house.  The only thing that saved us was the fact that they could not lower the guns enough to fire into the cellar windows.  Why they didn't try to rush us was a question we asked ourselves over and over.  I made many trips to the attic but learned how far I could shove my antenna without being seen.  Our contact was good and we were relieved to know help was on the way.  We never dreamed we would be there for 3 days.  We tried to sleep in shifts a few hours at a time, learned to pray a lot and after we ate our rations, found the raw potatoes weren't too bad.  On the third day the boisterous sound of GI's entering the village was music to our ears.

 

The three of us was awarded bronze stars.

 
Source: Mark Cartambone, October 19, 2010

By Michael CATRAMBONE

"HQ" Company

2nd Battalion

331st Infantry Regiment

83rd Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium