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US Army

My Arrival with the 951st F.A.Bn in the Bulge

My Arrival with the 951st F.A.Bn in the Bulge

 

We had been in Germany since 14 September 1944.  The Battle of the Bulge began on 16 December, 1944.  On 19 December, while in position near Grosshau, Germany, we were ordered back to Belgium.  The weather was extremely cold, and a blizzard had formed over the Ardennes in Belgium.  It took us four days and nights to make the 108 mile trip on roads covered with ice and snow.  On 23 December, we went into position 1 ½ miles south of Maffe, which is on the northwestern part of the Bulge.  This was an area of the deepest penetration made by the Germans on their way to Antwerp.  They hoped to reach that objective to cut off our supply lines.  We were in the Battle of the Bulge.
 
In a day or so, I was sent to a firing battery as the Exec Officer.  Fire Direction called after dark and gave us a fire mission to fire harassing fir on an important road junction.  I told them that we had very few rounds left, and I would like to keep at least two rounds in case we were attacked by enemy tanks.  HQ Battery said, “No, fire all of them,” so we did.  Fortunately, we weren’t attacked that night by tanks, and our ammo trucks re-supplied us before the next mission.
 
A couple of days later, I was sent out as a Forward Observer.  I selected a barn which had a large door with a good view of an opening in the forest about 100 yards wide and almost a mile in length.  A young Belgian boy, bout 10 years, came to visit with my driver, radio operator and me.  His home was a short distance from the barn.  He spoke very good English, and we certainly enjoyed talking with him.  We always felt sorry for the families who were caught in such dangerous situations through no fault of their own.  We were glad that we were fighting on foreign lands instead of defending our own soil.  (Two World Wars… and most Americans have no idea how horrifying it was.)  Early that evening, an infantry squad came by the barn, then went out on patrol and returned with a negative report.  Later that night, we heard a tank, estimated to be ¾ mile away, then it shut off its engine.  I estimated the range, and we fired one round.There was no more activity the rest of the night.  The infantry checked the next morning.  They found the tracks, but the tank was gone.
 
On 31 December 1944, I had been in Fire Direction Center for about five months.  It is one of the most confortable and safest jobs in combat artillery.  Of course, I had other jobs occasionally to give me a change of scenery.  On this day, Lieutenant Morris White was killed and Lieutenant Marlin Stopfel, the observer, was severely burned in an artillery observation plane crash ½ mile southeast of Somme Leuze, Belgium.
 
An L-4 observation plane from another Battalion had made an imperfect takeoff, crossed a tree line, and came down on our airstrip due to lack of speed.  At Lieutenant White was taking off, he gained very little altitude when he had to make an extremely sharp turn to avoid collision, and he crashed into the ground.
 
Since we were now short an observer, I told Lieutenant Colonel Carl Isenberg that I would like to be assigned to the Air Section.
 
On my first flight, we took off on a sheet of ice and flew to the area of our front lines.Visibility was fairly good, so Lieutenant Walter Gerving, the pilot, gained altitude to the stalling point so we would have a better view in the distance.  We observed no activity, and in a few minutes, the engine vapor locked and died.  He pointed the plane straight down to spin the propeller, and the engine started when we were about 200 feet above the tops of the forest of pine trees.  That was an interesting initiation flight!  Lieutenant Gerving and I flew together throughout the rest of the War.
 
The 951st Field Artillery Battalion fired 15,798 rounds of 155 mm ammunitions (149 tons) during the Battle of the Bulge (an average of 508 rounds per day).  That intensity represented lots of hard work for the howitzer crews and the men delivering the 95-pound shells.  Snow, fog and clouds, limited the visibility.  Forward Observers on the ground conducted most of the observed fire missions because visibility in the air was very limited.  The reasons the Germans commenced this massive attack during the worst part of the winter was because they knew the US had air superiority.If the weather had been clear, the Germans would have been stopped by our units before they entered Belgium.  The German strategy was an excellent plan, but misjudged our ability to shift our forces to stop them.  The Bulge ended on 24 January 1945.
 
After the Bulge, the 951st Field Artillery was billeted in Emptinne, Belgium and several other small towns in that area to rest and perform maintenance on the equipment.  Lieutenant Gerving and I stayed in a hotel reserved by the Army in Liege for three days.
 

The Chateau at Emptinne, Belgium (January 1945)

Photo: Courtesy of the late Major Darwin Hite.

 
On our way back to the 951st Field Artillery, it was late in the afternoon, so we landed near a small town in a field close to a nice residential area.  By the time we got out of the plane, at least 20 people came out to meet us.  We told them we needed a place to spend the night.  A man and his wife came forward, and they said they would like for us to stay at their home.  They had very nice two-story bedrooms, which was first class.  We had an excellent dinner and a long visit with the couple that evening.  They knew enough English to make the conversation pleasant.  They brought coffee to our rooms the next morning, and we they had a nice breakfast prepared for us when we joined them.  They would not accept money, but we gave them all of the hard chocolate bars we had, which were out of our “K” rations.  That was a real treat for them because chocolate was scarce in Europe at the time.  To our surprise, our hosts were the Mayor and his wife.When we arrived back at the plane the next morning, at least 50 people were there.  We found that many of them had spent the night with our plane to be sure that it would be protected.  When we left, it appeared like the entire population was there.
 
While we were still in Belgium, we were about out of gas and stopped at a temporary airfield for our fighter planes to fill our tank.  One of the P-51 pilots was visiting with us.  When I lifted the tail of our plane to move to the direction of takeoff, he said, “The Army couldn’t pay me enough money to fly one of those planes.”  We had no idea where the 951st Field Artillery would be in position, but when we passed Aachen, Germany, I started calling them on the radio.  They were in position near Stolberg on 3 February 1945.  That is about 10 miles from the position we occupied before the Battle of the Bulge.  Our paid vacation was over, but it sure was great!
 
Source: Fire Mission, 951st Field Artillery Battalion, March 2002
By Lt Leo McCOLLUM

951st Field Artillery

Battalion

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium