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Stories

Krinkelt-Rocherath, December 17, 18 and 19, 1944

Krinkelt-Rocherath

December 17, 18 and 19, 1944

 
We were moving up to relieve part of the 9th Infantry Regiment.  The ground was covered with ice and snow as we moved toward Wahlerscheid.  The Ninth had been successful but had lost a big number of their men and were in bad need of replacements.  We would relieve them so they could pull back to build up their troops.  They had a rough time taking these pillboxes.  They named it Heart Break Crossroads. 
 
As we moved through the snow everyone was quite as we all knew that in a short time we would be engaged with the enemy.  The column stopped and we wanted to move on.  Lieutenant Lahner, our Platoon Leader, was called to meet with the Company Commander and the other Platoons leaders.  We had hopes that, maybe something better was being planned for us.  We began to talk among ourselves guessing what our next move may be.  After 20 minutes Lieutenant Lahner returned.  He talked briefly to Sergeant Ward, our Platoon Sergeant.  I wasn’t close enough to hear the conversation.  Immediately our Company turned and started moving in almost the opposite direction.  We took the road that ran from Wahlerscheid to Rocherath and Krinkelt. 
 
 
We had been very tense when we thought we were going into a dangerous battle but now we relaxed since it seemed we were moving away from the front.  “What is the hurry; why are we running?”  We came out of the woods in a few minutes and immediately the shells started.  We threw ourselves down on the ground which was our custom but were told to keep moving.  The shells were close and we were scared but we kept moving.  We thought at first our own artillery was off target, but we knew they were enemy 88’s by the sound.  The German planes started strafing and bombing.  We continued to move as fast as possible. 
 
Looking to our left about 100 yards we saw some American artillery pieces abandoned, still facing toward where we thought the enemy should be, but we weren’t sure.  I think we ran about six miles before we arrived at Rocherath and Krinkelt.  Our Platoon had no casualties on the road.  We were moved east of Krinkelt and took up positions there.  The 2nd Platoon was on the extreme left of the company and I was the last man on the left of the platoon.  A tank destroyer was about ten feet to my left.  The enemy artillery would later try for the T.D. 
 
I began digging a hole and another man in my squad came over and asked if he could dig in with me.  It was normal to pair off so I said “alright.”  We would dig a little then fall to the ground as the shells came in.  We dug the hole for about two hours without a let up.  It was raining shells and they were exploding all around our hole.  The air was full of shrapnel and spent pieces were hitting us as we lay on our back with our helmets over our face.  The noise was unbearable and the ground shaking and we were shaking from fright and cold.  We didn’t raise our head.  It would have been impossible to survive outside of the hole.  We had casualties but I don’t know how many.  Then the shells stopped coming in.  We laid there shaken and stunned.  We knew nothing of any activity outside our holes.  I was afraid everyone else had been killed but because of the TD, we were getting most of the shells. 
 
One of our sergeants came to our hole and squatted down beside it, saying “We can’t stand this.  I’m going to the company commander and get him to move us out of here; we’ll all be killed if I don’t.”  I didn’t know what to say to him.  His eyes looked wild and I guess mine did too.  Then he started toward the company CP.  I asked my partner if he thought the sergeant was all right.  He said, “I don’t know but he acted strange to me.”  We both knew the sergeant didn’t have the authority to go to the company commander.  I think he had a case of battle fatigue.  He didn’t come back and I haven’t seen or heard of him since. 
 
About fifteen minutes after the sergeant left, the shelling started again.  It was just as bad as or worse than before and didn’t let up until dark.  We were expecting a direct hit on our hole any time.  There was a fear that we were helpless and all alone and there was nothing we could do, so I prayed to God.   I had attended a Community Church at Heads Prairie, nine miles east of Kosse, Texas, and had attended a meeting.  Malcolm Smith, preacher from Groesbeck, Texas, preached.  He stood on the back porch of John Kidd’s Store and we sat in chairs and on benches out in the open.  I listened to him but did not become a Christian.  So I was afraid my prayers would not be answered.  Then I made some commitments and since then I have tried to keep them. 
 
Lieutenant Lahner sent for me and told me to report to the first sergeant at the Company CP.  The Company CP was in a building about 75 yards to our rear.  I went to the building and found the first sergeant, telling him I was sent from the Second Platoon.  He said, “Come with me.”  I followed him through the building going into a back room and out the back door that was facing east, toward where I had just left my platoon.  He walked to each corner of the building then said, “You will be guarding the back of this building.  I don’t want you to let anyone in this door and don’t let anyone pass you that you don’t know.  You will stay here until we relieve you.” 
 
I took control of my post and the first sergeant went inside.  I began walking from corner to corner looking toward the front each time I came to the corners.  I was alone and it was very dark.  The only lights were the flashes from the shells that were coming in but not as intense as they were earlier. 
 
The time went by very slow as I tried to keep warm but that wasn’t possible as I just couldn’t move around enough.  I thought about my mother and hoped she didn’t know where I was or what I was going.  I tried to write letters to her that would make her think I was safe, but one of my uncles (her brother), was telling her where I was and what we were doing.  Thinking about my sisters, Bobbie and Frances, and brothers, Eugene, Frank and Harvey, I was glad I was there instead of my brothers.  I also thought a lot about my girlfriend, Ann Nanny, who was writing letters to me regularly.  She was in nursing school in San Antonio, Texas.  We had met in Kerrville, Texas.She was only sixteen when we met—a senior in high school.  I was sure I had found the girl of my dreams.  It would be about five years after when we were married—we still are. 
 
Then suddenly my thoughts were interrupted as it seemed hell had broken loose.  Tiger tanks appeared at our front lines along with enemy foot soldiers.  The attack we had been expecting had come.  To start the attack a tank came rolling up to our lines with turret open and someone sitting exposed and smoking a cigarette.  As soon as they were challenged the turret closed and opened fire.  At the same time enemy infantry and other tanks attacked all along our front.  All I could do was lie on the ground, guard my post and hope they didn’t break through.  They didn’t break through Company “K” lines but tanks and infantry broke through on the south of our lines circling around and coming into the villages from our rear. 
 
Using floodlights against the clouds, the enemy tanks moved into the villages pouring incendiary shells into the buildings and strafing the area with machine guns.  From where I was, at the back of the “K” Company CP, I could see the battle on both sides.  The flood lights were reflecting from the clouds lighting the villages.  We were surrounded by the tanks and infantry.  I could see the incendiary shells landing and exploding in the buildings setting them afire.  The screams of the wounded were very upsetting.  I wanted to do something but there was nothing I could do; just look and grieve.  “Maybe this was the end of the world,” I thought.  The fighting was moving toward me from the direction of the villages.  There was a foot bridge about 100 feet in front of the Company CP, I could see men firing across the ditch it crossed and could see the return fire from the enemy across on the other side.  I wasn’t worrying too much about the enemy breaking throughout lines in front as the big threat was coming from the villages.  The villages were covered with burning buildings; they must have been wounded and trapped. 
 
I was told later that two squads from my Company “K” had cleaned out the enemy from some houses across the foot bridge killing eight and capturing fifteen. 
 
The following was taken from page 101, 2nd Infantry Division, World War II. 
 
(During the night a heavy force of enemy infantry and tanks began assembling south of Krinkelt.  Heavy artillery and mortar fire broke up an impending attack and set two tanks afire.  In the village tanks that had been broken through and infiltrated behind the front lines were systematically hunted down and destroyed and the groups of infantry in the town reduced. 
 
Also on page 105 
 
“Three tanks assisted Service Company, 38th Regiment, in repelling a German tank assault on Rocherath on the night of December 17.  They destroyed one Tiger tank but were themselves destroyed in bitter close infighting.  Command tanks of Battalion Headquarters and Company “A” scored in knocking out five Mark V, a Mark VI enemy tanks in Rocherath on the morning of December 18 without suffering a single loss themselves.) 
 
The enemy continued to attack our Company lines and the fighting continued in the villages.  Bullets were hitting the building and all around me.  I was cold and scared and very lonely.  I was lying at the west corner of the building so I could see in all directions.  It seemed this battle would last forever. 
 
As morning of the 18th approached, the enemy was gradually pushed from the villages and was not attacking our lines any more.  The shelling slowed and I again had some time to think.  I thought of what Baxter had told me.  “Tex,” he would say, “you and I have been here too long.  When we get it, we’ll get it good.”  I think he meant bad. (Sergeant Baxter was wounded somewhere in Germany after we crossed the Rhine). 
 
Daylight came and the first sergeant came through the back door and told me I could return to my platoon.  I reported to Lieutenant Lehner and he said, “We’re moving out.”  During the time we had been there we had added about forty men to our platoon, mostly from 395th Infantry Regiment that had withdrawn north of us on the 17th and about 2,000 of their men were attached to the elements of the Second Division.  A platoon had been formed from those to take up the positions we held.  We were ordered to report to Regimental Headquarters in the villages to reinforce the elements there.  We were attached to the Anti-tank Company. 
 
When we were close to a hundred yards from the Regimental Headquarters we were attacked by a Tiger tank.  We scattered and ran for cover.  The tank was firing machine guns.  We were fortunate no one was hit as there were bullets popping all around us. 
 
Since I had watched all that was happening in the villages I was partly prepared for what we saw as we moved along a road and into the villages.  Within the hundred yards of where I was guarding the company CP.  In the grader ditch on the right side of the road there were dead bodies of Americans lying head to toe.  Evidently they had been killed lying as they were.  The open space beyond the ditch was also covered with dead Americans.  Another fifty yards on the same side a Tiger tank was still smoldering with a German soldier’s body hanging hallway over the open turret.  There were also bodies of German infantry lying in the snow.  As we entered the villages we found disabled tanks of both German and American.  Some of the buildings were still burning.  We went through the villages to the north side and reported to the outfit we were to be attached to.  I think we must have been taking orders from Regimental Headquarters.
 
The Germans with ten or more tanks attempted a breakthrough.  We were sent to the places that were threatened and were constantly on the move and hopefully were having a lot of effect on the enemy.
 
About mid-morning as we were going through Rocherath, we stopped and went into a basement for protection from a barrage of enemy shells.  The basement was under a commercial type building.  The entrance was a stairway leading directly from the sidewalk.  There were two American soldiers in the basement.  One of them I had known when I was in “F” Company when we were stationed in Fort Sam Houston.  We talked and I asked him where “F” Company was.  He said he didn’t know and wasn’t trying to find them.  That he was going to stay where he was.  He told me that the enemy had overrun them and some of them had gone into the basement. (I don’t know if it was the same basement or not.)  A tank had pointed the 88 down into the basement and ordered them out.  They came out and were taken prisoner but were released as the enemy was driven out.  That was the last he’d seen of his company.  When the Germans left them they went back into the basement and stayed.  When we were getting ready to leave, he said, “Why don’t you stay with us?  If you go out there, you’ll be killed.”  I said, “That is a chance I’ll have to take.  I can’t leave my platoon.”  I thought it would be nice just to hide.  The barrage had let up and we left.
 
As we approached the edge of town we could hear the machine guns, the burst of the shells and the engines of the armored vehicles.  I saw a German tank sitting about a hundred yards from the edge of the last buildings, out in the open with the machine gun blasting bullets at us.  He was facing directly toward us.  We spread into attack formation and began advancing toward the tank.  Another tank appeared, then infantry.  When he had covered about half of the distance to the tanks; firing as we advanced, they started withdrawing along with the infantry.  Maybe our help was all that needed to drive them out.
 
Our wounded were being sent to the rear.  Even though we were surrounded, a road had been kept open for supplies and reinforcements and for evacuation of the wounded.  The dead were left as the weather was freezing and there was no decay.
 
The afternoon of the 18th we were sent to the outer edge of Rocherath to an old barn that was sitting on a hill.  We took up positions inside the barn facing southwest.  From this position we had a good view.  One of the men and I took a position, in the hayloft.  We could see over the hedge rows through the holes torn in the roof by artillery shells.  We soon found out why we were there.  After ten minutes after we took our positions tanks started firing incendiary shells into the barn.  The shells were hitting the other end of the barn where there was no hay.  If they had hit our end where the hay was we would have had a fire and probably would have been hit by fragments.
 
The attack came with tanks and infantry.  The tanks were two hundred yards out and were partially hid the hedgerows.  They fired 88s covering the infantry attack.  They came at us in large numbers.  When they were twenty feet from the barn our artillery started falling on them.  We were firing as fast as we could and our artillery was falling ten feet from the building and was deafening. (I learned later we had an artillery observer in the barn with us.)  The shells were coming in just over the roof where we were lying in the loft.  I suppose he would have called them down on us if the attack had not been stopped.  Some of the enemies wounded and dead were within ten feet of the barn when the attack was stopped.  One of the tanks raised a white flag and came to pick up the wounded.  We didn’t fire on it, while they loaded them and drove off.  We were thankful for our artillery, as we would have been in hand-to-hand combat and the enemy probably would have overrun us.
 
A tank in the crossroad in front of us was firing into the barn and also at other targets around us.  Another tank at a right angle to us was causing a lot of damage to our lines.  Three American soldiers (one carrying a bazooka) moved by the side of the barn and bending low went down the hedgerow directly in front of my position.  They and the tanks could be seen from the loft so we watched them as they slowly moved along the hedgerow.  They approached the corner of the hedgerow without being detected by the tank putting them about twenty feet from it.  The man carrying the bazooka stood up and aimed the weapon and fired.  It was a miss and the machine gun which was firing in another direction, probably toward our positions began turning toward them.  I held my breath thinking that was the end for them but the man with the bazooka fired another rocket and the tank was out.  The Germans came out of the tank and were cut down by our rifle fire.
 
We were ordered to move again and assembled in the breezeway of the barn.  I was the first to leave the barn and raced to the left trail and down the hill.  I had forgotten the tank that was sitting to our right aiming his guns over a hedgerow.  I ran into the open directly in front of its machine gun and immediately came under fire.  I raced down the hill.  The bullets were all around me.  I knew I would be hit if I kept running and was going to drop to the ground which wouldn’t have been safe because there was nothing to hide me from them.  The weather had warmed and the ground was thawing causing muddy spots.  I stepped in a muddy spot which was clay and my foot slipped.  I slid six feet on my left foot with my right leg extended straight out in front of me losing my balance at the end of the slide and falling backward.  I had thrown up my arms as I slid and fell so I think the tank gunner thought he had hit me and stopped firing.  I had lost my helmet when the slide started.  I laid there for a moment to get my breath knowing the gunner would fire again if I moved.  I turned my head slowly to see where my helmet was then looked to see the best way to escape.  Down the hill and to my left was open all the way and a clear field for the tank gunner.  I slowly wormed my way up to the helmet knowing the only route of escape was to my right and it would be approximately 40 or 50 feet before I had the barn between me and the tank.  I watched the machine gunner and when he was firing in another direction I jammed my helmet on my head and ran.  I didn’t draw another shot.  The rest of the Platoon followed me down the hill with the barn between us and the tank.
 
We spent the night of the 18th in a building in Rocherath and we had some sleep for the first time since the night of the 16th.  The shells were falling all over the towns and the battles raging as the enemy tanks and troops kept attacking us—but I slept.  They probably could have carried me off asleep.
 
Early on the 19th found us still under siege although we were better fortified and more confident because of the constant supply of ammunition, food, communication and tank and artillery support.  The enemy hadn’t given up but had decided if they were going to get anywhere they would have to bypass us.  The attacks were still being made on us and they shelled us all day but we seemed to be holding.
 
Our commanding general and the commanders from the 1st and Ninth Infantry Division decided on a plan of coordinated defense of Elsenborn Plateau, so we were to lose the twin villages that we had fought so hard for. (I was told that Colonel Francis H. Boos, our Commanding Officer, told them we didn’t want to pull back because we had whipped the Germans.)  Although, orders are orders.
 
Our platoon continued to move from place to place doing whatever we were told.  We had managed to have few casualties and most of them were hit on the 17th.
 
Night found us in a basement and the enemy had stepped up their shelling.  We were told about the order to withdraw.  Lieutenant Lahner, our platoon leader, said we would be the last ones to leave the villages.  We began to wait for orders to move out and we could hear vehicles and troop movement for hours.  Also the Germans had probably become aware of the movement and shells were pouring in.  Excitement in our platoon was bad and getting worse so by the time we left the building our men were almost frantic. (There is something about withdrawing that causes panic that I saw at no other time.)  Baxter and myself, (both Privates First Class, started moving among the men trying to calm them down. (I’m sure I did it to calm myself down.)  We were successful to an extent; however, when the orders came to leave the building, the excitement started again and as we came out of the building and into the sunken road behind the last platoon of the Second Battalion, there seemed to be no control.  The men crowded together and against the platoon ahead that was stopped.  We could hear the fighting of the tanks that were our rear guard and the sound seemed to make matters worse.  Baxter and I began walking up and down the column talking to the men and asking them to spread out.  Without authority we could do very little.  One soldier who outranked me told me to mind my own business.
 
The column began to move slowly.  There was gunfire above the road to the left and an American soldier running along the bank was hit by machine gun fire and tumbled down the bank into the road.  He was alive.  As the column ahead of us moved slowly forward, our men kept crowding toward them.  It seemed like we were pushing them or trying to.  Baxter and I had given up on getting them to disperse.  A phosphorus shell hit in the midst of the platoon directly in front of us.  We dived to the ground but there were no other shells close.  Evidently the Germans weren’t zeroed in on this road.  There were wounded in the other platoon.  One of the men took his wounded friend into a building beside the road and evidently stayed with him.  An American jeep came up behind us at a high rate of speed, slowed down and went around us through a field on our right side.  There was a dead American soldier in the seat beside the driver and another soldier sitting in the back.
 
We began moving faster, although the tanks fighting in back of us were or sounded closer.  We seemed to have lost most of the excitement though.  Activity always seems to have a calming effect.
 
Finally after what seemed such a long time we were going through American defense line on the Elsenborn Ridge.  These defenses had been established while we engaged the enemy at the Twin Villages.  We continued on to a location about a half mile behind the lines and went through a wide gap into a field that had been designated as our assembly area.  As we went through the gap, Captain Divan Rogers, our Company Commander, was directing us to our platoon assembly area.  As I walked by him he said; “Parish are you still here? You and I are too tall and ugly to get killed.” (Captain Rogers was fatally injured January 30, 1945, the night we captured the Twin villages of Krinkelt and Rocherath.)  I had served as squad leader under Rogers when he was Second Lieutenant in “F” Company at Ft Sam Houston, Texas.  He had only been with “K” Company a short time.
 
We had only been in our assembly area a few minutes when the Germans began shelling us with 88s and Nebelwerfer rockets.  The rockets were shot high in the air, about one dozen from each gun at the same time.  The noise was a screaming weird musical sound and became louder as they approached.  We couldn’t tell where they would land until they landed.  They were nerve wracking.  We called them Screaming Meemies.
 
We began digging in and as we were digging, a few minutes later a shell landed in our midst and Lieutenant William Lahner was wounded in his leg.  The wound was bad and he was in great pain.  Baxter, Harkless and I finished his hole and worked with him to stop the bleeding and to keep him from going into shock. (I learned later he lost the leg just below the hip.)  Our medic had been wounded the evening of the 17th and hadn’t been replaced. (I didn’t see Lahner again until 1989.  We were together on a tour to Europe and the 45th Anniversary of D-Day on Normandy Beach.  He told everyone I saved his life.)
 
After Lieutenant Lahner was evacuated I crawled into my hole and went to sleep.  I had only slept a short time when I was awakened by a large volley of Nebelwerfer rockets.  I was cold and the weird noise scared me so bad I went to pieces and began shaking so bad I seemed to be helpless.  I don’t think I have ever shaken like that at any other time, however I have always shook after a dangerous mission was over.  I thought the rockets would never land.  After a time they hit the town Elsenborn about a thousand yard from us.  I shook for a while and finally fell asleep again.  It was almost morning then.
 
On the 20th we moved up to position on Elsenborn Ridge.  The positions we had passed through the night before.  We relieved some elements of the 9th Infantry Regiment and we held these positions until the drive was stopped and our army was ready to move forward again.  The holes we moved into were small in diameter and deep.  They were carefully designed for tank attacks.  We would be in these positions until January 30, 1945, the night we recaptured the Twin villages of Rocherath and Krinkelt.
 
Not that this defensive position was easy at all.  I was in a hole with another man in an open field and during the day when we would get out to go eat or anything snipers would harass us.   We always ran weaving as we ran.    During the night we were shelled by German artillery and tanks. 
 
 After we had been in this position a week I was sent to our regimental headquarters in Elsenborn for a shave, bath and clean clothes.  They even had mirrors.   It had been almost a month since I’d had a bath.  I looked in the mirror and my face was black, my beard was long and in all directions.  After the bath and shave I looked in the mirror.  My face was pale.  I didn’t look like the same person.
 
As we were returning from regiment and the bath, artillery began falling on our lines.  We were about 200 yards from our positions and the shells did not drop in our immediate area.   We fell to the ground until the shelling stopped then we went on to our platoon.  One of our fox holes with two men in it had a direct hit.  One of the men was killed and the other didn’t get hit.  He said they were sitting side-by-side. 
 
I went on one reconnaissance patrol.  Twelve of us dressed in white snow suits.  We went past enemy lines to put out listening posts.  The moon was giving a little light but it was hard to keep contact because the white suits looked the same as the snow.  We were out most of the night and returned to our lines without being spotted by the enemy.  The front scout discovered a German outpost and we all stopped and squatted down in the snow.  Bringing up the rear I watched to see that no one could sneak up on us from that direction.  After a good look I looked back to the front and could see no one.  I almost panicked.  I thought the patrol had gone and left me.  As I sat there looking I finally saw a movement.  The white suits were so good it was very hard to see them if the man was squatting in the snow.  We accomplished our mission and returned to our unit before daylight. 
 
One night about midnight a shell landed and exploded between my hole and the hole of a machine gunner who was dug in about six feet to my left.  The next day the gunner went to the hospital with a concussion.  His fox hole wasn’t as deep as ours and he was sleeping with his head about twelve inches below the surface of the ground.  We remained in these positions until our other forces stopped the enemy drive and successfully closed the bulge.  Our 23rd Regiment played a big factor in that drive. 
 
Facts From the Records 
 
The Germans forces we had held off consisted of the 1st and 12th SS Panzer Divisions, the 12th and 277th Volkgrenadier (Infantry) Divisions.  They attacked our units with 160 tanks plus small packets of tanks that were with the two VG (infantry) Divisions. 
 
Our forces consisted of one regiment, a tank battalion, a TD Battalion and eight field artillery battalions. 
 
During the 17th, 18th, and 19th, our combined forces were credited with destroying 69 tanks, 2 armored vehicles, 2 half-tracks and two trucks and probably 11 more vehicles, all in and around Krinkelt and Rocherath. 
 
A telegram from Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges to the commanding general of the 2nd Division reads; “What the 2nd Infantry Division has done in the last four days will live forever in the history of the United States Army.” 
 
Before the attack the division commander of the 12th SS Panzer Units addressed the troops as follows: “I ask you and expect of you, not to take any prisoners with the possible exception of some officers who may be kept alive for the purpose of questioning.”  The British had called this unit “Filthy beasts”  when they fought them at Caen. 
 
We had heard that the Germans had executed some American soldiers after they were captured.  We were prepared to fight until death.  I’m sure that had a bearing on our success. 
 
General Von Manteuffel, Commander of the German 5th Panzer Army, paid one of the highest compliments to the 2nd Division when he said; “We failed because our right flank near Monschau ran its head against a wall.”  The wall was the 2nd Division. 
 
The Battle of the Bulge was the biggest battle ever fought.  It was the last big effort made by the German military and because they were not successful and lost so much armor, men and other equipment, our troops and allies were able to advance to victory in a very short time. 
 
Source: Bulge Bugle February 2004

Sgt Arnold B. PARISH

"K" Company

38th Infantry Regiment

2nd Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium