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US Army

My Story Leading up to Bastogne

My Story Leading up to Bastogne

 
This is my story leading up to the Battle of the Bulge to Bastogne – it concerns my whole tank crew.
 
Our Headquarter Battery had 3 medium tanks, F.O. #1, F.O. #2 and #3.  We were trained Forward Observers.  We were always attached to a tank company in all action.  We fired on many targets, through our Artillery Battalion; many missions.  Our tank was F.O. #3.
 
A tank from 66th F.A. Bn at Periers (France) (photo N.A.R.A.
 
We were pulled out of the line around December 10 for rest and maintenance after 123 days on the line, to South France, to a village of Assenoncourt.  We needed the break.
 
On December 17, a Sunday, we heard rumors about the breakthrough up north.  Our Division was fast put on alert and we got march orders for pull out the next morning, December 18, 1944.  We were on the move on Monday at 8:00 AM, the whole division moving north.  We traveled non-stop all day and night through rain and darkness, tired drivers, we heard enemy planes overhead.  It was a 130 mile trip.
 
At about 6:00 AM, we stopped, not knowing where we were.  Our driver, Lefty, got out to relieve himself and saw a light in a house.  He knocked on the door to ask for a drink of water.  They told him we were in Belgium.  He came back to our tank and told us.  Daylight came and many civilians came out, hanging around, talking and we first heard the awful truth about the Germans would come back into their lives.
 
Among us, we worried about it all.  We stayed in that position all day December 20.  The next day, we moved up to the outskirts of the city of Arlon.  We found out the truth that many of our people were killed and captured.  There was no American front line.  Our officers knew very little.  We stayed in Arlon all day while officers in command met to plan our move.
 
I had a brother, Paul, that was with me all through training.  We were drafted together.  He also was an Forward Observer in tank F.O. #1.  He was near the building where the meeting was held.  When it was over, around 4:00 PM, he came to our tank to tell us the results.  The plan was that “D” Company with 5 light tanks of the 35th Tank Battalion light tanks, would go forward and try to establish a new line with 5 lights and 1 medium.  The Forward Observer officers drew straws as to which F.O. tank (medium) would go with Captain Sam Ridley of “D” Company light tanks.  Our officer drew the short straw.  We didn’t like to travel with the lights because of our size so we size so we drew fire first.  Anyway, F.O. #3 was picked.
 
My brother worried about our size, but in the plan he says we move up and when we make contact, the rest of all units of C.C.A. would move up.  It happened that way.
 
Our officer, Lieutenant Raymond Romig, said little, was a good map reader, but had no tank experience.  So we pulled out (our tank only) about 5:00 PM toward Arlon-Bastogne highway.  It was dark now and people were waving and cheering us on.
 
We were stopped by an M.P. officer who was waiting for us.  He told us to go up the highway and turn onto a field at the pine woods and we will meet the 5 light tanks on the other side of the woods.  We stayed in this position all night and we were about 500 ft. from the highway. 
 
Lieutenant Raymond Romig went to the Captain’s tank to talk.  He came back, turned on the dome light and showed us the map, with colored lines.  A red faize line was our position, a green line further up on the map was our objective.  He said there is no line, but we will make a new line with our first contact, with any krauts.  Our orders were to pick up any American stragglers, give them a weapon and keep them with us. 
 
So, we gassed up at 11:00 PM and we carried gas cans the 500 ft. from the highway.  We were overlooking what was in front of us, the rolling meadows, the bright moon coming in and out of the cloud, and German é-engine planes buzzing us a few times, all night. 
 
Nobody slept as we were cold and worried about what awaited us; 30 men.  On December 22, we pulled out at 5:00 AM.  We had to travel secondary roads parallel to the main road on the Arlon – Bastogne highway.  It started to snow, big flakes the size of silver dollars.  A few hours into our move, we were stopped twice by local men, that there was a kraut patrol there at 4:00 AM and at about daylight.  As we were about to cross a bridge, we were stopped, and the bridge was blown up in front of us.  In the snow we heard buzz bombs being launched from that vicinity.
 
Captain Sam Ridley and Lieutenant Raymond Romig changed our route towards Bastogne.  We took another road that went through tall pines.  It was dark and quiet, like as if we were in a tunnel.  As we were about to exit out of the woods, we could see two krauts up ahead with rifles slung and they did not hear us.
 
They told us up ahead in a town of Martelange that there were 35 American prisoners, one a Colonel.  This was the contact, the beginning of the new front line.  We pulled off the road which led back to the main highway.
 
In about an hour, just as my brother had said, the plan was – up came the mediums 35th Tank Battalion – 51st Armored Infantry Battalion and our 66th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and other units of C.C.A., all heading toward the main highway, that led to the border town of Martelange. 
 
We 30 men of “D” Company, 5 light tanks and our medium tank, made history.  We established a new front line for C.C.A. – 4th armored Division on the way to Bastogne. 
 
It was dark now and we were cold and tired, not knowing what was up ahead for us.  We stayed in this position the rest of the night with “D” Company.  It was December 22.  Our other units were in position on the main highway, facing north, supporting our engineers that were trying to build a bridge over a strea flowing through the middle of Martelange.  This was under kraut fire, who held high ground above Martelange.  Our artillery helped the engineers to finish building the bridge.
 
Martelange was secure and the bridge was built.  We got our new orders to move up, cross the bridge and go forward north towards the first village along highway, Warnach, 3 miles from Martelange.  It was dark, about 5:00 PM and the column stopped.  Our forward units made contact with 250 kraut paratroopers dug in pine woods, the first fight for C.C.A.  We watched our jeeps coming by with wounded kraut.  We heard that they were nearly wiped out.  What weren’t wounded were dead.
 
Then the column started to move up.  Early the same day, December 23, Patton wrote the prayer for clear skies.  The skies did clear and all hell broke loose.  We watched our P-47’s and P-51’s strafing the kraut positions, tracers bouncing off the frozen ground, followed by a sky full of B-17’s.  What a beautiful sight!  They were helping us, hurting the Germans.  Without air support, the Battle of the Bulge would’ve been a disaster worse than it was.  We kept moving up towards Warnach; we stopped.  The road was slippery and one of our half-tracks was hit, burning in the middle of the road, holding us up.  Over the radio, Colonel Olden gave an order to get a dozer up there to push it off the road.
 
The krauts, pretty strong yet, were on the right side off the road firing the road that was built up.  We then went off the road onto a field protected by a rise in the road.  We reached Warnach and some of our units 51st and some of our light tanks went into Warnach.  They came out, suffered, many were killed or hurt.  We lost a few light tanks and the krauts were waiting for them.  In our position behind the rise of the road, “D” Company with us.  It was about 11:00 PM.
 
After our people came out of Warnach hurt badly, Colonel Olden was on the radio talking to someone, “Put someone from the 51st Infantry on the ‘mike’ – son what is your rank?”  He answered, “I am a private.”  Olden answered, “Consider yourself a Sergeant as of now and take a patrol into that town and see what’s there!”  Olden was on the radio to us in our F.O. tank, “I’m sending a patrol back into Warnach.  Fire some artillery ahead of them, make it easier for them!”  Our officer Roming, “Five volleys OK, 18 guns, 5 rounds each.”  Olden said, “That’s fine, we gave the data to our gun batteries in a few minutes, on the way.  The patrol went in and the Germans moved.”  Silence, infantry came out.  Olden to Infantry Sergeant, “What did you find out son?”  “Well, we didn’t see much in the dark; we brought out 2 krauts and one of our 6X6’s.  The krauts moved out when the artillery started, then when the patrol pulled out, they came back in.”  Olden to Captain of “D” Company (we were still close together) “Take your lights and go in there.”  Ridley to Olden, “I’m too light, send in the mediums.”  Olden, “I don’t give a damn, we have to get to Bastogne.”
 
When daylight came, Colonel Olden did send into Warnach, Luxembourg, medium tanks (35th Tank Battalion) which what was left of the 51st. This day was the morning of 24th December 1944. The mediums went in, took the village, killed 135 krauts, killed and wounded many prisoners. We lost 68 officers and men. It was declared it was an error to use tanks for night action.
 
We stayed in our position, just on the edge of Warnach. We watched the mediums coming out of the village herding large numbers of krauts prisoners. Our radio went dead. We waited for radio maintenance. They came up from the rear, fixed our problem and that was the last time I saw my brother alive. His tan was repaired and he was rejoining his unit. He waved, giving me the “V” sign, that he was OK. It was December 24 at 2:00 p.m. and we got orders to move up about ½ mile from Warnach to join the rest of the light tanks of the 35th Battalion. There were maybe 10 tanks left. In this position about 50 feet to our right, out of a thin tree line, up stood 10 kraut paratroopers, hands up. They were there all along and we didn’t see them. They came forward and Captain Ridley searched each one. They had on, underneath their jackets, our OD shirts our new shoes, cigarettes and gum. Ridley was throwing them to me standing in the turret. He punched every one of them in the face as he took American stuff from them. One light tank member got out of his tank with his tommy gun. He told the captain to get out of the way, he wanted to kill them. He was wounded early in the war and had just come back from England to duty in the Bulge.
 

We could see in the distance, across open, flat ground, kraut tanks coming our way. Just then, a squadron of P-47’s appeared asking ground liaison for targets. Soon they went into action against those tanks; what was left we could not see.

On December 24, about 4:00 p.m., we moved up across an open field, stayed off the road and went through pine woods. We took up positions for the night (Christmas Eve) on the other side of these woods. The mediums also took up positions a little to our left. My brother, Paul’s, tank, FO #1, was with them. The moon was full and I could see them.

We pulled straws in our crew as to who would pull guard first. Lieutenant Romig would not join the other officers as we had done. He took his sleeping bag and went into the wood where the infantry dug in to sleep. I was standing first watch in the turret when I heard an explosion, a big fire ball explosion. Captain Ridley came to our tank and told me that it was two 6X6’s loaded with gas, to gas us up. He said that nobody told them not to use that road, that they should’ve came through the woods like we did. They had hit mines. My time on guard was over; sleep came over me. I was cold and laid on the 75mm ammo and fell asleep. Soon after, we drew artillery, heavy stuff, landing close to the tank. Lieutenant Romig left his bag, got into the turret. I heard him tell Lefty to turn the engine over and get ready to move at the same time nudging me to wake up. As the barrage was lifted, he went back into the woods. The rest of the night was quiet.
 
Christmas Day was quiet and the lieutenant came over to us and he wanted me to see the staff sergeant that was laying near him and had his throat cut. Some krauts got in there during the artillery firing. We spent the day in position. The officers were planning our next move – 5 miles from Bastogne. The 35th was still to our left. Rumors were Patton and new people were in the area but we did not see him.
 
That evening, we were waiting for gas trucks and German 2-engine planes buzzed us. We lost our white paint so we moved onto blackened shell holes. They kept coming back and forth. We had to move fast as the gas trucks came; they went through our circle position hollering out and asking how many cans did we need. They also brought us our Christmas dinner which was one piece of cold turkey, a Hershey bar, apple and a cigar. We gassed up, stayed up the rest of the night, and enjoyed our goodies. That was the end of Christmas Day.
 
On the 26th December we moved up to engage krauts close by in the woods about 100 feet away. We all fired into those woods but did not go in to see.
 
All of a sudden a P-47 came over us. It was a P-47 that was captured by the Germans and flown by a German pilot. We were surprised when he dropped a 500 pond bomb 50 feet from us into the pine woods. He buzzed us again. Colonel Olden on the radio, “If that son-of-a-bitch come back, fire at him!”
 
Our Headquarters Battery was in position behind us a few miles. We watched him drop another bomb on their position, killing two men and wounding four. At that time we (Forward observer #3) didn’t know it was Headquarters Battery – our people. We then moved along a highway. We engaged a large group in the ditch along the road. They quietly lay there a good while, near us. We killed 19 and captured the rest, including a blond woman. The last thing I saw was one of our men running behind her towards the rear.
 
That afternoon, our planes were strafing kraut positions ahead of us and large group of B-17’s all day. We watched 3 groups of C-47 planes coming in on our left, a couple of 100 feet from us, dropping supplies. Some of it was picked up by German units. I counted eleven plans shot down by these same units, another group of C-47’s came in. We are still five miles from Bastogne. There were still many kraut troops to our left, and in front of us where the supplies hit the ground. Night came and the krauts moved up even closer. It was December 27th, the day my brother, Paul, was killed. We made a move against them. My brother’s tank company (35th) and us moved up along the highway. They had crossed to the right side of the road and we stayed with the light tanks on the left. Soon we made contact. We lost some men and captured a lot as they gave up easily. There were some very young and some old men mixed in.
 
While searching the prisoners, we heard a lot of firing in the vicinity of the 35th mediums. On the radio, there was a desperate call for medics and ambulances. My brother and I had a habit (in all attacks) to talk on the radio when he saw smoke near us as we moved up. We heard (over the radio) this plea for help and I felt something was wrong in FO#1 tank. I called my brother’s tank. Hyde, his gunner, answered. I asked, “Who is it (hurt).” He answered, “Hyde, it’s King (his driver). Al, it’s King.”
 
They were pinned down by kraut mortar fire. Each tank carried infantry on the backs of tanks. They jumped off only to be cut down. My brother’s lieutenant, Lieutenant Mitchell, got out of the tank, laid on the ground with what was left of the infantry, unable to observe the location of mortars.
 
The firing stopped. My brother, King, the driver, and Hyde, the gunner, got out of their tank and joined another tank crew to scan (on the ground) a tree line edge. They wanted to see if they could locate the mortar positions, so my brother could fire our artillery, that were in position most of the time.
 
These are the words of Bill Hyde, “We all stood together looking at those woods.” I turned to go back to our tank. When the krauts opened fire again, one round landed on them. I went back to see if I could help. They were all dead (6 men) except King, who lived. (We heard later from the hospital that he had 27 pieces of shrapnel in his chest.)
 
In the meantime, I heard all of this over the radio on the 27th December at 3:30 p.m. We moved the prisoners out of our way. Near dark, we received a call from Colonel Olden to go to that position to relieve FO #1. They needed an observer...us. Our officer, Romig, commented, “Sir, I don’t know if it’s proper but I have a brother of Sergeant Paul Gaydos, who was killed, in our tank.” Olden again, “I don’t give a damn, we have to get Bastogne.”
 
It was dark now and we moved to that position. The moon was full and I picked out his tank easily. I climbed up and called down his turret, “Paul, Paul, Paul!” Hyde answered, “Paul isn’t here.” I asked, “Where is he?” Hyde answered, “Paul’s dead.” I asked where he was laying and he got out and pointed out the direction. Lieutenant Mitchell still was with the infantry. At least 14 tanks deployed in that moonlight.
 
It was cold and quiet now, no firing. I walked in the snow to where the men were hit. No one was there, just blood in the snow. I found Paul’s tank helmet. They were picked up and taken to the rear. I looked around some more and thought I was in the wrong place. I saw many dead that weren’t picked up. This lasted a good many hours before I finally went back to our tank, filled with grief; and the war went on. This all happened near the nearest village on the map of Sainlez, Belgium.
 
The next morning at break of daylight I again went looking for my brother’s body. I found the first aid station that was near the Arlon – Bastogne highway. I lifted many blankets, still hoping I could see him. The graves registration officer in charge asked me who I was looking for. I told him my brother. He asked for his name. He remembered the name when he was picked up the night before. He said he was taken to the next town near Martelange. I do not remember the name. The officer told me to get into the next ambulance that was going there with the dead and wounded.
 
I found him still laying on a stretcher on the hood of a jeep. A month later, I was notified by graves registration where he was buried and instructions how to get there, to visit his grave with permission from our Commanding Officer. He was buried in a large cemetery nearby the village of Grand Failly, France.  (Plot C, Row 11, Grave 257)  His remain were brought back in 1949 to rest in our family plot.

Temporary Cemetery at Grand Failly, France. (Photo: N.A.R.A.)

From that position, we moved up again toward Bastogne. It was cold with lots of snow and the temperature was zero to below. We took up position January 1st, 1945 near a small lake with enemy tanks in the area. We are together now, light tanks with the mediums. We drew much artillery while there. We got a call over the radio that krauts were in the area wearing our uniforms, driving our captured vehicles. We were told to make sure you identified the person beside you. Kraut artillery landed mostly on the lake on the ice. When it stopped I was talking to some of our infantry about how bad things were up ahead – P-47’s strafing the woods.
 
About 50 feet to our left, I saw a group about 20, digging in.. Me and my driver, Lefty, walked over there. I asked them, “What outfit?”, and “Why are you digging here?” One answered and I can’t remember what he said but we felt something was wrong about those American uniforms and rifles that they had. We walked back the 50 feet to our tank and looked back to that direction and they were gone while our backs were turned.
 
The next day we moved up a mile or so off the road to our right, to take on German tanks (about two miles from Bastogne). We made contact and the Germans were still strong. We were joined by a company of the 704th Tank Destroyers with their high-powered 76’s. In our position, we could not see the German tanks. It was January 2nd. Conversation on radio; 35th tank commander to Colonel Olden, “We just killed a few kraut tanks. We got a couple of more.” Olden...”What is your rank?” He answered, “First Lieutenant.” Olden...”Consider you a captain as of now.”
 
It was January 3rd after this tank battle. The weather was without new snow, very cold and we were not able to get warm. Our feet were cold. We got new socks with our rations – Eisenhower’s orders – change every day. Keep one set in bosom, next to skin. “Tankers” while inside, pound your knees with fists almost steady to keep circulation in feet. Many men were sent to the rear with black, frozen feet.
 
P-47’s and a large group of B-17’s were overhead daily, helping us. Kraut action slowed in our area early in January. We, FO #3 observers, pulled out and were sent a few miles on secondary roads which I thought was a CCB sector. We stayed with a large group bumper to bumper in columns day and night.
 
Then as forward observers the next day, we were ordered by radio to report to tank company of the 35th back where we were to Arlon – Bastogne highway. They were lined up on the road, 14 tanks, engines idling. Our officer to tank commander. Our orders were to go to Bastogne one mile away, up ahead krauts laying 4.5 mortar fire right on the middle of the road. We have to go through that fire. We buttoned up, being that our officer Romig didn’t have tank experience. I told our driver, Lefty, “Make sure you were in fifth gear, when we get to that area, we, the Sherman tanks, never had enough speed.”
 
We moved out while the rest of the tankers watched. We made it and shortly entered Bastogne. Maybe it was around the 7th or 8th January. As we entered, one of our halftracks was hit in front of us, burning, but we kept going further into the city. The men of the 101st Airborne greeted us with a wave and a smile; the place was demolished.
 
We stopped and got out to stretch our legs and spotted one of our own men from the wire section in a jeep, Bill Bacon. I said, “How in the hell did you get here?” He said he didn’t know. He looked real worn out and said he just followed our tanks’ markings. While we were talking, our crew stayed in the tank and all hell broke loose. German artillery was coming in from four sides. Bill and I ran into a bombed-out building, laid down against a wall. It seemed like they kept it up for two hours. We thought this was our end, the first time in the war that I felt like I was in hell. After the fire was lifted, we moved into a house nearby to rest for the night.
 
At midnight every one was dead tired, sleeping. A runner found us with a message to go to the area of the village of Mageret. Our officer Romig was an expert at map reading. We followed the overlay the runner gave us. We pulled out cold and tired at 4:00 a.m., January 9th, after three or four miles north along another road.
 
We stopped at daylight and joined up with the 35th mediums again. We had the high ground and we could see enemy vehicles down in the valley very good. We fired many missions, accurately. The tankers were very pleased. In front of us, there were nine tanks knocked out from the 10th Armored Division. We could not figure out why there were in a straight line together. In our training, we were taught to move in a scattered position. When it got dark we received new orders, to go back to Bastogne and to go south to the position of 30 December 1944. I rode the small fender near the driver’s hatch to help the driver see. They stayed off the road and traveled across open fields for fear of mines.
 
When we stopped, it was after midnight. We were five tired and frozen men but had a bottle of wine. Lieutenant Romig gave an order to open the bottle. We had saved it for after a tough day.
 
On January 10th we found out that all of our division (4th Armored) was pulling out of Bastogne. The next day we traveled those cold, slippery roads south until we reached Luxembourg. We then took up positions on the outskirts near the Our River, because of strong German activity on the other side and to help the units that were there.
 
So ends the story and events of five light tank crews, 25 men and of five men in a Sherman medium tank crew, who were artillery forward observers, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge for 25 days. This lasted from December 17, 1944 to January 10, 1945. Those involved were: Lieutenant Romig, officer; Sergeant Albert Gaydos, loader; Norman Thomas, gunner; Joe Kurimsky (Lefty), driver; and Charles Cable, bow gunner.
 
The Battle of the Bulge lasted 43 days, had nine time as many casualties as D-Day.  Of 600.000 Americans who fought there, 80.000 became casualties.  Some 10.276 were killed, 47.493 were wounded and 23.218 were captured.  The United States lost 700 tanks and tank destroyers, 600 planes.  British casualties totaled 1.400 men, German losses were 100.000 men, 10.000 killed, 50.000 wounded, 40.000 captured, 800 tanks lost and more that 800 aircraft lost.
 
Source: George H. Hemcher Sr, August 18, 2019
Sgt Albert A. GAYDOS

HQ Battery

66th Armored Field Artillery Bn

4th Armored Division

Campaign

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium