Memory Fragments From A Strange Two Days In Combat
1st. Lt. William G. Cole

Late in the war, perhaps in April of 1945, my forward observer party was with an infantry company of the 8th Infantry Regiment and we were all involved in what seemed to me to be a bizarre series of combat events which, for whatever reasons, I recall clearly and likely won't forget. Writing about them will help me clarify my memory and will be the first step in identifying the location. I have few clues to identify the time or place.

I recently told a friend that I had a dozen strange stories connected with the two or three days involved. He replied, "It was the "Twilight Zone."

We were in the 7th Army in southern Germany. There was little resistance from the German forces. We moved very rapidly in the latter stages of the war, in what was called a pursuit situation.

We entered a small German village early one day. It had been captured earlier that morning when an advance party, in a stealthy action, surprised the garrison and cleared the few buildings. Apparently there was not time or communication facilities for the Germans to inform their headquarters that the village had been occupied by us.

As shown in the sketch below, the village was in the valley of a small stream with rather steep hills on either side. It was on the side of the valley toward our rear areas and across the valley from our next objective. One narrow road along the valley passed through the village from our left to our right, crossing the stream as it entered and as it left the village.

Sketch of Combat Area

The first action I remember was the sudden appearance of a German "jeep" vehicle entering the village from the left. An outpost had tried to stop the vehicle but the occupants tried to make a run for it. The vehicle had the top in place and side enclosures which largely concealed the occupants. I was standing in the road at about the center of town as the vehicle approached. The people around me started firing at the "jeep". I emptied the clip of my .45 handgun but didn't hit anything. Someone hit the driver who was dead when the vehicle left the road and stopped. The only passenger, a young officer, had bailed out as soon as the shooting started and was not injured. I may have fired my pistol at the enemy on other occasions but I cannot specifically recall doing so.

Later another small German vehicle approached, this time from the opposite direction. Our outpost was in a structure of some sort which I remember as a small farm building located at the sharp bend in the road (#3 in sketch). The vehicle was not moving fast as it turned to cross the bridge on its way into town. As it passed our outpost the infantrymen there fired a bazooka into the side of the vehicle. I don't think they gave the enemy any warning but, apparently, they did not try to kill the occupants. The projectile hit the side of the vehicle just below the passenger-side front seat. It disabled the vehicle, burned a big hole in the seat of the passenger's uniform and burned his butt somewhat. He was lucky, he was able to walk. He limped up the road ahead of his GI captors. I can still see it - a junior SS officer in a black uniform coming toward us, a very unimpressive little guy with the seat of his trousers burned out - a very satisfying sight to see! He spoke English and later, as he sat in the company command post, I asked him what he knew of the concentration camps. He professed total ignorance of such camps. I had nothing else to say to him. He didn't seem to be too unhappy. His war was likely over and he had just survived in a close encounter with a bazooka shell.

The large wooded hill to our front (#1 in sketch), was our next objective. It must have been that first day in the area that we arrived at the position far up on that hill where the infantry, having encountered some opposition, was digging in. I don't remember going up the hill - I guess nothing much happened then. We were not with the lead elements of the company.

There appeared to be no great urgency to advance. The company commander was busy and didn't have time to tell me what he was being told. We were basically in a pursuit situation, the enemy in a rear guard delaying action. If we didn't clear the hill the infantry's position would be outflanked soon. I was available and ready to get artillery fire if anyone wanted it. Artillery is not much help in such cases. You don't have a target other than a few enemy infantry close to you in the underbrush and you don't dare adjust your artillery fire that close-in. "Friendly" shells bursting in trees over one's infantry and oneself is to be avoided, if possible. Even if you can get the impacts a short distance ahead of you where they may be effective against the enemy, who may be a short distance behind his outposts, you are still shooting blind and still have the hazard of an occasional shell which falls short. (Every artillery shell which is fired, because of a number of variables, has a small probability of falling a significant distance too long or too short. Fire direction personnel have tables which have parameters by which the variation in range can be judged.)

An infantry NCO decided to fire mortars in the general direction of the enemy. I expressed my doubts to him. The first mortar rounds fell behind us. That was sufficient confirmation of my warnings and no more mortar rounds were fired. We spent one night on the hill and left it the following night. My memory retains the unusual events and is not sure of the sequence.

Our few skirmishes with the enemy probably took place on the second day. "Panzerfaust" projectiles were fired into our position. They are hand-held anti-tank rockets. They didn't do any damage but they sure got our attention.

A German soldier, identified by his uniform as a paratrooper got careless, I guess, and was taken prisoner. I was nearby when he marched along ahead of his captor. A few yards from where I stood the German saw a chance and ran for cover. The GI shouted at him before firing at him. By that time the prisoner was moving fast in the underbrush and on his way to escape. I guess he preferred fighting to being a prisoner.

After dark on the second day we came down the hill and back to the village. We moved along in single file, stopping often. At times we heard German voices but, presumably, neither side wanted a fight that night, and after minor exchanges of fire we were disengaged.

Next day the outpost in a small house (#2 in sketch), found a large bomb in a crate which the enemy had placed against the house but abandoned when the outpost was alerted to their presence and drove them off.

I guess it was the infantry command that told me an air strike - dive bomber - had been arranged against the village which was about a mile down the valley to our left and partially visible to us. It may have been our fire direction center who let me know they were going to fire a red-smoke shell to mark the target for the P-47. I can never forget how badly I wanted to adjust our gun on the target before it was marked with red smoke but, for whatever reason, I did not get the opportuity to do so. Where do you guess the red-smoke shell landed? It fell in the valley remote from any built-up area but nearer to our village than to the target. The house containing our outpost (#2 in sketch) was as close to the smoke as any other structure and the 500 pound bomb from the P-47 was placed somewhere in the vicinity of the smoke. Later I talked to an infantry officer who was at the outpost at the time. He was standing in the doorway of the building when the bomb exploded and was knocked across the room by the blast.

I don't remember the sequence - I just remember the explosion. Our guys fired mortars at a target in the vicinity of that same outpost (#2 in sketch) and the mortar shells detonated some large amounts of explosive, perhaps another of those bombs in a crate.

An enemy tank appeared in a clearing well up on the hill which was off to our right front, and began busting up our village. I was able to adjust artillery fire close to him, and undoubtedly we fired white phosphorous incendiary shells. We didn't get a direct hit, but he soon moved on to other things.

In the evening, as I sat in the infantry command post in a village building, Captain Joe Gude (Gudy) the CO of Company C,
8th Infantry Regiment, came in and sat down. I had known him since early in the fighting and had been so impressed with him that I had mentioned him in letters I wrote during the war. Captain John Ausland in his personal memoir of his experiences in our field artillery battalion, the 29th Field Artillery had a lot of good things to say about Joe Gude.

Joe was prepared for the cold night. He had a bottle of Scotch inside the front of his field jacket. I asked him what he was doing there. He said he was taking his company up on the hill that night. He was cool and all business. Whether he started up the hill that night I do not know.

I left the area that evening when I was relieved by Lt. George DeMeyers. I presume George was of Dutch ancestry, but he could have been Belgian. He, in either case, had reason to hate the Germans. He never expressed himself to me on the subject but he was very intense in his approach.

I was told later that, early the next morning, the Germans mounted a counterattack across the open flood plain toward the village. DeMeyers was up to the challenge as was the artillery he called on. As I remember the story, George's first transmission was "Counterattack, request division artillery." The artillery evidently was up and running because my memory of what I was told is that they adjusted their fire by battalion, that is, they fired all twelve guns of one battalion without delay on the location they had been given. This fire was "sensed" by the forward observer, which is report on the location of the impact area in relation to the desired target. This is followed in turn by fire from twelve other guns of a second artillery battalion and then a third. This would make 36 105mm howitzers pumping shells while, perhaps, the twelve 155mm howitzers of the division remained silent. Whatever the details were, the message I retain is that a massive amount of artillery fire was put on the target very quickly with much credit due the forward observer and the whole artillery command. The Germans got out of that area as best they could. One can thank God that he was not where the Germas were that morning.

I was always very glad that I had been relieved and didn't have to fire that mission and that George DeMeyers did an apparently flawless job of it. If I had been associated with it something would have gone wrong. I never fired such a mission and never saw one conducted in an emergency situation. In thinking about it now I wonder if such a large amount of artillery was justified. I don't really know all of the facts but if it accomplished the desired result who am I to quibble?

I can't contact DeMeyers and talk about it because, I am told, he is under doctor's instructions not to talk about the war.

It is very strange, considering the overall strategic situation, that the Germans would expose themselves to the probable losses in which a counterattack across an open area would produce. Maybe there was a local reason to buy a little time, or maybe some macho German paratroop officer had something to prove, as has been known to happen in our Army. At least the survivors can, fifty years later, swap stories.

W.G. Cole, May 25, 1995

Note: 1st. Lt. William G. Cole was a member of C Battery, 29th FA at the time of this story.

Return to the WWII Stories Page



Our Regimental History ] Our Seperate Unit Histories ]
Our Memorial Tribute of Honor to Fallen Comrades ]
He Was My Friend, And, I Remember... ]
Our Vietnam War POW-MIA Pages ] Our Korean War POW-MIA Pages ]
Our Medal of Honor Tribute ]
Individual Combat Awards ] Individual Service Awards ]
Our Email Listings ] Our Postal Listings ]
Message Archives ] Related Links ] Favorite Links ]
Acknowledgements ] Our Site Awards ] About the Webmaster ]
Sign Our New Guestbook ] View Our New Guestbook ]
Discussion/Message Board ]
View Our Old Message Board ] View Our Old Guestbook ]
Our Member's Personal Home Pages ]
Stories of WWII ] Stories of Vietnam ] Stories of the Gulf War ]
WW I Photo's ] WW II Photo's ] Vietnam Photo's ]
Gulf War Photo's ] Bosnia Photo's ] Peacetime Photo's ]
Our Supplemental Web Site Pages ]
Awards We Give ]

Master Site Index ]