Heroes: the Army
"...Unfortunately for those defenders - two Americans with a heavy 50-caliber machine gun - the tanks didn't hesitate at their bridge. The Americans let the tanks pass and then fired into the gasoline supply trucks that followed, setting many on fire..."
Robert W. "Bob" Lally
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. L., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: S/Sgt., Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: St. Louis, IL
Brief Russian Encounter
by Bob Lally
L. Co. 407th
Off in the distance we could hear the roar of a dozen or more German King Tiger tanks approaching the bridge across the Weser-Elbe Canal, which we had orders to defend.
It was two hours past midnight. The enemy tanks were part of the infamous German Von-Clausewitz Panzer Division.
Our two men in an outpost up the road didn't fire or need to fire their flare gun to warn us of the impending battle. We were all on the same (north) side of the canal as the tanks, with no good escape route except across the bridge. We were tempted to retreat and blow up the bridge, which had been loaded with explosives earlier in the day. What good was a platoon of half-drunken infantry supported by a light tank and two machine guns against such behemoths?
Just after I had radioed our nervous nearby company headquarters to duck, a German command car came barreling down the road toward us.
As the German scout car crossed the bridge, one or our alert riflemen, Laitinen, jumped out of its way and fired into the rear of it, killing the driver and causing the car to crash and overturn. The observer, a lieutenant, escaped but was later captured.
This nefarious bridge crossed the canal at the east end of a German Jeep (Volkswagen) factory near the town of Fallersleben - not too far from Berlin. The huge factory building was quite strange looking because it appeared to be intact - untouchec by Allied bombs?
The German tank column had hesitated at a "Y" intersection just before the factory building. Fortunately for us, when their scout car failed to return or report back, the enemy tanks decided to take the other fork in the road. It followed along side of the factory to the bridge at the other end of the building, which was even more lightly defended than ours.
Unfortunately for those defenders - two Americans with a heavy 50-caliber machine gun - the tanks didn't hesitate at their bridge. The Americans let the tanks pass and then fired into the gasoline supply trucks that followed, setting many on fire. Then, we were told, one of the tanks backed up and crushed to death the two brave but inexperienced fighters in their shallow foxhole.
Later in the morning I saw the grim aftermath of this mini-battle. Burned to a crisp, enemy soldiers were still sitting upright in their vehicles. In the adjoining village, valiant battalion headquarter and heavy weapon company troops knocked out four of the tanks by pulling anti-tank mines attached to wires under the treads of the tanks as they passed by on the narrow cobblestone streets. Up close, the King Tiger tanks were certainly awesome monsters. The surviving enemy tanks headed south for the mountains, but soon ran out of gas.
Meanwhile, I had received orders to take a few men and set up a road block at the edge of the tank-infested village to somehow prevent any of the tanks from coming back east along the road paralleling the canal to the south.
At daybreak, we were reinforced by a battalion of infantry for a sweep through the village. The sweep netted over 100 German prisoners, none of whom had much fight left in them.
During the previous day, riding on the backs of our own tanks, we probed the woods north of the canal trying to provoke a fight - without success.
However, we did make an even more important discovery - a truck load of bottled rum. It was probably an officers' liquor ration. The truck was part of a German convoy that had recently been shot up by our beloved air force. We quickly captured, sampled and confiscated the rum.
Understandably, not many of us were in condition to defend the bridge that night. The real hero, Laitinen, who destroyed the German scout car and saved our lives, didn't drink any alcoholic beverage that day. I had had enough to drink to give me some much needed false courage.
Later in the day at the nearby Russian slave labor camp, where the news of our victory traveled fast, we received a real hero's welcome.
Early the previous day, when digging - as the infantry usually does - elaborate fortifications at the bridge and nearby road intersections, some big, burly Ukrainian men came out of the slave-labor camp and offered to help up. Together we dug some formidable holes,with the Ukrainians doing most of the work. Appreciating their assistance, we soon became good friends. These Ukrainian allies were especially jubilant about the news of our victory.
One of our men of Czechoslovakian decent, Joseph Korenek, could speak and understand the Russian language. He served as our interpreter.
Afterwards, we spent hours around crude tables at one end of their crowded barracks-like building; drinking, talking, socializing, and celebrating with our new-found friends. They appreciated our gifts of captured rum and food.
No doubt our common enemy and the old adage, misery loves company, quickly cemented friendships. The abused Ukrainians had many sad stories of hardships and separated families to share. We soon learned that the Ukrainians, a proud people, did not like to be called Russians.
After several emotional descriptions of America, I remember one girl, Maria from the city of Kiev, telling how much she loved her beautiful Ukrainian homeland.
All of these warm and friendly Ukrainian people were eager to have their pictures taken with their American liberators. Red Reynolds [Lloyd W., PFC.], back from the hospital (second time) with shell fragment wounds, accomodated them. He took the accompanying photographs.
As usual, though, in the infantry things were seldom dull. After one of these social parties, a recent replacement of unknown merit rebelled. He pulled out a pistol, stuck it in my ribs and pulled the trigger just as I hit him. The bullet grazed my clothing.
Without even a chance to say good-bye, the day following the tank confrontation we hastily departed toward the Elbe River fearing a new mission - a frontal attack on the city of Berlin?
But thanks to the skill of Arnold Laitinen [Arnold V., PFC.] and the talent of Joe Korenek [Joseph M., PFC.], this brief and lucky three-day encounter with the Ukrainian people was one of the few brighter moments in a brutal war.
----- Bob Lally
15 January 2004:
Interested in more writings by Robert W. "Bob" Lally? This morning, we at World War II Stories-- In Their Own Words, received a kindly worded message from Mr. Lally who in his own right, is an accomplished writer among his many other achievements.
Below, are links to additional material that was written by Mr. Lally regarding his experiences in Co. L., 407th Regiment, 102nd Division (3nd Battalion).
The material contained within the following links make for most interesting reading.
We also received some very kind words with regards to our placing of a number of the stories written by the men of the 102nd Division on our web pages.
Those kind words have had the effect of encouraging us to continue in our efforts to make the stories of the men in the Ozarks a continuing effort in educating folks world wide in the brief powerful glimpses of men in mortal combat.
Thank You! Mr. Lally
Links by Mr. Robert L. "Bob" Lally
Scouts Don't Live
Battle of the Hubertus Cross
Bob Lally: Personal Information
Bob Lally: Peopling Net
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
12 January 2005.
A photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment, 102nd Division. This image is on a page that is dedicated to Mr. Edward Marchelitis, Sr., by his daughter Carol. Most of the men in the photo taken on December 20, 1943 are identified on the back of the image.
To view the photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment as well as other photos of Edward Marchelitis, click on the image above.
The family of Mr. Marchelitis is seeking information on his platoon.
A special Thank You is extended to the daughter of Edward Marchelitis, Sr., Carol Marchelitis Heppner.
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
The above story, "Brief Russian Encounter", by Bob Lally, 407th, Co. L., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 42, No. 3, Fall, 1990, pp. 6 - 10.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 28 October 2003.
Story added to website on 28 October 2003.
Story updated on 15 January 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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