Heroes: the Army
"...Then, suddenly it exploded, but not in its entirety, as I saw a portion of the pipeline blown into the air and fall, exploding again. This left a sizeable gap in the mine field..."
Edwin S. Dojka
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. F., 406th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC
- SN: 3284701
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Niagra Falls, NY
"Nov. 1944 -- Dreary and Depressive"
NOV. 1944 - DREARY AND DEPRESSIVE
by Edwin S. Dojka (ASN 3284701)
Co. F, 406th Inf., 102 Inf. Div.
In October 1944 our Regiment (406) was moved by railroad boxcars from Cherbourg, France to Belgium and by truck to the Holland - German border. We took over front line positions of the 30th Inf. Div. in the Herzogenroth area for about two weeks. This was where we first experienced casualties from artillery and morter fire. During this period we were pulled back a mile or two from the front lines into a reserve position where we dug in and bivouacked in a wooded ravine.
Our Co. F was rudely awakened early the next morning by 5-6 rounds of heavy artillery fire from railroad guns. The first shell fell about 10 yards from my foxhole at the top of the ravine making a crater 3 feet deep and 4-5 yards across. The other shells landed in the woods below, causing many casualties from concussion and tree burst shrapnel. Later on in the day we were told by our officers that, if it were of any consolation to us, our Tactical Airforce destroyed the two guns.
The 2nd battalion of our Regt. under the command of Lt. Col. James H. Reeves was then attached to the 2nd Armored Div. for an upcoming offensive in mid-November to be coordinated with the Tactical Air Force. I recall that the battalion was assembled as a group, within enemy artillery range, so that Gen. Charles H. Gerhart, Commander of the 29th Inf. Div., could give us a short pep talk to inspire us into accomplishing our mission. He began by saying that he realized that assembling us as a group within enemy artillery range was contrary to good battle practices, but what he was to tell us was worth the risk.
He told us, among other things, to always move fcrward, never to retreat, and, if we had to move back temporarily, to always face the enemy and never allow ourselves to be shot in the back.
Our Co. F was then marched to Waurichen and placed in the cellars to wait for orders to attack. We were to take Immendorf and the high ground beyond the orchard and to hold it. The attack was postponed for a few days because the weather was not suitable for Tactical Air Force support. In the meantime our Intelligence learned that the enemy positions in front of Immendorf were protected by a Schu mine field. Consequently, six men from my squad including myself were selected to carry two Bangalore Torpedoes each with which to breach the mine field.
On Nov. 16, 1944 early afternoon we attacked. Our artillery laid a TOT barrage on the enemy defenses in front of Immendorf. TOT = Time On Target, where mortars and artillery pieces of all calibers were fired in a staggered time sequence so that all the shells fell simultaneously on the target.
I remember the equipment I carried into attack included: an M-l rifle, bayonet, cartridge belt with ten clips of ammunition, entrenching tool (folding hand shovel), canteen, first aid kit, raincoat and combat pack with one day's supply of K and D rations. I also carried 2 extra bandoliers of ammunition, a Grenade pouch with 6-8 hand grenades, and finally, the 2 Bangalore Torpedoes (pipe explosives 5 ft. long and 2 1/2 inches in diameter.)
We formed a skirmish line and moved forward until we were within 30-35 yards of the double concertina barbed wire stretched across in front of the enemy trench system which extended under a small gauge railroad siding and into a series of badly damaged brick buildings. We then stopped advancing until the two Engineers who were assigned to us from the 2nd Armored Div. positioned themselves appropriately in front of what they believed to be the Schu mine field. They carried the fuse and a 5 foot wooden dummy with a rounded metal cap which would serve as the lead section of the explosive line and, hopefully, would absorb the explosion of the Schu mine should one be set off accidently.
The six of us from our squad proceeded to deliver the B.T. s to the Engineers, who coupled them together and pushed them through the mine field. They lit the fuse and ran back 20-25 feet to a large shell hole in which my buddy, Pfc. Jack Leard, and I were taking cover. We all braced ourselves against the shock of the impending explosion. Nothing happened. About a minute later one of the Engineers returned to re-light the fuse, and again nothing happened.
The attack was being held up, so the Engineers told Jack and I to fire our rifles into the B.T.s to set them off. Jack fired a clip of eight rounds; I fired a clip; Jack fired another clip; I fired another clip, at which time I noticed a small trickle of white smoke rising from the fuse end of the B.T.s. Then, suddenly it exploded, but not in its entirety, as I saw a portion of the pipeline blown into the air and fall, exploding again. This left a sizeable gap in the mine field.
The platoon then proceeded to move forward through this incomplete hole in the mine field. Unfortunately 5-7 men did not make it through, as they stepped on a Schumine, losing a leg or more. I later learned that our platoon Aid-man, Cpl. Lee R. Fenton, was fatally injured in the mine field while administering first aid to those injured. He was awarded a Silver Star for his action.
We picked our way through the barbed wire, then moved on over the trenches and the railroad siding and into Immendorf. Here we captured our first prisoners, some eight people. I recall crossing a pile of rubble beneath which I could see the pews of a church. All that remained standing were some brick pilasters. I noticed during my 1974 visit to this area that a modern new church had been built on the same site.
We continued the attack through Immendorf past an orchard; then stopped and began to dig in. The enemy immediately subjected us to artillery fire as we were lying on the ground completely exposed. Lt. James F. Cain, our Platoon Leader, who was lying about 5 yards to my right was killed instantly by shrapnel. Another buddy, "Nap" (Pfc. Edward Naperalsky) and I began to dig a foxhole, as did the rest of the company. Mortar flares were fired during most of the night, lighting up the area like daytime.
The next morning the enemy counter-attacked with tanks and infantry. They were repulsed. They attacked again late in the afternoon and again were repulsed, primarily by tank destroyers and by artillery fire using proximity fuses. I counted 7 enemy tanks destroyed in our immediate area. One tank was knocked out about 30-40 yards directly in front of our foxhole. The small arms ammunition in the burning tank sounded like popcorn popping and the artillery shells detonated sporadically, one at a time, making a muffled explosion and each time blowing a smoke ring out of the hatch.
We also watched an occasional signal flare shooting out of the top hatch during the 4-5 hours that the tank burned. We could observe from our vantage point P-47s dive bombing and strafing various targets to our immediate front and far right. We could also see, far to our left, British Crocodile tanks firing streams of flaming oil and British fighterbombers firing rockets at enemy positions.
We held our position outside Immendorf for five days under sporadic artillery fire. However, whenever our P-47s circled high above us the enemy guns remained relatively quiet. The next week or so we moved from village to village in support of the ongoing and continuing attack to the Roer River and Linnich. On Thanksgiving Day we were given a hot turkey dinner with all the trimmings and all we could eat. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, most of the Company developed diarrhea.
Our Regiment, the 406th Inf., was ordered to attack Linnich on Dec. 1, 1944. Just outside of town, as we were advancing and being fired upon, I got up and ran about 10 yards and jumped into a shell hole in which Ed Naperalsky took cover. At the same instant that my feet touched the bottom of the hole, I was hit by a ricochet bullet which entered the right side of my chest and lodged itself in the lower left lung.
"Nap", after a short search, found the point of entry. He then took the sulfa powder from my first aid kit and sprinkled it over the wound. He also applied a bandage and gave me a couple of sulfa pills and water to wash them down with. His action undoubtedly saved my life.
The Regiment pushed on and captured most of Linnich by nightfall. In the meantime I layed in that hole 5-6 hours in pitch-black darkness before being picked up late in the evening by our medics. Fortunately, Jack Leard was ordered to stay behind with me; otherwise, I'm sure I would never have been found until the next day at best.
I was carried by stretcher to the Battalion Aid Station and from there by ambulance to the 48th Field Hospital, a converted shot-up German grade school building. It was here that the doctors removed the bullet and it was here also that I received the last rites of my church (Catholic) by an R.C. Army Chaplain.
This briefly describes my combat experiences in the area of Waurichen, Immendorf, Apweiler, Geronsweiler, Linnich, etc.
In retrospect the most indelible impression made on me during the Nov. 1944 campaign was the great loss of life, the distruction, the waste, the miserable weather, and mostly the depression and the feeling of hopelessness I experienced.
The weather was continuously cold, with occasional sleet and snow flurries, always wet and muddy, constantly overcast with drizzly rain and very little sunshine.
I also recall the acrid smell of burnt gunpowder, the stench of death and the bloated, decaying animals (horses, cows, shheep, goats, etc.) lying about, torn up by artillery fire, with their stiff, outstretched legs pointing towards the sky.
Not only was Nov. 1944 dreary and depressive, it was full of casualties on both sides with nothing to look forward to, except to become a casualty yourself or, hopefully, an early end to the war.
----- Edwin S. Dojka
(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.)
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
102 Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen War Crime
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
The above story, "Nov., 1944 -- Dreary and Depressive", by Edwin S. Dojka, 406th, Co. F., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 39, No. 2, March 1987, pp. 4 - 7.
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.
September 5, 2002.
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