Heroes: the Army
"...The 88s fired with a muzzle velocity greater than the speed of sound. When you heard a shell scream it had already gone past. The 88 could fire up in the air or fire flat trajectory..."
Robert B. Ward
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. E., 407th Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC., Purple Heart
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Melville, MT
From: Robert B. Ward
Unit: First Platoon, Company E. 407th Infantry Regiment, 102 Division.
I was wounded by the same mortar shell that would take the Life of Lt. Donald Lovell. I was his platoon messenger. Albert Gilpin was wounded at the same time. "He said, I think it broke my leg." I helped Lt. Lovell into the shell hole, bandaged his one leg. I think the other was blown off. He said, "Little One, all I wanted to do was be a PFC and drive a Jeep" He said he wasn't to make it (Get out)
I found this in the fourth page on Flint, Michigan. I was trying to locate possible white pages for Al Gilpin. My military grandson had found his name on a note posted by David Roy.
THE WINTER OF 1944
My Winter of War started in earnest on Halloween night in "E" Company of the 407th Infantry Regiment had been on the front lines inside the German border for about five days.
On October 31st the First Platoon was given the honor of making a raid on a German roadblock. Lieutenant Donald Lx Lovell selected the men to go with him. Back in the States, when sides for a softball game were chosen, I'd think, "I'd like to be at the head of the list." This time I was - as Platoon Messenger I'd be along side our Platoon Leader.
When Lieutenant Donald Lovell had selected 12 men, he wanted one more. "Take Svoboda," I suggested. "He doesn't say much, but he'll be with us all the way."
That tall, lean, slow talking fellow from Chicago had been in in the same squad with me at the Basic Training Center in Fort Benning, Georgia. Frank marched second from the head of the line, and I brought up the tail end. After Basic training and Purdue University we ended up in the same platoon in the 102 Division.
On Halloween night, Frank become the thirteenth member of a combat Patrol, and I helped him volunteer. It was like he drawled, "That's what buddies are for."
We had an interesting party on Halloween. A few weeks later we were given two weeks rest in Holland. Our next move was to the front - to the Siegfreid Line ? Hitler's concrete fortifications of pill boxes, trenches, and underground bunkers.
In late November the Division marched back into Germany. Company "E" bivouacked at Puffendorf and made preparations to attack the last of the German towns on the west bank of the Roer River.
The Platoon C.P. (Command Post) was in a two story house with its roof blown off. The house butted against another so that half a dozen houses were under what had been a common L shaped roof.
Another building was behind us. It was also L shaped and the two buildings made a courtyard whose four sides were composed of a dozen dwellings.
Across the street an underground shelter served the First Squad for sleeping quarters. The other squads were in foxholes at the edge of town a hundred yards ahead of us. Some were dug in between a dead horse and a battery of field artillery. The horse stank, and the muzzle blast of the artillery almost lifted those in front of it out of their foxholes. Dunc O'Brien was dug in next to the horse. He called it a pig because he didn't think a horse could smell that bad. The odor ruined his appetite and the artillery ruined his sleep. When I relayed the message that we were going to the front, he poked his head out of his foxhole and grinned from ear to ear.
On November 30 we marched under the cover of darkness to the outskirts of Ederin. From there we followed a railroad track and turned to the right at the bottom of a steep hill. By then it was daylight. Tanks from the 771st Tank Battalion were moving into position behind the hill. We walked past them, left the railroad and climbed to the hill top.
We lay and waited.
The fortified town of Flossdorf lay before us. The out going mail (our artillery) fired over our heads. The incoming artillery whistled toward us. Some of it dropped on units of the Second Armored Division which we were replacing. At 9:30 a heavy barrage sounded to our north. Under the sound of exploding shells we heard rifle fire and the steady blam?blam?blam of the Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR's) as they answered the faster rip of German burp guns. The First Battalion was on the move. We shoved off a half hour later, going over the top of the hill and through the troops dug in on the high ground.
Flossdorf lay 2000 yards ahead of us at the bottom of a long slope. Except for a few leaves in a beet field there was no cover. In the distance, piles of harvested sugar beets hid enemy machine gun emplacements and pill boxes.
Artillery shells burst among us. At earlier times we could tell by the scream of a shell whether it would go over us or fall upon us. Now projectiles fell by the dozens. We didn't have time to sort that incoming mail. Sometimes a near hit would be a dud.
We'd hear the scream of a shell, fall to the ground, and wait for an explosion which never came. The German 88 shells burst upon us without a warning scream. The 88s fired with a muzzle velocity greater than the speed of sound. When you heard a shell scream it had already gone past. The 88 could fire up in the air or fire flat trajectory. It was an anti?aircraft, anti?artillery, and anti?tank rifle. (A rifle is not only a weapon you carry, it is any weapon with a rifled barrel.)
Mortars have smooth bores and fire rocket?like projectiles which loop high in the air and fall down on their target. The warning and explosion come at the same time. Mortars fire over walls and over hills, and give a lot of trouble to troops on an open field where there are no walls or hills. And we had no walls or hills.
The flat, open fields also made us good targets for machine gun and rifle fire. The Jerries fired their machine guns in bursts. The bullets sprayed the ground, kicking up dirt in long rows. Rifle fire can be more personal, and a sniper's bullet is more personal yet, especially when it breaks the sound barrier a few inches above your head and you realize that someone may have been aiming at you personally.
Soon after we left the line of departure Griff dropped to one knee and fired his rifle. He fired twice. One of his targets dived for the ground and the other just crumpled. We had casualties, too. The Pollock was one of the first men downed. He was BAR man on the third squad. Ropp was assistant squad leader. He ran to the downed man and called for Little Doc to bring first aid. Rifles and machine guns cut Ropp down. They got Dan Rich in the same engagement. Ropp and Rich had been great prospects for College Baseball. They stayed together, even in death.
We slowed down, but Big John rallied us. "Come on," he shouted. He called us some of the names he'd called the Jerries. He went ahead of us until a leg was shot out from under him.
At about 400 yards Lieutenant Lovell and I dropped into a shell hole. Bullets popped the ground around us and Burns Montgomery came running through the spray. He hit the ground rolling and favoring one foot. "Over here," we shouted. He plowed into the shell hole with us. The heel of his shoe was shot off. The next round of concentrated fire brought Captain Watkins.
Sidney J. Watkins was the E Company Commander and a good man.
At 1400 hours (that's two hours past noon and we hadn't thought about eating) our tanks came up. Captain Watkins led the company as the tanks fired machine gun and cannon overhead.
Using the tanks was like kicking over a beehive to keep the bees from stinging. And the bees were the German 88's. They knocked out six of the eight tanks in as many minutes. The other two pulled back and fired from over the hill. The six tanks burned all afternoon and up into the night. We passed them, trying to force our way ahead, and we saw the crews crawling out.
Some never got out and those that did had to stay on the field until dark.
All together we advanced about 800 yards that day. By dark we commandeered a Jerry machine gun nest for our Platoon C.P. Our troops dug in and licked their wounds.
"Wiley got it through the leg," someone reported. Sergeant Wiley was the non?com for the second squad.
Frank Svoboda paid us a social call in the darkness. He had two German soldiers who had crawled out of a hole near his area.
A sergeant took them back to the prison compound. Sometime before midnight one of our men had a breakdown. He was crying and shaking with battle fatigue. The Lieutenant rocked him in his arms like a baby. It didn't do any good. The man's shaking got worse, for war is hell like Sherman said. And the hell didn't go away, even in the quiet of the night. Getting shelled by sobs and shakes can be as bad on the nerves as the 88s.
We were pinned down in our foxholes all the next day. On December 2, we moved out again. This time at 7:00 in the morning.
It was dark and threatening to rain. Timed fire and white phosphorus poured on our objective in a beautiful but deadly display of fireworks. We followed the barrage. The Jerries knew we were coming. When we neared the road at the edge of town, their advance units pulled back. We could see them against the horizon fifty yards from us. I fired two or three times for Big John's sake. At this time we caught up with our cannon barrage.
"Little One," Lieutenant Lovell said, "get them to raise the artillery."
I got a radio message through to the Company C.P., and they sent the word on. The artillery lifted and fired a hundred yards ahead of us. We moved with it. The Germans shelled us with everything they had. That's when something, which felt like a sledge hammer, hit my back and knocked me flat on the ground.
Gilpin was to my left. "It broke my leg," he said.
The shell hole was to the right and behind me. Right where Lieutenant Lovell had been. And he was still there, a dirt covered form writhing on the ground. I crawled to the Lieutenant. I bandaged one of his legs and shouted for the medic. I put a rifle in the ground, bayonet down, butt up, so the medic could see ? so a stretcher bearer could find us.
Gilpin was gone. The last I saw of him, his broken leg was not so bad but that he was hobbling on it.
I gave Lieutenant Lovell his sulfa pills, and threw my raincoat over his bloody legs.
"I knew it was going to happen."
"You'll be all right."
Part of his foot was in his combat boot and the boot was laying ten foot away.
"All I wanted to do was be a PFC and drive a jeep."
"They'll Z.I. you. You'll get to a hospital in the States."
I dug the hole deeper and eased the Lieutenant into the deepest part of it. He was the best officer I ever hoped for.
"I'll get you some help," I said.
I crawled ahead. It was light now and there was heavy fire. Our troops were pinned down by the road.
"Lieutenant Lovell's hard hit," I shouted. The word went down the line. Someone would get there when they could.
There were other cries for help. One was close by. "Medic. Medic." A beet field was behind me. Someone was in the beet field.
F Company had launched their attack on our left. The soldier was from F Company. He was lying in the flat field. His helmet was sticking up among the beet tops and every time he moved a sniper bullet would zip through the beet tops beside him.
I bellied my way to him and lay beside him. A bullet had torn a hole through his leg. I bandaged his wound and had him take his wound tablets. I pulled his belt tight around his leg, then dug like a badger to make a trench deep enough to get him below ground level. That done, I jabbed his rifle in the dirt, bayonet down, butt up. The trench wasn't big enough for Halash and myself, and a sniper was still active. I crawled away, head on, and hoped my helmet would keep me covered.
"Over here," someone shouted. "Over here."
The voice came from sixty feet away. I rolled, and crawled, and scooped dirt with my belly until I dived into a foxhole like a seal sliding into a pool.
It was raining.
Robert Kendall was in the hole. He was from F Company. He had a new M-1 rifle. Old ones were better. New ones got jambed with wet sand, and his rifle was jambed. He was working to get the grit out of it. Kendall laid his rifle aside. He gave me my sulfa pills and put a bandage across my shoulder, over a hole in the back of my ribs. My left arm was getting heavy. I was glad to sit in a foxhole and watch a Californian clean his rifle in the rain.
We waited. We ate our K rations and shivered under one raincoat together.
In the afternoon a fresh round of artillery was poured over our heads. Smoke shells dropped along the road beside us. Thick smoke blew across the field, and from the midst of it came the rumble of tanks. We worried that they might be German tanks, but they weren't. The smoke lifted as the tanks went past us. Major John Wohrner was walking beside a tank, tied to it with a telephone? radio line giving instructions. First Lieutenant Joe Steele was with him. Kendall left me his raincoat and joined the G.I.s who were rallying behind the tanks.
The noise of the battle moved away. Rifle and machine gun fire was traded for shouts as German soldiers surrendered. They came pouring out of town, hands clasped behind their heads. A smaller group of American casualties climbed out of foxholes and ditches. I joined them and we escorted the German prisoners to the rear.
We turned the prisoners over to a guard detail at Battalion Headquarters and waited for transportation to the field hospital.
At the aid station we heard that Lieutenant Lovell had been taken off the field in serious condition. Some of us left, packed together in a jeep.
On the way to the field hospital we stopped at a school house. A doctor examined me, gave me a cup of coffee and I went to sleep. I woke up in a tent. I was still in a mud caked uniform, but not for long. A nurse took some short bladed scissors and cut my clothes off, starting at the bottom of my leggings and working up. A couple of days later I was evacuated to England. I stayed in hospitals in December and January. In February I was released for limited duty.
Lieutenant Lovell contacted pneumonia and died a week before Christmas. Frank Svoboda and I had been in the same squad from basic training days in Fort Benning. I had a letter from him which was written on February 21. Frank died at the Roer River crossing on February 23. Robert Kendall lost his life, probably in the same action. Gordon Amery, the only one with me in training from high school days in Big Timber, Montana, went to the Philippines. He died of machine gun wounds in Leyte. The wounded soldier from "F" Company survived.
That was a bad winter.
----- Robert B. Ward
(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, "The Winter of 1944", by Robert B. Ward, 407-E, was originally sent to us by the Rev. Robert B. Ward of Georgia via our Veteran's Survey Form.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission Rev. Robert B. Ward.
We would like to extend our sincere "Thank You" for his story of his experiences with Co. E., 407th Regiment.
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 22 June 2005.
Story added to website on 29 June 2005.
September 5, 2002.
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