Heroes: the Army
"...We carried the stretchers with three wounded men in our care into the drainage ditch, placing the handles of the stretcher on either side of the ditch just above the water level. We ducked the head of the kid with the stomach wound under the water for a moment..."
Wallace J. Katz
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 3rd Bn. HQ, 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Brooklyn, NY
Nov. 19 - 27, 1944.
As remembered by Wallace Katz, 3rd Btn. HQ, 405th. This was written in response to the Historian's request in the Notes for more information to share with Ken Ford, English author, whose book 'The Battle For Geilenkirchen" appeared in 1989.
The following, to the best of my recollection, is what I know of the events that took place in the 405th lnf. Regt. sector during the period November 19-27, 1944. I was a member of the 3rd Bn, 405th lnf. Anti Tank platoon.
On the night of Nov. 16-17 my platoon moved from its gun positions in Freledberg (one mile S.W. of Geilenkirchen) to new positions on the Waurichen - Immendorf road. The 2nd Btn. 406th lnf. and Co. H of the 67th Armored lnf. of the 2nd Armored Division had attacked from Waunchen at 12:45 pm Nov. 16 and taken Immendorf by 1:50 pm. By 3:50 pm they had secured the town. The 3rd Btn. 405th A/T platoon and heavy machine gun platoons from M Co. secured the flank facing Geilenkirchen.
On the 21st, the 3rd Btn 405th lnf. attacked and took the high ground north of Apweiler to protect the right flank of the 1st and 2nd Btns. of the 405th lnf. which were to attack toward Beeck the next day.
On the 22nd, the 1st and 2nd Btns. attacked over sugar beet fields north toward Beeck. The 3rd Btn. 405th was still on high ground between Beeck and Apweiler suffering high casualties. (I believe that the 1st and 2nd Btns. represented the right wing of a two pronged attack to cut off the German troops defending the Geilenkirchen Siegfried line strong point.) A British attack from positions north of Geilenkirchen was to be the left wing of the attack. The 84th lnf. Div. was to take Geilenkirchen and eliminate the German bulge between the two prongs.
The 1st and 2nd Btns. occupied the high ground in front of Beeck, but the British, for reasons unknown to me, failed to achieve their objective. The 84th lnf. Div. was heavily engaged inside Geilenkirchen and they did not move up to join forces with the 1st and 2nd Btns. This left the 405th lnf. Regt. with an open undefended left flank. The 1st and 2nd Btns. were suffering very heavy casualties, especially in officers, NCOs and Medics.
On the morning of the 23rd, I was driven up to a forward aid station (1st or 2nd Btn. 405th) that was located in a wooden shed in a man made excavation in the middle of a sugar beet field, north of Apweiler. I, and three other members of the 3rd Btn., were given Red Cross arm bands and a stretcher.
The Btn. surgeon placed his arm around my shoulder and pointed to the north and told me to pick up the wounded who were located there. We crossed the beet field until we reached a steep bluff. Once there, men from the 1st and/or 2nd Btn. got out of their foxholes and began to call, "Medic", indicating that they had wounded comrades. Some asked for morphine. I informed them I was not a medic and could only help remove the wounded, not attend to their wounds. We proceeded to carry one young soldier with a stomach wound down the hill with me sliding on my rear end all the way down.
We soon had accumulated about four wounded. One was a forward observer with a head wound. Just about that time another member of my platoon showed up with a jeep that he had some how driven down a path next to a V-shaped drainage ditch. We loaded the forward observer across the rear of the jeep and were loading the kid with the stomach wound across its hood when a team bearing a stretcher with a wounded Btn. commander (1st or 2nd Btn. 405th) approached. We removed the kid and put the Btn. commander on the hood in his place. The jeep took off to the rear, its driver promising to return for the others.
When he did not return six of us lifted the kid on his stretcher, planning to carry him to the aid station. However, the six of us couldn't move him despite the fact that he was small and light. (Almost 40 years after this happened, I woke up one night from a deep sleep with the knowledge of why we were unable to carry his stretcher. We were on the path next to a drainage ditch that was built by some farmer who had dumped clay over the topsoil base. The day was soaked through by the rain and it had turned into a sticky glue like substance that made our feet stick to it. Had we then thought of moving off the clay path onto the topsoil of the field we could have easily carried him.)
The Germans began to send rolling barrages up and down the field. We carried the stretchers with three wounded men in our care into the drainage ditch, placing the handles of the stretcher on either side of the ditch just above the water level. We ducked the head of the kid with the stomach wound under the water for a moment while moving him and he complained that we shouldn't try to drown a wounded comrade.
After noon, a skirmish line consisting of the remnants of the 1st and 2nd Btns. 405th retreated to the south, motioning us to join them. To my knowledge, they had not been resupplied since they attacked the day before, and I was told by someone I did not know on the field, that the officers, NCOS and medics were all gone. (I doubt that this was true, although many may have been killed or wounded and were thus out of action.) After they had gone, I was alone with one other uninjured soldier and three wounded men in our care. I was hoping that the jeep would return.
Suddenly the Germans started to heavily shell the field. We took cover in the drainage ditch with the wounded as the water was rained by clods of dirt thrown up by the exploding shells. My uninjured companion said that the bombardment we were living through was a preliminary to a German attack. He said that he would remain with the wounded and see that they received medical attention when the Germans came. I thought he was very brave and I wasn't. I decided that it was time to get out.
I headed south down the ditch. About 100 yards down the ditch I ran into four other newly arrived members of my platoon heading towards where the wounded were. I was going in the other direction. I left the ditch and headed across the field that was being swept by rolling German artillery barrages, Fear had drained my strength and numbed my mind. I made no effort to avoid the shells except for a few minutes when I lay on my back in an abandoned German position, which was below ground level.
When I got back to the aid station I saw the troops that had retreated before me lying in ditches near the aid station. The Btn. Surgeon, upon seeing me, came over and said that he knew I was tired but he had fresh stretcher bearers and asked if I would lead them up to the front. I asked "What front?" He said "Where the 1st and 2nd Btns. are." I pointed to the men in the ditches and said 'That's the 1st and 2nd Btns." I never saw a heavy man move so fast. In less than 60 seconds he was bugging out in his jeep. The remnants of the 1st and 2nd Btns. started moving south again. When I realized that the aid station had been abandoned, I decided to leave also. On the way back I passed officers standing by the road calling for men from the various companies and battalions to assemble in different places. I spotted the 3rd Btn. 405th A/ T platoon leader and members of his platoon preparing small bridges, which crossed drainage ditches or small streams, for demolition. I walked back to my gun position, reaching there after dark.
On the night of Nov. 24-25 a platoon sized combat patrol consisting of men from various 3rd Btn. 405th units was organized and sent into the region abandoned by the 1st and 2nd Btns. of the 405th. Three other members of the 3rd Btn. and I were part of the patrol. One man from my platoon was up front. Two others and I brought up the rear. The ground we crossed had been torn up by the tanks leaving ditches two feet deep from the crests of earth pushed up to their water-filled bottoms.
One member of my platoon fell into every ditch we crossed and my comrade and I picked him up each time. It was serious business, but I got the giggles and we made a joke of it by calling, not too loudly, for the patrol to stop every time my comrade fell. I don't know how the tanks could have maneuvered over the rain-soaked, soft top soil.
I finally became concerned when we appeared to be heading into our own covering artillery fire, which had been pounding Beeck for the entire length of our patrol, and I ran up to the head of the patrol to stop them. They had stopped on their own and I was told that we had made contact with a front line unit of the 84th lnf. Div. We had learned that the Germans failed to take advantage of the debacle that had befallen the 1st and 2nd Btns. of the 405th. When we reported back to this effect, the gap in our lines was closed.
On the 26th and 27th, the 3rd Btn. 405th A/T platoon resupplied the 3rd Btn. line companies after dark each day. The bridges over the drainage ditches, which crisscrossed the area, were so covered with deep mud that we had to cross the spans by climbing on their cast iron sides. There was no other way you could cross the foot-deep mud that grabbed and held your legs.
Many abandoned tank destroyers were deliberately run nose down into drainage ditches by their crews to avoid enemy fire. During the period in question, the skies were heavily overcast. Search lights in the rear were bounced off the clouds to light up the battlefield. It was very effective.
Every Army, Corps and Division commander should have a geologist on his staff to advise him if the terrain that he has to fight on is passable for tanks and logistic resupply vehicles. Aerial photographs would have shown the drainage ditches crisscrossing the area. This would indicate that, during a period of heavy rains, the soft, deep topsoil would become water logged and would be impassable to all vehicles.
I believe that little was written about this period because of the losses the 405th lnf. suffered. I also believe that the Presidential Unit Citation the 405th lnf. received was earned during this period but was awarded for a subsequent operation that did not merit it.
----- Wallace J. Katz
(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.)
An additional story by Wallace J. Katz's experiences in the 102nd Division can be read at the following link that is part of the "Those Damn Doggies in F" section of this web site: Wallace J. Katz Letter
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. 19 - 27, 1944", by Wallace J. Katz, PFC., Hq. Co., 405th, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 50, No. 2, Jan/Mar. 1998, pp. 5 - 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 March 2004.
Story added to website on 30 March 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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