Dear Mr. von der Weiden:
Thank you for your letter of June 6, 1983. It is most gratifying
to hear that the people of Stolberg still hold the men of the
3rd Armored Division in such high regard. It is hoped the combat
experienced by one tank crew in the Scherpenseel/Hastenrath area
on 16 November 1944 will be of some assistance to you. You may
wish to use the following as a footnote in your book, clarifying
for your readers facts that might otherwise seem confusing. The
two tank regiments of the 3rd Armored Division, the 32nd Armored
Regiment and the 33rd Armored Regiment, were structured as follows:
The 1st Battalion consisted of Headquarters Company, A Company,
B Company, C Company, all light tanks. The 2nd Battalion: Headquarters
Company, D Company, E Company, F Company - all medium tanks.
The 3rd Battalion: Headquarters Company, G Company, H Company,
I Company - all medium tanks. While leaving England for Normandy,
it was decided rather than having one battalion of light tanks
and two battalions of medium tanks, it would be changed, so that
each battalion would consist of one company of light tanks and
two companies of medium tanks.
When the 3rd Armored Division went into combat, the 33rd Armored
Regiment consisted of the following: 1st Battalion: Headquarters
Company, A Company - light tanks, F Company - medium ranks, I
Company - medium tanks. 2nd Battalion: Headquarters Company,
B Company - light tanks, D Company - medium tanks, E Company
- medium tanks. 3rd Battalion: Headquarters Company, C Company
- light tanks, G Company - medium tanks, H Company - medium tanks.
The 32nd Armored Regiment basically made the same change as the
33rd, only they shuffled their companies a little differently
than the 33rd.
Note: See Page 195 of "Spearhead in the West."
Questions you asked in your letter:
My commanding officers were: Col. John C. Welborn, commanding
officer, 33rd Armored Regiment; Lt. Col. Herbert M. Mills, commanding
officer, 1st Battalion, killed Hastenrath 17 November 1944; Capt.
E. Gunderson, commanding officer I Company, killed in attack
on Hastenrath 16 November 1944.
Question: Where was your unit located?
Upon recovering from wounds received in Normandy, I was transferred
from the hospital back to my original unit, I Company, 1st Battalion,
which, to the best of my recollection, was located in the town
of Breinig. On 9 November the 1st Battalion moved forward to
take up positions, awaiting the new Allied offense. I Company
moved in position on the reverse slope of a small hill just short
of the tine of departure.
Question: What was your rank, and what were your duties?
Rank: 1st Lieutenant in command of five M-4 medium tanks.
Question: Could you report on military events of human interest
covering successes, failures, and losses?
In commanding the tank that was to lead and to guide the attack,
all observations made and knowledge gathered during the attack
on Hastenrath was on a rather limited basis. The responsibilities
placed on the lead tank and the action it encountered prevented
a broad knowledge of what was taking place with the tanks that
were following. On the evening of 16 November the lead tank was
destroyed on the outskirts of Hastenrath. Its crew members were
taken prisoner. Therefore, no reports were received from the
remaining tank commanders as to their action, their observations,
or damage inflicted on the enemy.
The planned attack by the 1st Battalion on the Scherpenseel/Hastenrath
was as follows: A 19 tank force. I Company with 17 medium tanks
plus 2 medium tanks attached; one an artillery forward observer's
tank, the other a medium tank with mine flailing equipment. This
force was to proceed along the left edge of the battalion's sector,
skirting the left flank of Scherpenseel, and heading directly
down to Hastenrath. They were to hold until joined by elements
of the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment.
At this point, a 600-gun artillery barrage was to be laid
on the town of Hastenrath. The infantry was to dismount from
their armored half-tracks, follow close in behind the tanks for
protection. The tanks were to be led by the mine flatter. Once
through the mine-field the tanks were to fan out with the infantry
still close in behind. The barrage was then to be lifted. As
soon as the tanks reached the first buildings, the infantry was
to go around the tanks and lead the attack with the tanks supporting.
The greater force of the infantry was to remain in their armored
half-tracks, follow the remaining tanks through the mine field,
proceed to the edge of Hastenrath, dismount and join the lead
infantry units. Coordinated with this, F Company with other elements
of the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment produced a similar assault
on Scherpenseel from the right flank. A Company would be held
Phase 1: The Attack - preparatory fire. On 9 November,
when I Company moved into position, the tanks were laid in parallel
in the same manner artillery guns are laid in parallel in preparation
for indirect fire.
Note: The tanks were equipped with the same instruments as
artillery guns, so that they could be used for indirect fire.
The following day one tank was issued extra high-explosive
shells, with the aid of an artillery spotting plane the gun adjusted
on a per-determined target. The target, a small wooded area,
with a heavy concentration of German infantry. Once the gun had
adjusted, it fell silent. The tanks were ready to go, each with
250 gallons of gasoline, over one ton of high explosives, 97
rounds for the tank gun, and 2,500 rounds for the 30 caliber
machine guns. All we could do now was wait. On the morning of
16 November, each tank was issued an extra 50 rounds of high-explosive
shells; they were stored on the floor of the turret.
Note: Three tanks equipped with a newer gun with a much higher
muzzle velocity could not be used in the preparatory fire.
The correct azimuth reading and range had already been determined.
This was done when the artillery spotting plane was adjusting
the single gun. As this gun was being adjusted, all other guns
were moving in concert with the gun being adjusted. When the
single gun was on target, all guns were on target. As the second
hands swept down to H hour, thousands of guns along the entire
front erupted. Our fourteen guns joined in. In less than five
minutes we had fired 700 rounds on the predetermined target.
We threw the empty shell cases out of the turret, and were ready
to "move out."
Phase 2: The Attack:
As I Company moved forward, enemy artillery fire became increasingly
heavy. Shortly after crossing the line of departure, one of our
tanks struck the mine field and was disabled.
Note: See Page 216, Paragraph 3, of "Spearhead in the
West." This makes for good reading and is basically correct.
However, we did not lose any time on the mine field, nor did
we lose several tanks. Where it says "they tried to find
a way around the mine field," I don't quite understand this.
How do you find a way around a mine field? You either have to
call in the engineers to probe the minefield and to use mine
detectors, or use a mine flatter. The latter we had.
Capt. Gunnarson immediately ordered the mine flailer into
the mine field. The lead tank dropped in behind and followed.
Each succeeding tank dropped in line and followed. The mine flailer
was struck by an armor piercing shell and destroyed. Thoughts
raced through the lead tank commander's head. If he ordered his
tank around the mine flailer, he would take a hit from the same
gun that destroyed the mine flailer. If any or all of his crew
survived the hit, they would, as they crawled from their tank,
be subject to the small arms fire that covered the mine field.
If they survived this and had not cleared the mine field, they
would not last long with all of its anti-personnel mines mixed
among the anti-tank mines. With this thought in mind, he ordered
his tank to pull around the disabled mine flailer. They were
clear of the mine field, and they did not take a hit. One of
the other tanks must have silenced the gun.
Orders to start the Gyro-Stabilizers were given by the lead
tank commander. This enabled the tank to fire accurately its
tank gun and coaxial machine gun when the tank was on the move.
As the tanks came through the mine field, they took up their
attacking formation, allowing the maximum frontal fire as well
as maximum flanking fire. They flushed out and destroyed a reinforced
infantry company that was covering the mine field with small
arms fire. In skirting the left flank of Scherpenseel, it was
necessary to go between the town of Scherpenseel and a fortified
building with its network of defensive positions, as shown in
As the lead tank passed this building, at a distance of about
50 feet, two Germans appeared in a window, one with a rifle,
the other with a Panzerfaust. They both fired. The tank commander,
having his head out of the turret hatch, ducked a fraction of
a second in time. The bullet cracked by his head. The Panzerfaust
struck the tank, rocking it. The penetration was in a non-vital
spot, and did no damage. The commander hit the traversing switch,
swung the gun around to the window, and fired two high-explosive
shells. Through the dust and smoke it was apparent that the shells
had inflicted a great deal of damage to the interior of the building.
It was doubtful there were any survivors.
The entire action took less than ten seconds. As the lead
tank cleared the town of Scherpenseel, it found itself looking
down gently sloping terrain to the town of Hastenrath in the
distance. The tank commander slowly swept the town with his binoculars.
He spotted a vehicle under an archway alongside a building. The
distance was too great to determine whether it was a tank, a
self-propelled gun, or a prime mover for an anti-tank gun. The
round in his breach was high-explosive. He fired. It fell slightly
short. The second round fired was armor-piercing. This struck
the vehicle, setting it on fire.
The original plan of attack was to move down the slope directly
to Hastenrath. As the tank moved forward, a loud clear voice
commanded, "Turn right!" He obeyed. It was not until
much later that he realized that it had been God that had spoken
to him. He slipped in behind the town of Scherpenseel, using
the buildings in the background to help cover the movement of
his tanks. He spotted a slight movement behind the remains of
a shelled-out building, as did the commander of the tank following
on his left flank. Both fired. Debris and parts of an anti-tank
gun flew in the air. The advance continued to the end of Scherpenseel.
Here it made a ninety-degree turn and headed directly for Hastenrath.
After following this new course a short distance, the lead
tank found itself on the edge of a cliff. The cliff ran diagonally
across the entire terrain. This had not shown on the aerial photographs
studied prior to the attack. The photographs had been taken at
a time of day when no shadow was cast. The new line of advance
had taken them to the lowest point of the cliff. Even here there
was some doubt as to whether the tanks could negotiate the drop
without turning end over end. The driver eased the lead tank
forward, working his levers back and forth. This caused the soft
ground to crumble away. The tank pitched forward, and slid to
the bottom safely. The remaining tanks followed with no difficulty.
Had the original line of advance been followed, the tanks would
have found themselves above a cliff they were unable to negotiate.
The results would have been disastrous.
When I Company reached Hastenrath, only the lead tank and
three others remained from the original nineteen tank attack
force. It might be interesting to note that, when I Company began
its assault that morning, only eight men were left from the original
tank crews that left the United States. Of these eight, four
had just returned from the hospital. Six of these were tank commanders.
It might also be interesting to note the disposition of the six
commanders. Sgt. Richardson, tank commander, tank destroyed on
mine field. 1st Lt. Norbert Horrell, tank unit commander, tank
was hit and blew up during the attack. The remaining four reached
the objective at Hastenrath. They were: 1st Lt. Henry Earl, tank
unit commander; Staff Sgt. Fred Nulle, platoon sergeant; Sgt.
Mike Draganic, tank commander; Sgt. Johnnie Slaybaugh, tank commander.
Sgt. Nulle's tank and Sgt. Slaybaugh's tank were sent to the
left end of the town. Here they were to cover a road that approached
Hastenrath from the rear. There was also a small ridge that died
out about 50 yards from that end of town. They were to prevent
any tanks, self-propelled guns, or anti-tank guns from slipping
behind the ridge, and surprising I Company from the left flank.
The lead tank, along with Sgt. Draganic's tank, took up position
covering the main street, also covering a ravine that ran along
the right side of town, preventing any armor from surprising
I Company from its right flank. A report was sent to battalion
stating they were on the objective awaiting the infantry, also
requesting battalion to bring another mine flailer with them.
A reply was received stating that I Company was to hold its present
position, and that battalion was trying to reach them. The battalion
advance was down a gentle sloping valley approximately two miles
wide, flanked on each side by wooded ridges extending two to
three hundred feet in height. The 1st Infantry Division was advancing
down the ridge on the right side, the 104th Infantry Division
advancing down the ridge on the left side. The two infantry divisions
had encountered bitter fighting. Their advance was slow. The
Germans were making them fight for every foot of ground.
Thus, I Company found itself well in advance, and could expect
to receive enemy fire through an arc of 260 degrees. The lead
tank commander, while studying the wooded ridge on his right
flank through his binoculars, spotted a prime mover and anti-tank
gun moving at high speed, break from the cover of the woods into
a clearing and back into the woods again. Its appearance had
been so brief there had been no chance to take it under fire.
It was apparent that the Germans were beginning to close in from
the flanks. A short time later, the tank unit commander spotted
a self-propelled gun, this time on his left flank. It was inching
its way into position to fire from the crest of the ridge that
ran to the left end of Hastenrath. He barked a command; the guns
of the four tanks swung simultaneously onto the self-propelled
gun, which immediately backed off the crest of the hill and out
of sight before a round could be fired. As minutes ticked away,
tension mounted and mounted. Since the brief action by the enemy
on each of the flanks, all had been quiet.
The town looked deserted, the whole countryside looked deserted,
and yet nothing could be further from the truth. To make matters
even more desperate, the tanks were exposed in an open field.
There was no cover and no cover to be had. The lead tank commander
peered from his open hatch, desperately searching for some movement.
His gun was trained down the main street. From a pile of debris,
not more than 100 yards away, came a tremendous blast, at the
same time an ear-splitting crack as an armor-piercing shell missed
the top of the turret and his head by inches. The gunner had
seen the blast at the same time. The gun was slightly lowered
to the left and fired. The tank had an armor-piercing round in
its breech. The anti-tank gun had to reload. The armor-piercing
shell struck the debris exactly where the blast had been seen.
The tank crew reloaded as fast as possible and fired a second
shell, this time high-explosive, to make certain that the gun
and its crew were destroyed. The action was over.
The tank commander reflected. How could the gun have missed
at point-blank range? He was certain the gun was not there originally
or it would have fired while his gun was pointing to the left
at the self-propelled gun. The gun crew, while lying down, must
have worked the gun into position. They could do this, as the
gun had a very low silhouette. Once in position, they were confronted
with the problem of removing some of the debris that was blocking
their field of fire. They could not do this by hand, as the tank
crew would have seen them. The anti-tank gunner must have planned
to blow the remaining debris away with his tremendous muzzle
blast which he did and on doing so, just missed the top of the
tank turret by inches. This was an excellent idea. It would have
worked, had it not been for the fact that the tank commander
and his gunner were looking directly at the gun when it fired.
While he was contemplating this, he studied the town of Hastenrath
and the surrounding countryside. With his eyes barely above the
hatch, he scrutinized every detail, constantly reminding himself
to be alert and to look for any movement. As he was doing this,
impatience set in. Where in the hell was the infantry? Why weren't
they down here? Didn't they realize his tanks couldn't last much
longer in its exposed position? Then reason returned - he knew
that the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment was as fine a regiment
as there was anywhere. He knew, if anyone could get to them,
they could. He remembered from experience that if you gave the
Germans just 24 hours to dig in, you paid hell getting them out
again. And here they had had almost six weeks in which to dig
in and prepare their defenses.
His thoughts were broken by a call from battalion requesting
an ammunition report. He called his remaining three tanks for
their reports. Then he checked with his loader as to their condition.
The report was: "Just these six rounds on the floor and
one in the breach." "My God." He could vaguely
remember firing forty or fifty rounds, but here they had fired
ninety rounds! The reports began to come in. Two tanks had seven
rounds each, the other, six rounds. He called battalion, giving
the report. There was a low whistling sound at the other end.
And then: "We're trying to get to you, and we'll try some
way to get some ammunition down to you."
Time was literally killing them. They had been stationary
now for almost an hour. During that time the Germans had attempted
to move a self-propelled gun into position on the left flank.
They had moved an anti-tank gun right under their very noses.
And what about the prime mover and anti-tank gun spotted on the
right flank? They should be in a position by now. He toyed with
the idea of moving on into town and fighting it out in the streets
there. But even as he thought about it, he knew it was ridiculous,
he was positive there was a mine field between his tanks and
the town, and he wasn't about to lose one of his tanks to the
mine-field - that would be 25% of his force and 25% of his fire
power. For what? Just to prove there was a mine field there?
Even if they did get into town, they wouldn't stand much of a
chance. Every doorway, every cellar opening, every window would
be a likely base for a Panzerfaust attack. Without the infantry,
his tanks didn't stand a chance.
His thoughts were broken by the God-awfullest sound and by
his tank being lifted off the ground and shaken. He was violently
thrown against the gun-guard. Bouncing from that, he slammed
into the back of his gunner. As he scrambled to regain his footing,
he knew that they had taken a hit, but the round had not penetrated.
This meant that the gun that had fired, was firing at extreme
range. As he peered out the hatch again, he knew that his chance
for spotting the gun was very slight. He had to be looking right
at it when it fired. Again he was violently thrown against the
gun guard. Bouncing from this, he was wedged between the gunner's
right shoulder and the side of the tank. Fighting once more to
regain his footing, and to get his head out of the hatch, his
thoughts went to his crew. My God, his men had courage! There
they sat, knowing any second they could be killed or badly mangled.
They knew what they were in for; they had seen the remains of
other crews hauled from their tanks. It was much harder on them
than it was on him. He was absorbed in the complete concentration
of locating that gun. While all they could do was sit and stare
at the interior of the tank or peer through their periscope which
afforded them only limited vision.
They took another hit. Secured this time by a better handhold,
the tank commander was not thrown against the gun guard. The
hit was low on the side. The interior of the tank was lit by
a ball of fire caused by the terrific friction of the penetration.
A white-hot eighteen pound projectile entered the empty ammunition
rack under the floor. (The earlier models of the M-4 "Sherman"
medium tank did not store ammunition under the turret floor).
The steel walls of the ammunition compartment prevented the molten
metal from striking the interior of the hull and ricocheting
throughout the tank. This saved the crew. The fact that the anti-tank
gun was firing at extreme range also saved the crew. The velocity
of the projectile was so reduced, that the ammunition compartment
was able to confine its effect. Had the gun been firing at a
closer range the velocity of the projectile would have been so
great the ammunition compartment would have had no effect.
Still searching the countryside, he felt the shoulder of his
gunner pushing him up from underneath. He had been so intent
on trying to locate the gun that he had forgotten they had to
get out of the tank - and get out fast! He boosted himself up
and out onto the rear deck, allowing his crew to scramble out.
His map case - no matter how dangerous it was, or how crazy,
he had to get it. Dropping back inside, he felt for the map case.
It was gone! He spotted it on the other side of the turret under
one of the rounds. Diving under the gun he grabbed it - back
across the turret, up and out. As his hands were on the front
slope of the turret, his knees on the edge of the hatch, his
legs and buttocks over the opening of the hatch, he heard a tremendous
sound. Ignoring his, he half-slid and half-tumbled to the ground,
joining his crew.
After the war, the tank commander received a letter from his
platoon sergeant, Fred Nulle, who had been watching all of this.
Fred stated in his letter that as he (the tank commander) was
just clearing the hatch opening, an armor-piercing projectile
struck the two open hatch covers directly behind his buttocks.
The hatch covers simply vanished. Had he spent an extra second
or two inside the tank, his escape would have ended in the hatch
opening. He had to get his crew away from the tank. The gun had
gotten the tank, now it would switch to high-explosive shells
to get the crew. The only cover available was a cabbage patch
a short distance away. They made a run for it.
As they flung themselves down amongst the cabbages, his gunner
yelled: "I've been hit!" The wounded man lay only about
ten feet away; the tank commander inched his way toward him.
An automatic weapon opened up, cutting cabbage leaves off around
his head. The leaves trickled down his cheek. When he stopped,
the gun stopped, when he started, the gun started. This procedure
continued until he reached the man's feet. Ten minutes to go
ten feet! He had been hit in the arch of his foot, and the foot
was pretty badly torn up, but the shoe was still on, holding
everything in place. He knew that the wound was extremely painful,
but it wasn't bleeding very much. He told this to the gunner,
not the part about it being painful, he already knew that - only
that it was not bleeding badly, and that he would be okay.
It would soon be dark, and they could make their move. My
gosh - it was cold! The dampness of the ground had already seeped
through his clothing, and it looked as though it was about to
snow. Then he remembered: the artillery barrage. Surely they
called that off - they must have, for where they were lying they
wouldn't stand much of a chance under a 600-gun barrage, oh they
must have called it off. That was something to think about. Suddenly
he realized how quiet it was. The artillery had ceased firing,
and it seemed as though no activity was going on around him.
It was dark enough. He signalled his crew to crawl over and join
him. They lay with their heads in a circle. He explained if they
were to crawl over to the rear of the tank, the ground being
soft, the tank tracks had formed a depression 3 to 4 inches deep
- they could then follow this back through the mine field to
their own lines. On the completion of these instructions to his
crew, he was going to crawl over and join his remaining three
At this point they heard a voice say "Hands up?"
(From the sound of his voice, they thought he wanted to surrender).
The tank commander looked over to the bank by the road and saw
a German helmet barely protruding above the bank and a pair of
eyes staring at them. They yelled: "Come on over!"
The German ducked. Again his head protruded above the bank, again
he said: "Hands up?" This time he was invited over
with a string of swearwords. What in the world were they going
to do with a prisoner? They had enough problems of their own.
Again his head ducked. The next time his head protruded above
the bank, two others joined him, each with a light machine gun,
complete with stock, ammunition drum and bipod. He knew two other
words: "You come!" But that wasn't necessary. The crew
had already got the point.
As they crawled towards the Germans, the tank commander heard
six artillery guns fire. He knew that these were 3rd Armored
Division guns, as only armored artillery had six guns to a battery.
As they tumbled into the ditch alongside the Germans, the bank
completely erupted from the explosion of six 105mm shells. As
they shook themselves free from the dirt, they tried to talk
the Germans into coming back to their lines, stating that there
was plenty of good food and cigarettes. A German with a pistol
stuck it in the ribs of the tank commander, and said: "Raus!"
On entering Hastenrath, the tank commander saw a prime mover
still burning. He recognized it as the vehicle he had hit from
Scherpenseel. Later he found out that the damaged anti-tank gun
that was lying nearby had been hit by his first round of high
explosives. The gun had been in position covering the road from
Hastenrath to Scherpensell. Here he had knocked out an anti-tank
gun he didn't even know was there. The commander and his crew
were led into the basement of the first house they came to. Once
inside, he recognized that these houses were not ordinary houses.
They were built as part of the German defense. The outside and
inside walls of the building appeared to be made from quarry
stone. The basement was reinforced concrete. The entrance was
zigzagged, so no one could fire directly into the basement, nor
could they lob hand grenades inside. The German officer, recognizing
the tank commander's rank, ushered him to a desk and his crew
to a nearby table.
It was indicated that they wanted them to empty their pockets.
This done, the German officer politely gestured for the tank
commander's map-case. A look of surprise crossed his face, as
he went through the contents. (He found pictures instead of maps.
Prior to the attack, the tank commander had studied maps and
aerial photographs of the ground he was to cover.) This was replaced
by a broad smile, as he spread the photographs out on his desk.
And why shouldn't he smile? He was looking at a pretty girl,
and he knew it. He looked up and pointed to the photographs,
and said: "Frau?" The tank commander nodded. The German
broke into even a broader smile. The photographs were replaced
in the map-case, the map-case closed and returned to the tank
commander. All personal property was returned. Not a thing was
taken, not even their cigarettes. The Germans were very polite
and handled the affair in a business-like manner. There was an
air of mutual admiration in the basement that night. It was indicated
that the crew was to sit down.
The tank commander reflected: Was there any way he could have
prevented his crew from being taken prisoner? As he thought on
this, he realized that from the moment they came out of the tank
until they rolled into the ditch alongside the Germans, they
had been in the open and could have been killed at any time.
They definitely were wanted as prisoners. Then he thought of
the six guns that had fired. Had an observer spotted the movement
and mistaken them for Germans? If so, he certainly had laid his
guns right on the target. The Germans beckoned for them to move
out. As they walked up the street of the shell-torn town, he
heard his tank engines start, turn around and head towards their
lines. Here he was so close to his tanks, and yet he couldn't
A great feeling of disappointment and discouragement swept
over him. After all the years of training, plus his combat experience
in Europe - what a lousy way for it all to end. He was no longer
a part of the American fighting force. As they approached the
building near the end of town, they were once again led into
a basement. He had noticed that every building he passed seemed
to be made from quarry stone. The building and basement he was
now in was the same as the building he just left. This was going
to be a tough town to take! The Germans indicated for them to
sit on the floor. After a short time, a truck pulled up in front.
They were led outside. The Germans were unloading large cans
of hot food. Once unloaded, the captured crew mounted the truck
and were driven towards the rear of the lines.
After a short drive, they pulled up to a farm house and were
ushered inside. The tank commander finally located a German who
could understand and speak English. He requested immediate medical
attention for his wounded man. The German officer assured him
that a vehicle was on the way to remove him to a hospital. They
were led down a hall to a furnished room, and told to wait. A
door opened, and a German captain addressing the tank commander
in perfect American said; "Lieutenant, would you step in
here, please?" They were joined by a German major who also
spoke perfect American.
The interrogation started in a casual, off-hand manner. The
tank commander was offered a glass of beer; he accepted, but
only one. He would have liked more. The day's action had left
him exhausted and extremely thirsty. When the questioning started,
he replied with his name, rank and serial number. Further questioning
- the same reply. After the third identical reply was given,
the Major said: "Lieutenant, we have time to kill until
they come and pick you up. What would you like to talk about?"
The answer was a question; "How did you guys learn to speak
American so well, and without an accent?" The answer was:
The two of them had been sent to the United States, their mission
was to not only learn the language, but the customs along with
a good solid knowledge of American sports.
The conversation was interrupted by a heavy explosion. The
building shook, and the two men jumped. The tank commander allowed
himself a slight smile. That must have been a 155mm rifle, as
there was no incoming warning. All other American artillery pieces
were howitzers. After a couple of rounds had landed, even closer
than the first one, he noted as the conversation resume, that
the two men were steeling themselves, anticipating the next explosion.
(You can't do that, it will only cause you to jump all the more).
Another shell landed, this time closer, a concussion lifting
the building slightly from its foundation, causing the Germans
to jump even more. The tank commander allowed himself even a
broader smile. As an attempt was made to continue the conversation,
another shell landed, even closer. The men really jumped. The
tank commander held his smile, the interrogation was over. To
be fair, the men were rear echelon, and not accustomed to shell
fire as he was. That night he was so exhausted, he couldn't have
jumped even if he had wanted to. He was led from the room, the
door was closed, his tank crew was gone, and he sat alone. The
end of a day at Hastenrath.
I Company of the 33rd Armored Regiment was awarded the Presidential
Unit Citation for its action at Hastenrath, 16 and 17 November
1944. The disposition of the tank unit commander after his interrogation
at the farm house may be of personal interest to you. He was
taken to Duren, from Duren to Dusseldorf, from Dusseldorf to
Stalag 11B outside of Hanover, from Hanover to Berlin where he
experienced a British night bombing raid on the railroad station.
This completed the cycle, as he had spent several nights in London
under similar German bombing raids. From Berlin he was taken
to Poznam in Poland. From there to Oflag 64 in the Polish Corridor.
Later he escaped, spending two weeks behind the German lines.
He met and joined a Russian patrol, but his stay with them was
brief, as they were separated during a firefight with the Germans.
He spent another ten days behind the German lines. Traveling
with a Polish major, he made his way to Bydgoszcz in Poland.
From Bydgoszcz to Poznan, from Poznan to Warsaw, from Warsaw
to Kiev, from Kiev to Odessa, from Odessa to Port Said in Egypt.
From there to the 5th Army Rest Camp in Naples, Italy.
Mr. von der Weiden, I hope the delay in answering the request
of your first letter has not inconvenienced you. There had been
several unforeseen interruptions that have caused this delay.
I found the taping of this experience far more difficult than
I first thought it would be. The memory of my first and this
my last day of combat stands out quite vividly. True, time has
eradicated some, but surprisingly, very few of the events that
took place during those two days. The combat experience between
those two days is quite confusing. True, there are many highlights
that stand out, but they lack continuity.
I hope that you will keep me posted as to the progress of
your book. When it is finished, I would like very much to purchase
HENRY J. EARL
Correction Note: Where the battalion line of advance is described,
it is stated that the 1st Infantry Division was advancing on
the right flank, and the 104th Division on the left flank. It
was the 104th, indeed!