From Belgium with the 3rd Armored Division -
"What is your regiment?"
The line of gray-green figures shifts. The man to whom the
question is put leans forward apologetically. He is an old guy
with reddish stubble on his grey face. His eyes are blue and
"48th Volks-grenadier Regiment," he answers quickly,
and adds "12th Infantry, 8th Kompanie. I have been here
only three days. We went into an assembly area at St. Vith, and
The old guy goes on talking. The American GI, handling division
interrogation, listens carefully, nodding and making notes in
a small loose-leaf folder. MP's methodically search the prisoners.
In front of each German soldier is a little pile of nicknacks
from his pockets. There is the usual assortment of broken knives,
cracked mirrors, combs and cigarettes. More than a few of these
Krauts display Luckies and Camels. One of the MP's cracks --
"Now I know why we have a cigarette shortage!"
The scene is a frontline POW collecting point. In this cold
little Belgian village you can tell how the battle goes by the
number of muddy, beat-up Jerries who come stumbling in to this
first stop before shipment to barbed wire confinement for the
duration. Today, they are coming in swiftly and in numbers. The
escorting MP's grin confidently.
"More of these bastards," a truck driver yells to
the waiting interrogators. One's wearing GI overalls."
Lt. Arthur Rutshaw, of Chicago, Ill., 2nd Armored Division
military police officer, orders the prisoners to line up immediately.
They shuffle forward -- they don't look smart, and they don't
look like soldiers. They're just all beat up, tired, pitiful
Harmless! That's the word, but Joe, you don't know the definition
as applied to these jokers.
They Know the Enemy
T/Sgt. Otto Schroeder -- that's not his real name, but for
various reasons it'll do -- is a crack 3rd Armored Division interrogator.
Like each of the eight enlisted men and two officers who make
up the PW interrogation teams, Schroeder was born in Germany
and lived there for many years. He went to school in Cologne
and his parents are still there. Schroeder is an American citizen
now, but he knows the Nazis and he reads between the lines of
their pitiful stories.
All of the division's POW interrogators have this in common
-- a flaming hatred of Nazi policy. They know the enemy. They
know the torture of concentration camps and the bitter anguish
of the hunted. These men left their native land to escape persecution.
America offered both sanctuary and justice. Today, these soldiers
of the United States prove themselves worthy of the new world.
Schroeder says sarcastically, surveying the prisoners, "They're
all a bunch of poor boys who have been forced to fight. To hear
them tell it, not one has ever fired a shot in anger. They all
wanted to surrender. They are indeed pitiful, but they are very
dangerous if you are fool enough to swallow their double-talk."
He indicated a man standing before MP John Sullivan, of Dallas,
"That one wears the iron cross -- the diagonal red, white
and black ribbon on his coat. He tells us that it was awarded
on the Russian front. He has never fired a shot at the Americans.
He is another of those pitiful, harmless ones. It would be a
joke if it were not so serious."
From the Nazi, Sullivan had taken one of the ever-present
knives, a pair of cuticle scissors, several letters and a small
map. One of the interrogation team scanned these articles carefully.
Except for knives, and other items of cutlery, all personal effects
are returned to the prisoners. Letters, maps and other documents
are of primary importance -- from them may come information vital
to our frontline combat forces.
"It is hard for a fighting man to realize how much the
taking of prisoners may guarantee his own safety," Schroeder
says. "One POW is often worth more than a dozen dead enemy
soldiers on the front. When an infantryman knows that German
troops have murdered his buddies in cold blood, he is in no mood
to bring 'em back alive! However, we seem to have impressed our
men with the importance of getting Jerry back quickly so that
we can interrogate him while he is still dazed from battle, uncomfortable,
and low in spirit.
Nazi in OD's
"The doughboy who sees that a German prisoner keeps everything
but his weapons until we can properly interrogate and evaluate
letters, official papers and diaries is doing himself a favor.
The information we gather is put to work immediately. Then, when
our combat teams hit the Kraut, they are able to know where it
will hurt most!"
The man in GI coveralls explains that the garment was issued
to him and was worn only under his Wehrmacht overcoat. He had
the coat on when he was captured. Schroeder shrugs. "What
can we do? He is probably telling the truth in this case. Certainly
he wasn't trying to use the fatigues to confuse our troops. He
did wear them under the long coat, and he wore a regulation Jerry
helmet. He's scared now, and he'll tell us all about his organization."
"Yesterday," he added, "there was one we didn't
even interrogate. We got that boy in a cellar with the rest of
his squad. They all wore regulation uniform, but this man had
civvies pulled on over the outside. Like all the rest, he had
a tall and pitiful yarn. He said that he had decided to come
over to the Americans and could only do so in the disguise of
a civilian. Yet he was taken with a gun in his hands!
"Any prisoner caught in a uniform which is obviously
intended to mislead our troops, is carefully guarded so that
he may not add to or take off any item of clothing. He is rushed
back to Army intelligence and tried immediately. We have instructed
our combat soldiers to be extremely careful in the handling of
prisoners in civilian clothing or American uniforms. Give those
jokers half a chance and they'll disrobe, or slap a Jerry overcoat
on over the GI duds."
The prisoners stood passively as MP's moved down the line
giving each a thorough frisking. Several wore items of GI equipment
under their uniforms. One had a pair of combat pants under his
gray-green trousers. Another wore an American officer's greens.
There were a couple of OD sweaters, a pair of galoshes, a pair
of shoes -- none of which were marked "Made in Germany."
"Some of this stuff may actually have been issued,"
Schroeder says. "They captured much of it in the Rundstedt
drive through Belgium. If the equipment is worn on the outside
in an effort to deceive, the prisoner is sent directly to Army,
tried and probably executed. Their clothing is very poor. You
can see for yourself."
The prisoners wore anything but uniform. Some wore padded
jackets, others the splotchy camouflage cape of a sniper. There
were a variety of coats, fatigues, caps and boots. Although the
majority of these men were remnants of the 12th Infantry, they
wore uniforms of Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine.
"The navy and air force men are really disgusted,"
Schroeder chuckles. "They have been given hasty training
and sent into the line. We had a sergeant-pilot of fighter planes
here this morning. He said he didn't give a damn how the war
ended if he had to fight as an infantryman. One non-com had just
returned from the hospital and was willing to give us the information
we wanted, but he didn't exactly know the caliber of his PAK
(anti-tank) weapon. He wasn't kidding. Hitler has reached so
far into his manpower barrel that he's coming up with splinters!
"Of course, the prisoners are not all German 4-P's. That
little punk with the long hair is an SS panzer trooper. We are
really disappointed in the Hitler-jugend, though. They have a
reputation for guts in Germany, but the frontline seems to dissolve
that tough attitude.
"Soldiers of the old Wehrmacht dislike the young SS thugs.
They have a joke which goes: 'In Germany the SS children have
steel in their hearts, but on the frontline it turns to lead
in their pants!'
"Not many are arrogant now. A few declare that Germany
will win but they say it without conviction. The lieutenant in
this group tells me that it looks bad, but that somehow Germany
will win the war.
"They all talk," Schroeder says. "Sometimes
they talk so much that we have to tell them to shut up. Much
of their spiel is lies -- some is truth. By comparing the statements
of a group taken individually, we can be certain of reasonable
accuracy. Our reports often aid frontline combat teams to properly
evaluate the enemy situation.
They All Talk
"Even the officers volunteer information. To a man, they
cry shame on some other outfit. Someone has always left them
holding the bag, the SS promised support which never came, etc.,
etc. ad nauseum. The double-cross is so deeply ingrained in Nazi
philosophy that every German soldier thinks that he personally
has been betrayed when things go wrong. It is the same state
of mind which accounts for the wearing of American uniforms by
Nazi troops, the white flag and the burst of fire, the eternal
off-side trickery which is as much a part of German tactics as
bouncing bettys and tellermines."
The prisoners were busy now, stowing personal articles back
into their pockets. One caught Schroeder's eye. "Do you
think," he asked hopefully, in German, "that I might
be sent to the United States?"
Schroeder chuckled. "Maybe," he replied, or they
might send you to rebuild Stalingrad."
The Jerry's grin vanished. "I am a sick man," he
said. "I returned to the line from the hospital just three
days ago. I have always wanted to see America but I will do as
I am told."
"You see," Schroeder said. "That man is sick
to death of war and misery, and yet he says -- 'I will do as
I am told.' There are a great many of his kind between us and
final victory. Our combat troops can't afford to slacken the
pace for a minute. Neither can we miss a chance to capitalize
on information from prisoners."