3 January 1945
Near the village of Samree, Belgium
The brutal bone-chilling cold was not our ally -- nor theirs.
At times we struggled through waist-deep snow or slid off the
ice-slick roads. Normal winter weather for the Ardennes Mountains
of Belgium in January 1945.
The New Year 1945 greeted us with the most adverse weather
conditions to dislodge the entrenched German salient. They were
very tough opponents with desperate leaders, but with a flawed
plan to reach the Belgium coast with their last Blitzkrieg. However,
we stopped them cold - ice cold; but not without paying the price
in both manpower and equipment. Their losses were greater than
ours as it turned out.
The 12th Army Group's plan under General Omar Bradley was
to drive south and southeast with General Hodges' First Army
to join up with General Patton's Third Army pushing up from the
south. The junction city was Houffalize and our target point
was to close the gap of the Bulge. Hodges directed General "Lightening
Joe" Collins' VII Corps, the best and the most experienced
of his arsenal, consisting of the 2nd (Hell On Wheels) and the
3rd (Spearhead) Armored Divisions to lead the counterattack.
These two heavyweight divisions were led by two of the most able
and experienced veteran division commanders, Major General Ernest
(Profane Ernie) Harmon and Major General Maurice Rose. Attacking
abreast, we began the coordinated assault along with the 83rd
and 84th Infantry Divisions, assigned to cover our flanks and
mop-up resistance in the bypassed woods.
My unit, with Task Force O'Farrell (LTC Hugh O'Farrell, 3rd
Bn, 66th AR), a part of Combat Command "A", crossed
the MLR (Main Line of Resistance) in a blinding snow storm with
limited visibility on January 3rd. Our initial objectives were
the two small villages of Trinal and Magoster. Very heavy fighting
developed in the deep snow drifts, extreme cold and the wooded
mountains with the enemy in their dug-in defensive positions.
Our column had reached the high ground of a plateau where our
tanks fanned out preparing to launch a follow-up attack after
halting long enough for our artillery to work over several troublesome
spots located by our FOs (Forward Observers) on the ground. Our
air-support left much to be desired due to the poor flying conditions.
During this pause I sat behind the wheel of my vehicle waiting,
as was everyone else, for the word to "move out." In
all probability at the time, I must have been reliving moments
from my recent 48-hour pass to Paris the previous month and wishing
I were still there, when I saw a jeep heading over my way. The
driver stopped close to my left side and his lone passenger approached
on foot. Moments before I had stood up on my seat to get a better
view of where the rounds were landing from our guns. I guess
this is when he noticed me there. He appeared to be old enough
to be a field grade officer and wore a new type of a green parka
with a hood and a fur-lined collar that was attached. This was
one I had never seen before. Definitely officer material. Ordinary
GIs didn't get fur lined collars, not in those days unless you
were a flyboy. I couldn't see his rank.
He asked, "What's your name soldier?" My answer,
"My name is Don R. Marsh, Sir." Him, "What's your
rank?" Me, "I'm a Private (here we go again, O' well,
easy come easy go), Sir." Him, ""Where's your
hometown"" Me, "Racine, Wisconsin, Sir."
Him, "What is it you are wearing?" Me, "(O' shit)
A German motorcycle rider's two-piece rain suit, Sir" Him,
"Where did you get it?" Me, "From a German who
didn't need it anymore, Sir." Him, "You don't have
to 'sir' me, soldier. I am an Associated Press correspondent.
My name is Wes Gallagher." Me, "Thank you, Sir."
Him, "Good luck soldier." Me, "Thank you, Sir."
By January 15th, after continuous heavy fighting, Beffe Devanave,
Dochamps, Samree (Colonel C. J. Mansfield, CO 66th AR) was Killed
In Action taking Samree), Wibrin and Achouffe had fallen along
with many other small towns and villages in between. Then on
January 16th, Combat Command "A" had taken the high
ground overlooking Houffalize and at 0640 hours made contact
with the 11th Armored Division of the 3rd Army. We had closed
the door at last. Within a few weeks, I received a letter from
my folks containing a front-page newspaper article that had appeared
in the Chicago Daily Tribune News, dated January 5, 1945. The
byline was from Erezee, Belgium, dated January 4th and written
by Wes Gallagher. It reads:
BATTLEGROUND A 'WHITE HELL' TO DOUGHBOYS
By Wes Gallagher
Plowing head-on into the German army's most powerful battle
positions, American troops of the First Army have smashed their
way forward in the last two days in the most appalling conditions
ever seen on the western front. Every inch of ground being won
by these doughboys on Field Marshall Von Rundstedt's northern
flank is being won by sheer guts and not on grand strategy. The
doughboys and tanks advanced through a snow and sleet storm which
turned the fighting in these mountains to a white hell. The Germans
are making each town and hill a strong point and exact the maximum
price for the capture before falling back. The price to Americans
at times has been high ... quite high.
Churned Alleys of Ice
All over the mountains and woods wet snow was falling. The
roads were churned alleys of ice, snow and mud. Trucks, tank
sand guns slide round like giraffes on roller skates. This division
moved secretly in a night march to hit the Germans. It was one
of the wildest marches in history. Thirty-ton tanks went spinning
down icy hills in circles, snapping telephone poles like blades
of grass. Big guns slithered off the roads into gulleys. The
slightest hill made the steel tracks of tanks churn helplessly.
The division reached the jump-off point just in time to eat a
cold breakfast and start moving again. It has been like that
since the offensive started, only now the Germans are adding
their own hazards to the weather in the shape of artillery barrages
and mortar fire. "The Germans are using more artillery than
we have seen before, "said LTC R.W. Jenna, "We can't
get a Piper Cub off the ground and there is no chance of counter-battery
fire. Our troops just have to take it." He added, "This
snow and sleet does some queer things. Some of our GIs at first
claimed the Germans were using some sort of new silent gun, but
it was just these freak battle conditions that deadens the sound."
The German policy has been to hold some strategic ground and
then hide anti-tank guns in the woods around a town, protecting
its approaches and put up a furious battle for it. The anti-tank
guys can't be seen by the tankers because of heavy snowfall,
but the German gunners can see the tanks moving and cut loose,
knocking them out. Once pushed out of town, the Germans plaster
it with heavy artillery. An attack in one sector halted simply
because our tanks could not get up an icy hill, although not
a shot was fired. Doughboys are protecting the tanks after dark
by digging shallow foxholes and sitting shivering in them throughout
the night." There is nothing else the men can do except
just take it and sleep in the snow, "said an officer.
The only man not concerned with the weather on this front today
was Pvt. Don R. Marsh of Racine, Wisconsin, a member of a wire
crew. He had on a captured German rubber rain suit running around
happily in the slush while the rest of his soaked companions
looked on enviously."
[End of news article]
Post-War Comment by Don R. Marsh:
No, I was not happy nor running around, but if Wes Gallagher
thought so, who am I to argue?
Note: A previously edited version of this
article was published in the 3rd Armored Division Association
Newsletter, dated March 1994.
Publication or reproduction, in part or whole,
is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don
R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family