5 October 1944
On 5 October 1944, CC"A" crossed the Wurm River
near Palenberg, Germany and attacked east through Ubach, seizing
Baesweiler and Beggendorf by 7 October 1944, despite heavy resistance
by all arms. Didtweiler was also secured. CC"A" remained
in a defensive role until 16 November 1944; during this period
the Command patrolled actively at night and employed systematic
fire by massed artillery to inflict heavy casualties and destruction
on the enemy, in addition to disrupting supply and their communications.
Dug-in tanks, tank destroyers and infantry held the front line,
while defeating and destroying numerous enemy patrols and raiding
Brigadier General Collier, CC"A" CG, ordered Lt.
Moll to have the wire team run wire to these forward units. Realizing
the danger for the wiremen, General Collier ordered an M-8 Greyhound
Recon car from the 82nd Recon and an M-5 Stuart light tank from
the 66th AR for protection as we ran the lines into German territory.
The two armored vehicles had the firepower to protect us from
enemy patrols, but not from the infrequent shellfire that landed.
General Collier then moved his Command Post and Headquarters
to a two story red brick schoolhouse situated on the corner of
a critical crossroads. The intersection was formed by Highway
#B 221 (Roermonder Strasse) leading south to Aachen and #L 225
(Baesweiler Strasse) leading east to Baesweiler, Germany.
The mild temperatures of fall were near the season's end as
November had arrived. Now the rainfall increased daily making
conditions in the field more miserable than usual. Mud added
to the difficulties facing the men on foot, tank, trucks, jeeps
and anything with wheels or tracks. The increasingly cold weather
winds didn't help matters either. The former German occupants
of the homes in the area had fled east across the Roer River,
vacating their homes that made them fair game for the GIs seeking
Before we had the opportunity to go house hunting, we were
quartered in the schoolhouse with the rest of the personnel in
CC"A" Headquarters. After the first few days of the
mandatory requirement of "Stand By" 0530 hours at our
vehicles with engines started and running, we got Lt. Moll's
OK allowing us to find our own accommodations without complying
with the early morning wake up policy. Within one hundred yards,
we found a perfect set-up; a former butcher shop with living
quarters in the rear and bedrooms upstairs. We bootlegged a 110-volt
power line, using field wire to tap into a 24 hour running generator
operated by our friends with the Command Radio half-track of
S/Sgt. Tommy Spiers. This gave us a single light bulb after dark
for our essentials - playing pinochle. The Cut Break tank crew
became nightly visitors and card players. It was generally my
luck, or lack thereof, to draw Virgil E. "Bazooka"
Appleton, Cut Break's tank driver, for my partner. Pinochle was
just not his game. But he was entertaining with his Tupelo, Mississippi
southern drawl and colorful speech containing expletives. Some
of which we could not understand at times. Even Jones, our other
redneck rebel couldn't, but it was good for laughs.
Directly across the street from our butcher shop home, the
14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion Batteries had set up their
105mm cannons and fired all hours of the day and night on call.
Rumor had it that they lost two wiremen to a German night patrol
while repairing lines to their Forward Observers, something that
gave us concern.
To make the 2 km run from CC"A" Hqs to Baesweiler,
we had to drive past the Carolus Magnus coal mine, on the right
side of Baesweiler road, with its towering slag pile and water
tower; the latter was shot full of holes as a suspected observers
point early on. Just beyond that point was the long red brick
wall, also pock marked with shell holes from our tank fire. That
whole stretch of road was under observation by the Germans who
would send in a few rounds with any noticeable movement of two
or more vehicles during daylight hours. They seldom fired at
fast moving single vehicles.
In the beginning, the schoolhouse at the crossroads sporadically
drew fire off and on, as the Krauts correctly assumed that we
would utilize it in some capacity. After two weeks went by, the
schoolhouse and corner intersection drew enemy shellfire at all
hours of the day and night. Apparently, the Krauts knew it would
support the use as a command post headquarters and they had the
coordinates to zero in on it. Plus the nighttime aerial surveillance
would show a fairly large concentration of vehicles parked around
it. That was one more valid reason for the wire team's move to
While the rest of the wire team opted to sleep in the basement
of the butcher shop, for obvious safety purposes, both Charlie
Boss and I decided to sleep in the large upstairs "airy"
front bedroom that contained two big beds. Each bed had a decent
mattress and a real goose down comforter. One slight draw back
was that the roof was missing some slate shingles here and there;
these open "skylights" permitted us to gaze up at the
British search lights, to the north, criss-crossing the skies
to provide artificial moonlight. On one night, I lit a cigarette
and looked across the room where I could see the red glow from
Charlie's cigarette, so I knew he too was awake. The sound and
whistle of incoming shellfire roared over the top of our house,
then the crashed as they hit near the corner -- causing Charlie
to say, "Marsh, did you hear those incoming? Those bastards
on the corner are catching hell tonight." Then he made that
cackling sound of his laughter, rolled over and went to sleep.
With his gallows humor, the thought of Officers being punished
was justified - or else it was better them than us!
In time, our units occupied Setterich, the site of the century
old windmill, Loverich and Puffendorf. This meant more lines
to run and repair when the line is knocked out by shellfire or
torn up by the tank tracks. Repairs at night were the toughest.
Broken phone wires walking along the shoulder of the road in
the pitch dark, seeing real and imagined corpses staring back
at you; while all the time holding a piece of the broken wire
running through your hand and being careful where you step is
a real character builder. Up ahead, a hundred yards or more,
your partner in the jeep has shut off the motor and is walking
back towards you to find the break. The rain and the mud make
it all more of a challenge, but later in the snow and cold it
was even more difficult. Using wire cutters and making a splice
means taking off the gloves that were inadequate in the first
place, then touching that cold steel served to expedite repairs.
Then test the line and hope there is an answer on the other end.
Using the EE8A field telephone with the hand crank you're able
to turn the crank and if there is resistance, the line is working;
if the crank spins free, there's nothing on the other end. Meaning
more than likely there is more than one break in the line and
your night is not finished.
Just about this time, Lt. Moll received a "Dear John"
from this steady girl friend and totally came unglued, drinking
heavily. We kept him under wraps for a full day and night, telling
the Command Post that he was out checking on a radio relay crew.
It was right after this incident that Moll noticed that his private
stock of gin was disappearing and his cognac tasted weak. The
culprit, Charlie Boss, had been taking swigs of the stuff daily.
To cover it up he told Moll the gin evaporated once it was opened.
By adding small amounts of water to replace the nips he took,
he told Moll the French were selling the officers cheap cognac
in their liquor ration. Moll bought it.
Operation Queen Tank Battle
On 16 November 1944, the attack called Operation Queen was
launched which brought the front to the Roer River. After very
heavy fighting and large tank battles, the Command seized and
secured the line from Ederen, Freialdenhoven, Merzenhausen and
Barmen by 28 November 1944. The enemy described this series of
actions as being the greatest tank battle ever fought on any
front. Division records later claim that the enemy lost 90 tanks
in this battle, which lasted twelve days; 830 enemy were killed
and 2,385 Germans captured, all from first line enemy tank and
infantry divisions. The 2nd Armored Division losses were also
considerable; our casualties were 203 killed, including Lt. Colonel
Charles E. Etter, 2nd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, KIA
18 NOV 44, with 198 missing in action and 1,104 wounded.
The Germans employed all arms very aggressively in a desperate
effort to check the advance by CC"A." Numerous counter
attacks by strong forces of German armor and infantry, supported
by artillery and direct fire weapons, were beaten off with heavy
loss to the enemy. The resistance was so fanatical that three
days were required to clear and secure the little village of
Merzenhausen against the largest types of enemy armor, dug-in
infantry and direct fire weapons and against concentrations of
enemy artillery and mortars. The Combat Command remained in a
defensive position on the West bank of the Roer River until 3
December, at which time it assembled in Baesweiler.
Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1944, the CC"A" Mess
Sergeant, S/Sgt Zimba had fed us the typical turkey dinner and
we ate to dullness. By now the wire team had a few new faces
and a few old faces. Jones, Veno, Hull, Donahue and I were the
Gone were Newland, Elfer and Waldroop. In their places were
Charlie Boss, Walter Hogan (our Florida Indian), Glenn E. Springer
and John C. Yahne. Sgt. Jones had to send some of the replacements
we received back to the Signal Company, as they just didn't cut
it. One guy in particular comes to mind that told Jones, "We
can't go back up there (to repair a line out), it is too hot
up there and we'll get killed." He was gone the next day
-- fear, whether real or imagined, is contagious and you can't
keep men like that around.
After the turkey dinner meal we were back in the butcher shop
playing pinochle when the phone rang. Somebody handed the phone
to Jones and said it was Lt. Moll. Moll said the line to the
3rd Battalion of the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment located in
the Setterich/Puffendorf area had gone out and General Collier
wanted it put back in ASAP. Jones looked around the room and
had no volunteers. Our eyes met and he said, "Marsh, you
take the machine gun. Hull you ride with us." I got my gear,
checked my .45 and crawled in the back of the jeep, sitting on
the spare and checked the 30 caliber machine gun mounted on a
swivel base tripod welded to the floor between the two front
seats. Our wire jeep had neither a top nor windshield. Jones
carried his Thompson sub-machine gun in the boot and Hull his
.30 carbine in the passenger seat, as Jones took the wheel.
The jeep flew over the damp cobble stone roads in the total
darkness as we approached the silent village. Right about this
time I had a hunch things weren't looking right. We weren't long
in waiting. Jones slowed the jeep to a crawl, expecting any minute
to be challenged by the guards on a roadblock asking for the
password. Dead silence greeted us. All three of us knew there
was something wrong - either Jones had taken the wrong turn leading
into town or we missed a turn off. Jones gave it a try by calling
out "Princess Pat" - the code name for the 3rd Battalion.
After three more tries and no answer Jones decided to backtrack.
He spun the jeep around and I could feel the sweat running
down my armpits while keeping a firm grip on the machine gun.
No sooner had Jones made the turn when we could hear the telltale
mortar sounds of "crump, crump" landing in the village.
Jones gunned the jeep and we were hauling ass. It was pitch black
as I was staring straight ahead into the darkness when all of
a sudden - BAM! The last sound I recall hearing was an explosion.
Next thing I crashed against the machine gun and went over the
top of Hull onto the hood of the jeep and down onto the road
in the adjacent ditch. I thought we had hit a land mine.
When I came to, I discovered I was in a sugar beet field next
to the road and couldn't move. My right hand that had gripped
the MG felt like it was broken; my chest took the blow in my
sternum and solar plexus from the MG. It knocked the wind out
of me, while my face and shoulder bounced off the canvas-covered
hood. Jones was moaning in pain and Hull cut both shinbones as
he was slammed against the dashboard.
After we gained our senses, we discovered that Jones had driven
head-on into an approaching ambulance from our own 48th Medics.
Neither driver saw the other coming as it turned out. The cats-eyes
of the vehicles are too small to see at that on-coming speed
until it is too late. But Jones made out like a burglar - a "Million
dollar broken arm" and a ticket home to the USA, after stopping
enroute in England to set his broken arm. Talk about a lucky
break! Hull and I were not so lucky.
After spending a night on a stretcher in a field aid station,
a doctor determined I was fit to be returned to duty, although
banged up pretty bad. No heroics, no glory, no Purple Hearts
- just another day in Uncle Sam's Army. Veno came to pick up
Hull and I the next morning then take us to the scene to find
my helmet. It was in a field behind white tape marked as a minefield.
By then, the jeep was stripped of every removable useable part,
including the MG and of course Jones' Tommy gun. We later learned
that the infantry outfit, Princess Pat, had inexcusably failed
to follow SOP to notify the switchboard before disconnecting
and moving to a new location.
48 Hours in Paris
A couple days later, a forty-eight hour pass to Paris opened
up. I was the first of the lucky ones at CCA, along with a jeep
messenger, by the name of Cleo Norris from Oil City, Louisiana
to receive a pass. The long drive to Paris in GI trucks would
require that we spend an overnight the first night on the road
in St. Trond, France, reaching Paris the next day. We checked
into the St. George Hotel and went out on the town (Pigalle).
As for the rest of the city, the "joy" of Paris was
a unique chance to consume inexpensive warm wine and be mesmerized
by the ambrosia resulting from unkempt armpits.
In the hours quickly winding down, I was fortunate to meet
a young very attractive WAC who was stationed in Paris with SHAEF
Headquarters. I met her in a café where Americans hung
out. I was at a table next to hers. I hadn't been able to take
my eyes off of her and was spell bound just looking at her and
listening to her talk to her WAC companions. Whether her friends
tipped her off or when she glanced over at me looking at her,
she brazenly asked, "Well, what are you staring at?"
I grinned and with a shrug frankly told her I was captivated
by her stunning good looks and the sound of her voice. Honesty
is the best policy of genuine sincerity. After groans from her
WAC friends about "what a line" she was all smiles
with my flattery. I followed with, "I'm just a lonely soldier"
that brought more guffaws and laughter. After more banter I seriously
asked her, "Can we get acquainted?" She accepted my
offer to sit at my table. We hit it off and spent most of the
night asking and answering each others questions. I thoroughly
enjoyed just being able to converse with her. You never realize
just how important it is until you've been deprived of the sensual
sounds of the American female voice for more than a year. As
she had a midnight bed check, I walked her to her WAC-hotel quarters.
The experience made the trip more than worthwhile - with a fond
memory of her and Paris.
The MPs were strict with the rear echelon personnel who were
required to wear neckties and caps - we wore neither and were
not bothered; combat units were excluded as they noted our triangle
2AD shoulder patch. While the MPs would not harass us for lack
of uniform requirements (caps & neckties) they always checked
your pass expiration date. On the last day, they rounded up many
of us and "escorted" us to the collection point - Place
de Concorde. We bid Paris adieu. There we were loaded back on
trucks, making the overnight stop once again at St. Trond, before
arriving back in Germany. Back to war.
On 3 December 1944, the Headquarters for CC"A" moved
into the city of Baesweiler. The wire team occupied a small house
in the center of town about a block away from the HQS. Among
the many citizens of Holland who volunteered their services to
assist us, one stands out above the rest - Colonel Adrian Paulen,
or "Dutch" as we referred to him. He served with us
from 16 September 1944 to 18 January 1945. Dutch was our liaison
officer and had been a member of the Heerlen Dutch underground
resisting the German occupation. Very fluent in the English and
German languages and very dedicated. He was well liked by the
staff of CCA, especially General Collier.
The CCA HQS personnel occupied what had been a gasthaus with
extra rooms. The Communications Sergeant, S/Sgt. Clyde Weibe,
consumed far too much booze one night and unfortunately, while
sick to his stomach, he vomited on Dutch's bedroll, in which
Dutch was sleeping. The next day Sgt. Weibe was sent to the rear
and a replacement was required. That was left to Lt. Moll to
find a replacement.
One Czeching In & One Checking Out
Rather than requesting a Sergeant from the Signal Company,
Moll called on an old friend from the past at Tidworth Barracks,
England. He sent for the former Master Sergeant Charles Tichacek,
from Garfield, New Jersey, who had been the ranking man in the
Signal Company, until Captain Henry J. Stuart, busted him to
Private and kicked him out of the Company. Tichacek wound up
in the 66th Armored Regiment Maintenance Battalion. Now a Staff
Sergeant, he arrived at CC"A" to take over as the Com
Sarge in the Headquarters under Moll. Charlie chose to stick
close to the wire team and we developed into life long friends
for more than 50 years. Charlie, being a full blooded Czechoslovakian,
naturally I called him "Pollock." He in turn called
The XIX Corps and the 2nd Armored were under the command of
Lt. General W. H. Simpson and the Ninth US Army, also then headquartered
in Heerlen, Holland.
During mid-December, Charlie Boss had a recurrent attack of
malaria, first acquired in North Africa. The medics came and
hauled him away in an ambulance and that was the last we saw
of Charlie. His departure presented a new problem - we needed
a driver for the wire truck, a converted six-wheel stick-shift
Dodge ton and a half, a former weapons/personnel carrier with
the rear seats removed.
The Signal Company was disingenuous and said no one was available,
so Bill Veno asked me to take over as the new driver, a job I
would keep until the end of the war. The wire truck driver holds
a critical spot on the team in that he is the "point man"
and the guy out front making the decisions which fork in the
road to take. Choose the wrong fork and you could all wind up
dead or Prisoners of War - which happened to other wiremen. The
ever-present danger of land mines in unchecked/unsafe areas is
never far in the back of your mind as you drive along the shoulder
of the road trailing wire off the back of the truck.
Lt. Moll stopped at our house on 16 December to alert us that
Von Rundstedt had broken through the American lines in the Belgium
Ardennes and that we were alerted to move with a three-hour notice.
The Battle of the Bulge, a white hell, had begun.
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