OUR INHERITANCE Past, Present and Future Part 10
by Loretta Leonard
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PART X: INTENSE FIGHTING: THE GERMAN ADVANTAGE
Overview: The final destination for the troops was the city of Aachen, Germany, the center of Hitler’s Third Reich. The infantry suffered through many hardships and fought with determination. Tension and fortitude were probably the best way to describe how the troops pushed and gave everything to overcome the Germans. The “pill box” was a ever constant threat all the way through Germany
“Hey, Jim, are you ready yet?” asked Chuck. “I don’t know what is ahead today but we need to be ready and alert. For some reason I feel like we are going to get some real action today. With all the hills and trees it would be quite easy for the Germans to ambush us.”
The infantry and gun battalion prepared for another day of fighting. Dressed and ready to move out at 5:00 AM everyone was on alert. There had been some tough battles with the Germans in the past but nothing too difficult to handle. But no one was idealistic. Heavy fighting would occur the closer the troops got to the German border.
“Everyone knows their position and the strategy for this mission. There has been some communication from other commanders about a trench that is hidden cleverly in the side of a hill. Without any warning the Germans can open fire before we even see them. Be careful and keep focused,” said Sergeant Henderson. “Gun crew are you ready?”
“Yes, sir,” called out Gregg. “We are ready to roll!”
“Then let’s get the job done,” replied the commander again.
There had been plenty of skirmishes along the way but so far nothing monumental. The group’s morale had remained confident and the overall mission was clearly embedded in each mind. This day everything would change. For the first time the Allies would come across a major obstacle, the “pill box”. It would be the longest and hardest day for everyone since the bunkers were heavily fortified. Germans were cleverly concealed under the bunker waiting for the soldiers’ arrival. By the time the men realized exactly what was happening, it was usually too late.
The concrete “pill box” was normally located and cleverly camouflaged on steep hills where the terrain was heavily forested with dense thick underbrush. The roof of the pill box was made of concrete and usually measured around 5 mm. thick. The “pill box” was virtually inaccessible with deep trenches designed to protect the soldier from return fire and grenades that were tossed in the region. A small loop over the top of the bunker allowed just enough room for a German to place a rifle. He could quickly and accurately fire upon the enemy through this loop. In addition to the tenacious German soldiers, equipment like machine guns and mortars were also hidden.. When anyone was within a reasonable distance, the Germans would open fire on the unsuspecting GI’s. The goal for the Allies was to completely destroy the pill box either be detonation or by having a tank totally demolish the box. The ultimate purpose was to insure that the Germans would not be able to use them later on.
As the gun crew began to search out Germans, it became obvious right away that the “pill box” would be a hindrance to moving along the way to Aachen. Shots rang out from behind the bunkers and bullets whizzed by. The rat-tat-tat of gun fire was continuous and there was no time to even think about what to do. The reflexes from all the training kicked in and the turret on the tank moved to blast away at the enemy. Men instantly dropped to their stomachs and literally crawled inch by inch on the ground to have a better advantage. The first incident was perhaps a little more intense than anticipated but it only took one time to realize the need for extreme caution.
During the evening the soldiers gathered around the camp and shared their own feelings about the day. The near “misses” was the hottest topic for discussion since everyone seemed to have had at least one close call. Plans on how to be better prepared for the next incident were designed and there was a new resolve to forge ahead the next day and try to catch the enemy off guard. As the darkness began to settle in the forest, men spent time writing letters home. Cards were shuffled and poker games kept some of the men occupied. Curls of smoke from cigarettes and a slow steady stream of smoke from the campfire swirled into the evening air and disappeared into the dark night. Deep inside the forest the evening fully settled over the group of men, darkness so deep that even the stars were blacked out.
The following morning the weather was cold and dreary. Dark clouds in the sky threatened to release huge drops of rain into the ground below. Knowing now what to anticipate the crew concentrated even more on the task at hand. Feeling a little tense inside, the men found out that their sense of hearing seemed better attuned than before. The flutter of a bird’s wings as it flew from the top of a tree sounded noisier than before. The snap of a branch on the forest floor seemed to hang in the air and everyone waited to see if the noise had alerted the Germans to their position. A loud crash of thunder and a bolt of lightning lit up the sky and the rain began to fall in heavy sheets that formed puddles on the surface of the ground. It wasn’t going to help much with the weather being so gloomy but tell that to the Germans. Everyone knew that the Germans would be in position and hoping to catch the soldiers off guard.
The battle for territory seemed to go on forever. Mortar shells pummeled the surface of the ground and created huge cavernous holes along the way. Machine gun fire blasted away from both sides. The action was almost non stop and the Allies depended even more on binoculars for searching out the enemy location. Camouflage was doubly important since no one wanted the Germans to have another advantage. All in all it was a long day but one that left the Allies feeling like they had at least held their ground.
It wasn’t long before the Allied troops gained a better advantage, one that would help them gain more victories. Analyzing the way that the Germans handled their battle strategy the Allies discovered a distinct pattern. Allied troops normally moved into a region during the early daylight hours. It seemed logical and followed the regular routine for gaining the best advantage. While contemplating what seemed to be the best time for engaging the enemy, shots bombarded the area catching the men off guard. For them it was time to settle in for the evening but apparently no one had told the Germans. Flashes of bright light lit the evening sky as one mortar after another headed in the direction where the soldiers were camped. Scattering quickly to get into a better position, one that was definitely out of the path of the Germans, soldiers dropped to the ground and began returning fire. Clouds of smoke hovered in the air and eventually settled to the ground. But the air stayed continually enshrouded with a heavy layer of smoke.
Strategy. Plan. Think ahead. What was the pattern to the German way of thinking? Then it became obvious. The confrontations normally came in the evening just after dark. The Germans attentively studied the perimeter around them and located the best target places which would give them a better advantage over the Allies. The heaviest fighting always occurred about one hour before dark. Just enough daylight to see and yet still not dark enough to lose focus on where the GI’s were. If the Germans began the attack first then they had the upper hand. But turn things around and let the Allies begin combat first and then the Germans would be caught off guard. The Allies settled in during the mid afternoon hours and prepared for the heavy shelling about one hour before dark. With this new method put into practice Allies not only had time to scope out the area but they had advantage over the Germans.
The fighting was a daily struggle to keep the Germans from being victorious. Hardly a day went by when there were no sounds of war. The sky seemed ablaze each evening with the light of explosives and gunfire. The closer the group moved towards Aachen, the more resistance they faced from the Germans. Aachen was the key. Overtake the Germans and overpower Hitler in the center of the Nazi regime. Hit them hard in the city that was home to over 165,000 Germans and rich in German heritage. Surround the city to prevent the Germans from leaving and chalk up another victory for the Allies. The plan had already been discussed and for now it was just a matter of moving closer to the city.
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