Symphony in B-Flak
Third Movement: Luxembourg / Ardennes
BRONZE STAR FOR 4TH CAMPAIGN
The area forward of the line: Euskirchen-Eupen (inclusive) -- Liege (exclusive), east bank of Meuse River to its intersection with the Franco-Belgian border, thence south and east along this border and the southern border of Luxembourg.
16 December, 1944, to 25 January, 1945
Von Rundstedt in his "last desperate effort" had imperiled 38 Allied divisions, and threatened the complete split-up of all the Allied armies. His objective was the port of Antwerp. The fighting around Luxembourg was stiff, and at all costs the enemy had to be kept out of Luxembourg City. The threat proved so serious that any plans for a Third Army offensive in the Saar Valley had to be dismissed completely. The famous race of the third Army's XII Corps to the flank of the Bulge started. The British Second Army, and the American First and Ninth were put under the direct command of Gen. Sir Bernard L. Montgomery; the southern flank under Gen. Omar Bradley. The situation was so serious that we were drilled in infantry tactics, and dry runs were in progress from time to time. Luxembourg City, being the Headquarters for Third Army, could not be given up and thus our position had to be held. There was no alternate position. At this time, Jerry had met stiff resistance at Consdorf, which was still in American hands. With our heavy eqiuipment we were within 3 miles of a very fluid line.
Leaving Sarreguemines and its mud behind we began a race against time to a point 1 mile east of Luxembourg. The 145 miles of that ride will hardly be forgotten by any of us. It was bitter cold on that 22nd of Dec., and after the sun set, the cold became more and more intense. We stopped in the wee hours at Esch on the Luxembourg border to spend the night. As usual fires were prohibited, and many kept their extremities from freezing by walking up and down the road. One of our drivers was sent to the hospital with frost bitten feet. Then when we had almost resigned ourselves to freezing in our tracks, someone started to sing.
We pitched a makeshift tent, set up a stove, sang songs, and drank gallons of Nescafe.
Talking naturally drifted to subjects of interest. The coming Christmas, only 2 days off, was a topic of discussion. This was to be our second away from home. The first was in Manchester, England, and in recapitulating we could see that we had come a long way.
Next day at noon we took up our position and without security of revetments awaited the future engagements.
That night we began to fire, and all through that night and every night including Christmas Eve, New Years Eve, and all intervening nights. We could plainly see that the tactics of the enemy had changed. The fanaticism of the pilots could not be denied. They bore in through intense AA fire, and at the last moment scurried away, or dove so low that in the moonlight the gleam of twin propellers of JU 88's could be clearly seen. Our machine gunners kept busy, and any idea Jerry had of causing trouble was frustrated by their fire. All of us found ourselves indebted to the gunners' courage to stand and fight it out.
In all 368 rds. of 90mm ammo from this Battery alone went singing into the already flak-burdened sky. 1450 rounds of .50 cal. ammo were expended on those pilots who hoped to avoid flak by coming in low.
On Christmas Eve the weather was crisp and cold and a thin blanket of snow appropriately covered the hilly landscape. It would have been an ideal night to decorate the tree, hang up the stockings, and rest cozily with the family in cheerful anticipation of Santa's visit. Since it was impossible to be home, each section had procured an evergreen for its own tent. Decorations were of a makeshift character. Cigarette packages afforded tinfoil and cellophane, and Christmas boxes from home produced an endless variety of foodstuffs and knickknacks. Jerry knew we were dreaming, so he came in full fury at 1730 hours. For an hour and a half he kept boring in, and for an hour and a half we gave him no quarter.
When the activity subsided, the Christmas spirit reasserted itself. One fellow on a phone would start humming or whistling a carol, and presently others would join him. The "hot loop" became an artery of song, and for hours the chorus sang every song it could remember.
Occasionally the radar would announce, "Target". The songs were immediately hushed, and the flow of data took their place.
At midnight those of one section who could be spared from their stations visited another section and wished them the joys of the season. On Christmas morning the guns had to be cleaned immediately after breakfast, and then all who had spent the night on duty obtained their sleep. They awoke at noon for chicken dinner and spent the afternoon working and reminiscing. At 1600 hours there were religious services for Catholics and Protestants. Then supper and back to the equipment for the night's operations.
One day two ME 109's came overhead, presumably on an observation mission. One of our guns made it hot for them. Sgt. Del Aversano had his crew fire precut rounds and came very close. The planes took off immediately amid a hot peppering at the hands of the machine gunners.
A few days later in substantiation of our suspicion that the ME 109's had been on an observation mission, shells began to drop around us. For a while we heard the whining shells passing overhead, but as they started to drop closer and closer until we were bracketed, we realized the seriousness of the situation. One landed about 25 yards from some of the boys who were building a snow-man, but fortunately no one was hurt. The frozen ground had caused all the shell fragments to scatter at a high angle. Two or three more landed between 50 and 100 yards from us, and it was thereupon decided that some of the men should for their safety be sent to Headquarters Battery for the night. Only a minimum operating crew was retained. There were no casualties that night, but the next day Pfc. Harry Peskorz was hit in the arm by a small fragment from a shell that had landed about a hundred yards away. Luckily, the injury was slight, and it remained the sole memento of the occasion. Shortly before we left Luxembourg, Harry Peskorz returned to the Battery so that ultimately there were really no unpleasant after-effects of the situation.
In Luxembourg, however, we did lose a few of our men. Sgt. Stephen Staudinger and Pvt. Anthony Ricci went to the hospital for the injury they had received at Commercy. Cpl. Abe Meyerson finally received his long awaited furlough and returned home on rotation. We also received reinforcements, some former infantrymen who had just recuperated from their wounds.
It wasn't very long before we started to receive passes into Luxembourg City. This was quite a treat, for we hadn't had any places to visit since Commercy; and Luxembourg was acknowledged to be a beautiful, picturesque, and interesting City. Luxembourg itself is only a small country of 999 square miles, having a population of about 300,000. Its government is a Grand Duchy which rules by constitutional endorsement. Its capital is Luxembourg City. The country itself is prosperous, being primarily dominated by small landowners. Its principal crops are oats and potatoes, and it also has a huge mineral output of iron and steel.
An early spring thaw caught us unaware, and in a few days we were again hopelessly mired in the mud. Even walking became an effort, and steps were taken to construct paths through the Battery and a road out to the highway. A good deal of work was required, but the end finally compensated for all the sweat.
On Jan. 17th we were awarded two Category I's and two Category III's for the firing we had done in late December. This recognition of the effectiveness of our operation naturally delighted us all. Here were two more swastikas to sport on the gun tubes, the Radar, and the Computer.
On Feb. 24, after a stay of two months, "March Order" was given, and we were again off on another mission, somewhat reluctantly, and yet half anticipating the adventure awaiting us.
We embarked on our German campaign from Luxembourg City on Feb. 24 and
were scheduled to be among the first heavy ack-ack of Third Army inside
Germany. Our assigned position however was untenable, so for one week
we occupied an alternate position outside of Echternach in Luxembourg
on the west side of the Sauer. During this time the Germans shelled the
city and the wooden bridge across the Sauer River. We had an excellent
view of the surrounding country, but our protective smoke screen concealed
the entire valley from observation during all the hours of daylight.
After a few days our advance parties crossed into Germany to prepare for our coming movement. It was generally believed that this would give us an occasion to measure the destructive power of the famous "88". The greater part of the winter campaign had been fought in the Sauer valley and Echternach suffered from the shelling of both opposing armies. It had changed hands three times. The residents returning from refuge in southern Luxembourg, faced a hopeless task of reconstruction.