Sunday, April 10, 2011

A letter from the Battle of the Bulge (1944)

My father's artillery unit shipped to Europe and engaged Hitler's armies in the Battle of the Bulge. Fortunately for my family, my father did not deploy with his unit due to a minor medical condition, so he missed being involved in this battle.

According to Wikipedia, "The Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) was a major German offensive launched toward the end of World War II through the densely forested Ardennes Mountains region of Wallonia in Belgium... For the Americans, with about 500,000 to 840,000 men committed and some 70,000 to 89,000 casualties, including 19,000 killed, the Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle that they fought in World War II."

Battle of the Bulge, Wikipedia

I just read for the first time today a letter written to my father, George Starr, by an army colleague, Jim, from Belgium on Friday, 29 December 1944, about two weeks into the six-week Battle of the Bulge.

I know nothing about the author, except that he served with my father, but it seemed to me that his firsthand words on the glory and horrors of war are worth sharing with the world.
Dear George:

Received your letter today in the first mail we have had in days...

We have been in combat for some time now and have met with some measure of success, and, up to the present, a share of the glory that goes with it.

Ours was the first Division of the Third Army to penetrate the Reich... and we played no little part in the fall of Metz [France]. After that affair we fought our way across the Moselle [River] and clean to the Saar River near Mertzic, and that turned out to be a rough little party. If any of your friends have any idea the Siegfried Line is a pushover, take it from one who has been there, it's plenty rough going.

Well, George, we have sat in on some pretty rugged scraps since we started, but the one we are on now turned out to be the granddaddy of them all. We marched up here to Belgium to help throw a kink in Von Rundstedt plans to sweep all before him and drive on to the coast... We stopped him in front of us... For two days we held and then an airborne division moved in to help us...

Before any reinforcements could get to us, we were encircled but good and we were given an ultimatum and two hours in which to surrender. With the American spirit, it was rejected and the fight was on.

Right now what is left of us are Heroes and our praises are sung to the skies, but take it from me our Bn [Battalion] paid a terrific price for that piece of Glory.

I've been under counter-battery fire before, but never hope to be subjected to what we went through ever again. There are scenes seared in my mind that will take time to erase.

At one time, besides being under artillery fire, the Krauts were putting mortar fire down on us from a patch of woods about 500 yards away. I had the battery broke into two platoons of two guns each, firing them in different sectors to plug a break through. At the same time, we were swapping machine gun fire with the Kraut infantry with our 58s, and at the same time Captain McCain and I each were directing fire from an M7 [howitzer] apiece on four Mark IV tanks and an 88 [mm] AT [anti-tank] gun that were firing direct fire at us at a scant 200 yards. The 88 and three of the tanks are burned-out hulks -- mute testimony of the accuracy of my gunners.

Then came Heinic [Heinkel?] bombers and fighters and they bombed and strafed us, but we are still here and a supply route has been opened and troops are coming in to bolster and relieve us. For six long days, we were cut off and the Krauts threw everything in the book at us. Our ammunition was dropped to us by parachutes once. I was down to five rounds of H.E. [high-explosive] and it's an awful feeling.

Right now as I sit here writing to you we are being bombed, not right on us but all around us the fragmentation and incendiary bombs are falling. I guess as soon as sufficient forces get here we will be relieved to go to some quiet place and lick our wounds and reorganize and fill in the gaps and perhaps get a rest.

You can be proud of your old outfit now, George. We have made a place in history for ourselves, but while some will be telling their friends that they have a son or husband in the 420th or CCB, there will be many nursing a broken heart cause some of the officers you knew are not coming back, and likewise many of the men you knew -- five of my best sergeants are gone.

Maybe I seem like a crank, George, but my mind and heart are full of what is around me.

Regards to the Boys -- Jim


Lisa Starr said...

This is very interesting. I don't remember ever hearing about this before said...

Wow, Bill. Thanks for sharing this. Your Dad must have felt very fortunate not to have to go into combat. And probably a bit guilty too, but glad his friends kept in touch like this. What a powerful letter.