The Battle for Huertgen Forest: Noble Deeds and Bloody Chaos

January 12, 2015 Columnists 1401 Views
The Battle for Huertgen Forest: Noble Deeds and Bloody Chaos

WWII RS

Part 3 of 4

Sometime that morning, Howd Mosher, a Timberwolf rifleman with I-company of the 104th’ Division’s 415th Infantry Regiment, had been knocked down with a bone-shattering machine-gun round to his shoulder. Fortunately, he had fallen behind the corner of a typical Lucherberg building—constructed with large, heavy bricks. He was protected from machine-gun fire but lay bleeding and unable to move. When the Americans fell back, Mosher was left alone. He would have bled to death had not a German medic seen him, stopped the bleeding, and bandaged him. The German medic withdrew as the Timberwolves counterattacked with reinforcements from L-company of the 3rd Battalion and heavier weapons. Timberwolf medics found Mosher and rushed him to a field hospital. This probably occurred on December 3, 1944, as close as I can reconstruct by what Howd Mosher told me over 30 years ago.

However, there was another unusual event that morning, which surely had some connection to Howd’s life-saving treatment by the German medic.

Near the village church, a German medical officer, a lieutenant colonel, approached the new I-company commander, Lieutenant Edwin Verelli, who had just replaced mortally wounded Lieutenant John Olsen. By sign language, the German medical officer and Lt. Verelli arranged for a medical truce to recover the wounded. About 25 American and 40 German soldiers set aside their weapons and began to give first-aid to the wounded of both sides. Three German medics worked feverishly to save the life of I-company’s former commander, Lieutenant Olsen, but were unsuccessful.

Staff Sergeant Leon Marokus, who spoke German, was quickly summoned to the scene to aid in communications with the German medical officer. Meanwhile, both sides were bringing up more replacements. It was a precarious arrangement, but the first-aid and medical work went on. Another Timberwolf platoon arrived and began to dig in. The town was divided approximately in half by the German and American troops striving to capture Lucherberg. In a few minutes, about 30 more German paratroopers arrived and began firing on the Americans. Fortunately, the German medical officer was able to stop the firing. But shortly thereafter, Captain Strehler with the 10th Company, 9th German Parachute Regiment, arrived. Strehler was not pleased with the German medical officer’s medical truce, and paratroopers began gathering up American weapons. After some argument with the German medical officer and Sergeant Marokus, Captain Strehler agreed to give the Americans 15 minutes to get out of town. The German medical officer and another American lieutenant were retained as hostages, but Strehler kept Lieutenant Verelli a prisoner, because he had fired on some Germans during the truce—probably the same German paratroopers who on arrival at the scene had fired some shots at the Americans.

This medical truce in the midst of brutal combat was unusual. Whether Howd Mosher’s life was saved before, during, or after the truce, it was a noble gesture by a German medic or the German medical officer and a kind providence of God.

Although unusual, medical truces also occurred in the Huertgen Forest itself. On November 2, 1944, a company of the battered 28th Infantry Division and a German infantry company allowed a mutual retrieval of badly wounded comrades. There were at least two similar instances involving 28th Infantry companies. In November 1944, U.S. infantry companies were being ground to bits in the Huertgen. The 28th Division suffered over 6,000 casualties in two weeks, 45 percent of its original strength. The poor bloody infantry companies had casualty rates as high as 90 percent. That is why American soldiers called the Huertgen Forest the “Green Hell” and the “Death Factory.”

Lieutenant John Shipley, a forward mortar observer, took Verelli’s place as I-company commander. Within 15 minutes the hostages were released, and firing broke out. With the help of forward artillery observer, Lieutenant Arthur Ulmer, and two SCR-radios, Shipley directed over 2,000 artillery and mortar rounds on German positions in Lucherberg that day. The German paratroopers continued their deadly machine-gun cross fire from three strategic buildings. The Germans tried desperately with bazookas and grenades to knock out the American radio positions. Late in the day, both sides had a firm hold on parts of Lucherberg. Shipley radioed that he was having difficulty seeing out of his basement command post because of German bodies just outside the window.

The weather cleared up enough for American air strikes, supplementing American artillery shelling. The Germans brought in seven Panther hunter-tanks, two huge 60-ton Tiger tanks, and at least two mobile assault guns. The Tigers were badly damaged by American air strikes and artillery and had to be towed away. Coordination between the 404th German Infantry Regiment and: Panzer assault guns broke down, causing heavy German casualties. The German 404th Infantry Regiment was nearly wiped out by a combination of American and German artillery fire. By the end of December 3, they had an effective force of only 44 men.

More Timberwolf infantry companies entered Lucherberg on December 4. By evening, the 104th held most of the buildings in Lucherberg and were able to bring up Sherman tanks and mobile tank-destroyers to establish an antitank defense. The Germans had to move their artillery from just east and southeast of Lucherberg to the eastern side of the Roer for protection.

Later in the day, Field Marshall Walter Model advised General Friedrich Kochling that there was only enough artillery ammunition to support one more fierce counterattack by the 246th Volksgrenadier Division on Lucherberg. Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander of German Armies in the West, was assembling an enormous force of 200,000 troops, 340 tanks, and 280 other tracked vehicles behind the Rhine just east of Cologne—preparing for a stunning counteroffensive against Allied forces.

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