Soldiers don't die

"A man dies only when he is forgotten"

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Veteran's Testimony

This is the closest possible thing to an eyewitness account of the war as my grandpa saw it. This man was born the same year as Mel (1919) and would have been 88 years old at the time of the interview.  I tried to search for this guy who I could correspond with him or possibly meet him, but he died a few months later. The video this text record was transcribed from has also since been deleted.

Arthur C. Neriani
Enlisted 1940, Honorably discharged 1945
HQ Company, 13th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division

Interview conducted by Matthew Kwapien for oral veterans history project. Arthur C. Neriani enlisted in the National Guard in December of 1940. Soon after, in February of 1941, the Guard was federalized and he was sent to Camp Blanding, FL for basic training. After basic training he was sent to Officer Candidate School, and then became part of the 8th infantry division in Fort Leavenworth, KS. From there the 8th infantry division was shipped to Northern Ireland to await their orders. Twenty eight days after the D-day invasion, the soldiers were sent to Normandy to replace the 82nd airborne division. Their mission was to travel up the Brittany peninsula, and establish a port for incoming Allied supplies. From there the soldiers travelled into Germany, where they fought in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, a battle that had 33, 000 casualties, but has been largely overlooked. Neriani describes in great detail what he and the soldiers under his command endured during the very long, cold battle. The 8th infantry division was also responsible for the liberation of the Wobbelin concentration camp, which is just outside of Ludwigslust, Germany. After the fighting in Europe ended, the soldiers were sent back to the United States in order to train for the Battle of Japan, and the Pacific theatre of operations, but the war was declared over before they were sent. Neriani was discharged in Mississippi in late 1945, and he returned to Connecticut where he joined the Avon VFW and was the first commander of the post.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Following the Golden Arrow

Ben Atkinson, an independent filmmaker working with a fledgling producer and composer, is raising money to produce a documentary about the 8th Infantry Division in the European Theater during World War II.  Here's a short video about it as well as the link to the project kickstarter website:

The 8th ID "The Golden Arrows" are an untold story in the chapters of history. Some Army units (like the 101st and 82nd Airborne) had much better PR than others and so their story made it into the history books while others with no less interesting stories did not.  Personally, being the grandson of a silent veteran who served in this division, I hope the project will give me a better understanding of what he experienced during a time America will never forget.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reading WW2 Weekend

Here's lookin' at you, Grandpa!
The eagerly awaited event is finally here! It's time for the annual Reading Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's World War II Weekend, and this year I'm going as a US infantryman to keep my grandparents' memories alive. I hope for sunny weather, blue skies and lots of slick vintage aircraft!

Go here for more info if you'd like to attend this event in the future: Mid-Atlantic Air Museum

This is one of the best videos from last year's air show:

Monday, June 3, 2013

More interesting photos from basic training

There are over a hundred undeveloped slides in a small cardboard box among Mel's possessions; I have digitized all of them.  While none of these are dated, they are most likely 1941-'42, as he was in the desert by '43.  None of the people in the slides are identifiable, but they are certainly his buddies.  I will post some of the interesting ones a few at a time from now on...

Guarding a drinking water reservoir.  Guard duty was a tedious but necessary part of being a soldier, as base security was maintained by the men who lived in it.  It would be part of routine "fatigue detail," what the officers liked to call these duties because they made one fatigued. A chore to some, a happy and easy job for others, being posted as a sentry also taught the men discipline and how to be vigilant.

Writing home.

Taking a nap. A soldier lays on his folding cot under the big tent; his backpack, ammo belt, helmet and first aid kit are piled nearby.

In warm weather, men slept outside underneath large tents with the side flaps rolled up. Here they have sleeping bags spread out on the ground instead of cots.

Grandpa's corner of the tent. You can see a wooden rack has been built to hang up his uniforms. There is only one chevron on his jacket sleeves, indicating a Private First Class.  His footlocker is to the right, with the tray balanced on it and his stuff neatly arranged. The end of the cot next to his in the foreground has a knapsack hung on it.

Partly to be patriotic and drum up support for the military effort, and partly for entertainment, the men sometimes rode into town in "convoys" to mingle with the public or hit the nearest bar.  This is similar to another slide in his memento album, so this is probably Charleston, South Carolina.

Some men looking at an odd anachronism within a WWII camp...a Civil War artillery piece. This was identified by a reenactor friend as a '3-inch ordnance rifle'.  The only place where this would conceivably be is at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, which would make the year 1941.

 Another tent neighbor relaxing. Most of the time between rigorous physical training was spent getting as much rest as possible.
The soldiers ate their meals with soup or rice served from old tin milk cans.
A friend on 'KP duty' washing his mess kit after a meal. As every Boy Scout knows, one bucket is for hot sterilization with soap and the other bucket is for a cold rinse.

It was clear that everyone knew he had a camera, as some of these pictures appear to be staged.
"R&R" time in camp for some consisted of playing team sports, like basketball, rugby and baseball.  I find the action poses entertaining.

There was also some cheap forms of entertainment in camp. The 8th Division had its own movie theater where you could go to watch newsreels or some popular "flicks," usually by request.  This was when a day at the movies cost you a couple of nickels.

A picture of an unidentified man shaving outside his company tent.

Eating watermelon.  Now why were soldiers eating watermelon, and why did Mel take a picture?
Summers in South Carolina tend to be hot and humid, and veteran Arthur Neriani of the 13th Infantry Regiment, 8th Division, attests that one day after a long march, the men came across a fruit merchant who wandered into camp and sold them fresh watermelons, much to the pleasure of the hot and tired men.  While this photo has very little significance, I find it interesting that this distant memory of an old GI was confirmed with my grandfather's photographs.

The incredible thing is not what is going on in these pictures, as every soldier in boot camp did mundane things like this every day.  But rather it is the fact that my grandfather was able to capture these images, and give us an impression of what Army camp life was like during the 1940's.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

1942 - Mel promoted to Sergeant, Camp Forrest Tennessee Maneuvers

Mel earned his Sergeant stripes on August 7, 1942. 

Some time that year he visited home and got another photo looking sharp in his dress uniform. Interestingly, he's still wearing the brown leather 'garrison belt' that was outdated by this time (No longer required per regulations after 1941)  This, and the bare trees behind him, leads me to believe this photo was taken sometime in early April or late March of '42.

Aunt Marilyn is trying on his Class A visor cap.
So what else was Mel doing in 1942? 
"1942 – The 8th Division was ordered to patrol the Atlantic coast. For six weeks during the winter of  1942, units of the division ranged along the eastern shores of the country from North Carolina to the Florida Keys. The 8th became a Motorized Division.

March 1942 – The 8th Division returned to Fort Jackson late in March to resume training.

Sep 1942 – There was a motor march to the location of the Tennessee Maneuvers.  Two more months of war games further hardened the troops of the 8th.  Then, after a brief stay in tents at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, the Division set out for its new station, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

December 1942 - March 1943 – There was a period of comparative calm."

The following slides were most likely taken at camp Forrest., as they are dated 1942 and show them camping in tents in the woods during the winter.  He doesn't have many pictures of this period, probably due to facing unfavorable weather and the fact that many of the operations during these war games were classified.  These wilderness survival and combat exercises, though meant to condition the men for living and fighting through the forests of Central Europe, had ill prepared them for the horrific ordeal they would face during winter in the Hurtgenwald and the Ardennes as part of their drive into Germany.

A man crawling through the underbrush most likely during tactical maneuvers.

Mel's tentmate

I'm almost positive the seated man in this photo is my grandfather.

A lean-to made of a single shelter half.
A blazing campfire somewhere in the dark woods.

The US Army printed holiday cards to send home to the folks. This is one from Easter of that year.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Complete Timeline for the 8th Division in World War II (with map)

(Click image to enlarge)

 1 Sep 1941 – The 8th Division took part in the Carolina Maneuvers.

1942 – The 8th Division was ordered to patrol the Atlantic coast. For six weeks during the winter of  1942, units of the division ranged along the eastern shores of the country from North Carolina to the Florida Keys. The 8th became a Motorized Division.

March 1942 – The 8th Division returned to Fort Jackson late in March to resume training.

Sep 1942 – There was a motor march to the location of the Tennessee Maneuvers.  Two more months of war games further hardened the troops of the 8th.  Then, after a brief stay in tents at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, the Division set out for its new station, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

December 1942 - March 1943 – There was a period of comparative calm.

March 1943 – The 8th moved to Camp Laguna, Arizona, for six months of desert training (in preparation for a planned invasion of North Africa).

August  1943 – The Division returned to Camp Forrest.  Preparations were begun immediately for an overseas movement.

27 November 1943 – The 8th arrived at the staging area of Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

5 December 1943 – The 8th Infantry Division sailed from New York Harbor.

15 December 1943 – The Division arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland for training.  Every two weeks the Division sent seventy-five enlisted men and fifteen officers to the British 55th Division and received an equal number of United Kingdom troops for a two-week period.  By living and training amongst their allies, the 8th learned to coordinate their efforts with the British.

1 Jul 1944 – A convoy of four troop ships and twelve motor transports carrying the 8th Division steamed out of Belfast Harbor.

4 July 1944 – The Division began debarking at Omaha Beach on the Cherbourg peninsula.

6 July 1944 – The Divisiona ssembled in the vicinity of Monteburg.

7 July 1944 – The 8th Infantry Division entered combat.

8 July 1944 – The 8th Division jumped off on its first attack in the Battle of France.

26 July 1944 – The Division crossed the Ay River.

28 July 1944 – Resuming the advance the 8th Division proceeded rapidly against light resistance until it had taken all objectives.

1 August 1944 – The Division continued to move southward, clearing out small pockets of resistance and securing road nets and vital installations along the route of march.

3 August 1944 – The 8th Division reached St. James.

4 August 1944 – The Division moved to an assembly area near Betten, northeast of Rennes. 8 August 1944 the Division pushed through Rennes.

9 August 1944 – The 3rd Battalion was cut off from the regiment. For three days it withstood almost incessant artillery bombardment and repeated attempts by the enemy to annihilate it, suffering many casualties.

13 August 1944 – The 8th Division continued its mission of holding and defending Rennes.  During this period, it maintained road blocks, cleared rubble and obstacles from the streets,a nd engaged in extensive patrolling.  Although some prisoners were taken, no contract was made with organized enemy forces.

14 August 1944 – One of the regiments occupied Dinard.  A task force, composed mainly of the 3rd Battalion, 28 Infantry, moved to the Cap Frehel peninsula, farther east in Brittany, to take over positions held by French Forces of the Interior.

15 August 1944 – The Division, meanwhile, had moved to an assembly area near Dinan.

17 August 1944 – The remaining elements of the Division began movement to an assembly area near Brest.  There, for three days, operations were confined to patrolling.

21 August 1944 – The Division closed into its sector and awaited orders to attack Brest.

29 August 1944 – The enemy in the sector of the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, called a truce to evacuate wounded.  Previously, two companies of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry, had advanced beyond their adjacent units, been cut off and captured by the Germans.  After Brest had capitulated, these two companies were freed by men of their own unit from a German prisoner of war enclosure on the Crozon peninsula, south of the harbor of Brest, and returned to their unit.

31 August 1944 – The 8th prepared for a coordinated Corps attack which was to include also the 2nd Division.  A road in the vicinity of the town of Kergroas was the objective.

8 September 1944 – With an improvement in the supply of artillery ammunition, the 121st Infantry attacked and seized the eastern end of the strongly defended Lambzellec ridge.  The 121st then advanced toward the town of Lambzellec, and by noon was fighting in the streets.  The 13th Infantry advanced abreast to positions from which it supported the attack of the 121st.

10 Sep 1944 – Having passed through Lambzellec, the 121st was confronted with Fort Bouguen.  This was a formidable work of thick walls, twenty to thirty feet in height, surrounded by a dry moat, twenty feet deep.  Such an obstacle could not be assaulted by infantry without artillery fire.

11 Sep 1944 – Heavy artilelry fire was directed at the wall. This fire failed to make an appreciable breacha nd the VIII Corps Commander decided to suspend further operations against that portion of the inner defenses, and to contain the enemy within Fort Bouguen, while efforts were renewed farther east.  He therefore directed that elements of the 2nd Infantry Division relieve the 8th Division in front of the fort. The next day the 13th and 121st Infantry Regiments withdrew to a temporary assembly area near Plouvien.

14 Sep 1944 – The Division moved into its attack positions.

15 Sep 1944 – After a strong barrage by heavy and light artillery and chemical mortars, the attack began.  In the zone of the 28th Infantry, the 3rd Battalion led the attack.  By 0930 it was approaching the hamlet of St. Eflez.  The 3rd Battalion and the 1st following it were under heavy flanking fire from the south ridge.  All officers of Company L became casualties. Tech Sergeant Charles E. Balance reorganized the companya nd took command. He was killed by a sniper the next day. In the vicinity of St. Eflez, resistance grew so fierce that itw as apparent that the main line of enemy defenses had been reached.

16 Sep 1944 – German counterattacks on both ridges were repulsed. AT 0700 hrs the attack was renewed under cover of a dense fog, which was to furnish an effectiev mask for each morning of the Crozon action. By 19 Sep 1944, the Crozon Peninsula was cleared.

26 Sep 1944 – The 8th Division began the long move from the Crozon peninsula to the grand Duchy of Luxembourg.  Foot troops and trucked vehicles made the journey by rail. By 30 Sep 1944, Motorized elements arrived in convoys near Ettelbruck, Luxembourg.

9 Oct 1944 – Trainign began with 1, 538 officers and enlisted men available.  They were armed for the most part with rifles, automatic weapons and several anti-tank guns.  Eight companies of approximately 200 men each comprised the battalion. Fiev of these were rifle companies.  Training of this unit was continued, for two hours daily, until October 20th.

7 Oct 1944 – A vehicle bearing Lt. Colonels Frederick J. Bailey Jr. and john P. Usher of the 28th Infantry, was traveling well in rear of the front lines when it was flagged down by what appeared to be a US Army Captain and Sergeant, standing beside a halted American First Army Jeep. Pulling alongside, and hearing the “captain” talking wildly in German although he wore an American combat jacket and helmet, the 28th Infantry officers opened fire and killed the two men.

19 Oct 1944 – A plan was worked out to rotate the troops.  One platoon at a time was relieved.

3 Nov 1944 – Both Vossenack and Schmidt had been taken, and a line of departure for the attack upon Hurtgen secured.  So difficult was the terrain, however, that only foot troops could get through to Schmidt. There was no road between the two captured towns over which armor and Anti-tank guns could move.

7 Nov 1944 – Unable to get armored units through to the foot troops, the 28th Division was forced to withdraw from Schmidt.  At one time the Germans also recaptured half of Vossenack, but here their counterattack was again driven back.

16 Nov 1944 – The 13th Inf. And the 8th Reconnaissance Troop began the motor march of the 8th Division to the V Corps front, and by nightfall they had arrived.

19 Nov 1944 – All elements of the Division had closed into their positions in the area southeast of Aachen.

20 Nov 1944 – The Division drove across France to Luxembourg and moved to the Hurtgen Forest.

21 Nov 1944 – The 121st Infantry opened the drive on Hurtgen. Attacking with three battalions abreast, the Regiment immediately ran into strong resistance.  Enemy mortar and artillery tree bursts shattered the forested area and hailed shrapnel down upon infantry units whenever they attempted to advance, antipersonnel minefield further increased the peril of movement through the dense woods. On the 24th November the attack of the 121st Infantry resumed.

25 Nov 1944 – At a conference of V and VII Corps Commanders it was decided to begin the armored attack on the morning of November 25th.  At least three rifle companies were to advance astride the road during the night so the road could be cleared.

26 Nov 1944 – Enemy pockets in the woods inf ront of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 121st Infantry were taken without opposition.  Company F, 121st Infantry, had advanced to a point approximately 300 yards southwest of Hurtgen.  Here it was met by dense machine gun fire. Company F held its advanced position during the night, and resumed the attack with the entire regiment the next morning.

 27 Nov 1944 – The 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, joined the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 121st Infantry in the attack at 0700. Division Artillery, less the 43rd Field Artillery Battalion, again fired prearranged concentrations in support of the infantry units.  Company C of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion was also in close support.  The next day the Division cleared Hurtgen.

29 Nov 1944 – The attack on Kleinhau began. The enemy defended stubbornly, holding out in cellars and wooded areas even after armored forces had driven through the town.  During the night, the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, took over the captured town and the high ground. The enxt day men of the 13th cleared out remaining enemy pockets.

31 Nov 1944 – Elements of the 121st and 28th continued to push southeast.  Patrols were sent out by both regiments to determine enemy strength around Brandenburg. Resistance was encountered almost immediately, and orders were issued to hold present positions until plans for a full scale attack were completed.

3 December 1944 – The Division cleared Brandenburg.

23 February 1945 – The Division crossed the Roer River.

25 February 1945 – Duren taken.

28 February 1945 – Erft Canal crossed.

7 March 1945 – The 8th reached the Rhone near Rodenkirchen and maintained positions along the river near Koln.

6 April 1945 – The Division attacked northwest to aid in the destruction of enemy forces in the Ruhr Pocket.

17 April 1945 – The Division completed its mission.

1 May 1945 – After security duty, the 8th Division, under operational control of the British Second Armya nd Task Force Canham, drove across the Elbe River (advancing in Jeeps, canvas trucks and tanks) capturing 250,000 mostly German prisoners and penetrated to the town of Schwerin to rendezvous with the Russians.

The 121st Infantry was the first to visit a concentration camp near Wobbelin, Germany discovered days earlier by a field surgeon.  They witnessed thousands of dead and dying prisoners.  The 13th and 28th Infantry regiments were also taken through the camp to observe what the Germans did to their own people.  It was here that Staff Sergeant Melville J. Batt took his color photographs of the camp with Kodachrome film.  Possibly the only color photos known of a concentration camp.

Between May 1 1945 and May 7, 1945 the 8th Division was readied to be moved to the Pacific Theater of Operations to assist the Navy and Marine Corps.  But the war was over before they could be sent.

7 May 1945  - The war in Europe ended and the Germans officially surrendered.  Staff Sgt. Batt was honorably discharged with a Bronze Star medal and Army Commendation.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

B.A.R. - Browning Automatic Rifle History

Used from the end of World War One until the outbreak of the Vietnam War, this 19-pound monster ruled the field of automatics for over fifty years.  This is also the weapon that Grandpa carried in service. These were issued to Staff Sergeants in WWII. I bet that anyone who didn't get this piece, wanted one. This rifle and the M-1 Thompson (the "Tommygun") also featured prominently in gangster movies of the 1930's and '40s. They were very popular guns.

(I picked one of these up before and it feels like it's made of solid lead! I still cannot believe my grandfather carried this when he was 25 or 26 years old being such a scrawny guy)

Watch a video of the history of this powerful mobile machinegun here:

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Eighth in action - Transcribed from the Blue Book


From Melville J. Batt's copy of the "Blue Book" By the  28th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division, Louisiana: Army & Navy Publishing Company, 1946.

 [These pages were originally typeset in two columns. They have been transcribed and appear as a single column for readability purposes.] – Editor

Failure to get into action during World War I was no fault of the Eighth Infantry Division.  It was simply a question of being beaten to the punch by the arrival of the Armistice.  As a consequence, the Eighth Division was, prior to Normandy D-Day, young in both experience and point of service.  It was young in service for it had been activated in first in January 1918. It was young in point of experience because it was just preparing to move out of its training camps in France and up to the front lines when that November morning in 1918 occurred.

To offset this dual handicap, the Eighth took into its re-activated organization, 1 July 1940, units which had impressive histories of long and meritorious service.  In some cases this service dated as far back as the beginnings of our constitutional government,

None of the units which now comprise the Eighth Division was to be found in the original organization: 13th, 28th and 121st Infantry Regiments, Special Troops Units and Division Artillery Battalions.

So it was that, although the Division, as such, was untried, it hit Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, on 4 July 1944, with units of highly colorful tradition.

Here, as a member of the VIII Corps, which had gained the barest of footholds on the enemy’s shore, the Eighth Division had only to wait four days before attacking to the south in the La Haye Du Puits sector.  For the first five grueling days of combat experience for the young, untried Division, it advanced rapidly against stiff, well-organized resistance, until, on 13 July, it reached the hard-earned north bank of the Ay River.  The Division dug in and held on until 26 July, when it effected a difficult crossing of the Ay to establish the bridgehead whyich was to enable the remaining units of the VIII Corps and the Fourth and Sixth Armored Divisions to rupture the wall of resistance and spill over into Brittany and Northern France.

Racing closely behind these pile-driving units, the Eighth Division rolled up impressive advances, moving rapidly through Coutances, Granville and Avranches, against a German Army which was showing the strain by becoming increasingly disorganized.


Driving relentlesslysouth from Avranches, the Division had seized the key communications city of Rennes by nightfall of 3 August. Here, for the next ten days, the Division dug in for the valiant defense of this nerve center which was so vitally important to the success of the Allied offensive.  While they were still carrying out this tremendous mission, the Division’s 121st Infantry Regiment was temporarily attached to the 83rd Division to take part in thye fiercely bitter fighting then going on in the St. Malo area.  In the course of this fighting, the 121st took Dinard by storm on 14 August, sweeping aside the stubbornly resisting German garrison.

From Rennes, the Division, preceded by a task force of 28th Infantrymen, then made another rapid move to Brest, this time by motor.  Shortly after  noon of 25 August the Division, together with other chosen units of the VIII Corps, began the battle for  this iron-bound, seemingly impregnable French port which, with its excellent harbor and docking facilities, was to prove to be one of the strongest links in the chain that was ultimately to bind the muscles of the arrogant monster, Germany.  Itw as among the bitterest of fighting the Division was to experience.  And the Division gave an examplary account of itself, trading blow for blow with the German garrison of 50,000 until just a week before the port finally fell.

Ordered out of its positions around Brest, the Division now moved to the Crozon peninsula, a strongly-fortified finger of war-pocked land that continued to menace Brest from the south.  In one of its most sparkling engagements, the Division over-ran the rugged enemy defenses in short time, completely routing the de-moralized and disorganized Germans.  In just four days of brilliant in-fighting and team-work, the Division cleared the stubborn peninsula, bagging a total of more than 7,000 prisoners.

Dusting off its hands, the division moved September 30, on to the Duchy of Luxembourg, where it assumed the task of holding a 23-mile sector of the Our River front.

Several weeks later, on 16 November, certain elements of the Division began to relieve comparable units of the 28th Division in the sector southeast of Aachen, Germany.  From here, on 21 November, the Division began a hard drive through dense, forbidding forests, clinging mud and ever-present mines to seize the town of Hurtgen.  Many casualties and exhausting difficulties were sufferd in the Hurtgen Forest, for seven difficult days. After one more day of slow, bloody and torturous street fighting, the town was captured on 28 November, paving the way for the next offensive: against the town of Kleinhau, which was summarily taken the next day.

[EDITOR: Note how only a tiny paragraph is devoted to Hurtgen Forest.  This was the singular bloodiest battle of the war. The US Army lost more men here than the Marines lost in Iwo Jima. It was a tactical disaster and failures of communication between the Generals and their subordinates resulted in the wasting of thousands of American lives. If it were not for the pivotal Battle of the Bulge which occurred a week or so later, the Hurtgen Forest would be remembered as the most significant conflict in the entire European Theater of Operations.  The Hurtgen offensive was covered up hastily after the war ended, and many of the documents pertaining to it were deemed classified. To this day, it is a battle that the US Army would like to forget.  America had no idea what happened in Hurtgen Forest until the last ten years, when surviving veterans started to come forward and talk about it.  Since then books have been published and movies made to commemorate America’s bloodiest battle on foreign soil.  It has been described as seven days in Hell. Entire regiments and battalions were wiped out with 100% casualties.  There was much confusion as to who belonged to which unit, with so many replacements coming in to compensate for massive and devastating casualties. There was a 28th Infantry Regiment and a 28th Infantry Division which fought alongside each other, and when they met they couldn’t tell each other apart.  There was also an 8th infantry regiment and an 8th infantry Division, only adding to the confusion.  NCO’s and commanders were routinely fired and replaced by new officers who had no tactical experience, who sent in group after group of replacement soldiers to be killed.  The Germans later even admitted that the US Army could have gone around the Forest rather than trying to fight their way through it, and avoided the entire engagement altogether.  The Germans were deeply dug in, camouflaged and well-supplied and well-defended, and the Americans were starving, underarmed and huddled in trenches.  It has been compared to the bloody, cold, wet, miserable conditions of Passchendale in World War I.  The 8th Division relieved the exhausted and war-fatigued 28th Division, who had slogged through mud and trenches full of water, to meet the harsh winter of November 1944 which saw temperatures of 40 degrees below zero and ground frozen so solid that foxholes had to be chiseled with bayonets and blown out with grenades. If my grandfather fought in this battle or was involved with it tactically in any way, no wonder he never spoke about it, was not proud of his rank and hated the US Army. Personally, I don’t blame him.]

In rapid succession, Brandenburg fell on 3 December and Bergstein on 5 December. Other foot troops of the Division fought their way through heavily mined woods and dug-in bunkers of concrete and logs to reach the Roer River along a six-mile stretch, east of Bergstein.

Building efficient all-around defenses, the Division held its positions firmly during the powerful German counter-drive in mid-December. On 21 December, with a bleak Christmas in the offing, elements of the Division began a limited offensive, seizing the Roer River town of Obermaubach and the remaining enemy-held territory in the Division sector west of the Roer.

Well after a New Year’s that had been as bleak as Christmas, the Division continued to hold.  Not until early February did it move slightly north to take over a Roer River front opposite Duren and Niederau, on 23 February, the Division crossed the flood-swollen Roer, at the south flank of the great First and Ninth US Army combined offensive.  Troops of the Eighth Division cleared the stubborn south half of Duren on 25 February and drove to the Rhine in a brief ten days, taking approximately 50 German towns, more than 10,000 prisoners; and destroying tons of equipment that the enemy could ill afford to lose.

The Division’s 13th Infantry was attached to the Third Armored Division, cutting another wide, bleeding swath to the Rhine, and seizing the northern third of the key city of Cologne.

Still involved in the Cologne offensive, the Division, after six days in Corps Reserve, took over the Cologne-Bonn sector of the west bank of the Rhine, where it fought and held until the early days of the Remagen bridgehead.  Then, on 28 March, troops of the Division began the move across the Rhine in the Remagen area.  On the following day, the entire Division began its attack north of the Siegen area.  As a result of this, Division elements crossed the Sieg River on 1 April.  After three days of fierce, determined enemy resistance, the city of Siegen fell.

Two days later, the Division, now integrated into the team of the XVIII Corps, began the drive which was to result in the entrapment or annihilation of more than 350,000 German troops.  In a mere ten days, the Division rolled up a satisfying advance of more than sixty miles, siezing a total of nearly 200 towns and villages and capturing well over 48,000 completely beaten Wehrmacht veterans.  With this outstanding successful completion of its mission, the Division next received orders to occupy and govern the Dusseldorf-Wuppertal-Wissen-Mulheim area.

Once again shifting to new commanders, the Division was ordered under the control of the British Second Army, with which organization it crossed the Elbe River, early on the morning of 1 May, at Bleckelde, which then marked the extreme northwest sector of the Allied front.  A lightning stab toward the Baltic Sea netted more than a hundred German towns before the Division reached Schwerin at noon of 2 May.  Here, at the capital city of the province of Mecklenberg, the Division halted and stepped aside to permit the British troops to sweep on to the Baltic.

By now, the disorganization and demoralization of the enemy were rushing toward a feverish climax, as was evidenced by the large bodies of German troops which marched up to surrender all along the roads of advance.  So great was the enemy’s desire to capitulate that, by 4 May, when the final announcement of the surrender of all German troops in the north came, the Division’s bag of prisoners reached a grand total in excess of a quarter million men.

By 3 May, elements of the Division had made triumphant and joyous contact with the Russians, thus marking the end of the long and arduous struggle to convince the hard-headed adversary that he was beaten.

And so, with the complete and ignominous capitulation of all German land, air and sea forces, the combat record of the Division in World War II was completed.

The Eighth Infantry Division had come of age in service and experience.

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Desert Training? Camp Lagoona, AZ 1943

During 1943, the 8th Infantry Division was moved cross country to Arizona for desert survival training.  This was done because at the time, High Command thought grandpa's unit would be sent to invade North Africa with Patton's Third Army.  The men lived in sandy tents for a few months and were scorched by the heat in their heavy canvas combat gear.  Mel showed very little detail of what they were doing out there, but he did find time to go sightseeing and took some color Kodachrome slides of the things he found...

Their campsites were surrounded by giant saguaro cactus.

Marksmanship qualification at the rifle range.  Mel himself earned an Intermediate level Sharpshooter pin for the rifle that he could wear on his uniform.  It is the iron cross with the target in the center we see on his left breast pocket. It had a small tag hanging beneath it which said "RIFLE"

Some of Mel's buddies standing around a Jeep.  It is clearly hot out there as one man is stripped to the waist.

Mel also liked to take some nice pictures of the local flora and fauna.  Here is a tiny prickly pear cactus. The picture below is a barn owl that they found while climbing a nearby mountain.

...And while exploring a cave Mel found, he carried out a live bat! (Notice the Staff Sergeant chevron and rocker bar on his shoulder patch)

Grandpa liked bats.  Why? Because of his last name. I imagine "Batman" or something along those lines was probably his Army nickname.

Below: There were many "ghost towns" out there.  Here is an abandoned cattle ranch he spotted while they were riding in a Jeep to go someplace.

For doing such an outstanding job out there in Headquarters Company, keeping the operational maps in order and coordinating his squad actions in the field during the desert maneuvers, Staff Sergeant Batt was awarded an Army Commendation on the 27th of July, 1943.  He was clearly a competent soldier who had leadership abilities.