Posts Tagged With: ETO

The Remains of Company I, December 12, 1944

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Men of Company I stand guard over exhausted and cold German veterans of the Hurtgen Forest campaign. Captured at Jungersdorf on December 12, they were organized and marched out of the front lines that morning by the equally exhausted survivors of Company I, 39th Infantry Regiment.

The Battle of the Hurtgen Forest remains one of the longest, and bloodiest, battles fought by the United States Army. Through the fall of 1944, two American offensives into the hilly, heavily wooded terrain cost tens of thousands of casualties for little territorial gain. German defenders mined the forest, booby trapped entire sections, and covered all avenues of approach with snipers, automatic weapons and artillery. Attacking into the dense woods led American units to get lost, then pinned down and destroyed by German fire. Many historians have concluded that the fighting in the Hurtgen was among the most needless battles of the war, arguing that the U.S. First Army should have gone around it instead of trying to batter its way headlong through it. Altogether, the U.S. Army lost over 30,000 men; the Germans 28,000. Though most of the fighting ended in December, 1944, some firefights continued to flare up in the area until February 1945.

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An American Soldier from Company I, 2-39th Infantry speaks to a hollow-eyed German prisoner of war. Jungersdorf, December 12, 1944.

Though the story of the 8th and 28th Division’s maulings in the Hurtgen have been the subject of numerous books, less well known is the 9th Infantry Division’s contribution to the battle. The Old Reliable Division was actually the first American unit to advance into the Hurtgen Forest in mid-September. They fought through the worst portion of the campaign in October, then participated in the final 1944 offensives in the woods in November and December, losing thousands of men killed, wounded and missing. Non-battle losses were also very high in the division–trench foot, psychological shock and frostbite took a significant toll as the weather dropped and the point-blank carnage day after day wore the men down.

On December 12, 1944, the 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th ID, captured the village of Jungersdorf, a hamlet not far from the Roer River near Dueren. A Signal Corps photographer named Cravens was with I Company, 39th Infantry on that day to capture these scenes of the aftermath of a long and traumatic fight, the cost of which can be seen in the eyes of the men Cravens photographed.

 

9th Inf Div 39th Inf Regt Soldiers Coming out of Hurtgen Forest Campaign Jungersdorf Germany 121244 (1 of 1)

The veterans of Company I slog through the mud and ruins of Jungersdorf at the end of their tenure in the Hurtgen Forest. There would be no respite for these men. Fresh from the horrors of the Hurtgen campaign, they were thrust into the path of the 6th SS Panzer Army and played a key role in the defense of the Bulge’s North Shoulder during the German Ardennes Offensive–which started less than a week after this photo was taken.

 

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Photo of the Day: French Armored Division Fights its Way into Belfort 1944

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French commandos support a 5th French Armored Division M4 Sherman tank during the liberation of Belfort, France on November 20, 1944.

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The 503rd Parachute Infantry’s Icelandic Refugee, Smokey

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En route to England, the men of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry found and rescued this pup, Smokey, seen here in Iceland. The troops brought him to England, and he’s seen here with one of the 503rd’s members as he chats with Lt. John Timothy, the British liaison officer to the 2/503. The 503rd was the first American ground unit to reach England after Pearl Harbor. There is some confusion over 2/503rd’s history these days. The battalion took part in Operation Torch and executed the U.S. Army’s first combat jump. During the African campaign, however, the Army redesignated 2/503rd to the 509th Parachute Infantry. Apparently, the members of the battalion didn’t get that memo until after the war. Meanwhile, a new 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was formed and sent to the Pacific, where it joined the 11th Airborne Division and took part in the New Guinea and Philippines Campaign. That 503rd made the jump on Corregidor in February 1945.

 

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Photo of the Day: Red Army Link Up, Wittenberg, Germany 1945

Recently, we’ve received a lot of traffic from the Russian Federation. Today’s photo is in honor of all of our Russian readers:

 

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April 30, 1945. Russian Soldiers liberate weary Australian troops who’d been POW’s of the Germans in a camp near Wittenberg. The photo was taken as the 9th U.S. Army linked up with the Red Army’s units around that city. The photo was taken by the 168th Signal Corps Company’s George J. Barry.

 

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Moments with the 379th

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Men of the 379th take a break to play football beside the flight line at Kimbolton in the spring of 1944. The shadow of what the air crews faced lingers in the backstory of the B-17 parked nearby. That’s “Pansy Yokum,” a Douglas-built B-17G that joined the group right at the end of Big Week in February 1944. On March 8th, it was hit by enemy fire during the Berlin Raid and one of the waist gunners was killed in action. Shortly after this photo was taken, this B-17 vanished on July 9, 1944. The crew failed to form up as the 379th assembled for the mission, but apparently the pilot, Lt. Hugh Frye, decided to press on. They either joined up with another group, or went off in search of the 379th. Either way, the Fort was hit by flak over France, limped back toward England, only to crash at sea off Le Havre. All nine aboard perished, including the 23 year old bombardier, Lt. Orval Epperson, a small town kid from Neosho, Missouri. He was his family’s only son.

In November 1942, the 379th Bomb Group was activated at Gowen Field Idaho, just outside of Boise. The crews trained incessantly through the winter and early spring, then deployed to England in April 1943. The group arrived just as the 8th Air Force was ramping up for the ’43 strategic bombing effort against Germany.

Men of the 379th entertaining local English kids and their families at Kimbolton. The B-17 was “Tampa Tornado,” a battered Fort that had first seen service with the 303rd Bomb Group before joining the 379th in September ’43. It was retired from combat service in October, and was the aircraft the group used for tours when civilians came on post.

 

Commanded by LTC Maurice A. Preston, a Class of ’37 graduate of West Point, the 379th was a sharp, well-disciplined outfit that would soon prove to be one of the elite groups of 8th Bomber Command. Preston held command until October 1944 when he moved up to take over the 41st Wing. He was a combat leader all the way, flying forty-five missions through the worst phase of the air war over Europe. He led the 379th during the August ’43 Schweinfurt raid, and returned to that city the following spring. He went on to have a very successful USAF career, ultimately commanding both the 5th Air Force in the Pacific and all USAF forces in Europe during the height of the Cold War.

The group performed so well in combat that it earned two Presidential Unit Citations, and was recognized for its bombing accuracy, low abort rates, tight formation flying and bomb tonnage delivered on targets. The aircrews pioneered new formations and new bombing tactics that were later adopted throughout VIIII Bomber Command, and completed 300 combat missions faster than any other USAAF heavy bombardment group in England. The group paid a brutal price during its two years in combat. Altogether, 141 of the 379th’s Forts went down over Europe.

 

“Lost Angel” returns to Kimbolton on April 10, 1944. This Fort joined the 379th in February ’44, and this crash landing was one of at least two crews of the group experienced in her. On September 28, 1944, Lost Angel and the rest of the 379th ran into scores of German fighters on a mission to Magdeburg. During the bomb run, another nearby B-17 (Queen of Hearts) took a direct AA hit that touched off one of its fuel tanks. As it fell, the tongue of flame it trailed engulfed Lost Angel so completely that the tail gunner thought their B-17 had been hit as well. He bailed out and was taken prisoner. Just after the bomb run, the fighters struck. Lost Angel’s navigator later wrote, “Most horrible sight I’ve seen. Sky filled with burning planes. Too many to count. Had to look away.” For details on that mission, see, “http://b17navigator.com/dads-log-book/mission-no-seventeen-september-28-1944/” Lost Angel was repaired repeatedly and sent back into battle. After the September mission, it was sent to the 384th Bomb Group. Miraculously, it survived the war, only to be scrapped in October 1945.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Men of Station 167

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The 381st Bomb Group’s O Club at Ridgewell.

In May of 1943, the 381st Bomb Group reached England. It had been formed and activated in January that year, undergoing a short, intensive training cycle that included a full formation leaflet dropping exercise over Denver. Led by the legendary bomber pilot Colonel Joseph Nazzaro, the 381st was a tight, disciplined organization. Nazzaro would go into combat for the first time with his beloved 381st, and his tenure with the group led to an extraordinary career that culminated with him commanding SAC in the late 1960’s.

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The 381st climbing out over the channel.

The group set up shot at Station 167, RAF Ridgewell in Essex. After a few weeks of settling in and local training flights, the group flew its first mission on June 22, 1943. Two of its B-17’s were shot down by flak and fighters on that first combat run, and two others came home battered and damaged with wounded aboard. It was a tough indoctrination to the air war over German-held Europe.381st bg b17  bomb loading aug 20 43721 4x6

The following day, the ground crews were busily preparing the Forts for their second mission when a bomb exploded on the flight line. The blast killed twenty four men, yet the 381st joined the rest of the 8th Air Force and continued on to fly that day.

During the August 17, 1943 Schweinfurt raid, half of the group’s bombers went down under the onslaught of determined Luftwaffe fighters and massive flak barrages. Ten crews went with those birds, but one crew returned home after being fished out of the English Channel. Colonel Nazzaro personally led the mission that day, flying the lead Fort in the formation.381st bg b17 sept 26 43 719 8x10

The 381st went on to fly a total of 296 missions–over 9,000 sorties against German targets. It came at a terrible cost–over a thousand combat crews went missing, were killed or wounded during those vicious two years of flying. One hundred and thirty one B-17’s belonging to the 381st never made it back to station 167, which represented roughly 500% of the group’s established strength.

The 381st over Germany, February 5, 1945.

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Hard Day for the 549th Bomb Squadron

Piccadilly Queen returns home to Great Ashfield with wounded aboard on June 14, 1943. This Fort was a B-17F and was part of the 385th Bomb Group’s original contingent of aircraft. It soldiered through the harshest air battles of the 1943 campaign only to be shot down by Luftwaffe fighters during a raid on Frankfurt on January 29, 1944. Piccadilly Queen crashed near Kaiserlautern, where about half the crew survived to be taken prisoner.

 

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Across the Rhine: The Remagen Bridge in Color

On March 7, 1945, Combat Command B of the 9th Armored Division reached the west bank of the Rhine River across from the German city of Remagen. To the surprise of all the Americans there that day, they found the Ludendorff Rail Bridge intact. The Germans had blown nearly every other bridge spanning the Rhine as they retreated behind the river to make a last stand for the Fatherland.

The Americans seized the bridge by coup de main, then reinforced their tenuous hold on the east bank in the days that followed. The bridge was severely damaged, and engineers went to work trying to shore it up. At the same time, pontoon bridges were constructed on either side to increase traffic flow to the east bank. The Germans repeatedly attacked the bridge with air, artillery and even V-2 rockets. They also sent underwater demolitions teams after the bridge, and attempted to use floating mines to destroy it.

These three film clips were taken from the west bank during the struggle to shore up the bridge. The cameramen were part of SFP-186, a special project commissioned by General Marshall to document the final months of the war with color film. The footage ended up classified for decades, and it was only in the late 1990’s that it began to filter out of the National Archives for public viewing. The scenes show the Ludendorff Bridge from different angles, plus some of the U.S. Army’s anti-aircraft defenses arrayed around it. There are also some scenes showing USAAF P-38’s patrolling over the bridge, as well as the wreckage of a downed German aircraft.

On March 17, 1945, the badly damaged Ludendorff Bridge suddenly collapsed, killing eighteen American engineers who were working on it at the time. Though the bridge was gone, the drive into the Reich from the Remagen area was already well underway. Pontoon bridges kept the traffic and supplies flowing to the front line troops.

 

A few post-war notes:

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Roger Smith’s original box art for Aces Over Europe. To assist Roger, designer Chris Shen built a 1/72nd scale replica of the Ludendorff Bridge, which was then photographed from the angle Roger used for the composition. Model aircraft of the Arado 234 and Tempest were also constructed by members of the Aces Team.

Today, one of the original bridge’s towers houses a peace museum.  In 1993, American computer game company  Dynamix Inc. produced a PC-based flight simulator called Aces Over Europe. The game’s box cover, an original piece by noted artist Roger Smith, depicted an Arado 234 Blitz jet bomber attack on the Ludendorff Bridge during the fighting around Remagen that March. Ace Pierre Clostermann in his Hawker Tempest can be seen in the foreground pursuing the German jet. When the mayor of Remagen learned that the bridge and part of his town would be depicted on the box of a computer war game, he threatened to sue the U.S. company. As a result, the European release of the game used a different piece of art for the box cover.

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The European box art. Note Dynamix had to delete the swastika on the Fw-190A’s tail in order to conform to German law.

 

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