Army Service - E. J. Nagele Army Serial Number 18107221 Enlisted 11/14/42 – 11/12/45 Honorable Discharge as Staff/ Sergeant, M Company, 376th Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division.
With no college background, in an immigrant family struggling in the depression, with no money I had a difficult time in making up my mind as to profession and college. My parents always pushed me to try to get to college: After what little research I could do, (there was no effective counseling), I selected Petroleum Engineering as a coming profession and Oklahoma University at Norman, Oklahoma as the obvious school - besides it was cheap ! My recollection is that it was free for in state students and $50 per semester of out state. I went out by train with a fellow that I had worked with at the Silver Point Beach Club in Atlantic Beach, Long Island. (Atlantic Beach was at the end of our small island off Long Island -it included Point Lookout, Sheer Beach and Atlantic Beach).
I graduated from Long Beach High School in June 1942, worked the summer at Silver Point in a concession stand for $15 a week for a 7 day week. The only time we got off was if it rained. I went out by train in September with a fellow I had worked with at Silver Point. He had money and went to live in a Jewish fraternity. I got a very small back porch room, along with two other men in an adjoining room with an elderly widow named Nellie Hogan.
My High School years academically were fairly good but not excellent. I was active in several organizations, earned a wrestling letter (but was termed canvas back at times!) and played football as a third string guard. I worked at summer jobs from around age fifteen and did the usual magazine and paper routes and sundry other minor efforts to make a little money. My parents, particularly my mother, always urged me to hold what little I earned for college.
Fall 1942 was very hectic and unsettling. The war was heating up and we all knew that we would soon be called in. ( In fact my old friends Ray Creede and Howard Gress had already enlisted in the signal corps.) At Okla U., I worked about four hours per day washing pots and pans etc in a fraternity and some other minor jobs, was struggling with a heavy school load ( particularly in calculus !), had a few dates and entered into an intra-mural wrestling contest. (won 2nd place and received a card saying I would receive a medal after the war! Still have it. I wrestled at 155lbs. I am still around 150 lbs but the muscle is gone.)
Draft rumors were constant and very unsettling. I never could afford to call home so really had no one to consult with. I finally decided to enlist in one of the Reserve Officer Programs in order to have a better opportunity to stay out of the infantry. (Great idea but I ended up there anyway.) I first tried the Naval and Marine Reserves, then Air Force. My bad eyes ruled me out. I then enlisted in the Army Reserves-they used the same eye chart the others used and I memorized parts of it. An interesting irony is that my major training was at the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla and my main job in the infantry was radio man and fire direction control and forward observer for 81 mm Mortars.
After the start of the second semester I finally decided to ask for active service On February 2, 1943 ( I had been away from home since Sept.) I sent a telegram home to advise my folks that I wanted to do so. (must have shocked them since no one had ever sent a telegram). I received a telegram in return indicating that I should use my own judgment. ( have often thought since then how terribly difficult that must have been to them because of their horrible war time experience during and after World War I. I noted Dad's tough combat experience earlier. The post war years were equally bad in different ways. Hungary, as part of the Auto-Hungarian empire had been split apart with a large portion to the East transferred to Romania. The Romanians hated the Hungarians and vice versa. ( still do). Hyper inflation hit Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and other central European countries. We cannot really understand the catastrophic effects of that. That, plus reading between the lines, the fact that my father had tried to stop some hoodlums from raping a girl, and had shot one, forced them to leave. They came to this country in fall 1923 with one older son, Frank-another younger son ,Joseph, had died horribly in a kitchen stove accident shortly before emigrating. . My mother's grief can still be seen in several photos including one on the ship Thuringia which they boarded in Breman, Germany. I was born on May 31, 1924.
I made my request for active service, dropped out of school and started to hitch hike home from Norman, Oklahoma, I had very little money. Unfortunately with gas rationing there were few cars on the road and I spent my remaining money except for a few dollars to get on a bus in St. Louis. I arrived home with about 50 cents.
My orders for active duty were dated 3/23/43 and required reporting at Camp Upton in Yaphank, Long Island on 4/1/43.
Upton was terrible. Our group of primarily college reservists was given to a sadistic pot bellied old army corporal who should have been shot. His goal in life appeared to be to humiliate the college reservists who were coming in. The processing in was arduous with many hours of hurry up and waiting. After many hours of this I was waiting to have blood drawn in a very hot building. The corps man was very inept and tired. He poked four times before he could get a vein. When he was done he snapped the tourniquet off and told me to "get the hell out of here". I jumped up and promptly keeled over and gouged my lower left eyelid. No real damage but close. I had a scar for many years.
They gave us a battery of tests . I did well and qualified for Officer Candidate School. The period was total confusion and we had no idea about what would occur next. Rumors abounded. We got some rudimentary training and also got most of the nasty latrine and other details. We were finally put on a train on 4/21//43 but were not told our destination. The cars were regular passenger cars but very old and were completely loaded with men and full equipment. As we wandered towards the South West we found that there were others like me who had taken Field Artillery at college ( Oklahoma University had horse drawn artillery units and we epitomized the old Field Artillery song -as the caissons go rolling’ along.) It took three days to get from Long Island to Lawton, Oklahoma.
When we arrived at Ft. Sill, we were taken off the train and immediately taken to a dispensary where we were put on a scale set at 155 lbs with a height measurement set at 5' 10". The first group of men that met that criteria were told that they were assigned to the Mule Pack Howitzers. These were mule pack 75 mm Howitzers that were broken apart and put on mules for travel. I believe we were told they were to be trained and then sent for combat mountain service. Their job was to lead the mules for about 35 to 40 miles per day and then do fire drill and take care of the mules before caring for themselves. It was very rough and by the time they finished training they were a lean and tough looking bunch of soldiers. The rest of us were given further testing and interviews and I was fortunately assigned to Battery E, 32nd Battalion of the 8th Training Regiment. Battery E was the top training Battery in Fire Direction and Control. We were also advised that we would be going into the Officer Training course at the conclusion of our basic training.
We had a great 16 week training program at Sill. It was very arduous but I think that we all had a good feeling about the fire missions that we were on and came to understand the power of artillery. Sill was both very hot in daytime and could get very cold at night. Classes, and we had many, got to be very tough to stay awake in. I can recall one class in map reading where they taught us how to read coordinates by imposing a grid over a naked woman and having us locate various points of anatomy. It worked!
I have always had a warm memory for my period at Sill. We felt that we were in an elite group. In fact we had created the highest academic program of any group up to that point. Lawton was a tough town and I always tried to be with big friends if drinking beer etc.
We graduated on 7/15/43. ( still have a brochure of our graduation) Unfortunately ( or perhaps fortunately because those finishing training in that period were going directly to Africa) the army cut back drastically in the officer training program. We were told we should consider requesting the newly organized Army Specialized Training Program or we could go directly into an active unit in Africa. They said we would still have a chance to get back into Officer Candidate School later. (baloney).
The ASTP , whose shoulder insignia was a lamp that was lit, (called the flaming pisspot by us) was an army program supposedly designed to train technical people for the army -and to keep the colleges open.
A group of us left for Oklahoma A&M at Stillwater, Oklahoma on 8/5/43 for assignment to a college. A&M was called a STAR unit. Their function was to assign ASTP students to the various colleges in the program. We did very little at Stillwater except to try to live with the very oppressive heat of late summer. They finally put a group of us on a very old train on 8/27/43 and we wandered South through Texas then Back East towards Mississippi. We arrived in Oxford, Mississippi on 8/30/43. It was a lousy ride in antique parlor cars with old green dirty velour with greasy black coal smoke blowing through the windows that were all open because it was so hot.
There were two companies , A and B, at Oxford and we were quartered in a fairly new multi story dorm. I was assigned to Company A with my roommate Don Smith of Oregon. The work was intensive with about eight hours of work, lots of homework, some marching etc to remind us that we were in the army. We were able to participate in campus activities with a few dates, some football games between the two army companies (quite good teams because we had some top notch college football players), a few passes to Memphis and New Orleans and a furlough home after the first semester. Don came home with me on that furlough. We had a group that spent some time together including Don, Bill Luckie whose father owned a big milk company in upstate New York- his father gave him a snappy convertible that we sometimes tooled around in, Irving "Blackie" Levine from Brooklyn and some others. It was a strange kind of period because of the constant rumors of the program being dropped. There are still some photos of the girls Don and I dated.
We were well into our second semester at "Ole Miss" when the Army abruptly decided to cancel most of the ASTP programs. We were advised on 2/3/44 that we would be going into the 94th infantry Division which was then in final overseas training at Camp McCain in Grenada, Miss. We were taken by bus to Grenada and the next day I was assigned to L Company of the 376th Infantry. "L" was a 3rd battalion Rifle company. Shortly thereafter they apparently checked our records, saw that some of us had fire direction training at Fort Sill and moved some of us to the weapons companies--in my case, and several others from Sill, it was to "M" Companies heavy 81MM Mortar platoon.
The Heavy Weapons companies in an Infantry Regiment consisted of "D", "H" and "M". They had two platoons of heavy water cooled 30 caliber machine guns and one platoon of heavy 81MM Mortars. Each of the 3 rifle companies in the regiment also had a weapons platoon consisting of light 30 caliber air cooled machine guns and 60 MM mortars. The 81's are the Infantry Regiments heavy weapons with attached help from divisional cannon companies. The 81 MM Mortar breaks down into 3 parts of about 44 1bs each-all equally impossible to carry for a long distance! -as well as rifle, ammo, pack etc.
The 81's were typically set up around 500 yds' behind the outpost line of resistance and behind a slope or some obstruction for protection because of the high parabola that the gun could shoot. Normally we used a field telephone line rigged from the guns to a forward observation post with the riflemen. The forward observer would then direct the fire of the gun. We could fire a rectangular area pattern of 9 rounds and have all of the rounds in the air before the first one hit. It was a terrible impact on enemy soldiers if we got them in the open. Maximum range for our high explosive shell was about 3200 yards and about 2700 for our heavy phosphorous shells but we seldom fired at the maximum.. Each of our 2 gun sections was led by a Staff/ Sgt with each gun crew led by a buck Sgt.
It seemed like a waste of talent to put this well trained and adaptable college talent into a line infantry division but, in fact, the division could not have gotten ready to go overseas without them.. the 94th had previously received two large drafts for officers and non coms to go oversees and simply was not ready to go over. .
McCain was very rough. We lived in tar paper covered roughly constructed frame buildings, the weather always seemed hot and humid and we had lots of platoon, company and Battalion exercises with our weapons in very rough country. I can recall one unhappy training incident with live hand grenade throwing.
Our group from Fort Sill basic had never received infantry training and had not been exposed to hand grenades. One day I was simply taken out to the grenade range and told to throw them. I pulled the ring and tried to throw it like a baseball. It rolled out of my hand and, very fortunately hit a small depression about 8 feet away. I hit the dirt behind another small depression as it exploded and the fragments went over my head. Fortunately no one was hurt but the range officer, very properly, cursed the hell out of me and then asked if I had guts enough to throw some more the "right way". I threw three more the right way.
Grenada was a small town and flooded with doggies from the 94th . I had a few dates with a girl whose sister worked at the base. I also entered ( I think 1 was pushed) into a Golden Gloves elimination contest -and got eliminated in my first fight by a tall rangy fellow who knew how to fight. All I could do was to put my head down and try to land some haymakers. It didn't work. I was hospitalized twice with my old nemesis Poison Ivy-once around my face and the second time around my crotch. The second was just before we shipped out. I desperately tried, and succeeded, in getting out so I could go with my company.
The training was really very tough , but necessary, and I thought we were a pretty good infantry Battalion by the time we shipped out. My company commander was Captain Lawrence Simcox, a very experienced regular and our new Battalion Commander was Lt. Col. Thurston-also turned out to be excellent. I can recall a couple of very odd ball incidents including killing a mean looking snake which came crawling up to me in the middle of a simulated fire fight by shooting him with the powder burn from the muzzle of the rifle from the blanks fired and nearly getting pounded by a guy named McDonald who had taken the division heavy weight boxing championship in the Golden Gloves and was a nut. He had a habit of picking on people, particularly the college group and more particularly any Jew. For some reason we were alone on a patrol and he started to threaten to take me apart. I don't know what possessed me but I told him that I knew he cold beat hell out of me, shoved a blank round into my M 1 rifle and told him that now, or later, if he ever touched me I would find a way to shoot him. I must have been credible-he stopped and never bothered me again. He was later killed in France on one of our first attacks that we were both on. I did not see it happen. I only had trouble one more time on board the Queen Elizabeth. I was not big but my wrestling and football had hardened me up and given me some confidence. .
I can also recall a two week rugged field training session in a national forest in Holly Springs, Miss. One time I was supposed to be taking a message from the outpost line to our company commander and got lost for a frantic 20 minutes--no road signs.
During this period the 376th Infantry Regiment became the first "Expert Infantry" Regiment in the United States Army. That required a stiff series of tough infantry exercises, courses, tests etc. What it really meant was an additional $5 per month pay to our $21/month. ( We got a wreath around the badge when we went into combat and an additional $5 per month. My very sparse record shows that I became a Private First Class on 5/5/44, and went on furlough to home 5/24 thru 6/5/44. I was originally scheduled for furlough on 5/17 but was loaded with Poison Ivy. A horrible experience in the oppressive heat of Mississippi in a hospital with no air conditioning and only being smeared with calamine lotion.
After some very tough field tests the 94th was certified for overseas movement to Europe and advance parties left for Camp Shanks. Our Battalion loaded on railroad cars on 7/26 and arrived in Camp Shanks in West Nyack, NY on 7/29/44. Most of our time in Shanks was spent in getting new equipment and trying to drink the camp out of beer. I got home for one overnight pass and had one other pass in NYC. We were given lectures on "loose lips sink ships" but when we were in NYC all of the cab drivers were telling us we were going to ship out on the Queen Elizabeth! One highlight at Shanks was that I met Don Creede drinking beer in one of the rough bars. I had gone all thru grade school and high school with his older brother Ray and had not realized that Don was in the 94th-and there he was in "K" Company of my own 3rd Battalion. I can recall Don's exuberance in telling me that he had just been made a lead scout. Don was later shot in the hip in our first attack into Nennig in Germany. He laid in the bitter cold until a German officer suggested a truce to the rifle company platoon leader of the platoon that had been trapped in the open by the Germans and cut down. They agreed and the wounded men, with Don on a door, were brought out.
On Saturday, 8/5/44, we were taken by ferry across the Hudson and by bus to the Queen Elizabeth which then was the largest liner in the world. The Elizabeth took our entire division except for the advance party that had preceded us to England on an earlier ship and some extra small groups like an air force group- about 18,000 men. Some of us were put in the bow two decks below the water line. The bunks were four deep and the fellow that slept in the bunk above you had his fanny hanging almost in your face. That later led to a problem for me. A smart ass Italian machine gunner from Brooklyn was above me. He had a nasty habit of jumping heavily into the canvas bunk and then jumping up and down. We finally got into an argument and he pulled a knife on me - fortunately a few of my friends were around and they grabbed him. We had kind of an armed truce thereafter but he stopped the bouncing.
The ship left the harbor at 7:25AM on Sunday 8/16/44. It was escorted for one day and then relied on it's own speed and zigzagging for submarine protection. There were some abrupt changes in speed and direction because of sub scares but we saw none. (It certainly would have been a world class coup to sink the largest ship in the world with an entire infantry division on board!) The trip was essentially calm. We did very little but read books and there was a lot of gambling going on. Only two so called meals were served -kind of a late breakfast and dinner. A lot of pieces of baloney between two pieces of bread passed as a meal - they were called "donkey dick" sandwiches.
We reached Ireland on Friday 8/11/44 and then sailed up to Greenock, Scotland where we debarked on to lighters carrying our full field equipment. We were then crowded on to trains and taken to Huilavington, England where the 376th was assigned quarters at a place called Pinckney Park which was located one mile from the village of Sherston in Wiltshire.
Our time in England was spent mainly in firing all new equipment and in company and battalion exercises. "D" Day was two months in the past but the army had still not absorbed some of the shocks of combat in France against seasoned troops and was having to learn some terrible lessons . The weather that August was very hot for England. I can still recall one thing of strange interest. We had marmalade out of one gallon tin olive drab cans and the marmalade was swarming with yellow-orange wasps who seemed to be enjoying it very much. You had to be careful to scrape them off. I went on one trip to London where I took in a few historical locations and saw some V bombs drop some distance away. The Londoners were starting to take them in stride by then. The "Piccadilly Commandos" , aka ladies of joy, were also out in full force selling their wares in strange ways.
Our company boarded an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) on 9/6/44 for transfer to France-I believe from Southampton. (they shipped us out in almost any type craft they could find and some fellows were stuck in the channel for several weeks). The LCI is almost flat bottomed so it can land easily on shore and wallows like a pig when it is rough. The trip across the channel was extremely rough and almost the entire ship was very sea sick. I was close but avoided the problem by staying topside and avoiding the areas where so many were puking their guts out. I believe we landed on Utah Beach by simply nudging the ship on to the shore, dropping the two ramps on either side of the ship and walking on to the beach.
We came ashore in a light rain. We had been issued condoms and they all found their first use by being placed over the muzzle of the riles to keep the rain out. Interesting spectacle to see several hundred ground pounders walking off a ship with condoms on the rifles--a few ribald comments were made. We pitched our shelter half pup tents in a cow pasture among the cow leavings and spent a few confused days there with the officers trying to figure out where we would move into combat There was a lot of confusion as to our assignment because of the fluidity of movement with the start of some break outs.
On 9/12/44 we were piled into trucks for a move to Rennes. Rennes was the division staging area. We had received a very fortunate division assignment. It was to "contain and screen" the enemy “in and around" the two seaports of St. Nazaire and Lorient. These were heavily fortified ports to which
various German units had retreated into during our breakouts. There were about 35,000 German troops in St. Nazaire and 21,000 to 25,000 in Lorient. Both ports were extremely important with St. Nazaire being the major submarine port on the Atlantic. The 376th was basically assigned to the St. Nazaire area with it's headquarters in a town called Heric and our 3rd Battalion was headquartered in a town called Blain. Additionally the 94th was assigned to supply and "train" around 20,000 of the free French. There were some great fighters but for the most part they were scroungers whose main joy was to fire vast quantities of ammo.
Our job was to become acclimated to combat, learn to fight, hold the Germans in place, straighten out the lines for better protection and attack in mostly small engagements at the platoon and company level. There was aggressive and incessant patrolling on both sides but after awhile a kind of consent to tone things down. We had many occasions of fairly heavy artillery fire. Really very excellent break- in experience for a combat infantry regiment,
The weather was great that fall of 1944 and the countryside was quite lovely. Lots of apple trees in some area and lots of cider and wine made by dirty feet stomping on apples and grapes. Early on, like most new troops, we shot at lots of apples falling off trees at night but discipline improved quickly. Our battalion had one sad civilian incident. We mined all roads at night and had warning signs up . One night some farmer with his family in a horse drawn buggy was running after dark in violation of the curfew and hit a mine. Killed him, his wife and a child. Terrible. That, and another death I will relate later, had almost more effect than the many casualties we incurred along the Siegfried "Switch" line between the Saar and Mosselle.
Although some of our relatively small unit actions were quite bitter, we lost very few people in contrast to our later very heavy actions on the "Switch". In truth our 94th by December was a quite good division -blooded and wary but with good battlefield experience .
Much, if not most, of my time in France was spent right on the out post line of resistance with riflemen, as a forward observer, as a radio man observer on a number of small recon patrols and as a radio man for an officer forward observer on larger attacks. I would say I spent most time on line as the communication support for patrols. They usually carried the small, hand held, radios which had limited range and typically could not carry back to our gun positions on reverse slopes of hills or behind houses etc.
Each patrol would be given a map overlay of the patrol sector with preset fire points put on the overlay. If the patrol got into trouble it called the nearest fire point to me. I would telephone the map point to the gun squad following the patrol and we would drop a round at the point for the patrol leader to adjust from there. Our Battalion Commander Lt. Colonel Ben Thurston had tried to get most rifle squad leaders to have some training in basic fire direction and it worked.. Don Creede (Ray's brother) was a scout on some of these patrols and knew my voice, as I knew his,. We always used good voice discipline but on a few occasions he would say "that's all Ug-we're back in. His brother Ray hung that one me in High School because my graduation photo looked good.
I participated in a number of these recon patrols where our function was to look-not get into trouble-and also in some planned platoon or company level attacks to straighten out lines or just cause some temporary trouble for the Germans.
There were three separate occasions when my own personally directed mortar fire nearly did me in. Each mortar shell has powder packages attached to it to give range. As the range desired goes down the powder packets are torn off. When the mortar shell is shoved down the tube a firing pin hits a cartridge and ignites the powder packets. Unfortunately in very damp weather the packets seem to absorb a little moisture and decrease the range of the shell. On these three incidents we were firing fairly close to our line and the shells dropped short- in each case landing within 30-50 feet of our hole. No one was hurt but the riflemen and machine gunners who normally liked me because I spent so much time with them, and carried a rifle like them, gave me some very heated comments.
I also acted as a radio man in platoon, company or battalion attacks as a radio man for an officer forward observer. In each case we hit German strong points, used our mortar fire within a few hundred yards or so of our position and would also have a 105 Cannon officer forward observer bringing down artillery fire right over our heads. Sometimes right over the hedgerows we were taking cover behind. Artillery fire that close can be very frightening but I had experienced quite a lot of that back in my Fort Sill days. I carried what , I think, was the SCR 300 Radio. It had frequency modulation and had greater range than the small SCR 536 that recon squads carried but was still somewhat limited in range and, at 44 pounds, it was quite heavy since I was carrying a rifle of about nine plus lbs, canteen, grenades, bayonet and some supplies. The worst thing was trying to follow riflemen through a small hole they would cut through hedgerows. On one of these attacks we were pinned down behind a hedgerow by German fire and I had to crawl back out into the open to transmit. I was put in for a Bronze Star for this by Lt. Cecil Dansby who was our F.O.
There were a few dates that 1 noted in a little address book:
9/17/44 ---The Germans rolled a RR Box car loaded with explosives down an unblocked spur line that led directly into Don Creede's platoon area. Obviously we green soldiers never thought of that. It exploded killing one man and wounding three. Don later told me he was close to it and fired a clip into it. He said he was somewhat deaf for a few days.
10/6/44--A two day I Company, with attached Mortar and Machine guns from M Company attempts to straighten the lines around a German strong point in a town called Bouvren. We ran into heavy 88 fire on this one. We had 4 killed and 4 wounded. My notes indicate that McDonald, the heavy - weight Golden Glove boxer who threatened me in Camp McCain, was killed in this one. The German 88MM anti aircraft gun was one of the finest weapons in the war. Dual purpose- anti aircraft and ground-very fast and accurate.
10/12/44--Nantes,--We had about an 8 hour pass to visit the river port town of Nantes ( a few miles up the Loire.) I have one of the few photos of me in Europe with a wine bottle sticking out of my pocket. This was the only pass I had in Europe until I was hospitalized near Sacre Cour in Paris. I had several eight hour passes there.
Late October '44 We were taken to a portable shower facility near a small river -don't remember where in France-but this was the only hot shower except for my hospital periods.
11/11/44-The second company sized action against Bouvron. It was led by Lt. Dan Daley (one of the best, most aggressive and bravest of our officers who was later shot in the back by some by- passed snipers when we were attacking across the Saar River). We took Bouvron which had a steeple from which the Germans would fire from as an observation post. I spent several days in the steeple looking for targets. Turn about !-- because the Germans fired on us from that steeple.
Living conditions for the infantry were quite good that fall in France. The weather , unlike the worst winter in 50 years that we were shortly to experience in Germany, was quite balmy and we were quite well dug in with tin roofs over our strong points wherever possible. We also could sometimes stay in empty houses in the rear area. We got a hot shower and a single pass to a river town called Nantes which was somewhat up the Loire. Our lines were really a series of weak strong points but we had reserve units a few hundred yards behind our out post lines. It really was unusually fine break- in for combat---,and totally different than my brother in law Gifford Doxsee's experience in the 106th Infantry Division which had been sent for indoctrination in the supposedly quiet Ardennes (think "Bulge") sector. I can recall being pulled out of line for Thanksgiving Dinner and getting smashed on Calvados a form of "White Lightning".
Major General Maloney, (CO of the 94th ) was constantly pressuring to get the division moved into the major fighting going on in Germany. We felt we were fortunate in remaining in France and got moved to action in Germany only because major elements of the 66th Infantry Division, destined for Germany had
been sunk in Cherbourg Harbor by a German Sub. It was a terrible incident. The Captain and his foreign crew grabbed the lifeboats and left most of the soldiers to drown on a bitterly cold night.
On 12/26/44 units of the 66th started to take over our lines and gun positions. They definitely had been hurt. Many of our units had to provide more help than normal to them in the transfer-a very dangerous situation because infantry units are at perhaps their greatest danger when responsibility is transferred in an active combat zone.
Our 94th was to move to the Siegfried "Switch" line. This was a very strongly fortified line between the Saar and the Moselle Rivers. The purpose of the line was to protect the vital transportation point of Trier - an ancient Roman city. (see map)
Our 3rd Battalion went by rail and motor transport. The railroad cars were the old "40 and 8's" of World War I fame. They were supposed to carry either 40 men or 8 horses. They are much smaller than our Freight cars. Colonel Thurstan chose to go with the rail group. Most of our mortar platoon was in one car-the box car in the photo in p 73 of our Division History is the actual car that I was in for 3 days of very uncomfortable travel in very bitter cold. The man standing up is Sgt Ray Schultz who was later killed next to me in a mine field.
I believe their were about thirty six men in the car with all of our equipment. The box cars were old and had many cracks in the sides. The cold was extremely bitter for the entire three days we took to travel when we left Chateaubriant on 1/5/45 and arrived in Sierck on 1/8/45. We could not lie down but essentially had to sleep sitting up. The so called French engineers were maddening. They would stop and restart at crazy times. Our so called bathroom facilities were hanging out the car doors or a quick one when stopping with the French engineers inevitably starting up at the wrong time. In short-a rotten three days.
Some background is needed. In November 1944, the 10th Armored and the 90th Infantry had tried to break the "Switch" line somewhere between Tettingen and Butzdorf and had been repulsed with very heavy losses. The very strong defenses had been improved by the time we arrived. Also the winter was becoming the coldest winter in over fifty years--particularly for infantrymen. We had periods of very intense cold followed by short thaws. It caused a great number of frostbite casualties in January and February 1945 -the period of our heaviest fighting. We had a number of wounded men frozen to death because they could not be picked up quickly.
The Germans knew that new troops were coming in and they, like us, did a lot of patrolling and greeted us with considerable artillery fire which did little harm. The goal for our commanders was to find out what they faced as quickly as possible. The 94th was now spread in a line from the Saar to the Moselle. The 376th basically had the left flank based on the Moselle. We came in at the tail end of the "Bulge" and, in effect, we were the southern flank. Initially the focus was on cleaning up the " Bulge" so our division was authorized to do only probing attacks up to the Battalion level in order to keep the Germans off balance and pin down their troops.
On 1/12/45 the 1st Battalion, 376th was ordered to seize and hold Tettingen. They did so with fairly heavy casualties because they were ordered to move beyond the original attack plan and nearly got trapped. There was very serious house to house fighting in Tettingen. Our 3rd /376th was in reserve on this attack. (These attacks are covered thoroughly in our 94th Division History.)
On 1/14/45 our 3rd/376th was ordered to seize and hold Nennig, Borg and Wies with the attack to take place the next morning. This put a terrible burden on our Battalion Commander, Lt. Col Ben Thurston. He immediately went out to scout the area because he knew that the
" school" approach would have been the same frontal attack into strong points that had led to failure and heavy casualties when the 10th Armored and 90th Infantry had tried the same attack two months earlier. To describe the situation somewhat, the Germans had tank ditches, strong points with zeroed in artillery and mortar coverage, barbed wire and mines, mostly Schu mines, strung from river to river. On our Moselle side there was a railroad moving North alongside of the river towards Trier. The land side of the river near Nennig was rather flat and marshy with small streams. Nennig itself , at our point of attack, was perhaps a half mile at some points from the river. Col. Thurston's plan was for our Battalion to start out around 3AM from Boesch, the nearest town within our lines, move single file through the flats and creeks along the river (with engineers clearing the way through some mine fields), move into attack position along the railroad tracks and then, at the time set to move on a flank attack in the immediate wake of an artillery barrage by our 919th Field Artillery Battalion.
It was an extremely daring and dangerous plan but Thurston felt it would result in fewer casualties. He was given authorization by our Regimental Commander, Colonel William "Whisky Bill" McClain. (well earned nickname) However Col. McClune told Lt. Col. Thurston that he preferred the "school" solution of direct attack. In effect he was putting the responsibility back on to Thurston.
The 3rd did move out around 3AM. The morning was bitter cold. Snow had been falling for days and covered the flats along the river with the small streams initially frozen over. We moved in a single, very long, column of companies led by a squad of engineers who had cleared a path through the minefields. They were followed by a lead squad of riflemen from our "K" Company (Don Creede was one of them), followed by the rest of "K" Company and Mortar and Machine Gun Sections from our "M" Company. It was very bright from moonlight on the snow and we could readily see the phosphorescence of the strip markers the engineers used to mark the paths through the mine fields. We very carefully stepped into the paths of the man in front. I carried my 40 plus lb. radio, M1 rifle, several bandoliers of extra ammunition clips (cloth belts with ammo clips), several grenades, etc and was sweating profusely. What I mostly remember is the frustration of having to constantly take off and wipe my glasses because they fogged up immediately.
The two streams that we had to wade through were not deep-perhaps two feet and were covered with ice at first. We were late getting to the point of attack along the railroad tracks and the artillery barrage, which had started as scheduled, had to be extended. The flank attack essentially worked but things started to go wrong immediately. In the smoke portion of the barrage one of "K" Companies platoons (including Don Creede) went the wrong way. They were inadvertently moving across open fields into a small cluster of houses which made up the town of Wies. Wies was covered with interlaced machine gun fire and Don's platoon was trapped in the field and cut down. I was radio man for Lt. King, our forward observer. We tried to provide them with smoke shells to enable them to come out but the rising wind blew the smoke away. We then tried to drop some explosive shells but the Germans were too well protected and our men too close. With the temperature well below freezing our wounded men were in danger of freezing to death. Finally the German officer waved a white flag and offered to let us take the wounded if the rest trapped in the field would surrender. Don, who had been shot in the hip, was carried out on a door. The rest were taken prisoner for awhile but I think finally were recovered when Nennig was (temporarily) cleared of Germans.
Nennig was the largest of the three towns finally taken. The rifle platoons had moved in shooting at everyone in sight. The final surge was very successful but the real trouble was just starting. My sense, and recollection of the next three days, is one of great confusion with lots of very heavy, well zeroed in artillery and mortar fire and incessant probing and attacks by the Germans in immediate efforts to retake the three towns. It is German doctrine to immediately counter attack as soon as possible. We held all of the ridges and high points immediately around Nennig but were firing our mortars from behind houses for protection and very close to our men on the ridges. The Germans were aggressively trying to infiltrate groups of men from squad to company level, into Nennig. We stayed in the cellars as much as possible except when we were on guard or directing fire. In some of these wild attacks our men thought the Germans were drunk.
At one point our machine guns were in trouble from manpower losses and needed volunteers to help fire the guns on the ridges. I volunteered to go up on the ridge with them because I had a lot of machine gunner friends. However, Kinsley McWhorter, Jr., a machine gunner and a good friend from the University of Mississippi period, told the machine gun platoon sergeant (Sergeant Klawitter) that was nuts as I was more valuable with the mortars. Mac was OK that night but Klawitter was killed. Mac survived the war and became a rising newspaper reporter (and rising author) in Roanoke, VA. (Sadly Mac died of cancer after the war leaving a lovely wife and two girls. He was a brave man and a good friend who fought the Cancer to the end.) At several points during the three days we advised our men to get under cover as best they could and our own artillery plastered the town.
The continuous German attacks created many problems in that we had by- passed the strong points which controlled the roads into Nennig and could not bring in vehicles to bring supplies and take out the dead Germans. Quite a few of the Germans killed in the attacks had frozen solid so some of the bodies were brought into Nennig and stacked outside of a house so they could properly be buried later. After our Battalion was relieved, the Germans retook Nennig, found the bodies, and the propagandist called "Axis Sally" accused our division of slaughtering the men and called us "Roosevelt's Butchers". It was not true but the photo looks bad. We did not expect the Germans to retake the town.
The German counterattacks continued thru 1/18 with an estimated four Battalions of German artillery and a lot of Battalion, and smaller sized attacks. A number of these hit through a ravine close to where our mortar unit was located. At one point during these barrages I saw a rifleman hit while trying to reach cover near us and told a mortar crew member named Frank Dapice that we had to bring him in. We ran out about forty yards, grabbed his arms, and dragged him back under cover. I was told by Lt. Dansby, our platoon leader, that this called for a medal for both of us but since he had already put thru a citation for me that he would put one through for Dapice.
On 1/20/45 our 3rd Battalion was pulled out of Nennig for a rest and replacement of men and equipment. I don't know what happened but my right arm had swollen to such an extent that I could not bend it. I was taken back to a hospital near Metz on 1/21/45. No one could figure out what was wrong but it did allow me to get showered, cleaned up, new clothing, good food and rest. Unfortunately, I had a cot between two men livid with jaundice. I suspect that is when I got the hepatitis that was shortly to wear me down. The arm started to go down after a few days and the rumors were that we would be sent to replacement centers to fill the heavy "Bulge" losses. I heard there were some trucks going back towards my regiment near Nennig, so I walked out of the hospital on 1/21/45 and was able to hitch a ride back to the 376th . I may still be listed in some old record as AWOL. I figured no one would object much to my going back to the combat.
The 3rd of 376th was abruptly pulled back to the line to help contain a German breakthrough but I got a good assignment. On the Luxembourg side of the Moselle the American lines were further North than on the German side of the Moselle so we could in effect get beyond their lines and shoot across the river into their rear. Our company Commander, Captain Lawrence Simcox, was an excellent and imaginative officer. He decided that since we had had zero air attacks that the heavy 50 caliber machine guns on trucks were being wasted. He took them off the trucks and set them up as a battery to be fired back across the river. We also brought a couple of mortar squads and joined with the 50's in putting some very mean barrages behind the German lines. The 50 caliber is a very powerful weapon that would cut right thru trees etc.
On 1/25/45 the 3 Battalions of the 376th ' Regiment received an order for a regiment sized attack on a strongly fortified town called Sinz . Our 3rd Battalion moved out on 1/26/45 but the lead company immediately hit a field of concertina wire and Schu mines. They were constructed out of wood to help avoid .detection, were typically buried and hung in the Concertina barbed wire and designed mostly to take off a leg and require soldiers to take the hurt man out of action. They seemed everywhere in the "Switch" line and stopped some of our efforts cold. For the next four or five days our units were almost constantly engaged in extremely bad weather. I believe that during this period Nennig, which had been taken originally by the 3rd and had been lost by another battalion, was retaken by another of our Battalions.
I can recall two interesting actions. At one point we were in the center of Nennig moving between some destroyed buildings, when a sniper fired a shot and killed one of our men. Rifle squads were immediately sent out, located him and shot him. Within an hour on that same day an arrogant German officer was standing next to the fountain in Nennig refusing to answer questions. I saw one solder shoot his rifle very close to his ears to get him to talk. I don't know what happened, we moved on.
I don't have much recollection of early February except a lot of miserable weather conditions, poor sleep mostly in a "Fart" sack (canvas sleeve with blanket in it) in wrecked buildings or in the open, on guard duty or in response to incoming artillery or attack alarms. I do recall one vignette. At one point I had to go on guard duty and my watch had been wrecked. I borrowed one from our Platoon Leader, 1st Lt. Tom Ross. While I was on watch we had some incoming artillery fire. I dove behind a wall for protection and lost the watch. It was an expensive watch. Lt. Ross mentioned it to his wife in a letter, she mentioned it to the jewelry store where the watch was purchased -and they sent out a replacement.
We had very many casualties during this period but one impacted us all. An old (to us-he was about 28) jeep driver who had been with the company from the beginning, was bringing up one of the small trailers loaded with duffle bags, knapsacks etc. He was unloading them (again I believe in Nennig) when suddenly a shot rang out and he went down. We all spread out immediately looking for the probable sniper and a medic went to look at the driver. He was dead. When the trailer was unloaded they saw that a carbine with the safety off had had the trigger hooked on some canvas while he was unloading. We were all struck by the unusual nature of his death..
The 94th was pretty well ground down by the constant action --particularly the rifle companies which had by far the worst of the actions. We were getting a lot of very green replacements who had not even completed their basic training because the "Bulge" had cost us so many losses. The Division history notes that from 1/17 to 2/15/45 the 94th ,for all practical purposes, had destroyed the German 416th Infantry Division and had reduced the strength of the 11th Panzer (armored) Division by 50%. (Interestingly enough veterans of the 11th Panzer and 94th have had many post war contacts and joined in dedicating the Peace Monument on the top of Munzingen Ridge.
By 2/15/45 the Army had taken off the restrictions on the size of the attack that the Division could engage in. On 2/19/45 the entire division, with attached elements of the 10th Armored, moved forward into the “Switch” to try to break through. The attack started with the heaviest artillery barrage that the division had ever engaged in. ( over 19,000 rounds). Our 3rd Battalion attacked mid-way between Nennig and Sinz through the Adenholtz Woods.. This was my worst experience during the war. Mortar Squad Leader Ray Schultz, was assigned as mortar forward observer and I was assigned to be radio man. We were assigned right behind "K" Company led by Lt. Ray King. King, years later, told a nephew of Schultz that the assignment was a bad mistake.( He was right, we were taken right out of the action.) "K" Company's assignment was to move through some concertina wire and mine fields, move across an open field with bayonet and marching fire and take out the Germans at the top of a ridge in the Adenholtz woods. As we moved towards the wire the lead Sgt. told us that 8 of his 12 men were replacements who were up for the first time.
Conditions were filthy. It had been raining for several days . The ground was muck that was difficult to move in. We moved off at around 4AM in a ground fog and could see almost nothing. We moved through the known minefield and through rolls of the concertina barbed wire with some Schu mines dangling in the wire and buried in the ground. As we moved thru the concertina and out the other side we were hit with what I thought was mortar fire and definitely machine gun fire. As the men started to hit the ground to avoid the fire they started to hit the Schu mines. We could still see almost nothing. Ray was about 6-8 feet in front of me when he hit a mine. He yelled out. I could see very little, but crawled up to him lying on the ground, felt around his legs and felt that part of his lower right leg was gone. I got hold of an arm, got it on my shoulder over the radio and started to carry him out. About that time we had an order passed along from Lt. Dan Daly ( I referred to him earlier as one of the bravest, most aggressive and able of our officers) ordering us to retrench our steps so we could gather and move out to attack in a different direction. We probably retraced our steps for about fifty to sixty feet when Ray's other leg hit another mine and the explosion blew him out of my grip. As he fell he hit a 3rd mine. I still could not see anything but felt around his body and came to the agonizing decision that I could not get him out but had to leave to do any fire control necessary. I had my radio, rifle and all of my equipment. To this day I am terribly troubled about leaving.
We returned through the mine field and concertina barbed wire the same way we had come. I frankly remembered nothing that happened immediately thereafter except briefly meeting one of our platoon Lts. named Dansby. A friend in the mortar platoon, Steve Wood (PH.D and college professor at University of Rhode Island after the war) told me before his 2007 published book “ON BEING AN INFANTRRYMAN”, that I was wild with anger and threatened to kill the old man. I remember nothing at all about that, in fact I have no recollection of what Steve notes in his book when he indicates my appearance and that I was placed on a Weasel (tracked vehicle that could operate in mud) and taken back to the battalion aid station. Although I remained in action from this date, 2/19/45 until I was sent back by Captain Simcox (my company commander on 3/9/45, I remember very little about the intervening period.
Steve sent his book to me in Dec 2007. In his section entitled “DEATH IN THE MINEFIELD” he noted that his section sergeant, Sgt. Ray Schultz, was the man he most admired in M Company, Mortar Platoon and writes about his death. In part he notes the following: " The day he was killed our mortar section was dug in a mile or so to the East of Nennig. Schultz and Whitey Nagele, who served as a forward observer, accompanied the lead elements of Company K in an attack on Untersie Busch (Steve is wrong-it was the Adenholtz Woods), a forest situated between Nennig and another small village to the North of Sinz".
He goes on to note :
"Early morning attack orders came down. Schultz sits in the corner of the shelled out house. Communications situation talked through. Attack forces move out. Schultz is gone. Preparatory barrages laid out. Talk (over the radio) with Schultz from our foxholes. His whispered report of the behavior of the men who will lead the attack just before jump off. Fire missions from Schultz. We respond. Then silence. Men speculate 'his radio won't work, it's been hit by a shell, he's discarded his radio'. Apprehension spreads through the holes. Nothing. on our radio. ------------ Prisoners begin to comeback, fear and disbelief. Schultz is deathless; that powerful body could not be destroyed. Other units contact us by radio, nothing from Schultz. The battle sounds are now distant. Men come out of their holes. Begin to relax, feel safe for one more day, lay helmets aside. Eat rations, smoke, wait."
"------Suddenly a familiar figure emerges towards our front, equilibrium gone, covered with mud, helmet askew, blackened from explosives, bloody, eyes nearly closed. It's Nagele. About him the weariness of ages. “Shultz is dead", "they're all dead. Mines: we thought at first they were mortars. A medical corpsman comes in by Weasel and takes Nagele with him."
This division wide attack resulted in the crushing of the "Switch" line. Pg 280 of the Division History notes that 611 wounded passed through the aid stations on the 19th , 344 on the 20th and 173 on the 21 St. The Division, with some elements of the 10th Armored, a Battalion of he 5th Rangers and some other units moved quickly thru the open areas on any transport they could ride on. The Germans were totally disorganized and surrendering in numbers. We moved quickly to the Saar River. About this time I was feeling great tiredness and lack of strength but did not know why. I later found that this was the onslaught of the Hepatitis.
When we got to the Saar, Patton was raging at our General Malony to get his division over the Saar as quickly as possible so that Patton could be the first to get to and cross the Rhine. (Patton visited our Division Headquarters; gathered a mix of officers and non coms and excoriated them for so many soldiers having frozen feet etc. (He really endeared himself to our men!) The Siegfried Line was on the other side of the Saar. Where we were to assault across the Saar was a series of strong points including what looked like homes or barns but were actually heavily built in gun emplacements. The land itself sloped steeply from the water ( in a later vacation trip along the Moselle it was easy to see how steep the slopes were when those gathering the grapes had to have ways to hold them in place). As we got to the Saar a number of separate assaults were hurriedly ordered.
We had lots of good food but unfortunately were hit by storms and very turbulent water. Most of the guys were sick and puking up their food. I was OK because I was very careful about what I ate and tried, as in the Landing Craft Infantry when crossing the channel to France, to stay in the open as much as I could. I do recall a very moving Memorial Day service that the passengers, mostly ambulatory patients, seemed to truly appreciate. I also had my 21st birthday, May 31st , in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
S/Sgt E. J. Nagele 1/10/93
My Wife Eleanor