GILBERT MAAS's WAR DIARY
PATCH 28th INFANTRY DIVISION

K Company (heavy weapons), 110th Regiment of the 28th Division

 

OVERSEA’S LIFE

GILBERT MAAS SERVICE PHOTO

 

I have left the states [USA] on Dec. the ten of ‘44 and got overseas six and a half days after that which was on the seventeenth of Dec. ’44. 

We were taken off the ship at Omaha, France and went to our new camp where we have been put into a front-line Doughs which was the 28th Combat Division, which also dates back to 1747-1812 to the Mexican War, Civil War, and it also takes us into World War I and World War II which will take us to the Huertgen Forest and Ardennes, Colmar and the Battle of the Rhine, and there were some other small battles which I’ll name before my story is over, of Division History of the 28th which was named Roll-on 28th.

 

GREAT UNSUNG BATTLE OF THE 28TH DIVISION
Hurtgen Forest, Germany
Nov. 16, 1944

In the Hurtgen Forest, that gloomy expanse below Aachen where the trees, terrain and weather, even without entrenched Germans, make formidable opposition, and mud sluiced roads and clinging snow penetrate like a plague in the bones, American troops have fought a great but unsung battle.

They were soldiers of the 28th Division, Pennsylvania’s own, men who are destined to be overlooked as a greater campaign resumes, but whose 14-day sacrifice as they butted their heads against steep hills and the blazing muzzles of Tiger tanks may on day be appreciated by military historians who know what they attempted to achieve.

In a broad sense, the division, known to the Nazis as the “Blutig Eimer” (Bloody Bucket) after its crimson keystone patch and the ferocity of its onslaught near Mortain, attained its objectives.

It [the 28th] has about killed, captured or wounded 4000 enemy troops. It took and held Vossenack and Germeter and considerable of the woodland surrounding them. It crossed, without benefit of roads, the ridges protecting Kommerscheidt and Schmidt, seizing those two villages, and holding both for a time.

It destroyed 36 enemy tanks and self-propelled guns and three Messerschmitts and wrecked a whole series of pillboxes and blockhouses. Its very mission, to distract and occupy as many German troops as possible, indicated the nature of the assignment.

Survivors sat silently staring straight ahead and if there were heroics to recount, someone else had to talk for them. The men of the 28th would not.

Too many of their companions remained behind, too many were missing or wounded. If they never saw the Hurtgen Forest again, it would suit them.

If they never traveled its fragrant ravines or pitched another tent or new-hewn hut to ward off fragments and falling treetops, if they never saw a timbered slit trench or smelled the tangy odor of burning cones and felt springy bed needles that carpeted the forest, they would not care.

They hated Hurtgen Forest where the stately Douglas firs, with their epaulets of snow, ranged like frosted grandiers [sic], close ordered on the hillsides, immutable, impenetrable, and cold.

It was Nov. 2 [1944] when the 28th Division churned over the plateau from Luxembourg to try to negotiate the thick barrier that lies between the Siegfried defenses and the plain of Cologne. The mission was not easy and the staff knew it. Enemy artillery zeroed upon every narrow road, enemy mortars dropped on all exposed turns and openings. The enemy knew each captured pillbox and could shell with card-index certitude, while the Germans also realized that the loss of Schmidt had definitely isolated whole sections of the lower Siegfried line. The Hun would fight for Schmidt with all he had -- and did.

From the Nazi standpoint, the whole idea of the Rhineland stand has been to contain the Americans in this western fringe of homeland. If they can keep our troops from reaching the Rhine, if they can force winter upon the allies and bolster their slave-built defenses, if they can muster secret weapons for spring as each soldier has been promised, they may yet escape punishment. Schmidt and Hurtgen Forest are strong links in this chain of reasoning.

When the 28th attacked on Nov 2, there were strong enemy infantry forces before them. Plus light and medium artillery batteries and 88-mm guns, only a few 105-mms and no tanks.

When the 28th completed its fortnight’s battle, the Germans had thrown in many new troops, heavy artillery, and tanks, of which some were Mark VIs. There was a complete flak regiment engineer battalion which immediately attacked and lost 480 men, and the German guns were firing eight to 10 rounds a minute for periods of 20 minutes on a 24 hour-a-day basis to keep our troops from advancing. Hitler’s best troops had retaken Schmidt under orders to restore the line at all costs.

On Nov 3, a regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Carl Peterson, of Bradford, Pa, struck toward Vossenack, overran Germeter and took both places before nightfall. Things looked good.

One of these prisoners taken at Vossenack couldn’t understand why the yanks were coming through the forest. Why take Vossenack? “The road leads nowhere,” he said. But the Germans fought like fiends to retake it, and it’s worth your life to show your head there today.

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Sieg’s engineers built a road around the shoulder of a steep hill so tanks could cross but when he finished and three vehicles traversed it, the rock gave way and the remainder couldn’t pass. By then the attack of Colonel Peterson’s regiment had turned on Schmidt, and the engineers had to reopen the road. They hauled away the disabled vehicles and blasted away the debris to clear the route. Meanwhile, Schmidt had fallen and been retaken by the Germans and that in itself was a story.

Colonel Ripple was assigned to lead a task force to take back Schmidt in a spearheading operation pending arrival of a regiment to relieve it. It was composed of one battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Tait, of Indiana, Pa, a composite company of tank destroyers and two companies of a tank battalion. The task force left its bivouac at 2 a.m. on Nov 4. It was frosty in the woods at that hour.

On the way, Colonel Ripple’s elements reached Kommerscheidt where five big enemy tanks were overrunning the village. The commander left the regimental dugout just 10 minutes before a Mark VI rumbled forward through light arms fire, straddled the command post and stayed there, shooting our men as they tried to run out. Survivors say they still can vision that tank squatting on the dugout like a prehistoric monster, spitting slugs through our men.

Everyone was exhausted by now, for it was 24-hours-a-day fighting as the enemy increased his strength steadily and hurled more tanks into action. Tanks were sneaked up at night and when daylight came, they fired their cannon at 200 yards point blank into GI’s foxholes, or sprayed them with their machine guns.

Three officers were in one slit trench when it took a direct hit. One was killed and the second had his arm blown off. He said, “They winged me, but haven’t got me!” He demanded a tourniquet, walked to the first-aid station unassisted. The third officer was blown right out of the trench and suffered not a scratch. It was the first combat for Ripple who has a wife and children in Bathesda, MD. He directed the fight against the tanks.

Captain Bruce Hostrup, commanding the tank company, ran through heavy artillery and small arms fire while trying to dislodge the Mark VI from the command post. He’s from Port Clinton, OH, and showed extreme courage but the enemy tank refused to budge. Eventually the remainder of our men in the dugout had to surrender.

Lieutenant Ray Fleig, platoon leader, kept the battle going. They called him “General Fleig” because he directed three tanks as if he had an army behind him. Fleig was walking ahead of the tanks with Sergeant Tony Spooner of Alton, Ill, a section leader. All three vehicles were under heavy mortar and artillery fire. The first tank hit a mine, was disabled and blocked the road, but Sergeant Spooner, with a cable used the lead tank for an anchor and hauled the others through. Lieutenant Fleig jumped in, rode through intense artillery fire to Schmidt, where the infantry men were so happy to see him that several almost cried.

“There are Heinies with lots of tanks over that hill,” they told him to which Lieutenant Fleig said, “I’ll do what I can, boys.”

They then proceeded to knock out three German tanks at 75 yards and another at 400 yards until Sergeant Spooner and the two other tanks joined him. The three tanks then beat off the German infantry and tank onslaught and secured a ridge at Kommerscheidt.

When the Nazis came with 12 tanks, Lieutenant Fleig radioed his commander, “We can hold them,” and he did. Every time the Germans showed face, our fellows beat them back, getting one probable [sic], until by Nov 4 [when] they joined with the infantry setting up defenses until Lieutenant Dick Payne came with five more tanks and defended the left flank.

On the next day they repelled four counter-attacks and not until the enemy sent an overwhelming number of tanks at them did they retire and relinquish Kommerscheidt. And that was only one of the 28th’s feats in Hurtgen Forest!

THE FOXHOLES FIGHT OF THE ARDENNES

With American troops in Belgium Jan 6.  This is the story of the heroic US 28th Division.  It may well be the story of Marshal Karl Gerd von Rundstedt’s failure to reach Sedan and the Meuse – perhaps Antwerp – and to split the Allied armies in his desperate attempt to gain a quick victory.

The famed twenty-eighth, originally the Pennsylvania National Guard, once was made up almost entirely of Pennsylvanians.  It has been replenished and reorganized so many times, however, that other states now predominate among its fighters.

This is the story of men – some hidden in the anonymity of death – who bore the brunt of the initial German assault on the morning of December 16.  It is the story of men who kept slugging until they fell in their tracks, of survivors staggering and crawling through encircling enemy lines to regroup and fight again.  The saga of gallantry begins with an American Lieutenant speaking over a radio-phone.  He is weeping and every bitter sob of his rage is communicated back to his commanding officer.  He reported to his major:  “We’re down to out last grenades.  We’ve blown up everything there is, except the radio.  It goes next.  I don’t mind dying – I don’t mind taking a beating – but we’ll never give up.”  There was a click on the radio-phone.  The conversation had ended.  The major sagged in his chair and glanced at his watch.  It was 9:55.  He remembered a 4:30 call when this outfit ahead reported its ammunition gone and that there was fighting with grenades from house to house.  They held out five hours since that last call and now they were gone.

AT DAWN ON THAT FATEFUL DAY!

All this happened two days after von Rundstedt began his gamble for victory when he hurled five crack divisions across the Our River into Luxembourg against a thinly held line covered by the 28th Division known as the “Bloody Bucket” outfit.

Great as was the defense of besieged Bastogne, many agree that it was these men who made the defense possible.  For without that heroic stand, we would never have had time to get men and materiel through before the Germans would over run us.

At dawn on that fateful 16th, under a heavy sky that blotted out air activity, the Germans suddenly burst across the river.  They were screaming, shouting, laughing.  Some were crying hysterically.  Some were more like drunken and doped men than well-disciplined German fighters.  They came, wave after wave.  They fell into heaps before murderous American machine-gun fire.  But still they came.    

Near Reisdorf one yank unit dug itself in well and held its fire until a solid line of Germans was only 50 yards away.  Then they fired.

NAZIS CLAMBER OVER OWN DEAD

“We racked ‘em and we stacked ‘em, until the Nazis were clambering over their own dead.”

Their tanks were surrounded and covered with their infantry.  The tanks came swiftly toward our doughboys in the foxholes but turned when their infantry lay bleeding and dying, many crushed under the tank tracks.  “But then they came back.  More and more and still more died.  But the green-clad Hitler lovers still walked into our hail of fire.  All that night and into the next day they fought on.

“By Sunday midnight we were surrounded and greatly out numbered.  We radioed battalion headquarters, ‘situation critical.’  The answer came back, ‘withdraw if possible.’  To that went the reply, ‘we can’t get out but we’ll make them pay.’”

This radio talk went on between the captain commanding the unit and the major at field headquarters.  After that the major and the Captain did not speak with each other directly.  The major related: “He knew and I know what the situation was and what can I say to a man at a time like that?”

At nearby Wahlhausen another outfit of the 28th Division was in trouble.  Its supporting artillery got the message: “Heavy German attack coming.  Pour it on.”

The artillery began sending its shells over and a nameless private screamed over the radio-phone: “Closer, closer!  Bring it in.  Bring it on top of us.  We’ll duck.”  Then the artillery fire came within 50 yards of the doughboys.  But the Germans died and the doughboys held.

Farther south, at Weiler, a mortar outfit was caught.  Pvt. Manuel Wise, of Big Springs, TX, and his pals from L. A., CA, and Iowa fought for 48 hours alongside riflemen, cooks and drivers and when their ammunition, food and water were running low, a jeep driver tried to run the enemy gauntlet.  He ran into a German ambush.  The men heard him scream:  “You’ll never get this jeep, you dirty _____.”

A machine gun rattled and there was silence.  Later four Germans were caught driving the same jeep.  They’ll never drive another.

Capt. Floyd K. McCutcheon of Idaville, Ind, together with Pvt Wise worked their way out of the pocket and up a hill.  Four Germans stumbled onto the outpost set up on the height.  The doughboys killed two and wounded one.  The fourth German bayoneted his own injured man then ran.  A GI’s rifle shot and got him down.

FOUGHT ALL NIGHT

The outfit fought all night and worked its way into a pine grove, but there found themselves surrounded by Nazi paratroopers.  The Yanks only escape was to fight their way out.  They made a break for it.  Wise’s trousers were killed [sic] or raked from his legs by machine gun fire from a German paratrooper 50 yards away.  Wise kept running, fired once and dropped the paratrooper at his feet.  In the grueling action, Wise became a hero.  The private kept the men going and many of them made it safely to fight another day.

Here are a few more of the doughboy heroes all Americans should remember:

BATLE OF COLMAR POCKET
DASH TO THE RHINE

On January 17, a month after the German Wehrmacht tore through the 28th Division front on December 16, and raced into Belgium, the “Keystone” outfit was moving southeast to the Sixth Army Groups sector in French Alsace to take part in the drive to seal the Colmar Pocket.

It was the same Division which the Germans first called the “Bloody Bucket” Division because of its blood-red keystone shoulder patch and vicious fighting tactics during the Normandy hedgerow days.  It was the same Division that took the brunt of Field Marshal Gerdron Bandstent’s smashing drive into Belgium, and so embroiled the German forces in its fluid lines, that the enemy’s plans to reach Bastiogne on the first day of the counter-offensive was set back four days – enough time to allow the 101st Airborne Division to reach the vital communication hub and convert the city into a bristling fortress.

It was the same division which the German radio repeatedly boasted had been “wiped out to the last man and had finally paid for its bloody record and fame gained during Normandy and Hurtgen Forest.”

But the Division wasn’t wiped out.  In less than three weeks after it was relieved from battling von Rundstedt’s force in the Bulge, the 28th established a line in the first French Army sector that curved from the vineyards of the Colmar plain to the rugged fringes of the Vosges Mountains.  At first the Division was merely holding position in the snow-swept Vosges Mt. sending out patrols through waist-deep snow to test the enemy strength, lobbing artillery fire from one mountain crest to the other.  There were mine fields under the deep snow, and the white-capped infantrymen who went out on patrols failed to return.  Enemy mortar fire crunched continuously around the American position.  Men, huddled in foxholes dug in the snow, ate frozen C rations for days and weeks before it was possible to bring up warm food, and the wounded had to be taken back to aid stations on sleds, then suddenly attack orders came down from higher headquarters.  The night before the attack, General Norman D. Cota, Chelsea, Mass., Division Commander, moved his headquarters into the ancient town of Kaysesberg.  The Germans were dug in just on the other side of the hills surrounding the small village, less than a mile away.  Gen. Cota’s message to Colonel James Rudder, Eden, TX, commanding the 110the Infantry Regiment, was short:  “We go to Colmar!”

It was the 110th that had received the assignment to spearhead the Division’s attack down the slopes of Vosges foot hills, across the flat, marshy plain, and into the strongly defended Colmar, third largest city in Alsace.

The French industrial city was well fortified, so well defended that the “Colmar Pocket” was still occupied by the enemy although the territory further east had been swallowed up by the advancing allies.

Then on February 1st, 2 in the morning, three battalions of the 109th struck simultaneously.  In the early morning darkness pushed through the knee-deep snow and pressed southward along the west bank of the L’ill River, clamping down on the initial objective early next morning.

In a coordinate thrust with the French CC4 (under 28th control), the 109th raced down the vineyard, covered sloped of the Vosges foot hills, rooting the Germans out of their concealed trenches and over-running artillery positions before the enemy had time to depress the muzzles of the high velocity 88s.

Before dawn arrived, the spearheading companies of the 109th had crossed the plain, smashed through the German defenses on the outskirts of Colmar.  When morning came [they] were underway.

Captured by a neat application of speed and surprise that caught the enemy napping at their well-manned positions, Colmar seemed a prize easily won easier than its defenses had indicated.  But in recognition of their skill the infantry- men of the 28th were later awarded the French Army’s Croix de Gueare.

Meanwhile, Colonel Gustin Mac A. Nelson, Philadelphia, led his 112the Infantry Regiment into attack along the Division’s right flank, jumping off at 2300.  Third Battalion sewed up Niedermerschwihr and Katzenthal 1st Battalion took over Ingersheim.  Until later relieved the regiment blocked the Vosges exits in positions all along the Fecht River Valley.

The 109th plunged southward, and the 110th came out of Corps reserve to get into the fight.  Both regiments swung east, and headed straight for the Rhine.  And I Company, 110th Infantry patrol reached the Rhine on the morning of February 9.
28th Division men were among the first in the American Army to see the Rhine in this war.  Within the next month they would again see the great river, spinal cord of the Reich’s western defense zone.

MINES PLAGUE 28TH DIVISION IN CHASING GERMANS
S & S 18 MARCH ’45

With 28th Inf. Div. Rushing froward faster than most infantrymen cared to walk, the 28th Div in these days swept 40 miles over the rolling approaches to the Rhine from the Olef River to the Ahr River, through country studded with mines and pitted with pillboxes.  But in the pillboxes they found for the most part only women and children and war-weary deserters, as the outflanked Wehrmacht raced for the other side of the Rhine, leaving behind ammunition, clothing, arms, and other supplies.

CAPTURE 75-CAR TRAIN

One regiment alone, the 110th captured over 1,200 vehicles including a 75-car train.  Cooperative burgomeisters collected arms that had been hidden and turned them into the military authorities.  To sore-footed GIs their worst enemies were mines and mud, their greatest diversion the inglorious ways in which Jerry gave up.  Their greatest prizes a 70-year-old German lieutenant, one corp’s colonel and his aide, one officer and payroll.

FORTIFICATIONS UNMANNED

Defenses were prepared for resistance that did not occur.  Around Sistig, 48 concrete pillboxes were scattered throughout the hills.  Six miniature fortifications and a giant fort guarded the entrance to Blumenthal.  But the only fighting was sporadic and disorganized.  C. Co of the 110th Regt took the town to Bohl, rounded up 23 prisoners and a grocery store loaded with cookies.  There was a brief interruption in the war as GIs made up for eight hours they had been without rations.

NAZI PAYROLL SEIZED

One outfit waited in concealment while an officer with a payroll and three horse-drawn carts of supplies obligingly rode into their midst.  With a ring of weapons around him he did not need much persuading to surrender.  A patrol from the First B, 110th Regt. Leaping out in advance of the main body crept up to examine a farm house, surprised a German Lieutenant Colonel and his aide in the process of eating a hot breakfast. “We were just leaving,” said the Colonel, who turned out to be a corps chief of staff sent out to reorganize three divisions fo a delaying action.

MINES NUMEROUS

But it was not all so simple.  Mines and booby traps were littered in profusion throughout the country.  Sgt. Robert Dystrom of Litchfield, MN, minesweeper with the 112th Regt., at H-hour plus five, and five miles into enemy territory, had filled a two-and-a-half ton truck with mines.
Men of the 103rd Engr. Bn. Found 114 booby traps in three rooms of a deserted house.  One soldier tried to open the door of one house with a 20-foot pole.  House, door, pole and soldier have not been found.  So all the rest of boys left the place alone and went back to their old outfit and told their Lt about it so he called all his men and left to look at the place so they left and when they got there a girl was there.



GILBERT GUSTAV MAAS

In remembrance of Gilbert Gustav Maas.
Gilbert Gustav Maas, 83, died June 14, 2007, at the VA Medical Center in Fargo.

 

HORIZONTAL FLOURISH LINE

I wish to thank Mikiel Ottmar for sharing Gilbert Maas's war diary. Scorpio.

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