44th Field Artillery Battalion
Eighteen Days of Hell
The Hurtgen Forest
I was a radio operator with our forward observer party consisting of one Lieutenant and two radio operators. We were from Battery C of the 44th FA Battalion providing fire support for the 3rd Battalion of the 22nd infantry. On the 16th of November 1944, the three of us were advancing with the 3rd Battalion into the forest called Hurtgen. We had already been through many battles with these great warriors of the 22nd and were expecting no picnic, but were unaware of the horrible experience that awaited us in the forest.
In the Hurtgen Forest the trees were very thick and tall with lots of underbrush making visibility very difficult even for a short distance and you could rarely see the sky. The terrain was hilly with swift running streams. There were no paved roads. The only way through were the firebreak roads, which were narrow rutted muddy trails of swampy mire which due to the weather were not suitable for any vehicles. We had rain, sleet or snow almost every day. It was without a doubt the coldest, eeriest, and most depressing place I had ever been. The worst part was the constant artillery, mortar, machinegun fire and mines, all of which were responsible for the many casualties suffered by the 22nd. The artillery rounds would burst in the treetops and spray a large area on the ground with shrapnel making it necessary to cover the foxholes with limbs, brush, and dirt for protection. Although they were covered it did not stop the water from seeping in. It was so cold and wet that it was almost impossible to rest or sleep. Those who did ran the risk of freezing to death in their sleep. As for food, it was mostly K-rations, ate cold, as there was no way to get hot food up to us. I sure would have appreciated a hot turkey dinner or just about anything that was warm for that matter.
After several days in the forest as we lay in our foxholes monitoring the 610 radio and keeping up the fire missions the shrapnel from a close shell burst blew off our 6 ft. antenna. We were prepared and had a spare and were back in business in a few minutes. A few hours later it happened again. This time we were not so lucky and had no other spares. I was chosen to take a hike through this extremely hazardous place called “the death factory” were many of the new replacements never even made it to the front lines. Needless to say I wasted no time getting back to where Battery C was set up and picked up extra antennas and a battery. After returning and attaching the new antenna it was not long before it happened again. Three antenna in one day! I’ll bet that it was a record. After days of digging and sleeping in the mud and no chance or desire to shave or clean up we were a sorry looking bunch. The terrific amount of casualties we were suffering each day gave us all a burning desire to get out of the terrible forest. I will have to admit there was some talk of extending one leg out of that foxhole and getting a million dollar wound.
As the 3rd Battalion moved out each morning the enemy seemed to know exactly where we were and casualties started mounting from the enemy artillery and mortar fire. After a day of advancing only 1000 to 1500 yards we had the task of digging a new foxhole. This had to be done quickly as staying in the open was extremely dangerous. As we were digging our foxhole the Lt. told my fellow forward observer, Bob Smith and I to go out and gather limbs and branches while he finished digging the foxhole. As we were cutting branches and griping about how we were exposed in the open to shelling and machinegun fire and he was safe in the foxhole an infantryman came running up and informed us that a mortar had made a direct hit on our foxhole killing our Lt. instantly. Needless to say we felt guilty about the griping but at the same time we felt lucky to me alive. Day after day and month after month I saw men wounded and dying all around me and I kept wondering when it would be my turn. After so many narrow escapes how long could I beat the odds. Like many other G.I.’s I was hoping this war would soon end.
We finally came to the edge of the forest and could see Grosshau where the Germans were dug in amid all the rubble from bombing and artillery. We received permission to use Corps artillery with their 240mm guns as well as division. We sent the corrected coordinates from our adjustments and ordered fire for effect on Grosshau. What a great display and devastating effect as the whole town seemed to be exploding. Soon you could hear faint cries of “Komrad, Komrad” coming from Grosshau. It was still two more days before our 22nd was able, with the help of the armor to take the town and our eighteen days were over. We may never know if the Hurtgen Forest was really worth the very high price paid by those we left and those who came home scarred and maimed both mentally and physically. But I know this, I thank God everyday for those men who believed in “Deeds not Words”.
~~~ Denver O. Sayre~~~