28th Infantry Division
110th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, Co. 'E'
Cpl. Bob Bradicich
Excerpted from Bob Bradicich's memoirs.
The Siegfried Line
We now were coming close to Germany and we had to go through the Siegfried Line which is a fortified defensive system. This line was about 5 to 10 miles deep, with “Pill Boxes” arranged systematically, so that the two “Pill Boxes” on either side were protecting the one in the middle. Each “Pill Box” was built of reinforced concrete about 5 feet thick. In front of these “Pill Boxes” were concrete boulders which came up to a point. These were called “Dragon's Teeth.” The small ones were in front and the larger ones in back. This prevented the tanks from passing, because if they tried they would get hung up on the “teeth.”
As we approached Germany we could see in the distance the “Dragon’s Teeth.” We knew that the German boarder was just up ahead. We stopped and were briefed about what to do when we entered Germany. They told us that we were going into the enemy’s homeland and we were the conquering army. All cp’s (command posts) were to be set-up in any home that could overlook the countryside in front. If there were any Germans in the house, they were to be told to get out and go someplace else. We were told, you must never allow any Germans to remain in the house while you are there. Remember, we are conquering, them not liberating them like France or Belgium. These are our enemies, so be on the alert at all times and no fraternizing with the civilians.
The Captain came up and used his binoculars to see if he could see any Germans. It seemed mighty strange that, as we approached the border of Germany and the Siegfried Line, which was the most powerful defensive position on the German border, there were no soldiers. He sent a patrol out to see what was up ahead. The patrol came back and reported that there were no soldiers in the bunkers. We then got up and proceeded to go through the Siegfried Line. As we got near the first bunker, I was sent up to check out the inside of the bunker. As I approached the bunker, I was expecting the Germans to start firing at us, but nothing. We got to the side where the door was situated and, as I opened it, the two guys with me were ready to shoot anything that moved. To our surprise nothing moved so we went in and found it empty. The inside of the bunker was round and had concrete walls all around with slits through the concrete for the Germans to fire machine guns or rifles. We went to other bunkers and they were also empty. The way I saw this, it was a big German blunder, they could have stopped us cold with the field of fire each bunker had, and each bunker protected the one on its right and left.
Captain Dobb sent word back to Headquarters that the Siegfried Line was unoccupied. To this day, I cannot understand the decision that was made. We were to pull back to the Dragon’s teeth and wait for armored support. We were already through about 5 or 6 German bunkers so, WHY pull back? Probably someone higher up wanted to get the credit. “Armored spearhead drives through the Siegfried Line.” Well, to their suprise, the bunkers were occupied by the time the armor came up and we started toward the bunkers. Now the orders came to break off all engagements with the enemy. What was going on? Well the 28th Div. was being taken out of the line and was being sent to the Hurtgen Forest. The 7th Armored Div. was relieving us.
We pulled back a few miles and got replacements, and the next morning we got onto trucks which drove us north to the Hurtgen Forest. Here we got off the trucks and started our march to the front. The weather was miserable, very cold, muddy roads, and snow managed to seep through the heavy trees of the forest. The thick covering of pine needles managed to keep the mud underneath from freezing. Walking through the forest your feet got wet and, with the zero freezing temperature, it went right through to your bones. Just walking to the front, I was ready to leave. If this was not enough, we had to contend with Germans and the 88’s which always exploded high in the trees. These were called “tree burst.” The tops of the trees were broken off and came falling down, you hoped not on you. Along with the branches and the tops of the trees, the exploding shells rained shrapnel down on top of you. To sum it up, I was fighting the cold, the wet under foot, the snow, the tops of the trees, the 88’s, the shrapnel and let us not forget the Germans. These were the worst conditions I ever had to fight under. We didn’t have any artillery support because they couldn’t hit the bunkers, and the shells would explode in the trees which was where we were. Something to do with the angle the shell comes in at, and you can’t fire mortars in a forest. This was the hellhole of all hellholes. I don’t think hell could be this bad.
We didn’t have long to wait when the order came to move out at the German positions. But first we had to make sure out rifles were in working order and not frozen. The bolt on my rifle was hard to pull back but I managed to get it working. The guy next to me couldn’t get his to move. so I told him to put the rifle butt on the ground and I took my rifle butt and banged down on the bolt to free it. It worked. Now we started our advance and, as soon as the Germans saw us, they started to throw those 88’s at us. I heard someone yelling and, as I looked up. I saw the top of a pine tree that was blown apart by an 88 shell. I tried to get out of its way but it caught me, hitting my helmet and my back, knocking me sprawling down in the mud. Two guys came over and lifted the branch off of me and I scrambled out. I’m lucky that I was hit by the end of the branch, and I had my helmet and my overcoat on, which blunted the blow somewhat. I was covered with mud and my rifle took a mud bath. As I got up, I checked my arms and legs to see if everything was ok and not broken. My guardian angel came through again, I seemed to be fine, but with this cold weather you may not feel any bruises. I wish my gun fared as well. The gun was covered with mud and I didn’t know if it would fire or not.
It seems that things happen for a reason. As we started to get up to where the rest of the platoon was, we could hear a tremendous amount of small arms fire coming from up ahead. In a few minutes we were up there and found out that our platoon assaulted the bunker but was beaten back with heavy causalities. I started to clean my gun but was having trouble, my gloves were muddy also. Next to me was a dead GI and his gloves were cleaner than mine, so I took his gloves off of him and I managed to clean my rifle. His gloves were drier than mine so I put them on. I aimed my rifle at the German bunker, put my head down and fired. If it blew, I didn’t want to get it in the face. Well, it fired ok. I could have picked up another rifle, but a rifle is like your best girl, you always want her by your side.
We had two tanks coming up with flame throwers on them, but I heard that they were bogged down in the mud and couldn’t make the slight incline. As we waited we set up a defensive position and waited for orders. It looked like we were going to stay there that night. We set out personnel mines and booby traps in front to catch any German patrols that tried to come through. Usually there were no patrols sent out at night because you could not see your hand in front of your face. While it was still light, we put gauze from tree to tree which led back to the CP. I dug a foxhole but it was wet and muddy so I gathered up some pine branches and put them in the bottom. Here I settled in for the night. We were not going to attack and neither were the Germans. It was too dark to attack or go on patrol at night. If you had to relieve yourself, you went no more than two feet from your foxhole. If you lost your way, you could walk into the enemy or walk into a mine (booby trap). So if you got lost, you stayed right where you were until morning.
During the night something woke me up. I heard someone that seemed to be crawling towards me, but it was black and I couldn’t see him. I told him to halt and he did. I gave him the password and waited for the counter word. It came, but I was still not sure whether it was a GI or an English speaking German. I readied my rifle and asked him for his name and serial #. He told me he was a GI and got lost. He asked me if he could stay here till morning. Well, I asked him one more question, who was Babe Ruth. He answered satisfactory and I told him to come in to the foxhole. I had to see him so I did something that is crazy. I put the GI blanket that I had over both of us and then I put my hand over my flashlight and turned it on. It was a young scared kid. I told him he could have gotten himself killed, he should have stayed where he was until morning, but he was too scared. The foxhole got a little crowded but it was warmer with two under the blanket. I told him to get some sleep but he said he couldn't. I said then be still and let me get some shuteye.
In the morning as it started to get light, I saw that he was a young kid. He told me his name was James from F company and he was from New Jersey. I didn’t want to know too much about him because I lost too many buddies already. He got out of the foxhole and I told him the direction of F Company. He said “thanks” and started out in the direction of F Company.
We were told to get ready to attack but make sure our rifles were in working order. With the cold and the dampness, the bolt on the rifle could be frozen. I had mine under the blanket next to me so mine was in good working order. As we started out through the forest, we had to be alert because, as we got nearer to the enemy positions, we didn’t know which tree a German could be hiding behind. The Germans must have been watching us because, just as the trees got a little thinner, they opened up with their rifles and machine guns. I dropped down on my stomach and started to return the fire but I saw a few of our guys get it. We stayed there and fired at their positions but it seemed hopeless. They were too well dug in and we could not advance any further. However, the order was to keep going. I fired and then got up behind a tree and then ran to a tree about 4 or 5 feet up ahead. The trees were getting skinny and we were losing more men. Why I was still on my feet I do not know. The order finally came to pull back, but this was no easy task for the Germans were still firing at us. As we pulled back, we gathered up the wounded and got them back as best we could.
When we got back, the Capt. asked for a volunteer to go up and bring back the forward observers. If someone didn’t get them out, they would be cut off and be captured or killed. We were a sorry sight, guys sitting on the ground with their shoes off, massaging their feet to get them warm, and then they might not be able to get their shoes back on. One of the guys cut off the bottom of his coat and had that wrapped around his feet. I guess I faired a little better than the rest, at least I had my shoes on, so I volunteered to go up and get the guys and bring them back. Volunteering is something you never do in the army but those guys were dead if no one went.
The Capt. showed me the map as to where the men were, right up on a hill, which overlooked the enemy positions, and the enemy was expected to make a push through that part of the forest. It was about three to five hundred yards up front.
I had two banderlears of M1 clips and two hand grenades. I got two more grenades from one of the guys and now I set out on my mission. If I came across the enemy, I was not to engage them in a firefight, that suited me fine. I started out going up the muddy road but staying just along the tree line. As I got up the road about 100 yards, I heard noise of a tank up ahead. I went into the woods a few yards and inched my way up to where the noise was coming from. When I saw the tanks, I gave a sigh of relief, as there were two of our Sherman tanks at the crossroads. I came out of the woods and, as I did, the crew of the tanks all pointed their carbines and the tank’s machine gun at me. When they saw that I was a GI, they all relaxed a bit. I went up to them and told them what I was there for. They told me I couldn’t go any further because the Germans were going to make a push, and they expected them to come down the road. I contemplated what the tank commander said, but I told him if I don’t go then those guys would be captured or killed.
They wished me luck when I left and I started up the road. I had to try to get up that road and get those guys back down before the Germans start the push. I thought that, if I went through the woods, it would take much longer than if I stayed on the road. But if I stayed on the road and the Germans were coming, I would be spotted immediately. Well, I had to get there quickly, so I stayed on the side of the road and ran up the road hoping they were not coming. I made it to almost the top of the hill but I didn’t see any GI’s. As I was looking around for them, I heard some noise coming from behind me. My heart must have stopped as I whirled around with my rifle ready, but to my surprise it was the GI’s I came to bring back. There were four of them. and I told them that communication were knocked out and the Germans were going to make a push through here any minute. I came up to get them back. I said, “come on we’ll follow the road back down, we don’t have much time.” Luckily, they had the radio gear all packed so we took off down the road. As we started to leave, we heard the most horrible sound to an infantryman, the sound of tanks coming towards you. We knew they were German tanks and we had to get out of there fast. We started to run down the road but too late, they spotted us, and they started firing at us. We all immediately ran into the woods for a little protection but the German tank fired their 88. (This is the 88mm gun mounted on the Tiger tank). It exploded near us and we all instinctively hit the ground. One of the guys got hit in the upper part of his leg. Two guys formed a seat with their rifle (two guys held the rifle on either end), and the wounded soldier sat on the rifle between both of them. As they were doing this, the Cpl. and I returned the enemy fire. We were in the woods far enough so we managed to get away. The Germans were probably trying to determine whether we were a few stray GI’s or the main body. This gave us a little more time to go down the road.
We got down a little further and looked back, but could not see any Germans so we got back on the road carrying the wounded GI. As we got around the slight turn in the road, we saw the two Sherman tanks that I saw before. They asked me what happened up there and I told them about the German Tiger tanks. They got on the radio to tell the main body that the Germans started the push. The message they got was to pull back. The commander told us we were in luck, they were pulling back, and we could get on the tank and ride back with them. We got the wounded GI on the back of the lead tank, and the rest of us climbed aboard. We got on the road and rode back on the tank without incident.
We found our Capt. and the guys told him what happened. The Capt. had some guy by the name of Superio write me up and I received a Bronze Star. I wasn’t concerned about the Bronze Star at that time, but it did help to get me discharged faster after the war.
I no sooner got back when we were told to get ready again for the German assault, but this time we were told that we would get artillery support. As we waited, we heard the artillery shells come over but they exploded in the tree tops and were ineffective. The Col. from Battalion came up to see what the situation was like. What he saw was men with their shoes off massaging their feet to get them warm. Some of the guys had their toes and feet turning black (frost bite). Other guys couldn’t get their shoes on. My hands were numb and I was also concerned about my feet. I took my shoes off and I put them near the fire, which they let us start, but my toes were starting to get blue. You had to be careful because when your feet were cold and numb and you put them to close too the fire, they would burn without you knowing it.
I understand that the Col. called back to headquarters and told them that we could not attack with the condition of the soldiers. He was given the order to attack but refused. I found out that he was relieved of his command. That afternoon some officers from Regiment came up to see for themselves. When they saw the condition of the men, they pulled us off the line and sent up the third Battalion which was in reserve. There was no way we could go up against the German tanks and infantry with the condition of the men. Guys could not get their shoes back on, our hands were so cold that we could not put a clip of ammunition in our rifles. It would be like just walking toward the enemy (if we could walk) and have the enemy shoot us.
Due to the condition of the men (most of them had to be taken back by jeep or ambulance, trucks could not get through), each man had to be checked out by the medics for frostbite and exposure. Almost half the men went to the field hospital for frostbite. My feet were just on the borderline so I was not sent back. However, the nails under my two big toes remained black for years after I got home. I think this all came about because we could not have fires to keep us warm until it was too late.
Word came down that the 112th was taking a beating trying to take Schmidt. They took it and were pushed back only to charge again and retake the town.
The Germans fought hard and lost a lot of men to keep us from breaking out of the Hurtgen Forest and now, in looking back, I can only make this assumption. If we broke out we would have exposed the large buildup of the German army which was getting ready for the big push called “The Battle of the Bulge.” Little did we know that we, the 28th , would be taken out of the forest and put on line right where the German Army was going to make the big push.
We got replacements but most of them went to the 112th, which took a beating around the town of Schmidt. Then the greatest thing happened to me, I GOT TRANSFERRED TO BATTALION HEADQUARTERS. That’s right I was off the front lines. They needed someone to code messages that went between Battalion Hq and Regiment. Cpl. Deener, who I knew in England, saw me back in Bastogne, and requested to the officer-in-charge to have me transferred. To my surprise it went through. I was promoted to a T/5, Corporal Technician 5th grade. Well, when I got the news I got all choked up. I made it! I made it! I survived the war! Little did I know what was still to come.
A Quote: To a Rifleman, the front line infantrymen did most of the dying. The rest were cooks, bakers, truck drivers, doctors, planners, artillerymen and Generals. To the rifleman in the foxhole, they were as remote and safe and comfy as their own living room back home.
I was back in Hq. and set up shop with my coder/decoder. We got shelled from time to time, but hell, I didn’t mind that at all. However, being a “veteran” infantryman, I got all the shity details, like guard duty and taking replacements up to the front. I didn’t mind this at all, this way I got a chance to visit my buddies at the front.
Yes, while I was in Battalion. Hq. I still didn’t sleep inside. In fact there was no inside in this God-for-saken forest. I still had my foxhole that I dug and slept in, but this was paradise. No more watching the German soldiers coming towards you or you advancing on their positions not knowing if some German has you in his rifle sight or not, and no more killing.
I guess by now you know how I felt, so let me get on with what happened to me for the rest of the war. However, let me take a moment and tell you that the American soldier was not a Gung Ho John Wayne type. He was an ordinary person who knew that Hitler had to be stopped or we would all be enslaved. When up on the front line, you have to kill or be killed. Yes, when we met the enemy, we were scared, but we did what we had to. The longer you survived on the front line, the killing becomes easier. Not like the first few times, in the beginning you sometimes hesitated hoping that they would surrender (this hesitating could kill you). As a veteran, you do not hesitate, in fact it becomes second nature to you.
I am older now (76) and I look back at what I did and I’m glad we won the war, but I don’t feel proud of what I had to do to help achieve this victory. It will be with me till the day I die.
Being in Battalion HQ,. we were in a German “pillbox” at this time and I got the knack of coding and de-coding messages. We still had “C” rations but now we could heat them over a small fire. The next day we were to move up to another “Pillbox”, but the Germans mounted a counter attack and pushed us back to almost where we started. The next day a Lt. Col. came up from Regt. and wanted to know why we were not making any headway (I’d like to take him and put him on the front lines for two days, then he’d know).
When he arrived, the first thing he wanted to know was what all these enlisted men were doing in the “Pillbox.” So we were ordered outside to dig foxholes for the “protection” of the pillbox. That went over well. The non-coms had a couple of shelter halves which they put together and made like a tent, and they slept inside the tent. I dug my foxhole about five feet from there, lined it with small pine branches, and was ready to get some shut-eye. I got into the foxhole with my overcoat and my rifle (it never leaves my side), and I put a blanket over us and got some sleep. At about 0530 (dawn) an artillery shell came over and exploded inside the tent. The explosion sent shrapnel all over and a piece of shrapnel got me in the right hip. As I lay there I could see that the blankets inside were burning, and some of the guys inside came out and were covered with blood. This got the officers inside up and they came running out. They went inside the tent and grabbed Maxwell who must have been killed instantly because I remember he always slept with his hands behind his head, and this is the same position that they dragged him out. The medics came and patched us up and sent us back to the field hospital.
I was on the front lines for over five months, then back in headquarters about a week to ten days when I got wounded. When I got back to the field hospital, what I saw was sickening. The 112th was still taking a beating around Schmidt and there were guys on stretchers full of blood. The doctors were taking care of them and the medics were then moving them to cots. The nurses were doing a fantastic job trying to make all the guys comfortable, even when they knew they were dying. The doctor came over and took the piece of shrapnel out, patched it up, handed me a Purple Heart, and said you’ll be ok. The nurse then bandaged me up, asked me how old I was. Because I looked young, she asked me if I wanted to go back to the hospital (for an extra day). I said “no” that I would go back to my outfit. I knew that if I went back to the hospital I would wind up in the “repel depel.” This would mean that I would be a replacement to be sent up to any outfit that needed replacements. I don’t know where I would have been sent. From the field hospital I knew I would be sent back to my own outfit. That is why I choose not to go back to the hospital.
We remained there, in the Hurtgen Forest, until about the third week of November 1944. I continued to send coded messages and took replacements up to the front. One thing sticks in my mind about a guy who came over with the outfit, and got wounded 8 times. I brought him up to the front the 8th time, and we kidded him about what lousy marksmen the German were. We all knew the unwritten rule that, if you are wounded 9 times, you are sent back. We told him to stick his foot up over the foxhole for the Germans to see.
Well, he never made it. I found out that an 88 from a German tank caught him and a piece of shrapnel ripped through his head. Yes, war is ugly and so unfair.
As our division was preparing to pull out, the replacing outfit started to come into the forest. We were being replaced by an Australian outfit. The soldiers I saw were all clean shaven, and I said to myself, ‘wait till they get up there in all that wet mud, snow and cold.’ They’ll bat their heads against the wall the same as we did.
We had to walk out to get to the trucks because of the mud. The mud was about 6 to 10 inches deep and we were walking through it. The trucks were really having a rough time. I was wondering where we were going, so I asked around and heard that we were going for some “R & R” (Rest and Relaxation).
This R&R was on the front lines but this was a quiet front. The 28th Division was stretched out about 30 miles of front. Instead of putting two Regiments on line and one Regiment in reserve, all three Reg. were put on line. But this was a quiet part of the front lines. The line companies had to put one squad in each town or hamlet and constantly patrol between the towns. Here we were expected to get replacements and get up to Division strength. Trucks and jeeps had to be washed and repaired along with the tanks. We also had to get washed and receive new clothes because what we had on was full of mud.
Many thanks Bob for sharing me your memoirs.
Reposted by kind permission of Steve Bouton.