tv 1965 U.S. Army Documentary Tried by Fire CSPAN December 31, 2014 12:31pm-1:30pm EST
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check out our upcoming programs at our website, c-span.org/history. each week american history's tv brings you reel america that brings archival films that help tell the story of the 20th century. >> 70 years ago on december 16 1944, the german army launched "operation watch on the rhine," better known as the battle of the bulge to capture antwerp. next a 1965 episode of the u.s. army's "the big picture" narrated by actor paul newman. it chronicles the story of the 84th infantry division during the battle and includes american and german veterans reflecting on their experience about 20 years later. >> all together we were on the
siegfried line for about three weeks. and my memories of that are pretty much blurred. it was mostly mud and cabbages and every now and then we did have a slight move forward but for the most part, we were just in the fox holes. usually filled with water. >> american soldier on the whole, i believe, find it very difficult to hate. we spoke of the germans and thought of the germans as our enemy, but there was no such thing as violent
my bed roll to sleep over the night. of course this news spread over the battalion immediately. my purpose was achieved because all the men felt if the old man got in his silk pajamas and had gone to bed, certainly there was no trouble and they were in great danger so they were able to relax and get a good night's rest. >> these are the men who served in the 84th infantry division. the division that distinguished itself in a series of critical engagements during world war ii. thus, this story could be the story of any infantry division where the uncommon virtues of courage, endurance and self-sacrifice became the commonplace. ♪
♪ >> by the beginning of november 1944 the defeat of germany appeared imminent. to the east, russian armies pushed their way through poland in the balkans. to the south angelo american forces were moving relentlessly up the italian peninsula. to the west, allied armies having advanced through france and the low countries now gather add long the borders of western
germany. >> good old m-1 rifle. semi-automatic, breach loaded. seems a lot heavier than it did 20 years ago. my name is john shaw. i was with the 84th infantry division as a buck private during world war ii. i was one of these astp boys, 3,000 shipped down to the 84th division in april before we went overseas, 1944. and we were trained hard and sent overseas in september and were in england for a while. then we caught the red ball express and then before we knew it, we were right on the edge of the line, ready to go into
combat. we were, all of us kind of wondering what things were going to be like. we could see the shells going off. we could hear them. and we were all sort of nervous, but i don't think anyone was really fully conscious and aware of what was going to happen. >> the men of the 48th division had managed to penetrate the enemy lines a few hundred yards east of the dutch frontier. but seeing frid line barred the way to further advance. this fortified zone of had become a shield in which weary german troops now assembled. general siegfried westfall had this to say of the situation. >> translator: it was essential for the german high command in the west to gain time in order to re-equip the west fert
fictions called siegfried line for defense purposes. we had to make every effort, therefore, to see to it that our troops could maintain this position as long as possible. the west forty fictions had no weapons. the wild entanglements had been dismantled and even some of the keys to unlock the rusty dugouts were missing. the defensive value of these constructions were so minimal that the soldiers preferred to live in the trench under the open sky rather than have the concrete ceiling collapse over their heads. we reported this to hitler who flew into a rage and retorted, the whole world trembles in fear of this phenomenon of german technology.
>> the 84th's division immediate offensive was to crack the siegfried line at the town of geilen kichlt rchen and beyond the main objective, the rhine. >> i'm lieutenant general lewis w. truman. during world war ii i was a colonel, chief of staff of the 84th infantry division and chief of staff to alexander r.boling commander general of the 84th division. the intelligence which we received was of the very best. the individuals clear down to the squad level were indoctrinated, instructed exactly what their jobs were to be. there is no question that that waiver had very much confidence that we would be able to carry out this mission. i know also that the regiments, the battalions, companies and platoons and squads had that
same feeling accomplished. >> the 84th division would be supported by the british on the left and the american's 2nd armored and 102nd infantry on the right. facing them were several brigadier divisions and a number of crack panzer units. the precisely five minutes to 7:00 on november 18th an artillery barrage signaled the attack had commenced.
>> it was about three miles away from where we were. and it so happened that our regiment was leading the attack and happened to be in the first platoon of the first company and i happened to be in the first squad of the first platoon. and it so happened i was the first scout so i was first. and we came through a little woods and out onto a spot so we shot across this clearing and into the outskirts of the town. there was a trench there. we walked up the trench all of us feeling pretty happy at this point and pretty proud of ourselves for having gotten that far. and we had seen the whole company was strung out into one big line. and all of a sudden the german in a window three blocks away, opened up on our column in this trench with a machine gun and of course, we all hit the dirt.
and we just waited there for somebody to do something. finally, a british tank lumbered up the street, off to our side and fired two shells right into that window. that was the end of that. >> i'm richard k. hawkins. i was a first lieutenant with "a" company 345th infantry division. it was necessary for complete cooperation between various branches of the army. and since it was necessary for the infantry men to attack on foot, seize the ground and hold it it was also necessary for artillery to neutralize these positions before the infantry
men jumped off. it was a wonderful show of cooperation between these different branches. >> we got through gechlt ilenkierken and we got on the road we thought was taking us straight to berlin. we felt great and were pretty excited about being in the war. after we had gone about 500 yards up the road, the 88th started coming in. all of us tried our best to dig into the ground. we used our hands to just try to claw the dirt, trying to dig in. in the meantime these shells were coming into the trees and bursting all around us and our friends were being hit and we were screaming for medics. this lasted, it seemed for about half an hour. i suppose it lasted for about five minutes.
>> i am fritz kramer. i was with the 84th divisioner as a rather elderly soldier for my 35th to 37th year. i do remember very clearly now the feelings we had, like all men who go into battle for the very first time, we uncertain. we unsure of ourselves. we knew very well that combat was very different from training. and i remember this excitement. and i may frankly say for all soldiers who may come after us, we were also full of fear. not necessarily fear of the enemy. but fear of our own making it or not making it. how would we stand up. as our general later told us that he had been praying in
those hours and he committed the men he had trained for the first time for combat. i know now we all know now, that the battle went well and that our one regiment that was attached to combat-proven british forces did well, with the praise of the british. and we immediately gained extraordinary increase in self-confidence. we had met the enemy. and while we certainly hadn't performed any great heroics, we felt our self-confidence greatly increase. >> i'm donald phelps i was a sergeant in the 333rd infantry of the 84th division. we found we could sneak up as easily at night, hit and run.
the biggest problem in this type of action was that the regular replacements of the german army had everything so zeroed in that all major road intersections were under constant enterinterdicting fire. >> by the 21st of november the siegfried line had been dented. the objectives in and around gielinkierhim had been finish pd general boling picked linnic as the ideal place for the planned river crossing. >> before our actual combat experience, we always thought
that engineers were people who came along after we passed through and repaired bridges and so forth. we actually had engineer squads with each rifle platoon whose function was to place explosive charges and pill box and this helped a great deal in overcoming this resistance. >> in the murderous frontal attack that followed, several discoveries were made. all sectors of the german western front had strict orders to relinquish as little german territory as possible. every inch of ground was to be defended tenaciously. the uncertainty concerning the allied situation posed a
conspicuous problem. >> never know what the enemy, one does not know for certain how strong he is. one does not know about his disposition. many things can only be guessed but there are certain impressions one does acquire. we were of the opinion that the american unit excellently equipped and under good leadership was headed for ultimate success, confident of victory. the command was proven, advancing step by step, just keep trying to avoid blood shed wherever possible. >> by the end of november,
german defenses had been captured or neutralized by men of the 84th division. on december 2nd the coveted prize of linick fell to the neighboring 102nd division. >> some up the actions of the 84th division, the siegfried line, it had reduced or captured eight strong points or villages. it had captured our destroyed over 112 bunkers. it had captured 28 officers and over 1500 enlisted men. it had engaged 15 different kinds of german units, to include ss troops and panzer units. and we might say as an overall sum up, every mission had been accomplished.
♪ while the allies made preparations for the crossing the a major offensive was about to be launched by the combined german forces. the offensive code named watch on the rhine would be known as the battle of the bulge. it was hitler's last opportunity to achieve the inishive on the western front. at least 28 divisions would be engaged in this desperate gamble. >> the field that i am on this afternoon is representative of those around belgium that are being farmed again.
in december of 1944, much many contrast, these fields were not being farmed. there were streams of refugees all through the area. again, moving out because the intelligence was or the rumors were that the germans were coming into the town of marsh. at about 9:00 on the morning of the 20th of december again bowling and four mps went where the first army headquarters was. he asked what the enemy information was. the only thing they could tell him was that it was fluid. also, he asked for what position of the division would be in the
marsh area. he was told that there the division should go into an assembly area. >> as the front bulged further westward westward, the principal roads fell to the germans. capitulation seemed certain. unless marsh remained in allied hands, it seemed possible the germans could sweep on to paris. the 84th division was ordered to withdraw from the positions and
take up a defensive line along the marsh road. >> it was at this time that we got sudden orders to move. we were loaded into the army trucks, and we started moving back. we heard all kinds of rumors. we heard the germans had broken through. we heard there was a big offensive. everything was confused. all we knew, we were on the road and moving again. of course, it had only been a month before that we had moved up by trucks. so we were kind of used to it. but this was a night move in the dark, around the back corners. orders were changed constantly. we never knew from one minute to the next what was going on. on our way back we ran into trailers bringing up assault boats to cross rivers with. they apparently were for us. but we weren't going to be there to be with them. we finally found at the end of this truck route, which was very
circuitous, we ended up in the town of marsh in belgium. we were told to hold the town at all costs. we had our first snow at this point. digging fox holes in icy ground was a little difficult. but we kept always on the move. our company was -- seemed to be ending up at division reserve. so we were sent here and there on little jobs and filling up the gaps and trying to get the situation under control. >> we spent our first night in belgium in a huge stone barn with hay and cows and horses champing around us. we were excited to be where once again there was life. we went down the road and had chicken dinner with eggs and milk, food we hadn't had it seemed like weeks and weeks. there seemed to be no nervousness about germans until
later that night when we spotted way across the valley a column of tanks going up the road. somebody pointed out that those were german tanks. we had been told we were miles behind the front. that's when we realized there was a good deal of confusion in the again picture in belgium. after that we went by truck to a little town and met a very lovely belgian woman and a french -- in a belgian chateau who had two daughters. she was getting into the car to drive to brussels. they had an appointment. it was later we realized she was fleeing as fast as she could. she knew the situation was very bad. later on that night, we had our first encounter with some german tanks which came along and fired at us. we fired back. they went on back the road that they had come from.
we realized we were in what they call a fluid situation with nobody certain where the front lines were. least of all us. >> i was a commander in general bowling's rail splitter division during world war ii. i arrived at the 84th division in holland on the 20th of december 1944. and moved down with the division on the 22nd of december. to say that the situation was fluid is putting it lightly. every other house was occupied by germans. there was firing up and down the streets.
the 334th infantry had organized divisions along the front edge of the ridge. i can remember that the fox holes were sometimes 150 yards apart. they had been dug in frozen ground sometimes with the aid of explosives. the position was considerably over extended. and various pockets of german tanks and infantry existed all up and down the line. during the day the germans had infiltrated tanks and infantry into a wooded area back of the front lines and in front of the reserve elements. and they were discovered quite by accident by a small unit going up to reinforce an attack
that took the wrong road and ran into this pocket of german tanks and infantry. and they backed off and reported this. the 84th division artillery fired on this pocket which was pretty well defined, and though knocked out all of these tanks and killed several hundred german germans. when the artillery had finished firing, one battalion -- i remember the 326 had only six rounds of ammunition left. we had other ammunition on the way, but no one knew when it would get there. it was a rather touch and go situation. there were many things imprinted on my mind that will make me always remember the kind of stuff our american soldiers were made of. one incident in particular occurred during the battle of the bulge. we were advancing and a mortar shell came in and wounded
several men close around me. one man was almost in arm's reach of me. i could see that he was hit badly. the back of i had head practically blown off. he was in a state of shock. i tried to comfort the man, prop his head up until the medics could reach him. all this time -- i shall never forget this -- this man was trying to apologize for me for being hit and sorry almost crying because he would not get to carry on with the battalion and continue to fight. >> the line situated as it was at the extreme tip of the bulge received the full weight of the german attack. chance had placed the fate of this offensive in the hands of an american infantry division. for the men of the 84th, there was no question as to what must be done. see it next on the big picture.
>> i found the safest place to be in any attack was in the assault wave. because we were upon the enemy before he knew we were coming. we escaped much of the small arms fire. in addition, we didn't get the retaliation from the artillery that the waves following us got. >> in this town as we did on all of our on theives, each company commander and separate platoon was ordered to take a certain position, followed the practice of writing a message on a fresh egg that they had taken their objective and what time and send this by messenger to the sergeant major at battalion headquarters. this is where we got fresh eggs as we crossed germany. >> i knew right then that i was going to get it. half an hour later, i did.
>> we had been fighting for ten weeks. we brought back a spirit of feeling of confidence not only in the staff but also in the regiments, battalions and companies which really put us in good stead for the future. >> these are the men who served in the 84th infantry division during the final months of world war ii. first committed to action on the siegfried line in november 1944, they were caught up in the bat many of the bulge and the conclusive engagements that followed. this is their story.
hitler ordered a major counselor offensive. as fog and sleet grounded all allied plane infantry southwest into belgium recapturing the key road junctions. and surrounding the defenders. a major part of the german attack was turned against the town of marche, beyond which lay paris recently liberated and antwerp, the chief supply port.
the 84th infantry division had left the siegfried line and had taken up positions along the marche/hotton road. the allies were able to hold in the flanks and keep the enemy line from bulging further westward. >> i'm richard k. hawkings. i was a first lieutenant. we were spread over an extremely wide frontage. our rifle company actually covered close to a mile in width with fox holes, two men each,
rufr roughly 100 yards apatch. this is perhaps four to five times the ushlg amount of frontage that a rifle company will cover in a defensive situation. there were several times when our forces were attacked by great numbers of tanks. in one instance near the village of burden approximately 200 enemy infantry and nine tiger tanks attacked us and actually overran our position. this was one of the few times in which it became necessary for me to call down artillery fire on our own position.
enemy casualties during the battle of the bulge were much higher than ours due to the fact they were expending themselves against defensive position and this happens in any battle. however, they had over extended their supply lines. and many of the troops that we captured had not had any food for some time. and i would say that their casualties outnumbered ours by at least three to one. >> this chateau is the property of a polish baron. it became a house of horrors as it was digsfigured by hand to hand war. a member of the family recalls.
>> translator: my name is elisebeth. i spent many days in the castle. we witnessed the battle and i was with my father and a few people from the village. and some friends who had come here to find shelter. we spent five days and five nights in the cellar of the castle. first came the germans. then americans. generally, we could not tell who was in the castle. although, we did notice the americans ss wore rubber souls. they walked softly. the germans who wore metal tips were very noisy. our food consisted of bread, some butter and ham. the real problem was to get
water. we had to walk through corridors where germans and americans were often fighting in order to reach the faucet where we could get the water. sometimes we would meet americans, sometimes germans. >> a week after the offensive had begun, the weather suddenly cleared. allied air reconnaissance and bombardment was now possible. although allied air superiority was complete, the ground fighting remained intense throughout the bulge. the turning point came on december 26.
>> i was a sergeant in the 333rd infantry of the 84th division. i was leading the company column on the left-hand side of the road. the commander was leading on the right-hand side. as we broke over the hill it became apparent that there were armored vehicles ahead of us. i knew we needed something to really go after vehicles of this type with and that the bazooka being carried by another man back in the first platoon, did not come up as fast as i would have liked. i found the bazooka but found ammunition across the road. i loaded once and got up close and fired.
i was very gratified that the bazooka worked properly and i made a good hit. i had never fired one before. i made two or three trips back to the ammunition supply and went up and fired again. all of a sudden, somebody had spotted that we needed some help in that area and some of our artillery fired. a shrapnel flew across my hand and arm. i heard it bounce off the be a bazooka. it didn't seem serious. one of the men near me also realized he had been hit and came over to see if he could give me aid. we succeeded in putting a tourniquet around my arm by using my belt. then i started back down the road. after we got back a couple of platoons, action was such that i
could stand up and walk down the road. and all i could think of was, merry christmas, boys. >> i'm john shaw. i fought as a buck private with the 86th infantry division during world war ii. it was cold. i remember trying to get a drink from my canteen, which was frozen solid. we started out through the woods crouching and moving forward. then someone yelled fire and shout. so we started firing and shouting. and the traces went through the woods. we moved on. in a hysterical way getting more and more excited as we moved forward and heard more noise and were firing. we went perhaps 20 feet or 25
feet, and all of a sudden there was that terrible noise that a person hates to hear, the little pop of a flare. and it was a german flare. and it lit up the woods. there we were and there they were. the germans opened up with machine gunfire. i know i had a kind of sinking feeling that this was it. this was the first real fighting that our company had been in. where we were playing with the big boys and we knew that this was for keeps and all of us were terrified. these machine gun bullets were firing a few feet off the ground. then occasionally, as they would rake up and down the line of all three the woods occasionally they would dip down. and then you would hear somebody screaming from that section where they had dipped down. they sprayed us like if they had a garden hose. they sprayed and sprayed.
then they -- more flares went up and the tanks opened up directly again with 88 fire. the man on my left was killed outright. the man on my right on the other side, who was equally close was wounded very seriously. his kneecap was blown off. the cries and sleeks of wounded went up then. and i turned to the man on my right and put a tourniquet on his leg. >> my name is major general bill
sutton. i was a battalion commander in the 84th division in world war ii. it was important for the 84th division to hold the ridge and stop the attack. only by the determination of the officers and men of the 84th division and the expert leadership of general bowling the commander, were they able to do this. after the german advance which stopped in the last few daze of december, the germans were noticed to be digging in which indicated they did not intend to continue attacking. >> the bulge would bulge no further. hitler had again misjudged the capacity of the american soldier.
>> translator: my last rank in the german army was that of a general of the cavalry. from the beginning of september 1944 until may 1945, i was command of the general staff of commander and chief west. hitler had a vast and extensive technical military knowledge, but he was a fanatic. and fanatics are known for their disability to keep a cool head. this is an absolute necessity for the strategist. at the sat time, hitler was not inclined to consider the enemy capable of fast action. he was and remained a military dilly tant.
>> the cost to germany would be staggering. more than a quarter of a million men dead wounded or captured. slowly and painfully, the remnants retreated behind their shattered western defenses. it was the beginning of the end. by the 3rd of february the 84th division had moved back to their positions on the siegfried line. their objective lay before them. the rhine and the elk. >> i'm lewis w. truman.
during world war ii, i was a colonel, chief of staff of the 84th infantry division and chief of staff for alexander r. bowling who was the commanding general of the 84th infantry division. >> the river crossing was one of the most thoroughly rehearsed crossings of any unit in the european theater. the original crossing date was to be 10 february. but it was postponed because the germans flooded the area. so we then had about two more weeks to work out details very thoroughly and to rehearse all the units for the overall operation. >> it's amazing that we got across the river considering the confusion that takes place during preparations for the attack.
if you can imagine it being pitch dark with a narrow road with huge trucks with the assault bridges to come later and a narrow strip available to move up troops through. when you consider the horrible noise of the artillery preparation which lasted for 45 minutes prior to our crossing, during which time commands can't be heard and it's very difficult to give any orders and expect them to be carried out. >> the germans had constructed a
rather wide band of wire -- barbed-wire and studded it with s mines which bounced up in the air when triggered off six feet and exploded there making it impossible for anybody to avoid the fragment. this mine field and wire on the far side of the river made the r river one of the biggest little rivers in the world as far as i was concerned. >> before that day was over, we had two full infantry regiments across. the germans were caught off balance. they did counter attack us.
but they were unable to organize themselves fast enough. and after three days, our position on the other side of the river was secure. it was general bowling's impression at that time that the german soldier was no longer the same soldier whom we had phased earlier. the point now was to break through all of the resistance and give the enemy no time to catch his breath or to recover even for a moment. the final phase of the war began
for us on april 1st when we crossed the ryne. everything we had was on wheels and they were all turning. >> we rolled across the northern part of germany on autobahns for the most part, great speeds and long convoys. this was exciting because we were covering so much ground compared to what it had been like on the siegfried line earlier. we rarely had to get out of the trucks except when we would run into a rash of firing and we would are to jump out and run for cover and after a while whatever difficulty would be taken care of and then we would roll on again. if combat can be described as fun, this was, because the weather was fine and we were rolling and we were going through part of the germany which had not been much shot up.
and we saw civilians for the first time, german civilians. and we were able to shout and do all the things soldiers like to do. >> allied moral was high. for each man of the 84th knew that the war was near its end. during the more frequent lulls in fighting, there was time for relaxing. time even for the humorous anecdote. >> army rations were pretty good. one day after too many servings of corned beef, we spotted a chicken. one of the men went out for it and was using an m-1 rifle. but he had armor piercing bullets in it. the soup we made that night we had to sprain the bones through our teeth. >> i am fritz cramer. i was with the 84th division as a rather elderly soldier for my 35th to my 37th year.
? one respect i have have to admit, i probably was not a very typical and normal soldier. i did like the army food. i wanted to get lots of food. i got it. i wanted to get simple food. i got it. very many of my playmates felt the army food was not good. i must say in this connection that i have found in life that the people who went traveling complained that the oysters are never fresh enough and the champagne never cold enough until the people who at home had nicer champagne nor oysters. >> there was one fellow that we had who was really sharp at gathering eggs. he knew where they all were. and he gathered a big armful of them one morning. it was early, about 5:00. he was just coming around the
corner of a building. a german officer came around the other way. and they stared at each other and then he took the eggs that he had in one hand and he threw them all at the german officer. the german ran around the building the other side and later on the german said to us in english, you know, you fellows are lousy soldiers. i have been trying to surrender all night long. now finally you throw eggs at me. he said i've been trying to surrender. >> there were other german solders who found surrender less of a problem. this experience was noted by a new member of the 84th division. lieutenant colonel alexander bowling, junior then a rifle company commander and the son of the commanding general. he had recently escaped from a german prisoner of war camp. >> by the end of april, a company had reached the river. and this started a short but
rather strange life for the men in the unit. the germans had withdrawn across the river to the other side. and they permitted us, strangely enough, to enjoy a degree of freedom during the daylight hours. we actually could go out into the river and fish near our banks, of course. but at nighttime, any movement drew fire. at that particular time, there was a degree of mixed emotions among the men in the company. there was that particular feeling in which they wanted to go on and be the first unit in berlin, which had been the division objective since they landed in europe. and at the same time the soldiers i don't believe wanted to have the honor of being the last man, the last casualty in the war. i must admit it looked very wide
at that time. after just a few days on the river, we awoke one morning and discovered much to the amazement of everybody, that the far bank was virtually covered with tens of thousands of german soldiers. desperately trying to get across to our side. it was quite apparent that there was no effort -- this wasn't an attack. as a result, there was no effort on our part to prevent this crossing. they were trying to get across on rafts that they had made during the night and on boats on inner tubes. any way they could get across, and they were successful. this, of course was the day when our battalion -- i guess the division captured the largest number of prisoners. the war wasn't over but the germans had decided that they were going to surrender to us rather than to the russians.
one of the lasting memories for me of this last action was when general bowling and i crossed the swift river to meet the oncoming russians. this was on the 26th of april. on the far bank of the river were at least 10,000 german soldiers who had not yet been taken prisoner. some were wounded, others were sick and all were thoroughly demoralized. the very sight of so many men trapped there on the other side of the river symbolized for me the total collapse of the german army and the absolute conclusion of hostilities. >> when we encountered the russians on the opposite bank they appeared to be a rather notally, disorganized crew with all kinds of transportation, including horse-drawn wagons
ambulances motorcycles bicycles and even a few riding bare-back horses. they were a very friendly, boisterous lot who seemed extremely happy to meet up with the americans and finally realize that the war was at an end. >> for those who met on that april day in 1945, the war had reached its inevitable conclusion. on may 7 the end would be made official by the formal surrender of all german forces to the allies. the third riekt lay in rubble. there was nothing left to fight with. nothing left to fight for. for the men of the 84th infantry
division there was the knowledge that they had accomplished every mission. they had been tried by fire and they had won. you have been watching a special presentation of our reel america series. watch as the films take you on a journey through the 20th century. that's reel america every sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv on c-span3.
we would like to tell you about some of our other programs. join us every sunday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern for a special look at the presidency. learn from leading historians about presidents and first ladies, their policies and legacies and hear directly from our chief executives through historic speeches. that's every sunday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern here on american history tv. we would like to hear from you. each week american history tv's reel america brings you archival films that help tell the story of the 20th century. the battle of the bulge began on december 16,