Sunday, January 18, 2015

Following the 10th (14): Battle Weary and Ready to Move On

This is part of a series following my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago. He was a medic with the 80th Medical Battalion assigned to the 10th Armored, part of Patton’s Third Army.

16-18 Jan 1945:
The weary, triumphant Tigers (Combat Command B) take their final ride through Bastogne’s rubble strewn streets. There had just been another blizzard. [Note: There are different dates in different places on the date of leaving Bastogne by CC B and the 10th Armored.]

No matter- the Battle of the Bulge was over and the outcome of the war was pretty much a certainty. It was a bloody and traumatic time. Over 600,000 Americans (and another 120,000 Allied soldiers) were involved. Over 300,000 German troops were active. That means over 1,000,000 soldiers were involved in that small area of northeast France.
  • American Casualties: 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded, 23,000 captured or missing.
  • British Casualties: 200 killed, 969 wounded, and 239 missing.
  • German Casualties: 67,200 – 100,000 killed, missing, captured, or wounded
It is interesting to note that there are no "After Action Reports" for the 80th Medical Battalion for December 1944 and January 1945. In the intensity of the battle, the ongoing uncertainties and the general "fog of war" many papers and records were lost. They will resume in February.

Many times in my reading I have come across the term, "Fog of War" in relation to the Battle of the Bulge. I did some digging and with the help of Wikipedia (naturally) I found that the term goes back to the late 19th Century and is credited to the German von Clausewitz in the early 19th Century. Here's Wikipedia's opening statement:
The fog of war (German: Nebel des Krieges) is the uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations. The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding one's own capability, adversary capability, and adversary intent during an engagement, operation, or campaign. ...
War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.
Carl von Clausewitz
As I have read through many accounts of the Battle of the Bulge and looked at countless pictures of all kinds of armored warfare and medical care in the midst of World War II, I have been struck by the incredible intensity that these men were under. For many the days were almost certainly endless, one day running into the next. Nights being regularly disturbed by artillery, hunger and cold. Days blinded by snow or the intense light when the sun came out and reflected from the ground.

Those in Bastogne had the worst of it- far greater than any of us can ever imagine. The sublimation of fear was a necessity. What does that do to a person psychologically? How does a soldier cope other than to grow emotionally numb? I would think that if you allowed any emotion to break through, the worry would be that all the emotions would break as well. One thing that could not be afforded was that kind of flood.

But even beyond Bastogne itself, the ongoing uncertainty of the direction of the war would have been just as difficult to cope with. Somewhere in the midst of all that was the one medic that I would come to know as my father. I am learning more about his life than I have ever known. I, too, leave the Battle of the Bulge now. I have thought and read about it for months in preparation for these weeks. I will continue to research and read for it is an important part of our American history. But I also feel it had a great deal to do with who my Dad became- and perhaps in some family memory who I have become as well.

17-18 Jan 1945

Sgt. Benjamin B. Barenbrugge wrote a memoir years later that is in the Wartime Memories Project. He tells what happened next, as the 10th Armored returned to its original mission- the clearing of the Saar-Moselle Triangle. He describes in general what the rest of the war would be for the 10th:
Our orders were to push the Germans further back into Germany. The Army engineers literally built our bridges as we moved. They got a good workout. The Germans blew every bridge across each river we had to cross. Our engineers built new bridges made of large rubber pontoons, lashed together and anchored to the riverbed. They placed steel grid channels across the pontoons; spaced far enough apart to accommodate our tank tracks. I really felt sorry for these engineers, as this was a hard and dangerous job. German artillery would blow these bridges up as fast as they built them. Then our artillery had to go to work and knock out their artillery. Sometimes this went on for days. When we could, we would rest up in some little nearby town. We made three major river crossings: the Saar, Rhine and Danube. We took over 150 towns and cities. Some of the major ones were Trier, Kaiserlautern and Mannheim.
--Wartime Memories Project

The rest of the 10th Armored had been in Metz since the end of December. There Nichols describes that they were
able to lick [their] wounds and rest for the long battle journey across Germany yet to come. On January 17, the division moved southward to Faulquemont, France, where it was rejoined by Colonel Roberts' Combat Command B.... For nineteen days the Tigers were engaged in a three-fold program of unit training, providing a counter-reconnaissance screen west of the Saar River, and at the same time, holding part of the Army's front line.
The weather, of course was awful and many vehicles slid off the icy roads into the ditches. They made it, though, and spent the rest of January in the Faulquemont area.

10th Armored (minus CC B) moves from Metz Jan 18

Combat Command B joined the Division at Faulquemont
[Note: Google maps are obviously contemporary. I use them to show distances and locations.]

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