the frigid conditions they faced
in the Battle of the Bulge.
Hear two Texas WWII veterans discuss their experiences in one of the last major German offensives on the Western Front in the segment that aired on KWBU-FM:
Battle of the Bulge
Airdates: January 11, 12, 14
This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.
The Battle of the Bulge, known as Watch on the Rhine in Germany, took place from December 16, 1944 through January 25 of the next year along the German-Belgian border. Germany hoped to split the Allied line of advance in half and then surround and destroy the Allied armies. With the help of extreme winter temperatures, the fight turned out to be the deadliest battle for the American military in Europe during WWII.
Dr. Howard C. Williams, who grew up in the Port Arthur area, served in the sound division of the sound and flash unit of the 291st Field Artillery Observation Battalion in WWII. He recalls the first days of the Battle of the Bulge:
"My part of it was just cold, snow, sleeping out under a tree. It was horrible, horrible. And we were shelled regularly, and we lost four or five men in my organization. Finally, it settled down enough that we were able to establish our—you know, our sound units and things like that."
Williams explains the role of the sound and flash unit in the battle:
"You set up at the frontline a series of microphones, about six, seven, eight of them, and put a thing about like a seismograph machine in back of that, and one or two poor souls went clear out in front of the line or as far as you could go. And when a German cannon fired, boom, you pressed the button. Sound waves come back, and as they come back, they hit the first microphone, second, third. And then that could be plotted. From that you could compute real rapidly where the cannon fired from, and then you immediately forwarded that information to the artillery, and they started covering that whole area. And the other part of it was they called flash unit. There were two or three of them, kind of like survey transits, and they'd set them up in high places. They'd watch, and when they'd see a cannon flash, they would try to [plot a] a triangle on it."
Chester P. Rutigliano of Del Rio served under Patton in the Third Army during the Battle of the Bulge. He describes the harsh conditions:
"We was there, I don't know how many days there, fighting and cold. Oh, was it cold. Snow. And we didn't have much clothes. See, if you had a lot of clothes, you don't mind it. But if you didn't—half of the guys got frozen hands and fingers and their legs. It was real bad. And I always tell the guys, ‘When you get in a foxhole, exercise. Get yourself going because [if] you don't, you're going to freeze. And you're going to lose your arm, you're going to lose your leg, your toes.' And some of the guys won't listen. They just sat in the foxhole like that. (demonstrates position) And when the time to go and they couldn't move; their foot is already frozen. A lot of them lost their foot. But some of the guys listen to me; then they got out okay."
By the end of the Battle of the Bulge, America had suffered 81,000 casualties, including 19,000 killed and more than 23,000 captured. But despite heavy losses, the Allies prevailed and by February of 1945 had regained the ground lost during the battle and started attacking all along the Western Front. With Germany never able to recover from the Battle of the Bulge, the Allies were able to overtake German territory and within a few months bring an end to the war in Europe.
Living Stories is heard every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday on 103 point 3 FM, Waco's NPR. For more information about this program or the Institute for Oral History, visit us at baylor.edu/livingstories.
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