Countries: Germany / The Netherlands
Bundesland / Province: Nordrhein-Westfalen / Limburg
Date: Sunday, the 21st of April 2013 and Wednesday, the 24th of April 2013
Title: Hürtgenwald & Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten
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The Green Hell
On the 6th of June 1944 the western allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy along the Channel coast of France. About three months later after heavy fighting in Normandy and across France, the US forces reached the western border of Germany. US troops crossed into Germany on the 12th of September 1944 near Roetgen, approximately 10 km south of Aachen.
When the US forces reached Germany in September 1944 the western border was practically open and undefended. The German army was certainly not capable of defending the border that time. The German forces returning from France and Belgium were in very poor condition, however within weeks German forces reorganized. Losses in troops and material were replaced and a new thin defensive line was built up along the western border.
US supply problems and differences of opinion in allied headquarters on strategy delayed an immediate push into Germany and cost US forces the opportunity to conquer the undefended border. The delay was to cost them enormous casualties and a six month delay in breaching reconstituted German defenses. The result was some of the heaviest and most costly fighting between the German and US forces from September 1944 to February 1945. Much of the combat was concentrated in the area now known as the Hürtgenwald community. Both sides sustained very heavy losses fighting bitterly in terrible weather. Many Hürtgenwald civilians also lost their lives. The small villages and forests throughout the area were nearly totally destroyed.
We were staying at a holiday house in Valkenburg for a week and from there we embarked on a few trips. Our first stop was the museum Hürtgenwald 1944 und im Frieden in Hürtgenwald-Vossenack. Outside the museum stands a Flugabwehrkanone with 88 mm tube, the infamous FlaK 88 Typ 37.
Three of the 88 mm cannons were standing in the area of Gey, Straß and Horn. These villages are today a community called Hürtgenwald. In 1945 the cannons were used to stop the US army during the liberation of Nazi Germany. Since the end of WWII, the 8th of May 1945, the guns have never been used. Now, rusting away, they are reminders against forgetting and to commemorate the millions who died in WWII.
Documents, pictures and military relics found in the Hürtgenwald after the war tell the black pages of the history of the Hürtgenwald during the battle between September 1944 and February 1945. Approximately 70,000 mostly young soldiers lost their future in “bloody Hürtgen”.
Dead soldiers are never alone
After the museum we chose to visit a couple of German cemeteries, Soldatenfriedhof Hürtgen and Soldatenfriedhof Vossenack, and the monument for the German 116th Panzer Division (Windhund-Division).
Incredibly quick and reliable, adaptable, brave and intelligent; these are the qualities of the greyhound (Windhund in German), the hunting dog from the Calmuck steppes which lie between Europe and Asia at the mouth of the Volga. It was there, on the edge of the Caspian Sea in the autumn of 1942 that the reconnaissance troop of the 16th Infantry Division (mot.) were in action. One day they caught a greyhound on the steppes and called her “Sascha”. She became the mascot of the division and the soldiers were proud of this mascot. Spontaneously they drew it on their vehicles and fixed it to their forage caps as a badge of recognition. From this time the Windhund-Division was feared and respected by friend and foe alike. Feared because of their strength and respected for their fairness and chivalrous fighting.
The ceasefire at Kall Bridge
Across the Kall Trail, troops of the 28th US Infantry Division pushed forward at the beginning of November 1944 to capture the village of Schmidt. After a few days the so-called “Allerseelenschlacht” resulted in a disaster for the Americans.
As surviving American troops tried to retreat across this bridge to Vossenack, great parts of the Kall valley were already cut off by the Germans. From November 7 to 12 the German regimental doctor, captain Dr. Günther Stüttgen, managed to negotiate an unofficial ceasefire with the Americans at the Kall Bridge in order to attend to the wounded of both sides. In this way the lives of many G.I.’s could be saved by German paramedics. After the war Dr. Stüttgen was honored by the Governor of the State of Pennsylvania for this act of humanity. This incident at the Kall Bridge is documented in the Museum of the National Guard on a painting entitled “A Time for Healing”. On the Kall Trail’s upper part there are still remains of the American casualty station depicted on the painting. A replica of that painting is placed at the museum Hürtgenwald 1944 und im Frieden in Hürtgenwald-Vossenack.
If you want to learn more about the battle of the Hürtgenwald please visit the following links:
Dutch: Hürtgenwald, De ‘Gehaktmolen‘ (by Pieter Jutte from Strijdbewijs)
English / German: The Battle of the Huertgen Forest / Schlacht im Hürtgenwald (by Scorpio)
Also take a look at this video playlist on YouTube.
Fields of Honor
A few days later we went to the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten. This is the only American military cemetery in The Netherlands. 8,301 war dead of the United States of America from WWII rest here. Most died late in 1944 and in 1945, in the airborne and ground operations in eastern Holland, during the advances into Germany over the Roer and across the Rhine, and in air operations over these regions. Additionally, the names of 1,722 Americans whose remains were never recovered or not identified are inscribed along each side of the Court of Honor. A bronze rosette marks the names of those who were subsequently found. 105 headstones mark the graves of 106 “unknowns”. A white marble headstone marks each grave, a Star of David for those of the Jewish faith and a Latin cross for all others.
The construction and care of this 65.5-acre cemetery and memorial are the responsibility of the American Battle Monuments Commission, an agency of the United States government. Use of the land was granted, in perpetuity, by the people of The Netherlands.
To learn more about the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten please visit the following links:
Liberated and liberator
After the passing of my wife’s grandfather, mr. Lou Eijck (February 19th 1929 – November 28th 2007), his family found out he had adopted a grave at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten. The grave he adopted is the one of Robert F. Morris, which is on plot L row 4 grave 2. Mr. Eijck was around 16 years old when he lived in the region at that time and was someone who took up the gruesome task of identifying dead bodies. He became involved through his membership of the Bernardinus scouting group based in Heerlen. Although the opportunity to ask him personally wasn’t there anymore I’m sure his biggest motive for doing what he did was to express his gratitude towards the boys and men who liberated him and sacrificed their lives in doing so.
Robert F. Morris (service# O-777765) was Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Air Forces. He entered the service from the Washington state and was part of the 401st Bomber Squadron, 91st Bomber Group, Heavy. He was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters. On his last mission he was co-pilot on a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress called “Time’s-A-Wastin'” (aircraft# 42-102504). He was killed in action on the 8th of April 1945 on a mission (#329) to bomb railroad marshalling yards near Stendal, Germany. His Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) # is 14295.
Paul Chryst, bombardier on Time’s-A-Wastin’ (TAW), wrote in his document “That B-17 named Time’s-A-Wastin'”:
“On the fateful morning of April 8th, Lt. Peter Pastras, Pilot and Lt. Bob* Morris as Co-pilot with crew were assigned to fly #504; off the left wing of the Lead ship of the 401st BS. The primary target was the marshalling yards (railroad freight) of the City of Stendal. Bombing accuracy was critical; because a hospital was located very close by the tracks. No flak was expected; as the formation opened its bomb-bay doors at 20,000 ft. on the “bomb run’ to the target.
Lt. Mike Fodroci, Navigator, flying in the right wing position off the Lead; could easily watch the four gun flak batteries begin to “track” bursts through the Leading formation. He sat there in horror, as each of these shells began to burst closer and closer to TAW (the left wing position). The fourth set of flak burst directly into the open bomb-bay of TAW. Fodroci reports that “the Pilot must have been killed instantly; for the ship pulled up and veered to the right climbing directly over our ship. Capt. Shelby put our ship into a dive so steep that I was thrown up against the astro hatch of the ceiling in the nose – seems I hung there for a brief second or two!”
“I also observed that a bad fire was burning on TAW forward bomb-bay area and the Co-pilot (Lt. Bob Morris) was trying to climb out of the small window with his back pack on. Somehow, we saw (3) chutes emerge from #504 as she spun toward the earth and “her final end.” No one knows the fate of those (9) airmen. You can be sure that ‘Time’s-A-Wastin’ was gone forever.”
Time’s-A-Wastin’ completed 96 missions.”
* Bob is a diminutive for Robert