of a German Soldier in the Huertgen Forest
following was taken from the Der Meldeweg newsletter
& was done so with permission of the publisher.
We would like to thank him for his generosity as well
as thank all those who have contributed to this
article. It is with their efforts, we are able
to share this valuable research with the rest of you.
following story was taken from The Battle of the
Huertgen Forest by Charles MacDonald; the original
source for the story was the VII Corps G-2 files for
October 1944. Although the featured soldier is
not a member of the Heer, the experiences recounted
can be considered typical for almost any German
soldier stationed in those gloomy woods. Since
the 272nd was considered "...that veteran menace
of the Huertgen Forest...", we felt that this
short narrative would be appropriate.
First Class Herbert Gripan of the 5th Luftwaffe
Fortress Battalion shared a slit trench with an older
man whom he had never seen, of course, until ten days
before. The trench was three feet deep, topped
with logs covered with soil and with branches from the
dark green firs. Even though the NCOs allowed
Gripan and his companion no fires, the slit trench was
dry and fairly warm as long as the two men huddled
together and covered themselves with blankets.
To supplement each man's issue blanket, they had
another taken from a man who was killed and would not
need it any more.
new friend slept much of the time and the two-hour
stints of guard duty in the fighting foxholes nearby
recurred more often than one might have believed
possible, yet the two still found time to do
considerable talking. Gripan had served two
years in Russia, his friend three years in Italy and
France. Neither had been in the actual front
they talked about what they would do when the Ami
came. Gripan's companion said he heard that the
Americans shot all prisoners found wearing the Iron
Cross First Class, but neither man believed it.
They agreed that capture by the Americans was nothing
to fear. Not that they intended to surrender.
There was little talk of surrender. Naturally,
some said it would be better to be captured and come
home after the war with limbs intact, but no one dared
talk openly about going over to the enemy. After
all, they were now fighting on German soil.
no real fear of the American infantry. At least,
others had told him as much, and he saw no reason not
to feel the same way. The American infantryman
seldom attacked unless his tanks and planes led the
way. The tanks and planes were what Gripan
feared. Mortar and artillery fire, too, of
course. He already had experienced some
shelling. It crashed in great thundering salvoes
in the forest, but as long as you were inside your
slit trench with the logs and sod above you, it was
more frightening than destructive.
Gripan and his companion had been on patrol the night
before, they slept late the last morning.
Emerging from the slit trench, Gripan made his way to
the Company command post in a pillbox and returned
with two canteens filled with hot coffee. Then
they ate a breakfast of bread, margarine, and
sardines, saved from their hot meal of the afternoon
before. They always had one hot meal during the
day, usually in the afternoon. The hour depended
on whether Americans planes and artillery interrupted
movement from the rear. Sometimes the food
arrived quite late.
finished eating breakfast when the platoon sergeant
came by to check whether they were still there and
whether either man wanted to go on sick call. He
brought some mail for Gripan's companion and a copy of
the army news sheet, Mitteilungen für die Truppen.
The news sheet was so full of propaganda nobody would
have read it except there was nothing else to read.
was Gripan's turn to go on guard. Taking over
from another man in a foxhole about ten yards away, he
stood or knelt in the hole for two hours.
Nothing happened. The sector had been quiet for
over a week now, with no sign of the enemy.
Though artillery shells passed overhead occasionally,
almost stirring the tops of the tall firs, they landed
far to the rear.
hours up, Gripan stopped by the command post in the
pillbox to see if the hot food had arrived. The
pillbox was dark and murky, lit only by candles.
None of the officers were there, only some NCOs and a
few runners. Everybody was sitting around on
packing cases reading letters or the news sheet and
waiting for the telephone to ring.
took the food - noodle soup, boiled potatoes, fresh
pork, and bread (he did not bother with the coffee,
since they had some left from breakfast) - and went
back to his slit trench. His friend was
delighted that the food had come so early.
night came, Gripan had another uneventful tour of
guard duty, and then, in fading light, he found time
to write a letter on paper borrowed from a man in
another trench. He told his family all was well.
What was the point in giving news that might
to rain after dark, a cold, relentless rain, but it
did not bother Gripan and his buddy as long as they
were in their slit trench. But at eight o'clock
the sergeant came. Both men were to go on patrol
again. Gripan swore to himself. Why didn't
they pick somebody else for a change?
made up the patrol. Because the word was that
the Americans were planning another attack, the patrol
was to try to take a prisoner so they might check on
the enemy's intentions and his strength.
patrol moved out, it was so dark that Gripan could see
no more than six paces ahead of him, and then could
make out no more than vague forms. For about an
hour they moved cautiously through the woods, not
hearing a sound. Then the patrol leader motioned
the men to halt. It would be better, he said, if
they split up, two men going one way, three another.
In an hour, he would fire a flare from a signal pistol
to indicate they were to assemble to go back to their
positions, bringing prisoners with them if either
group had any.
not think much of this arrangement. He did not
even know what color signal flare the patrol leader
intended to fire, but he thought it best not to
question. In any event, he saw no flare at all.
After wandering aimlessly in the woods, he and his
companion decided there was nothing to do but lie down
and sleep as best they could right where they were.
morning they woke up to find themselves only a few
yards from an American tank. What was a man to
do, Gripan asked himself, but surrender?