It is July 4th, 1944. We just haw received replacements and have regrouped to launch another attack. We are in reserve watching planes dropping bombs. Our artillery is laying down a murderous barrage and our company has been picked to come In behind the artillery fire. For a change, we really move out. We captured the Cotentin Peninsula. However, Hill 122 still remained a commanding terrain of the upper peninsula. In the center of the peninsula was a large swampy area called Prairies Marecaguses de Gorges.
This area virtually denied all military traffic through it and divided the peninsula into two sectors. Blocked to the western portion of the Prairies, at the village of Beau Coudray, was the Mahlman Line. It was along this line that the enemy Intended to make his stand. Our objective is the town of Beau Coudray. The cream of the German Armies manned the Mahlman Line and the center and core of resistance was the crack (15th) German parachute regiment. It was sent to try to stop our advance. After intense fighting we drove through the town of Beau Coudray.
There we made a fateful decision. Not wanting to have to take the town over again, we decided to dig in and hold our ground. We had advanced several miles in front of any other outfit so we had to watch not only our flanks but our rear also. At almost dusk I saw three Germans running along the hedge row on our left flank. I grabbed two men and started firing as we made our way across the field. We were about half way across when machine gun fire opened up. There was an L shaped fox hole in the field which had been dug by the Germans.
With another burst of machine gun fire I heard one of my men cry, "I'm hit." I Jumped into the hole and just as I did, he fell Into my arms. I told him I would try to get a medic but he said "It's no use, I'm hit bad." He died in my arms. It got dark and there I am with one other guy and a dead comrade. We can hear the Germans talking one side and the Americans on the other. One of my officers called out, "Is anyone alive?" I yelled back and identified myself. I told him there were two of us alive and we were going to make a break for our lines so don't anyone get trigger happy, I yelled, "Here we come and we made a mad dash to the hedge row, up and over, to fall into friendly arms.
Where are the Germans? We soon found out. We are surrounded. At daybreak, shots rang out from all directions. Each time we send out a patrol to probe the German lines, we are rebuffed. We still haw radio contact and were told they would try to get some tanks to come to our aid. We later learned that they had bogged down and were picked off like sitting ducks. Each man was told to try to ration his food, we have a few D (high energy) bars and no water. There was pump in the village and several attempts were made to try to get water. Germans snipers picked off any man who tried to get near the pump. Two days have gone by and we are still holding our positions but we are low on ammunition. We have had two sleepless nights. The Germans had tried to penetrate our line of defense but each time we were able to hold them off. We were inflicting a lot of casualties on the enemy but we are suffering a great many ourselves. We were outnumbered about five to one and have no tanks to help in our defense.
We have been trapped for three days now. We can hear tanks in the distance but they are not ours. Each man is told not to fire his weapon unless he can see the enemy. The sun has been beating down on our foxhole all day. It has been especially rough on the men who have been wounded. The Germans haw been throwing hand grenades as they moved in a little closer, it is late afternoon, July 7th, and we haw no food, ammo or water. A tank rumbled into view on our left flank and another tank on our right flank. Then two more to our rear. They fired their 88's directly into our position. Hand to hand fighting broke out. We are surrounded on all sides and it seems like the end of the world. Our last frantic call for artillery fire was in vain. The tanks stopped any thought we had to escape the trap. With our ranks depleted, we were down to about 30 men out of 200, (After the war, I found out that we were called the Lost Battalion). We were taken prisoner and lined up in the town square to be searched. Evidently, the field artillery unit that backed us, sent shells crashing into the town, killing a few of our own and wounding three others.
Several Germans were also hit. In the confusion I ran into a nearby building thinking that I could get away. I crawled along a hall way toward the rear of the building and just as I reached the rear door, I ran directly into the rifle poking right between rny eyes. That stopped any further action at my making an escape. After three days of constant bombarding and gun fire every man is exhausted. It seemed as if my brain was numb. We were herded into an old farm house surrounded by German soldiers. As darkness crept in, I sat there against the wall and hot tears ran down my cheeks, I hadn't cried since I was a boy. As fatigue overcame me, I fell asleep. I awoke still trying to put the pieces together. Out of the 12 men in my squad, I only had two left. Being a non commissioned officer, I was separated from the other men. Two other sergeants and myself were interrogated. They wanted to know what outfit I belonged to and what did I know about bazooka's. Also, where we trained and when and where we landed. As instructed by the military in our training you give only your name, rank and serial number.
We were given a little weak coffee which is called "ersatz." The following morning each man was given one slice of bread and "ersatz." Ersatz is made from roasted wheat and barley. We are marched along the road until we reach Alencon, France and were housed in a large complex that looked like a plane hanger. We had to sit in the hot sun all day and then at night it would cool down and we had no blankets just a hard concrete floor. We were held there three days. Ten men would be giwn a loaf of bread to share between them. One man was designated to slice the bread into ten equal pieces. Despite getting the bread the first gnawing pangs of hunger were being felt.
On the fourth day, we were herded into box cars and on our way to prison camp Stalag XII which in Limbug. Germany. We were on the train for ten days with only bread and water. This prison camp was more of less a stop over before being sent deeper into Germany. We were processed here and given a dog tag with our prisoner of war number stamped on it. As a non com I was separated from the men and interrogated again. I am again drilled about what unit I was from and they again wanted to know about the bazooka. I gave only my name, rank and serial number and then was put into solitary confinement. I would be taken out each day and grilled one or two hours and then back to solitary. After being in solitary four days, I finally was released to go back with the other men.
The sun was bright and hurt my eyes but I was aliw and it felt good to be back with the other men. The housing for us here was a large tent. In this camp we were on a diet grass soup and the usual slice of bread each day. We are notified that we will soon be shipped to another camp and faced a dreaded train ride again. Conditions had not changed one bit. Another hot ride except this trip was not as long. Still it seemed a long time before we finally arrived at our next camp, Stalag IV B, located at Mulhiberg on the Elbe River. This camp had Poles, Russians, French, Italians and English. I had lost quite a bit of weight and was getting weak. I knew I had to keep my muscle tone, what was left. I started walking each day around the compound to try to keep up my strength.
The days passed very slowly and we are told we are going to transferred to another camp. Another train ride, only this time we had to fight the cold instead of the heat. Our only hope to keep warm was to huddle together. This new prison camp is located east of Berlin near the Polish border. It is near the town of Fustenwald on the Oder River. This camp, Stalg IIIB, was formerly a training camp for SS troops. Instead of tents we are in barracks with brick walls and concrete floors. They were so cold that when you tracked in snow it was still there the next morning.
We still had one slice of bread and ersatz each day. One morning we heard what sounded like thunder in the distance. It wasn't thunder but Russian artillery. They were advancing up the Oder River. Excitement was going through the camp. Surely the end of the war couldn't be too far away. The guards were quite nervous and seemed to be more tolerant toward us. We had to received news that we are moving to another camp. This time it is a forced march. As we left camp, there was eight to ten inches of snow on the ground and still coming down. It has been extremely difficult to make your way as the wind caused the snow to drift in some places over knee deep.
One of the fellows stopped and sit down and the guard said that anyone who stopped would be shot. My buddy and I had thought of stopping. Just then a shot rang out. The guy that stopped was shot between the eyes. That halted any thoughts of us stopping. I don't remember how many days we were on the road but we finally arrived at Stalag IIIA which was located at Lukenwatde, about 30 miles south of Berlin. We are assigned to large tents, each one holding about 100 men. The days pass by ever so slowly and we heard rumors that the war was getting better for the Allies although the Germans would constantly move through the camp telling us how bad the American and British were taking a beating.
One day standing outside the tent, I heard the sound of thunder but the sky was clear and I realized it was the sound of artillery. The guard became extremely nervous and we knew the end must be near. One morning we awoke and there was a strange quiet over the camp. No roll call and no sign of any guards. Everyone started yelling and shouting, "It's over. It's over," Just then we heard a roar of tanks as they came rumbling and crashing through the barbed wire fence. The Russians had arrived. My buddy who was of Polish decent could speak a little Russian. We decided we would leave the prison and try to get to American lines. We headed due west, stopping at the town of Coswig where we stayed in a run down hotel that was occupied by Russian soldiers.
That night we heard gun fire as the Germans tried to counter attack. If they had succeeded I'm sure we would have been shot. My buddy overheard the Russians talking about sending us back to the prison camp that we Just left. So early the next morning, we crawled out a window, across the roof and slid down the drain pipe. We hope that we don't run into any Russians or Germans. We walked until we reached the Elb River at Madgeburg. A German agreed to take us the Elb River on a ferry boat in exchange for two cigarettes. As we reached the other side, I saw a jeep approaching and I realized that we were among American troops. I am free at last..
Roland H. Hiles