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Hellcat P.O.W.'s

PROFILE OF A FORMER POW OF THE 12TH ARMORED DIVISION
Fred M. (Mike) Gorman
Service Officer

Take a cross section of the men in the 12th Armored Division, officers and enlisted men, draftee and volunteers, civilians and career soldiers, regular army and Enlisted Reserve Corps, the well trained and the recent arrivals, they all had one thing in common. They put everything they had on the line to preserve the freedom of the people of the United States of America and its allies.

This was true also of the Prisoner of War, except in his case, the enemy took it all,-but his life—and his Spirit. He lived in fear that his life would yet be taken, with no way to fight back. In some cases it was. He lost his status as a human being and was reduced to that of an animal with an unkind master.

He not only existed without food or with very little food, but was very deprived of other very basic needs of life. He lived under very primitive conditions, going without a bath for weeks, sometimes months and had to tolerate lice and other vermin sharing his uniform which he wore 24 hours a day. This was aggravated at times with diarrhea and other sickness that remained untreated.

His wounds cried for attention.

He was moved from place to place, either by force march or in boxcars. The luxury of the boxcar was having a spot farthest away from the area used as a latrine. The comfort was having a buddy rub your feet while you rubbed his to ward off frostbite and trench foot. It didn’t always work because it was COLD.

He shared what little he had. He supported his fellow prisoners when their spirits or bodies sagged. He “volunteered when their spirits or bodies sagged. He “volunteered” to work, to escape confinement, but his productivity was very low. He escaped to rejoin his outfit. Many suffered trauma of recapture. Some made it out. His thoughts and conversations were about food, mostly. His faith was heightened, and his thoughts of home sustained him. He gave only his name, rank and serial number to the enemy. He was still fighting the enemy the only way he could. The motto of the American Ex-Prisoners of War is Non Solum Armis (not by arms alone) and we know why!

It has been mentioned that there may remain some lingering stigma or shame connected to a POW. Just as many others who have shared a profound and unique experience, many of us refuse to talk about it except to another Ex-POW. THERE SHOULD BE NO GENERAL STIGMA OR SHAME.

A tank took direct hit. Three survivors piled out of the smoke filled tank. One of them was hit in the leg, shattering his thighbone. He covered with his sub-machine gun so the others could escape. He fired until his weapon was empty. He could not walk and was taken prisoner. WHERE IS THE STIGMA?

A company of infantry was ambushed by well-placed burp guns at 6:00 a.m. It was January 16, 1945 and very cold, around 10 degrees and there was about 15” of snow. More than half were killed in the first five minutes. The rest were pinned down. Some resistance was made but by 6:30 a.m. it was light and to move was to be killed. Still some moved. About 2 p.m. the Krauts, thinking all were dead came out and started looting the bodies. One German was very startled to find an American alive and almost shot him. Instead he told him to “Rouse!” The man could not move, he was so stiff from the cold and his uniform was frozen.

There were about 35 survivors in the company including the wounded. The Germans were amazed that there were any. WHERE IS THE SHAME?

What is this former POW like today? The creed of the American Ex-POW organization with more than 22,000 members is We exist to help those who cannot help themselves.

Charles M. Fitts Jr. C/66 probably put it best. “I guess my greatest satisfaction comes when my eyes still water when I sing the National Anthem and I can look any man in the eye and know within myself that in a small way, I gave a great deal for my country, what it stands for and the rights of my children, theirs and others follow. I do not tolerate draft dodgers or any others who made a mockery of our way of life. This is a priceless possession and one I am proud to carry.” Amen.

A tribute must be made to our families. Sometimes as you all know, the unknown fear cause great suffering at home. One family was made of the 12th AD soldier’s wife and son living with his father and mother. On Mother’s Day, 1945 the wife and mother received bouquets of flowers and cards from the soldier, arranged for months before. THAT SAME DAY, THEY RECEIVED THE “MISSING IN ACTION” TELEGRAM.

We all know the wives of the Hellcats are the GREATEST!! God bless those Hellkittens.

Finally, let us pay tribute to all of you who were not KIA, WIA, or MIA, but carried the war to its successful conclusion. You are our liberators. THANK YOU!!

 

THE STORY OF THE PRISONERS OF WAR OF THE 12TH ARMORED DIVISION

After the surprise of our initial attack the German forces, an infantry regiment, reinforced with tanks, rallied and 17th AIB was unable to advance further as the Germans began counter-attacks from the north and also three different positions east of Herrlisheim.

Repeated requests were made to Combat Command for reinforcements, as the 17th AIB suffered very heavy casualties. During the forenoon the BN. S-3 went back to Combat Command to explain our position and ask for help. During the afternoon the S-2 went back for the same purpose but no help was forthcoming and permission to withdraw was denied.

At dark on 17 January 17th AIB organized series of platoon strong points in an attempt to hold the ground taken earlier. The platoons averaged a strength of about twenty (20) men at this time.

The battle continued through the night in hand to hand fighting. The Germans outnumbered us and managed to infiltrate between our platoon positions and the Battalion C.O. and those in the CP surrendered at about 0445 as the building we were using for a CP was on fire. The Germans had a tank in position and had fired through our CP twice. Our platoon positions had all been overrun and there was nothing left to fight with.

The German unit at Herrlisheim was the 11th Mountain Inf. Regt. Reinforced with 6 Mark V tanks. They were all regular army troops, just brought back from Norway-not the odds and ends troops our G-2 thought was there.”

Major James Logan
C.O. 17th AIB

“After several unsuccessful attempts to advance against a significantly larger enemy force, we were ordered to make an assault on the village of Herrlisheim on the morning of 17 January, 1945.

Pfc. William Butler and I were the scouts who led the attack for a company of the 17th AIB. The attack was made with fixed bayonets.

Pfc. Butler and I were captured the next morning with many other members of our battalion after a day and a night of fighting. We were simply overrun by the Germans who so heavily outnumbered us.

In early February 1945 we were part of a “transport”, a railroad shipment of prisoners from Stalag 5A at Ludwigsberg to Stalag 11B at Fallingsbostel, Germany. Approximately 60 or more of us were locked into small boxcars for four days within minimal food and water. The outside temperatures were extremely cold probably between 0 and 15 degrees every night. Everyone suffered badly from frostbite or freezing because of the extremely crowded conditions and our lack of adequate clothing. We were all hurting during the entire trip.

Frozen feet were a problem for many of us. I distinctly remember Pfc. Butler and myself taking off our boots and socks in the boxcar to rub each other’s feet, which we continued to do for weeks later. Many others did the same thing. I personally stuck pins into my toes at this general time and for months later without feeling them. I am absolutely sure that I froze my feet during this four-day transport.

Cpl. Charles J. Wallman
A Co. 17th AIB

“The night of 16 January, the armored infantry platoons of C Company of the 66th AIB, along with other elements of the battalions moved up on foot to Herrlisheim in a dawn attack. I was in a rifle squad of the 3rd platoon, one of the leading elements. About 0600 we moved on to a very flat field and immediately came under very heavy machine gun fire from emplaced guns directly in front of us. I would guess that over half of the company was killed in the first five minutes. My squad was pinned to the ground by the very intense fire, unable to move. I remember rolling over on my back and tracers were going by just over me like strings of angry bees.

It was still dark but against the snowy background I could see figures move along the enemy line evidently taking ammunition to the guns. I fired about two clips at these figures with my M-1. I quit firing at them when it started to become light about 0630. I could see that I was one of the few left alive among all of the bodies around me and decided that my best bet was to lay still and not attract attention.

The enemy machine gun fire had stopped and would only be heard when someone would lose their nerve and get up and try to run to the rear. This happened 4 or 5 times during the next two hours. About 0930 artillery fire and smoke shells stared to come in on the German positions, and unfortunately, also on our position. We were only 75 yards away. White phosphorous sprayed our position and it was heartrending to hear the screams of those hit with it.

There was too much wind for the smoke to lay and let us withdraw so the shelling was discontinued after five minutes. Those of us still alive continued to lay in the 15 inches of snow getting colder and colder by the minute. The temperature was around 10 degrees. Finally about 1400 the Germans came out of their positions and started taking waches and cigarettes from the dead. The first I knew they were there was when someone started pulling on my wristwatch. When he discovered I was alive he prodded me with his rifle and motioned for me to get up. I tried but was so numb with cold that I fell to my knees again. Two of them grabbed me, held me up and walked me around for a few minutes until I could move under my own power. By this time they had collected 5 or 6 of us that were not wounded and they motioned for us to check our men for wounded.

Our wounded were taken about 300 concrete pillbox where a German doctor did the best he could for them. There were about 35 of us including the wounded and one of the guys who could understand a little German told me later the Germans were amazed that there were that many of us alive.

In the Stalag 13-C we were issued a mattress cover that we filled with hay from the old haymows overhead. This and one blanket served as mattress and cover. There were wood stoves in the various sections but usually no wood, so the sleeping was on the cold side. We always kept our clothes on. Food consisted of 10 men to a loaf of black bread plus a small bowl of soup that tasted like it was made of potato skins. We received this food ration morning and evening.

When I was liberated after 81 days I weighed 140 pounds. When I went into the camp I weighed 180 pounds. I still have a piece of German black bread we were issued sealed up in a jar.

Charles D. Beattie
CCO. 66th AIB

“On 16 January the 43rd Tank Bn. And the 17th AIB attacked toward Herrlisheim. Between German AT guns and tanks in the Stainwald Woods we took quite a shellacking. Finally at dusk we pulled back we pulled back behind the 17th AIB. At about midnight we received orders to hit Herrlisheim again.

Early on the 17th of January the remainder (23 tanks or less) of the 43rd Tank Bn. took off for Herrlisheim. Our support was one platoon of engineers and the artillery forward observers. We made it without incident into what appeared to be an orchard type area. This was soon after daybreak. All of a sudden all hell broke loose. There was a low haze-low enough to obscure visibility for our gunners – but high enough for enemy gunners to see us. It was like shooting fish in a rain barrel for the enemy. I had two tanks shot out from under me before we made it into the town itself. We set up in a house across from the cemetery. A few other men and I went to the railroad crossing and helped some of our men across with smoke grenades. The Germans were shooting at anything that crossed the tracks.

After I was hit I ran into the building and was taken care of by my people. I did not recall much until I woke up in a German aid station. The Germans took some fragments out of me. The next time I came to I was in what appeared to be a schoolhouse. It appeared to be set up as a hospital for Germans.”

Col. Nick Novosel
C.O. 43rd Tank Bn.

“I don’t know the dates we began walking from morning until dark – sleeping in barns, etc. Finally one day I saw the nearest guard was busy and so I jumped down from the autobahn into the drainage ditch. one guy had to stop as he had dysentary. A guard came over to hurry him along and he saw me hiding in the ditch. He “roused over and passed the word along to me . I worked my way to the head column and took off into some wood guard chased me for a while but he had to get back to the column. I wandered for 3 or 4 days – hiding in barns during the day and walking at night. I ate what there was to be found.

One night I crossed an intersection and walked into a group German soldiers who were resting. They looked at me no one said anything so I kept on walking. Finally, early one morning while approaching a village with my eyes looking at a barn to hide in, a voice said something and I raised my hands as a soldier waves me forward. I could not understand him so figured that I was captured again. I saw a Scotch soldier with a thick brogue and sounded like a German. Safe again. I walked into the British lines.

Donald T. McMullen
119th Arm’d Eng. Bn.

“My job as a Liaison NCO was to travel with forward units and report to the supporting units. Many times there was as much as 50 miles between the forward elements and the supporting troops. Previous to this rush across Germany, I had been able to contact the combat units by coming up behind one but in this swift race across Germany I could not get my job done if I went and came up behind each fighting force. I had been cutting across at the point to be able to make contact to gather information before reporting back to my company. It was while cutting across from one point to another that I found myself 5 kilometers ahead of the 23rd Tank Bn. Who had held up in a town just ahead of that.

My driver and I left this little town about 30 kilometers southwest of Weisenburg, Germany. We headed cross-country on a country road to this little town the 23rd Tank Bn. was supposed to be there. Our experience so far enabled us to already know the small town that had been taken and also approached this little town, it seemed there was nothing warn us of what was ahead. We were still in open country when we popped over a little rise in the grove and found ourselves right in the center of the whole company of German infantry that were dug in – in their foxholes. I think we surprised them just as much as they surprised us. With this surprise I told the driver who had stopped the jeep, to get around and get the hell out of here! He then backed around and started to pull out when a German officer gave the word to fire and that is the same sound in German as it is in English.

We stopped and threw off our helmets - the universal signal for surrender.

Mike Gorman