History of 4th Squad, 3rd Platoon, Company AOur Experiences in Austria and Germany
96th Chemical Mortar Battalion
compiled by Greg Goorigian
This is an account of our bit in combat. We were with Seventh Army forces that made the spectacular 200-mile advance through the Southern Germany redoubt and helped bring about the final defeat of the German military machine.
All throughout our short stay at the front, we were extremely lucky for our small number of casualties. The fact that we were with experienced combat outfits, the 44th Infantry Div and the 10th Armored Div, made things a lot easier on us.
Last but not least, the competent leadership given us by Lt Cullen, platoon leader, Lt Tucker, reconnaissance and liaison officer, and S/Sgt Huettner gave us a feeling of security and confidence in our ventures. The cooperation achieved and maintained by the platoon was the big factor in our success.
The account of our experiences is as authentic as could be remembered, and slight technical errors are to be expected. The members of the squad were:
Sgt Lou Gerstner from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Sgt Albin Roszyk from Chicago, Illinois
Cpl Roy Peterson from Waukegan, Illinois
PFC Howard Fields from Lawton, Oklahoma
PFC Henry Prunier from Fairhaven, Vermont
PFC Charles Engolio from Bayou Goula, Louisiana
PFC Kyle Williams from Gate City, Virginia
PFC Greg Goorigian from Selma, California
Transportation was furnished by the jeeps:
Miss Boo, driven by Engolio
Kaput, driven by Goorigian
Special credit goes to Peterson for his ability to provide for the extra needs of the squad.
Prunier was constantly a headache for possible snipers with his ever-present vigilance.
Engolio, Peterson and Williams acted as liaison between the company and regiment up until the time the squad entered active combat. Some of their experiences were unique and will be mentioned later.
The jeep Kaput was constantly handicapped by a failing battery and succeeded in getting itself and the occupants into many a trying situation.
Anyone who wasn't scared is a damned liar!
Note: All dates are in 1945 unless otherwise noted.
Monday, April 16
The 96th Cml Mortar Bn traveled from Camp Twenty Grand near Rouen through Reims, Verdun and Metz, and crossed the German border at Saarbrücken. Were informed at Kaiserslautern that Seventh Army HQ had moved up so we continued our journey that night. Crossed the Rhine over pontoon bridge at Mannheim with aid of blue searchlights. Great destruction noticed at Saarbrücken, Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. Forced to stop convoy several times and put out blackout lights due to enemy planes overhead. Crossed Neckar River and followed its course for some distance.
Tuesday, April 17
Proceed to Öhringen and bivouac in woods near 83rd Cml Mortar Bn. Hear shell fire in distance, and flashes can be observed at night. A Co assigned to the 71st Inf Rgmt of the 44th Div, VI Corps, Seventh Army. Dug first foxholes and continued to do so at each position.
Leave here at midnight and proceed through Black Forest to Mehefeld. Black Forest was very dark, had to drive blackout with skyline above treetops as guide. Roads littered with wreckage from road blocks, overhanging wire and timber. Much dust and hazardous driving conditions. Prunier and Fields lose helmets and had to stop and find them in the dark. Delaney, with Fayo, Deaven, Shaum and Palmer (our lone medic) gets lost with ton and a half truck with our ammo and .50 caliber machine gun. Kaput had much battery trouble and had to be pushed all over hell, finally getting behind convoy a few miles. The entire convoy got lost for several hours and had to backtrack twice, passing through towns that were still in flames (odor of burning flesh very prominent). Later we find out that the woods were infested with Germans.
Wednesday, April 18
Got on super highway (Autobahn) in morning and stopped at forward area near our artillery units for breakfast. Mistook our own artillery for enemy shelling, threw our breakfast into the air, and hit the dirt, much to the amusement of the artillerymen. Our first real scare, though uncalled for. Enemy mine knocks out one GI and one civilian vehicle. Civilian dead in nearby town. Our artillery continues shelling the enemy positions in the hills. Miss Boo and occupants are assigned to Lt Haynes as liaison between our company and regiment. We are placed in reserve and follow other units of reserve into forward pass. Very little sleep is had the first few days. Get our first taste of German liquor.
Thursday, April 19
We shove forward behind 10th Armored Force and camp overnight outside the city of Welzheim in an open field. We enjoy our first good night's sleep though the night was very cold. Had to leave a chicken dinner half eaten to move out earlier in the day.
Friday, April 20
We leave Welzheim and go to Göppingen and dig in in an orchard at the outskirts. Had to move back into town, passed a German ammo train loaded with bombs, shells and other munitions. We took over the residence of the governor of Göppingen and it was very well stocked with champagne, liquors and other conveniences. The civilians were frightened and needlessly expected us to molest them. There was an elaborate air raid shelter in the yard and one in the wine cellar.
German planes flew over the city and met heavy anti-aircraft fire, including our .50 caliber machine gun (our first shot at the enemy). A counter attack on the city was expected that night. Around 10:00pm, while Prunier and Goorigian were on guard, our artillery and anti-aircraft units started firing at the enemy and continued all night. Some enemy shells hit the town and their planes were out; however, the counter attack was discouraged and did not come off. Very little sleep was had due to the noise of the big guns. German ammo dump nearby blows up.
Saturday, April 21
Spend most of the day in Göppingen. Some of the fellas pick up their first pistols. Meet many liberated prisoners of war and slave laborers who tell us of all they had suffered. An English-speaking girl tells of SS troopers and Nazi party officials shooting all civilians who had put out the surrender flag-of-truce in a nearby town.
After supper, we move to Gruibingen and clear out houses for our use that night. Elements of the 71st Infantry bring through many German prisoners from the surrounding hills. Weather is rainy. There is a false gas alert and everyone scrambles madly for their masks. We kill and clean a chicken but had to leave it behind when we moved out the next day. We are behind a spearhead which is about 20 miles ahead of flank protection. To our rear, on our flanks, American units were meeting heavy resistance while we had found an apparent soft spot and had Jerry on the run. In the meantime, Peterson, Engolio and Williams are following a small armored recon outfit in the forward area in difficult terrain.
Sunday, April 22
Spend most of the day in Gruibingen. Have some German liquor and accordion music. Also have time to clean up a bit. Starts snowing. Two prisoners taken near town. Leave in early evening for Wiesensteig where we spent the night under trying conditions.
Meanwhile, Williams, Peterson and Engolio were out maintaining contact with regiment and had several exciting moments. The three of them, from behind a graveyard wall, witnessed a battle between some of our tanks and enemy forces in the nearby woods. Machine guns and light artillery were answering the firing from the tanks; however, the German units were soon cleaned out. Williams spent the rest of the night at regiment where he furnished information to a major general and staff as to our unit's ability to help out in the forthcoming crossing of the Danube River.
At Mülhausen (about three miles behind Wiesensteig in the hills), nine infantrymen were guarding more than a hundred prisoners, and information had been obtained that strong German forces in the woods were going to recapture the town and release the prisoners. Regiment ordered that our unit send men back to help guard the town, and to recapture it if the enemy had succeeded in its plans. Due to the distances in the hilly terrain, radio contact could not be established, and Engolio and Peterson had to get back to the company by jeep to inform us of the situation.
On their way back, they made a wrong turn and went 14 miles out of their way to Magolsheim, which was just being captured by our infantry who were still meeting resistance. They got their correct bearings and back tracked and made a fresh start. They stopped to change a flat tire on the way. In two different instances, they were fired on by German machine guns, with tracer ammo, from the woods and lost no time getting scared. They finally got back to company, gave the information, and then went back to regiment with an amphibious unit that was moving up from the Danube crossing. Rough weather and terrain encountered.
Meanwhile, we had just pulled into the outskirts of Wiesensteig and taken over some civilian homes. Three Russians in German uniform came out of the woods and surrendered to Huettner, Belcher and Goorigian. They had been captured on the Russian front and forced to fight against us. They told us of their comrades who were still in the woods awaiting news that is was safe for them to give up. One of the Russians was sent back and he came back with seven more, two machine guns, one of which Peterson kept for added firepower, and some rifles.
Gerstner was sergeant of the guard and spent all night posting the guards on the nearby mountain ridges and roads. The night was rainy and cold, and machine gun firing could be heard in the surrounding woods. Some German prisoners, including a 16-year-old, were taken during the night. Kissinger fired on one of them who hollered "Kamerad!" but slipped away in the darkness. Two mortars had been set up for possible use in addition to all the machine guns. Second platoon moved out to check up on the situation at Mülhausen and were led by Capt Church who had a .50 cal machine gun mounted on his vehicle. They found the town intact and remained there the rest of the night.
Monday, April 23
Remained part of the day in Wiesensteig. Russian prisoners were put on KP and were grateful for their being with us. Some German civilian engineers who had helped put up road blocks were also captured. All 19 of the prisoners were sent away with a larger group of prisoners that were being taken to the rear areas. We found some photographs of German atrocities committed on the Russian front. There was a Nazi party official's home nearby and it was loaded with rich loot from France -- silverware, cutlery, silks, settings, etc.
Moved to Ehingen in the afternoon. Had to travel fast through woods as enemy had artillery coverage of the road. Our column was strafed by German jet planes and we hit the dirt while machine guns drove the planes away. Took over civilian homes in Ehingen and spent the night. Found many official documents announcing to the next of kin the death of German soldiers from Ehingen, giving details of the death, location, etc, and ending with a curt "Heil Hitler!" The documents had been placed in the stove with the intention of being destroyed, but it was not carried out. The townspeople were unnecessarily afraid of our killing them, as they had believed the false propaganda spread by party leaders. Pete cleans his machine gun and we learn a bit about its operation.
Tuesday, April 24
Spent morning in Ehingen. Spoke to civilians who told of how party officials had taken off with their families and riches, leaving the common people to their fate. Also told us of how the SS and Party members had gotten teenage boys drunk and had spirited them to fight against us, and how those who cried and changed their minds were shot down in cold blood by the officers. Probably true. Engineers blast away destruction to clear out the nearby super highway.
We leave in the late afternoon, cross the Danube over a pontoon bridge at Berg. First platoon leaves to join up with the third battalion of the 71st Infantry.
Elements of a German armored (Tiger tank) division, trapped between us and French forces, are expected to attempt a breakthrough at our position, and we are ordered to use our mortars to delay such an attempt if it comes about. We set up our mortars at night in two adjacent gravel pits, with the mortars aimed at a nearby town and bridge, the expected route of the breakthrough attempt. The town was evacuated of all troops except for one house which was our observation post. Two bazooka teams, with Williams as a member, and Delaney's .50 cal machine gun, were situated at the bridge to delay any armor and allow time for the mortars to knock out the bridge and approaches.
Machine guns were firing all night about a mile from our positions, and several towns nearby were in flames. There was quite a bit of enemy plane activity and one JU-88 flew 50 feet over our position during the night. Kaput still had its troubles and the crank was placed in position for instant use. Foxholes were dug, and water was reached at about 2½ feet; those who got any sleep generally slept in their foxholes.
Pete's German machine gun was set up nearby. Our guards fired on several figures sneaking around our position who failed to stop at their command. There was other small arms firing in the near distance which we later found out to be an ambush on two of our men who had gone out to set up a radio relay. Sgt Bailey was killed instantly, and White narrowly escaped. White got lost in the ensuing fight and returned to our unit the next day. Bailey was found that night near the jeep after some civilians (who were captured after dark near our position) informed us of a body near a jeep about 250 yards away. Two German soldiers were captured near our position before morning. A German BV 141 observation plane flew over our position at dawn and woke most of us up.
Wednesday, April 25
March order given around noon. We leave for Regisweiler. See many dead horses and cows, and some of the towns are completely destroyed. Huettner goes into house we are to occupy and comes out with a basket of eggs. Someone else goes in and discovers five German soldiers hiding in the house. We speak to girls from Stuttgart who wonder about their home town (long, low whistle!). 240mm howitzers set up about 300 yards away and started firing, shaking the walls of our house. The Air Corps had been bombing several towns nearby earlier in the day.
Thursday, April 26
Our platoon joins the 3rd Bn, 71st Inf, in the morning. Talk to some civilians who want to turn in some weapons. Mothers express anxiety over the coming of the Negro soldier who, they had been told, was a cruel and wild savage and would rape their daughters. In nearby Illertessen, German tanks and self-propelled artillery have ranged in on an engineer-constructed bridge over the Iller canal, and air bursts from 88's can be seen from our position.
The infantry had had to dig in in order to knock out German infantry guarding the bridge. They had to cross the canal hand-over-hand and by assault boat after the original bridge had been demolished. Engolio, Peterson and Williams were in the town the day before while the town and bridge were being shelled, and were forced, but not very hard, to take cover in a cellar. Later in the day, Engolio and Williams were fired on by snipers while looking over the countryside from a church steeple. They slept that night in a cotton mill.
We left with the infantry around noon and crossed the Iller canal. Here we saw two jeeps that had been run over by a French tank, and also a destroyed four-barrel anti-aircraft machine gun that had been captured by the Germans and was used against our forces. Met two Polish slave workers who told us what they had gone through under German domination. In one town that had just been liberated, a Czech slave worker, with tears streaming down his face, was very insistent on kissing us.
Two Royal Tiger tanks that had been knocked out were in the streets of one of the towns; we were impressed at the size of both the tank and its high-velocity gun. We also picked up an Italian-manufactured generator at a warehouse which provided us with electrical convenience.
We stopped in an open field for awhile and got acquainted with some of the infantry fellas. One of them gave a civilian car a rough ride through fences and over ditches until it gave out and then he set it on fire. Another went to a nearby farm house and tried to seduce one of the frauleins in view of an appreciative audience. Several of the fellas picked up some fresh eggs and liquor. Lt Tucker brings in some fluorescent aiming stakes from a German mortar arsenal nearby. We move out with the tanks and infantry at early evening and arrive at Erkheim where we spent the night.
Friday, April 27We were rudely awakened by our .50 cal machine guns which opened up on three German FW 190's flying over our position. During the day, we got haircuts from a German barber who volunteered his services after seeing Goorigian giving Gerstner a haircut. The snow-covered peaks of the Alps are within easy sight.
We pulled out of Erkheim in the late afternoon and headed toward Füssen on the Austrian border. We passed through many road blocks in the woods. While stopped near an open field at night, a 16-year old German in sniper's uniform (camouflage suit) was detected sneaking by and he hit the dirt when he discovered us. He refused to surrender at our calls and was brought in by two infantrymen. He had seen much action against the 3rd Bn since they had been on the continent.
A small group of our infantry was guarding a large number of prisoners and they wanted added protection as there were German forces in the woods around them. Two jeeps of our infantry went back, sprayed the woods with machine gun fire, and helped bring up the prisoners to the next town. Word came that we were to go back to our company so we separated from the 3rd Bn and drove on to Erbach where we stayed at the home of a German officer's wife. There was a newborn baby in the house. After leaving us, the 3rd Bn ran across a German motor column and wiped them out.
Saturday, April 28
Spent morning in Erbach. Two Polish refugee girls tried to get chummy. We left for Füssen and stopped in one town for awhile where hundreds of German troops were wandering around looking for someone to surrender to. Liberated French prisoners were going into the woods and coming back with many prisoners; it was great sport for them.
American armored vehicles were firing in the woods nearby. We saw some vehicles which belonged to the famed Herman Göring Division. Two 150mm field pieces were also surrendered during the day. Many of the fellas enjoyed riding some German army horses and fooling with an old-style fire engine at the local fire house.
We left for Füssen and arrived there in the late afternoon. There was no destruction as it was a hospital town, and we saw the first American prisoners of war who had been liberated. Took over some houses on the outskirts and had quite a time with the occupants who were mostly women and children. One fräulein (another long, low whistle!) could speak a bit of English and wanted us to sleep in her room rather than evacuate the building of all civilians. We had a late snack of fried eggs, rare cheese, sweet bread and good apple cider. Some of us took baths and just dozed off in the comfortable beds when orders came through that our platoon was to join the 3rd Bn who needed us for an assault breakthrough. We left at 2:00am for Vils, Austria, and had to detour 14 miles to get beyond a destroyed bridge. We slept until morning at a small home in town. Some of us slept in a shed and hayloft.
Sunday, April 29We set up our mortars on the outskirts of Vils and zeroed in in anticipation of protecting the infantry while they crossed a bridge that was still intact. We chased away a civilian who seemed too interested in what we were doing. While we were setting up the guns, bursts from 155mm guns were hitting near the woods about 400 yards away. We thought it to be the enemy but were later informed that it was our own guns flushing the woods before the infantry was to go through and clean out the woods.
The infantry 81mm mortars were set up nearby and had zeroed in. We were the first of any 4.2" mortar outfit to be in Austria and also the first to fire in Austria. Our gun bent its elevating screw on the first round and we changed it on the field. Our platoon fired a total of 14 rounds and the enemy had apparently decided not to stick around and prevent the crossing. We had dug in in anticipation of counter battery fire. The Air Corps was out flying among the peaks, and occasional bursts of machine gun fire could be heard. The infantry came up with the tanks and moved through our position and through the woods.
We moved up around noon and saw several road blocks and quite a bit of destruction. Stop in a small village and eat chow with .50 cal machine guns firing nearby into a cave on a hill. Most of the able-bodied citizens of the village had fled to the woods for fear of what we would do to them (more propaganda). See several American wounded carried away.
We move up in the afternoon to Reutte where we are enthusiastically greeted by the people. Many were liberated slave laborers and the whole town was out lining the streets, giving us candy, beer, cigars, flowers and whatever else to show their joy and appreciation. We were a sad bunch of GI's when we found out that we were going to leave Reutte and move up again. Two days later, American forces suffered casualties when a booby-trapped pile of German munitions went off in town.
We left Reutte toward evening and drove on to another town. It was snowing quite a bit and traveling was difficult. We had just gotten into town when enemy mortars and 88's started shelling the town. They were landing pretty close so we piled into the buildings, which we would have done even if they didn't land close. We lived in a large hotel (gasthaus) that night with the infantry. German troops had slept in it the night before. Out machine guns set fire to a German vehicle 300 yards away from the hotel. A bridge nearby was destroyed and burned by the enemy and we had to detour and drive through the creek the following day because of it.
Monday, April 30
The 3rd Bn was placed in reserve and we were ordered to go to 2nd Bn which was going on assault. While trying to catch up to the forward units (we were slowed down by bridge demolitions), we stopped near some self-propelled 105's that were firing on our flanks into the hills. We passed a small town that had been knocked to hell by the armor because of resistance from SS troops who were in the buildings. One fella was still trying to extinguish the flames from his home with a fire hose. Some cows nearby had been hit by shrapnel and the owner wanted us to shoot one of the animals.
We finally caught up with the 2nd Bn in the late afternoon at Ehrwald, a hospital town. Many German prisoners, mostly medics, had been taken, and SS troopers were supposed to be in the woods. Some of the fellas picked up some merchandise at a local store. One girl asked about what was to happen to her sweetheart who had been taken prisoner in the town.
We occupied an apartment house and warmed up a previously cooked meal and ate it, 15 to a kitchen. We liberated some fresh beard from a bakery nearby. The kitchen we ate in belonged to a young hausfrau who was very kind and cooperative. She heated up water for us to shave and wash, made some coffee, and told us a lot on Austrians and the Tyrol, the section we were in. She had a young daughter who did not know what to do with the chewing gum we gave her. She also sang us a few songs accompanied by one of our accordions.
We met another notable character, a 16-year old girl who was an expert skier and quite a slick operator. She had Prunier talked into taking her to New York. Our Italian generator was set up and we had electric lights for the first time. Snowed all night. Almost shot a civilian who was going on a patrol for the burgermeister during the night. He failed to stop immediately after being challenged by Goorigian and Peterson who were guarding from the outer balcony. Amphibious ducks pulled in during the night, as well as some armor. Are reassigned to 3rd Bn again as they are to go on the assault in the morning.
Tuesday, May 1Peterson's birthday. Leave Ehrwald and drive to Lermoos across the valley for breakfast. Remain here until early afternoon and then called on for fire mission by 3rd Bn, which is meeting heavy resistance in a snow storm during its battle for the Fern Pass. The enemy has dynamited the road on a sheer cliff and the resulting landslide blocked the road. The enemy was well situated around the shores of an adjoining lake and had point-blank fire of machine guns, 20mm guns and 88's on the road block and its approaches. The infantry had to approach these forces from the flanks and they had to hand carry their heavier weapons and ammunition. The enemy was shelling us all the way back into Lermoos, about three miles, and our own artillery was answering from the town.
We had a hard time identifying the various shells that were whistling overhead, and also how near or far away they were hitting. The echoes in the mountains caused us a lot of needless anxiety and caused us to duck that much more often, if that is possible. We set up our mortars along the narrow road, digging them in the asphalt with alternate positions. We fired them through the openings in the treetops at a ridge nearby where the infantry was supposed to have been dug in along with some 88's. We fired 50 rounds of HE, with Kissinger from Hyslop's squad doing most of the firing. We later found out that our firing had knocked out two German 88's and a small field piece, and allowed our infantry to move into position and rout the enemy's defensive setup.
Prunier had detected a sniper near our gun position and kept a constant lookout for him in case he reappeared. We moved up and ate chow with the infantry out on the road. Enemy shells landed close enough to have shrapnel flying around where we were eating. We went back to Lermoos toward evening and slept in a converted German warehouse that was full of German uniforms and prepared bandages. Snowed about 18 inches during the night.
Wednesday, May 2Stayed in Lermoos during morning and called up again during the afternoon for another fire mission. We passed our positions of the day before and met our 2nd platoon that had just come up and had set up their mortars. They were going through a terrific shelling by enemy 88's and had suffered casualties among men and equipment. We moved up past them and parked beyond the road block near the lake that had caused the delay of the day before.
There was also a spot in the road that was destroyed by a Teller mine, and newly captured prisoners were repairing the two places. There is much shelling from all directions and a lot of machine gun fire. We are about 700 yards from the enemy and maintain a sharp lookout for enemy snipers who have been doing a lot of damage with their bazooka rockets (Panzerfaust) and machine guns.
A German burp gun opens up on some medics about 200 yards ahead of us. We see many dead Americans and Germans, and the litter bearers are quite busy. We are called to move up 300 yards and set up our mortars. We do so on a narrow mountain road near a cliff and our gun fires only one round. This was the last round fired by our guns in the German campaign.
Our mortar was set up about eight feet away from a bazooka dud and about as far from a dead German. We were too close (400 yards) to the enemy for our guns to put out effective fire. We got our first mail since leaving France and had to quit reading our letters to fire. Our duffel bags were brought up at most inopportune moment! We move farther up and eat chow with the infantry and then return to Lermoos for the night.
The battalion we were supporting that day suffered over a hundred casualties. They had been ambushed in a building the night before by Germans who had the building surrounded and fired bazookas and machine guns point blank into it. One sniper got 29 out of 36 men with one bazooka shell and fled into the woods. Concealed machine gun nests also took their toll. Poor observation, use of snow capes, and the terrain made such operations by the enemy more successful.
While this fighting was going on, the war was supposed to be over in this section of Austria. We were once again impressed by the work the infantry does, and realized they deserved everything for the tough work they were doing so willingly.
Thursday, May 3Spend most of day in comparative leisure, and move to opposite end of town and occupy houses there. There are some German bazooka shells and grenades in the yard. Snipers in camouflage snow suits were picked up in the hills near our position. We get a lot of mail and also get paid, in Invasion Marks. We return to old location for two meals.
Friday, May 43rd Bn moves to Telfs. We travel with M Company. On the way, we pass our positions of the day before and see two shell-hits where our jeeps had been parked the day before. At 8:00am, the war in Germany, Austria and Denmark is supposed to be over. We live in the home and office of a notary at Telfs. Two portraits of Hitler found in the office are destroyed with ceremony. Gerstner finds a civilian car and does the town with it. We are pestered by refugee women who fled the Russians at Vienna.
Saturday, May 5Pleasant weather. We service and clean our jeeps and mortars. Leave 3rd Bn and go back to company who have occupied apartment on outskirts of Telfs. First platoon is pulling MP duty in town. We had electric water heaters and heated enough water to take baths and do a bit of laundry. Speak to civilians who tell about the southern Tyrolian people that are partly Italian, and of the ski Olympics held in the nearby mountains.
Sunday, May 6Spend a day of leisure in Telfs. Weather is very pleasant. Woods worth walking into for a bit of, uh, variety. Foster, Delaney, Deaven and Goorigian go by jeep all the way to Innsbruck, 35 km away, to look for Foster's brother who is in the vicinity. Can not locate him. Meet much armor coming back. See our first rocket-firing tank. With 48 rocket tubes. Visit German airfield and see about 30 JU-88's, one Stuka dive bomber and about 30 twin-turbine jet planes. The town itself, the Gateway to Brenner Pass, had evidence of heavy bombings and other destruction.
Monday, May 7Leave in the early morning for Prutz, about 40 miles away. A beautiful scenic drive. Stay a while in open field. Elements of German 19th Army Group are camped nearby and are still turning in their weapons. Many of the fellas collect their pistols and keep them. We go up the hill to a small village, Kauns, and clear some houses of civilians, German soldiers and WACS, for our residence.
We live in the building that boasts of one of two stores in town. The village is centered around a large chapel which has a cemetery surrounding it. The mountains nearby are snow covered but the snow is melting fast and filling into a mountain stream that rushes down into the valley. Here again we are informed that SS fanatics are supposed to be in the woods. Earlier in the day we passed Landsberg concentration camp.
Tuesday, May 8 - VE DayWe clean up equipment and get settled in our temporary homes. We pull guard around our area at enemy ammo dumps within their encampments. Enemy soldiers keep turning in all sorts of weapons and munitions. We set up the Italian generator and get electricity into houses until the local power system is turned on. We visit an old castle nearby; it is mostly in ruins but very picturesque and the scene of many visits in later days. There is a 400-foot drop from one wall of the castle to a mountain stream below. German soldiers, WACS and other female groups attached to the Wehrmacht run around loose as there are too many of them to take care of immediately. We turn in much of our ammunition.
The rest of our days at Kauns are generally spent in leisure, the highlights of which will now be mentioned. Lt Tucker, Fisher and Shaum win raffles to get 6-day furloughs to Nancy, France, at the Riviera. We see some Japanese in German uniforms on a 7-mile hike through the mountains. German officers are allowed to keep pistols to maintain discipline over their men. Some Germans who are guarding their munitions dumps are allowed to carry arms.
We go fishing in the mountain streams for trout but the current is too swift and we come back hungry. Herds of sheep, cows and goats are taken out to the hillsides to graze daily. The people are very religious and miniature statues of Christ are scattered along the roads and hillsides. The local priest conducted an election for a new burgermeister outside our window.
Apparently we live at the town square. There are refugees living here from Berlin to Austria. An English-speaking boy from Vienna tells us of the coming of the Nazis and what life has been under their domination. We combed the village for liquor, our biggest haul being about three gallons of schnapps. The water source is a large trough where mountain snow-water accumulates. It is a popular spot, comparable to the corner drug store back in the States. Most of the soldiers are finally moved away where they are to be processed and put to work of one form or another.
We have one bed for our squad and take turns sleeping in it. Engolio spends May 14, his birthday, sleeping - a popular pastime here. One day the town folk prayed for rain to nourish their crops, and the next day it rained like hell.
Some of the fellas go deer hunting. Sun bathing and bathing in the river are also popular. Non-fraternization policy discourages our social life. We get 30 gallons of wine for the platoon and almost all of it is drunk the first night. Almost everyone indulges and we are appreciative of the "fling", and (hic) what a fling it turned out to be! We have since been to Italy and Switzerland on sight-seeing tours, a very beautiful drive.
See you next in the CBI!?
The following is a brief history of the entire Company A and the 96th CMB
This item, author unknown, is not a part of Greg Goorigian's account above.
The battalion arrived Camp Kilmer, NJ, 25 Dec 1944, and departed New York Port of Embarkation Feb 11 on British ship Mauretania, the third ship of the Cunard Line. After seven days at sea, we arrived at Liverpool, England, Feb 17, disembarked the next day and boarded a train. Rail travel took us through the English cities of Manchester, Stoke, Walsall, Birmingham, Stratford, Oxford and Reading to our final destination of Winchester Barracks, arriving Feb 19.
Left Winchester Barracks Mar 8, boarded LST #61 at Portland, crossed English Channel in about 18 hours, arrived Le Havre, France, Mar 10. Loaded onto trucks, rode through Duclair and Rouen, and arrived at Camp Twenty Grand, about 50 miles west of Paris, where we stayed until Apr 15.
Departed Camp Twenty Grand Apr 16, traveled east toward the com bat zone through the French cities of Rouen, Gournay, Beauvais, Clermont, Compiegne, Soissons, Suippes, St Menehould, Verdun, Metz and St Auold, and then through the German cities of Saarbrücken, Homburg and Kaiserslautern to the Rhine River at Mannheim. After much delay, we crossed the Rhine very late at night.
From Mannheim, we traveled about 30 miles to the combat zone near Heilbronn where we were awakened by artillery fire very early on Apr 18. Fortunately it was American artillery. From Heilbronn, we generally followed the 44th Inf Div and the 10th Armored Div through Göppingen and Wiesensteig, around Ulm to Ehingen, Illertissen and Kaufbeuren to Füssen where we spent three nights.
We crossed into Austria on May 3 and received a warm welcome from many of the residents of Reutte. We survived a bombardment of German 88's at Fern Pass near Ehrwald. From there we proceeded east toward Innsbruck where the 103rd Div cut us off at Kreuz on May 6. We returned to Telfs where we learned of the German surrender which became effective on May 8.
From Telfs, we proceeded south to the occupation area near the borders of Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Division Hq was at Landeck, and the 96th occupied the area round Prutz. At least part of Company A was in a little place called Kauns. We stayed here until July ? And went back to France, supposedly headed for Japan. But, we never had to go!
Return to the main page for the 96th Chemical Mortar Battalion.
Return to the home page for chemical mortar battalions.