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Battle Of Welscheid

Update

 

On March 10, 2013, many of us lost a dear friend, and the world lost a great man.  Gerald Virgil Myers, or just "Virgil" to his friends, was a gentle, kind soul who was nearly impossible not to love.  Virgil was the kind of person who tried to see the good in everyone, even if they didn't have many good qualities.  Besides the goodness of his character, and his many other exploits in World War Two, there was something else Virgil should be remembered for: Virgil was the last known survivor of the Battle of Welscheid on December 24, 1944.

 

Virgil Myers In Luxembourg

 

 During the night of Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944, Company G, 317th Infantry Regiment along with Company A, 702nd Tank Battalion "Red Devils" attacked and attempted to secure the small village of Welscheid, Luxembourg.  The task should have been a cakewalk.  The 80th Division took thousands of towns that size during the war, sometimes dozens in a day.  The reason this particular village was important enough for them to be sent on a very rare nighttime attack of, was that Welscheid sat at the base of the mountain that later became known as "Bloody Knob".  At the top of the mountain sat the towns of Kehmen and Bourscheid on a roadway called "Skyline Drive".  The Germans were using this road to supply their advance in the Battle Of The Bulge.  It was the 80th Division's objective to cut off that supply line in order to strangle the German military advance.  Before they could safely attack the mountain, they needed to eliminate any opposition in Welscheid.  Military Intelligence did not believe there were many defenders in Welscheid, and based on their World War One vintage maps, it looked like a simple matter of driving to the town, past a slight incline, and take control.

 

It was true that there was not a huge number of Germans in the town of Welscheid itself.  What the G-2 Intelligence failed to grasp was that the town was being used as bait in a well-planned and brilliantly executed ambush by German forces along the mountain ridges, and in the valley below.  Their World War One maps were also badly flawed, in that the slight incline they anticipated going down just before they reached the town, were in reality a steep cliff with a 60-70 degree incline.  Since the attack would be taking place in knee-deep snow in sub-zero weather, that small detail would be critical.  Add in the well-laid German ambush, and it was a disaster waiting to happen.  In a previous article, I wrote extensively about this battle, including some comments made by Virgil Myers.  Most recently, I wrote about Sgt. Lawrence Gaffney, one of the four tank commanders whose tanks were destroyed at Welscheid, and Jean Muller returning his tanker jacket to Sgt. Gaffney's family.

 

After Virgil Myers passed away, I was talking to a dear friend about Virgil, and he shared an email exchange he'd had with Virgil regarding the Battle of Welscheid:

 

"I will try to give you as honest a recall of that time in my combat experience as I can after 65 years.  I was with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 317th Regiment from the first of October until the end of the war and I come home with part of the 80th Division on January 10th 1946."

 

"..…The next day [December 24, 1944] we were in the village of Neiderfeulen and Feulen.  Co. G Headquarters was set up in one of the villages and the men of Co. G were told to go to the top of the hill just north of Feulen and dig in, for the Germans were only a mile or so to the north and would be hitting our lines and testing our strength before long.  By that time there was 6 to 8 inches of snow on the ground and it was getting colder every hour.  The countryside was like a fairyland.  The pine trees and countryside were just beautiful covered with the white snow.  You couldn't believe the hell that was about to happen in the next few weeks of the Bulge.  The next morning [December 25th], we were told we were to keep moving to the north up the ridge of the mountain, going north from Neiderfeulen.  They told us we had to take the village of Welscheid less than a couple of miles across country so we could have a better view of the country ahead, it was much higher than where we were, then we would cut east back of Ettelbruck.  That plan never worked that day.

 

 As we were moving toward Welscheid over what looked like open farm land with trees scattered here and there in clumps, the artillery, mortar and marching gun fire become so intense, we were told to dig in for protection.  The ground was frozen down three or four inches but you would be surprised how quick you could dig a hole in the ground to get out of the way of shrapnel.  The lead scouts of our Company were cut off from us for a short time due to the fierce incoming fire.  Some of the men in the advance rifle squads met such fierce fire they didn't have time to dig in and ran back to the main body of the company…where we were digging in and they were stopped and started digging in also.

 

This was such open area that there were many casualties by later that next afternoon from artillery and mortar fire.  After we dug in we were told to hold the hill.  All that night, the Germans were determined we weren't going to take Welscheid or Bourscheid and kept firing so that we were told to keep in our foxholes for protection.  This was the area I first come under the German artillery that exploded 50 or more feet above the ground and threw shrapnel everywhere. The Germans had the shell before that, but I had never experienced just how deadly it could be.  On the 25th of December the Germans counterattacked and were caught in the open with our new "Posey" artillery shell.  They stopped the attack in its tracks when they were caught in the open like we were the day before.

 

The country to the south of Kehmen and Welscheid was so open that First Aid Jeeps and supply trucks couldn't get near our lines for they would be picked off like setting ducks by the German 88's and tanks.  All casualties had to be taken out after dark and supplies brought up by volunteers after dark.  On the morning of the 25th after a 20 or 30 minute Artillery barrage to soften-up the area of Welscheid and Bourscheid we took the two towns by mid afternoon."

 

"I am sure the positions you indicated both on the hills east of Welscheid and north and west of the village were German Artillery positions for we were getting fire from both directions as we come up the ridge from the south to north.  There were more clumps of trees on the ridge in 1944 than there are today.  It seemed that the machine gun fire was coming from the trees on the east edge of the ridge just south of Bourscheid.  Not sure but looking at the map we were near the number "365" [map markings] when we come under the severe fire.  The riflemen were strung out in a line east and west on the ridge as we moved forward; the scouts 300 yards ahead of that. They let us get within firing distant before they started firing on us, then the artillery and mortars started firing.  We probably advanced another 200 yards forward before the company commander yelled "find cover and dig in".  I would say the scouts were in the area of the number "354" or "373" [map markings] when the firing started.

 

As I remember the counter attack that came from the direction of Welscheid: I know the next morning the Air Corps with four fighter-bombers come to our aid and dropped bombs on Welscheid. There were two big buildings like huge barns, right on the south part of the village.  When the fighters dropped the bombs and our 80mm mortars threw phosphorous shells into the town we could see the Germans running to the northeast (we thought) and that is when we started our advance again.

 

I admit I am guessing the distances and directions for we really didn't know the direction any time unless the sun was shinning, then we knew our basic directions.

 

Today as you look at that countryside area it looks like one big field.  In 1944 that area had more like 5 or 10-acre fields. They had bush and some small trees along the property line. Today they are not there."

 

The above are the final words of the last survivor of that hellish Christmas Eve night in December 1944.  Virgil Myers was my friend, and I will miss his jovial Midwestern charm.  My sincere condolences go out to Virgil's family, as well as to his countless friends who will all miss him as well.  He was a good man, as well as a brave soldier.

 

Virgil's Company G lost 90 men in that December 24th attack on Welscheid, and the 702nd Tank Battalion's Company A lost four tanks and crews.  Most of the men who were in the four tanks are still unknown, and no record of them exists.  We do know that Sgt. Lawrence Gaffney commanded one of the tanks, and we knew that one of the men with him was named "Canales".  Just recently, Diane Brooks, Sgt. Gaffney's Daughter, supplied me with a list of names of her father's crew.  At the end of the war, before leaving Europe, Sgt. Gaffney and his crew all signed their names on a Nazi flag they had taken as a souvenir.  Sgt. Gaffney brought the flag home, and Diane's family still has the flag to this day.

 

The signatures on the flag are:

 

Lawrence F. Gaffney, Worthville, NC

Willard R. Hill, Ft. Worth, Texas

F. H. Canales, Benavides, Texas

Charles J. Carlisle, Jr., Marietta, Ohio

George R. Hench, Evanston, Illinois

Larry Bradley, Bloomington, Illinois

 

Fructuoso H. Canales was Lawrence Gaffney's best friend during the war.  We know that he had been one of the few men to escape their burning tank unwounded during the Welscheid ambush.  When I saw what his hometown was, I was reminded that many years ago, Mr. Canales contacted me.  He had said he had been in the 702nd Tank Battalion, and asked me if I had any record of him.  At the time, I searched the 702nd records, and could not find him listed, so that pretty much ended our contact.  At the time, I had no way of associating him with the Welscheid battle, so I had yet to connect the dots.

 

Private Willard R. Hill was listed in the 702nd Tank Battalion casualty report for December 1944, so we can safely assume that he was injured in the Welscheid attack, but evidently not bad enough to be evacuated, because at a later point he rejoined his crew and ended the war with them, as evidenced by his signature on the flag.  It would appear that in the meantime, Pvt. Hill had been transferred to C Company after being wounded, and then according to the records, he returned to A Company on March 24, 1945.

 

PFC George R. Hench did not join Sgt. Gaffney's crew until January 10, 1945 when he along with five others were transferred from the 80th Division infantry to the 702nd Tank Battalion.

 

On January 24, 1945, PFC Hench was relieved of duty and sent to the hospital with a pain in his side.  It must have been serious, because he didn't return to duty until March 11, 1945.  Then, from March 26th until June 13, 1945, PFC Hench was assigned to special duty along with three other A Company men to Ordnance.  On July 13, 1945, PFC Hench was one of 29 A Company men assigned to the 635th Tank Destroyer Battalion.  At the end the war, the military created a point system to determine who got to go home, and who would be staying in Europe.  These men assigned to the 635th Tank Destroyer Battalion were men who did not have enough points to rotate home yet, and would be staying in Europe.

 

Nothing else is known about Charles J. Carlisle, Jr., or Larry Bradley.  All of the men in Sgt. Gaffney's crew, and for that matter, most of the men in the tanks lost at Welscheid were "replacements" and not original men of the battalion.  It is for that reason that we know so little of who they were.

 

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