Reported by Captain Otto Krannich

My battery, part of 10th ArtReg 147, 47th VGD, moved into position at D'horn during the night of the 19th-20th November 1944. My battery commander, Lt.-Colonel Mühlenweg, gave me the order to report as forward observer with a specific company of GrenReg 115 in the forest outside Merode. Privates first class Ernst Blume and Heinz Müller were the radio operators that joined me. Upon finally arriving we found chaos and despite many attempts it was not even possible to establish a radio connection to IV. Abteilung (unit) ArtReg 147. A runner from IV. Abteilung ArtReg 147 arrived around noon and told me to report immediately with the CO of said unit in Merode Castle. Upon arriving there I received orders from Captain Trost, the CO, to take the field phone detail, join an infantry assault party, and establish an outpost at the Laufenburg during the night. At that point I could not know that this was going to be a suicide command. The Laufenburg had changed hands quite a bit and nobody knew for sure which side had possession of it right then. Well, I was a young, fresh officer and I was quite determined to prove just that. My detail consisted of an NCO, a private first class – I can't remember their names – and furthermore a very young soldier who had just joined our outfit from the field reserves battalion a few days ago.

At dawn we began to lay telephone cable to the Laufenburg, the conditions were difficult. The cable ran from Merode Castle along the path right into the forest. Around midnight we met the assault party at the crossing where we had to turn to the Laufenburg. Now things progressed only slowly and we had to be extremely careful because nobody knew where exactly the Amis' advanced positions were. At about 6 a.m. we reached the Laufenburg. While my men were still busy building the telephone connection I walked up the tower. The first impression was quite positive; it seemed the tower had everything I looked for in a b-position. I climbed back down and ordered the corporal and the private first class to remain at the bottom of the tower in order to clear possible obstructions. I climbed back up, together with the young comrade and we also took all four anti- tank grenade launchers – I didn't even know why we did that.

At about 7 a.m. I reported to the adjutant that the b-position was up and running. Meanwhile daylight was approaching and it appeared the Ami had woken up. I heard loud engine noises and chain rattling to the northwest. One could see quite far to the west and I discovered long columns of vehicles there as well. When I reported this to the adjutant he immediately gave me the permission to fire. Right away I transmitted the first set of aims and added that the target should be my own base in case of a breakdown of the phone line. Naturally, what happened next was that the phone line was dead even before our shells had hit the Ami. Seven or eight Sherman tanks slowly crept up the way to the Laufenburg. Suddenly there was also American infantry on both sides of the Laufenburg moving eastward. The one thing missing were our own infantry troops. I was sitting in a mousetrap with my men. Just then I could see the first Americans entering the courtyard through the gate. My comrades downstairs had no options but captivity. I told my youthful companion: "Take two hand grenades, hide behind the bending stairway and if the Ami dares to come up you throw down one after the other!" Nobody came! I stepped back out on the observatory. The first Ami tank had reached the crossing near the Laufenburg and the others were right behind. I took a look at the four anti-tank grenade launchers and thought it might be worth a try, nothing much could go wrong. I took up the closest one and stepped between the battlements. I unlocked it and aimed at the first Sherman. A sharp detonation, the tank stood still, and smoke came out of the opened turret. The driver jumped out. Apparently, I had hit the turret. I thought to myself if it was that easy I might as well keep going! I immediately aimed at the second tank and hit in the back-structure of the turret. It also started to burn but again the crew managed to jump off. I hit the third tank in the chains, it made another half turn of the chain and then stopped. This crew also managed to disembark. Meanwhile they must have made out my position and machine-gun salvoes were fired at me. Still, I took up the fourth grenade launcher but I had to get low the ground to be a smaller target and I had to fire very fast and hasty. This shot hit nothing, much to my dismay, but I could still conclude with satisfaction that the whole attack had been stopped for the moment.

The intact tanks retreated into positions where they were covered and the infantry followed. Only, the Laufenburg was still in the enemy's hand and things looked quite busy. It looked like they were building a command post! About an hour later the courtyard was suddenly quiet. Two tanks came up the path but they didn't come close so I couldn't see more than the turrets. Almost simultaneously both barrels fired and the shells hit the tower somewhere below us. It seemed they had decided to smoke us out. I ran toward the stone-stairway to meet my comrade. We tried to give as little target as possible and I tried to instill some courage into him. But now all hell broke loose! A whole bunch of tank grenades hit through the loophole and exploded inside the tower. The wooden stairs started burning and at least partially collapsed. We had taken cover under a tent square in order to be able to still breathe close to the wall. No wonder the infantry reported: tower burning, FORWARD OBSERVER dead. But after half an hour it was over. Now we were sure that no Ami could come upstairs and we stepped out on the platform to get fresh air. What was the Ami planning next? The courtyard once again was very busy. Quite a strange feeling to see and hear only Amis. The began to tow away the three damaged tanks to the rear, barrels still aiming at the tower though. But none of the other Shermans cam into sight. As far as I could guess the situation, they were working on a new main-combat line about 800 to 1000 meters away from the Laufenburg toward Merode. Jeeps and other small vehicles now moved along the road to Merode and some also entered the Laufenburg.

I could no longer even think about preparing an attack. I had to figure out where to turn after a potential breakout from the Laufenburg. It seemed pointless to use the old path to Merode because it was full of Amis. To the left of it was open field, almost 1000 meters of it, not quite helpful either because it wasn't unlikely that I would be greeted by gunfire on the opposite edge of the forest. Thus I decided to move toward the north for about two kilometers and then turn right to reach Merode, by giving a wide berth to everything. I unfolded my map and memorized the escape route. Furthermore, we made the acquaintance of our own battery that afternoon. I don't know if my supplementary order to fire at the castle was the reason; it could also have been the report by the infantry. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. There was nothing much that could have happened to us up on the tower, but the Amis did run quite a bit.

Meanwhile it had got dark again and I began thinking about how the two could climb down the tower without being detected. Some of the beams were still burning and that gave some light. The Amis must have been sure that nobody could have been alive in that inferno. But we still had to wait for a few hours until everything had quieted down. We went into hiding in the upper part of the stone-stairway and I brought my Marketender cigarettes, which I had gotten on 11/19/44, and I smoked one after another until they were all gone. My young friend didn't smoke. He told me his name was Hopfenspiegel, he was born in 1927 and had just been drafted into the Wehrmacht a few months ago. I can't remember whether he had at first been sent to the nay or whether he had joined the artillery troops right away. Anyway, he had just joined our 10th battery a few days before our detachment. I calmed him down and said: "No need for worries, leave your carbine up here and if we both get down we'll figure it out."

In the uppermost corner of the stairway, hiding under a tent square, I know destroyed all important documents, the records relating to the performance of the guns (Schiesstafel), the sketches of gun positions and command post, etc. It was now almost 11 p.m. The whole front seemed to be sleeping! Only occasionally a machine gun was fired or a star shell gave some light. The Laufenburg was quiet as well. Only in the back of the castle there was still some light and people were working. That must have been the sentry. At the beginning of the attack I had pulled up the whole phone cable as far as it was still connected. I had done so to not give away our exact location but now it was part of our escape plan. I tied it to a spike in the tower, wrapped a piece of my coat around my arm, and put all my weight on it to find out if it was solid enough. It was! Now the descend could begin. While I was hanging on the cable my comrade still remained upstairs to check if the cable would hold or if it might slide. It held. After about 4 or 5 meters, right where one of the pedestal of the staircase had been, I found some support a few beams that were still intact. I stopped and told my friend to come down. Soon I could touch his feet and pulled him down. We did another 4 or 5 times, I don't recall exactly how often. It was our good fortune that we found one or two beams ticking out at every former pedestal so we could rest for a little while.

Finally, at about 1 a.m. we had done it! I noticed three dead German soldiers lying next to the wall, but they couldn't have been from my unit because I had seen with my own eyes how the corporal and the private first class had been led away by the captors. Very carefully, my body pressed against the wall, I inched closer to the exit of the tower and I tried to see what was going on outside. It didn't look good. Three Amis were standing right across, 10 meters away maybe. They were just inside the building that had been almost completely destroyed. Their submachine guns were unlocked and ready to fire; they were guarding the gate. Another two-man sentry was patrolling the courtyard and the gate was obviously locked. I only had my little Walther, caliber 7.65 mm, and maybe the spade, my friend was unarmed, but even the carbine wouldn't have helped. Still, I was wildly determined to not go away quietly and I had determined that I would not be taken prisoner! A lightning-fast surprise attack may just work. But I decided to go at it alone and not to endanger my young friend's life any more. I gave him the order to put up his hands and to walk over to the sentry to get captured. I hoped this would save his life.

After I had observed the three Amis in the courtyard for over an hour, one of them went inside the building, maybe to get the relief. The tow-men sentry had just then also entered the building. It was now or never. I unlocked my Walther. I gave my friend a sign to walk over to the building himself. I myself jumped down into the courtyard and a few steps brought me close to the Amis at the gate. They stared at me and before they could figure out what was happening I had already fired two or three times. I don't know if either one or both were dead or wounded. I went to gate straight away and tried to open the bolts with my spade. In the mean time the soldiers inside the building must have noticed that something was wrong out by the gate. Some of them, I don't know how many, came storming out and ran to their comrades who were still lying on the ground. But they didn't move any more at all. Apparently the others only now understood what had happened. I jumped back and managed to strike down some of them with the spade but now I was attacked from two sides. They grabbed my coat but I managed to free myself, turned, and fired my pistol once or twice. I was still whirling the spade around like a madman. It was to my advantage that the night was pitch-dark and no Ami could see who was friend or foe. Now I had some space and managed to break the upper bolt. The lower bolt gave a little and I managed to get the spade inside the seam and opened it up just enough to fit through. Before the Amis could catch me, I stumbled over the lower bolt and ran outside into the open. I immediately got back on my feet and ran for about 20 meters before taking cover behind a bush. There I waited because the courtyard was quite busy indeed. Flashlights flared up and it looked like an anthill had been trampled upon, but fortunately none of the Amis came through the gate. I was thinking of Hopfenspiegel, my comrade. Hopefully they wouldn't hurt him just because I had escaped. After half- an-hour I got moving, more of a crawling and listening exercise than walking though. Every instance I had to be prepared to encounter enemies and I had to be ready to attack right away. After the longest 500 meters one could only imagine, I reached the little creek that was on the map. The direction was right, now another kilometer and to the right into the deep forest. But I had to be increasingly careful because I had to be close to the main-combat line of the Americans. After another tense 300 meters I thought I heard voices. I lay down behind a bush, trying to make myself as small as possible and I listened. Suddenly I heard the voices again, it couldn't be further away than 5 meters. I hardly dared to breathe. Now I saw red lights flared up regularly in the direction from which the voices were coming form, apparently somebody was smoking a cigarette. Suddenly a star shell lit up the area in a gloomy light for about one minute.

Now I knew that I was right inside the enemy's main-combat line. Fortunately, the Amis all looked into the direction of the star shell where our main-combat line must have been. Of course nobody could have imagined me behind right behind the line. Nobody except for the smoking Ami that is. He was facing me eye to eye but he was completely invested in his cigarette and seemed almost absent minded. Additionally, I could now see that there were dugout holes about 20 meters to my left and right, in which two or three Amis were positioned. I waited for another half-hour and kept listening. Meanwhile the two Amis next to me had changed positions, it seemed everyone was going to get a smoke at a time. I had no time to spare because dawn was approaching, maybe there was another hour but not more. By then I had to be out of there! I unlocked my pistol once again and fired two or three shots right at the glowing cigarette and right next to that spot. Then I jumped into an empty dugout hole. To my great surprise everything remained quiet, maybe the Amis thought their comrades had fired a few rounds. Another 15 minutes later, I crawled on hands and knees closer to our main-combat line. This seemed like a good idea because the Amis in the dugout hole next to mine were quite due to the radio silence. I must have left the enemy's main-combat line behind by now, crawling forward, always listening. My only thought was, please no new star shells. I was in high forest again and could now walk erect form tree to tree. But I wasn't sure how far our main-combat line was still away. Every now and then I could hear the fire of a MG 42 but that came from the far right. Now there was underbrush following up on the high forest. After every few steps I stopped and listened, but everything remained quiet. It got brighter by the minute and thus I decided to walk to the underbrush and wait out the day. The terrain was flat and I could see almost 100 meters deep into the high forest without them being able to see me at all. The whole front was still quiet. After a while I noticed soldiers moving in my direction out of the high forest. They were wearing camouflage and field uniforms and I couldn't tell at first if they were friends or foes. But after a few moments I was relieved to recognize them as a reconnaissance patrol of our own paratroopers. Joyfully, I rushed out of the underbrush and disclosed my identity. The paratroopers were quite surprised to find an artillery officer in the area and in such a mess. The face half black, the uniform coat torn apart, no cap on the head. I explained to them how I had escaped from the Laufenburg and I also pointed out the course of the enemy's main-combat line. They were very happy about receiving such valuable information and showed me the shortest way to Merode.

Finally, after 24 terrifying hours, I was able to move freely. Only an hour later I was back in Merode Castle and reported back from the Laufenburg to Captain Trost. All soldiers and officers stared at me as if I had risen from the dead. Even the commander and the adjutant found praise for me. Eventually, Cpt. Trost said: "All right now, go to the firing position in D'horn and relax for the rest of the day. Then we will see what tomorrow will bring."

From 11/23/44 onwards I was artillery liaison officer at the command post of GrenReg 115 in Merode, Lt. Colonel Inhofer. On the 26th or 27th GrenReg 115 was relieved and II. Battalion, ParaReg 5 moved its command post into the same house. Their CO, Cpt. Balfanz was an excellent officer and a splendid human being. Our ArtReg was relieved as well and I was put on alert. The artillery of the paratroopers was in the midst of building their b-position just across the command post in an empty farmstead. The location was not bad at all because from there one could see the complete edge of the forest above Merode at that time. The enemy had to come through there.

My unit sent me the order to command this b-position of the paratroopers on 11/29/44 until the b-officer of that battalion would arrive. Now the Ami started his great offensive against Merode that very same day. Around 11 a.m. about 10 Sherman tanks came down Monschauer Weg, turned right at the edge of the forest in order to join forces with the infantry advancing out of the woods. They formed a wide line of about 300 to 400 meters. The tanks had already fired and some of the buildings were burning. I immediately ordered my battery to start firing at the edge of the forest and we were relatively successful in finding targets. Immediately afterwards I fired another two sets of rounds, that is 96 shells, aiming at the edge of the forest and about 200 meters in front of that. I could observe that the enemy suffered heavy losses, two tanks had to stop for a while, and the complete attack had slowed down, even bogged down.

In the mean time my relief had arrived. My old battery called and ordered me to join their change of positions. I explained the situation to my successor and I don't know if he fired again. As I had to observe at that point, about 3 p.m., the enemy had penetrated Merode despite all our efforts. When I arrived at 5 p.m. in the position in Mariaweiler, I only found a rear-guard, including Günter Stenmanns. The guns had been moved out an hour earlier. We reached the battery the next morning.

After about 8 to 10 days of rest we went back to the front. 10th battery lay in a village east of Düren, 11th in Merzenich. Me and a few fellow officers of the 4th unit went further ahead to scout out new b-positions and to get an impression of the general situation at the front. It was there that I met Cpt. Balfanz in a ditch on the road Düren-Langerwehe. He was visibly depressed because he had lost half of his battalion in the last ten days. But he was still able to explain the situation to us. The enemy still attacked Mariaweiler constantly, using large infantry and tank units. This I could see for myself the next day from my b-position in the Düren water tower. He replied to my question how the situation had unfolded in Merode on 11/29/44 after I had left. "We threw the Ami back out of Merode in a counterattack. They had heavy losses, we made prisoners, and seven tanks were destroyed."

Unfortunately, he didn't say whether the counterattack had occurred on 29 or 30 November and he didn't say from which direction either. He added that Merode had to be given up a few days later because the enemy was advancing along the railroad tracks toward Jüngersdorf. These were the last words I have ever exchanged with Cpt. Balfanz whom I have never seen again.