This measure had been initiated a few days ago for tactical reasons. Orientation could be derived only from some fence posts that still stood out. To move in water and rough terrain put an additional strain on men and horses. The new day was approaching and we had to hide because of the beginning low-altitude flights of the enemy. We had reached the village of Obergeich and there we hid away in order not to be detected prematurely. The village's well, also used as watering place for the horses, could only be visited at dark. Somehow the enemy could observe it well and direct artillery fire at it as soon as movement had been spotted near the well. Most of the villagers had left due to the expected battle. Additional uneasiness came up due to bad news from Regiment 104 that was part of our division. They had had a shell explode inside the barrel and now the whole crew of that gun was dead. No wonder that were all mightily afraid of the same fate, especially given that we had next to no experience in combat with those heavy guns but surely would have to use them in the upcoming engagement. Someone told me that the wagon with the corpses of the dead comrades stood on a certain farm not far away. I was drawn there like it was a magnet. The picture I saw there was just horrible. The flayed bodies, the comrades looking like they had been slaughtered, this made it easy to picture the horrible fear that must have overcome the crew before they died. I sneaked back to my men, I was in a very reflective mood.
Meanwhile, the company group under the command of Company leader First Lieutenant Meierkod, assisted by groups form each platoon, had gone on reconnaissance missions in and near Merode. The combat post had to be set up and suitable firing positions had to be found as well for every platoon. I received the order: horses and wagons remain in Obergeich, mortars have to be brought into position at the train, avoid making any noises whatsoever, the respective spotters will transmit details. God knows that this wasn't an easy task for the men especially since we had to approach a very densely wooden ridge. Due to the darkness we could only guess how the area really looked like. We solve the problem but now everyone is sucking air and breathing hard. Near a dense needle forest, that seems to span the whole ridge, we follow a somewhat wider path to the right. There, a group of the platoon of First Sergeant Weber already waits for us, and Weber explains to me that our firing positions would be in this area. It looks like we have reached our goal for now. I tell the men to put the mortars and grenade-launchers down, assign the sentries, and allow the rest of the men to sleep the rest of the night. They immediately crawl into the dense underbrush. Soon I can hear the steady snoring of the dead-tired soldiers. I myself opt to stay awake along with the sentries.
Morning is breaking and I wake up the men. I order all mortars and launchers in place and ready to fire. The terrain features many natural hollows and this saves us a lot of digging. Where we have to dig it is a tough task because the ground is very rocky and it is very tedious to dig a hole deep enough to cover a man somewhat satisfactorily. I set up my command post in a blackberry bramble from where I can see and direct all four mortars. After we have reported ready to fire we wait and see what the future will bring.
At least now is time to take a closer look at the immediate neighborhood and the hinterland. In front of us is a large mixed forest with beech and oak trees. In the rear, to the right, we can see the houses of Merode and the castle, covered in clouds of fog. Two radio soldiers are able to make a connection between the firing position and the combat post of the Company. Close to me an IG (mortar) is brought in position as well. A group of mobile mortars, leaving for another position immediately after having fired, draws the fire of enemy tanks at us and endangers the IG. Only the fast reaction of the crew to pull it back, out of the view of the enemy can save it from destruction. The wire sends me a message. I am supposed to send a few of our 12-cm shells to the enemy's territory. We send the heavy wing-grenades away under observation of all precautionary measures. Now it was clear that we were well equipped to fire at bigger targets and whole areas. Occasionally the enemy also reminds us of his ubiquitous presence by firing artillery barrages at the hinterland. The day passes without any big incidents, at least in our position.
In the evening I am finally allowed to send a few men to Merode to get us some food. This order is happily observed. The field-kitchen had approached under the cover of darkness and distributed the usual mix for the mess kits, the daily rations, and the mail in the courtyard of the castle. These early hours of the night were quite busy. All around one could hear the subdued sounds of units that were moving into position. Suddenly all movement has to stop. The reason was the sudden appearance of an enemy night scout plane, lightening up the dark with flashes, taking aerial photographs, flying above our area in a leisurely pace. Woe to us if the photographs told the Americans anything significant about our positions! That would mean heavy air traffic the day. The foreboding turns out to be right. Morning has just broken when the first low- altitude planes arrive and they fire at everything that seems suspicious to them. A wagon with unknown contents has been parked by some unit at the mound of a path to Merode the preceding night. Some of the planes target that wagon like a swarm of hornets and try to destroy the "dangerous" monster with on-board guns and splinter bombs. This seems rather ridiculous to us in the dugouts, at least as log as we don't have to expect to be hit by debris. Our firing position must have been covered quite well because the Ami hadn't detected it yet.
By noon the air is filled with roaring engines. Above the ridge – probably coming from Aachen – a bomber wing, flying at low altitude appears and turns toward Obergeich. In Obergeich friendly artillery had taken positions the preceding night, between the fruit trees of the village. This was the target of the bombers. After they had marked their target with so-called "Christmas tress," the bombers dropped with loud noise. I couldn't see the damage because I wasn't permitted to leave my post. But the whole incident stuck with us for a long time. The question whether the bombers would come back and then target us was just frightening. How small and miserable a man feels when he can see bombers flying above his head and he can see the underbellies of the planes, see how they drop the bombs that bring death and destruction, slow and unsteady at first, then faster, toward the ground with loud roars. Then he can only pray, it is hopeless to try to run away. We in the firing position had gotten away this time.
In the meantime enemy low-altitude bombers had also targeted the castle and the damage there was measurable. I was ordered to the company command post in the evening hours and I had to leave the gunners in charge of the firing position. There I learned about the plan of the battalion to try to recover Laufenburg caste in the morning hours of the next day, November 21, 1944. The castle had been taken by the Americans. I should participate in this venture as FORWARD OBSERVER of 13th Company. I received a map of that area and more detailed orders. I was only allowed to bring my intelligence orderly along.
We silently moved along the ridge, accompanied by ammunition carriers. Barbed wire served as our pathfinder from the castle to the platoons. It was crucial for me to get in touch with Captain Dohrmann, the battalion commander. To top our bad luck off, a steady rain set in. It was quite heavy and made being outdoors a pain in the neck. The units tried to take cover in the dense needle forest. In such a thicket I found the battalion leaders around Captain Dohrmann. He correctly explained the situation and the course of our main-combat line, how I was supposed to find it, how I could recognize it. If possible I should get in touch with an artillery officer there who also served as a FORWARD OBSERVER at the Laufenburg. Before the assault of the Laufenburg artillery barrages had to be ordered. There were still a few unpleasant night hours left before hour X. Suddenly, Captain gave me the order to gather up my men of 13th Company who had been deployed as infantry soldiers, and to lead them into Merode in order to find protection form the weather conditions in a few houses down there. This was an honor and we obeyed happily. As quietly as possible we left. The night was pitch-dark. One couldn't see a hand right in front of the eyes. So that nobody was lost I told the men to hold on to the belt of the man marching in front. We felt our way back along the barbed wire, walking slowly because who knew where the enemy was? There was no place where one was safe from unwanted surprises and an encounter with the enemy during the night was certainly unwanted. While ascending from the ridge we suddenly walked right into an enemy barrage. Was it tanks or other fast-firing guns? Who knew! At any rate, we fell down fast and lay in the midst of detonations that created sparks. Once again, as so often before, we got away with the shock, but were safe. The same cannot be said of the command post of the company, however. It had been set up in a house at the main road through the village. Just before we arrived the front of the house had absorbed a direct hit and had buried the sentry post next to the door under collapsing walls.
Everyone present was in a state of excitement and the soldiers wondered if it might not have been a shot of our own artillery that had fallen short. In the midst of the chaos I reported to First Lieutenant Meierkod. All the cellar rooms of the building were overcrowded and I barely found a little bit of room for my tired body. I was awakened long before sunrise and then went back uphill, accompanied by two young officers who needed to get to their units and by my intelligence orderly H. Wevers. We took the path through the woods to the Laufenburg. Darkness and fog were still so penetrating that it wasn't easy at all to find one's way. Even to get uphill form the courtyard of Merode castle took near- somnambulistic skills. Several shell-holes had filled up with water and demanded even more care and precision. Still, one the officers got caught in one. He had fallen into a hole without us noticing at first and then we had a hard time pulling him out again. The subsequent ascent through the forest didn't bring any unpleasant surprises. The higher we climbed, the better we could see the movement and relocation of our units. I got in touch with Captain Dohrmann again. After a quick check of the watches and the precise schedule of the attack, I signed off. Wevers and I very carefully walked along the path toward the Laufenburg. The nerves were strained to the extreme, we listened and reacted to each and every suspicious sound. An obstacle on the path that we cannot identify immediately makes us stop and take cover. With a night-sight device I take a hard look at the object and realize that it is a tree-barricade. If there was a dead German soldier, who had taken a direct hit from a tank, then I had indeed reached the main-combat line just as Captain Dohrmann had described it. I had to make sure. I left Wevers behind for now and crawled up to the barricade. There I shuddered because I did indeed meet the dead German soldier there and his look didn't really cheer me up either. To be too reflective about things like that was pointless, however. Nobody could outrun his fate. Such was my mood when I signaled Wevers to come up too.
Very carefully we sneaked around the obstacle, especially since we had to expect that mines had been laid. Nothing could be detected of a German force that held the so-called main-combat line. The wood-path slightly fell off from here and vanished in the clearing firs.
My tense concentration was interrupted by a subdued noise. Next to the path brushwood was lifted and this opened the view at a German MG crew. They told me they were the last one and it was better to be very careful from now on. The enemy had tried to come up the path repeatedly during the last few hours and only the MGF fire had stopped them. This report caused me and Wevers to take cover immediately. The darkness of the night was our best protection. The MG crew leader now told me more essential news. Laufenburg castle was right ahead, we were only separated from it by the remaining trees and the orchards. The artillery FORWARD OBSERVER I was looking for had to be somewhere to the right. I did indeed find him there. Quickly we agreed on the best positions and prepared the barrage.
First of all, a radio connection to the company combat-post had to be created. H. Wevers solved that problem splendidly. I could now report my position with help of the map. Thank God it had stopped raining and wind and body-heat slowly but steadily dried the clothes. I couldn't see the Laufenburg very well because of the trees and underbrush, Specifically, I didn't have a view at the courtyard in which the tanks reportedly were held. Determined, I climbed a firtree and thus get the necessary view inside the castle. H. Wevers and the radio are left on the ground so that he can handle the talking with the company combat-post.
From the top of the firtree I had a great view into the country and saw several enemy artillery posts that spit their fire without me having the means to do anything about it. Involuntarily, the thought shoots to my kind that the Ami had better not detect me because otherwise he could shoot me down with his artillery. This would have turned into a flight a la Münchhausen and certainly wouldn't have been good for my bodily well being. The vision has improved so much in the mean time that I can begin aiming. Through Wevers I send the necessary orders to the company command post and soon I hear the firing of our guns. Nervously, I listen to the shells approaching in the air and can note with much satisfaction that they hit well within the targeted area. A quick adjustment is enough in order to have the next salvo even closer to where I want it. With that the aiming process is over and the IG platoon can be reported ready to fire to the battalion and the regiment commanders, who had meanwhile taken up position in a hollow not far away from my tree.
Generally, things had turned busy in the forest next to the Laufenburg, as quietly as possible of course. There were units everywhere, ready to storm the Laufenburg. It appeared as if the Ami hadn't noticed anything yet. Was it possible that the approach of the castle had been completely unnoticed? That was hard to believe.
A quick look at my wristwatch told me that the time for the artillery barrage has come. Quickly I climb up the tree again and give the signal. The grenades of the heavy guns come howling in in rapid succession and cover the target well. Simultaneously, the Ami also fires his guns, initiated by the Ami-FORWARD OBSERVER. [This appears to a typo in the original. It seems to me that it should read Ari instead of Ami. This would mean that the other firing party was in fact the German artillery of the FORWARD OBSERVER that had played a role earlier – The Translator] The whole target area is covered in smoke. This is the protection for the infantry units. The stormtroopers are supposed to use this cover to advance at the castle and penetrate if possible. Suddenly Wevers shouts at me. The connection to the command post has been lost. I immediately climb down the tree, I want to try my luck. In that instant, a hit right next to us. I make a 360 and fall down. It was unclear to me where the medic was coming from who took care of me. The right index finger was barely attached to the hand and the left knee grew stiffer by the minute.
This meant the end of the operation in and near Merode for me. Battle-noise now erupted on both sides. A terrible gunfight. Captain Dohrmann sent me back to the aid station in Merode that had been set up in the basement of the castle.
I rejected his offer to have someone help me. I left the battle one crawling until I thought to be safe from any surprises. Leaning on a stick I managed to limp the last part of the way to Merode castle. Together with many other wounded I spent the following night on straw. We had long since learned that the attack at the Laufenburg had failed. Despite the rapid deployment of more grenade-launchers and other equipment, the penetration and recovery of the castle didn't happen.
Instead the next morning slogans and rumors changed by the second. Enemy tanks had broken through and were poised to advance into Merode, we were told. The aid station had to be cleared ASAP, if not, the wounded would be POWs soon. Who couldn't walk was out on trucks and the coachman of the wagon explained that he was willing to risk the ride over destroyed roads at daylight despite the danger of low-altitude bombers. With weak knees we begin the ride and we arrive in Bedburg at dark. The gathering point for the wounded is totally overcrowded with whimpering and groaning men and women. An air raid had occurred a few hours ago and that had caused many casualties among the civilian population.
From there we take the train to Düsseldorf and I have a chance to call my parents and let them know that I am wounded. After a brief layover we are shipped on a hospital-train to Ottobeuren in the Allgäu where I am taken to the local hospital on 11/25/44.
H. Wevers, my intelligence orderly was lucky. He didn't get hurt when that shell exploded and was subsequently transferred to the artillery-FORWARD OBSERVER whose radioman had been killed by an explosion.