I Was There12 January 2015

Rudi Frühbeisser, 16 December 1944

In this account, Pfc Rudi Frühbeisser, 9th Infantry, 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division, describes the confused night fighting that followed the capture of Lanzerath on the opening day of the Battle of the Bulge. His unit had been pinned down for more than eight hours by a single platoon from the US 394th Infantry and now found themselves facing a well-prepared second line of defense.

16 December 1944

“According to the map we are stuck in the Büllinger Forest. In front of us the road forks. On the right it leads to Losheimergraben, on the left it leads to the small railway station of Buchholz. Until dusk we remain lying at the edge of the woods. Opposite the street to our right there is a small plantation of young fir trees. Well, there could be a surprise lying in wait for us there. With five men and Sergeant Kühlbach we manage to cross the street. When nothing happens, the entire company follows. Spread out we continue. As precaution everyone is walking in the ditches on both sides of the street, which at this point is a sort of drainage ditch and therefore is deep. “The rising full moon shines brightly. The company is getting forward well. After a kilometer, a fork to the right between the fir trees in the snow can be made out. According to the map it should be the road leading to the station. All of a sudden we take fire from a wood to our right. It is a good thing that we all were in the ditch and that probably only our heads were visible. Bright red the explosive bullets howl over our heads. The machine gun is less than ten meters in front of us. A hand grenade would be useless in the thick forest. So we all turn about and, as well as possible, we hasten back. After about an hundred meters everybody crosses to the other side of the street. In a lightly planted wood we remain lying down. Immediately our machine guns take up position and a small front is established. Everyone remains lying in a covering position. Now we learn that squad leader Pfc Lenz is missing. No one is able to say where he has gone. Some want to walk back the same road again to look for him, but the chief forbids it. Some say that when the MG opened up, Pfc Lenz had jumped into the woods. Following orders the company then has to withdraw to Lanzerath. In the first four houses the paras make themselves as comfortable as possible. Sentries are posted, and the houses are secured. After about two hours a sentry comes rushing into the cellar and shouts: ‘Captain, there is a shape crawling towards us in the roadside ditch!’ Immediately Sergeant Kühlbach and three men are sent out. Correct, there is a shape creeping towards the houses very slowly.

“‘We’ll capture him,’ the sergeant says. Now we see in the moonlight that the shape is one of our paratroopers. Great is our joy, when we see that it is the missing Pfc Karl Lenz. In the cellar Pfc Lenz reports, ‘When the MG opened up, it only took me a few jumps to be into the woods. The firing flashes made it easy for me to make out its location exactly. I remained standing behind a thick tree and observed. When the MG finally stopped firing, I noticed to my horror that I was alone in the woods. A few steps in front of me I could hear the Yanks whisper. I also understood something that sounded like ‘dead man’! So they thought I had been killed. After a while both Americans left their pit. I was determined to sell my skin as expensively as possible. My finger already was on the trigger of my submachine gun. But suddenly both Yanks retreated into the forest. I waited a bit more and then ran as well as possible back to the street and continued in the ditch. Now I didn’t know where the company had gone. Suddenly I noticed a large number of footprints which had crossed the street in the snow. So the company had withdrawn. Then I crawled on till I reached Lanzerath.’

“The company commander also is happy that everything has turned out so well. According to a report from battalion staff, we had captured eight men from the 14th US Cavalry Group, a large amount of war booty among which were several jeeps. The losses in the battalion are supposed to be 16 killed, 63 wounded and 13 missing! The night is quiet.”