Letter that Edgar wrote to Eddy
Montfort in 1993, about his experience on Baraque de
Dear Mr. Monfort
I received your
letter of March 21, 1993 . It was nice to hear from someone
from the Ardennes area. I thought it was very beautiful
there when I went through and still hope sometime yet to
get back there.
I will try to remember as much as I can
about the events that I took part in during the Battle of
the Bulge in December, 1944 near Manhay, but that was a long
time ago and I hope my memories accurate.
I was 19 years old when I was captured by
the Germans on the morning of December 23, 1944 . At that
time, I was a member of the 3rd Platoon, Co. A, 643rd Tank
Destroyer Battalion . I will start my story from the time
our unit was ordered to the Belgian front from France.
First, I guess I should explain that in
1944 most tank destroyer units had self-propelled tank
destroyers that looked very similar to a tank, but for some
reason when we arrived in Normandy, we were given the old
type consisting of half-tracks with which we towed three
inch anti-tank guns, This type of armament was obsolete and
had very heavy casualties when used against German tanks.
On December 21st, we were ordered to the
Ardennes to help hold back the German attack. We were on the
road all day and into the night and were almost to our
destination when we were stopped by Military policemen who
told us that we were to go back to Rheims, France, which we
did. When we arrived there, we were told that the Military
Police that had directed us to Rheims must have been German
paratroopers disguised as American M.P. and we were sent
back to the Ardennes .
Everything was in a state of confusion.
It seemed as if no one knew what was going on.
On our way
back to the Ardennes region, we stopped by the side of the
road and made a small fire to heat some rations because we
were very hungry and cold. We had just made the fire and it
was going good when a jeep with three military policemen
stopped and kicked out the fire telling us that German
paratroopers were in the area. These M.P.s then got into
their jeep and went on down the road. They only got about
1/2 mile and their jeep was blown to pieces by land mines
and all were killed. If we hadn't stopped to eat we would
have been blown up. The German paratroopers must have mined
We arrived in the
Manhay area on the afternoon of December 22nd, very tired,
cold and hungry as we had been travelling for two days and
one night. As we came near to the crossroads of Baraque de
Fraiture we had to wait while the U.S. 3rd Armored Division
tanks (at least 50 or more, and many trucks loaded with
troops retreating from the front) went past us to the rear.
This took about two hours, and then we (one platoon with 28
men and 4 anti-tank guns) went into take their place!
When we arrived at
the Crossroads we had to stop because the Germans were
shelling them. While we were waiting, a couple of soldiers
from the 3rd Armored Division were coming along the road. As
they passed, I recognized one of them as a fellow from my
hometown. I called to him and he came over and talked with
us. He said that he could not believe that one platoon was
going in to face the Germans when their whole division had
moved out. He also informed us that he had just been told on
his radio that they should try to walk out because they were
probably already surrounded, because many of the roads
behind us were already in German hands. He also said that
there was nobody between us and the Germans. He and his
friends then left us to try to get back to their Division.
We waited until
there was a pause in the shelling and then proceeded down
the hill through the Crossroads and down the road, through
the woods, about 1/2 mile, until we came to the edge of the
swamp. Ahead of us was an open field and then another woods.
The Germans were in this woods. We could hear them shouting
and hear their tanks moving around.
It was now about 6
p.m. We placed our guns in position to shoot across the
field toward where we could hear the German tanks . It was
cold and snowing. We had left France without receiving our
winter boots, so all we had were leather shoes with smooth
soles, which made it very slippery and our feet were always
cold and wet.
It is very hard
for me to understand why we were sent into this area. We
were only one platoon sent in to take the place of the more
than 50 tanks and hundreds of Infantrymen that were
retreating from this area. We were very apprehensive when we
found that we were up there all by ourselves. We could hear
many German tanks clanking around in front of us just across
a field, and we could also hear what sounded like a large
number of German infantry (they were very noisy - much
yelling and commotion). The fact that we had no infantry to
protect our flanks, no medics for our wounded, and no
officers with us made us wonder what we were doing up there
all alone! I guess we were just sent up there to hold the
Germans back for a few hours to let the 3rd Armored Division
escape. I don't think anyone expected us to get back.
commander was Lt. John Orlando, who sent us up there but was
not with us during the night or the attack in the morning. I
talked with him a couple of years ago and at that time I
asked why he had sent us up there. He said that he was
ordered to do so by some Colonel in the Manhay area, who
seemed to be in charge, but after determining that we were
in a very bad position, he went back to protest but he could
not find that Colonel. He said he then sent two different
soldiers with messages for us ta return, but they never made
it because of the heavy firing.
My gun crew was
the first in line facing the Germans. Sgt. Giordano was our
gun commander. The next gun crew behind us was Sgt.
Martinelli's crew. The other two guns and crews were further
back on the other side of the road. All night long we
thought we could hear German patrols in the woods, and a
couple of times some of us were sent into the woods to
intercept them. That was scary, but we never sighted any.
About 4 a.m. they started shelling us with 88s and mortars.
This lasted until about 6 . They wounded several of us and
my friend, Jack Bertch, and I had a close one that lifted us
off the ground and covered us with mud and snow. Shortly
after 6 the Germans attacked across the field with much
yelling and shouting, then it seemed like they went back in
the woods and the shelling started again, knocking out our
gun and burning the half-track. Then we were attacked from
both sides, but not from the front. We couldn't see our
attackers as they were in the woods around us. One of our
men was sent back to Martinelli's gun, but came back and
said that the Germans were already there and had captured
the gun and crew. We were then attacked from all sides, and
also the rear. More wounded and several men killed. We were
finally pinned down in a little depression where they
evidently could not see us unless we attempted to move. When
someone did move, it drew rifle fire. Finally, by about 8
a.m., everyone in our gun crew was killed or wounded except
me, and I had a lot of holes through my coat but wasn't
touched. (I later found out that Cataldo had escaped by
hiding under a stump - he told me this a few years ago when
I met him at a Tank Destroyer Battalion reunion). Since we
couldn't move , we didn't think that we would ever get out
of there, but then the Germans called for us to surrender.
After discussion we decided that we had no chance of getting
out alive and even though the Germans had been shooting
prisoners (Malmedy) it was still a chance that we should
take. This was about 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. and we had many
wounded who were in much pain.
Having decided to
surrender, we called to the Germans and they said to stand
up. Since I was the only one not wounded , I stood up -
fully expecting to be shot! Nothing happened. Then the
Germans came over and took our wounded. I helped with their
wounded, and we took all of them to a First Aid station
where they were treated and sent out. We were treated
reasonably well by the troops that captured us. I think that
they were from the 2nd SS Panzer Division. They did "trade"
shoes and gloves with us though. Things did not go as well
when we reached the r ear echelon troops. They took most
everything of value that we had. Many of those persons who
were captured with me died later of starvation, freezing, or
were shot, but that's another story. I was liberated in
April of 1945 at Bad Orb, near Frankfort am Main. I only
weighed 87 pounds, but recovered quite rapidly.
of War Ribbon
On 23 December 1944 in
The Battle of the Bulge, Edgar was captured by
the Germans (Baraque de Fraiture) close to the
German/Belgium border. He and other prisoners
were transported to Stalag IX B at Bad Orb,
Germany. The camp was liberated by a task force
comprising the 2nd Battalion, 114th
Regiment, US. 44th Infantry Division, reinforced
with light tanks and armored cars from the 106th
Cavalry Group and 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
On 2 April 1945 the task force broke through the
German lines and drove north over 37 Miles
through enemy held territory to Bad Orb and
liberated Stalag IX-B
Camp Stalag IX-B
I hope these
recollections will be of some use to you. Each year it is
harder to remember all the details, but I think that I am
reasonably accurate. I am including a sketch showing our
positions. I will also include a picture of a half-track and
a three inch towed gun which we were using, and ·a copy of
our tank destroyer insignia.
I wish you good
luck on your book,. I am sure it will be very interesting
and if you get it published I would really like to purchase
a copy. If we ever do get to Belgium I would enjoy meeting
you, and I know I would certainly like to re-visit the area
of the Baraque de Fraiture crossroads. If there is anything
else that I can help you with, please let me know.
Edgar R. Kreft