Josef Reusch
Geschützstaffel 3. Batterie, Artillerieregiment 1560, Volksgrenadier-Division 560.

I was born 23 April 1927 in Großlangenfeld as the son of a farmer. Our village lay in the vicinity of Bleialf and in between the West Wall and the Belgian border. During the war I attended school in Saint Vith so that I well familiarized with the Belgian villages along the border.

My father took part in the campaign across France as a pioneer but was then released from military duty. He was placed on "UK" but had to expect to be re-called at any time. At that time in Bleialf, we had a Hitler Jugend Führer (leader) who was wounded on the Eastern Front and very happy to receive a non-deployable post. His assignment included preparing us for military training, such as in the field, etc. I refused to participate on several occasions. As a result, my father was punished twice, and on the third time I was placed into confinement for three days. At the conclusion, many of my peers and I received physicals that were conducted by SS doctors. Before I was drafted, my father had spoken with a friend who was in the Wehrmacht. This meant that I would not be drafted into the SS, but most of my school friends were. I ended up in a Wehrmacht artillery unit.

On 25 March 1944 I was drafted. I had not even turned 17 years of age! After my basic training in Homburg (Saar) had been completed, we were sent north of Oslo, in Norway, to a former Norwegian military installation, the Truppenübungsplatz (troop training place) Hoenefuss and Lillehammer. There we received instruction on the leichte Feldhaubitze 16 (light 105mm field howitzer). In Lillehammer I was trained as a Rechner (tabulator) for the cannon, and as an forward observer.

At the end of October, we were transferred to Denmark where I was trained as a Richtschütze for the 75mm Panzerabwehr Kanone (PAK) 42. Around 5 December 1944, we were loaded up and transported into the Eifel. On 14 December we were unloaded in Kyburg and force marched into the area of Arzfeld. In the evening hours of 15 December we went into position on the high ground along the road near Dahnen. Then, around 0400 in the morning, we moved forward over the mountain above Tentismuehle. Then the cannonade began and before dawn we moved forward over the Our River. The first situation we encountered was a tank that was too heavy for a bridge and it lay in the Our. Before we heard the first shot fired, we moved down the small road through Kalenborn, the first village in Luxembourg. However, in Heinerscheid all hell broke loose.

Regarding our table of organization and equipment, the entire battery consisted of 108 men. The battery had six 75mm PAK 42 and were pulled by the Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO) which had an Opel engine. The RSO was also used as a munitions vehicle. For the attack we were supplied with 10 high explosive and 6 armor piercing ammunition. The armor piercing ammunition was shot at a very high velocity and traveled 1100 meters per second. Each gun had a crew of 6 men and the remaining material and supplies were pulled by horse-drawn wagons.

In Heinerscheid we struck against strong American defensive positions that were located around a water tower. We engaged the American fighting holes utilizing our guns and by early midday the engagement was over. Around 1500, tank alarm was sounded when 4 American tanks attacked from out of a side road. Immediately we went into position and were able to destroy the first tank. Tanks 3 and 4 backed up and withdrew out of our sight. The crew of Tank 2 jumped out and fled. The two tanks that were hit were Shermans, and the others I could not recognize. It was just as well, I was just happy to have peace and quiet again. I was very nervous and excited during the first day, and we stayed overnight in Heinerscheid where I was unable to sleep. All I could do was think about what had happened earlier that day. After all, it was the first combat experience for a 17 year-old.

The following day we continued to move and reached Asselborn. At the towns outer limits we rested and the Pferdeführer (horse wagon drivers) gathered food in the first few houses. An old lady recognized me because of my dialect and then cursed at me. I felt guilty because I belonged to the robber bands, but what were the wagon drivers to do? The animals would not go further if they did not eat!

During these days, I often thought of home because I knew that my parents and siblings were living under the same conditions. The Americans had already occupied Großlangenfeld. That evening we were situated in a Belgian village. With a pair of guard chiefs and several others I then assumed guard duty for security in a church as a lookout. In the darkness I was tasked with returning to the battery in order to bring up food for "B" position. I had barely moved 100 meters from our position when a hailstorm of fire erupted as an American raiding party routed the "B" position. I did not know what had happened to the position, but I was informed not to bring any provisions to the position due to the fact that it no longer existed.

The following day we moved three pieces (guns) as security to Houfalize Mont, where the road from St. Vith merged towards Barraque Fraituere. Heavy tank fighting took place in the village of Sommerain, where we saw ricocheting tracer rounds from both sides that flew up into the sky and simply hoped that everything went well for our troops. Scared, we sat behind our gun protection shields. Luckily no other American tanks came up the mountain. Shot-up armored cars and various armaments littered the road and we were happy to be able to leave the battlefield once again. The remainder of the evening I spent in a hayloft in the village of Montleban. Our guns stood in the courtyard of the farm when suddenly, in the middle of the night, an American convoy rolled through the village with tanks and trucks. The alarm was not sounded, simply because there was no point to it, since everything happened so fast!

On a foggy day we received the mission to clear the way for the infantry, by way of cannon fire, where a pair of tanks were apparently at the edge of the forest. The squads moved the guns forward in order to obtain our optimal firing positions. Not a word was spoken and neither commando could be heard. As the directional-cannonier of the 2nd gun, I could only see the drive sprocket of a tank that was hidden behind a pile of hay. I fired the gun when, at the very same moment, we heard several engines started and the first tanks were already rolling towards us with all guns firing at a distance of no more than 50 meters! I jumped from behind the cannon into an embankment and then crawled away as fast as I could. After about one kilometer we met a German tank unit and we were then moving forward again. The Americans had withdrawn, but they had squashed our cannon with their tanks and none of the cannon could be used again. Therefore, we had to join the ranks in and among the infantry. That evening, in the woods of Barrague Fraituere, it snowed to such an extent that our tent collapsed on top of us.

The next day, once the weather had cleared, I stood at the edge of the forest above the village of Odeigne and could see the first fighter aircraft attacking with rockets. Additionally, they also dropped bombs and fired cannon. Every half hour they returned and started the attack from the beginning. First they destroyed an anti-aircraft battery and then they turned on us! At night the village and crossing was bombarded by artillery to the extent that nothing could get through. That same evening we received a pair of new anti-tank guns that we had taken over from the second battery. We then fought our way through the woods to Beffe where we went into position at the village’s exit. On one occasion, American first aid trucks with wounded drove through our position after we let them continue on. Immediately there after we changed our position and followed the American trucks with our RSO (Rauppen Schlepper Ost) to the next road intersection where we were then received small arms fire. We were able to turn around and took up a position further south. Behind a wooded hill lay an estate where we then took up positions close by. During the day we engaged attacking American infantry with fragmentation ammunition but our supply quickly dried up. I was also tasked with forward observation, accompanied by a telephonist. As soon as either one of us spoke we were shot at from the other side. As the Americans came closer and closer, the fog seemed to get thicker and thicker. I told my comrade that while I was on the phone, he should take his entrenching tool and cut the wire. This way we were able to remove ourselves from the situation without any problems. We were sure that we would have become casualties within minutes. When we arrived at our battery, they were in the process of changing positions. We were elated to have escaped the entire chaos, and both of us remained silent about our "operational failure." That was clear!

In the late morning we were situated in the courtyard of the estate operation when American infantry attacked. They were able to gain a foothold within the courtyard but were pushed back out by Germans soldiers. In the late afternoon the Americans renewed their attacked and forced us out of the courtyard once again. A heavy German tank drove by which we attempted to follow while staying behind it, as it would provide cover for us. Shortly thereafter, however, it received a hit and the tank blew up into flames. We ran for a nearby forest and the darkness helped us to escape.

We moved into the vicinity of a solitary farm and placed our guns along the edge of a forest. It was a cold and rainy night so that we looked for protection against the elements in the farmhouse. Infantrymen had reached the home before us and were spending the night. We laid down and rested for a while out of complete exhaustion. To be continued...