Battle of the Bulge
‘One bitterly cold morning, I was in a foxhole with two other soldiers manning a .30-caliber machine gun. I say foxhole, but in actuality the ground was so frozen that all we could do was pull snow up around us and put some foliage on top. It couldn’t stop a bullet or provide any real protection, but it gave us a little cover and a psychological sense of safety. We were in a forward position along a relatively open, flat stretch of ground, facing a heavily wooded area about 100 yards ahead of us.
There was another foxhole about 50 yards to our right with three men performing the same task that we were. On our left, positioned 50 yards, and then 100 yards away, were two other outposts, each with a .30-caliber machine gun and three men. Each of these four positions had its own field of fire and area to watch. Together, acting in unison, we secured our frontline.
Just as the sun was coming up, one of our officers approached us and asked, “Where the hell are the men on the left?” We had no idea what he was talking about, so we told two of us to get up out of our position and follow him. We walked to the foxholes on our left and saw that each contained the dead body of a GI who had been bayoneted. The .30-calibers were missing, and several sets of footprints led to the woods ahead of us.
The theory was that the men in these foxholes had fallen asleep during watch the previous night, and were caught by surprise by the Germans. Those who had resisted had been killed before they could yell or get off a shot. The fact that someone had resisted, without opening fire, reinforced the theory that the Germans had taken these men by surprise and not through stealth or as part of a ruse.
Even worse, once the Germans had penetrated our lines, they went on to our rear and killed some of the wounded who were waiting for ambulances to take them to a hospital. They also captured two squads who were getting their turn in the rear to catch some sack time. The men who fell asleep during their watch not only got themselves captured or killed, but endangered others who were counting on them for protection. All-in all, the enemy, probably at patrol strength or less, was able to capture or kill a number of Americans roughly equal to a full platoon! No doubt they considered this a good night’s work.
In this very first article of Battlefield Mysteries I’d like to cover the event described above. It’s written in the book A foot soldier for Patton – The story of a “red diamond” infantryman with the US Third Army by Michael C. Bilder. Bilder was a soldier of G Company, 2nd Infantry regiment of the 5th Infantry Division and the book is about his career in the military during World War 2. The event described above should’ve taken place during the Battle of the Bulge, as Bilder describes it. He doesn’t recall where it happened or when it happened. The only things he knows is the story itself. The goal for Battlefield Mysteries is to solve them together and uncover histories we haven’t heard of before. How are we going to do this? Basically, we present the facts and earlier research that’s been done on the subject. Then we’ll let the facts speak for themselves and any of you are free to help us researching the stories. Having Bilder’s story researched for more than a year, it still remains a mystery and so it fits perfectly for the very first article of Battlefield Mysteries.
We may not know the exact location, but what are the things we DO know? First of all is the route of advance that the 2nd Regiment took during the Battle of the Bulge. It joined the battle around december 23rd near the village of Consdorf. Their objective was the village of Berdorf, which they captured on December 27th. It then was relieved and took up positions south of Diekirch where it eventually crossed the sauer river at Ingeldorf. Here the regiment split it in two where 3rd batallion captured Diekirch and 1st moved up further north at the Friedhoff farm. The regiment then went in to capture the Kippenhof farm north of Friedhof and moved even further north to capture the villages of Lipperscheid and Hoscheid. Bilder was also a member and messenger for the Red Cross. According to Bilder, this mean he was with different companies at different times. So it’s possible he wasn’t with his own Company, G-Company. Therefore, we have to take into account that he could’ve been on any location the Regiment has been.
Second, we know the description of the area. Bilder says in his memoires that he was on a relatively open flat stretch of ground with a heavily wooded area 100 yards ahead of him. Earlier research on Google Maps led us to a possible location near Berdorf as you can see on the map. The reason for this is because Bilder describes the event between the actions at Berdorf and Diekirch. The location, however, didn’t fit the description when we got there. The woods to the northwest, as seen in the picture below, is basically a ravine and no traces of enemy activity have been found there. This doesn’t mean the actual location wasn’t in the Berdorf area. All options are open for interpretation, so if you decide to help us research make sure to consider both the Berdorf and Diekirch area.
Third, Bilder talks about the heavy wooded area in front of him. The distance he gives is a hundred yards, which is very very close in my opinion. Keep in mind that Bilder’s memory has been affected & transformed over time so the distance could be even bigger. I’d suggest a range of about 100-200 yards. I also think that the US frontline was located at the edge of another wooded area. That’s why I’ve been ttrying to find an open spot in between woods of about a 100-200 yards wide. If you think the US frontline wasn’t located at the edge of the woods, feel free to leave your arguments in the comments below.
Fourth, we definitely know that a certain amount of soldier got killed or captured during the event. All we need is some hard evidence to see if this is true. What we don’t have, but what will definitely support this research is an actual list of casualties for the month of December 1944, January 1945 and February 1945 including the dates of the cassualties. We can do our best interpreting the list and use the date to locate the regiment’s position at the time.
Last, Bilder talks about ambulances waiting in the rear. If we can have access to possible reports from a medical battalion that belonged to the 5th ID, we might be able to find a location of the ambulances and from there on get closer to the area Bilder was in.
Bilder’s story is definitely a breath taking story and it’s probably one of the biggest lessons the other soldiers of the company ever had. I hope by presenting all the facts, theories and earlier research that we finally get to solve this mystery. I do not only hope to find the location of the site, but also find possible witnesses of this event. If there are any relatives of the 5th Infantry Division out there who heard of this story, please reach out to me. If we don’t get to solve this mystery, it’ll eventually die out. If we do solve it, we get to pass on a very interesting story about how soldiers fell asleep on the frontline and endangered a whole platoon!