We landed Feb. 19 in a breezy old mill about 2 miles from the small town of Deggendorf, ate more K rations for supper, made our beds on the floor and wished to hell someone would tell us what we were doing in that God-forsaken place. The next morning we found out.
At a meeting of the company our new commander greeted us with, "Men, I guess you know you are on your way home." A few men cheered but the others just grumbled. The CO continued, "but we have just one more job to do." That did it. The one more job was to raid the Russian camp which I described in the preceding and following clippings. We were disgusted beyond words and most of us wished we were back in our old outfits still sweating it out.
From the BRUNSWICKER, Brunswick, Missouri
This letter from Arthur Clayton, bearing the date line Deggendorf, Germany, February 25, is a followup on the one which appeared in The Brunswicker several weeks ago and tells of the raid on the Russian Prisoner camp:
"Yesterday I think I finished my career as an infantry combat soldier. The rest should be traveling and getting a discharge. Our last combat mission if you can call it that, was quite an experience, however.
As I told you before, the reason we were brought down here was to pull a surprise raid on the German-Russian prison camp near Deggendorf and get several thousand men on trains for Russia before they could kill themselves. At Dachau a few weeks ago when several hundred Russian traitors were told beforehand they were being sent back to Russia, at least ten of them killed themselves by razors, knives, window glass, or hanging. Others attempted to do the same thing but were prevented from doing so by the American guards. The ex-soldiers, who once fought for the Russians, but came over to the German side later, knew they faced death or long imprisonment if they were returned home. So they tried to kill themselves. It was to prevent a recurrence of that incident which prompted the Army to take such precautions on the movement from the Deggendorf camp.
An entire regiment of infantry with tanks attached, a network of radio communication, several weeks of planning, and a brigadier general in charge of the operation made it one of the largest single movements employed, I think, since the end of the war. Our company was broken down into assault squads and reserves. The assault units were armed with clubs, four men carrying carbines to be used only if an American life was directly endangered. The reserve were equipped with rifles, clubs and tear gas. All of us wore steel helmets and gas masks. I was picked for one of the assault squads and given a carbine.
As the plan was mapped out, we would move in on the camp at six o'clock and each squad, led by an officer, would break for its particular building. Two of the carbine men would dash to the rear door and deploy through the barracks. The prisoners were to be routed out of bed, allowed to put on their shoes, cover themselves with one blanket, and rushed outside before they could do harm to themselves if they realized what was taking place. Tear gas and clubs were to go into action the minute the Russians resisted .
At 2 o'clock Sunday morning we got out of bed, had coffee and doughnuts and at 3:45 had been trucked into Deggendorf and joined the rest of the force. Shortly after 4 we moved out of town, in strict blackout and at 5 arrived in a small village about a mile from the prison camp.
In columns of sixes several hundred yards long, we began to move quietly across open fields toward the camp in the distance. The ground was snow-covered and frozen, and an ice-cold wind was blowing across the plains and the moon peeked in and out of the clouds. It presented quite an atmosphere--an army moving silently across the fields toward the barbed-wire enclosure, no talking, no smoking, no nothing but thinking, and I guess most of us were doing a lot of that. I know I was.
Two minutes before 6 o'clock we slipped through a big hole cut in the fence and started moving down an icy road toward the block containing our quota of shacks. On the stroke of the hour an alarm started beating furiously and we all cursed under our breaths. Had someone betrayed us and warned the camp? We really expected trouble then. (We later found out it was merely their reveille but couldn't understand why it was timed on our arrival so precisely. The prisoners would at least be awakened.)
With a signal our squad broke from the road and started for a hut. I saw the first man, our lieutenant, hesitate, then jump into water up to his knees! There was a ditch about twelve feet across, full of water, on our side of the road and we had to splash through that before hitting land again. The officer and the other men in our assault squad started for the front door of the shack while the other carbine man and I raced across the ice for the back door. We jumped up the steps and tried to get the door open--locked. I thought there was hell to pay then and could just about see the Russians slashing each others throats while we tried to knock the door in with an ax. We finally knocked a small hole in the door and peered in, then threw down our ax in relief. Everything was under control. The Russians had been completely surprised; some were dressed, others still in bed, but none offered resistance. The raid had worked much better than anyone had even dared hope.
Within a few minutes the prisoners had been taken outside and lined up between the huts to await individual processing. From then, a few minutes after 6, until about 3:00 in the afternoon the Russians and the American guards stood out in below freezing temperature while the prisoners were processed and moved out in small groups to the train. Here is a good example of how inconsiderate, maybe you can even call it inhumane, even an American can be. These men were traitors to their country, an ally of ours, it is true, but they were still human beings. Our company commander, a first lieutenant, ordered the prisoners to be kept standing, at attention, regardless of how little clothing they were wearing, for more than nine hours in freezing weather.
Once the officer left, however, the GIs usually let the prisoners stomp their feet and rub their hands together to keep a little warmth at least. We took shifts at guard and spent half our time in the warm huts, but the Russians stood in the snow hour after hour and I can only imagine how cold they must have been. Only a few minutes in that icy blast and I was ready for a stove--and I was dressed with the intention of keeping warm. In the company next to ours, the prisoners had been herded back into one barrack and guarded there, giving both the Russians and the guards a break. I don't think there was a man in our squad who wouldn't have knocked down any Russian who had tried to kill himself when he entered the building, or killed him if he had attacked one of us, yet I heard many of the men, including our sub-officer, criticizing the CO for his treatment of the prisoners after they had shown their intentions of behaving.
The Russians ranged in ages from 18, I'd say, to perhaps 65. One boy who said he was 21, but looked much younger, had stood there in the cold for those nine hours and when the time came for him to pick up his pack and leave he couldn't move, suddenly sat down and began sobbing like his heart would break. One of our officers (CO wasn't there) sent two GIs out to bring him in to the stove for a few minutes. Then the kid saw the other side of the hard-faced Americans who had burst in upon him at the crack of dawn with clubs and rifles. One built a roaring fire in the stove, another opened a can of C ration beans and handed it to the boy. A heavy overcoat to go over the boy's light jacket appeared from somewhere, and a pair of felt-lined boots replaced his shoes, and a GI gave him a pair of warm gloves. When he rejoined his group a few minutes later he was a different boy. Maybe some people wouldn't approve of treating our enemies in such a manner--but there was one hut full of American soldiers who felt a little better down deep inside after boy had left. Every man who took part in the raid had seen combat in the war, were men, like myself, ready to enter the redeployment pipeline for shipment home. Combat men were chosen for the job rather than low pointers because the higher-ups knew they would be able to fight if the occasion presented itself. But it didn't, and we were all very glad!
That's my story of the "Russian campaign" in southern Germany, nine months after the end of the war.
Now for home! Don't know any more news of when we will leave for port. Latest dope is we leave this place the latter part of this week for a staging area. Nothing, however, is certain.
Love to all, Art.
From Ed Fry, September 1991:
Ref: Page 64 MUD & GUTS
(Reference my account of rounding up Russian traitors in a camp near Deggendorf, Germany, for shipment back to Russia, Ed Fry had participated in a similar raid on Russian prisoners held at Dachau about a month earlier -- ajc)
Ten of these prisoners committed suicide and 21 others were injured before our troops could get them out of the barracks. I remember standing right beside that man who sliced his throat so badly that his head was off the edge of the litter and I could see where he had sliced his windpipe open. It appears our officers were more sympathetic than the ones you were with who kept those poor fellows at attention all that time. Also it was not as cold as when you went through it. There were still traces of snow on the ground and the temp around the 30s.
RUSSIANS PRISONERS WHO KILLED SELVES FOUGHT FOR NAZIS
FRANKFURT. Jan. 20 (AP)
The Russians who killed and mutilated themselves in mass suicide hysteria at the Dachau internment camp have been identified as members of White Russian Cossack squadrons of Gen. Viassov, who fought beside the Germans against the Red Army on the Eastern front.
The wave of self-extermination broke out Friday as United States authorities prepared to repatriate the men to Russia.
Ten succeeded in killing themselves, while 21 others inflicted wounds as the deportation train was being loaded.
Viassov, who was wanted by the Russians authorities before the war, had been called Russia's "greatest traitor." Soviet troops had sworn to hunt down every one of his men while Viassov's forces in turn vowed never to be captured alive.
The Germans used the group of Russians as much for propaganda purposes as for front line action. The German radio reported them one day in Poland and the next in Yugoslavia. They used the force for depredation throughout frontal areas where they raped and plundered, disguised as Soviet troops.
From the STARS AND STRIPES
GERMAN WEAPONS FOUND IN DUGOUT
A small cache of German weapons presumably abandoned last spring in face of the rapid American advance, was accidentally discovered this week by an electrician in Baker company.
Pfc Edward D. Fry, who handles the electrical repairs and equipment for the company, was searching the premises around the unit area for wire and other materials when he stumbled across several German 20 mm. machine guns and a small amount of ammunition in a hillside dugout. Though the guns were well oiled and in good condition, nothing seems to indicate they were deliberately hidden there for future use. It is believed the weapons were left behind when the crews retreated.
From the 409th Regimental Newspaper, The RAIDER.
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