The Miescheid Explosion

 

Scott Lankford's Headstone located at Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, Belgium
On the evening of 22 February 1945 a terrible event took place at Miescheid (Hellenthal) in which 51 soldiers got killed of A and B Company , 273rd Infantry Regiment , U.S. 69th Infantry-Division .

A TRAGEDY AT MIESCHEID by Mr Sam B. Lewis of Wimberley , Texas , U.S.A.

I was a lieutenant commanding the second platoon of B Company , 273rd Infantry Regiment , and we had been in Miescheid about ten days when it happened . It would be the most tragic and horrible thing I would witness during the war . Miescheid was then a small village of maybe a dozen house / barn type buildings of thick stone walls . It was about 200 yards from the Belgium border , and just inside a row of Dragon's Teeth comprising part of the Siegfried Line . It was sometime after 10:00 p.m. , I think , when I got a call on our field telephone . An excited voice said ,
"The third platoon building has blown up . Leave your guards at their posts , and get everybody else up on the double ." My platoon CP (Command Post) was in one of those house/barn buildings , no more than 150 feet (45 46 meters) away , and I never heard the blast . In less than a minute , I was running up the slight hill and I saw that the fire had already started , and only a quarter of the building was intact . And as I got within 30 feet (9 10 meters) of it , I saw Lt. Hutto emerge from the rubble , clothed , but shoeless . He had a wild look in his eyes . He told me that he and two sergeants and a runner were bedded down in the attic floor collapsed , and the roof fell in on them . As he finished saying that , we both realized at the same time that we were hearing screams coming from the burning rubble . We both broke into a run towards the screams , but the C.O. (Commanding Officer) , Captain O' Donovan yelled for us to come back , that there could be more explosions . And we could hear grenades and amunition exploding . And , the fire was raging out of control . There was a basement under the building , and it was from there we were hearing the screams . It would be in Leipzig before I would experience such an overwhelming sense of frustration and helpnessness as I felt standing there , looking at that roaring fire . My mental snapshots of the next few minutes are missing , and the next I am aware of , I am part of a bucket line trying futiley to put out the fire . But I am quite sure now , that the fire burned itself out . I never heard if all 51 bodies were recovered , but I doubt that they were . Now , 45 years later , as I close my eyes and look back , those mental snapshots of that night are still vivid . I am just thankful the sounds are not .

View of the rebuilt farm house at Miescheid where the explosion occured

This letter / story was written by Ed Lucci and directed to Charles W. Altsman, on November 11, 1985


The town, If You Can Call It That, consisted of a few houses on Both Sides of a road, just beyond the "Dragon's Teeth" on the Siegfried Line. The building was a two story residence on one side and a barn on the otherside. It was Occupied by a rifle platoon or B - 237rd. Were the crowded conditions at best, with only candles and make-shift oil lamps for visibility after dark.

I was the leader of the 2nd Platoon of A - 237rd, and we were Given the mission of assault and Taking a pill-box. The pill-box was not an ordinary pill-box. It consisted of an interconnected pill-box, a troop shelters and a turret. It was on the nob of a hill covering an area of about 180 degrees. There was a dirt patch running parallel about 10 yards (9 to 10 meters) in front of the position. The patch and the Area Between the path and the pill-box Were mined. We Decided to go with two squads, the platoon sergeant and our medic attached. The third squad leader, Bill Lyons, had a cold and we takingcare Decided not to risk him, but his best one we Used to replace the newer and greener there in the first and second squads. One man, James T. Hosey, Actually begged me to come along, Because he did not because to be left out again. For the mission, the patrol were armed with two flame-throwers, Which we cool the 2nd squad leader, Juke Black, who volunteered for it, and the Other Bob Gardiner to our biggest and strongest BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man. Also we carried interest two "Satchel" shaped charges and two charges, "Beehives," Which we gift to the three assistant squad leaders, Dave Troy, Bill Doud, JW Garrisson, and our best scout, Al Madden. Also we carried interest two BARs, and two bazookas.

To get to the pill-box we were to go through and Miescheid Because Of The Importance apparent that was attached to the mission, Both the Battalion Commander, Major Salladin, and the 273rd Company A Commander, Captain Notgrass, Were in Miescheid. When we arrived in late Miescheid That Night, They told me to be my shelter in the building Occupied by Lieutenant Hutto's platoon and come to B Company CP (Command Post). Major Salladin and the staff members of His That Were there wanted to review the plan of attack. The Building Occupied by Lieutenant Hutto's platoon, was across the road and to the right of the CP. The building was crowded and dimly lit Already Over. The one with the flame-throwers and the explosives went Into the building load and Stood or leaned with Their Backs to the wall That separated the living quarters from the barn. They Were The nearest to the front door in what was Probably the only uncluttered area in the whole place.


Pillbox 17

When I Came Back from the meeting, I put my head in the doorway and Told the Platoon Sergeant, Bill Hoilman, to get the people ready to move out. I stepped back from the building and to the left near the barn area to take a "leak" Came back to the doorway and said, 'OK, let's go. " I was about 5 feet (1 meters) from the building with my back to the doorway When something hit me in the area of the lower ribs and Threw me 5 or 6 feet (1 to 2 meters) through the air Towards the road. My first instinct was to keep right on crawling the hell out of there and look for cover, but as I Turned and Looked around at the doorway, Charlie Altsman, the 1st squad leader, said to me: "Lieutenant, the people." Charlie and Jake Waldrup, one of the riflemen, Were the only two of the original 26 people to walk out of the building. They Were directly behind me and moved to the right of the doorway and Were not in the direct path of the blast.

We tried to get back Into the building, but the doorway was blocked by debris Completely. We tried to get in through the barn area, the wall separate the two sides of the structure was Completely intact and there was no way to get through to the people. What had happened was an Implosion. The ceiling of the ground floor and the roof of the building failure Were sucked down the ground floor, crunching and or Suffocating the Occupant. We climbed the collapsed roof failure still trying to get inside, When we heard sounds of life. I shoutet out for Someone to get an ax. Within seconds, producing Someone did and we got started to chop away at the roof to get to the one That Were still alive. Someone I say, Because we were on the front line, under blackout condition and it was very Difficult to distinguish who was who.

Were there 200 or more people in Miescheid. Within a few minutes everyone there knew That something had happened. Major Salladin climbed up to the roof, firing the ax from my hands and ordered me to get back. Probably he did not even know who I was, but I recognized him and yielded. I stepped back to the area where I landed after the blast and watched, while the Major fired on the rescue operation. Five people, Lieutenant Hutto and 4 of the pen from His platoon, Were taken out of the building alive. In the process Someone yelled for a stretcher. I Answered That we had one. Our Medic Therell Draper, Brought one along and it was leaning against the building on the barn side.

Fires Began to break out inside the building. Someone called for water. There was no water. From Where I was standing in the rear, I responded That there was a shell crater, about 30 feet (9 to 10 meters) wide and half filled with water on the way to the pill-box, just outside Miescheid. A bucket brigade was Organized Quickly Using helmets and buckets. Continued to spread the fires and what some in response to Someone's inquiry, I yelled out That Were there still two fully loaded flame throwers and Unexploded charges in the building. In view of the double threat of the fires the explosives and overreaching Also Illuminating the area, overexposing The Rescuers to enemy fire, rescuef further efforts were abandoned.

The building collapse was the result of the detonation of one and only one of the shaped charges Carrying That we were. The shaped charge or "Beehive" is an explosive designed to blast a hole through 3 feet (about 1 meter) of concrete or by directing the force of the Entire batch write a small point. It is Detonated by pulling the string on Either or two fuses attached, one a 15 second fuse and the Other a 30 second fuse. Accidentally Someone apparently pulled one of the fuses and the blast was pointed out through the doorway, directly at my back. The results tion vacuum in the enclosed area behind the batch sucked down the ceiling and the roof of the building.

Who Actually pulled the fuse, or how the fuse pulled Actually, it is a matter of speculation. It had to be one of my 26 people or one of the 32 men of the platoon from B Company. Were there a total of 58 people in the building, 51 of Them Were Killed In That letter one time. The two survivors from my platoon, Charlie and Jake Waldrup Altsman, or are our current roster Division Association. Lieutenant Hutto Received the Silver Star for help in returning to the Rescue operation after he, himself, was rescued from the building. I do not know who you from the Other 4 That Were His platoon are rescued.


THE AMERICAN AND WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL
HENRI-CHAPELLE, ARDENNES, BELGIUM

VICTIMS OF THE
MIESCHEID EXPLOSION
Buried AT HENRI-CHAPELLE CEMETERY:

 


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