This is Allen Knisley of Air/391 and a L-4 Cub like he flew
in 1944-5 The photo and interview was done in September,
2000 in Indianapolis, IN See Interview below Stukas

Spearhead In The West


     That's what the doughboys and tankers of the 3rd Armored Division called them. Actually it was a term of endearment, because the men of the "Spearhead" knew and appreciated the worth of artillery liaison aircraft over the blazing front line.

     It wasn't a spectacular job. The pilot sat up front and attended to the business of flying. Behind him, he observer, an experienced artilleryman, studied the ground and compared it with his 1/25,000 map. There was constant radio communication with Division Artillery, somewhere below and to the rear. Liaison pilots arid observers were workmen. There was little glory attached to the service—certainly none of the glitter and dash of pursuit or the Jove-like power of heavy bombardment. They didn't go home after completing a certain number of missions Instead, they flew right put of one campaign and into another. Except for the complete ador- ation of ground forces, who had seen Cub observers direct withering counter-battery on enemy big guns, the reward was small.

     Surveillance of scheduled shoots and the registration of counter-battery was 'the aerial observer's bread and butter, but quite often he was called upon to direct close support fire. In the bocage country of Normandy, where high ground was at a premium of blood, the Cubs' were a God-send. Their appearance over the battle zone was a matter of vast satisfaction to allied ground troops and a constant source of irritation to the enemy. German soldiers knew that the post of poor camouflage discipline was always detection by the Cubs and a subsequent rain of American high explosives. There was nothing that Jerry could do about it: when he counter- attacked the American line, the flying observers brought down a barrage of hot steel. When he attempted to knock Fortresses and Liberators out of formation, ever-present Cubs put the finger on one flak position after another; and "the finger'' meant an immediate counter-battery. Some- times the enemy was goaded to a boiling rage and then he sent over a flight of precious fighters to neutralize the irritation. A Luftwaffe pilot who bailed out of a smashed Me-109 over Hastenrath, Germany, admitted that his mission had been to strafe the landing strips of liaison aircraft. That day, seventeen enemy fighters were shot down by anti-aircraft while attempting to carry out like sorties.

     There was plenty of danger in artillery flying. Flak and small arms was part of it: enemy planes were big poison. When a Focke-Wulf 190 popped out of the clouds or zoomed from the deck in a vicious attack, your Cub pilot might only rely on a minimum of evasive action to keep his dog-tags together. In comparison with a fighter, light plane speed was a joke. There was no armor plate to deflect machine-gun slugs and cannon fire, no high speed to elude attack. Yet, in spite of all the occupational hazards, few of the numerous front-line liaison teams were knocked out of the sky. Cub pilots were probably more respectful of their own artillery arching through the air on the way to enemy positions than they were of flak or Nazi fighters. Captain Francis P. Farrel, Division Air Officer, and a famous "Spearhead" pilot, was killed in action when his L-4 was destroyed by an American shell over Stolberg, Germany. Lt. Thomas Turner, a red- headed veteran of Africa and Siciliy, as well as the western European campaign, barely escaped a like fate when a 105 mm projectile passed completely through the stabilizer and rudder of his aircraft without detonating! These were the unfortunate accidents of war which were almost impossible to prevent under combat conditions.
     There was no blemish of temperament about the little L-4 Cubs. They paced the attacking spearheads day after day. Whenever the armor coiled, the small planes landed to refuel with regular gasoline before resuming aerial reconnaissance. The work was done from altitudes of 2,000 to 3,000 feet over the lines, but a low ceiling often forced the tiny machines much lower. Regardless of the weather, if there was any visibility at all, the Cubs went up.

     Each artillery, battalion of the "Spearhead" Division, along with the headquarters com manded by Colonel Frederic J. Brown, operated a pair of these small, but indispensable airplanes. They kept a constant vigil on the front line, and there was very little "incoming mail" when the "Stukas" were flying.


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     My name is Allen Knisley. In 1944-5 I was a 1st. Lieutenant, Battalion Air Officer. I served in the Third Armored Division, better known as the Spearhead Division. It was one of America's largest tank outfits. There were two armored tank regiments, an armored infantry regiment, three battalions of armored artillery using 105 mm howitzers mounted on tank chassis, an armored reconnaissance battalion, an armored engineer battalion, a tank destroyer battalion, an anti-aircraft battalion, a maintenance battalion, a supply battalion, a medical battalion, a signal battalion, and division trains. Usually there was also an attached battalion of artillery (not a part of the division) composed of 155 mm howitzers on tank chassis.
      The entire division consisted of roughly 18,000 men, commanded by Major General Maurice Rose. Usually the division split into two combat commands, A and B.
      Since I was an artillery battalion air officer, I'll outline the composition of an armored field artillery battalion. It consisted of a headquarters detachment, a medical detachment, a headquarters battery, three howitzer batteries (A, B, and C), each having six howitzers, and a service battery. A battery consisted of around 800 men, about 65 of them officers.
      My own little air section, which was a part of headquarters battery, consisted of two pilots, namely, me and a sergeant, a sergeant crew chief, a radio operator, a half-track driver, a jeep driver, and two mechanic helpers. The equipment for which I was responsible included the two airplanes, a jeep, a half-track, a motorcycle (which we didn't use and which we finally left in a ditch in France), four FM radios and one AM radio. We had machine guns mounted on both the jeep and the half-track. In addition, we had a two-wheeled trailer, pulled by the half-track.
      In combat I also had a lieutenant-observer assigned to me who did the actual firing orders to the gun batteries. This person was sometimes rotated between the air section and the position of forward observer with one of the tank battalions, but I usually had some choice as to who my observer would be. The original concept was to have the plot also do the fire missions, but this soon proved impractical. The pilot had enough to do to keep the plane in position and to watch for enemy aircraft. Thus, as a battalion air officer, I actually commanded a crew of only eight. As a result, we became a close-knit little group, usually off to ourselves, someplace away from the rest of headquarters battery We usually sent the jeep to the headquarters kitchen daily to haul back our food in large thermal containers called marmite cans.
      Because I was a rated pilot, I had the luxury of drawing clothing supplies from both the ground forces and the Air Corps. The heavy bomber jackets and boots came in mighty handy during the cold winters; I often slept in my fleece-lined flying suit and boots. I was especially fond of my leather bomber jacket with the grasshopper insignia on it. Unfortunately, it was stolen from my footlocker on the flight home.
      It was my responsibility to pick out our landing strips and move my section to them. We needed to be near the battalion, but usually a bit to the rear of it. This was sometimes difficult when the battalion was moving or the division was spearheading down the highways, by-passing the resistance. This was a common deployment of an armored division, leaving the infantry the job of clearing up the enemy pockets which the armored division had by-passed. We always tried to keep in the range of our FM radios with battalion headquarters, but at times we had to go up in the air to make radio contact

Combat (June 25, 1944 to April 24 1945

     On June 25th. 1944, when we arrived at Omaha White Beach just below the village of Isigny, the scene was mass confusion, a lot of broken equipment, smashed tanks, twisted landing craft, and much half-submerged wreckage. Corpses floated by, one of which became entangled in the propeller of the LST I was on. Strips of barbed wire lay helter-skelter on the sandy beach. Many large ships, part of the invasion armada, sat offshore, still firing big guns over our heads and inland. I remember that Sgt. Scholtz, who was somewhat of a comedian, remarking, with eyes as big as saucers, "Hey, guys, that's read stuff out there."
      The first day we spent de-waterproofing our vehicles, but we didn't take our planes off the 6x6 trucks until later, when we were inland and could find a pasture big enough from which to take off. There had been some debate prior to the crossing as to why we couldn't just fly the planes across the channel. The division artillery commander thought that there would be so much air activity and so many barrage balloons around the beach that it wouldn't be practical, and, of course, he was right. Thus we removed the wings and placed our two Cubs on 6x6 trucks and loaded them aboard the LST.

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  •       For the crossing and thereafter throughout combat, code names were used. Division was Omaha; its two combat command were Ottawa (This was the one the 67th belonged to); and Ontario, of which the 391st was a part. The 67th Field Artillery Battalion was Ozone, and the 391st Artillery Battalion was Orlando. My own code name, as battalion air officer, was, appropriately enough, Ground Hog.
          My first combat flight, originating from a pasture near Isigny on June 27, was a reconnaissance mission to locate German lines. On the next day, according to my log, Lt. Scholtz and I flew a firing mission, but the 67th was not really committed to active combat until we moved to Ste. Marguerite on the 29th of June.
          The first days, everyone was a little scared because of the occasional sniper firings on our positions. I recall vividly a frightening moment for me. I started out in my jeep to locate battalion headquarters, and as I drove down a narrow road between hedgerows, around a curve some 20 yards ahead, there suddenly appeared a German Tiger tank. My jeep driver and I both hit the ditch, but as it turned out, the tank was a captured one, which was being driven by one of the guys in our outfit. I was probably never more scared than at that moment.
          It was at about this time, too, that an event occurred that has always made me wonder about life and about destiny. Bob Brook, who had been my roommate and closest buddy at Indiantown Gap and in England, was riding in a jeep with three others when the jeep ran over a land mine. Bob was killed by the concussion, or so they said, but there was not a mark on his body, and not one of the others in the jeep was hurt. Killed on the second day after we landed, he was the first casualty in our entire division.
          Fighting in Normandy was not suitable to an armored division. The terrain was flat, with lots of poplar trees and high, earthbound hedgerows around the small fields. It was almost impossible for our tanks to break through the hedgerows, and if they did, they'd be hit immediately by a bazooka or by an anti-tank gun. The tanks would burst into flame and black smoke, giving the crews inside no chance for escape. Burned bodies are neither pretty nor easy on the sense of smell. When pulled out of a cooled tank, the bodies of six-foot-tall men would be half that size. We left a lot of tanks and crews in Normandy.
          Because of the terrain, it was difficult for our ground forward observers to see targets, so our Cub planes directed most of the firing. The success of the fire direction from the planes quickly made a believer of Colonel Berry and other battalion commanders who might have had misgivings about the use of liaison planes in directing artillery fire. They began to depend on the Piper Cub, not only to spot targets and direct artillery fire, but also for reconnaissance in locating new gun positions and battalion routes of advancement.
          By the time the city of St. Lo was taken on July 18, I had flown forty-eight missions, sometimes as many as five in one day. By the end of July, both Lt. Eddie Golas (391st air officer) and I had been recommended by our commanders for the Air Medal.
          Sometimes we didn't see things we thought we saw, and sometimes we saw things the staff on the ground wouldn't believe we saw. One time when I had a Captain McKee flying with me as an observer, he was convinced that a French peasant in a two-wheeled cart, pulled by an ox, was a German anti-aircraft gun.
        On another occasion, with Lt. Scholtz as observer, we saw a German Panther tank moving down a road toward a battery of our light tanks. We called for a fire mission, but our ground fire direction center told us that we were crazy and that there was absolutely no German tank in that area. They refused to give us the artillery barrage we requested. We saw the Panther lumber on down the road, blast one of our jeeps into oblivion, and hit three of our light tanks with direct fire, exploding them into big puffs of black smoke. While we were still calling for artillery fire, the Panther turned around and retreated out of range. For some reason our Sherman tanks were much more vulnerable to the armor-piercing shells used by the Germans than their tanks were to our fire. I seldom saw a German Panther or Tiger tank burst into flames. The Germans had 88-millimeter guns that were more effective than our 105's.
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  •       For most of the St. Lo offensive, my air section was located in fields just outside the villages of Isigny, Ste. Marguerite, Ariel, and St. Jean de Day. At the latter location, I had my first accident with a plane: I taxied into a shell hole and broke the propeller. Luckily, we carried a spare.
          We didn't see much of the Luftwaffe during the daytime in Normandy, but at night we could expect a rather steady bunch of anti-personnel bombs. Since we were not moving our landing strip every day, we had time to dig slit trenches, where we slept, always with our steel helmets on. Later, after the breakthrough at St. Lo, we were moving every day, often sleeping under the half-track, in a natural ditch, or in the cellar of a vacated house.
          The breakthrough at St. Lo was touted as the greatest combined air-ground operation in history. On the morning of July 26, wave after wave of Fortress and Liberator bombers roared over us. According to the records, there were 1800 heavy bombers, 1400 medium bombers, and 700 fighter-bombers, all operating in a small area. It was total saturation bombing.
          Col. Berry, who arrived at our landing strip almost as soon as the first wave came over, joined me as we cruised along at about 500 feet, watching the bombing. It was really awesome! The first wave of bombers dropped smoke bombs to mark the front lines so that the succeeding bombers would have a target. Unfortunately, there was a disastrous miscalculation in wind direction, and the smoke immediately started to drift back over our own front lines. As a result, many, many bombs were unloaded onto our own troops. Col. Berry and I could see exactly what was happening and radioed down to our headquarters. This uncovered the second big goof in planning. There was no direct radio contact between the forces on the ground and the air forces. Thus there was no way to stop the carnage. It was a truly helpless feeling. I have no idea of the number of our troops killed by the error, and, of course, the error wasn't publicized at the time. All that the people back home knew was that there was a great armored breakthrough at St. Lo, and that American forces had finally taken the offensive. They knew nothing about the bodies lying everywhere; about the crews loading those bodies onto 6x6 trucks, stacking them like cordwood; about the sickening stench not only from the human bodies, but from the bloated carcasses of cattle and horses, as well—also innocent victims of the bombing.
          Throughout the war it was a common sight to see French and Belgian peasants carving up the cows and horses that had been killed a day or so before by bombs or ground fire. Food was scarce in the areas where fighting had occurred.
          After the St. Lo breakthrough, the armored divisions were used differently, and certainly more effectively. Now the idea was to get the tanks out of the fields and onto the roads, letting them "spearhead" forward, by-passing pockets of the enemy infantry, which would later be "cleaned up" by our own infantry. This is why the Third Armored Division became known as the "Spearhead Division."
          These armored thrusts, however, increased the problems faced by my air section. We had to try to keep up at least within AM radio distance of our battalion, which meant picking frequent landing spots and moving the ground crews to those new positions. Our landing fields would sometimes be ahead of the areas cleaned up by the infantry, so we felt quite insecure, especially at night.
          On one occasion, near the little town of Gavray, we moved into a little pasture field surrounded by the usual hedgerows. As we started to dig our slit trenches, an excited Frenchman appeared and pointed down the path between the hedgerows, saying, "Beaucoup Boche! Beaucoup Boche!" We seemed to have no alternative but to follow the Frenchman and check out his story. When I called my crew together to talk it over, Sgt. Pearson, who was a notorious coward in the true sense of the word, said, "Lieutenant, you can have me court-martialed if you want, but I'm not going down that path." I could see how scared he was, so I told him to stay with the equipment, and the rest of us (six in all) followed the Frenchman. We soon came to a farmhouse and a large barn, at which the Frenchman pointed. We had the safety off our Tommy guns, ready to blast away any second. We checked the house and the barn and the woods back of the barn but saw no one. After a while we thanked the French farmer and headed back to our camp. There we found Pearson, shaking, and as white as a sheet, holding his Tommy gun on four German SS troopers. Pearson was too scared even to tell us what had happened, and I think that the troopers were almost as frightened as Pearson. In his condition, he might have blasted away at any moment. Obviously, they had come up to Pearson, planning to surrender. Since the SS troops were the so-called elite of the German army, it was unusual for them to surrender without a battle, but I guess Pearson (and the rest of us, for that matter) were having a lucky day. I have never, before or since, seen anyone so petrified with fear as Sgt. Pearson was. We practically had to pry the gun from his hands. At any rate, we radioed the battalion headquarters, which sent a detail to pick up our prisoners.


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  •       The only other occasion that I recall having had personal experience with a prisoner was shortly after we crossed into Belgium. I was flying alone, looking for a field where I could move my section. I landed in a pasture and taxied up to a line of trees. I got out of the airplane and lit a cigarette. I wasn't wearing my pistol and doubt if I even had it in the plane. A German soldier, this time a member of the Wehrmacht, came from behind the trees and handed me his rifle. He could so easily have shot me, but evidently he was not a "good soldier," just a human being. I took his gun, shook his hand and pointed toward the highway below where some of our columns were moving. I never saw him again, but I hope he found someone to whom he could surrender peacefully. Many times, for expediency, troops would simply turn their prisoners over to the FFI, which was the French underground organization. The FFI would usually just shoot the prisoners.
          The most common drink in Normandy and central France, as well as the easiest to obtain, was calvados. It is extremely potent. Rumor had it that you could burn it in the jeeps instead of gasoline, and they would run just as well. We never tried it, but I do know that it burned in a cup with a little blue flame, just like pure alcohol. Cognac was also a popular drink. Of course, in northern France and Belgium, we had lots of wine and champagne. During the cold weather in Belgium, I actually had two bottles of prize champagne freeze and break while stored inside the half-track, under a blanket. Calvados would never have frozen!
          We really never lacked for spirits. In France, but especially in Belgium, the "liberated" were always handing us bottles of wine or inviting us into their cellars for a drink. On top of all this, the officers all got liquor rations. In addition, the Air Corps decreed that all pilots were to receive two ounces of whiskey for each mission flown, not realizing, I'm sure, that we liaison pilots often flew four or five missions daily. I never developed a liking for whiskey, but always having it on hand made me popular with some of the drinking buddies in the battalion.
          The officers who flew with us as air observers were also eligible for the additional allotment per mission. Some of them liked that, and too, for many of them, flying was a welcome relief from being a forward observer in a light tank up with the infantry. Consequently, air observer assignments were sometimes rotated by the battalion commander, who usually didn't send me an officer without my approval. In combat I never had an observer who hadn't had some experience with me during training in England.
          I don't remember many of the little villages in France after the St, Lo breakthrough, except for the one called Villedieu. It was here that our whole battalion was thrown back by an SS Panzer attack. Willie Best, the battalion air officer with the 54th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, won a purple heart medal when his plane caught a downdraft while he was trying to fly out of a too-short pasture field. His only visible injury was a skinned nose, and if his nose hadn't been so big, he might have escaped unscathed. Of a much more serious nature was the death of Eddie Golas, my counterpart in the 391st Armored Division Battalion. Eddie and I spent a lot of time together and when in combat sometimes used the same landing strip. He was attacked and shot down by eight Messerschmitts, which dived at him from out of the sun at his rear. I suspect he never knew what hit him. Later we heard from a captured Messerschmitt pilot that the Luftwaffe was giving an automatic three-day pass to Berlin to any fighter pilot who shot down an American artillery plane. The Germans were beginning to recognize the importance of our Piper Cubs.
          Eddie Golas, who was from Chicago, was much more "gung-ho" than I. He wanted to make the army his career. Usually, if we saw enemy fighters in time, we could elude them by diving and flying close to the ground, following the contour of the terrain. At the speed the fighters flew, they could not turn as quickly as our Cubs could, so that if they missed us with their initial shots, we could usually out-maneuver them. One liaison pilot I knew actually caused a Messerschmitt to fly into a hillside during the chase. He proudly painted a Messerschmitt kill on the nose of his Cub.

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    CORBIN: How well I remember that. It is still in my mind today. It was witnessed by a lot of our guys, because it was out in the open and a clear day. As I saw Lt Golas's plane going down, it made me stop and think. I knew as long as a Cub was up, we were not going to get any 88s. I did not think of what it took to get those planes up there or the danger that was involved. I decided then and there that I would keep my job on the ground. When I came into the 3 AD I was placed into the R O Section under a Sgt. Theodore Marik, and 1st. Lt. Harvey Patterson . After Mortain Sgt. Marik received a battlefield commission, and went to the Air Section, and Lt. Patterson was captured near Mossbach. Then I got Sgt. Marik's job as Chief of Section. He was a very cool man, and a good teacher. I looked him up in Mobille, AL. Did you ever fly with him?

  • KNISLEY: Yes I flew with Ted Marik as Air Observer most of the time until he got wounded. I also remember Harvey Patterson. After Eddie was killed on August 29, and because at that time the 391st was more heavily committed to combat than the 67th, I was sent over to the 391st as battalion air officer. My sergeant pilot, Walt Ford, having received a battlefield commission, took over my group on a temporary basis. Although I was to inherit a better crew than I had at the 67th, I had some real misgivings about the transfer. My colonel in the 67th, Col. Berry, had used the air section more judiciously, I felt, than Col. George Garton of the 391st. Col. Garton was a little like Eddie Golas, over zealous and expecting too much of his air section. For instance, he had insisted once that Eddie fly up close to a church tower, where the colonel was convinced that Krauts had an observation post. He thought that maybe Eddie could toss hand grenades from the plane into the church steeple. Ed, of course, refused, which he had every right to do. I think that Eddie's getting killed mellowed Col. Garton a little, for I found him to be a reasonable boss. He never questioned anything I did, and if, at any time, I said that conditions (such as weather) were not good for flying, that was it. He did, however, on one occasion, almost get us both killed. He decided that he'd like to fly over the British position on our left flank. The map he had showing the British position was either wrong, or he misread it. I kept telling him that I couldn't see any signs of the British below us, but he insisted that he knew where we were. Suddenly all hell broke loose. Flak exploded all around us, while tracers flew in front of the plane. Obviously, we were well beyond the British lines. Somehow we got out by diving, then flying about ten feet off the ground, with Col. Garton cursing the British all the time for not being where they were supposed to be. Both Col. Garton and Col. Berry were West Pointers, but their personalities were quite different.
          Except for a couple of weeks when I was transferred to the division artillery headquarters, I was to spend the rest of the war as battalion air officer of the 391st battalion. Earlier I mentioned the crew I inherited. They consisted of Lester Hardgrove, the other pilot (battlefield commission); who was a good flyer, Sgt. Roy Naylor, my crew chief from Omaha, Nebraska; Bill Alexander, my jeep driver from Missouri; Corporal Stan Gibson, my radio operator from California; Tony Fagliaroni, a mechanic's helper from New Jersey; Al "Zeb" Zubrickas, half-track driver from Indiana; and Harry Pickering, mechanic's helper from Oklahoma. Pickering, a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, was replaced by Pappy Laird. We lived together almost like family.
          Since Roy Naylor was crazy about flying and about airplanes, I taught him to fly and even let him solo. It was somewhat illegal, but I rationalized that in an emergency, it could be advantageous to have another person capable of moving the planes. After his separation from the army, Roy settled in California, where he continued his flying in the Cessna that he and his son bought.
          The officers who were assigned most of the time to my section as observers were Lt. Ted Marik from Alabama and Mike Cronin from New Jersey. both very proficient in their jobs. One day while directing fire near Aachen in Germany, Ted was hit by ground fire, probably a 50-calibre machine gun. I had put the plane in a steep bank to get a better position to spot the next artillery bursts, when Ted, who was in the back seat (I always flew from the front seat), caught the bullet in his left knee. It went through his knee and into the right knee and on out the other side of the plane. He actually had four holes from one bullet. We were flying at around 300 feet, which was about standard for conducting a fire mission. Ted was evacuated to the rear, and I never saw him again. His replacement was Lt. Vic Grothisch, a younger guy from Des Moines, Iowa. He also proved to be an excellent observer.
          I mentioned being transferred to Division Artillery for a short period. Near Stolberg Lt. Pfeiffer, who had been my sergeant pilot at Indiantown Gap, and Captain Frank Farrrell were both killed when their plane was struck by one of our own artillery shells. They evidently flew into the path of the shell's trajectory. Since they were the two pilots attached to Division Headquarters, I was sent up to ferry the division artillery commanders around until a replacement pilot could be found.
        I was glad when I got back to the 391st and my crew, but if I'd stayed at Division Artillery, I might have been promoted to captain. At the time, I was quite content to be just a first lieutenant. No one could accuse me of being an ambitious soldier.

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  •       Although the Third Armored did not liberate Paris, we were on the outskirts, and on August 26, I flew close to the Eiffel Tower. Our division did liberate Melun, a city just south of Paris.There I treated two French nurses to a ride in the Cub. On the day we moved across the Seine from Melun, I encountered heavy fog and was lost for about thirty minutes—real fear and uncertainty.
          The next day at Coulommiers I was attacked by a Messerschmitt and chased down. I could see his tracer bullets shooting by me as I dived down for the ground. I landed unhurt, but there were bullet holes in the wings of the Cub.
          We moved rather rapidly from Melun northward to La Cappell and the Belgian border, all in about ten days, running into heavy flak around Brunehamel. We were constantly busy moving our landing strips and trying to keep up with the rest of our battalion, which stayed on the highways and encountered only moderate resistance in a few of the villages. We saw several so-called collaborators, women who had collaborated with the Germans and were now left behind at the mercy of the FFI. As soon as the Germans retreated, the French underground seized the collaborators, shaved their heads, stripped them naked, and left them alongside the road. The FFI was vicious in its dealings with collaborators, as well as German prisoners who fell into its hands.
         Near Mons, in Belgium, the Third Armored Division surprised and captured 10,000 German troops, one of the largest mass surrenders of the war. The trek through Belgium didn't take very long; in fact, in just eighteen days we had traveled from the Seine River to the Siegfried Line. As we passed through Mons, Charleroi, Namur, Huy, Liege, and Verviers, we were received like heroes in every village. The Belgians, who are very demonstrative, kissed us, hugged us, gave us wine, and invited us into their homes. Near Namur, Mike Cronin and I were invited to dinner at the mansion of a local aristocratic landowner. We were treated like royalty with a lavish meal and rare champagne. The entire family, mother, father, and four children spoke perfect English. The host told us that the family set aside one day each week when everyone spoke only English. Belgians seemed to have no one national language, for some spoke French, some German, and some Dutch. Many of the people were bilingual. Since none of the Belgians seemed to have suffered much at the hands of the Germans, we wondered if they were as friendly when the Germans came through as they were to us.
         By the middle of September, we reached Eupen and Rotgen, both of which are just beyond the old Seigfried Line. My log shows that on September 13, I landed my Cub in Germany, just on the other side of the pill boxes. I believe this may be the first time an American plane voluntarily landed and took off on German soil during the war. At Breinig the battalion ran into strong resistance and was held up for some time, during which we directed several fire missions from the air. On one of the missions, I again ran into flak that tore several holes in the fabric of my Cub.
         After the resistance was overcome, the battalion stayed near Breinig for a rest and recuperation period. During this time my section moved into a stone house that the Germans had vacated. Our two planes were parked in an orchard to the rear of the house. One afternoon my crew and I were playing volleyball in the orchard when we heard the noise of incoming shells. The sound is unmistakable, like freight cars flying end to end. We dashed for the cellar of the house and made it. When the shelling stopped, our two airplanes were complete wrecks, and the post holding our volleyball net was cut in two. I managed to salvage the name Phyllis and the grasshopper insignia from the nose of my plane. These memorabilia I still have. I decided that we were a little too far forward because the Germans were able to see us landing and taking off. After that experience, I tried to stay a little farther back from the front lines.
          The battalion moved on toward Aachen and Stolberg and then settled down for another period of recovery and much-needed maintenance. I moved my section to a pasture field beside a large dairy farm near the village of Walhorn. It was known as the Belven Farm and was owned by a family of Germans named Egyptien. Our stay at this location lasted from the second week of November through the middle of December. The large stone house and barn were attached, as was customary in this part of Germany. There was a courtyard in the center almost completely surrounded by buildings.

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  •       After they crossed the border into Germany, American and British troops, if they decided to billet in an occupied house, made it a practice to oust the German civilians living there. As soon as we landed our two planes and moved our ground crew to the pasture behind the barn, the Egyptien family met us and invited us to stay in their house. The family consisted of the papa, the mama, and their four daughters, Hedy, who was almost 18 years old; Maria, who was about 20; Toni, who was 21, and Tiny, who must have been 19. Their hospitality was unreal. After all, we were the "enemy." They shared their food with us; we shared our rations with them, eating together around the huge kitchen table. They never missed going to church on Sunday, even though it meant walking nearly three miles through the winter snow. I am convinced that, aside from my own family, I have never met a family that I respected and admired more than that family of Egyptiens. They told us that they, as well as we, were victims of a war that shouldn't be. They were Germans, but not Nazis. They did not like Hitler but admitted that he had done much to raise the standard of living in Germany
          On December 19th, when a windstorm wrecked one of my planes, I had Les fly me to Spa in Belgium to obtain a replacement. This was the same day that Captain Farrell and Lt. Pfeiffer were killed over Stolberg.
          We moved our air section from Belven Farm to a pasture field on a bluff overlooking the city of Stolberg on December 14th. It was meant to be a time of rest and recuperation, and it looked as if it would be a peaceful Christmas for the 3rd Armored Division. The winds of war, however, were blowing in a different direction. On the sixteenth, Von Rundstadt launched the big German offensive in the Ardennes Forest, which became known as The Battle of the Bulge. By the eighteenth our division was totally committed. It was a time of utter confusion for all of us. The ground was snow-covered, the air was thick with fog, and it was very difficult for my section to keep up with the ground troops. No one knew where the front really was. Because the Germans were dressing some of their troops in American uniforms, no one trusted anyone. Thus all sorts of trick questions were being used to try to ascertain the identity of the soldiers on the roads.
         I managed to get our air section moved to the little village of Morrville on Christmas Day. It was too cold and the ground too frozen to dig slit trenches, so we slept in an old hay barn on Christmas Night and for the next couple of days. We must have been located right on the path of buzz bombs. I have a vivid recollection of listening to them fly over all night long and wondering when one of them might dysfunction and come down on us. They always sounded as though their engines were ready to quit.
          On January first we moved to Les Avins for two days. Then on the third of January the 3rd Armored Division launched a counter-offensive. I remember the villages of Heyd and Hebronval, but mostly I remember the extremely cold weather. I doubt that during the period between Christmas and the middle of January, I ever had my clothes off. I certainly did not have a bath during that time. My flight log shows that on January 29th, I flew from Barveau to Liege to get a new engine in one of the planes, so I'm sure that I got cleaned up then. The army had set up a hotel in Liege for use by liaison pilots who were on leave or there for replacement planes and parts. It was a nice deal, and I usually took Mike Cronin with me. We both enjoyed Liege—the food, the soft beds, and the friendliness of the Belgian females—certainly a welcome change after the Battle of the Bulge.
         By February seventh we were back at Stolberg, with the Ardennes a nightmare of the past. At this time I spent about a month at Division Artillery Headquarters, flying reconnaissance missions for the artillery commander and his staff, since no one had yet been assigned to take Captain Farrell's place.
          During February I was able to visit both the Compere and the Egyptien families, the latter, twice. I also spent another three days in Liege requisitioning a replacement plane for the 391st. By March third I was back full time with the 391st battalion, just in time for the start of an offensive to capture the city of Cologne, the Queen City of the Rhine. Cologne fell to the 3rd Armored on March eleventh. The recollection I have of Cologne is the irony of the Ford factory left untouched by bombings, while the impressive Cologne cathedral was badly damaged by bombs.
          After Cologne I flew several reconnaissance missions across the Rhine from Feden and Bonn, and on March 24th, I moved my air section from Bonn to Itterbach across the Rhine River. The next day on a firing mission, I flew into some very heavy flak, which put a few holes in the fabric of the Cub's wings—another heart-in-throat experience.

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  •       On March 25th the 3rd Armored Division spearheaded a big offensive which was to drive into the heart of Germany. The idea was to go as far and as fast as possible, staying on the main highway and not to worry about cleaning up any by-passed enemy troops. At a staff meeting I remember that we were told not to take any prisoners. The route was to be through Marburg, Korbach, Marsburg, and Paderborn. The entire division moved almost one hundred miles in one day, out-running our own supply forces and reaching Paderborn at dusk. What most of us didn't know (and I suspect even the high command didn't know) was that Paderborn was the "Fort Knox" of Germany, a training camp for the Panzer tank divisions. I had moved my ground crew to eight different stopping places and finally had them traveling with the battalion headquarters unit, when they hit Paderborn and were cut off from the rest of the battalion. It was here on March 30th that the 3rd Armored Division commander, General Maurice Rose, was killed by a Nazi tank soldier. General Rose was a rather popular commander, who liked to be "up front" with his troops, a soldier's soldier. I had flown General Rose on a couple of occasions when we were still in England, and I found him to be very common and personable, unlike most of the career officers I knew.
          I managed to get our two planes on the ground within the area of our battalion but found out right away that we were pinned down, because as soon as we tried to take off, we were showered with ground fire from tanks and anti-aircraft guns. In a pocket (later called the Rose Pocket), we were completely surrounded by Panzer troops and simply had to sit tight and wait for reinforcements. For the first time, our artillery howitzers were firing direct instead of the customary trajectory firing. It was Easter Sunday. I recall that the chaplain held services in an old granary. I attended, as did many others who were not regular church attendees, and the service was impressive.
          By April 5th, after the 2nd Army had linked up with us, the division proceeded eastward toward the town of Nordhausen. During the rapid spearhead movements, the air section was used primarily for reconnaissance. As a result, my passengers were often members of the division staff and the task force commanders, especially General Boudinot, who were looking for ways to cross the rivers where bridges had been blown up by the retreating Germans. We were a couple of days each in the towns of Frohnhausen and Asche, awaiting the engineers to complete makeshift bridges.
          Nordhausen, which we reached on the eleventh of April, was a place of horror. Camp Nordhausen was a Nazi slave extermination campground. Decomposing bodies were everywhere, and the stench was unbearable. Wandering among the dead were emaciated, ragged and starving prisoners, who were so far gone that few had any chance of surviving. Most were, I understand, labeled as political enemies of the Third Reich, Germans as well as other European nationals. After being liberated, those who were able to walk just staggered about aimlessly, staring straight ahead. We learned that the procedure in the camp was to hang thirty-two men each day, while the entire garrison watched. Then the prisoners who were able hauled the bodies to the ovens. History relates a lot about the Jewish holocaust , but I have read very little about Nordhausen and the neighboring Camp Dora, where the prisoners worked to build V1 and V2 weapons, the robot or buzz bombs. It was an ugly scene! It has been well over fifty years since I saw Nordhausen, but even now, when I see someone walking along the highway, I am reminded of the liberated prisoners in their striped uniforms aimlessly shuffling along the roads leading out of Nordhausen.
          After Nordhausen, the division spearheaded eastward through Sangerhausen toward the Elbe River. My crew bivouacked on Friday the 13th of April at a little village named Gerbstedt. The next day, while flying over our column of tanks, we were attacked by eight Messerschmitts strafing the column, two of which came after me. With tracer bullets all around the airplane, I panicked and "hit the deck," crash-landing in a plowed field, where the Cub nosed over on its back. I was strapped upside down and remember having a frantic time trying to get the seat belt loosened so that I could get out. The Messerschmitts made a couple of strafing passes at my plane, and at me, as I ran across the field to the column of tanks, the bullets kicking up the dirt around me as I ran. At the same time, I was trying to shed the cumbersome parachute I was wearing. It would be a gross understatement to say simply that I was scared. At any rate, I survived both Friday the 13th and the day after. We were able to salvage the plane, but the landing gear, the propeller, and the rudder had to be replaced.
          The last German city taken by our 3rd Armored Division was Dessau on the Mulde River, and it fell on my birthday, April the 23rd. That was also the day that I flew General Boudinot a little west of the Mulde River, where we sighted the Russians. My last fire mission in combat was the next day, when our battalion fired its 170,100th round of 105 millimeter shells. The twenty-fourth of April marked the 221st day of combat for the Third Armored Division. On the twenty-fifth, the 9th Infantry Division relieved the 3rd Armored, and we moved back out of range. We were mighty happy knowing that combat was over for us. My air section had collected several bottles of champagne, with which we had a real party to celebrate.
          I still did quite a bit of flying, but most of it was administrative in nature. One day I flew Colonel Garten to Kothen Airfield to see our first German jet engines. I also worked in a seven-day rest and relaxation leave to Liege with Mike Cronin. On the way, between Kassel and Bonn, we were forced down by a sudden snowstorm at a little village appropriately named Winterberg, where we spent the night. After our return from Liege, our outfit moved farther back to the town of Sangerhausen, staying there for about one week. On May twelfth we moved to Neu Isenburg, a suburb of Frankfort. This was to be our final move as a unit.

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  •       I have pleasant memories of Neu Isenburg. We stayed in a house belonging to a local burgomeister, whose family was good to us. Anna, about my age, catered to our basic needs and tried to teach me German.
          While in Neu Isenburg we acquired a captured Fiesler Storch airplane, which was the German equivalent of our Stinson L-5. I had lots of fun flying it around. Since it was not widely used by the Germans, I was surprised recently to see one on display in the U.S. Air Force Museum. It was an awkward-looking airplane, but its flight characteristics were very good.
          During the time at Neu Isenburg, most of my duties consisted of flying General Boudinot, General Hickey, or Colonel Garton around to various meetings, or running errands for them. On one administrative flight to Darmstadt, I landed in high grass, and the plane nosed over, breaking the propeller. I also managed a leave to both Bonn and Paris during this time. On the flight to Paris, I stopped in Huy, Belgium to visit the Compere family.
         On July seventh orders came down transferring me to the 6th Armored Division at Aschaffenburg, which was to be the first step in re-assignment. The army had adopted a point system based partly on number of awards and number of campaigns to determine priority for returning to the States. Since I had received the Air Medal and nine oak leaf clusters to the air medal, and since I had been engaged in six campaigns, I ranked fairly high in the point system. The day after I received my transfer orders, I moved our two planes to a field where the rest of the division planes were, and on July 14th I paid my last visit to the 391st Field Artillery Battalion. On July 15th I was sent to the 14th Replacement Depot at Couflans, France to await further orders, either assignment stateside or, more likely, to the Pacific Theater of Operations. On July 26th I went to the staging area at Calais, just outside of Marseilles. (On August 3rd I was flown in a B-17 (Flying Fortress) to Casablanca. Casablanca was a city of contrasts, with some beautiful buildings and some real slums. In walking down the sidewalk in front of modern buildings, one would step over sleeping natives and human excrement. I was there only a couple of days and left on August 5th on a C-54 transport plane for Miami, Florida, with stops at Santa Maria in the Azores and at Bermuda.
          The truth is, I was never a very good soldier. Survival was always my main concern, and survival meant a lot of luck and a "live for now" philosophy. To keep my sanity in the uncertainty of combat, I think I adopted a kind of nonchalant fatalism, and, as with a lot of other soldiers, the inbred sense of decency and morality were temporarily suspended.
          I lost several good friends. Of the four officer-pilots and the three non-commissioned pilots with the 3rd Armored Division on D-Day, only two of us lived to return to the States. Of those killed, two crashed into the ground, two flew into the trajectory of one of our own shells, and one was shot down by enemy aircraft. The record shows that the 3rd Armored Division had 10,371 total casualties: 2214 KIA, 706 MIA, and 7451 wounded. Such is the glamour of the "good" war.

  •       There remain, however, many pleasant memories. Perhaps the very uncertainty of one's future and the absence of moral restrictions during wartime enables one to enjoy life's pleasures more fully than during normal times. I've alluded to some of the benefits I enjoyed in my role as a liaison pilot. That I was an artillery officer who also wore the silver wings provided a sort of independence that neither an Air Corps pilot nor a regular artillery officer had. Since none of the command officers in a field artillery battalion had had any flight training, I had the final say on whether or not conditions permitted our planes to take off. It was also my decision as to what constituted a combat mission. It was possible for us to log several missions in one day, with the same fringe benefits afforded a fighter or bomber pilot who normally would be limited to two or three combat missions per week.
          One of the nicer benefits I enjoyed as an officer was the number of times I could go to Paris, London, Brussels, and Liege, for example, for three or four days without being charged with a leave or furlough. Since the artillery planes were a quick and easy way for the generals, colonels, and majors to get to these cities for a three-day leave, I flew them there and stayed until they were ready to return. Thus I got to know many generals and other ranking officers on a friendly basis.
          There were two other big pluses in being a liaison pilot. One, if fate decreed that I should be killed, chances were good that it would happen quickly, without the prolonged suffering that many ground troops endured. At least I would not be wading through the mud and snow, waiting for a bullet with my name on it. Secondly, from my vantage point 500 to 1,000 feet above the ground operations, I could see and appreciate the "big picture" better than most people could. Also, as noted earlier, since my section was often somewhat isolated from the rest of the battalion, we felt a sense of independence that other groups did not have. I often felt that I was my own boss. On the negative side, of course, we were vulnerable to the ground fire of machine guns and anti-aircraft guns; to enemy aircraft; and to the ever-present hazard of flying into the path of our own artillery shell trajectory. In retrospect, however, I believe that if it had to be a combat assignment, the liaison pilot's job was better than most.
          I hope I have not misled anyone into thinking that the road from Normandy to Dessau was all glory and fun and games. Hemingway's words, We all loved the same old bitch, and her name was Nostalgia do not apply to the war. No one really wanted to die for his country; no one talked about patriotism and bravery. Survival was all we sought. Since most of the casualties were the result of shelling, death came rather easily. There were not many face-to-face encounters, but I suspect that when they did occur, both the American soldier and the German soldier would rather have turned and run away from each other. Perhaps many times they did. Both the American soldiers and the German soldiers were the same: They hated being where they were, and they hated doing what they were doing. They did not hate each other. War is the worst invention of mankind.
         Historically, the Third Armored Division was credited with five campaigns in the European Theatre of Operations:

    1. Normandy: June until August 21
    2. Northern France: August 25 to September 14
    3. Rhineland Phase I: September 15 to December 1
    4. Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge): December 16 to January 20
    5. Rhineland Phase II: February 7 to May, 11, 194

    Battle Hymn of the Grasshoppers

    Over clouds, under wires,
    To hell with landing gear and tires.
    We're the grasshopper artillery.
    In and out, through the trees,
    We're as hard to find as fleas.
    We're the eyes of the artillery.

    So it's fly, fly, see
    For the field artillery.
    Shout out your data loud and strong.
    So we'll give the Axis fits
    With our Maytag Messerschmitts
    We're the grasshopper artillery.
    (This was the set of words we sang to the Field Artillery
    Song during flight training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. )

    Copyright ã 2000 Allen H. Knisley & Charles Corbin