Roland H. Hiles
90th Division, L Company, 357th Infantry.
It is July 4th, 1944. We just haw received replacements
and have regrouped to launch another attack. We are in reserve watching
planes dropping bombs. Our artillery is laying down a murderous
barrage and our company has been picked to come In behind the artillery
fire. For a change, we really move out. We captured the Cotentin
Peninsula. However, Hill 122 still remained a commanding terrain
of the upper peninsula. In the center of the peninsula was a large
swampy area called Prairies Marecaguses de Gorges.
This area virtually denied all military traffic
through it and divided the peninsula into two sectors. Blocked to
the western portion of the Prairies, at the village of Beau Coudray,
was the Mahlman Line. It was along this line that the enemy Intended
to make his stand. Our objective is the town of Beau Coudray. The
cream of the German Armies manned the Mahlman Line and the center
and core of resistance was the crack (15th) German parachute regiment.
It was sent to try to stop our advance. After intense fighting we
drove through the town of Beau Coudray.
There we made a fateful decision. Not wanting
to have to take the town over again, we decided to dig in and hold
our ground. We had advanced several miles in front of any other
outfit so we had to watch not only our flanks but our rear also.
At almost dusk I saw three Germans running along the hedge row on
our left flank. I grabbed two men and started firing as we made
our way across the field. We were about half way across when machine
gun fire opened up. There was an L shaped fox hole in the field
which had been dug by the Germans.
With another burst of machine gun fire I heard
one of my men cry, "I'm hit." I Jumped into the hole and
just as I did, he fell Into my arms. I told him I would try to get
a medic but he said "It's no use, I'm hit bad." He died
in my arms. It got dark and there I am with one other guy and a
dead comrade. We can hear the Germans talking one side and the Americans
on the other. One of my officers called out, "Is anyone alive?"
I yelled back and identified myself. I told him there were two of
us alive and we were going to make a break for our lines so don't
anyone get trigger happy, I yelled, "Here we come and we made
a mad dash to the hedge row, up and over, to fall into friendly
Where are the Germans? We soon found out. We are
surrounded. At daybreak, shots rang out from all directions. Each
time we send out a patrol to probe the German lines, we are rebuffed.
We still haw radio contact and were told they would try to get some
tanks to come to our aid. We later learned that they had bogged
down and were picked off like sitting ducks. Each man was told to
try to ration his food, we have a few D (high energy) bars and no
water. There was pump in the village and several attempts were made
to try to get water. Germans snipers picked off any man who tried
to get near the pump. Two days have gone by and we are still holding
our positions but we are low on ammunition. We have had two sleepless
nights. The Germans had tried to penetrate our line of defense but
each time we were able to hold them off. We were inflicting a lot
of casualties on the enemy but we are suffering a great many ourselves.
We were outnumbered about five to one and have no tanks to help
in our defense.
We have been trapped for three days now. We can
hear tanks in the distance but they are not ours. Each man is told
not to fire his weapon unless he can see the enemy. The sun has
been beating down on our foxhole all day. It has been especially
rough on the men who have been wounded. The Germans haw been throwing
hand grenades as they moved in a little closer, it is late afternoon,
July 7th, and we haw no food, ammo or water. A tank rumbled into
view on our left flank and another tank on our right flank. Then
two more to our rear. They fired their 88's directly into our position.
Hand to hand fighting broke out. We are surrounded on all sides
and it seems like the end of the world. Our last frantic call for
artillery fire was in vain. The tanks stopped any thought we had
to escape the trap. With our ranks depleted, we were down to about
30 men out of 200, (After the war, I found out that we were called
the Lost Battalion). We were taken prisoner and lined up in the
town square to be searched. Evidently, the field artillery unit
that backed us, sent shells crashing into the town, killing a few
of our own and wounding three others.
Several Germans were also hit. In the confusion
I ran into a nearby building thinking that I could get away. I crawled
along a hall way toward the rear of the building and just as I reached
the rear door, I ran directly into the rifle poking right between
rny eyes. That stopped any further action at my making an escape.
After three days of constant bombarding and gun fire every man is
exhausted. It seemed as if my brain was numb. We were herded into
an old farm house surrounded by German soldiers. As darkness crept
in, I sat there against the wall and hot tears ran down my cheeks,
I hadn't cried since I was a boy. As fatigue overcame me, I fell
asleep. I awoke still trying to put the pieces together. Out of
the 12 men in my squad, I only had two left. Being a non commissioned
officer, I was separated from the other men. Two other sergeants
and myself were interrogated. They wanted to know what outfit I
belonged to and what did I know about bazooka's. Also, where we
trained and when and where we landed. As instructed by the military
in our training you give only your name, rank and serial number.
We were given a little weak coffee which is called
"ersatz." The following morning each man was given one
slice of bread and "ersatz." Ersatz is made from roasted
wheat and barley. We are marched along the road until we reach Alencon,
France and were housed in a large complex that looked like a plane
hanger. We had to sit in the hot sun all day and then at night it
would cool down and we had no blankets just a hard concrete floor.
We were held there three days. Ten men would be giwn a loaf of bread
to share between them. One man was designated to slice the bread
into ten equal pieces. Despite getting the bread the first gnawing
pangs of hunger were being felt.
On the fourth day, we were herded into box cars
and on our way to prison camp Stalag XII which in Limbug. Germany.
We were on the train for ten days with only bread and water. This
prison camp was more of less a stop over before being sent deeper
into Germany. We were processed here and given a dog tag with our
prisoner of war number stamped on it. As a non com I was separated
from the men and interrogated again. I am again drilled about what
unit I was from and they again wanted to know about the bazooka.
I gave only my name, rank and serial number and then was put into
solitary confinement. I would be taken out each day and grilled
one or two hours and then back to solitary. After being in solitary
four days, I finally was released to go back with the other men.
The sun was bright and hurt my eyes but I was
aliw and it felt good to be back with the other men. The housing
for us here was a large tent. In this camp we were on a diet grass
soup and the usual slice of bread each day. We are notified that
we will soon be shipped to another camp and faced a dreaded train
ride again. Conditions had not changed one bit. Another hot ride
except this trip was not as long. Still it seemed a long time before
we finally arrived at our next camp, Stalag IV B, located at Mulhiberg
on the Elbe River. This camp had Poles, Russians, French, Italians
and English. I had lost quite a bit of weight and was getting weak.
I knew I had to keep my muscle tone, what was left. I started walking
each day around the compound to try to keep up my strength.
The days passed very slowly and we are told we
are going to transferred to another camp. Another train ride, only
this time we had to fight the cold instead of the heat. Our only
hope to keep warm was to huddle together. This new prison camp is
located east of Berlin near the Polish border. It is near the town
of Fustenwald on the Oder River. This camp, Stalg IIIB, was formerly
a training camp for SS troops. Instead of tents we are in barracks
with brick walls and concrete floors. They were so cold that when
you tracked in snow it was still there the next morning.
We still had one slice of bread and ersatz each
day. One morning we heard what sounded like thunder in the distance.
It wasn't thunder but Russian artillery. They were advancing up
the Oder River. Excitement was going through the camp. Surely the
end of the war couldn't be too far away. The guards were quite nervous
and seemed to be more tolerant toward us. We had to received news
that we are moving to another camp. This time it is a forced march.
As we left camp, there was eight to ten inches of snow on the ground
and still coming down. It has been extremely difficult to make your
way as the wind caused the snow to drift in some places over knee
One of the fellows stopped and sit down and the
guard said that anyone who stopped would be shot. My buddy and I
had thought of stopping. Just then a shot rang out. The guy that
stopped was shot between the eyes. That halted any thoughts of us
stopping. I don't remember how many days we were on the road but
we finally arrived at Stalag IIIA which was located at Lukenwatde,
about 30 miles south of Berlin. We are assigned to large tents,
each one holding about 100 men. The days pass by ever so slowly
and we heard rumors that the war was getting better for the Allies
although the Germans would constantly move through the camp telling
us how bad the American and British were taking a beating.
One day standing outside the tent, I heard the
sound of thunder but the sky was clear and I realized it was the
sound of artillery. The guard became extremely nervous and we knew
the end must be near. One morning we awoke and there was a strange
quiet over the camp. No roll call and no sign of any guards. Everyone
started yelling and shouting, "It's over. It's over,"
Just then we heard a roar of tanks as they came rumbling and crashing
through the barbed wire fence. The Russians had arrived. My buddy
who was of Polish decent could speak a little Russian. We decided
we would leave the prison and try to get to American lines. We headed
due west, stopping at the town of Coswig where we stayed in a run
down hotel that was occupied by Russian soldiers.
That night we heard gun fire as the Germans tried
to counter attack. If they had succeeded I'm sure we would have
been shot. My buddy overheard the Russians talking about sending
us back to the prison camp that we Just left. So early the next
morning, we crawled out a window, across the roof and slid down
the drain pipe. We hope that we don't run into any Russians or Germans.
We walked until we reached the Elb River at Madgeburg. A German
agreed to take us the Elb River on a ferry boat in exchange for
two cigarettes. As we reached the other side, I saw a jeep approaching
and I realized that we were among American troops. I am free at
Roland H. Hiles
Patch of the 90th Division to which Roland belonged.
Roland's prisoncamp papers.
Roland during his combat training days.