Al Bryant was with the 513th PIR during the war. Here he tells his recollection of Dead Man's Ridge and of being taken prisoner by the Germans.
Dead Man’s Ridge
On January 4th, 1945, the 17th Airborne and its attached units launched their counter-attack in an area about twelve miles west of Bastogne dubbed “Dead Man’s Ridge.”
Here are my recollections of “Dead Man’s Ridge”
On the eve of Jan. 3rd 1945 Co. B of the 513th moved into a wooded area about ten miles from Bastogne. This was our first encounter seeing dead frozen soldiers laying in the snow, both German and American. They didn’t look real. One of our troopers was heard to say “they’re sure making this maneuver look real with all these wax dummies laying around.”
It was dark when we reached our bivouac area and we were told to dig. The ground was frozen and full of roots. I remember it took a long time for the two of us to dig a hole big enough for both of us to fit into. If only we had known the Germans had left behind a five or six man bunker no more than eight feet from where we dug in!
On the morning on 4th, just as it started to get light the Germans started an artillery barrage on our position. We were not safe in our fox hole because the artillery shells were going off in the tree tops and raining shrapnel down all around us. It was just light enough to see the opening to the bunker that the Germans had built. About ten other troopers saw it at the same time and we all dove in, someone said I’ll light a match, someone else said “don’t!” “Why?” someone else said. “Because,” came the answer. “I think I am setting on a dead German.” When the artillery shelling stopped we moved out over a large open field that had no cover. That was when the artillery shelling started again. There was snow on the ground and every time a shell hit and exploded it left a big black ring in the snow about fifty feet across. I wondered at the time if the black ring represented the killing zone. When it happened again I was glad to see one trooper get up and move out of the black zone on his own. It was at this moment that I first experienced the sound of a bullet passing directly over my head. I dropped to the ground and landed on top of my gas mask. When I saw how much the mask elevated my hind end all I could think of was I was going to get my ass shot off! I didn’t think twice about discarding my gas mask.
We finally made it to the road that was just north of the small village. It had high banks on both sides and that is where we were told to dig in. The Tiger tanks were shelling the treetops that bordered the village. The raining shrapnel caused me to give thanks that I was not in the village. Our anti-tank weapons were useless against the German Tiger tanks. When our Bazookas fired a missile and it hit one of the tanks it might knock off a little metal but no real harm was done. We had a trooper dug in with a Bazooka about forty feet in front of us. He fired his Bazooka at a Tiger tank, the tank fired back and our trooper was directly hit by an eighty- eight millimeter shell. One of his body parts landed near me.
We had four tanks in support. Two were knocked out almost immediately by the Tiger tanks. In a disabled tank one of the crew was screaming for help. In plain view of the enemy, our medic Captain climbed up on the tank and pulled him out. The surviving crew member had both feet blown off. We were out of anti-tank ammunition and up the road came two Germans under a white flag. The one in the back was holding a light machine gun. They told our officer in charge that down in the village where our wounded were being kept, they had a Tiger tank with the cannon pointed at them and they would be killed if we didn’t surrender. One of our troopers tried to bayonet the German with the white flag and machine gun but several of our troopers stopped him. I remember that the officer who surrendered us was not our regular Battalion commander.
As the Germans marched us away we passed a Tiger tank with the tank commander standing up in the turret. I held up two fingers in the shape of a ‘V.’ Big mistake. The tank commander pulled out what looked like a forty five pistol, aimed it at me and started shouting in German (which I didn’t understand). Luckily there was someone that understood German and he told me that the person with the gun wanted my gloves. I don’t need to go into detail how quickly I responded to this request.
Some time that day they lined us up by a brick wall where we were looking at a tank with that big cannon pointed right at us. I know that I was pretty nervous at this point because I had no idea what was going to happen. It turned out that they were only going to search us for any hidden weapons.
The 4th of January 1945 was one of the longest days of my life. That night they put us in a big barn and interrogated us one by one. When they brought me into the Interrogation Room, my first thought was that this looks like a WWI movie with all the high ranking officers with monocles standing around. As I could see by the flickering light, they were in their fancy uniforms. They started out by telling me every thing they knew of the 513th. I guess this was to make me think since they knew just about all there was to know it wouldn’t’ matter what I told them. I gave them my name, rank, and serial number in reply to each questions and said that I would rather not answer. They soon sent me out to wait with the others until they finished interrogating the remaining troopers. From there they led us to a big building that looked like a hospital. They led us through a large opening in the basement. I was the last man in the column and as our troopers moved through the opening they started to scream. This is when my imagination ran wild. I think in that moment I knew the end was near and I looked around to see if there was any possibility of escape. But there was the German with the light machine gun bringing up the rear. My only thought at the time was that I would live at least another thirty seconds if I went through the opening. As I passed through the opening much to my relief, but then anger as I saw what the men were screaming about! It had been a long and vigorous day and they were extrememly tired. It was places in the hay where now they could finally get some rest and sleep. That was what they were screaming about. This had been the longest day of my life!