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Just Before Sunrise, 7 January 1945
"... The flickering light from the burning American tank behind me illuminated the otherwise seemingly pastoral scene to my front: the mixed conifer and deciduous trees of the forest stood fairly wide apart on the gentle incline leading to the top of the ridge, not 100 meters away. Continuing flurries added to the fresh snow already blanketing the ground, swallowing sounds and creating the illusion of peace. Beyond the light from the burning vehicle's flames, the woods lay shrouded in darkness, but it was the kind of twilight darkness from reflected moonlight that plays tricks on men's minds, at once concealing true danger while turning shadows into monstrous things.
It must be about 0700. Just a minute ago, we had knocked out the tank by tossing our last potato masher grenade through the open hatch. I was with the vanguard of our 3d Battalion, SS-Mountain Infantry Regiment 12, breaking out from a tightening encirclement with the last men of the 11th Companywhich now consisted of the seven men who had made it out of Wingen-sur-Moder last night. I selected this company to lead our exfiltration; the rest of the (now) 110-man strong battalion followed some 300 meters behind. Climbing up the forest road with the acting company commander, an Oberscharführer, we had discerned the silhouette of the American tank only after rounding a bend. The Sherman appeared to us as a dark, looming hulk occupying the entire width of the road, but one that could only be fully recognized at the shortest distance. By the white, five-pointed star, there was no doubt that it was an American tank, facing away from us to the east.
Only ten meters in front of us, our six men had squeezed by the tank, either not cognizant of it out of pure exhaustion, or not caring for the same reason. Standing next to the vehicle, the Oberscharführer and I could hear voices from within, through the open hatch; the crew was aware that men were walking by their vehicle, passing from rear to front. We saw the bow machine gun move, taking aim at our mountain infantrymen who were slowly disappearing into the darkness.
After the grenade detonated inside the tank, I jumped over the roadside ditch into the forest, looking for a large tree as coverI fully expected the tank to explode at any moment. My NCO must have darted off to the other side; I was now on my own. Worse, I had somehow lost my American carbine, which I had appropriated in Wingen to supplement my sidearm.
Besides the crackling of the fire from the tank (it could not have reached the ammunition boxes yet!), it was suspiciously quiet in the woods. In fact, it was just the lull before the fury, as a single rifle shot broke the silence and a .30-caliber bullet slammed into my right calf. This was the prelude to the hellish cacophony to come.
Aided by the light from the burning
tank, I could make out the marksman who shot me, crouching in a foxhole some
fifteen meters up the ridge. He was drawing a second bead on me. Unable to
quickly reach my holstered pistol, I must have decided by some reflexive
process to unsettle him by running straight at him. During this short stretch,
he fired again but somehow missed me. Before he could shoot a third time, I was
Seven Days in January
With the 6th SS-Mountain Division in Operation NORDWIND
by Wolf T. Zoepf
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Members of the US 45th and 70th Infantry Division Associations and the Traditionsverband of the 6th SS-Mountain Division: