Louis Basso of Venice, Fla. was a 155 mm gunner who served in Battery A, 258th Field Artillery Battalion attached to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army that fought the Germans across France and into the “Fatherland” during World War II.
Although he fought in four of the five major battles from D-Day to the Elbe River, the battle the 90-year-old former soldier recalls best is the “Battle of the Hürtgen Forest,” just past the Siegfried Line near Aachen, along Germany’s western front.
The three-month-long battle began in September 1944 and ran until December in a 50-square-mile wooded area. German forces had every inch of the forest zeroed in with 88 mm cannons and machine-gun nests. It was an unnecessary slaughter of American forces for no good reason.
Before the Germans were run out of the Hürtgen Forest the U.S sent 120,000 soldiers into the woods. Of that number 24,000 American troops were killed, wounded or captured. On top of these losses an additional 9,000 of our troops were put out of action from trench foot, respiratory problems or combat fatigue.
Pfc. Basso was one of the lucky ones. He survived.
“The toughest time I had in World War II was during the ‘Battle of the Hürtgen Forest.’ We supported the 8th Infantry Division during that battle,” he explained. “Our primary job was to provide the 8th Division with direct fire on German pill boxes. The biggest problems were from tree bursts.
“In-coming German 88 projectiles would hit the tops of trees and fragment into deadly steel splinters that showered down on us,” he explained. To protect themselves from this rain of steel from enemy artillery, Basso and his buddies quickly dug foxholes, roofed them with beams and covered them with dirt.
“I remember one incident very clearly. I was fixing the camouflage net over our gun when an 88 shell came in. Just as I jumped into the gun compartment I felt a pain in my side. A piece of shrapnel hit my jacket. It didn’t scratch me, but it cut the jacket I was wearing down to the skin.
“We really took a pasting at the Hürtgen Forest,” he said.
After that engagement, Basso and his 155 mm battalion were assigned to support the British 9th Army in the better known “Battle of the Bulge.” A million soldiers fought it out during Hitler’s biggest offensive on the Western Front.
On Dec. 16, 1944 an unexpected German advance overran Allied forces along the Belgium border at the Ardennes Forest trapping the American 101st Airborne in Bastogne. Gen. Patton reversed his 3rd Army’s advance and attacked the enemy’s flank at Bastogne. The Germans had hoped to split the English and American forces, take the Port of Antwerp, Belgium and sue for peace. Problem was, they ran out of fuel and a month later lost the battle.
When the shooting stopped as the German’s retreated toward their homeland The Bulge cost them 100,000 troops killed, wounded or captured. It cost the Americans 81,000 killed, wounded or captured during the battle in the Ardennes Forest.
Again Basso escaped a huge battle without a scratch.
As a kid out of high school he joined Battery-A, 258th Field Artillery Battalion back home in the Bronx, N.Y. shortly after graduating in 1940. He became the company bugler and the captain’s runner.
“We were on maneuvers in North Carolina on Dec. 7, 1941 when my lieutenant told me, ‘The Japs just bombed Pearl Harbor.’ I was 19-years-old and had no idea where Pearl Harbor was,” he said more than 70 years later.
“During the winter of 1944 we sailed for Scotland aboard the Queen Mary. When we arrived we took a train from there to Wales. We were all set to invade France when I was hit by a weapons carrier while walking down a road in southern England. I wound up in the hospital and missed the D-Day Invasion.”
Basso caught up to his outfit while it was fighting just outside Paris, just before the Germans relinquished the French capital.
“Going through these little French towns you had to be very carful because the Germans booby-trapped everything,” he said. “At one point I decided we needed a wall clock so Bumgardiner, a buddy, and I decided to go looking for one.
“When we reached the front lines we were stopped by some of our guys in the 30th Infantry Division and told if we went any further we were likely to run into Germans. That didn’t stop us, we continued our search for a clock and found one.
“On the way back to our unit the Germans opened up with their 88s. I jumped into a ditch with the wall clock to escape the 88s and broke the clock. So much for the clock,” he said as he shook his head and smiled remembering the incident so long ago.
In their march through Western Europe, Basso and the 258th Battalion went as far east as the Elbe River in Germany.
“That’s where the Russians came in. The scuttlebutt was we were going into Berlin, but it was decided to let the Russians take Berlin,” he said. “It was several months before we reached Le Havre, France and sailed home on the Queen Elizabeth.”
After the war Basso went to work as a design engineering for George G. Sharp Marine Engineering Co. in New York City.
“I designed a lot of the air conditioning systems on U.S. Navy ships. I designed the air conditioning for the first atomic transport ship, the Savannah,” he said proudly. Thirty-three years later he retired from the firm and he and his late wife moved to Florida. They have one son, Louis Jr.
Name: Louis Basso
D.O.B: 8 July 1922
Hometown: Conegliano, Italy
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: Sept. 1940
Discharged: Oct. 1945
Unit: 258 Field Artillery Battalion
Commendations: European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal with 4 Bronze Battle Stars, American Defense Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Battle of the Bulge – Hürtgen Forest
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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