Jim Knight was a German POW in World War II
Jim Knight went overseas as a BAR (Browning Automatic Weapons) man with Patton’s 3rd Army, 76th Infantry Division, 17th Regiment, Company L. Of all of the actions he took part in two are indelibly etched in his memory. The first is his assault across the Sauer River and the seconds the action which resulted in his capture.
“We had just finished up in the Battle of the Bulge when we were trucked south to Echternach, Luxembourg. This city is on the bank of the Sauer River which separates Luxembourg from Germany. The ‘Siegfried Line’ starts just across the river. We faced not only crossing a swift flowing river at flood tide, but also the ferocious defense provided by camouflaged pill boxes and fortresses.
“We met flatbed trucks about a mile west of the river. These trucks carried wooden scow-like boats that were stacked on the trucks, one nested into the other. Each squad carried its own clumsy, heavy boat to the edge of the river.
“By this time it was dusk and we could barely see the river which was several hundred yards below us. But we could see the opposing German cliff which loomed even higher above the river. I suppose this was supposed to be a surprise assault, but we started receiving artillery fire even before we started our descent, which turned out to be a terrible fiasco.
“I was officially the assistant squad leader, but since the squad leader had just shot himself, the boat was mine. Somehow my squad got to the water’s edge with only bumps and bruises but now we were faced crossing this river under fire with flares that made us feel naked and with no one who knew anything about boats. I saw that the river was moving fast from left to right. The boat came equipped with six oars so I put four on the right side and two on the left to somehow keep the boat from being turned to left and heading down stream.
“We shoved off and paddled through a hellish scene. Boats went by us overturned and guys were in the water yelling. German 20-millimeter automatic weapons rounds were flying everywhere and exploding on contact.
“The boats were so dispersed that only our boat and one other, from another company, were close when we landed. As usual we had been given no plan or other instructions. We were on our own.
“Enemy fire was heavy and now included small arms fire. I could barely make out a draw to our left and I had my squad go in that direction. We had no more casualties until we hit mines about halfway up the draw. One of my guys was beyond help and several were hit, but remained ambulatory. The mine explosions told Jerry were we were, which resulted in our being pinned down for quite some time.
“We eventually reached the crest of the cliff, found a position and stayed there for the balance of the night. At dawn we found other elements of our company and prepared to deal with the Siegfried Line.
“For the first few days our company attacked pill boxes during the daylight hours with heavy casualties, too heavy to continue in that fashion. We had crossed the river with full platoons which were now decimated. The pill boxes and fortresses had connecting cross fires. We were hit by everything the enemy had from multiple directions.
“We were forced to hole up during the day and try and advance at night. This worked much better and we fought our way to the Prum River but casualties continued to take their toll and our battalion was finally relieved because there were too few of us to be an effective force. At the end of the action the entire platoon numbered 11 men. Our unit received the Presidential Unit Citation for its actions.
“A month or so later, we were dug in on a ridge line having pushed Jerry and company off the same ridge-line the previous night with only desultory fire and no casualties in our squad.
“Word came down that we were moving to another section and indeed another company from our battalion came to replace us.
“We slogged along a couple miles to the south and then turned east on a road that ran through a valley with high hills on each side. Pretty soon we came upon some blown-up Jeeps and a few halftracks from the 10th Armored Division. We all smelled trouble.
“By now anybody with half a mind should have known the 10th Armored vehicles and the intensity of the fire indicated the enemy was sizable and stubborn. It turned out that it was an SS battalion fighting an organized retreat while inflicting as many casualties as it could.
“By the time I got my second squad dug in on the right side of the road on the approaches to the town it was pitch dark. Another squad was on the other side of the road and the third squad was in the building behind us. About one hour later, all hell broke loose. A couple of light artillery pieces opened up, beyond rifle range, and the hills both left and right poured small arms fire down on us.
“We started taking casualties right away so I pulled my squad into the house directly behind us as did the squad on the other side of the road. From that point on it was a wild melee of shooting from windows and jumping fences into the next yard.
“I kept my squad together as best I could. Seven of us and four or five from the other squads ended up in the last house on our side of the road. Some of this group were wounded and four of my guys didn’t make it to the last house. In any event, the SS surrounded the house and told us to come out which we did.
“When they got us all out of the house, they lined us up against a wall. This was shortly after the ‘Malmedy Massacre’ and I was ready to bolt if that guy nursing the MG-42 (machine-gun) started looking serious. But the moment passed and we were marched east under guard for several hours. We could hear firing a little west of us, but whenever it got closer we were marched to the next town east.
“After almost two weeks of this, someone forgot to tell our guards to move us. Incoming artillery fire drove our guards, only four of them, inside the building with us.We made quiet plans to jump them when small arms fire indicated our troops were closing in. We accomplished this, took our guards prisoner and go back to our own lines.
“It goes without saying that I was extremely lucky, receiving only scratches from enemy fire several times. My injuries were easily patched up by the company medic.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, May 27, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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I love reading this story over and over about my father – James R.Knight