Entering the Army

Start of the Battle of the Bulge

St Vith to Cologne

Segment stub for 11353

Tiger Tanks, St. Vith and the Smell of Nordhausen

Reflections on the war


Gus Blass, II was born in May 1923 in Little Rock, Arkansas. His family did not have much money during the Great Depression and grew a Victory Garden during World War 2. His mother was head of the Red Cross for their county during the war, which knitted caps for men and made bandages. Blass went to the University of Arkansas in the fall of 1940. He was there for three years and was in ROTC [Annotator's Note: Reserve Officer Training Corps]. He came home on 6 December 1941 for his grandmother's birthday. He was driving back to Fayetteville on Sunday, 7 December, with some friends and when they got to Conway, Arkansas, he called home to his father to verify what they heard about Pearl Harbor. When they returned to school, they were all excited about joining the Army or Air Force, but Blass was told it would be best to finish his ROTC training that year then enter the Army. Blass did this and after graduation was sent to Camp Wolters, Texas for 16 weeks. The closest town was Mineral Wells, which some of the boys called Venereal Wells during the war. The bars only had 3.2 beer [Annotator's Note: lower alcohol beer] which took a lot of to get a buzz on. They would march almost eight hours a day, living in barracks that were thrown together and were given 21 dollars a month in pay. They also tried to volunteer for KP, kitchen police, so that they could get more food. He was then sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. He was there for about 15 weeks. There was no armored commission, so he was commissioned into the cavalry. He was sent to Camp Gruber, then back to Fort Knox, then finally to Camp Funston. There, he trained men in shooting, care for arms and basic training. Blass had to ride horses and pay officer's dues. He and his buddies were sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey and boarded a ship for deployment. After 14 hours of loading 14,000 men aboard, they left for Europe. They had hammocks that were eight high in the ship and the portholes were blacked out. One officer informed Blass that he was on duty on B deck, but Blass was so sick that he could not go. The officer threatened court martial, but nothing ever came from it. They landed in Ireland and got on a train. Eventually they crossed the English Channel and landed in Le Havre. They were loaded down with full gear and it was a trying experience. When they arrived, they were attached to a repo depot [Annotator's Note: slang for replacement depot] outfit for redistribution. Blass was then sent to the 4th Cavalry Group. Once he arrived, he was assigned to command of Troop A, 24th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. They had three armored cars [Annotator's Note: M8 Greyhound armored vehicles], five jeeps and armored jeeps.


Gus Blass, II and his men were able to find some P-47s [Annotator's Note: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft] that had been shot down. They took the .50 caliber machine guns out of the planes and mounted them on the jeeps and armored cars. The guns had tracer bullets and when they would go into a town and fire at the town with the tracer rounds, it would make a lot more noise. They had a 37 [Annotator's Note: 37mm gun] and a coaxial .30 caliber [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber machine gun] on the armored cars. They had a crew of four people including a driver, radio operator, commander and gunner on the armored cars. Blass joined his outfit right before the Battle of the Bulge. They were sent to St. Vith, Belgium which, in his opinion, was probably the most important place in the Battle of the Bulge. They had infantry, cavalry, field artillery and everything else they could muster in St. Vith, including black soldiers from transportation units. The Germans dropped troops in American uniforms in St. Vith to change road signs and disorient people. It was ten degrees and snowing all of the time. They had fur lined boots and after they walked and sweated in the boots, their feet would freeze. They had to put their socks around their waist or shoulders to dry them out. Blass and his men were lucky because they could start the engines on their armored cars sometimes and dry their socks that way. They would also sleep under the armored cars in the Ardennes as it was so cold that they could not dig a foxhole. The Germans would set up machine guns in a crossfire pattern so that anywhere they hit the line, they could get shot from multiple directions. The Germans also had Bouncing Betsy’s [Annotator's Note: Bouncing Betty was the more common nickname for the German S-mine] that the Americans would trip and would go off and wound a bunch of men. The Germans also had rockets called Screaming Mimis [Annotator's Note: also called Screaming Meemies, were rockets fired out of the German Nebelwerfer] that would scare Blass and his men. The Germans had better equipment than the Americans. They had 88s [Annotator's Note: 88mm guns] with flash hiders and the Americans had 75s [Annotator's Note: 75mm guns] on their tanks. The flash hiders would hide the flash at night from the 88s and the Americans did not have that so they could be easily detected when they fired. The 4th Cavalry [Annotator's Note: 4th Cavalry Group] was attached to the 3rd Armored Division at the time and Blass always felt that it was the greatest division that there was. It was commanded by General Maurice Rose at that time. Most of the time, the 3rd Armored Division would run point for the 4th Armored Division. After Blass joined, they had probably a 170 percent turnover in wounded, killed or missing. They had twins in the outfit and one was killed causing the other to go almost berserk, causing them to have to tackle him and keep him from getting killed. They had nothing to eat in combat but k rations and c rations. It was very cold and they all had diarrhea. At times, death seemed almost inviting. Blass does not know what he would have done to get a pair of sunglasses because the sun was so blinding off of the snow in the daytime.


[Annotator's Note: Gus Blass, II served in the Army as the commanding officer of Troop A, 24th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 4th Cavalry Group and saw action during the Battle of the Bulge.] St. Vith was more important than Bastone because the Germans could not go much further west without more fuel, so they attacked St. Vith in order to get to the American gasoline dumps in Liege. The Americans around St. Vith were told to hold it at all costs. They did that and then went on to capture Aachen, which is where Blass had his first bath in several weeks. From there, they crossed the Ire River [Annotator's Note: uncertain on the river mentioned, possibly means the Roer River] and headed to Cologne. Above that river, there were dams that everyone was afraid that the Germans would blow and flood the area so that they could not cross the river. Luckily, that never happened. They headed toward Cologne and stopped in a little town. Blass's platoon was in the lead that day and they got to a spot where there were halftracks about two yards wide [Annotator's Note: he means track marks]. Blass got out of his armored vehicle and ran his finger across the tracks and found that they were muddy and not dry so he knew there was a Tiger tank possibly in the town nearby. He called Captain Norman and told him that they needed to shell the town, but Captain Norman told him that speed gets them and to go ahead and get in that town. Blass asked Sergeant Cauriveaux [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] to lead the charge, but he told Blass no. Blass then told Corporal Fortner to take the lead vehicle and he said he no too. Blass had traded for some grain alcohol previously so he mixed several shots of it up with orange juice, drank it and then said he would take the lead in his armored vehicle. He instructed his men to drive fast into the town. They found a Tiger tank in the middle of the town with nobody in it. The German crew was all eating lunch inside and left the tank. Blass said many prayers while he drove into that town and felt fortunate to capture that tank. From the small town, they were sent to Cologne, which was annihilated except for the cathedral. They were some of the first people sent into Cologne and were instructed to go up into the tower where snipers would be located and clean them out. He lost one man there and had another wounded. They went to rest after Cologne and were told that they would probably not have to fight anymore since they had done their part. They were awakened that night and told to get down to the Remagen bridgehead. The 7th Armored had just taken the bridge. The engineers had put up thick smoke and Blass had to get in front of his armored car so that they could see him and drive across the bridge. Possibly, the entire battalion got across and they formed a semicircle on the outskirts of Remagen. The bridge fell in about two days later. Life became unimportant to Blass and he just tried to live. They finally broke through the German lines, got on the autobahn and went north towards Kassel. On the way, they ran into the 3rd Armored Division. A half hour before they arrived there, Germans had killed General Rose and his staff [Annotator's Note: Major General Maurice Rose, the commaning officer of the 3rd Armored Divison, was killed in action on 30 March 1945].


Gus Blass, II had a captain during the war named Brooks Norman. After the war Blass wrote him a letter. Norman responded with a letter and told Blass that he was sorry that he did not put him in for a Silver Star for his actions during the battle of the Remagen Bridgehead. Blass did not care about having a lot of ribbons and just wanted to go home and live his life again. Blass feels the current generation cannot understand how cold it was at ten degrees and freezing outside. When Blass and his men captured the German tank, the Germans were inside eating lunch and did not even have their uniforms on and were wearing love handles[Annotator's Note: long john underwear]. Blass and his men captured the Germans and left the Tiger there as they moved out of town with the prisoners. Some engineers came along and decommissioned the engine. Those tanks could be knocked out if they were hit from the side with a bazooka. They thought if they traded three Sherman tanks for one Tiger tank, then they were doing well. When passing the Malmedy Massacre site, they saw the men off to the left that were lying in the snow. It was revolting to see the captured Americans killed like that. Bastone, had it been captured, would not have progressed the Germans much. St. Vith was more important. Saving St. Vith, to Blass, was one of the major things in the Battle of the Bulge. With Nordhausen, they smelled the stench five or ten miles away from the concentration camp. He does not know if it got as much publicity as Buchenwald, but the concentration camps were horrible.


Gus Blass, II wrote a book in 1999. One day his granddaughter asked him what a Dear John letter was, and why they called a Purple Heart a Purple Heart instead of a Red Heart. Blass did the research on how the Purple Heart became a symbol for being wounded and he put it in his book. It is important for people to get an idea of what the war was like and to visit places like The National WWII Museum. Today, war is completely different from World War 2. When they got into a fight, they knew where people were, but they never knew in a town where the next sniper would be, or who would be behind the next door. The suspense was just as hard on the brain and disposition as the combat. Blass sent home patches and other souvenirs from Germans that he captured during the war.

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