Biography of Cliff Miller
372nd Eng Bn/3rd Pltn, C Troop, 42nd Sqdn, 2nd Cav Grp, U.S.A.
I, Cliff Miller, will attempt to give you a run down on the experiences I had during WW2. I went over in August 1943. We were about 14 months ahead of the main invasion troops, to prepare for their arrival. We built camps, living quarters, hospital, etc. There was nothing earth shaking going on in England, other than getting to the English ladies.
In 1944, preparations were being made for the crossing of the channel. All troops were ordered to move into pup tents and be ready to move on a moments notice. At the time, we were dodging the so called Buzz bomb. Our orders came for us to move out, we looked at each other just knowing this was it. We were diverted on the way and ordered to move into an old British tent camp at a very small town called Purflete eight miles south of London. Our job turned out to be building the 15,000 ton barges that were sunk off the beach at Utah and Omaha beaches so supplies could be off loaded into the beaches. Since the 372nd was a general service Battalion, we did all kinds of construction. We finally crossed the Channel and landed on Utah Beach. By that time, the combat troops had moved inland and had cleared St. Lo and were moving to quit fact. After landing our first stop was Bar Le Duc to build a supply storage area, then we moved to Rheims to build the 99th General Hospital out of some old buildings that had been bombed and blown up by artillery. We had this hospital up and taking casualties in record time. Then we were sent to Nancy to build another. All this time for some dumb reason I felt like I should be on the front trying to kill a few Krauts, instead of back in a relative safe area when so many guys were being hit and put out of action. I have been called an idiot, stupid, brainless for what I did. Anyway one day in Nancy, truck loads of doctors, nurses and lots of hospital came rushing into our area, saying get ready to move out the Krauts are coming. We moved out alright, right up front to assist the second Calvary group trying to hold the weakest spot on the entire front line. Had the Krauts known this, we would have been wiped out in minutes. Instead, they kept every hour or so lobbing a few artillery rounds at us. We dug in on the side of a hill in plain site of the enemy. Other than the artillery, things were kind of quiet. Both sides sent out recon patrols each night. About 15 miles back was the small Luxembourg town of Fieldsdorf, where after several days we would be relieved to get out of the ice and snow for a couple of days. This went on for several weeks. Christmas Eve1944, we were on line, on Christmas Day, the cooks prepared a very nice Christmas dinner and sent it up to us in a weapons carrier. The road they had to take, one small area had been zeroed in by the Kraut artillery. Well I am sure you have guessed by now when this vehicle came around a corner the artillery opened up on them. Well they made it unscathed. As the turkey dinner was being dished up in our mess kits, I had taken on a big load of the goodies when the Krauts opened up on us. They threw about fifteen rounds of 88′ s at us. We all hit the dirt. I dove for a little drainage ditch where the melting snow was running down the dirt road. Well as I dove for the ditch, I made a half roll and landed on my back with my Christmas dinner held up high. I didn’ t lose a drop. While assisting the 2nd Cavalry, I asked for a transfer to the Cavalry. I got a combat zone transfer which was immediate. From then on I was in the second Cavalry Group 42nd Squadron, 3rd Platoon-¦
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-¦Behind the M8 armored car and point jeep, which was equipped with a 50 caliber machine gun. The armored car was equipped with a 37mm cannon and 30 caliber machine gun. The little section consisted of the 2 jeeps and armored car, three men in the jeeps, a drive, a relief driver and machine gun, four men in the armored car. For a tiny little outfit we had a fair bit of fire power which came in very handy on many occasions. Finally we started pushing the Battle of the Bulge back. We were in so many towns and villages, I only remember we had a fair amount of Kraut ammo whizzing by our head and ears. Small arms and heavy 88mm tank guns artillery about any thing you can mention we had it thrown at us. I have often wondered why I came out of all that with a few insignificant cuts and scratches. The krauts were darn good shots too. It was in the dead of winter when all this was going on. We were so lucky we were mounted in the jeep. The poor, poor sloggers had to brave this weather the best they could . It was a hell of a winter. The enemy was very stubborn for a while. Finally as spring drew close, we had the Krauts pretty much on the run. Some would surrender. We would bypass some others would put up one hell of a fight. My memory is a little mixed up on dates and places, so I might tell you of one incident that happened before this one or happened after that one, so please bear with me.
One of the incidents that stands out in my memory was with the German 6th SS mountain division. The supposed elite of the German fighting men. We were moving out to locate some SS boys when over the radio came a frantic message telling us to turn around and be ready for a fight cause a unit from the SS had cut right through us cutting us off from our main body. We turned around and was ready for bear. The 71st infantry was fresh over from the states and were being held in reserve. As you know GI’ s gripe and complain a lot. Well these guys had been saying here we came over here to fight a war and we haven’ t seen one yet. Guess who was called up to rout the krauts out of the small town they ran into to try to hide. We had made it back to just the edge of this little town and we formed a half moon around the perimeter of this town so that any krauts tried to escape we would just pick them off as they ran. My little section was lined out on a road that had a bank about as high as my shoulders, which gave us some protection. It was pretty quiet where we were, although we knew there were some krauts in a wooded area across a plowed field. We kept throwing some harassing into the woods just in case the Germans would try to hit us en mass. Would you believe a big about a five point deer ran out of the woods into the plowed field, headed right at us. You know the red blooded American boys all started shooting at the deer, when the deer saw us he turned broadside to us all shooting. Even the 37 millimeter cannons were shooting at the deer. The punch line for this is at least a thousand rounds were thrown at that deer and not one shot hit him. The last I saw of the deer he was disappearing into the next wooded area. We finally routed the SS trooper out of the little town. We took over a house for our outpost and set up a guard and the rest went to sleep for the night. We all took our turn on watch. My time was, best I can remember, was 10:00 to midnight. All was quiet nothing happening. Bob Kimbal and I finished our watch then went in to catch as many winks as we could. We were advised not to remove our clothes under combat conditions. Well I hated to sleep in all those clothes, so I pulled off most of my heavy stuff and went to sleep. At about six a.m. all hell broke loose. Freddie Guiteras and LT Pridgen had the last watch when a group of SS troops were trying to avoid us by crossing through an orchard. Pridgen was off fooling around the outbuildings when Freddie spotted the SS boys and opened up on them, dropped five with bad wounds and one who was screaming for help on the ground. Seller and Kimball went out in their own and put this guy in a jeep, brought him in where he died a few minutes later. One with lesser wounds was helped to go with the rest of the SS boys, the others we brought in an
d held them as prisoners. For being the dreaded SS, these guys were very humble and begging for mercy. We had no intentions of hurting them further. We just wanted to put them away so they couldn’ t shoot at us anymore.
The next incident I have a vivid recollection of was a small town we were supposed to take and hold there. We took the town with a light firefight with the krauts. Cleared the town and held up to await further orders. We flushed the town and picked a house in an area where we could see most everything. This town was on a hill, we had a good view of everything. Bob Kimball and I had the first watch. It was a nice moonlight night. We were armed to the teeth. I had a BAR automatic rifle, Kimball had an M1 Grenade Plus the 37mm cannon and 30 caliber air-cooled on the Armored car turret. After a while Bob nudged me and said what is that coming up the hill. I looked and sure enough I could see two heads bobbing as they came up a path that went to the back of the where we were. I told Bob to keep them in his sights and I would scurry down the block and head them off. I jumped out of the turret took a position where these guys would come right for me. As they approached I took the bar off safety and was ready to fire. I was just beginning to squeeze the trigger when they spotted me. Their gear they were carrying flew in all directions, hands went in the air and they yelled Comrade. I didn’ t fire, which I was glad later that I hadn’ t. We had a goofy sergeant that liked to set out booby traps and tell no one about them. I was trying to head these guys off I hit a trip wire, nothing happened. I was marching my prisoners back to the M8 the krauts were in the front of my going around another block to avoid the first trip wire. Would you believe we hit another trip wire. A flare went up and lit up the entire area. Scared the hell out of the three of us. I regained my composure and marched my prisoners back to the armored car. The rest of about two hundred yards was uneventful. I marched my prizes to the front of the M8 and showed them that they would be sleeping with a 30 caliber machine gun trained on them. And that an escape try would be dealt with.
Well here I was a hero of sorts, (I thought), our relief came out a short time later. Bob and I hit the sack to get some badly needed ZZZZZZ’ s, which was great. Would you believe I was awakened by some women and kids yelling and crying. I went out to see what the commotion was all about. I’ ll be damned if here was my two prisoners up on the porch of the house we parked in front of. With all the wailing going on, I asked what my prisoners were doing up on that porch. I was told then that we were parked right in front of one of the prisoners home and all they were doing was to try to get home to their families. These were older men to us at the time. Needless to say, I felt like a real jerk. These guys didn’ t want to fight just get home. Well I had no choice but to send them back to a prisoner of war camp. Had I not they would have been classified as Deserters and never receive any benefits from the German government if there ever was any. They were screened and were home shortly anyway. This was my moment of glory and my prisoners were harmless.
Things were happening pretty fast, we were in a little skirmish here and there. The next encounter I remember was when the 5th infantry division had a mess of krauts cornered in the town of Bayrouth (Curator, probably Bayreuth). We joined the fracas and surrounded a group of hardened German SS boys in a wooded area our little section was held in reserve while the 1st and 2nd sections worked their way around the right and left sides of this wooded area. We had a mortar team that were lobbing mortar shells into the woods. Well after about an hour, Bob, Sellers and me decided to stretch out on some grass in front of our jeep and soak up some sun. Well we had settled down to do some relaxing when I say three airplanes very close to the ground about to cross over the woods where we had heard sporadic fire. I though wow I didn’ t think this was bad enough to call in air support. About that time they made a very steep turn to the left. Then is when I saw the white crosses on the wings. Boy these were no friends of ours. The line up right on us and started firing it was too late to do anything. I watched the bullets from one plane hitting the ground. This is one of the times I reached out and shook the hand of the grim reaper. I was lying about two feet in front of the left front wheel of the jeep. The last bullet hit between the tire and bumper. One more round and he would have had me. They were so low they had to pull up or hit the ground. I couldn’ t believe I had made it through that one. An hour or so the fighting was over and the krauts were either dead or prisoners.
The next few days are a little fuzzy. We went about our business as usual.
I have to back track to the area we were in when I was the big hero capturing two old men; while we were there two soldiers came into our area, one American and one British. They had escaped from a prisoner of war camp that was about 30 kilometers away. Our orders wee to hold in that town till further orders. These boys told us that it would be a piece of cake to take the two towns between there and the camp. We talked it over and were told, if any attempt to get to those prisoners it would have to be a volunteer operation. My little section volunteered to try to get the prisoner out. Well of we went. Things were uneventful till we reached the first town. Here we ran smack into a huge road block big enough to stop a tank. Bob and Sellers said they would go see if they could round up some civilians to remove the road block. Wasn’ t long till the place was crawling with people getting the thing cleared took quite a while. I was draped over my machine gun when suddenly there was a crashing on the metal floor of the jeep. I jumped out of my skin turned and here was a kraut soldier put his hands over his head I could tell he was laughing to himself at scaring the hell out of me. Would you believe by the time the road was cleared we had 900 German prisoners. We were only 10. We wondered, what the hell are we going to do with all these prisoners. We gave them a white sheet to put on a pole and headed them back to the rest of the outfit. This obstacle was cleared and away we went. The next town was no problem, we went right through it. We had the two soldiers with us that had told us about this camp. They wee helping us find our way. We were moving along fat dumb and happy not expecting anything to happen when we were fired on from a hill beside the road. We immediately started returning the fire. We could see some activity on the side of the hill Freddie Guateras and his relief jumped out and went after them. They brought back with them 30 very young boys. There rifles were taller than most of them. They were crying, scared to death. Wasn’ t long till we had them at ease and we joked with them and had them laughing in no time. We told the boys to stay put, that no one would harm them and that we would be back after them. Later, when we came on out, way out here they were waiting. We moved cautiously into town. When all those allied prisoners saw us bedlam broke out. One prisoner would bring a kraut guard over and ask us to take care of him cause he was good to them. Next we would see a prisoner march a guard out of the compound and put a bullet through his head. This sort of thing was going on all around us. We finally got things under control. We headed allied and Germans alike back toward our outfit 30 kilometers away. We moved our jeep deeper into the town. Came across this old castle type building where a very sophisticated lady and a young man met us outside. I held them there while Bob and Sellers went inside, searched the place, found a german uniform wadded up in a paper bag. They brought it out and told this young guy who had said he was not in the army cause he was unfit, to put on the uniform. He did and it fit perfectly. Well we took him with us. W
hen we arrived back with the rest of C troop. We had prisoners coming out our ears. Some of the guys were playing catch with the little boys. One of the rescued prisoners, a British soldier got the little boys one at a time to identify who their leader was. Each and every one of them identified this punk that had to try on the uniform as their leader, who had told them to fight to the death, then run off and left them alone on that hill. I have always felt relieved that we didn’ t kill or wound any of them. This British soldier had hands on him like sledgehammers. He took this guy and beat him till I was sure he must have been dead. The last I saw of him, he was thrown on a six by truck and hauled away. Again we were moving right along into Czechoslovakia. Our little 42 squadron was credited with taking the first large town in Czech. We had worked our way through the town, which is of considerable size. We came across a road that ran into the one we were on which we were on another group of C troopers merged with us at this point. We had a few skirmishes nothing that we weren’ t able to handle. No injuries or deaths on our side, some krauts were killed, how many and by whom we never knew. About the time we merged on the road, some one yelled krauts. Every one jumped off the jeep and hit the dirt. I had to sit up there like a sore thumb and with till some kraut picked me off. No one had pointed out where they were. I looked around sort of frantically trying to see an enemy before he could get a shot off at me. It turned out that the Germans were down in a lower area with an 88mm cannon self propelled. We figured we should call up the TD’ s (tank destroyers) which we did. Here came this big tank with a 90mm cannon enough to blow that gun to pieces.. They pulled out to get a bead on the 88, took two shots, pulled out and left us with our position exposes. Fortunately the 88 was abandoned. It was getting late in the evening so we pulled back to a house that was in the center of the forked road. One thing, just before we pulled back we saw a kraut soldier at least he looked like a soldier run under a house. We burned it to the foundation. Back at the house we were going through checking for kraut that might be hiding there and slip up on us and blow us away. For dismounted work I carried B.A.R. (Browning automatic rifle) with one clip ready to fire and ten more clips in a harness, twenty rounds each. I headed down some stairs that led to a basement, to go into the basement I would have to make a left turn in order to view the entire room. As I worked my way down the stairs I heard what I though was water splash, man up went the red flag. I stopped and took a grenade off my belt, pulled the pin, eased close to the basement door and prepared to throw the grenade into the room then see what was making the noise, see what was there after I had stepped into the door. I would have been totally exposed. I didn’ t think that was very wise. So I started forward with the grenade and as I started to throw it I stopped in the middle of the throw. Don’ t ask me why! I put the pin back in the grenade, checked to see if the BAR was ready to fire, then stepped into the door and almost pulled the trigger. Wow, my heart sank to my toes. Here was a young girl with a baby a couple of months old. The girl’ s father and mother and grandmother. I would have killed all of them in that confined space. I felt about half sick the rest of the day. We were in the town a couple of days and visited with the family. I still have a picture of the young girl and her father. After a couple of days we moved on.
Things were moving so fast, from then one most everything is a blur of sorts.
We met the Russians in the small town of Myslive Czechoslovakia. Then we pulled back to a small German town of Miltoch to wait in the Occupation of Germany until we were sent home.
—– Cliff Miller