The story of a small town in Belgium, Stavelot

The story of a small town in Belgium, Stavelot

December 16, 1944

1rst Lt Franck WARNOCK †

On 16 December 1944, was launched the last great German offensive of the World War II. A few into Germany from the Dutch border but still miles short of the Rhine, the 30th Infantry Division was enjoying a much needed rest and absorbing replacements. Since the early days of Normandy the Division had performed with distinction and had earned the nickname "WORKHORSE OF THE WESTERN FRONT". The Division was once again up to full strength with a solid core of good leaders from squad sergeants up to Major General Leland Hobbs, the Division Commander.

The three regiments, 117th, 119th and 120th had been battered and bruised in the preceding months but were prepared to "do it again". The four artillery battalions (113rd, 118th,197th, 230th), the 105th Engineers, the 743rd Tank Battalion, the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the support units all felt confident of handling most anything that might come.

On this date, 16th December, Major General Hobbs was wondering about the whereabouts of the plane that was to take him to London on leave. Also on this date Colonel Johnson, commanding the 117th Regiment had already started out for seven days also in London. These plans were to change abruptly. Down in 1st Battalion of the 117th Regiment with "D" Company, the Lieutenant (Frank Warnock) commanding the 2nd Platoon of machine gunners was drilling the new replacements with the assembly and disassembly of the Browning 30 caliber machine guns - blindfolded. Others were writing letters or reading. The place was a shattered German village that had been taken a few weeks before and was now 2-3 miles in rear of the front lines.

The next day, the 17th, the situation in 1st Army was becoming critical and the alert went out to 30th Division and by late afternoon the whole Division was moving.

 

 

On 18th December 1944, We came off the hill and made our way to the town square at Stavelot. I am not even sure at what time of day we came off the hill. My 30th Division history book reports that we were in town by 1100 hours. As we emerged from the woods and came down the hill, we could easily see a German armored column on the other side of the river ready to come into town, but not moving. some of their crews were outside of their tanks and vehicles and appeared to be just waiting for the order to move. As soon as they saw us they immediately manned their weapons and started firing. But it was too late. We were into town and we wondered why the main body of German armor had not crossed the bridge prior to our arrival. A blunder perhaps? Not at all. Those of us with "A" Company who came into the town square soon saw the reason. I personally took a position on the second floor of a larger building and, looking out the window, could easily see a good portion of the square below me, and the bridge hardly over a stone's throw away. A lone U.S. tank destroyer was fighting an unqual fight, a German Mark V or Mark VI trying to come over the bridge at less than 100 yards. What must have been a lucky hit caused the German to withdraw. This lone U.S. tank destroyer with it's heroic crew and the narrow bridge had done its work well. Later it was said that there were two tank destroyer. This may be, but as I remember, the second tank destroyer was disabled and was not firing.

 

22 or 23 December 1944

I think, about 22 or 23 December 1944, it was from the front room of one building that I had called for a Sherman tank to fire one round into the side of the house at ground level and then to cease fire. The house was loaded with German troops and when the rounds were fire they immediately took cover down the cellar; others ran up the stairway to the second floor expecting others rounds to come in. Sergeant Cirullo and myself immediately rushed through the front door and found the room empty. But we saw the opening to the cellar and threw grenades down that opening and heard to return fire upwards through the floor. At this point I yelled loudly for Pvt. Fred Vendt, who was just outside the front door, as he could speak German. He joined us at once and yelled at the Germans to surrender. After another two or three grenades there was no problem. After several voice screamed "JA, JA", they came up, hands raised, and were searched while I went into the cellar. I found two or three dead and one still alive with his jaw blown away. I rejoined the others outside and counted 12 prisoners. I must say too, that while we were tossing grenades into the cellar and the German were firing upwards through the floor, suddently, at the head of the stairway on the second floor, appeared a German SS with his machine pistolat the ready. He did not get a chance to fire a shot. He was shot dead by Sergeant Mike Cirullo.

 

Massacre at the Legaye's house

It was just few step away, across the street in this near vicinity that we came across the butchery by perhaps these same S.S. of the 23 civilians of the city. Perhaps if we had known of this massacre at the time of capture, they would not have been taken prisoner. I heard and read long later that they were tried by military court and hanged. Good! About the butchery of the 23 civilians, I distinctly heard the screams, the sound of the shots and also the distinctive fire from a German machine-pistol. We called the weapon a burp gun because of its extreme rate of fire.. When we took that place from the Germans I can also say that a boy of about 8-10 years, wearing no hat, had been smashed in the head by a rifle butt. He lay in a heap with the imprint of the rifle butt clearly showing. Yes, I counted 23 dead in an area hardly more than 10 feet by 20 feet.

 

After Christmas

On the 21st or 22nd of December, (the date is unsure ...it could have been after Christmas) it was reported to me that a group of people had taken refuge close by in the cellar of a large house or small ch teau. So I took 6 or so of my men, went to this place and found 20 or 25 people, all old women and children. All scared and apprehensive. Firmly in charge was a woman about 35-40 years of age. Under bitter circumstances she may have appeared closer to 30. She did not speak English nor I French. There was no need. She spoke to her people rapidly and just as rapidly we all moved back to the safety of my sector. As we came back to the railway cut I directed her to take her group to the center of town and ask for battalion headquarters, Colonel Frankland. She said thank you to me and that was the last I saw. I notified Battalion Headquarters by field telephone of their approach and was acknowledged. I was 24 years old and was in charge of the machine gun crews on that flank of the Battalion.

 

Few days later

A few days later the weather turned very cold and we were very much in need of our overcoats. We had taken them off in the woods in the approach of Stavelot on the 18th, anticipating a need to move fast and be unencumbered. This was done on orders by our Lieutenant Coonel Frankland, the Battalion commander. We never went back to recover them and today, there may be upwards of 700 U.S. Army overcoasts laying in a more or less straight line hardly more than a mile from the town square of Stavelot. The 1st Battalion, 117th Infantry Regiment was relieved by the 2nd Battaillon, 112th Infantry Regiment, of the 28th Infantry Division on January 11, 1945 and we moved back to Sart, Belgium. We only stayed the one night in Sart and the next day the 1st Battalion moved through Malmedy, went by five points (Baugnez Crossroads) in a road march column and witnessed that day the removal of the frozen corpses of the 80 or so American prisoners who had been shot several weeks before, after having surrendered.(17th December 1944).

Citation:

Award of the Distinguished-Service Cross

 

SECOND LIEUTENANT FRANK WARNOCK, (0-1322108) Infantry, while serving with the Army of the United States, distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against the enemy. On 8 July 1944, an attack near Pont de St Fromond, France, was halted by intense enemy machine-gun fire. Lieutenant Warnock, a platoon leader, was advancing alone toward the enemy positions when he observed a column of enemy troops. Opening fire with his carabine, he killed or wounded six of them. Later, he continued his advance toward the two enemy machine-gun positions, hurled two hand grenades into one of them, killing and wouding the occupants. Advancing on the other position, he threw his remaining grenade and charged, killing the entire enemy force. The extraordinary heroism and courageous actions of Lieutenant Warnock reflect great credit upon himself and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.