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"The Red Ball Express"

Submitted by: CMSgt. Robert Frink - March 27, 2005


My official War Department orders for me to be assigned to my twin brothers unit had their impact on the personnel people because I was released and sent on my way to Southhampton where on June 16, 1944 I boarded a British vessel bound for Omaha Beach.

This was a fairly large ship and the remarkable thing about it that below decks all the bulkheads were removed and you could see from the bow to the stern without seeing anything but me and infantry men.

It's not hard to imagine what would have happened if we had been hit by artillery or a torpedo. The ship pulled up to one of the famous Mulberry docks that had been towed from England in the first days of the invasion.

All the troops, including me, went topside and over the side on cargo nets. Reaching a tent of officers who were nothing but traffic directors my orders were read and I was told to head up the road and contact somebody in the Red Ball Express and have them take me toward the Brittany peninsula and watch for signs of my brothers unit, the 473rd AAA AW Bn (SP).

The Red Ball Express was a famous transportation outfit that ran trucks of all sizes along those roads leading to the front delivering supplies, fuel, ammunition and rations to all the units of the invasion force. My ride was on top of equipment on a 6 X 6 truck through rain, mortar and artillery barrages for three days making our way to the Brittany peninsula and the town of Heric.

My brothers unit was part of the force that had, along with other forces, penned in about 60,000Germans who were protecting the submarine pens at St. Nazaire and Lorient.

Since I was now a member of this unit with my brother I will refer to it as our unit. We were in constant action from that point onward and we were transferred to the 8th Armored Division on February 11, 1945.

Most of our action involved protecting bridges over which our tanks had to pass. (By the end of the war our unit had shot down 87 German aircraft and a number of probables).

In early April we were reassigned to the 2ndArmored Division and within just a day or so were assigned back to the 8th Armored Division. On April 5th we found comfortable and dry billets in a German factory that formerly had manufactured hydrogen fuel for the German rockets. This was near the town of Bad Lauterburg.

On that same morning, April 5th a courier run was being made to the city of Braunchweig to the north of us. Our jeep, driven by Pfc Lionel Littlewas without a top and the windshield was folded in the down position. A pedestal mount with a 50 cal machine gun mount was in the back and on the front affixed to the bumper as a vertical piece of angle iron at the top of which was a sharpened hook. It was designed to cut ropes and cables the Germans would stretch across the road to decapitate the occupants.

Riding along that morning was Sgt. Malcolm Shepard and me. He was in the front passenger seat and I was in the rear.

We left at about 9 amon a two lane winding paved roadway. We had traveled north between 8 and 10 miles and the roadway became even more winding although it was generally gentle curves following the course of the river to our right (east).

We had come around a gentle curve with a fairly long straight away ahead of us. Up ahead in the middle of the road lay what appeared to be a burlap sack with something in it.

Shepard told Little to stop so he could check out the sack. I told Shepard that we should not be stopping for any reason in such an isolated place. But being in charge he insisted. No sooner than he dismounted the jeep and approached the sack we all heard the words, in German, "Hande Hoch" which means "hands up". I turned to look and saw four men in German military uniforms with rifles and machine-pistols. Two of the youngest were wearing red-cross arm bands. I was mortified, angry and yes scared too, that Shepard had fallen for the oldest ruse in the books. The road way was completely empty in both directions so we had no choice but to surrender to them. I really was furious and made some profane remarks to Shepard for getting us into the situation.

I got a closer look at their uniforms and noted that they were wearing the insignia of the Waffen SS. The man that was in charge was the oldest and later told me that he had fought on the Russian front and also in Italy and France against the Americans. It was apparent to me that he was aprofessional soldier and he ordered his companions around indicating that he was used to being obeyed. One of the men then took over the jeep and drove off to the north.

The other three ordered us up a steep, heavily wooded hill away from the road. After about thirty minutes of this they stopped to rest. All the time I was remembering my training that they best time to escape is as soon after capture as possible. When we stopped to rest no one sat down. The senior man was armed with a machine-pistol which he had slung on his back. He had a pistol hanging from his wrist on a thong as he smoked a cigarette. I was standing near him. At my feet was a large rounded stone about 8 or 9 inches in diameter. The other two Germans had leaned their rifles against a tree. At this point I thought we had a chance to turn this situation around. I knew that these men did not understand English although I knew a good smattering of German.

I briefly told Little and Shepard of my plan. Little said "Yes" he could take care of his man. I asked Shepard if he could take care of his man and his answer was "No". I knew that it would take a coordinated effort on the part of all three of us and it was a tremendous disappointment to hear Shepard's "no". I was reasonably sure that if we three had done the job we would have overcome these men. I was prepared to reach down, pick that rock up and bash it into the face of my target. Best laid plans....poof!!

After finishing their cigarettes and they continued pressing us up that steep hill e came to a point where we met a dirt road. Shortly our jeep drove up and everyone got into it. I noted that the windshield was in its up position and the 50 cal machine-gun was gone.

We finally arrived at a large clearing and about 50 or 60 yards away there was a barbed wire enclosure with about twenty or thirty men in it. We three were taken to a small wooden cabin where we were kept until April 23rd. We were fed with captured American C-rations and potato soup which wasn't too bad.

On the morning of the 23rd two of the Germans took me out and deeper into the woods until we came to a group of tents which is where these men were housed. I was given a shovel and made to dig in a designated area uncovering two or three "jerry" cans of gasoline. I was told to empty two of the cans into the gas tank of our jeep. I was able, without them seeing me, to pour some of the loose dirt at my feet into the gas tank in hopes it would dash their hopes for whatever goal they were going to attempt.Completing my job I was hustled back to the cabin to rejoin my comrades.

Now there were only three of the original four that captured us.

Once inside the cabin they ordered us to remove all our clothing and they did the same. What was happening was we were being made to switch uniforms with them. At this point my apprehensions grew considerably. I asked the senior man what they were going to do with us. He told me, in German that they would let us run off in the forest. I did not believe him.

They took all our clothing, dog tags, all our personal effects, everything and made us don their clothing. I was then dressed in a pair of light green breeches with suspenders, a black turtle neck sweater, a matching green tunic with the typical prussian collar and a pair of shin high jack boots with no stockings.

The cabin was of wood frame and wood exterior with a shingle roof. It was about 16 ft long and 9 ft wide. There was a window at each end. The door was at the center front with a window to each side of it. Inside and against the rear wall were two double all metal bunk beds without mattresses. We were made to line up facing the bunks with our hands on our heads and our elbows resting on the top rail of the beds. Little was to my immediate left and Shepard was to Little's left.

While in that position I heard the door open and someone came inside. I assumed it was an officer because all three of the Germans "popped" to attention. The senior man asked the officer if they should shoot us with their machine pistols or with pistols. The answer was "Mit pistol". When the question was asked I started to turn my head to see who it was that had entered and gave the order and I was promptly rewarded with a pistol butt to the head. I heard the door close and became aware that they had taken a position directly behind us.

At this time Little was crying and asked me to tell them not to shoot us. It was such a poignant request and yet such a useless gesture to make to the Germans. At this time I felt the muzzle of a pistol at the back of my neck. In an effort to see what was going on I believe in the attempt to see out of the corner of my eye I must have inadvertently moved the muzzle slightly off center on my neck. I was silently reciting the Lords Prayer and strange as it may sound I was calm and resigned to the fate that was presenting itself to me.

Then I heard one shot...obviously they all fired simultaneously. In looking back on this I seem to see it all vividly but in slow motion. Weird!! I felt like I had been hit in the head with a baseball bat. My head rocked back and forth from the impact and I fell to the floor like a piece of string. I felt no pain at all but was aware that I was bleeding profusely and I thought they may have hit my jugular vein. I fell over a chair that that had been overturned on the floor and so my eyes were below their eye level . I heard one of them go over and kick Shepard and then Little and then me.

I played dead. They then left, I heard the door close, the jeep start up and drive away. As the door closed Little began to moan and I hurriedly got up and put my hand over his mouth because I did not want them coming back. I do not know who all was in that jeep when it drove away. I do not know what happened to all those men in the barbed wire enclosure.

I waited for a few minutes then I checked Shepard and he was dead, the bullet entering the back of his neck and exiting out his right eye. Little had his wound entering the back of his neck and exiting out the tip of his nose.He was having trouble breathing and was swallowing a lot of blood. I tried, unsuccessfully, to lift and carry him but all I could do was prop him against the bed and go for help.

I then left the cabin and ran down hill in the direction where I thought the road was. During this time, each step I took, I felt a nail in the boot on my right foot which hurt worse than my head wound. After a long run downhill I came to the road but at a place I could not get down to it. It was where the road cut through a hill making the banks almost vertical. I ran along the top of the cut and finally got down to and across the road. I ran down into a marshy area and threw away my tunic which was covered in blood and lay down in that wet grass. I was exhausted and it really felt good.

Within 5 or 10 minutes I heard some vehicles approaching and checked and found that they were some Canadian troops. I walked out to the center of the road with my hands on my head and "surrendered" to them. I convinced them that I was an American and briefly what happened.

They wanted to take me right away to an aid station but they were going the wrong way and I wanted to get back to my unit which had plenty of radios so that a warning could be broadcast about these Germans in American uniforms.A jeep arrived going in the direction I wanted and a young Captain took me to my unit where I reported the event.

Following my limited instructions my brother formed a search party of two half tracks and aboutfifteen men and searched until dark without success. The next morning at dawn the same party left and found Little under a bush unconscious but still alive. He later died in the hospital.

I was taken to an aid station, flown to a hospital in England where they wired my jaws closed81 to allow healing of the compound-comminuted fracture of my upper and lower right mandible. Couldn't eat for three weeks, just soup, soup, soup.

The hunter's (Jaegers Hute) cabin where the dastardly deed was done. According to what my brother told me, who was there at the time, Shepard's body had not yet been removed when one of the troops took the picture. My brother brought the picture home and gave it to me after the war was over.

Photo shows a right side profile of me taken at the hospital in England on the morning of April 25, 1945 about 36 hours after the incident. The entry wound on my neck and the exit wound near my right eye are clearly visible.



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