September 26, 2023

History Content for the Future

World War Two Day by Day

On 24 September 1944, Staff Sergeant Joseph Edward Schaefer (aged 26), Company I, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, singlehandedly captures 10 German soldiers and repels an assault on his unit's position near Stolberg, Germany.

For his actions, SSG Schaefer will be awarded the Medal of Honor on 22 August 1945. His citation will read:
˝He was in charge of a squad of the 2d Platoon in the vicinity of Stolberg, Germany, early in the morning of 24 September 1944, when 2 enemy companies supported by machineguns launched an attack to seize control of an important crossroads which was defended by his platoon. One American squad was forced back, another captured, leaving only SSG Schaefer's men to defend the position. To shift his squad into a house which would afford better protection, he crawled about under heavy small-arms and machinegun fire, instructed each individual, and moved to the building... S/Sgt. Schaefer assigned his men to positions and selected for himself the most dangerous one at the door. With his M1 rifle, he broke the first wave of infantry thrown toward the house. The Germans attacked again with grenades and flame throwers but were thrown back a second time, S/Sgt. Schaefer killing and wounding several. Regrouped for a final assault, the Germans approached from 2 directions. One force drove at the house from the front, while a second group advanced stealthily along a hedgerow. Recognizing the threat, S/Sgt. Schaefer fired rapidly at the enemy before him, killing or wounding all 6; then, with no cover whatever, dashed to the hedgerow and poured deadly accurate shots into the second group, killing 5, wounding 2 others, and forcing the enemy to withdraw. He scoured the area near his battered stronghold and captured 10 prisoners... Remaining in the lead, crawling and running in the face of heavy fire, he overtook the enemy, and liberated the American squad captured earlier in the battle. In all, single-handed and armed only with his rifle, he killed between 15 and 20 Germans, wounded at least as many more, and took 10 prisoners.

Picture: Crew of an American 57 mm anti-tank gun firing in Aachen
Source: U.S. Army

1741 21

On 21 September 1944, Private John Roderick Towle (aged 19), Company 'C', 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (504th PIR), part of the 82nd "All American" Airborne Division, singlehandedly engages multiple German armored vehicles and destroys an infantry strongpoint near the village of Oosterhout, Netherlands.

For his actions, PVT Towle will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on 15 March 1945. His citation will read:
˝The rifle company in which Pvt. Towle served as rocket launcher gunner was occupying a defensive position in the west sector of the recently established Nijmegen bridgehead when a strong enemy force of approximately 100 infantry supported by 2 tanks and a half-track formed for a counterattack. With full knowledge of the disastrous consequences resulting not only to his company but to the entire bridgehead by an enemy breakthrough, Pvt. Towle immediately and without orders left his foxhole and moved 200 yards in the face of intense small-arms fire to a position on an exposed dike roadbed. From this precarious position Pvt. Towle fired his rocket launcher at and hit both tanks to his immediate front. Armored skirting on both tanks prevented penetration by the projectiles, but both vehicles withdrew slightly damaged. Still under intense fire and fully exposed to the enemy, Pvt. Towle then engaged a nearby house which 9 Germans had entered and were using as a strongpoint and with 1 round killed all 9. Hurriedly replenishing his supply of ammunition, Pvt. Towle, motivated only by his high conception of duty which called for the destruction of the enemy at any cost, then rushed approximately 125 yards through grazing enemy fire to an exposed position from which he could engage the enemy half-track with his rocket launcher. While in a kneeling position preparatory to firing on the enemy vehicle, Pvt. Towle was mortally wounded by a mortar shell. By his heroic tenacity, at the price of his life, Pvt. Towle saved the lives of many of his comrades and was directly instrumental in breaking up the enemy counterattack.˝

Picture: Airborne Infantry Advances in Holland
Source: Signal Corps Archives

1951 16

On 18 September 1944, the Royal Navy submarine HMS Tradewind torpedoes and sinks the Japanese 'hell ship' Jun'yō Maru.

As the survivors from the Rakuyō Maru and Kachidoki Maru sunk by U.S. submarines, which you can read about in our 12 September post, were waiting to be rescued, the Jun'yō Maru, the epitome of a 'hell ship', arrived at the port of Tanjung Priok on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies on 14 September.

Japanese troops began cramming some 4,320 Javanese forced laborers (jap. rōmushas) into holds 1 and 2, and around 2,200 POWs (1,382 Dutch, 58 British, eight U.S., three Australians, and several hundred Ambonese and Menadonese soldiers from the KNIL, the Royal Dutch Indies’ Army) into holds 3 and 4. Preparing the old and rusty ship took two days, during which several dozen POWs and rōmushas died from exposure on the top deck.

At 1500 hours on 16 September, Jun'yō Maru sailed for Padang, from where the prisoners were to be transported to Pekanbaru and build a railway across Sumatra. The prisoner's suffering continued, with no drinking water and very little food aboard the ship. Those who perished were thrown overboard.

Today, the Jun'yō Maru, escorted by two IJN motor boars, sails along the eastern coast of Sumatra. HMS Tradewind, patrolling the area, spots the small convoy. For Tradewind's commander, Lieutenant-Commander Maydon, the unmarked and lightly escorted cargo ship is a perfect target. At around 1600 hours, he orders four torpedoes to be fired.

Two torpedoes hit the Jun'yō Maru, and the Japanese crew takes the only two lifeboats. Within 15 minutes, the ship lists heavily, and then her bow rises vertically above the water before disappearing beneath the waves, taking hundreds down with her.

Her two escorts pick up some survivors, but those deemed too weak are thrown back into the water.

Japanese vessels will continue picking up survivors tomorrow, saving some 680 POWs and 200 rōmushas. Those survivors will immediately be placed in the prison in Padang and then taken to Pekanbaru to work on the railway.

Some 5,640 will perish at sea.

Picture: Japanese cargo ship Jun'yō Maru in 1933
Source: Vancouver Archives

1728 34

On 14 September 1944, First Lieutenant Edgar H. Lloyd (aged 22), Company E, 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division, single-handedly neutralizes five German machine gun positions near Pompey, France.

For his actions, 1LT Lloyd will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on 7 April 1945. His citation will read:
˝For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. On September 14, 1944, Company E, 319th Infantry, with which 1st Lt. Lloyd was serving as a rifle platoon leader, was assigned the mission of expelling an estimated enemy force of 200 men from a heavily fortified position near Pompey, France. As the attack progressed, 1st Lt. Lloyd's platoon advanced to within 50 yards of the enemy position where they were caught in a withering machinegun and rifle crossfire which inflicted heavy casualties and momentarily disorganized the platoon. With complete disregard for his own safety, 1st Lt. Lloyd leaped to his feet and led his men on a run into the raking fire, shouting encouragement to them. He jumped into the first enemy machinegun position, knocked out the gunner with his fist, dropped a grenade, and jumped out before it exploded. Still shouting encouragement he went from 1 machinegun nest to another, pinning the enemy down with submachine gun fire until he was within throwing distance, and then destroyed them with hand grenades. He personally destroyed 5 machineguns and many of the enemy, and by his daring leadership and conspicuous bravery inspired his men to overrun the enemy positions and accomplish the objective in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. His audacious determination and courageous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States.˝

Picture: Men of US Army 2nd Infantry Division advancing into Brest, France under German machine gun fire, 9 Sep 1944
Source: Wikimedia Commons

1566 10

On 9 September 1944, Belgian Foreign Minister Paul Henri Spaak announces the signing of the Netherlands–Belgium–Luxembourg Customs Convention.

With the war's outcome looking increasingly certain to be Allied victory in Europe, the three governments-in-exile already signed a monetary agreement on 21 October 1943, which fixed exchange rates between the Belgian–Luxembourg franc (which have operated under a common exchange rate since 1921) and the Dutch guilder.

Four days ago, on 5 September, they Netherlands–Belgium–Luxembourg Customs Convention in London.

Today, Spaak issues a letter to inform Belgian government officials and diplomats of the nature of the treaty:

˝I am writing to inform you that, on 5 September, Belgium and Luxembourg... signed a Customs Union with the Netherlands. Although transitional in nature, the Customs Union is designed to foster economic recovery and to create the conditions for a more permanent union at a later date... Under the Customs Union Agreement... the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union and the Netherlands adopted a common customs tariff that abolishes the collection of all customs duties among them. The common rules applicable to goods from third countries are liberal in nature. All basic food necessities, as well as supplies and equipment needed for resuming production, will be granted temporary duty-free entry. Those items will make up the bulk of imports during the period when the Agreement is in force.

The Agreement sets up four bodies responsible for coordinating the measures established by the Customs Union’s common rules.

A Customs Administration Council will table measures seeking to unify laws and regulations governing the collection of import and excise duties.

An Administrative Committee for the Regulation of External Trade will coordinate rules on import licences and import and export quotas.

A Council for Trade Agreements will coordinate agreements with third countries...˝

Picture: Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (left to right: Paul-Henri Spaak, Eelco van Kleffens, and Joseph Bech) sign the monetary agreement on 21 October 1943
Source: Netherlands National Archives

1950 8

On 6 September 1944, members of the Frank and van Pels families arrive at Auschwitz concentration camp after being deported from the Netherlands by Nazi authorities.

Anne Frank, her father Otto, mother Edith, and sister Margot went into hiding in an Achterhuis (Secret Annex) located behind Otto's office at 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam on 6 July 1942, shortly after the Germans began systematically deporting Jews from the Netherlands. Joined by the van Pels family (Hermann, Auguste, and Peter), and Fritz Pfeffer, a family friend, they managed to live and avoid discovery by the Nazis with the help of Otto's employees.

That is until SS-Oberscharführer Karl Silberbauer discovered the secret passage in the building just over a month ago on 4 August. To learn more about the circumstances of the arrest, check out Episode 108 of Spartacus' War Against Humanity Series by following the link in our bio.

After being interned for a month at the Westerbork transit camp in the Northeastern Netherlands, the Frank and van Pels families and Pfeffer were forced into a freight train headed for Auschwitz alongside 1,019 other Jewish prisoners on 3 September.

Today, the train arrives at Auschwitz. SS guards separate the men from the women and children and begin the selection process. 15-year-old Anne narrowly avoids being selected for extermination in the gas chambers with the 549 children, elderly, and unfit for work. Instead, SS guards force Anne, Margot, and their mother, Edith, into the overcrowded women's barracks and assign them to hard labor in the camp.

Otto is separated from his family, leading them to believe he is among those sent to the gas chambers. The van Pels family and Pfeffer are also selected for hard labor.

Within less than a year, all members of the group that hid in the Secret Annex, except Otto, will die in the Nazi concentration camp system.

Picture: Selection on the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1944
Source: Yad Vashem

2452 41

On 5 September 1944, an SS firing squad executes SOE agent Major 'Guy' Gustave Biéler in Flossenbürg concentration camp.

Born on 26 March 1904 in Beurlay, France, to Swiss parents, Gustave Daniel Alfred Biéler spent most of his youth in Lausanne in Switzerland. In 1924, he emigrated to Montreal, Canada, where he worked as a teacher and translator.

In 1939, Biéler volunteered with the Canadian Officers' Training Corps. By 1940, he was a commissioned officer with the rank of Major in the Le Régiment de Maisonneuve. The regiment was transferred to Scotland early that year, and Biéler was assigned as the unit's intelligence officer, which attracted the attention of SOE's Section F leader, Colonel Maurice Buckmaster. On 4 June 1940, Bieler, codename 'Commandant Guy', became the first Canadian SOE recruit.

However, Biéler's first mission started off poorly. When he parachuted into France on 18 November 1942, Bieler fractured his spine as the result of a rough landing. Even after recovering for months in a Paris hospital and suffering chronic pain, Biéler insisted on completing the mission.

Once he regained mobility and moved to Saint-Quentin, he began intensively recruiting resistance members and civilians into his MUSICIAN circuit. He built an extensive network of 25 teams across northern France despite not having a wireless operator. MUSICIAN soon rose to the top of the Gestapo's most wanted list because of their constant interference with German transportation lines.

Biéler finally got his wireless operator, Yolande Beekman, on 18 September 1943. With Beekman's help, Bieler further expanded MUSICIAN and intensified sabotage operations.

But the Germans arrested Beekman and Biéler this January. You can read about the arrest and Beekman's story in our 13 January post.

The Gestapo subjected Bieler to three months of brutal torture and interrogation, and when they couldn't extract any information, transferred him to Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria.

Bieler's strength has earned him respect even among the Germans, as an SS honor guard executes him today.

Picture: Execution site in the Flossenbürg concentration camp
Source: U.S. National Archives

1913 2

On 4 September 1944, Private Gino Joseph Merli (aged 20), 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, remains at his position near Sars-la-Bruyère in Belgium even as German troops repeatedly overrun it.

For his actions, Pvt. Merli will be awarded the Medal of Honor on 15 June 1945. His citation will read:
˝He was serving as a machine gunner in the vicinity of Sars la Bruyere, Belgium, on the night of 4–5 September 1944, when his company was attacked by a superior German force. Its position was overrun and he was surrounded when our troops were driven back by overwhelming numbers and firepower. Disregarding the fury of the enemy fire concentrated on him he maintained his position, covering the withdrawal of our riflemen and breaking the force of the enemy pressure. His assistant machine gunner was killed and the position captured; the other 8 members of the section were forced to surrender. Pfc. Merli slumped down beside the dead assistant gunner and feigned death. No sooner had the enemy group withdrawn then he was up and firing in all directions. Once more his position was taken and the captors found 2 apparently lifeless bodies. Throughout the night Pfc. Merli stayed at his weapon. By daybreak the enemy had suffered heavy losses, and as our troops launched an assault, asked for a truce. Our negotiating party, who accepted the German surrender, found Pfc. Merli still at his gun. On the battlefield lay 52 enemy dead, 19 of whom were directly in front of the gun. Pfc. Merli's gallantry and courage, and the losses and confusion that he caused the enemy, contributed materially to our victory.˝

Picture: Men of Company M, 3d Battalion 18th Infantry Regiment,1st Infantry Drivision, lay in wait for German paratroopers being driven out of the woods in Sourbrodt, Belgium
Source: Signal Corps Archives SC 198297

1652 11

On 27 August 1944, Technical Sergeant Stephen Raymond Gregg (aged 30), 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, provides cover for the evacuation of multiple wounded soldiers and continues the fight after escaping capture by the Germans near Montélimar, France.

For his actions, TSgt Gregg Sr. will be awarded the Medal of Honor on 17 April 1945, with the citation:
˝As his platoon advanced upon the enemy positions; the leading scout was fired upon and Second Lieutenant Gregg immediately put his machineguns into action to cover the advance of the riflemen. The Germans, who were at close range, threw hand grenades at the riflemen, killing some and wounding seven. Each time a medical aid man attempted to reach the wounded, the Germans fired at him. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Second Lieutenant Gregg took one of the light .30-caliber machineguns, and firing from the hip, started boldly up the hill with the medical aid man following him. Although the enemy was throwing hand grenades at him, Second Lieutenant Gregg remained and fired into the enemy positions while the medical aid man removed the seven wounded men to safety. When Second Lieutenant Gregg had expended all his ammunition, he was covered by four Germans who ordered him to surrender. Since the attention of most of the Germans had been diverted by watching this action, friendly riflemen were able to maneuver into firing positions. One, seeing Second Lieutenant Gregg's situation, opened fire on his captors. The four Germans hit the ground and thereupon Second Lieutenant Gregg recovered a machine pistol from one of the Germans and managed to escape to his other machinegun positions. He manned a gun, firing at his captors, killed one of them and wounded the other. This action so discouraged the Germans that the platoon was able to continue its advance up the hill to achieve its objective...˝

Picture: US Army soldiers push inland after landing in Southern France
Source: Wikimedia Commons

1850 14