On January 26-29, 2017 elements of the WWII Historical Association (WWIIHA), dedicated to promoting, preserving and respecting the spirit and memory of the World War II soldier, met at Fort Indiantown Gap, a National Guard Training Center northeast of Harrisburg Pennsylvania, to recognize and recreate the service and sacrifice of both Allied and German soldiers who fought during the Battle of the Bulge. Reenactors from all over the east coast, mid-western states and even a few “Tommies” from the United Kingdom, gathered on a windy and cold weekend. Beginning on Thursday night, the troops stayed in WWII-era barracks—although modernized since the ’40s—and throughout the weekend, they operated in WWII vehicles, both German and American, and Jeeps, Half-tracks and a Sherman tank. Thankfully for the Allies, Tiger tanks were unavailable.
Chow halls hummed with activity to feed the troops, which numbered near 1000, and included U.S. Army, German and civilians dressed in uniforms or other clothing of that era. Armed Services Radio provided (FCC- approved) radio broadcasts consistent with the times. A USO called the “Drunken Monkey,” the GIs “home away from home” offered appropriate refreshments to all Allied soldiers, just as long as they had their approved passes! The MPs were on patrol.
For a fee, various vendors supplied troops with all types of equipment, clothing, and other sundries. To boost morale, “Classic Pin-up” girls stopped by to boost the sagging morale of those frontline troops returning for R&R. They were every bit as welcomed as Jane Russell, Rita Hayworth, and Betty Grable would have been in their day.
After breakfast and necessary equipment and vehicle checks on Friday morning, Allied units departed for the field at 0800. They received their safety briefing and either mounted assigned vehicles or where bused to the training area. Upon arrival, the troops disembarked, formed up according to their assigned command, and then stepped off into history.
Friday’s event consisted of small-scale troop movements and focused on securing three bridges by elements of the 82nd, including the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment and 101st Airborne, who were reinforced by the 28th and 106th Divisions. All three bridges changed sides several times that afternoon, with a final—and, of course countered—assault by German infantry, supported by light armor, resulting in the surrender or capture of the attacking units. The great movie directors John Ford and John Huston wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Saturday’s event involved all attendees, and fitting of January weather and of the conditions during the Bulge, snow began to fall. Many motorized units of the American defenders became lost due to the lack of road signage, and at one point ran into a German patrol: “Nuts!” Yet, due to the heavy snowfall, most units were able to escape. As the morning dragged on, the weather began to clear enough to allow the Allied forward observers to spot enemy armor and infantry in the open. A platoon of the 327th GIR, equipped with three mortar teams, were able to drop sufficient HE rounds, resulting (according to the ground empires) in a 500% casualty rate of the enemy, halting any more armor or infantry advances in their sector. Many more engagements continued throughout the day.
By 1430 hours, the event was declared over and both Allied and Axis troops began to assemble in the roadway for the long march out of the training area.
Thus concludes another successful “Battle of the Bulge” at the “Gap” re-enactment. Many participants remarked that this was the best event they’ve ever attended, and in the end, we achieved our objective to honor and remember those who served and sacrificed at the Battle of the Bulge.
—Submitted by Chris Hennen, Member; story by John Cronin and Joe Colombo; photo by Marc Herman