INTERVIEW WITH CAPTAIN BAUM (TASK FORCE COMMANDER)
AND SGT GRAHAM (TASK FORCE MEMBER)
BY MR. LAKE (WAR CORRESPONDENT) 10 April 1945
What percentage of your force had become casualties up to the time you were about to return?
Of course, I lost men in each town I passed through. When I burned the half-tracks, all that I could barely scrape together were two platoons, which must have been about 110 men. The half-tracks were full of nonserious casualties and the infantry were on the tanks.
Mr. Lake: Would you have had enough gas to return? Cpt Baum:
I had enough gas for a thirty‑eight to forty mile trip, and heading up I covered 49 miles. I wasn't heading back in the same direction from which I had come, but started for the north with hopes of meeting up with the column. When we moved out, they told me they were going in a northeasterly direction and I was to head for that direction.
Mr. Lake: Did you send any radio messages? Cpt Baum:
I sent back three messages, all CW, but didn't have a chance to send any personal ones. Right after I asked for air mission at GEMÜNDEN, I got it that day.
Mr. Lake: Did you see any of the air force? Cpt Baum:
I didn't have time to see any air as I was elsewhere. The P-47's sort of hindered the Krauts around the marshalling area.
Mr. Lake: What was Major Stiller's status? Cpt Baum:
He came along for the ride. He was in a light tank and his only direction in command was in immediate happenings. At one particular time when we dismounted, he did go up with a couple of men to get hold of a peep that had two dead men in it. He cleaned that area himself. He took part in the fighting. I really never knew his mission. He came along for the ride looking for a thrill and got it. The point I want to bring out is that the men who were with me should get the publicity from the personal angle. As soon as more men come back, I'll write up the decorations and you'll be able to get that. My enlisted men and officer personnel were tops. Considering the condition of the troops when we left that night, I got results I never expected. During the fighting and at the time the Kraut liaison plane came around, even the wounded in the half-tracks manned the machine guns in the vehicles - I can't bring up any specific example, but I do know it transpired because I passed up and down the column and saw them on the guns.
Mr. Lake: Can you give some information on the camp? Cpt Baum:
It was immense and heavily guarded. There was no resistance from the towers as the guards took off. About an hour after we arrived the prisoners came out. Only enough personnel to inform the people went into the camp and informed them to go into the woods. I don't think the fence was electrically charged. I went through it a couple of times myself.
Mr. Lake: How did you operate going into towns? Cpt Baum:
When we entered a town if we got any fire, I commanded cease fire or fire. I was right behind the lead tanks. All weapons were fired at suspicious places. No HE was fired at night when passing through town because the column would have to stop.
Did you have complete control of direction even when a bridge was blown? Did you have any alternate routes?
There were none picked in advance an it delayed us for a while until we reorganized as it took a little time to get the infantry out of town.
Mr. Lake: When were you wounded? Cpt Baum:
At GEMUENDEN I was first wounded by bazooka. The tank company and infantry company commanders and myself were standing next to a medium tank when a bazooka shell exploded and particles hit us. The tank commander was pretty well hit in the leg so I ordered him to the half-tracks. I was hit in the knee and hand, touching the bone in both places. I would venture to say that during the whole operation we had 65 to 70 bazookas firing at the column. Most of these near misses were the ones that got the infantrymen.
Mr. Lake: How many German troops did you capture?
Cpt Baum: I must have had close to 200 PW`s of which I turned a good portion over to the Russians. Mr. Lake: During this operation how much confusion would you say you task force created?
I can relatively say that an area with a twenty mile radius was in the most confuse state I saw the Kraut. They didn't know what direction we were coming from or what we were doing there. The sure threw enough stuff in there to stop me.
Mr. Lake: When did the German General get away from you? Cpt Baum:
He was with us in the half-track all the time until we were attacked when the vehicle he was in got hit and that's why the men let him go. He got away in that tussle. Send for Sgt Graham as he can give you more on the personal side as he was with the men.
Mr. Lake: How were you captured? Cpt Baum:
It was around 19:30 hours when a German Sergeant took me. Krauts were all around, but he was the only one near me and shot me with a P 38 when I ran from him. I received a grazing wound in the thigh which was just enough to tell me the fellow could shoot a gun. He had a rifle on his shoulder but pulled his pistol instead as I was only twenty-five feet away. He picked up his rifle and motioned us to come out. About fifteen men who had been captured were lined up a short distance away an if I had shot him, they would have killed them. The Major also persuaded me to go and the Lieutenant helped me along.
Mr. Lake: What day did this task force start out? Cpt Baum: The night of 26 March 1945. Mr. Lake:
Sgt Graham, just bring up the special cases of heroism of different individuals. What was your job in this particular mission?
Sgt Graham: I was platoon leader of the assault gun section.
Mr. Lake: What was the hottest spot during the whole operation?
I think the hottest spot was around the stockade at one time for the infantry guys. We were receiving machine gun and sniper fire from there.
Mr. Lake: Did you knock them out? Sgt Graham:
We knocked out all we could, but when we got in the stockade, they quieted down as it was getting dark.
I had two AG's on the hill supporting the tanks and infantry and these 105's are rough on direct fire so they quit. We lost one AG below the hill just before we came up to the stockade.
Mr. Lake: Was the camp in a hollow? Sgt Graham:
It was on a hill - a saucer shaped piece of ground and the hill was on an angle of 35 degrees from the valley. There was a double row of barbed wire through which we stormed through with tanks. Dismounted men went all through the buildings releasing prisoners.
Mr. Lake: Were there any lights? Sgt Graham: No, they just went off before we got there. Mr. Lake: What sort of greetings did you get?
Sgt Graham: All the guys began climbing on the tanks and kissing and hugging you. We had to push them off.
Mr. Lake: What kind of clothing did they wear? Cpt Baum:
They were in scattered uniform and that in which they were captured - some even had blouses and pinks.
Mr. Lake: How many of these got back? Cpt Baum:
They know of about 15 or 16 right now, but expect there will be more. None of them had compasses and there was too much enemy territory to cover.
Mr. Lake: Did they treat the men rough when they were recaptured? Cpt Baum: Upon recapture, the treatment of the prisoners was excellent. Everybody was surprised.
Mr. Lake: Were you interrogated at all? Cpt Baum:
No, when I got in the town of HUNDSFELD these PW's with me told the German lieutenant that I had been wounded trying to escape from the camp and they immediately threw me on the side and left me lay.
Mr. Lake: They didn't know who the leader was? Cpt Baum:
Major Stiller was their prize catch. After they got him, they knew he wasn't from the camp. He also tried to get in, but the guard with him wouldn't be bribed and took him. He was still alive and well when I left him.
Mr. Lake: Did you identify any divisions in the area? Cpt Baum: Yes, one SS Division, Panzer, and one Infantry Division. I didn't get any prisoners except those at Lohr and didn't go for identification when I learned how many there were. I got out.
Were liaison planes over you at any time?
Cpt Baum: A liaison plane got up for communication, but couldn't go over me as they couldn't go out forty or fifty miles with those things. Mr. Lake: How far away from HAMMELBURG was the military stockade? Cpt Baum:
This place was two and a half kilometer south of HAMMELBURG. The camp had everything there including artillery, bazooka ranges and even pillboxes from which they observed the bursts. That's where they stayed. I was parked right in the middle of the area on that hill when daylight came. I would have never got to the camp had I gone east. My move made it successful.
Mr. Lake: Did you see any men that fired guns while wounded? Sgt Graham:
Yes, I saw that. When we stormed the stockade I saw a man get hit by machine gun fire, fall down and race up and fire at the machine gun that hit him. He was on foot and got hit quite bad. He raised to his knees and fired until they mowed him down.
That was typical of the whole operation. My medics were operating the best they ever did. When evacuating wounded, they'd take Krauts too and make an encirclement of the area so the Krauts wouldn't fire at them. There was never an order questioned throughout the whole trip, and not a peep or skwack out of any of them.
Mr. Lake: How did you get in with the Serbs? Cpt Baum:
The officer's place was vacated and so they formed the Serbian hospital. That's where I got in with them. There were no German nurses in the Kraut hospital.
Mr. Lake: Did the 14th know you were in the vicinity? Cpt Baum:
I assume they ran into a couple of PW's and some sort of direction of attack must have been made. They knew of me.
Mr. Lake: Were there any Serbs in your ward?
They were separated. There were so many wounded they opened up a new ward. My men and a group of officers were in my ward - about 35 men. A few more evacuated to BAD KISSINGEN.
Mr. Lake: How were they selected? Cpt Baum:
This Major made the selection. A lot of the cases in the hospital were just in there and were considered litter cases to the Krauts. The German doctor never questioned anything about the patients. Major Burn was in charge of the American patients and he leisurely selected them.
Mr. Lake: How did you get back, Sgt Graham? Sgt Graham:
I walked back all the way from where we got knocked out to the 45th Division line. With a group of four I took off from the hill into the woods. Two miles out we ran into a German patrol and the others got captured.
Mr. Lake: How come you didn't get captured? Sgt Graham:
I told them to go up a draw and that they would be safe. I had quite a bit of cover and they went up on the other side of the hill and the Germans fired at them. I took off up the draw and was covered by the woods. The fourth day out I ran into a German corporal who had a P 38 all cocked and aimed at me. I also had my .45 pointed at him but it happened that he spoke good English and told me it was no use. I told him to put his down and I would mine. I told him I wan heading for the front lines but didn't say how many days I'd been out. He then asked me to take his P 38 and shoot a hole through his arm so that he could then go back to town and get evacuated. He said he had a wife and children. I knew that if I fired then I would draw the attention of troops in the vicinity so I took his pistol and told him to head out. He told me to avoid all towns as there was home guard in each town and that it was best to travel through the woods. The fifth day I was quite hungry as I hadn't any food so I went up to a farmhouse and decided I'd go in and ask for food. I got halfway up the twelve concrete steps when I met the German farmer with three soldiers going down. I wasn't hungry anymore. It was dark so they passed me and went into the barn. I didn't have any food for six days. I had plenty of water out of the creeks and when I got tired I took a nap in the woods. The sixth day the 45th Division was attacking five kilometers from where I was so I was going in that direction. I met three German officers in the woods a Major, Lieutenant and a rank officer higher than Major. I drew my .45 on them and motioned them on down. One with field glasses spoke good English and told me he'd surrender and I told him there was nothing else to do. I asked him what troops were attacking in this vicinity and he told me he couldn't understand English. I asked him for his pistol, maps and dispatch case and he handed them to me. I then told him that if he understood this far he would continue understanding. I pulled the hammer back on the pistol and told him to tell me what troops were attacking. He then told me that Americans were here with some panzer and quite a bit of infantry. He said there were no German troops around so I then told the three officers to beat it. I spotted a tank firing so I figured if I came to the front of it I'd get mowed down. When I came nearer I discovered it was a German tank and that a TD was firing at it. Two guys got out of the tank and twenty‑five infantrymen took off too so I got away too and we raced for the top of the hill. When I got to the top, I got weak and couldn't move any farther. Just then a German motorcyclist came by and killed his motor right by me. A couple of Germans came to him there only twenty‑five feet from me and I really got scared then. In that woods the 180th Infantry had a company in there searching. I spotted them and skirmished the lines as I thought they were Krauts. They saw my pistol and started yelling in German to me. One called me a Kraut son of a bitch and yelled for me to come out. I told them I was American and they told me not to hand them that crap and to throw my pistol away. I walked on down towards them and showed them my dogtags, but they weren't convinced and that's when I got to feel uneasy. They asked me who was my division commander, army commander, battalion commander, platoon leader and really gave me a workout - about maneuvers, where I sailed from, where I landed in France, and the different towns we had taken. I finally convinced them I was an American soldier and they sent me to battalion headquarters after which I was sent XV Corps.
Mr. Lake: What was your first meal?
I had a cup of coffee and a cup of pineapple. The captain told me not to eat too much and so when I ate
that it gave me the cramps. I feel fine now.
Note: The Interview was taken by the war correspondent Austen Lake from "The Boston American", who was assigned to the Third Army. We believe today that he didn´t receive the permission by the Army cencors to publish it. The above document was classified during the wartime. When General Patton was relieved from command over the Third Army, on 7 October 1945, there were published some articles about the Hammelburg Raid in American newspapers, accusing General Patton for risking a Task Force to free his son-in-law. The source of this information was Austen Lake.
Copy from the US National Archives Washington DC,
Corrections of German place-names and
geographical names by Peter Domes
2002 © Copyright Peter Domes - Date of last change: 2021-07-10