A somber end to a momentous 1944

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December 31, 2005|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

At the end of December 1944, a war-weary world looked toward the coming new year and an end to the hostilities that had gripped it since 1939.

After a month that saw the furious fighting in the Ardennes and the bloody Battle of the Bulge, the war news from Europe was slowly becoming slightly more encouraging -- albeit no less threatening.

"Three German divisions have been hurled by Field Marshal von Rundstedt at both sides of the Bastogne corridor held by Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's United States 3d Army, a field dispatch reported last night, as American troops hammered heavily all along the shrinking perimeter of the German bulge," reported The Sun on New Year's Eve.

"The hard-won corridor supplying Bastogne was hit by two of von Rundstedt's divisions from the west and by a third from the east, while in Bastogne itself American artillerymen poured withering shellfire into the 16-mile-wide escape gap of the Germans' hourglass-shaped front and blasted areas where the Germans have been gathering for new thrusts."

Sunpapers war correspondent Lee McCardell, who covered Patton's 3rd Army, reported that troops had spent the last six days in the "cold, raw wind and snow against heavy German artillery," finally forcing the enemy to withdraw to the Sauer River bridgehead and reducing the threat to Luxembourg.

And in order to camouflage their olive-drab uniforms against the snow, McCardell reported, the "infantrymen donned improvised snow capes made from sheets and table clothes donated by the villagers of Luxembourg."

U.S. forces continued capturing German armored and transport vehicles that had stalled for lack of gasoline, along with about 6,000 prisoners.

"Disillusioned, since the early days of the offensive when some of them were told that forward elements of the drive had reached Paris and when they confidently looked forward to spending New Year's Day, if not Christmas, in either Paris or Liege, the captured Germans are beginning to show less fight and much less arrogance," McCardell reported.

James Bone, editor of the Manchester Guardian, reported on the mood in London in a front-page story in The Sun.

"The year ends with an iron clang on our eager hopes of an early victory and complete unity, and London, sophisticated, cynical, resilient and sure beyond most cities, shakes its old bomb-battered feathers and looks confidently to 1945," Bone wrote.

In a New Year's Eve editorial, The Sun said: "The news from Europe took a turn for the better on Wednesday. Since then it has considerably improved, so that now as the year ends there are grounds for thinking that the period of acute crisis has passed. Of all the developments that Americans might have wished for, the lifting of the black pall of suspense and anxiety which hung over the Christmas season is the best of all."

New Year's Eve in Baltimore was mild and foggy, with temperatures in the 40s. And while revelers took advantage of the mild weather and traveled by streetcar to fill downtown hotels, restaurants bars and nightclubs, the mood was somewhat somber.

"Baltimore greeted the wartime New Year Sunday midnight with music, dancing and noise, but the merriment was far short of previous New Year's Eve jollifications," reported The Sun on Jan. 2, 1945. (For many years, The Sun and The Evening Sun did not publish on New Year's Day.)

"American infantrymen who spent Christmas fighting northward through Luxembourg to relieve Bastogne and cut the highways behind the German advance celebrated New Year's Day in frozen foxholes in the recaptured southern Ardennes," wrote McCardell from the front on Jan. 2, 1945. "New Year's Day, like Christmas, was clear but bitterly cold in the battle area."

In his first report of the year, McCardell relayed the exploits of Pvt. Kenneth K. Barnes Jr., who lived at 4201 Roland Ave. and was a runner for the 9th Armored Division's combat reserve command. He had spent Christmas nailed down with troops during the battle for Bastogne.

"During a heavy German artillery barrage the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Barnes helped carry wounded soldiers to the Bastogne civilian hospital where a wing had been separated for army casualties," McCardell reported.

During the night, a fire began in the hospital after German planes dropped incendiary bombs.

"With other soldiers," McCardell wrote of Barnes, "he rushed into the hospital, which had been set afire, and helped carry out the wounded until the flames became so hot the rescue party was ordered not to make any more attempts to enter the burning building."

In a Jan. 2 editorial, The Sun noted: "The immediate objective of American policy is to win the war on all fronts. The final objective of American policy is to set up, as soon as possible, a world organization for the maintenance of peace. There has yet been no effective opposition in this country to either of these ends."

On New Year's Day, France became the 36th signatory of the Declaration of the United Nations. Germany would continue to fight until surrendering on May 8, 1945.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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