This map is from a 1990's European Road Map and provides a modern look of the Holtzwihr, France area and the forested area just north where Audie Murphy made his famous Medal of Honor stand against the Germans. On the map, a faint red "x" along the small road travelling north to south through the wooded area into the town of Holzwihr. This is the spot where the ditched and burning M10 tank destroyer was located and where Audie Murphy climbed aboard to beat off the attacking Nazi infantry and tank units.
The woodline has grown in a southerly direction since the battle. On January 26, 1945 the southern edge of the woodline was much closer to the M10 tank destroyer. The town of Holtzwihr has also grown much closer to the woodline. The northerly extention of buildings was not there in 1945.
|Late 1990's European Roadmap of the Holzwihr area.|
Map is provided by Marty Black.
The following narrative consists of excerpts from different accounts written by Marty Black, an American Airlines employee, who has made several trips to Holtzwihr, France. Marty, an avid military historian, has visited the M10 Tank Destroyer's location on more than one occassion. The account was dated August 14, 1996 and entitled "Holtzwihr Trip Report -Still Crazy After All These Years".
"[American Airline] Crew Schedules called on 12 Aug and offered me my choice of 4 trips to fly the next day. Four trips! That's never happened before! But I had a somewhat tough time deciding what to take: London, ... Brussels, San Juan, ... [or ]Zurich, yes! I was just there last week and did my pre- battlefield "recon," checking out the rental car locations, buying a good map of the city, marking the route between the hotel and the airport, etc. I had been wanting to drive from Zurich to the ethnic-German region of Alsace in eastern France, to search the spot near Holtzwihr where Audie Murphy earned the CMOH on 26 Jan 1945. The fall and winter weather is just around the corner, and since it has been rumored all year that [American Airlines] will pull out of Zurich this winter, I decided that this would be the trip, rain or shine! The weather forecast was for rain, but I hadn't been metal detecting since my last trip to Huertgen Forest in October 1995, and I needed a "fix."
Left Chicago at 1640 and landed at Zurich at 0800 (0100 Chicago time.) Enroute, the two copilots and all 10 Flight Attendants thought my plans for the layover were very ambitious and interesting, but no one was crazy enough to come along. Got an Alamo mini-Opel at the airport. A 20% discount for all AAL employees, only about $20, unlimited mileage. What a deal! But then there is insurance for $38, and taxes, and it came to about $60. Not such a good deal. (Later that day, when I filled the gas tank, it came to $28! About $4 a gallon, but I got great gas mileage.) A total of $88 for about 12 hours of useage.
Went to the hotel, changed clothes, and hit the road at 0930 (0230 Chicago time.) It was drizzling, with spots of rain, but I was confident it would be an OK-day, as long as I didn't have to painfully squint through windshield wipers with bloodshot eyes. I was pleasantly surprised how easy a ride it was; I was a bit nervous about having to negotiate the low hills of the Alps while fatigued, but later had noticed on a relief map that there is a natural pass all the way from Zurich NW to Alsace. We had a few large hills enroute, but rather than drive over them, I drove through them in large modern concrete tunnels, a few of which seemed to be a mile or two long. It was "autobahn"-type driving most of the way, with speeds about 85-90 mph. I was told that continental Europe has had more rain this summer than usual, with mild temperatures, and the various shades of green were breath-taking. The scenes looked like those from a postcard of Switzerland.
Came abreast Colmar after about a 2 hour drive, and I knew I needed to leave the highway and go east into the "sticks" toward the Rhine, to get to the small town of Holtzwihr. I apparently misread the road number on the sign that I needed, but it said "Freiburg." That's ... in Germany, and I didn't want to go there, but that was roughly, very roughly, in the direction I needed to head ... So I had to proceed further north and get off at the next exit, road D3. This was fortuitous, because I ended up coming in to Holtzwihr on the same tiny, winding farm track (un-numbered) that Murphy's unit apparently used as they attacked in a southerly direction. I had [a friend's] photo of the site, taken in 1973, and I was looking for a soccer goal to mark the field. The Germans successfully counterattacked from the village across the open area and whipped the GIs. That's when Murphy rallied and single-handedly stopped the counterattack, with carbine and then .50 cal [machine gun] fire from an abandoned burning Tank Destroyer, while continuing to call in artillery fire using a field telephone.
Sure enough, a soccer goal came into view, but it was on the wrong side of the road! And the lay of the land was wrong; the whole perspective was screwy. This sports area was right up against the edge of town, and the open area was missing. I got out and walked around, trying to make sense of it. A sign on a building said "Football Club Holtzwihr" (that's what they call soccer in Europe), but the location definitely wasn't the same in [my friend's] photo. I then drove around town, trying the roads that lead into town from the west and east, but no luck. There was apparently only one soccer field complex in Holtzwihr. I spotted a group of young men outside a restaurant/pub and asked them if anyone spoke English. Nope, so I showed them [my friend's] photo and asked them in German where it was. They gave me very detailed directions right back to the soccer field I had been to!
I then remembered that Murphy's CMOH citation read "near Holtzwihr". Maybe the action took place near the neighboring town of Riedwihr, just to the NE. I drove there, but no luck finding a soccer field. However, alongside the main two-lane road (D45) there were several square concrete blockhouses, but they didn't appear to have any firing apertures. Just two doors, on opposite sides of each blockhouse. They had the right-angle blast entrances, so I figured they were WWII vintage, but only one appeared to have been blown up. Perhaps there was a German airstrip there during the war, and these building [were built for] storage of ordnance, etc. I was tempted to linger there and explore some more, but I was on a "mission" and was getting a bit anxious that, although I had managed to find this small town, I'd driven around it for over an hour, and couldn't find the site. What would [my friend] say when I told him I couldn't find it? What would the crew say when I came back empty-handed?
Went back into Holtzwihr and asked a lady standing on a corner. Got the identical directions back to the Football Club! Spotted a Bibliotek (library) and leaped out of the car, figuring there would be someone who spoke better English (better than I spoke German), and perhaps the Murphy site was well known! No luck, the sign on the door said they were open only from 1800-1900.
I was getting mighty discouraged and angry for having gone to such expense and trouble, and I was getting really tired, but decided to check out the small hamlet of Wickerschwir just to the east of Holtzwihr on D4. Going around a traffic circle, I saw a maintenance man doing some landscaping inside the circle, and our eyes met. Seeing no one in the rearview mirror, I stopped right there in the road, and asked if he spoke English. Nope, but did I speak German? Not well - here we go again ... And Again, he gave me precise directions back to the soccer field.
Exasperated, I tried to explain to him that I wanted to match up [my friend's] photo, and "der alte Baum" (the old tree). He then indicated that he knew exactly what I meant, and offered to "zeigen" (show) me. What a lucky break! He got in an old truck that looked like something the Germans used in WWII; a corrugated steel body. I followed and we drove back to the soccer field, but then he motioned that we were to continue north up that farm track into the woods. We went an additional 150 yards or so, until we were surrounded by trees and he stopped!
I got out of the car, wondering why we had stopped here, when I noticed that he wasn't alone; there was another guy in the truck. As they approached me, I had - for a fleeting moment - the thought that I was about to lose my wallet and the approximately $100 in French and Swiss francs that I had for emergencies. I wasn't afraid for my safety, but wondered how I would manage to drive back over two hours without any money for gas, credit cards, ID, etc.
The natives remained friendly, however, and the driver showed me that the soccer field in [my friend's]photo had been converted into a "community forest" and that the old tree had been gone for some time. Sure enough, it was suddenly obvious that a large rectangular area was planted with the same type tree, all the same size (age), and with typical German efficiency, they had been planted in closely-spaced, straight rows. In Winston's photo, the dark farmer's field between the old tree and the town is a cornfield, and the stalks rose to over 6 feet, obscuring all but the very tops of some of the buildings, blocking a "then and now" comparison.
I thanked the two fellows, and opened up my hockey bag of jungle boots, flight suit, hat, gloves, garden "digger", etc. Swept [with a metal detector]the ditch on the west side of the road, but it was a tangle of brambles and other undergrowth. Went into the woods on that side of the road, and found lots of shellholes, shrapnel, and a REM-UMC .45 ACP cartridge.
Crossed the road to the side that I was really interested in (east), hoping to find a carbine casing or .50 cal casing, "evidence" that I had indeed found Murphy's exact location. But I noticed that others had been metal-detecting there also. There were small piles of old farm tools and other junk in the area. Soda cans and tin foil also. As I worked my way back to the north (from where the GIs came, and to where they retreated), I came upon a large depression about 10-12 feet from the road that could have been Murphy's CP. I then got a bit excited to find a fairly large amount of WWII field telephone wire. (When Murphy's unit was about to be over-run, he ordered his radio operator to the rear so it wouldn't be captured. He then used his field telephone to call for artillery.) A healthy tree had grown right on top of the wire, but I managed to pull a couple of feet out the ground. In this area there were several 30-06 casings and complete rounds. DM4 (AP), LC4 (AP), RA 43 (maybe a tracer) and SL 42 (ball). Also found a damaged GI buckle, most probably from a M1936 Musette Bag. These were occassionally carried by officers, but can most often be seen hanging on the sides of Tanks and Tank Destroyers in WWII photos. (Paratroopers also used these as backpacks, but Holtzwihr wasn't an "airborne" battle.)
Moving further to the north (rear), there was another depression very close to the first one, and this one was surrounded by 30-06 casings, but no clips. Maybe from the (cotton belt-fed) machine gun that Murphy describes in his book?! I even found what may be a battered charging handle for a M1919 [machine gun], but it could also be a mangled piece of farm machinery. I'm not sure; Does a MG's handle have knurling on it? About 50 yards "downrange" of this site, I found three 30-06 spent bullets very close to each other, just under the surface of the ground. A 3-round burst? My imagination was taking some "liberties", but at least I was awake now and having fun! Searched around some more, but only found shrapnel, the fuze of a US artillery round (like the ones commonly found on Okinawa) and unidentifiable bits of iron. Curiously, I also found several modern white-plastic dummy rounds with (fired) brass heads. They appeared to be about 7-8 mm rifle rounds and 9mm Luger-type pistol rounds. (I'd found these in the Huertgen Forest also, last year.)
A few huge tractors came down the road, as well as a few families on bicycles, and a man walking a dog. But I was mostly left alone with nature and my imagination for the afternoon. Happily, the weather was cooperating. After leaving Switzerland and entering France, the sun began to peek through the clouds, and the temperature was a pleasant, but humid 70-75 degrees. The soil was full of stones and roots, but fairly easy to dig. I spotted toads, "leaping" spiders, several huge snails (in shells) and orange slugs as big as my thumbs! Mosquitos also, and I was damn glad I had "Cutters" in my hockey bag. I was sweating in my flight coveralls, and my arms were getting raw from chafing, so I peeled it down, but then the brambles and other itchy vegetation were going right through my undershirt and the poison ivy-type burning was driving me crazy. As I type this, I have several spider-type bites around my waistline.
I wanted to find the Maison Rouge bridge (not on the map), which was collapsed by one of Murphy's support tanks, but it was getting late in the afternoon. From past (dangerous!) experience driving back late after similar excursions in Germany and France, I wanted to be back in Zurich before it got dark. When I left Holtzwihr at 6 pm, I had been up for over 28 hours, and it showed! And I still had a two-hour drive back! I did fine until about 20 minutes from Zurich, when I suddenly "came to" with a start and realized that I had drifted off for a couple of seconds at 90 mph! Pulled into the next gas station and got a large Swiss chocolate bar; that got me "up" for the remainder of the trip! Got to the hotel, and found out that it cost $25 to park in their basement garage! No way! Parking was free in the "white line" zones on the street, from 7 pm to 7 am, but after driving around the neighborhood for ten minutes I couldn't find one unoccupied ... So I pulled halfway up on the sidewalk on the front driveway of the hotel, and walked into "old town" to get a (English) beer and some food. (I had eaten only 2 granola bars and two Cokes since breakfast on the airplane.)
Went out in the morning, and the car was still there. Drove it to the airport, met the rest of the crew, and flew back to Chicago. The whole trip encompassed only 48 hours. I sure wish these "battlefield opportunities" came up more than once every 10 months, but I certainly couldn't do this every week!
As it turned out Marty did have the opportunity to later return to the Holtzwihr site. To read about his other visits and to see photos of artifacts he recovered, click the Holzwihr France graphic near the top or click here for the third page of the Holzwihr Battle area series.