In his new book, historian Antony Beevor delves into the indescribable horrors of WW2. Of young, inexperienced, American soldiers thrust into the meat grinder German front:
Faced with this onslaught, the American defenders fell back in disarray. The units defending this part of the line were already demoralised by their recent encounters in the Hürtgen forest, and many of them now simply broke down. Those who suffered worst were the new recruits who had only recently joined their units to replace men who had already died. “There probably is no more desperate position than finding yourself in combat for the first time,” Beevor says. “It’s counter to every form of normal human experience. It becomes intensely personal, as if every bullet is aimed at you, as if every shell is aimed at you. The poor b——- came in without proper training – they were the ones who cracked in no time at all.”
The morale of American troops quickly became a serious problem. Instances of self-inflicted injuries increased as traumatised soldiers did whatever they could to escape the violence of the front. Usually these injuries took the form of an “accidental” rifle shot through the left hand or the foot, but one soldier from the 99th Infantry Division was so desperate that he lay down beside a large tree, reached around it, and exploded a grenade in his hand.