The Longest Winter, a World War II book authored by Alex Kershaw, delivers an inspiring story about an American platoon that confronted a rapidly advancing German army during the Battle of the Bulge. This book is not just a story about the Battle of the Bulge. It explores the treacherous detail about how the platoon became German prisoners of war. Anyone who doesn’t know some of the prisoner of war accounts arising out of the European theatre, Alex Kershaw’s The Longest Winter is one for your list.
The 394th Infantry Regiment
The 394th was an intelligence & reconnaissance platoon trained to carry out unobserved intelligence-gathering patrols. They were not frontline infantry, so they didn’t have sufficient fire power to hold back a strong German attack. Nevertheless, the eighteen-man unit was given orders to hold their position at a hill located in Lanzarath, Belgium. Essentially being reassigned duties as an infantry platoon, the 394th dug into fox holes.
Defense at Lanzarath
In December, 1944, Hitler ordered a major offensive through the Ardennes, designed to create a hole in the Allied lines. According to Kershaw, Hitler’s objective was to back down the Allies and strive for peace negotiations. When the Battle of the Bulge began, one of the German armies was headed straight for the hill at Lanzarath, occupied by the 394th. The American platoon stood in the way of a vast German advance attempting to run right through them. Badly outnumbered, they bravely held off the German advance up the hill for almost a day. As the attack unfolded, the platoon was forced to surrender after they were out of ammunition.
The Longest Winter tells unforgettable accounts of experiences endured by the prisoners of war. The stories include long train rides, disease, malnutrition, lack of medical care, and overcrowded camps deep in the heart of Germany.
It wouldn’t be until thirty years after Germany surrendered when the 394th would be formally recognized for their valor in holding the hill at Lanzarath as long as they could with what little resources they had. President Carter approved a Presidential Unit Citation for “extraordinary heroism.” The unit also received individual medals for their effort in slowing the German advance during the Battle of the Bulge.
The author also has written The Bedford Boys. Written in similar style, it’s a fascinating read about the D-Day invasion. Both of these books are excellent stories arising out of World War II.