By Dick Martin
An embarrassing feature of military service in Northern Europe during WWII not much talked about because of the consequences in affecting the readiness of our Armed Forces was R and R. (Rest and Recoup)
In the Southern Sector of the line basically defined by the Rhine River and the western boundary of Germany, the fighting seemed at a standstill in late 1944. This pause in the fighting came as a welcome break for the men of the 6th Army Group who had no way of knowing they were about to experience the fiercest fighting that they would confront thus far along the front. Consequently, the soldiers were ripe for a break and this seemed like a good time to take it. Hot showers, movies, recreation and, above all, sleep seemed to be the matter of the day.
In addition, this was a time for those who used their passes for smooth liquor and rough women in Brussels and Paris. The lure of hot food pulled GIs into restaurants, where they wolfed down steaks, which were a great break from C Rations.
All of the activities, no matter what the soldiers took part in, were called ‘R & R’ and usually started on a three-day furlough to Brussels or Paris. As anyone who spent time in a combat knows, ‘R&R’s involved carousing in bars and often taking part in their delights. These “Red light Districts” often made the rigors of combat endurable. Officer’s Clubs throughout Northern Europe were jammed and packed with officers of all ranks and all branches of the service also with all types of women from army nurses to French prostitutes. The scenery and costumes, when they had any on, were beautiful; for the most part the women in the show wore only a G-String or some feathers. It was a musical stage show featuring pretty girls and much bare flesh.
However, too much of the leadership let their guard down and that meant the entire 6th Army et al being caught by surprise by Hitler’s Wehrmacht in the Ardennes Forest, what is known by the American Army as “The Battle of the Bulge.” It seems like a surety that when you have soldiers and combat, you also have R and R centers and all that goes with that.
Paraphrased from chapter 6 of Peter Caaddock-Adams’ book, Fire and Steel