Photo taken during the early hours of the Battle of the Bulge, 1944. Pen marks indicate things Army censors redacted after the film was captured. For the Battle of the Bulge, the best units and equipment of the German military were concentrated for the push to the West. The battle was a last ditch attempt by Hitler to split the Allies in two in their drive towards Germany and destroy their ability to supply themselves. This was Germany’s last substantial mobile reserve, and it ended up detracting from Germany’s ability to defend against the Soviet winter offensives beginning in January 1945.
This photo is telling that the German supply line must have been breaking down for them to be pulling boots off the dead. Also it’s not a good sign when an “advancing” army has to stop and steal shoes. You also have to consider that the Wehrmacht had been at war since 1939. The soldiers in the photograph most likely did not have boots in very good condition, especially at this point in the war. They would likely have jumped at the chance to have a pair of boots that had been in use less than a year. By that time (late 1944), German boots were crap. They no longer issued “jack boots” but had introduced ankle high ones made from inferior materials. While the Americans had rubber soled, higher quality leather ones. During and after the Battle of the Bulge, German prisoners caught with American equipment on their person were usually shot out of hand. Pictures like this probably encouraged the American response.
By that point the priority would have been ammo, more ammo, some medical supplies and maybe some food. Hence foraging became a necessity. The Wehrmacht were good of logistics and understood the importance of proper footwear for infantrymen. This is how bad their situation had gotten by 1945. Also we should add, that by that point of the war, allied forces completely owned the skies over Europe. Between strategic bombing and especially tac-air, German ground forces facing the US/UK forces were screwed when it came to resupplies. Literally nothing could be moved during the daylight due to large numbers of roving flights of Tempests, Typhoons, P-47s, P-51s, etc with orders to shot anything that moved.
The censorship you see on the photo was just an initial note that publishers would more thoroughly take out. They didn’t want people to be able to identify where the picture was taken. That’s why they were crossing out only the things that would identify the spot, even religious markings (the crucifix in the corner of the image). It was likely the result of routine censorship.
These American soldiers probably got ambushed by German machine guns when they were attempting a routine street crossing at the wrong time. They’re at a crossroads, a good spot to ambush an advancing army. Especially when the G.I.’s are not near any cover whatsoever.