CHAPTER THREE

BREAKTHROUGH

By dawn on the morning of 17 December the Germans had advanced eight miles west from their river crossings at Dasburg and Gemünd. Small groups of Volksgrenadiers had reached the outskirts of Clervaux and were firing small arms into the town. Fuller sent tanks to relieve his now surrounded outposts, but the tanks were forced back by superior German forces with heavy losses.

At 11.30 Fuller made a call to Cota demanding more reinforcements,

‘I need more artillery support, more tanks.’

‘I’ll send you a battery of self-propelled guns and that’s all I can spare. I’ve got two other regiments screaming for help.’

Fuller shouted down the phone again

‘And we’ve got twelve Tigers sitting on the high ground east of town, looking down our throats.’

‘Sorry Fuller, one battery is all I can give youremember your orders hold at all costs. No retreat, nobody comes back.’

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Major General Norman Cota

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THE DEFENCE OF BASTOGNE

Silence fell on the conversation.

‘Do you understand, Fuller?’

‘Yes sir, nobody comes back,’ the Colonel replied.

By mid afternoon German forces had just about encircled the men in Clervaux and Panzers were beginning to enter the town from three directions.

The US 110th’s 2nd Battalion which was due to attack Marnach that morning had, at 0730, run straight into the 2nd Panzer Division coming down the road from that village. Although it battled bravely against the superior fire-power it soon succumbed to the might of the German panzers.

The attack south into Marnach by the light M5 Stuart tanks along Skyline Drive was a complete disaster. The tanks were funnelled into a narrow road and were forced to advance in column. As they exited the village of Heinerscheid German 88mm guns began to pick them off one by one. It was like a shooting gallery, within ten minutes eight tanks had been destroyed by gunfire, three more were hit by Panzerfausts. Clervaux was now in serious danger of being captured. Fuller sent a platoon of tanks from the 707th Tank Battalion up the twisting road to the east. At the top of the hill the Shermans hit head on with the German advanced guard. Three Shermans and four Mk IV Panzers were destroyed.

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Panzer MkIVs advancing during the breakthrough.

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88mm firing in the ground role against tanks.

The Germans were taken aback and their assault was stalled momentarily. The road into Clervaux became blocked with burning tanks belonging to both sides. The village of Hosingen was still being firmly held by Company K, but this village lay astride one of the roads much needed by Kokott’s 26th VGD. There was a bottleneck beginning to build up and the German transport started to tail back. Kokott ordered that Hosingen was to be bypassed and by the afternoon the Germans had secured bridgeheads over the River Clerf in at least four places, one of which was at Drauffelt.

Ludwig Lindemann of the 26th VGD:

‘During the Ardennes Offensive our battle commander was Hauptmann Josef Raab who had been awarded the Iron Cross on the Eastern Front for his bravery in connection with the defence of the Weichselbrückenkopf [bridgehead] near Pulawi. With our sixty-five-man combat group under his command he had prevented Russian troops from breaking through. With him in command of our company we felt confident.

‘The 77th Regiment and the 39th Fusilier Regiment of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division, had taken the Americans by surprise and opened up the route to the west. After heavy resistance by the enemy in the town of Hosingen our division succeeded in surrounding the whole town. We in the 2nd Battalion had to fight for every cellar and every garden wall. At midday, 18 December 1944, the Americans surrendered and we took sixteen Officers and three hundred and sixty-five men prisoner. Seven tanks were destroyed and a lot of war material was captured. This action opened the route to Bastogne.

But what started as a military success would end in streams of blood. Today the cemeteries of that region speak loud and clear of what awaited our troops.

Leading elements of Panzer Lehr Division, with the Reconnaissance Battalion from the 26th VGD, were already moving west towards the all-important town of Bastogne.

General Heinrich von Lüttwitz:

‘The northern bridgeheads across the Clerf and the Our rivers had been built by 2 Panzer Division. These were the bridgeheads which controlled the movement of infantry on to the Longvilly road. The two lower bridgeheads, built by the 26th Volksgrenadier Division engineers over the same streams, made possible the sweep against the lines of communication south of Bastogne and the attack against the town from that direction. The dividing line between 2 Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr Division for the attack against Bastogne was on an east to west line about halfway between Noville and Bastogne. The objective of 2 Panzer Division was the road junction at Herbaimont northwest of Bastogne near Tenneville. The mission of Panzer Lehr Division was to take Bastogne from the south. This was the initial plan contained in the original order for the Ardennes attack.’

Because of the worrying situation in the US VIII Corps sector the principal strategic reserve force of north-west Europe was to be released. This consisted of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Both divisions were in the Rheims area of France busily refitting after their recent battles in Holland during Operation MARKET GARDEN. The men were there, letting off steam and the rivalry between the two divisions was immense, it did not take much provocation to start the two sides swinging fists at each other. During the evening of 17 December they were given their orders. It was so sudden a move that the 101st AB Division was caught without its commander, Major General Maxwell D Taylor, who was attending a conference in the United States. The Assistant Divisional Commander, Brigadier General Gerald J Higgins, was also away in England attending the ‘wash-up’ of Operation MARKET GARDEN. The ‘Screaming Eagles’ as they were known, were under the command of Brigadier General Anthony C McAuliffe, the Divisional Artillery Commander.

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VIII Corps.

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101st Airborne Division.

The 82nd was on the road first, closely followed by the long truck convoys of the 101st. It had been such a rush to get the men on the move that most had neither weapons nor helmets and some were still wearing their summer uniforms fresh from being dragged back off leave. These supply problems would be remedied en-route, or at their destination.

By evening of the 17th General Lauchert’s 2nd Panzer Division had found the northern road leading into Clervaux open. A small combined team of infantry and tanks brushed aside the solitary 57mm anti-tank gun guarding the bridge at the railway station. This now left the main body of armour free to roam through the streets unhindered. At 1825 Fuller telephoned Cota to tell him German tanks were directly outside his Command Post in the hotel. With that he and some of his staff made their escape to the west. He was captured later.

In the Chateau at the southern bridge of the town 102 officers and men still held out in the strongly built fortress. These men, were a mixture of the Regimental Headquarters Company, mainly clerks and such like. These men held the bridge for most of the night until the arrival at dawn of the Panther Battalion of the 3rd Panzer Regiment. Rifle fire bounced off the huge Panther tanks as they clanked by on their way to Bastogne. Behind them infantry, supported by self-propelled 88s, battered the chateau into submission and forced the Americans to surrender.

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A current photograph of Clervaux Castle taken from the heights of the Marnach Road.

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Panthers advancing during the German advance.

Middleton at VIII Corps headquarters in Bastogne was beginning to get a picture of what was happening, obviously Bastogne would be next on the Germans’ list of objectives. He called on his only armored reserve, the Combat Command Reserve (CCR)of the 9th Armored Division. This was made up of the 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion, 2nd Tank Battalion, 9th Armored Engineers and the 73rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion. It’s commander Colonel Joseph H Gilbreth had already positioned his Combat Command in the village of Oberwampach, immediately to the rear of the threatened 28th Division’s centre, when orders came through from VIII Corps. He was told to form two road blocks on the main road leading from the east into Bastogne. This order came to him at 21.40, ten minutes after word was received that the enemy had crossed the Clerf. The two road blocks were to be on the main road (N12) one near the village of Lullange, at a junction named Antoniushof where the Clervaux road meets the north-south road from St Vith to Bastogne. The other block planned as a backup and was positioned three miles southwest near the village of Allerborn, at a junction called Fe’itsch. Hold at all costs was emphasized to them.

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9th Armored Division

The forces Colonel Gilbreth had available, with the units of the Combat Command Reserve, were far from adequate when faced with the task of stopping an entire panzer division.

Gilbreth split his forces into three, to the Antoniushof road junction he sent Task Force Rose, named after it’s commander Captain L K Rose, this consisted of Company A, 2nd Tank Battalion; Company C, 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion and a platoon of 9th Armored Engineers. The roadblock at Fe’itsch, was manned by Task Force Harper (Lieutenant Colonel Ralph S Harper), which was made up of Company C and part of Company D, 2nd Tank Battalion; Company B, 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion and a platoon of Company C, 9th Armored Engineers; five hundred yards behind these last units was Headquarters Company. The third task force was TF Booth (Lieutenant-Colonel Robert M Booth). This group was made up of what was virtually left of CCR to range on the high ground north of the main highway (N12) between the two roadblocks and protect Gilbreth’s HQ and the nearby 73rd AFAB and the independent 58th AFAB. Clervaux was only about five miles due east of these positions and was already aflame.

Gilbreth set up his Headquarters in a large house across the road from the church in Longvilly. He had outposts set up around the village in the form of three light tanks, one platoon from C Company 482nd AAA (AW) (Anti Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion) and a few half tracks, clerks, mechanics and cooks also helping in the defences.

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Unofficial insignia of the 482 AAA (AW) Battalion.

An excerpt from the 482nd AAA (AW) official history reads:

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A picture of Longvilly today, Headqarters Combat Command R.

‘Longvilly, at this time, was nothing more than another village to us but little did we know that we would never forget it. Headquarters established a C.P. in town in one of the few houses while the sections went into firing positions around the outskirts. Every round of reserve ammo was distributed to the men for an attack was imminent. Captain Lovoi visited the sections and instructed them to hold their positions at all cost. We were to hold our present positions until we could bolster our lines with elements of the 10th Armored Division which was on the way to us. There was little to do but wait for the attacking Germans and pray that the 10th Armored would arrive soon. The sections were subjected to intense artillery fire all night long and history was being written.’

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US Armored Infantrymen take cover as German shells land behind them.

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Shermans of the 10th Armored Division preparing to move out.

In addition to CCR, Middleton had to hand some combat engineers who had been involved in such jobs as road repairs and tree felling. These engineers were told to draw weapons, something they had not had to do for some time. The 158th Engineer Combat Battalion was to form a screen in front of Bastogne and by the early morning of the 18th were digging in on a line stretching between Foy and Neffe.

The 35th Combat Engineer Battalion had been assigned as VIII Corps Headquarters guard, and so could not be released immediately for adding to the screen. Shortly after midnight CCR was in position, further to the east the 110th Infantry Regiment was still struggling to hold back the German flood.

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On the outskirts of Mageret this Sherman was stopped by a German 88mm shell and then was finished off by a Panzerfaust.

At 0830 on 18 December, armored infantrymen on the road facing Clervaux, at the northern roadblock, spotted three German tanks with infantry rolling out of the early morning fog. These were elements of the Reconnaissance Battalion of General Lauchert’s 2nd Panzer Division. The armored infantry withdrew to their tank positions and thirty minutes later the tankers also saw the panzers nudging their way towards them. The American tankers chose their moment and then let rip, knocking out one Mk IV and crippling the other two. Only a few minutes later an entire German tank column came into view, coming straight for them from the north. The Shermans opened fire and the lead German tank stopped and turned back.

The 73rd AFAB joined in and put a concentration of shells down into the area of the 2nd Panzer Division. The Germans likewise brought up their own artillery and fired smoke to cover their movements. There was a bit of a lull, whilst the Reconnaissance Battalion felt out the strength of the American road block and awaited the arrival of their heavy Panther tanks. These arrived at about 1100 and at the same time the shelling intensified. Another smoke screen was laid by the Germans which took over an hour to lift and clear. After it did, the Panthers had moved to within 800 yards of the American line and started firing at the helpless Shermans. One flared up and started burning, another’s gun was made useless and a third in frantic manoeuvring threw a track.

But they gave as good as they got and managed to knock out three German tanks. More panzers were noticed, this time coming in from the right. Some Shermans rushed over and destroyed one, sending the others scuttling back for cover. The Germans soon realized that the weakest spot was from the north and concentrated their attack from that direction. Task Force Rose was now fighting on three sides against an overwhelming opposition. Task Force Harper was aware of what was happening to their companions up the road but were refused permission to send them aid. Middleton was in total control and would not allow it.

Lieutenant DeRoche, commander of A Company 2nd Tank Battalion, finally received instructions to pull out and attack the Germans now on the road to Bastogne behind them. Task Force Rose managed to limp away, and took up its new positions near the village of Wincrange where it set up another road block. At nightfall the Germans started firing white phosphorus shells into their positions causing the Shermans to ‘button up’. The crews could hear the panzers moving all around them, and during the night more orders were received to pull back to the vicinity of Task Force Harper. This they found impossible as the 2nd Panzer Division had control of the entire area, so what was left of Task Force Rose set off across country.

Task Force Harper consolidated their defensive positions and awaited their turn. Orders were received ‘Hold at all cost and to the last man. Help is on its way.’

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Task Force Rose’s road block at Antoniushaft now a roundabout.

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A 10th Armored Division Sherman knocked out of action near Bastogne.

Suddenly, out of the blackness of the night, the attack came – it was 2000 hours. Tigers and Panthers blasted into Harper’s positions and with the advantage of their new infra-red night-sights the German tanks ran amok. They machine-gunned the infantry and punched huge holes into the Shermans. All was complete chaos. After four hours of total hell, Harper ordered what small amount of survivors there were to pull out and fight their way back to Longvilly. Some survivors, including Harper himself, worked their way up to the town of Houffalize and tried to set up defensive positions there. It was at Houffalize on the night 18/19 that Colonel Harper, whilst dismounting from his tank, was caught in a hail of machine-gun fire and killed.

Other stragglers from both task forces escaped west to the village of Longvilly where CCR Headquarters was situated.

General Heinrich von Lüttwitz:

‘The 2nd Panzer Division was moving fast, It had met heavy resistance in Clervaux from elements of the 28th Infantry Division, but without further contact with the enemy it moved along rapidly to a point on the Longvilly road. At the road crossing immediately east of Allerborn there was a panzer fight lasting about one hour with heavy losses to American Armor. When this engagement terminated, 2nd Panzer Division again moved rapidly on to Bourcy, just east of Noville.’

The US 73rd Armoured Field Artillery Battalion was now in the vicinity of Longvilly, and was pouring shells down onto the two roadblocks. Gilbreth wondered why the Germans had not followed up with an attack on Longvilly. At that particular time General Lauchert’s 2nd Panzer Division was more concerned about its primary objective, the Meuse. He had turned his column off the main highway just under a mile outside Longvilly and was bypassing Bastogne to the north. The men in Longvilly breathed a sigh of relief, but the German move trapped Task Force Booth.

Booth had lost radio contact with his headquarters and so during the night he had decided to save his men and move across country to establish a safer position. At the front of the long column there were about eighty men in half-tracks led by Major Eugene A Watts of the 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion. They rolled through the village of Hardingny and moved left. To their front they spotted a number of German personnel carriers. At once, Watts and his men opened fire, using their personal weapons and the machine guns mounted on the halftracks. They did the enemy some serious damage and were happy with their results. Suddenly all hell broke loose at the rear of the American column, which had just got into Hardingny. It was being shelled and machine-gunned. Vehicles were blowing up everywhere and no matter which way they turned they bumped into Germans, in fact, they had collided into the main force from the 2nd Panzer Division bypassing Bastogne.

For many of the survivors it would take up to six days of careful walking before they finally reached the safety of the Bastogne perimeter. Major Watts broke his group into small units and told them to only travel at night and make their way back to friendly positions. Two days later Watts and his group made contact with the 101st Airborne’s out-posts near Foy and was led into Bastogne. These men were fed and Watts went on to brief McAuliffe on the situation regarding the enemy and Task Force Booth. He was then given command of Team SNAFU (Snafu is an American term which stands for Situation Normal All F—d Up) which comprised of personnel from all the different units that had also managed to reach Bastogne.

With 2nd Panzer Division heading north-west towards the Meuse, Panzer Lehr and 26th VGD were to carry on and seize Bastogne. General Bayerlein’s Panzer Lehr had broken free of the terrific traffic jam leading from the Clerf valley. Bayerlein, who was up front with his tanks, decided to split his forces at the village of Eschweiler and utilize the two roads leading to Bastogne. He led his column comprising of a Panzergrenadier Regiment and about fifteen Mk IV tanks up the right-hand road and headed towards the road junction at Fe’itsch. A mile short of it he turned left onto a minor road that leads directly to Bastogne. He could hear and see the fighting going on at the junction, but continued on. At about 1800 the column drew up at the village of Niederwampach only six miles from its goal.

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The rough track. Bayerlein and his Panzer Lehr passed along from Niederwampagh to Mageret.

Surely now, he thought, he would win the race for Bastogne. From Niederwampach he had two choices, there was a road leading south which would bring the Germans onto a hard surfaced road that led to their prize, or he could continue on a secondary road which would eventually bring him into the village of Mageret. He decided to take the most direct route, the side road. Belgians in the area (who obviously were none too pleased at having the Germans back again) had told him that the road was excellent. The road soon petered out into little more than a muddy farm track and Bayerlein started having serious reservations. Even so, the force managed to proceed, slipping and sliding until it came into Mageret. Defenders of Mageret, a small detachment belonging to the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion, were no match and Bayerlein soon had control of the village.

Late in the evening gunfire was heard behind CCR positions, this was when the Germans entered Mageret. Colonel Gilbreth decided to get his men out. At about midnight he ordered what was left of CCR and some attached troops from the 28th Division’s 110th Regt which had drifted in, to begin a withdrawal via Mageret. The column got so disorganized leaving Longvilly that it blocked the exit to the village. Gilbreth saw what was happening and did not dare order any further movement until daylight. The 73rd AFAB was told to disperse westward, which it did, each battery covering the other. Once in its assigned position it took up firing again at any enemy targets north, south or east of it.

At about the same time as men of the CCR were contemplating their chances of survival, Combat Command B from the 10th Armored Division arrived in Bastogne. It was just before 1600, 18 December. Middleton asked Colonel Roberts, commander of Combat Command B (CCB), how many teams he could make available to man the defensive perimeter that was forming around Bastogne. Roberts replied that he only had sufficient personnel for three effective groups, and promptly split them as follows: Team ‘O’Hara’ (Lieutenant-Colonel James O’Hara) moved out south-east to occupy an area around Wardin on the Luxembourg road. Team ‘Cherry’ (Lieutenant Colonel Henry T Cherry) moved out onto the Longvilly road, and finally, Team ‘Desobry’ (Major William R Desobry) went out onto the Noville road north of Bastogne.

Team Cherry’s advance patrols had reached the outskirts of Longvilly during the evening of the 18th and made contact with CCR’s command post. CCR had no orders other than to ‘hold at all cost’, but they were finding it increasingly difficult to do. At this time their southern road-block was still holding.

The advance guard of Team Cherry was commanded by 1st Lieutenant Edward P Hyduke. He had the area reconnoitred and discerned that the main weakness in the eastern defences was just south of Longvilly. Here he stationed his cavalry platoon of four Shermans and seven light Stuart tanks.

At about midnight 18/19th December, Hyduke heard that CCR was going to pull out. He was to be the rear guard in Longvilly, at the same time he also learnt that Mageret had been taken from the scratch force of the 158th Combat Engineers defending it. He surmised that the only way not to get cut-off himself, was to forcibly smash his team through Mageret. Hyduke’s force was leaving Mageret for Longvilly using the front door. The Germans, at the same time, entered the village through the back door. Colonel Cherry, knowing that Mageret was now in German hands, sent an armoured infantry company under Captain William F. Ryerson to try and open the road through the village.

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The Grotto of St Michael on the outskirts of Longvilly, where Team Cherry and CCR, 9th Armored Division stood firm against overwhelming German forces.

During the night of 18 December, the German 77th and 78th Infantry Regiments from the 26th VGD had been trying to take Longvilly. Their orders were to pass through that village and head for Bizory, where they were to attack Bastogne from the north and north-east. Fires from the burning houses illuminated numerous targets for the guns of the attackers, but the Americans stubbornly held on until daybreak.

At 08.30,19 December, during a lull in the fighting, the main body of CCR began to withdraw from Longvilly. As the column of vehicles approached Mageret they found the road blocked by Team Ryerson from CCB, 10th Armored Division. Tanks and lorries piled up behind each other completely trapped. With Lieutenant Hyduke and the rearguard of the CCR fighting a delaying action in Longvilly, and Captain Ryerson’s unit trying to recapture Mageret, all was chaos.

An eye-witness account from the 482d AAA (AW) Battalion (SP):

As we waited for an opening into Bastogne, it became very evident that the enemy was gaining fast in his drive, for their artillery began to fall closer and closer to our column, until finally it was hitting in our immediate area. Vehicles and men were hit by flying shrapnel and the screams for medics were drowned by the crack of the bursting artillery shells. Split second decisions had to be made and it was decided to take as much of our equipment across country as we could. Tec 5 E Humphrey and Tec 5 Frank Walsh were injured before we could move, by flames from a gasoline truck which had been set afire by the bursting artillery. Meantime, the crew of an M-16 halftrack distinguished themselves by winning a battle with a Tiger Royal tank. Tec 5 Davidson was the only gunner on the track and he was wounded in the leg. When he saw the approaching tank he asked to be lifted into the machine gun turret. Davidson opened fire with his four guns but not before his two cannoneers had been wounded by the machine guns on the tank. PVT Stewts was hit on the hand and Reinhardt in the leg. As the tank met the fire of the machine guns, the commander evidently thought he d found the whole American army for the tank could not run fast enough to get away from the continuous rain of slugs. The M-16 had been put out of action in the engagement so the three wounded men abandoned it and made their way to an aid station.

When a count was taken in the encircled city, it was found that we had suffered heavily at the hands of the enemy. Most all of our personal equipment was lost, over half of our vehicles and only about fifty able bodied men were left in the entire battery. We were organized in such a manner that we could do the most to help in the defence of the city. We had our first hot meal in days then snatched a few hours of sleep in a hotel before 0400 the next morning when we were awakened and informed that regardless of what happened, we were going to hold this vital road junction.’

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Field Artillery of the 9th Armored Division move into positions.

One regiment from the 26th VGD started to advance, within minutes it came under direct fire from Lieutenant Hyduke’s men occupying the high ground around St Michael’s Grotto. It took several hours before Kokott could get his men organized for another attack. When they finally did attack they were aided by a large force loaned from Panzer Lehr.

Bayerlein with his Panzer Lehr Division needed to reduce Longvilly to open the road. He got together a Panzer Grenadier Regiment, a tank destroyer battalion and an artillery battalion for the purpose. When this battle group reached a vantage point overlooking the road from the south-west, they were amazed to see, only about a mile away, the whole road jammed with American vehicles.

About the same time, von Lauchert’s 2nd Panzer Division had been shelled by the 73rd AFAB on the Bourcy road. A battery of 88s were brought up to return fire from the southwest of the same road. If this was not enough, the 26th VGD also brought up a large number of anti-tank guns and artillery from their positions southeast of Longvilly.

The road south of Longvilly then received perhaps the greatest barrage put down during the battle. It was a fearful Werfer and artillery attack and the air became thick with red hot shards of shrapnel. Men in the St Michael’s Grotto area dismounted their vehicular weapons and carried them to the high ground either side of the road setting them up in ground positions. The column had nowhere to go, tanks and half-tracks exploded everywhere.

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Generalleutnant Bayerlein, Commander of Panzer Lehr Division.

However, the American tankers had conducted themselves so well that at one point von Lauchert thought that he was being counter-attacked by a large force. At least eight of his Panzers had been reduced to flaming wrecks. The encounter had also taken its toll on the American tankers and by early afternoon all that remained of Lieutenant Hyduke’s tank force were a couple of light Stuart tanks. These could not manoeuvre without bringing down a hail of fire and eventually the crews had little choice but to render them useless and abandon them.

The armoured infantry left their half-tracks and, along with the tankers, headed west for what they thought would be safety. The main bulk of Team Cherry under Captain William F Ryerson had been ordered by Lieutenant-Colonel Cherry to withdraw westwards. This was no easy matter with all the clutter lining the road to Mageret. The leading Sherman was only a few hundred yards outside the village when it received a direct hit and brewed up. The road was now completely blocked and any thought of a headlong drive through the village of Mageret was now out of the question. They could not move anywhere without drawing fire from Panzer Lehr’s guns or the guns of 26th VGD Reconnaissance Battalion, which now held Mageret. All Ryerson could do was to cling on to what little bit of the village they had. He sent a message to Cherry:

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Tank Destroyers from the 705th TD Battalion in positions between houses.

‘Having tough time, Enemy shooting flares and knocking out our vehicles with direct fire.’

As the main part of Team Cherry was fighting between Longvilly and Mageret, Colonel Cherry and his headquarters troops were having a tough time of their own. He had made his headquarters in a large stone chateau a few hundred yards south of the crossroads at Neffe. The American outposts were hit by a detachment of panzers and supporting infantry. The GIs managed to hit one tank with a bazooka but were in danger of being overwhelmed and fell back to the chateau.

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The men of the US 3rd Tank Battalion’s command post (Team Cherry) held the Germans at bay for four hours, meeting every rush with a hail of bullets from automatic weapons taken from their vehicles and emplaced behind the thick stone walls. In the end a few Germans managed to get close enough to throw incendiary grenades through the windows of the chateau. In no time the place was ablaze. Fortunately for them reinforcements came out from Bastogne to help them withdraw. Under covering fire, Cherry and his men pulled out and headed for the next village west, Mont. At the same time he sent a message to CCB Commander,

‘We are pulling out. We’re not driven out but burned out.’

Through the rest of that day the force fighting at Mageret waited for reinforcements to arrive to help them break out, but nothing happened. As midnight came around a radio message came through from CCB telling Ryerson to withdraw north-west to Bizory. At daybreak Ryerson took what was left of his men and vehicles, and forty minutes later slowly and painfully entered the American lines at Bizory.

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The Heintz Barracks in Bastogne. In December 1944 it was Middleton’s and then McAuliffe’s headquarters.

General Heinrich von Lüttwitz:

During the night, Panzer Lehr Division got on a country road to Mageret. The point of the Division got to Neffe early in the morning and reduced the road block. When Panzer Lehr Division came to a halt in front of the Chateau Neffe, a regiment was ordered to go immediately from Bizory to Bastogne. It thus was deployed in a manner which put its line directly against the deployed American infantry lines. When this combat team was stopped in the north, another combat team from Panzer Lehr Division was sent southward against Wardin and Marvie with the mission of getting to Bastogne. This combat team was brought to a stop about one-half Kilometre southeast of Marvie. From this time on we were stopped on this line.’

Over a quarter of the CCB had been lost during 19 December, which totalled 175 Officers and men. Not to mention vehicle losses, which came to seventeen half-tracks, and about the same number of tanks. Casualties in CCR were even greater, in-fact, it almost ceased to exist anymore. There seems no doubt that these two forces, CCR and Task Force Cherry had been sacrificed in order to slow the Germans up. But slow them up they certainly did.

Colonel Eugene A.Watts said:

‘As a Major I took over command of the 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion (part of CCR of 9th Armd Division) on 17 December 1944, and remained commander until the following February 1945. CCR was located directly to the rear of the 106th Infantry Division and the 28th Infantry Division as part of General Middleton’s Corps. After the German breakthrough on 16 December, the Corps Commander (in essence) sacrificed CCR in order to save time to get the 101st Airborne Division and part of 10th Armored Division into Bastogne. We were ordered to set up road-blocks at several places to slow down its panzers and other leading German units. These road blocks were doomed to failure because we were ordered to use only one company of Armored Infantry and one company of tanks at each road blockWe fought hard but could not stop a German Panzer Division, although we did slow them down. The commanders of our Tank Battalions, and several Company Commanders and about ten platoon leaders were killed or wounded at these road blocks. We retreated towards Bastogne and by 20 December about 210 men and officers of my 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion finally arrived in the vicinity of Bastogne. We lost more than 700 killed wounded or captured in about three or four days. We were first placed under the command of 325th Glider Infantry Regiment (of 101st Airborne) for four days, then later under command of a Combat Command of the 10th Armored Division. They supplemented my 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion with about 250 SNAFU [men without an assigned unit] soldiers with our primary mission to protect the artillery battalions near the Senonchamps area.

Although General Middleton was commended by General Eisenhower and General Bradley for successfully slowing down the Germans to get 101st Airborne Division into Bastogne, CCR did not appreciate being sacrificed to accomplish this. I lost my jeep with all of my clothes, camera etc, and walked into Bastogne.’

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Shermans from the 9th Armored Division awaiting fuel and orders to move out.

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Armored infantry half-tracks crossing a pontoon bridge head for Bastogne.

General Heinrich von Lüttwitz:

‘The point of 2 Panzer Division was at Noville, with the remaining elements of the Division strung out along the road through Bourcy and back to the northwest of Allerborn. At this time, the Corps Commander got word that strong American armoured forces were moving from Bourcy to Longvilly and, therefore, were threatening his flank. The forward elements of 26 Volks Gren Div were at this moment on Hill 499 southwest of Longvilly. The 2 Panzer Division brought up its anti tank battalion and stationed it so as to block the road. At the same time, the anti tank battalion of Pz Lehr Div was pushed through 26 Volks Gren Div, which took up positions on Hill 499. Also, at the same time, all of the artillery of 26 Volks Gren Div was ordered to fire on the area west of Longvilly, where the American armor had become entangled.’

During the 18/19 December, General Lüttwitz had expected word at anytime to say that Bastogne had fallen, but none was forthcoming. The Americans had pipped the Germans to the post, although it was a close run race. For now reinforcements were arriving in the shape of the 101st Airborne Division.

The Airborne Division had en-trucked and made the journey south in good time. The drive was mostly in darkness, in pouring rain and brief snow flurries. After a bit of a mix up the 82nd Airborne were sent to Werbomont to shore-up the northern sector, and the 101st carried on to Bastogne. The 107 miles trip was made in eight hours and the leading column arrived in its assembly area around Mande St Etienne just west of Bastogne by midnight. By 0900 on 19 December, all four regiments of the 101st had arrived and General McAuliffe started his preparations.

The division consisted of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) (Lieutenant Colonel Julian J Ewell), the 506th PIR (Colonel Robert F Sink), 502nd PIR (Lieutenant Colonel Steve A Chappuis) and the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) (Colonel Joseph H Harper), attached to the 327th was the 1st Battalion 401st GIR.

Also arriving in Bastogne at about the same time was the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, sent down from the Ninth Army up north. This battalion was equipped with M18 Hellcats armed with the new 76mm long barrelled gun, which put it on equal terms with the German Tigers with their 88mm guns. The 755th Field Artillery Battalion with its 155mm howitzers had received orders to leave its original position and head for Bastogne. By chance the 969th FAB had been supporting the 28th Division with its medium howitzers when it found itself within the Bastogne perimeter. The field artillery battalions were sent south-west, to the Villeroux and Senonchamps area. The 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, CCB 10th Armored Division was already in place. From these positions all the FABs would be able to lay down fire anywhere in the area when required.

Floyd Foster, serving with the 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 10th Armored Division recalls:

‘The 10th Armored Division withdrew from the front in the Saar River area, and proceeded northward as fast as possible to shore up the defences of the First Army north of Luxembourg City in Belgium, and the sector in Luxembourg itself. Having travelled all night, CCB arrived in Bastogne on the 18th. The 420th AFA Bn, had loaded up on gasoline and ammunition at Luxembourg City, with all we could carry with us… and left our supply trains there, to get additional big shells for our M-7’s [105mm Howitzers on an open tank chassis] and more gasoline and small arms ammo. They were to rejoin us as soon as possible.’

By 20 December, the 420th AFA Bn had positioned itself west of Bastogne proper, with the fire direction post and battalion headquarters set up at Senonchamps, (approximately three kilometres west on the Marche road). From this position we proceeded to support our three teams of 10th Armored tanks and infantry… Team O’ara (south of Wardin, on the Wiltz road – south-east)…Team Cherry (At Longvilly to the east)…and Team Desobry (north at Noville). Our 105s had a range of approximately seven miles (12,300 yards) and we were able to complete fire missions for all the teams from our location.’

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Technician 4th Grade Floyd Foster, 420th Armored Field Artillery Batalion 10th Armored Division

Within two hours of its arrival the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion had all its elements occupying defensive positions along the line.

Lieutenant Wayne E. Tennant (705th TD Battalion):

‘The 705th TD Bn arrived in the Bastogne area on the 18 December 1944, with orders to report to the 101st Airborne Division. I was a Company Commander of Company C and my orders were to report to and support a 101st Airborne Infantry unit in a grove of trees [On the road to Foy] about three miles north of Bastogne. I left my Headquarters platoon and one platoon of tank destroyers in Bastogne and took two platoons of tank destroyers (eight TDs) with me. I found the grove of trees in the dark, near midnight, kept one platoon there with me and sent the other platoon on into Foy. The next morning just as it was nearing daylight we started receiving heavy fire. We also started receiving casualties, and I was one of them’.

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Lieutenant Wayne E. Tennant 705th TD Battalion.

Middleton, who we have already seen had his headquarters in the old army barracks in Bastogne, was advised to shift his command southwest to the town of Neufchateau. This he did, but he remained in order to brief McAuliffe on the disposition of his make-shift defence.

The 1st Battalion of the 501st were to set out immediately to reinforce CCR and Task Force Cherry. McAuliffe told the commander, Colonel Ewell:

‘Move out along this road to the east at 1800, make contact with the enemy, attack and clear up the situation.’

The 1st Battalion got no further than the village of Neffe. However, it was able to help Cherry and his staff escape the inferno of his command post at the chateau. In a classic three battalion attack the paratroopers pushed elements of the Panzer Lehr out of Bizory to the north of Mageret and held firm.

Colonel Roberts of the 10th Armored Division had put his arm around the young 26 year old Major Desobry in a fatherly gesture and told him,

‘By tomorrow morning you’ll probably be nervous. Then you’ll probably want to pull out. When you begin thinking like that, remember I told you NOT to pull out.’

Desobry spent a sleepless night in the village of Noville; with the morning came erratic attacks from German tanks. It was difficult to see anything, as the early morning fog was thickest in this particular area. At about mid morning the pea soup fog suddenly lifted. The American defenders were amazed to see the whole area crawling with German armour. The 2nd Panzer Division, on its way north-west towards the Meuse, had hit Noville. Desobry’s tank gunners started firing with everything they had. The enemy had been caught by surprise and their vehicles made excellent targets. To the north could be seen fourteen German tanks racing in column along a high ridge. It was like a shooting gallery, the small force of tank destroyers with their 90mm guns picked off ten of them in quick succession.

It was not long before ammunition was running short so Desobry radioed Colonel Roberts at CCB Headquarters to ask permission to pull back a couple of miles to regroup. Roberts replied, ‘You can use your own judgement about withdrawing. But I’m sending a battalion of paratroopers to reinforce you.’

‘I’ll get ready to counterattack,’ replied Desobry.

It was just the sort of thing that headquarters in Bastogne wanted to hear.

Team O’Hara, situated to the southeast of Wardin, had seen very little action, so far things had been quiet in the sector when elsewhere the sound of battle kept flaring up. This was worrying O’Hara – was something unpleasant gathering in the fog which shrouded the area? He called one of his officers over, Lieutenant John Drew Devereaux, and told him to take a Jeep and patrol north to the village of Wardin. All was quiet there, so Devereaux, with his two companion, drove on eastwards. The fog began lifting and visibility started to improve all round. Suddenly they spotted, in the near distance, German half-tracks heading their way. Lieutenant Devereaux was at the wheel and responding to the involuntary cry of ‘Krauts!’ he spun the Jeep around and, flattening the accelerator to the floor, raced back to report to O’Hara.

They had bumped into a reconnaissance patrol belonging to Panzer Lehr. At that precise moment a large part of Bayerlein’s armour was heading northeast to eradicate, what he considered to be, the peril behind him. He still thought that there was a large American presence at Longvilly.

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Major General William H Morris (Centre), Commander of the 10th Armored Division, confers with Lieutenant General Patton.

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U.S. Infantry digging in. The conditions were awful.

That same day in Verdun, Eisenhower chaired a conference. The air of which was one of gloom and doom. He began the proceedings by saying,

‘The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster. There will only be cheerful faces at this conference table.’

General Patton was the first to reply. In his normal flamboyant way he blurted out.

‘Let’s have the guts to let the sons of bitches go all the way to Paris. Then we’ll really cut ‘em off and chew ‘em up.’

Immediately the atmosphere changed; a light-hearted mood descended over the conference. Eisenhower stated that the German attack must not go further than the River Meuse, and Patton he told to make an attack north to help relieve the présure on the struggling US First Army.

‘I want you to go to Luxembourg and take charge. When can you start up there.’

‘Now,!’ answered Patton.

‘You mean today.’ said Eisenhower. ‘I mean as soon as you’ve finished with us here.’ replied Patton.

Everybody at the table thought Patton was doing his usual thing, of boasting and Eisenhower got annoyed. Patton stood up, lit a cigar and pointed to the bulge on the operations map.

‘This time the Kraut has stuck his head in a meat grinder. And this time I’ve got hold of the handle.’

‘All right, George,’ said Eisenhower. ‘Start your attack no earlier than the twenty-second and no later than the twentythird.’

With the meeting finished Patton telephoned his headquarters in Nancy, and told them of his plan. Within a few minutes of the receiver being replaced Patton’s Third Army started to wheel the ninety degrees necessary to get them on the new track heading north.

Meanwhile at Bastogne, men were streaming in from all kinds of dissimilar units. The fleeing stragglers were immediately fed, for most had not slept or eaten for two days, before being rearmed and introduced into the defensive ring around the town.

At Noville the 1st Battalion of Colonel Robert F Sink’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment arrived to aid Team Desobry. The paratroopers commanded by Colonel La Prade linked up with the tanks and La Prade took charge. Within minutes the command post was hit by an artillery shell and La Prade lay dead and Desobry was evacuated badly wounded. The paratroopers, now under command of Major Harwick, had battled against a battalion-size force and along with Team Desobry, now renamed Team Hustead, dug in.

All night the men endured heavy shelling which steadily demolished the village. At dawn two German tanks came crashing into the village, both were destroyed, one by a bazooka, the other by a shell from a Sherman. This was just the start, for by mid-morning the 2nd Panzer Division was throwing everything at Noville and American casualties were mounting by the minute.

At midday, orders were received to fall back on the village of Foy. Men were crowded onto the surviving five Shermans and into the remaining half-tracks and, under cover of a now descending fog, headed south. Just outside Foy the lead halftrack stopped. Due to the poor visibility the second half-track in the line ran into the back of the stationary vehicle, effectively blocking the road. At the same time some Germans, who had infiltrated behind the village of Noville, began firing at the stalled convoy. A concentrated fusillade of machine gun and rifle fire put paid to the intruders. Shortly after the column got going it was fired on again, this time by a group of German tanks. Two Shermans were hit, one broke down, and another one got away but was destroyed as it reached Foy. The remaining Sherman was driverless after he had climbed down from his tank to try and sort out the traffic jam and was hit. No other driver could be found, so a group of paratroopers got in it and managed to lead what was left of the defenders of Noville, back to the relative safety of Foy.

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Glider troops moving out to their positions.

General Heinrich von Lüttwitz:

The orders called for 2nd Panzer Division to take Noville under any circumstances, as fast as possible, and it was the troops of that division which carried the attack throughout. The attacks of the two divisions had not been coordinated. Although each division was supposed to proceed within its divisional zone and the faster it moved the better, they were in radio communication at all times, and each division knew what the other was doing. In this phase of the attack they could not change the plan. Before they attacked it was pretty clear that Bastogne would be difficult to take. On 12 December 1944, the Corps Commander issued this order to his division, “Bastogne must be taken eventually from the rear. If it is not taken, it will always remain an ulcer on our lines of communication, and for this reason it will contain too many forces. Therefore, first clear out the whole of Bastogne and then march on.” The northernmost infantry regiment of 26 Volks Gren Div had orders after going through Longvilly to proceed through Toy toward Longchamps, and it was elements of this division engaged in this movement which got into 506 PIR rear at Foy and threatened to split 506 and 501 PIR.’

[This was the force that made the split by attacking down the railway towards Bastogne 21 December.] The commander of the 2nd Panzer Division radioed headquarters for permission to attack south towards Bastogne, but was abruptly told to keep going for the Meuse and forget Bastogne. The task of subduing the town would be for the Panzer Lehr and 26th VGD. The Germans by this time were flowing north and south of Bastogne, clearly probing to find a weak spot in the now forming perimeter defence. They desperately needed to capture Bastogne.

By 20 December, McAuliffe had all his reinforcements in and around Bastogne. To the east, still holding, was Team Cherry along with the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment; to the northeast at Foy was the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment; the northern perimeter was being held by the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR). Finally, the southern area was being covered by the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR). Scattered amongst these regiments was aid in the form of Robert’s CCB 10th Armored Division and the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The artillery was well within the comparative safety of the perimeter and could lay a barage down anywhere around it when called upon to do so.

The line was tested twice that day. Elements of Panzer Lehr attacked from the southeast, hitting Team O’Hara, manning a road block near the village of Marvie. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers crashed through the block and entered the village itself. Glider troops from Colonel Harper’s 327 GIR were rushed over to give aid to the hard-pressed tankers and house to house fighting ensued. After about two hours the Germans had been routed and Marvie was firmly in American hands once again.

Meanwhile, German infantry supported by tanks and selfpropelled artillery, hit the left-hand side of Ewell’s 501st PIR near the village of Bizory. After a hard fight and minus several tanks hit by anti-tank fire from the American lines the Germans sought cover. It was now that the artillery was called on for the first time. A twenty-minute concentration landed on the hapless Germans killing and wounding many.

Although the Volksgrenadiers lost many men they continued their attack that evening. After an artillery barrage, panzers and infantry attacked through Neffe towards Bastogne. The American artillery opened up once more creating a wall of fire. Infantry that succeeded in surviving this were promptly cut down by machine-gun fire from Ewell’s 1st Battalion. In unison with this attack another regiment of Volksgrenadiers attacked Ewell’s southern or right-hand line. As darkness fell the American infantry could hear the Germans moving about, and laid down fire in their direction. Screams and yells could be heard as bullets found targets. Next morning’s light revealed the grim sight of rows of dead Germans hanging on barbed wire. In the darkness the Germans had got themselves entangled amongst some farmers’ wire fences which crossed the fields in front of the American positions.

With a lull in the fighting on 20 December, McAuliffe decided to go to Neufchateau and see Middleton; he wanted to reassess the situation. McAuliffe told the Corps commander that he could hold out for perhaps another two days. Middleton was pleased and said:

‘Good luck Tony, Now don’t get yourself surrounded.’

McAuliffe returned in his jeep to Bastogne, no sooner had he entered the safety of the perimeter than the Germans moving north and south of the town cut the Neufchateau road, effectively encircling the town.

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