CHAPTER FOUR

RELIEF OF BASTOGNE

Kokott tried one more attack on the morning of 26 December. His troops to the west of Bastogne were holding a small salient along the main road from Mande St Etienne. He got together a small assault group from his 26th VGD, with an attachment of ten tank destroyers and sent them in a north-easterly direction towards Hemroulle. This, he hoped, would bring the assault group round for an attack on the town from the north. It was not to be. It did manage to form a wedge through the lines of the 327th GIR, but was then caught in the open by the massed American artillery situated west of Bastogne and was literally blown to pieces.

Four tank destroyers managed to evade the deluge of fire but were caught out by a large ditch on the outskirts of Hemroulle, where they too were destroyed. This was to be the final German assault on the town of Bastogne. By that afternoon, at Kokott’s command post, more bad news arrived. The 5th Parachute Division had crumbled and his 39th Regiment was under heavy attack from the south. Kokott had no reserves left to send to their assistance. In the late afternoon he got a report from his 39th Regiment saying that American tanks had broken through the German positions at Assenois.

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A knocked out Sturmgeschütz tank destroyer.

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Street scene in Bastogne.

With pleas of help bombarding him, Field Marshall Model told the dwindling German forces to hold the Americans inside the perimeter until aid could be sent.

The force that broke through Assenois was in fact Combat Command Reserve of the 4th Armored Division. With CCA and CCB of that division being held up, CCR had been committed. It had been ordered up to Neufchateau on Christmas Eve. From there it had started its attack up the main road. It was not long before units of CCR encountered stiff resistance while approaching Sibret. Its commander Colonel Wendell Blanchard decided to swing CCR off the main road and onto a secondary road where the resistance might be lighter.

The little village of Remichampagne was cleared, and by about midafternoon Lieutenant-Colonel Creighton W. Abrams commander of the 37th Tank Battalion, and the 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel George L Jaques was on the outskirts of the next village, Clochimont.

The two commanders stood at a junction discussing the plan for the attack on Sibret from that direction, when to the north they spotted C47 aircraft dropping supplies to the besieged troops. Without telling their commander they decided to plunge through Assenois and open a corridor through to Bastogne. Abrams called up Captain William A Dwight with Company C, 37th Tank Battalion and Company C, 53rd AIB. Abrams briefed Dwight on his plan and sent him on his way. At 1620, 26 December, 1st Lieutenant Charles P Boggess, leading the point, with eight Shermans set off. Artillery saturated Assenois in a pre-arranged bombardment. On reaching the village, Boggess called for the shelling to lift. Without waiting for a reply he tore through the village as Germans began to emerge from their cellars. The armored infantry behind became engaged in hand-to-hand fighting, whilst Boggess careered out the other side of Assenois, but with only five tanks, as three had become lost in the streets. Somehow or other an infantry half-track had attached itself to Boggess’s column and had slotted itself in between tanks number 3 and 4.

It did not take Boggess long to reach the top of the hill leading to Bastogne, but the half-track had developed engine trouble and was struggling to keep up. It gradually fell behind holding up the tanks in its wake. A gap had formed in the column, which gave the Germans at the side of the road time enough to lay some anti-tank mines. The half-track reached this spot and hit one. Captain Dwight was in the tank immediately behind the disabled half-track and ordered it moved. Once the road was cleared Dwight led his column at full speed up the hill to catch up. Meanwhile Boggess had reached the plateau and spotted in the snow covered fields camouflaged parachutes. He also spotted a bunker amidst some pine trees. His tank immediately fired three shells at it, while his machine-gunner mowed down a group of Germans in the trees.

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Looking out for snipers in a Belgian village.

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Tanks of the 4th Armored Division ready for action south of Bastogne.

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Sherman and Stuart tanks on the move.

General McAuliffe had been informed about the relief, and in turn had told the 326th Airborne Engineers, who were holding that particular part of the perimeter, to be on the lookout. They spotted the tanks but were not sure of the identity of them through all the murk.

Boggess saw a little further on from the bunker, a line of manned foxholes either side of the road and was convinced this was the 101st Airborne’s position. He stopped his tank and shouted:

‘Come out here, this is the 4th Armored Division.’

After a minute or two a GI got out of his hole and introduced himself.

‘2nd Lieutenant Webster – 326th Engineer Battalion – 101st Airborne.’

The time was 16.45. More GIs greeted Boggess and asked for water and three jerrycans were found for them. To the GIs it was delicious when compared to melted snow they’d been forced to drink.

Captain Dwight moved on to the southern outskirts of Bastogne and met McAuliffe. Dwight introduced himself as the advanced guard, 4th Armored Division. McAuliffe replied, ‘I am really glad to see you.’ Twenty minutes later Abrams arrived in Bastogne.

At 1830, while the fighting was still going on in Assenois, an infantry unit using half-tracks headed for Bastogne. But the Germans had regained control of the area around the bunker and ambushed the column. Three half-tracks were destroyed by panzerfausts. In the darkness the Americans cleared up the place and by midnight all was quiet again.

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German prisoners from the 26th Volksgrenadier Division being brought in to Bastogne.

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Airborne troops moving up a fire break.

Generalmajor Heinz Kokott:

‘The 39th Grenedier Regiment had its principle strength in Assenois, Salvacourt, and Sibret. I told Kaufmann to continue facing towards Bastogne, and not to form a front to the south. I warned him, of course, to watch his rear and, when it became worse, to prepare an all-around defence, using all his anti-tank guns.

When the US 4th Armored Division broke into Assenois in the afternoon, Kaufmann called me. He said there were twelve enemy tanks in the village. The tanks were through Assenois and going to Bastogne. I knew it was all over. I told Kaufmann just to block the road. The corridor was still very small, the width of the road itself, and I hoped that with road-blocks and barriers, we could close the ring around Bastogne. It was a difficult task, however, because 39th Grenadier Regiment had been scattered on both sides of the road by 4th Armored Division tanks, which were firing in all directions. Now it was difficult for 39th Grenadier Regiment to fight back without firing at each other. We tried to get reinforcements there, but the troops of the 26th VGD were so tired from their fighting that they couldn’t make the effort. The Führer Begleit Brigade was ordered by Corps to move to Sibret to close the circle, but it didn’t get there in time. When it arrived, the US 4th Armored Division had already taken Sibret.’

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German dead around Bastogne.

A lifeline now existed to the outside world for the ‘Battling Bastards of Bastogne,’ It was only a narrow corridor through the German lines but it was enough to get the much needed supplies and men through to the besieged town.

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Under the immortal sign, General Taylor Commander of the 101st Airborne Division shakes the hand of the top brass.

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