The Initial Deployment East of Bastogne
The one standing order that General Middleton gave General McAuliffe before leaving Bastogne on the morning of 19 December was: "Hold Bastogne."* Both generals felt that the enemy needed Bastogne and the entrance it afforded to a wider complex of roads leading west. (Map VI) During the night of the 18th the two commanders met in the VIII Corps command post to confer on the uncertain tactical situation and to give Colonel Ewell, whose regiment would first be committed, his instructions. The map spread out before Ewell showed a few blue-penciled marks east of Bastogne where the American armored groups were believed to be fighting at their original roadblock positions. General Middleton told Ewell that his job would be to make contact with these endangered forward posts. Ewell, however, was interested in the red-penciled lines and circles which showed the enemy between Bastogne and the armored roadblocks. In view of the uncertain situation, he suggested that he be given "mission-type orders" which would permit his 501st Parachute Infantry some flexibility of action. McAuliffe agreed, as did Middleton, but the latter still hoped that the roadblock defenders at Allerborn, eight miles to the east on the Bastogne road, would somehow survive until the 501st reached them. McAuliffe's order, then, was for Ewell to move out at 0600, attack eastward, and develop the situation.
At the appointed hour on 19 December Ewell's 501st Parachute Infantry marched out of the assembly area in column of battalions. Ewell knew that this was no time to engage in the all-out, full-bodied assault tactics to which the paratroopers were accustomed. He told
his officers to "take it easy," avoid commitment to an action which would involve their whole force, and deploy to right and left as soon as they hit resistance so that they would not be easily cut off and surrounded.1
Hindsight, of course, bestows a view of the American and German dispositions at 0600, when the 101st advance guard marched out, which was denied Ewell and the corps and division staffs in Bastogne. The battles already described were now coming to a close on the roads, in the villages, and through the woods east of the town as the 101st was taking its stance. During the night of 18 December the three small task forces of CCR, 9th Armored Division, which Middleton had ordered Colonel Gilbreth to position on and overwatching the Allerborn-Bastogne road (N 12), were cut to pieces. Some men and vehicles would escape to take a part in the fight for Bastogne, although some of Colonel Booth's command took six days of dodging the enemy before they reached the American lines. At Longvilly, next, and to the west, on the Bastogne road, Gilbreth had gathered what was left of CCR and its attached troops to fight a rear guard action until the 19th dawned and an orderly withdrawal might be effected.
Gilbreth started his guns displacing to the rear some time before daybreak, but the main force commenced to defile through the western exit from Longvilly about 0800, only to be ambushed and thrown into disorder when approaching Mageret, midway between Longvilly and Bastogne. Team Cherry (Lt. Col. Henry T. Cherry) of CCB, 10th Armored Division, which had been sent along the road toward Longvilly the previous evening, found itself involved in a series of disjointed actions as enemy troops cut the highway. Team Hyduke (1st Lt. Edward P. Hyduke) was caught up in the fight east of Mageret, subsequently losing all its vehicles in a sharp and aggressive armored action which the 2d Panzer commander dignified as an American "counterattack." (Late on the afternoon of the 19th Lieutenant Hyduke led his men on foot out of the melee under orders to rejoin CCB. He was afterward killed at Bastogne.)
Team Ryerson (Capt. William F. Ryerson), the main force belonging to Cherry, had laagered during the night between Mageret and Longvilly--and thus would fight an action almost independently of the Longvilly column--but before daybreak Ryerson knew that the enemy was in Mageret and that he would have to punch his way back to the west. Cherry sent orders confirming this withdrawal about 0830. Ryerson found his team outnumbered and outgunned by the Germans holding Mageret, but on the night of the 19th four squads of his armored infantry held a narrow foothold in a few houses on the eastern edge of the village, waiting there for help promised from the west. Colonel Cherry had gone back to Bastogne to see the CCB commander late on the 18th, returning
thereafter to his own headquarters outside Neffe (a mile and a quarter southwest of Mageret) with word that the 101st would reinforce his command the next day. On the road back, however, he learned that the Germans were in Mageret and his troops were cut off. About the time Ewell's paratroopers debouched on the Bastogne road, Neffe was hit by tanks and infantry from Panzer Lehr; some hours later Cherry's detachment would pull back to Mont.2
On the morning of 19 December, therefore, the job confronting the 501st was that of developing, fixing, and fighting the German detachments, now in strength, which stood to the rear of the erstwhile American blocking positions and presaged the coming main effort to crash the panzer columns through or around Bastogne.
The German High Command was aware that the two American airborne divisions had orders to enter the battle; in the late afternoon of 18 December intercepted radio messages to this effect reached OB WEST. German intelligence knew that the Americans were moving by truck and so estimated that none of these new troops would appear in the line before noon on the 19th. The German staffs believed that the two divisions would be deployed along a front extending from Bastogne to the northeast. In any case the German attack plan was unfolding about as scheduled and three German divisions were bearing down on Bastogne. The 2d Panzer Division's successes during the night of 18 December against the outpost positions east of Longvilly had netted forty American tanks, and the apparent crumbling of the last defenses east of Bastogne promised quick entry to that city on the 19th.
Actually the three German divisions moving toward Bastogne were not all maneuvering to attack the city. Lauchert's 2d Panzer Division had other fish to fry--its objective was the Meuse bridges--and when daylight came on the 19th the division advance guard was working its way to bypass Bastogne in the north. The 2d Panzer's end run, across country and on miserable third-class roads, collided with Maj. William R. Desobry's task force from CCB at Noville (four miles north of Bastogne), then blundered into a series of sharp actions reaching back to Longvilly.
On the left the Panzer Lehr, having seized Mageret during the night, began an attack about 0500 on the 19th designed to take Bastogne; it was a part of this forward detachment of Panzer Lehr which hit Cherry's headquarters at Neffe. Close on the heels of Panzer Lehr, two regiments of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division had made a right wheel with the intention of circling through Longvilly and Luzery so as to enter Bastogne from the north via the Noville road. Kokott's grenadiers, who had accomplished a truly remarkable feat in keeping pace with the mechanized columns of the Panzer Lehr, by now were spent. The regimental trains were far to the rear and resupply had to be made. Furthermore the boundaries and attack plans for the three divisions converging
on Bastogne were so confused that it would take some time for the 26th Volks Grenadier Division (-) to orient and coordinate its attack. On the morning of the 19th Kokott's two regiments lay quiescent and exhausted in the scattered woods southeast of Longvilly. Only the advance guard of the Panzer Lehr, therefore, was attacking directly toward Bastogne when the paratroopers of the 501st marched on to the Bastogne-Longvilly road.3
Ewell had his 1st Battalion (Maj. Raymond V. Bottomly, Jr.) out as advance guard. The road was curtained at intervals by swirling fog and from time to time rain squalls swept in. Some 2,000 yards out of the city (it now was about 0820) the battalion ran onto a few howitzers from the 9th Armored whose crews were "ready, willing and able," as the journals report it, to support the 501st. Less than a thousand yards beyond, the advance guard encountered the enemy near the railroad station at the edge of Neffe; here was the roadblock which the Panzer Lehr had wrested from Cherry's headquarters detachment.
On the previous evening the VIII Corps commander had sent the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion (Lt. Col. Sam Tabets) to establish a line east of Bastogne between Foy and the Neffe road. Nearly a thousand antitank mines had been scraped together from other corps engineers to aid the 158th, and at least part of these were laid in front of the engineer foxholes during the night. When the 158th reported about 0200 that its outpost at Mageret had been overrun, Middleton sent what help he could--five light tanks taken from ordnance repair shops. At daybreak two enemy rifle companies, led by a few tanks, hit Company B, whose right flank touched the Bastogne highway near Neffe. The engineers succeeded in halting the advance along the road, although at a cost of some thirty casualties. Pvt. Bernard Michin seems to have blocked the panzers when he put a bazooka round into the leader at ten yards' range. Meanwhile Team Cherry had lost its roadblock at the Neffe station but momentarily had stopped the Germans at Neffe village. Enemy pressure then eased somewhat; perhaps the German infantry were waiting for their tanks to break through at Mageret. The fight had slackened to a small arms duel when Ewell's paratroopers came on the scene.4
Feeling carefully to the north and south of the highway, the 1st Battalion found that the Germans were deployed in some force and that this was no occasion for a quick knockout blow to handle a single roadblock. About 0900 Ewell turned the 2d Battalion (Maj. Sammie N. Homan) off the road in a maneuver on the left of the vanguard intended to seize the higher ground near the village of Bizory and Hill 510, a fairly substantial rise to the east which overlooked both Neffe and Bizory. When the 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. George M. Griswold)
came up, Ewell sent it to the right with orders to take Mont and the ridge south of Neffe. By noon the regimental attack had attained most of its objectives. (Bizory already was outposted by troops of the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion.) Hill 510, however, was no easy nut to crack. The enemy held the position with automatic weapons sweeping the bare glacis to west and south--here the paratroopers made no progress. On the right one of Griswold's platoons arrived in time to give Colonel Cherry a hand in the fight at the Neffe château command post and, when the Americans were burned out, the subsequent withdrawal to Mont. The 3d Battalion had not been able to get around Neffe, but Company I did go as far as Wardin, southeast of Neffe, where it ambushed a 25-man patrol.
The appearance of the Americans in this area, little more than a mile south of Mageret, was interpreted immediately as a flanking threat to the two grenadier regiments of the Panzer Lehr which had wheeled to the right and away from Bastogne to engage the American columns transfixed on the Mageret-Longvilly road. Bayerlein detached a part of his reconnaissance battalion to meet this threat. The Americans made a fight of it inside Wardin, retreating from house to house as the long-barreled self-propelled guns blasted in the walls. One paratrooper walked into the street to confront one of the guns with a bazooka; he got the gun, then was cut down. Finally the guns jolted the paratroopers out of Wardin; they had inflicted thirty-nine casualties on Company I, all of whose officers were hit, and killed Capt. Claude D. Wallace, Jr., the company commander.
To the west, near the hamlet of Marvie, lay the tanks and armored infantry of Team O'Hara (Lt. Col. James O'Hara) holding the right of the three blocking positions set up by CCB, 10th Armored, the day before. O'Hara thus far had seen no Germans. His first warning that the fight was expanding in his direction was the "stragglers of airborne around us" and high velocity shellfire directed at his left tank platoon. For some reason the enemy failed to close with O'Hara, perhaps because of the low, clinging fog which had reduced visibility to about seventy-five feet. Ordered to do so by Colonel Roberts, the CCB commander, O'Hara sent tanks back into Wardin, but the village was empty. The tanks retired to the Marvie position as dark came on, and late in the evening Panzer Lehr occupied Wardin.
A message from McAuliffe ended this initial day of battle for the 501st and the regiment dug in where it stood. Ewell now had a fair picture of the enemy to his front but no clear idea of the fate or location of Team Cherry's main force, not to mention the CCR roadblock detachments.
Although the 501st had deployed successfully astride the main road east of Bastogne and had developed a sketchy outline of the most advanced German positions, it had not at any time confronted the main German forces. These, the bulk of Panzer Lehr and the two forward regiments of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division, spent most of the day chopping down the American column trapped between Mageret and Longvilly. Kokott apparently had expected to push his two grenadier regiments unopposed through Longvilly, as soon as they were rested, in a circling march to
enter Bastogne from the north, but the German corps commander, General Luettwitz, himself took these regiments out of Kokott's hand and thrust them into the battle with the American rear guard at Longvilly--which held there longer than expected--and against the retreating column en route to Mageret. Suffice it to say that the 501st had been effectively debarred from the Longvilly arena by the Panzer Lehr troops holding Neffe, Hill 510, and the stopper position at Mageret. By the evening of the 19th the American troops east of Mageret were in varying stages of tactical dissolution--all but Team Ryerson, still clutching its piece of Mageret village. Luettwitz was elated by this victory over the American armor (which as an old tanker he attributed in large part to the superiority of the Panther tank gun), but he realized that a precious day had been lost and with it the chance of an armored coup de main at Bastogne.
At Noville, the left of the three blocking positions, Middleton had assigned Colonel Roberts and CCB. Here Team Desobry, organized around fifteen medium tanks, stood athwart the main paved highway running north from Bastogne to Houffalize. This force had been in position about five hours, reporting all quiet, when at 0720 on the 19th German half-tracks hit the American roadblocks. Americans and Germans pitched grenades at each other in the fog and one or two panzers reached the village itself. The enemy--probably a patrol feeling a way in front of Lauchert's 2d Panzer--soon pulled out, and the noise of battle died away.
The VIII Corps commander, much concerned by the gap which he knew existed between his southern troops and those of his corps somewhere to the north, ordered Desobry to investigate the town of Houffalize. (During the night, a patrol Desobry had sent in that direction reported the road open.) Before anything could be done about the Houffalize mission, the Germans unleashed their artillery against Noville. Lauchert, intent on regaining the momentum which the 2d Panzer had lost in the night fighting around Allerborn and Longvilly, and determined to get off the miserable side roads which he had chosen as a quick way around Bastogne, put all the guns that had kept pace with the forward elements into a shoot to blast a way through to the west. At 1000 the fog curtain suddenly parted revealing a landscape dotted with German tanks--at least thirty of them. Fourteen tanks from the 3d Panzer Regiment made a try for Noville, coming in from the north. Several bogged down in a vain attempt to maneuver off the road; others were slopped by Desobry's company of Sherman tanks and by tank destroyer fire. On the east the enemy had started an infantry assault, but the fog lifted before the first waves reached the village and, suddenly divested of cover, most of the attackers turned and ran.
Desobry could not know that Noville was the focus of the entire 2d Panzer maneuver, but he did ask for permission to withdraw. Roberts replied that Desobry should use his own judgment, then added that more tank destroyers were on the way from Bastogne (Desobry had only a platoon from the 609th) and that the 101st was sending a rifle battalion within the half hour. Coincident with Roberts' message the last of the German assault force pulled back. Lauchert had decided that the ground was too poor
for tank maneuver, that reinforcements must be brought up for a headlong plunge. Meanwhile the German cannoneers continued to pummel Noville. Desobry had many casualties, but several ambulances had been wrecked by shellfire and it was difficult to get the wounded out.
The reinforcements reaching Desobry consisted of a platoon from the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion (three companies of which constituted the only corps reserve Middleton had to give the 101st Airborne) and the 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. James L. LaPrade) of the 506th Parachute Infantry. Although McAuliffe assigned the 506th the mission of covering the northern approaches to Bastogne, the remaining two battalions had a string attached as the division reserve, and the regimental commander, Colonel Sink, was under strict orders not to move them from their positions just north of Bastogne. As the paratroopers approached Noville, they came under heavy, well-aimed artillery fire, twenty to thirty rounds exploding on the village every ten minutes. Vehicles and buildings were aflame--this was indeed a hot corner, the village itself practically bare of life. Desobry's detachment was deployed south and west of the village; the Germans were firing from the north and east, a more comfortable position since the higher ground encircling Noville tilted up on the enemy side of the dish.
By 1430 the 1st Battalion was ready to begin the assault against the enemy-held high ground. The center company walked almost immediately into a rain of barrage fire and was stopped with heavy losses. The two remaining companies were met with intense small arms fire but in fifteen minutes worked their way forward in short spurts to a point where one last dash would put them on the crest. As the paratroopers lay here, a mass of green-clad figures suddenly erupted over the hill. Later the 1st Battalion estimated this attack was carried by a rifle battalion backed by sixteen tanks. The American assault had smacked headlong into the attack the 2d Panzer had been readying since mid-morning. As the fight spread, nearly thirty-two panzers were counted on the field. The two antagonists each reported subsequently that "the enemy counter-attack halted." Both probably were correct--although both continued to suffer heavy casualties. The German tanks might have decided the issue, but for over half an hour they stayed well back of the rifle line, perhaps fearful lest bazooka teams would reach them in the smoke and fog billowing up the hill, perhaps fearful of the bite in the few Shermans left. When a few of the enemy tanks finally ventured to approach, the American tank destroyers south of the village got on the flank of the panzers and put away five of them at 1,500-yards range.
Now as the smoke and fog increased, only small eddies broke the pall to give a few minutes of aimed fire. Two of the airborne companies fell back to the outskirts of Noville while the third, on the hill to the east, waited for darkness to cover its withdrawal. At one juncture the 1st Battalion was under orders to leave Noville, but Brig. Gen. Gerald J. Higgins, the assistant division commander who was acting alter ego for McAuliffe, told the paratroopers to stay put and promised assault gun and tank destroyer support for the morrow.
To the Noville garrison the dark
hours were a nightmare. Every half hour a gust of enemy artillery fire shook the town; one shell crashed near the American command post, killing LaPrade and wounding Desobry. Maj. Robert F. Harwick, a paratrooper, assumed overall command, while Maj. Charles L. Hustead replaced Desobry as the armored team commander. (Desobry, with an agonizing head wound, was placed in an ambulance headed for Bastogne, but the ambulance was captured en route.) Through the night the panzers prowled on the edge of the village and the German grenadiers came out of their foxholes in abortive forays to reach the streets. But the paratroopers held the enemy at arm's length and the enemy tankers showed little inclination to engage Hustead's remaining eight Shermans, which had been brought into the village, in a blindfold duel.
Earlier in the day the 101st commander had planned to establish a defensive line running northwest to southeast in front of Bastogne from which the 501st, tied in with Desobry and Cherry as flank guards, would launch a counterattack. The events of the 19th, as it turned out, showed how little room for maneuver was left the Americans. Colonel Roberts, assessing the reports from CCB in the early evening, advised McAuliffe that "right now the whole front is flat against this town [Bastogne]." Roberts was right; nonetheless there remained two indentations in the fast-forming German line: the thumb sticking out at Noville and Team Ryerson's little enclave on the east edge of Mageret. The latter, however, disappeared during the night hours, for Ryerson, on orders, circled the enemy troops in Mageret and brought his depleted command into the lines of the 501st at Bizory. (Ryerson later was killed at Bastogne.)
General Luettwitz lacked the full German corps he craved to throw against Bastogne on the 20th. The 26th Volks Grenadier Division could count on only two of its regiments. Panzer Lehr had a substantial part of the division immediately east of Bastogne, but at least one infantry regiment, much of its artillery, and the bulk of the division trains were still toiling along the gummy little roads--hardly more than trails--climbing west out of the Wiltz valley. Furthermore, Luettwitz had ordered Bayerlein to hold out a reserve for a dash toward Sibret. The neighboring corps might lend Luettwitz a hand in the north--after all its 2d Panzer either had to break through at Noville or had to retrace its steps--but the Fifth Panzer Army commander had reiterated in no uncertain manner that Lauchert's goal was the Meuse, not Bastogne.
The entire artillery complement of the 2d Panzer was in place to support the attack at Noville when the 20th dawned. Lauchert's armor was in poor repair after the long and rough march. A goodly number of tanks had been shot up in the first day's action at Noville, and the combination of muddy terrain and American antitank fire boded no good for a headlong armored assault. Lauchert therefore told his panzer grenadiers to carry the battle in company with small tank packets.
While the German guns plastered the village the grenadiers moved in about 0530 on three sides. Smoke and swirling fog veiled the attackers but the 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, firing from northwest of Bastogne, laid down a protective curtain which held the enemy
at bay for over an hour. The eight Shermans by this time had run out of armor-piercing ammunition and half a dozen panzers tried to close in. A fresh platoon of tank destroyers from the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, sent up by Higgins, took a hand and broke up this sortie. In midmorning, when a promised platoon of quad mount antiaircraft failed to appear, Harwick and Hustead learned that the enemy had cut the road to the rear. The two aid stations could handle no more wounded--most of the medics and aid men were casualties--and the enemy grip obviously was tightening. The word relayed through the artillery net back to Bastogne told the story: "All reserves committed. Situation critical."
McAuliffe and Roberts consulted, agreed that the Noville force should withdraw. To free the troops in Noville would take some doing. General Higgins, in charge of the northern sector, already had acted to meet this crisis by sending the 3d Battalion of the 502d Parachute Infantry (assembled near Longchamps) into an attack northeast against the Germans who had descended on the road linking Noville and Foy. The latter village, 2,500 yards south of Noville on the Bastogne road, had been occupied by the 3d Battalion of the 506th, which had its own fight going. Foy lies at the bottom of a pocket and during the night elements of the 304th Panzer Grenadier Regiment had wormed their way onto the hills overlooking the village from north, west, and east. With this vantage the Germans brought their direct fire weapons to bear and forced the 3d Battalion back onto the high ground south of the hamlet.
But by noon the 101st had a solid base for a counterattack. The 2d Battalion of the 506th covered the right flank of the 3d and was in contact with the 501st on the east. The battalion sent from the 502d was in position west of Foy. Beginning the counterattack at 1400, paratroopers pushed back through Foy and dug in some 200 yards to the north where late in the afternoon they met the column fighting its way back from Noville.5
The smoke and fog that run through all reports of the Noville fight did good service as cover when the Americans formed for the march out. The main German barrier force had arrayed itself just north of Foy, complete with armor and self-propelled guns. Four Shermans, in the van with a few half-tracks, were put out of action before they could return fire. While one paratroop company attacked to open the road, Major Harwick sent for two tank destroyers from the rear of the column. Shells were bursting among the troops crouched by the roadside, and the clank of tank tracks could be heard approaching from Noville. But the tank destroyers and their armor-piercing shell did the trick--and an assist must be credited also to the Americans in Foy who were now on the enemy's rear. By 1700 the column was back inside the American lines. The fight at Noville cost the 1st Battalion of the 506th a total of 13 officers and 199 men killed, wounded, and missing. Team Desobry has no record of its casualties but they must have been very heavy, both in men and vehicles. The 506th estimates that the 2d Panzer lost thirty-one vehicles in the Noville fight
and perhaps half a regiment of foot. At least the first part of this estimate may be close to the fact, for it is known that one battalion of the 3d Panzer Regiment was badly crippled at Noville.
There is an epilogue. In late afternoon, as his soldiers poked about the ruins of Noville, Lauchert radioed the LVIII Panzer Corps commander for permission to wheel the 2d Panzer into Bastogne. Krueger's answer was prompt and astringent: "Forget Bastogne and head for the Meuse!"
The attack planned for the 19th east of Bastogne and carried out by the Panzer Lehr and 26th Volks Grenadier Divisions had signally failed of success. The soft ground had made it impossible for the German tanks to maneuver easily off the roads--a factor of great worth to the defenders. The Americans had at least five artillery battalions on call in this sector, whereas neither of the two enemy divisions had been able to get any substantial number of guns and howitzers forward. Also, the pell-mell, piecemeal deployment east of Bastogne by the advance guard formations was beginning to reap a harvest of delay and tactical confusion. There was some savage fighting here during the day, but uncoordinated--on the part of the enemy--and never pressed in force to a definite conclusion.
On the 20th Luettwitz turned the 78th Volks Grenadier Regiment over to the Panzer Lehr commander for the close-in northern hook at Bastogne planned for execution the previous day. The immediate goal was Luzery, a suburb of Bastogne on the Houffalize highway. The 78th circled north to pass the village of Bizory, the left wing pin for the 501st, but fire from Company F caught the Germans in the flank. This halted the move and forced the 78th to swing wide into the cover given by the woods north of the village. Masked by the woods the enemy proceeded west as far as the Bourcy-Bastogne rail line, then unaccountably stopped. When the 2d Battalion of the 506th came up on the left of the 501st, its disposition was such that it faced this German force, plus its sister regiment the 77th, at the point where the Foy-Bizory road crossed the railroad.
Through most of the daylight hours on the 20th the enemy seemed content to probe the main line occupied by the 501st. During the evening Bayerlein sent his own 902d Panzer Grenadier Regiment against Neffe, but a roving patrol from Team O'Hara happened to spot the tank detachment of the regiment as it filed along the Neffe-Wardin road and brought friendly artillery into play. Between the American gunners and paratroopers the 902d took a formidable beating--very severe casualties were reported by the enemy division commander. A tank destroyer platoon from the 705th used ground flares to sight and destroy three of the panzers reinforcing the infantry assault waves.
When the 501st went into position on the 19th, its southern flank had been none too solidly anchored by the thin counter-reconnaissance screen operated by Task Force O'Hara and the tired, understrength 35th Engineer Combat Battalion (Lt. Col. Paul H. Symbol). Enemy pressure around Wardin, although subsequently relaxed, indicated that here was a gap which had better be sealed. On the morning of the 20th McAuliffe sent the 2d Battalion of the 327th Glider Infantry from the division assembly
area through Bastogne to relieve Company A of the engineers.6
The engineers had just climbed out of their foxhole line west of Marvie and turned the position over to the 2d Battalion when one of O'Hara's outposts saw a German column streaming into Marvie. This was the advance guard of the 901st Regiment which had finally extricated itself from the Wiltz valley. With only a single rifle company and four tanks, the Germans never had a chance. In an hour's time O'Hara's mediums had accounted for the panzers and the 2d Battalion had beaten the attackers back in disorder and occupied Marvie. The paratroopers waited through the day for the main attack to come, but the only evidences of the enemy were a smoke screen drifting in from the east and occasional tanks in the distance. Unknown to the Americans a shift in the Panzer Lehr's stance before Bastogne was taking place.
The inchoate American defense forming at Bastogne was conditioned by a set of optimistic premises. The first of these was the promised arrival of the 4th Armored Division from Patton's Third Army in the south. During the night of 19 December the VIII Corps commander, acting on word from Patton, told McAuliffe that one combat command from the 4th Armored was on its way to Bastogne and would be attached to the 101st. At noon McAuliffe and Roberts (who had been promised this initial 4th Armored force) learned that the entire division was to be added to the Bastogne defense. The certainty of the 4th Armored's appearance explains in part the routine and rather cavalier treatment accorded Capt. Bert Ezell and his little team from CCB, 4th Armored, when it arrived in Bastogne shortly after noon.7 Quite obviously McAuliffe and Middleton anticipated the early appearance of the entire armored division.
A second premise--accepted in most of the 101st planning efforts on 20 December--was that the VIII Corps still had viable forces in and around Bastogne which could be employed in common with the airborne divisions. This idea, of course, went hand in hand with the very real ignorance of enemy forces and locations which obtained both in Bastogne and at Middleton's new headquarters in Neufchâteau. Earlier McAuliffe and his staff had counted on Roberts' 10th Armored combat command to reinforce a counterattack east by the 101st--a vain expectation, as it turned out. There remained the 28th Infantry Division--or at least some part thereof. In midafternoon McAuliffe sent a liaison officer to General Cota, whose headquarters was now at Sibret southwest of Bastogne, with instructions to find out the German dispositions and to ask the question: "Could the 28th attack towards Wiltz in conjunction with the 101st Airborne tomorrow?"
Cota's reply is not even recorded in the 101st Airborne log. After all he could give only one answer: the 28th Infantry Division no longer existed as a division (although two of its regiments would continue in stubborn battle
under other commands). The fall of Wiltz on the night of 19 December had written finis to the story of the 110th Infantry, Cota's single remaining regiment. On the morning of the 20th Cota had gone into Bastogne, finding its streets jammed with vehicles, corps artillery trying to bull a way through, and a host of stragglers, including many of the survivors of the 110th Infantry. General Middleton gave Cota permission to get his people out of Bastogne and the latter ordered them out on foot, abandoning to the traffic jam those vehicles still in their possession. (So impressed was General Cota by the traffic choking the streets and alleys of Bastogne, that he advised the VIII Corps commander to keep all contingents of the 4th Armored Division out of the town.)
Despite McAuliffe's failure to secure the immediate assistance which would make a full-bodied counterattack feasible, it seemed that the tactical problem facing the 101st on the evening of 20 December remained linear, that is, the creation of a homogeneous and defensible line barring entrance to Bastogne from the north and east. The corps letter of instructions reaching McAuliffe at noon on the 20th was rather more sweeping in its definition of mission. "There will be no withdrawal"--this was clear enough to all concerned. "The [101st Airborne] Division will stabilize their front lines on the front P798945 [that is, Recht] to St. Vith, south along a general line east of [Highway] N 15 . . . to connect with the 4th Infantry Division at Breitweiler." It may be assumed that neither Middleton nor McAuliffe took this part of the order either literally or seriously.
There had been a few indications, and rumors, of enemy activity west of Bastogne--indeed the 101st had lost some of its trains in the division assembly area during the previous night--but thus far all this could be charged to raiding parties roaming on the loose under cover of night in a fluid and changing battle. In early evening a report reached Bastogne that the road northwest to La Roche and Ortheuville (where two platoons of the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion now attached to the 101st were operating) was free of the enemy. The roads south to Neufchâteau and Arlon were still open--and waiting for traverse by the 4th Armored. So the situation looked in McAuliffe's Bastogne headquarters at 1900 on 20 December.
Across the lines the German commander, Luettwitz, was none too pleased by the rather dilatory operations of his corps. He knew by this time that the American front east of Bastogne had stiffened and that his troops had been able to find no holes. On the other hand the strength of his corps was increasing by the hour as the two divisions hauled their tails up on the muddy roads--it looked as though he had the forces needed for maneuver. As a last flick of the hand Luettwitz ordered Bayerlein to throw the 902d into the night attack against Neffe. This was at most a diversion, for Luettwitz had decided to envelope Bastogne from the south and west. He intended to use the bulk of the Panzer Lehr, leaving only one of its grenadier regiments to flesh out the eastern front with the foot elements of Kokott's 26th Volks Grenadier Division, but in addition he had in hand the 39th Volks Grenadier Regiment of the 26th which had just come up behind the corps'
south flank. All told there was a sizable motorized force for this venture: the reinforced reconnaissance battalion, the engineer battalion, and the 902d (as soon as it could be disengaged) from the Panzer Lehr; plus the reconnaissance battalion and 39th from the 26th Volks Grenadier Division.
The immediate objectives seem to have been clearly stated. The Panzer Lehr spearheads were to advance via Hompré and Sibret to St. Hubert, while the units of the 26th would start the attack from an assembly point at Remonfosse on the Bastogne-Arlon road with the intention of stabbing into Bastogne from the southwest. In fact this night operation developed into a mad scramble in which the troops from the two divisions jockeyed for the lead as if they were in a flat race for high stakes.
Truly the stakes were high. Throughout this maneuver Luettwitz and his superior, General Manteuffel, had an eye single to shaking the armored columns of the XLVII Panzer Corps free for the dash to the Meuse bridges. Bastogne, sitting in the center of the web of hard-surfaced roads, was important--but only as a means to a geographically distant end. Bastogne had failed to fall like an overripe plum when the bough was shaken, but it could be clipped off the branch--or so the German High Command still reasoned--and without using Bayerlein's armor.
The enemy drive across the south face of Bastogne and on to the west during the night of 20 December did not immediately jolt McAuliffe's command; it was rather a disparate series of clashes with scattered and unsuspecting units of the VIII Corps. Central to the story at this point is the fact that by daylight on the 21st the German infantry following the armored troops were ensconced on both the main roads running from Bastogne south, while light forces were running up and down the western reaches of the Bastogne-St. Hubert highway. In the north the circle had been clamped shut during the night when the 2d Panzer seized Ortheuville on the Marche road.
Bastogne Is Encircled
Some of the Bastogne defenders recall in the saga of the 101st Airborne Division that their lone fight began on 20 December. "It was on this day, 20 December," reads the war diary of the 327th Glider Infantry, "that all roads were cut by the enemy . . . and we were completely surrounded." This is only hindsight. The picture of complete encirclement was built up in McAuliffe's headquarters only slowly on the 21st, nor did the ring at first seem to be hermetic and contracting. Doubtless the word passed among the regiments very rapidly--the 501st journal notes at 1030 that the last road is cut--but it was late afternoon before an armored patrol sent out by CCB affirmed that the way south certainly was closed.
What were the means available for defense of the Bastogne perimeter? The 101st Airborne was an elite, veteran outfit at nearly full strength, and well acquainted with isolation as a combat formation. Only five battalions from McAuliffe's four regiments had been seriously engaged in the fight thus far. Its four artillery battalions were reinforced by the 969th and 755th Field Artillery Battalions, armed with 155-mm. howitzers whose range was nearly
three times that of the airborne artillery, a very important make-weight for the 101st. In addition the 10th Armored Troops were supported by the 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, whose mobility and tactics made it especially useful in a perimeter situation. Also available were stray gun sections and pieces from artillery units which had been decimated during the VIII Corps' withdrawal.
Probably CCB, 10th Armored, and CCR, 9th Armored, had between them some forty operable medium tanks by the 21st.8 To this number of fighting vehicles should be added the light tanks, cavalry assault guns, and antiaircraft artillery automatic weapons carriers--probably no more than two platoons in each category. A very heartening addition to the Bastogne force, of course, was provided by the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
The highway nodal position which made Bastogne so necessary to the Germans also set up a magnetic field for the heterogeneous stragglers, broken infantry, and dismounted tankers heading west. Realizing this fact, Colonel Robert's got permission to gather all stragglers into his command. Roberts' force came to be known as Team SNAFU9 and served mainly as a reservoir from which regular units drew replacements or from which commanders organized task forces for special assignments.
It is impossible to reckon accurately the number and the fighting worth of those stragglers who reached Bastogne and stayed there. CCR contributed about two hundred riflemen; CCB may have had an equal number; General Cota culled two or three hundred men from Team SNAFU to return to his 28th Division; and one may guess there were another two or three hundred stragglers whose identity has been lost. Many of these men, given a hot meal and forty-eight hours' rest, could be used and were used, but they appear as anonymous figures in the combat record (thus: "100 infantry left for Team Browne").
McAuliffe now had the advantage of a clearly defined command structure. Before the 20th he and Colonel Roberts had commanded independently, but on that date Middleton gave McAuliffe the "say" (as General Cota had advised after his visit) over all the troops in the Bastogne sector.10 The presence of Roberts would prove particularly valuable. Early in the war he had been the armored instructor at the Army Command and General Staff School, where his humorously illustrated "Do's" and "Don'ts" of tank warfare showed a keen appreciation of the problems posed by armor and infantry cooperation. The paratroopers were in particular need of this advice for they seldom worked with armor, knew little of its capability, and even less of its limitations, and--as befitted troops who jumped into thin air--were a little contemptuous of men who fought behind plate steel. (During the Bastogne battle Roberts developed a formal memorandum on the proper employment of armor, but this was not
distributed to the 101st until 28 December.) On the other hand the tankers had much to learn from commanders and troops who were used to fighting "surrounded."
McAuliffe's logistic means were less substantial than the tactical. The airborne division normally carried less supply than conventional divisions and the 101st had been hurried into Belgium with ammunition and grenade pouches not quite full, much individual equipment missing (overshoes, helmets, sleeping bags, and the like), and only a few truckloads of 105-mm. howitzer shells. In fact some of the first paratroopers into line had to be supplied with ammunition from the CCB trains. Fortunately Roberts' trains were full, and in some major supply items even had overages, when they arrived at Bastogne.
The ability of the 101st to sustain itself had been severely diminished on the night of 19 December when German raiding parties (some reported in civilian garb) surprised and overran the division service area around Mande-St. Etienne. Most of the quartermaster and ordnance troops made their way to the VIII Corps, but the raiders captured or killed most of the division medical company. Only eight officers and forty-four men escaped. This loss of doctors, aid men, and medical supplies was one of the most severe blows dealt the 101st. A number of transport vehicles also were lost in this affray, but about a hundred trucks had been sent to the rear for resupply and so escaped. Very few of these got back to the 101st before the ring closed.
In addition, Roberts had sent the CCB trucks back for resupply just before the roads were closed. There was, of course, a considerable quantity of ammunition, food, and other supplies inside Bastogne which the VIII Corps had been unable to evacuate. (Officers of Middleton's staff bitterly regretted the loss of the wine and liquors which had been carefully husbanded for consumption at Christmas and New Year). Bastogne was sizable enough to have some reserve civilian stocks, and the melange of armor, engineers, and artillery units around the city had supplies and ammunition in their own vehicles. (Pancakes would appear regularly in the rations served during the siege, these concocted from the doughnut flour left in a huge American Red Cross dump.)
Through assiduous scrounging, requisitioning, and an enforced pooling of unit resources, the G-4 of the 101st would be able to work minor logistic miracles--but these alone would not have insured the survival of the Bastogne garrison. The airborne division had been supplied by air during the Holland operation, and when, on the 21st, McAuliffe knew that his command was isolated he asked for aerial resupply. Unfortunately no plans had been worked out in advance for airlift support and the supply records of the Holland campaign--which would have made logistic calculation and procedure easier--were back in France. In the first instance, therefore, the troops in Bastogne would have to take what they got whenever they could get it.
Communications would present no major problem. A corps radio-link vehicle arrived in Bastogne just before the road to Neufchâteau was severed; so Middleton and McAuliffe had two-way phone and teletype at their disposal throughout the siege. Inside Bastogne
there were enough armored and artillery units--comparatively rich in signal equipment--to flesh out a speedy and fairly reliable command and artillery net. Tactical communication beyond the Bastogne perimeter, however, as for example with the 4th Armored, had to be couched in ambiguous--sometimes quite meaningless--terms.
Mobile forces racing cross-country, shooting up isolated posts and convoys, do not necessarily make a battle. The German dash around Bastogne was preeminently designed to encircle, not constrict. The German commanders, well aware of the fragmentization of their enveloping forces, did not consider that Bastogne had been surrounded until the evening of the 21st. The major enemy impact on this date, therefore, came as in previous days against the east face of Bastogne. The American perimeter, then taking form, represents basically a reaction to the original German intentions with only slight concessions to the appearance of the enemy in the south and west. The 502d held the northern sector of the American line in the Longchamps and Sonne-Fontaine area. Northeast of Bastogne the 506th was deployed with one foot in Foy and the other next to the Bourcy-Bastogne rail line. To the right of this regiment the 501st faced east--one flank at the rail line and the other south of Neffe. The 2d Battalion, 327th, held the Marvie position with an open flank abutting on the Bastogne-Arlon highway.
The American deployment on through the south and west quadrants could not yet be called a line. In the early afternoon McAuliffe took the 1st Battalion of the 327th (then attached to the 501st) and sent it due south of Bastogne; here tenuous contact was established with the division engineer battalion--the 326th--strung thinly across the Neufchâteau road and on to the west. (The airborne engineers were not well equipped with demolition matériel and this road had to be blocked; McAuliffe phoned the VIII Corps for assistance and in the early dark a detachment from the 35th Engineer Combat Battalion came north and did the job.)
Directly west of Bastogne lay the remnants of the division trains and service companies. Defense here would devolve initially on the 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Lt. Col. Barry D. Browne), which was gathering infantry and tank destroyers and finally would be known as Task Force Browne. The last link in the perimeter was the 3d Battalion of the 327th, holding on a front northwest of Bastogne which extended from the Marche-Bastogne highway to Champs.
The dispositions just described represent the more or less static formations in the Bastogne force, the beef for sustained holding operations. Equally important were the mobile, counter-punching elements provided by the armor, assault guns, and tank destroyers. These units, with constantly changing task force names and composition, would have a ubiquitous, fluid, and highly important role in maintaining the Bastogne perimeter against the German concentric attack. Their tactical agility on the interior line would be greatly enhanced by the big freeze which set in on the 21st.
All through the night of 20 December the troops of the 506th in Foy had been
buffeted by German artillery. At dawn the enemy advanced on the village, and the Americans, as they had done earlier, retired to the better ground south of Foy and Recogne. This early effort was not followed up because the 2d Panzer was on its way west and had no further concern in this sector save to neutralize a possible American foray against its rear.
The primary attack of the day came along the Bourcy-Bastogne rail line, right at the seam between the 506th and 501st. During the previous night Kokott had built up the concentration of his 26th Volks Grenadier Division in the woods east of the railroad to include much of the rifle strength of the 77th and 78th Regiments. The two American regiments had failed to make a firm commitment as to tactical responsibility and, indeed, the left flank of the 501st was nearly a thousand yards to the rear of the 506th. At 0830 a 506th patrol chanced upon some Germans in the woods behind the regiment's right flank. Companies D and F attacked promptly to seal the gap at the rail line while the 501st turned its weapons to deny any movement on its side.
Enough of the enemy had infiltrated for McAuliffe to ask Colonel Sink to send in his 1st Battalion, which had been badly hurt at Noville, as a cauterizing force. It took three hours of musketry and, at several points, bayonet work to liquidate the Germans in the pocket; the battalion killed about 50, took prisoner 85, and drove a large number into the hands of the 501st. This hot sector of the front cooled off during the afternoon. The 26th Volks Grenadier Division was realigning and extending to take over the ground vacated by Panzer Lehr, and Kokott could not afford two regiments in attack at the rail line.
Through most of 21 December the Germans lashed out at the 501st with artillery and sporadic infantry assaults. On the American left flank Kokott's 77th carried the ball but the main effort was made by the 902d, attacking from an assembly area at Neffe against the 3d Battalion. The records of this battalion were lost in later fighting, but participants in the action speak of a "determined" attack by two German rifle battalions and "vicious close-in fighting." Although Colonel Ewell expected a second all-out assault when daylight ended, this never came. The 902d had its orders to catch up with the Panzer Lehr van in the west and during the night assembled for the march to rejoin General Bayerlein.
South of the 501st positions the enemy seemed content to sit back and shell the headquarters of the 2d Battalion, 327th, at Marvie. The 2d Battalion records no other action than the appearance of some tanks and infantry along the Arlon road forcing a flank extension across the road. German evidence, however, speaks of attacks by the 901st in this sector which "miscarried."11 If discretion in this particular instance proved the better part of valor, it probably was induced by the CCB tanks which had taken position on the Arlon road.
Farther west the enemy was more aggressive. Having played havoc with the
VIII Corps' artillery and trains assembled outside Sibret, Kampfgruppe Kunkel turned north in the late morning toward Senonchamps, a village of some importance since it controlled the secondary road leading onto the Marche-Bastogne highway. The immediate prize before Kunkel, but probably unknown to him, was the American artillery groupment consisting of the 755th and 969th Field Artillery Battalions, emplaced with their 155-mm. howitzers near Villeroux, a crossroads some 2,500 yards south of Senonchamps.
At Senonchamps the 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion under Colonel Browne was busily engaged in firing against the enemy east and north of Bastogne, but Browne had been able to take some steps to secure his gun positions with a scratch force of infantry and light tanks raised by CCB. Around Villeroux, however, all was confusion and no single officer seemed to be responsible for defense of this sector. As Kunkel sped north from Sibret toward Villeroux he met the 771st Field Artillery Battalion, which abandoned its guns and fled. About this time Team Pyle (a detachment formed from the remnants of CCR and numbering fourteen tanks and a couple of hundred stray riflemen) came south on the Neufchâteau road. Kunkel hit the point of this force east of Villeroux and drove the Americans back in the direction of Senonchamps.
The brief respite given the Villeroux defenders by this encounter enabled the two medium howitzer battalions to "march order" their batteries and head for Senonchamps. German infantry in half-tracks closed on Villeroux before the last howitzers could displace, but visibility by this time had dwindled to a couple of hundred yards and Battery A of the 755th alongside the headquarters battery of the 969th laid down a hail of machine gun fire which momentarily halted the enemy. This small rear guard force itself was saved by the appearance of two American tanks that casually wandered into the fight and out again. Only one howitzer was lost during the displacement to Senonchamps, and it was disabled by a mortar shell.
At the edge of Senonchamps Team Pyle made a stand, for the German drive threatened to strike the 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Team Browne) and the two battalions of 155's from the rear. When the enemy infantry formed to join their tanks in an assault on the village they came directly under the eyes of Battery B of the 796th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, whose .50-caliber "meat choppers" quickly ended this threat. Kunkel decided to delay an attempt for conclusion until the morrow.
North and northwest of Bastogne the day passed quietly, although small German detachments did make a few sorties on the Marche road. The company of the 3d Battalion, 327th, which had been sent on a lone mission to aid the survivors of the division medical company, was attacked and momentarily cut off but succeeded in rejoining the battalion.
The Enemy Begins a Concentric Attack
The evening situation report that reached OB WEST on the 21st made good reading. Rundstedt was convinced that the time was ripe for a concentric attack to crush Bastogne and make this road center available for the build-up required
to support the Fifth Panzer Army at or over the Meuse. His order to Manteuffel made the seizure of Bastogne a must, but at the same time stressed the paramount necessity of retaining momentum in the drive west. Manteuffel had anticipated the OB WEST command and during the evening visited the XLVII Panzer Corps' command post to make certain that Luettwitz would start the squeeze on Bastogne the next day--but without involving the mobile armored columns of the Panzer Lehr.
Manteuffel, Luettwitz, and Kokott, who was now made directly responsible for the conduct of the Bastogne operation, were optimistic. For one thing the fight could be made without looking over the shoulder toward the south (where the Luftwaffe had reported heavy American traffic moving from Metz through Luxembourg City), because the right wing of the Seventh Army finally had shouldered its way west and seemed ready to take over the prearranged blocking line facing Neufchâteau, Arlon, and the American reinforcements predicted from Patton's Third Army. The advance guard of the 5th Parachute Division already had crossed the Arlon road north of Martelange. General Brandenberger, the Seventh Army commander, himself came to Luettwitz' command post during the evening to promise that all three regiments of the division would take their allotted positions.
Kokott apparently was promised reinforcement for the attack à outrance on Bastogne but he had to begin the battle with those troops on the spot: his own 26th Volks Grenadier Division, the 901st Kampfgruppe (which had been detached from Panzer Lehr), an extra fifteen Panther tanks, and some artillery battalions. What the 5th Parachute Division could put into the pot depended, of course, on the Americans to the south.
It would take some time to relieve those troops pulling out and redress the alignment of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division's battalions. There was little point to attacking the 101st Airborne in the eastern sector where its strength had been demonstrated, but west of Bastogne the Panzer Lehr and Kokott's own reconnaissance troops had encountered only weak and disorganized opposition. The first blow of the new series designed to bore into Bastogne would be delivered here in the western sector, accompanied by systematic shelling to bring that town down around the defender's ears.
The battle on the 22d, therefore, largely centered along an arc rather roughly delimited by Villeroux and the Neufchâteau highway at one end and Mande-St. Etienne, just north of the Marche highway, at the other. One cannot speak of battle lines in this sector: the two antagonists were mixed higgledy-piggledy and for much of the time with no certain knowledge of who was in what village or at what crossroads. It is indicative of the confusion prevailing that the 501st tried to evacuate its regimental baggage train--which had suffered from enemy shelling--through Sibret after Kampfgruppe Kunkel had cut the road north of the town by the dash into Villeroux. (The 501st lost fifteen trucks and nearly all its bed rolls.)
The arena in question earlier had been the 101st service area and contained in addition a good deal of the
VIII Corps' artillery and trains. Much of the fighting on the 22d revolved around two battalions of armored field artillery: Colonel Paton's 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, which had emplaced near Tillet--after the Longvilly battle--to support the 101st Airborne; and Browne's 420th, now operating as a combined arms team on a 4,000-yard perimeter in the neighborhood of Senonchamps. Tillet lay about six miles west of Senonchamps. Much of the intervening countryside was in the hands of roving patrols from Panzer Lehr, one of which had erected a strong roadblock midway between the two villages.
On the night of the 21st the Germans encircled Tillet, where Paton, hard pressed, radioed the VIII Corps for help. Middleton relayed this SOS to Bastogne but Browne, himself under attack by Kunkel's 26th Volks Grenadier Division reconnaissance battalion, was forced to say that the 58th would have to get back to Senonchamps under its own power. Nevertheless, Team Yantis (one medium tank, two light tanks, and a couple of rifle squads) moved forward to the German roadblock, expecting to give the 58th a hand when day broke.12
Paton and his gunners never reached Team Browne,13 which had had its hands full. Browne's force not only had to defend a section of the Bastogne perimeter and bar the Senonchamps entry, but also had to serve the eighteen 105-mm howitzers which, from battery positions east and south of Senonchamps, provided round-the-clock fire support for friendly infantry five to eight miles distant. Close-in defense was provided by a platoon of thirty stragglers who had been rounded up by an airborne officer and deployed three hundred yards south of the gun positions. (This platoon held for two days until all were killed or captured.) Browne's main weapon against the German tanks and self-propelled guns was not his howitzers but the seventeen Sherman tanks brought up by Team Pyle and Team Van Kleef the day before. These were disposed with nine tanks facing a series of wood lots west of the battery positions, four firing south, and the remaining four placed on the road to Villeroux.
At daybreak the first task was to clear the enemy from the woods which lay uncomfortably near the firing batteries. Pyle's scratch force of riflemen entered the woods but found only a few Germans. Off to the northwest came the sound of firing from the area known to be occupied by a battalion of the 327th Glider Infantry; so Browne reported to Colonel Roberts that his team would join this fight as soon as the woods were clear. Before the sortie could be organized, a detachment from Kampfgruppe Kunkel struck out from Villeroux against the American flank. Direct tank fire chased the enemy away, but this was only the opener. During the afternoon the enemy made three separate assaults from the woods that earlier had been reported cleared, and again the tanks made short work of the Germans (Van Kleef reported eighteen enemy tanks destroyed during the day).
As the afternoon wore on fog and snow
clouded the scene and the tank gunners began to lose their targets. The American howitzer batteries, however, provided a static and by this time a well-defined target for enemy counterbattery fire. At twilight Colonel Browne radioed CCB that his heterogeneous team was taking "terrible casualties." Earlier he had asked for more troops, and McAuliffe had sent Company C of the 327th and Team Watts (about a hundred men, under Maj. Eugene A. Watts) from Team SNAFU. At dark the howitzer positions had a fairly substantial screen of infantry around them, although the enemy guns continued to pound away through the night.
The airdrop laid on for the 22d never reached Bastogne--bad flying weather continued as in the days past. All that the Third Army air liaison staff could do was to send a message that "the 101st Airborne situation is known and appreciated." Artillery ammunition was running very low. The large number of wounded congregated inside Bastogne presented a special problem: there were too few medics, not enough surgical equipment, and blankets had to be gathered up from front-line troops to wrap the men suffering from wounds and shock. Nonetheless, morale was high. Late in the afternoon word was circulated to all the regiments that the 4th
CASUALTIES IN AN IMPROVISED EMERGENCY WARD during the siege of Bastogne.
Armored and the 7th Armored (so vague was information inside the perimeter) were on their way to Bastogne; to the men in the line this was heartening news.
What may have been the biggest morale booster came with a reverse twist--the enemy "ultimatum." About noon four Germans under a white flag entered the lines of the 2d Battalion, 327th. The terms of the announcement they carried were simple: "the honorable surrender of the encircled town," this to be accomplished in two hours on threat of "annihilation" by the massed fires of the German artillery. The rest of the story has become legend: how General McAuliffe disdainfully answered "Nuts!"; and how Colonel Harper, commander of the 327th, hard pressed to translate the idiom, compromised on "Go to Hell!" The ultimatum had been signed rather ambiguously by "The German Commander," and none of the German generals then in the Bastogne sector seem to have been anxious to claim authorship.14 Lt. Col. Paul A Danahy, G-2 of the 101st, saw to it that the story was circulated--and appropriately embellished--in the daily periodic report: "The Commanding General's answer was, with a sarcastic air of humorous tolerance, emphatically negative." Nonetheless the 101st expected that the coming day--the 23d--would be rough.
The morning of 23 December broke clear and cold. "Visibility unlimited," the air-control posts happily reported all the way from the United Kingdom to the foxholes on the Ardennes front. To most of the American soldiery this would be a red-letter day--long remembered--because of the bombers and fighter-bombers once more streaming overhead like shoals of silver minnows in the bright winter sun, their sharply etched contrails making a wake behind them in the cold air.
In Bastogne, however, all eyes looked for the squat planes of the Troop Carrier Command. About 0900 a Pathfinder team dropped inside the perimeter and set up the apparatus to guide the C-47's over a drop zone between Senonchamps and Bastogne. The first of the carriers dropped its six parapacks at 1150, and in little more than four hours 241 planes had been vectored to Bastogne. Each plane carried some twelve hundred pounds, but not all reached the drop zone nor did all the parapacks fall where the Americans could recover them. Nevertheless this day's drop lessened the pinch--as the records of the 101st gratefully acknowledge. On 24 December a total of 160 planes would take part in the drop; poor flying weather on Christmas Day virtually scrubbed all cargo missions--although eleven gliders did bring in a team of four surgeons and some POL badly needed by Roberts' tanks. The biggest airlift day of the siege would come on the 26th with 289 planes flying the Bastogne run.15
The bulk of the air cargo brought to Bastogne during the siege was artillery ammunition. By the 24th the airborne batteries were down to ten rounds per tube and the work horse 420th Armored Field Artillery was expending no more than five rounds per mission, even on
SUPPLY BY AIR. Pathfinder unit (above) sets up radar equipment. Medical supplies (below) are dragged by hand from drop zone.
very lucrative targets. This battalion, covering a 360-degree front, would in fact be forced to make its original 1,400 rounds last for five days. The two 155-mm. howitzer battalions were really pawing at the bottom of the barrel. The 969th fired thirty-nine rounds on 24 December and two days later could allow its gunners only twenty-seven rounds, one-sixth the number of rounds expended per day when the battle began.
The airdrop on the 23d brought a dividend for the troops defending Bastogne. The cargo planes were all overwatched by fighters who, their protective mission accomplished, turned to hammer the Germans in the Bastogne ring. During the day eighty-two P-47's lashed out at this enemy with general-purpose and fragmentation bombs, napalm, and machine gun fire. The 101st reported to Middleton, whose staff was handling these air strikes for the division, that "air and artillery is having a field day around Bastogne."
The German attack on the 23d was mounted by the 26th Volks Grenadier Division and the attached regiment left behind by Panzer Lehr. Lacking the men and tanks for an assault around the entire perimeter, General Kokott elected to continue the fight at Senonchamps while attacking in two sectors diametrically opposite each other, the Marvie area in the southeast and the Flamierge area in the northwest. By the happenstance of its late and piecemeal deployment the 327th Glider Infantry stood in front of the enemy at both these critical points.
The 5th Parachute Division, now badly fought out and with gaping ranks, could be of little help at Bastogne. Actually this division was scattered on a front of eighteen miles, reaching from Neufchâteau clear back to the Sauer crossings. Indeed, during the day the 26th Volks Grenadier Division had to take over the portion of the 5th Parachute line between Clochimont and Hompré because the American forces from the south threatened to pierce this very thinly occupied segment of the blocking line. Kokott, then, could employ only two regiments and his reconnaissance battalion in the assault, while maintaining what pressure the remaining two regiments might have along the balance of the American perimeter.
The enemy tactics on this and the following days reflect the manner in which Kokott had to husband his resources. Extensive preparatory fires by artillery and Werfers opened the show while the infantry wormed in as close to the American foxhole line as possible. By this time the new-fallen snow had put every dark object in full relief; the grenadiers now donned white snow capes and the panzers were painted white. (The Americans replied in kind with wholesale raids on Belgian bed linen and with whitewash for their armored vehicles.) The assault would be led by a tank platoon--normally four or five panzers--followed by fifty to a hundred infantry. If this first wave failed, a second or third--seldom larger than the initial wave--would be thrown in. It is clear, however, that the German commander and his troops were chary of massed tactics at this stage of the game.
The 39th Volks Grenadier Regiment, freshest in Kokott's division, was assembled to the west and northwest opposite Team Browne and the 3d Battalion of the 327th. The latter had maintained
an observation post at Flamierge and a string of roadblocks along the Flamierge road well in front of the battalion position. Here the enemy dealt the first blow of the day and got into Flamierge, only to be chased out by a counterattack. Next, the enemy gathered south of Company C--positioned astride the Marche highway--and tried to shoot the Americans out with tank fire. In early evening the Germans moved in for the assault and at one point it was reported that Company C had been lost. This was far from fact for the American artillery beat off the attackers; the 3d Battalion, however, pulled back closer to Bastogne. This enemy effort also extended to embrace Team Browne. More infantry were hurried to Senonchamps on light tanks, and at 1830 McAuliffe sent one half of his mobile reserve (Team Cherry) to give a hand against the German tanks. But the American tanks, tank destroyers, and artillery already on the scene were able to handle the panzers without additional help--and even while this fight was on the cannoneers around Senonchamps turned their pieces to lob shells across the perimeter in support of the hard-driven paratroopers and tankers at Marvie.
During the hours of light the 901st made no move to carry out its scheduled attack between Marvie and the Arlon road. Quite possibly the activity of the American fighter-bombers, once more in the skies, made it necessary to wait for nightfall. Through the afternoon the enemy shelled the 2d Battalion, 327th, and its command post in Marvie. As night came on the barrage increased in intensity, sweeping along the battalion front and onto its northern flank--beyond Marvie--where Team O'Hara stood with its tanks.
At 1845 the 901st (with at least two tank companies in support) commenced a co-ordinated attack delivered by platoons and companies against the front manned by the 2d Battalion and Team O'Hara.16 One quick rush put an enemy detachment on a hill south of Marvie which overlooked this village. The platoon of paratroopers on the hill was surrounded and destroyed, but when a half-track and a brace of tanks tried to move down the hill into Marvie a lucky shot or a mine disabled the half-track, leaving no way past for the tanks. On the Bastogne-Arlon road a group of tanks (twelve were counted) started north toward the right flank of the 2d Battalion. Here Company F later reported that the tanks "made repeated attempts to overrun our positions but were halted." It is probable that the three medium tanks from Team O'Hara and the three tank destroyers from the 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion which stood astride the road (not to mention the darkness and artillery fire) had a more chastening effect on the panzers than the small arms fire of the paratroopers.
The Germans seem to have had the village of Marvie as their main objective for by midnight the fight had died down all along the line except at Marvie, where it burst out with fresh virulence. It is estimated that at least one rifle battalion and some fifteen tanks were thrown against Company E (now reinforced by an understrength company of airborne engineers) and Team O'Hara.
Using the hill which earlier had been wrested from Company G as a mounting block, three German tanks made their way into the south edge of Marvie, but O'Hara's tanks and assault guns stopped a major penetration from the east by gunning down the panzers silhouetted in the glare of burning buildings, thus enabling the Americans to hold on in the north half of the village. The threat of a breach here impelled McAuliffe to send the remaining half of Team Cherry to Marvie. Because this switch stripped Bastogne of its last counterattack force, Cherry's detachment, which had gone west to assist Team Browne, was recalled to Bastogne. An hour before dawn on the 24th the battle ended and quiet came to Marvie. O'Hara's troops had accounted for eight panzers in this fight, but the village was still clutched by both antagonists.
The battle on the 23d had been viewed in a somewhat somber light inside Bastogne. That evening, only a few minutes after the German attack began in the Marvie sector, Lt. Col. Harry W. O. Kinnard (the 101st Airborne Division G-3) telephoned his opposite number at the VIII Corps command post. The gist of his report, as recorded in the corps G-3 journal, was this: "In regard to our situation it is getting pretty sticky around here. They [the 4th Armored Division] must keep coming. The enemy has attacked all along the south and some tanks are through and running around in our area. Request you inform 4th Armored Division of our situation and ask them to put on all possible pressure."
The events of the past hours had shown that the force under McAuliffe's command was overextended at a number of points. The artillery groupment west of Bastogne was particularly exposed, and the 327th Glider Infantry had already been forced to shorten its lines. Then too the segments of the perimeter defense were not as well coordinated as they might be. The tankers of CCB complained that they had no idea of the airborne positions, and quite probably the regiments of the 101st were hazy as to the location of the small tank and tank destroyer detachments on their flanks.
Colonel Kinnard, whose sharp tactical sense was rated highly by all the commanders who worked with him during the siege, drew up on 24 December a plan to regroup the Bastogne forces. The plan was put into operation that same evening. Kinnard's scheme placed all four regiments of the 101st Airborne on the line as combined arms teams. Team O'Hara and a platoon of the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached to the 501st. The 506th, whose sector had been quiet, got two platoons of the 705th but no tanks. The 502d was given two platoons from the 705th and Team Anderson (it is symptomatic of the shoestring defense which perforce had evolved at the perimeter that Captain Anderson's "team" consisted of two cavalry assault guns, one tank destroyer, and two jeeps). The 327th took over the 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion, two platoons of the 9th Armored Engineer Battalion (which had won distinction in the Noville fight), and four platoons of the 705th. Also attached to the 327th was the amalgam of infantry, tank destroyers, and tanks which had grown up around Browne's 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and which, on the 23d, had been reorganized as Team
Roberts. (Colonel Browne was wounded by a shell fragment on the 24th and died the next day.)17
This readjustment of the 101st positions resulted in a taut and tenuous line of approximately sixteen miles. (Map 4) That it could not be defended in equal strength at all points was not only a military aphorism but a simple fact dictated by the troops available and the accidents of the ground. Creation of a tactical reserve was therefore mandatory, albeit difficult of accomplishment with the limited mechanized force at McAuliffe's disposal. The 101st reserve, as now organized, consisted of Roberts' CCB; that is Teams Cherry and Arnsdorf (with perhaps nine medium and five light tanks operational at any given time) plus a part of the original Team SNAFU, put together by Colonel Roberts from the remnants of CCR, 9th Armored, and various waifs and strays. (Colonel Gilbreth,
25-26 December 1944
the commander of SNAFU, was wounded on the 22d and then hospitalized.)
This reshuffle stripped CCB of its own reserve; so Roberts organized a new formation (Team Palmaccio, commanded by 1st Lt. Charles P. Palmaccio) equipped with four antiaircraft half-tracks, one tank destroyer, and two light tanks. Roadblocks at the entrances to Bastogne were established, each manned by two guns from Company C, 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Inside Bastogne itself, McAuliffe had a part of Team SNAFU as a kind of "interior guard," backed up by four self-propelled tank destroyers and forty men from the 705th. All this regrouping tightened and strengthened the rifle line surrounding Bastogne, but the resources at hand for fire fighting enemy armored incursions or for quick, local counterattacks were woefully limited--as shown by the commitment of Team Cherry on opposite sides of the perimeter during 23-24 December.
General Luettwitz, with only a reinforced division to use against Bastogne, was worse off than McAuliffe. He had been given rather vague promises of reinforcement, but no decision was rendered by the High Command until the 23d when Hitler agreed to release two fresh divisions (the 9th Panzer and 15th Panzer Grenadier) from the OKW reserve. Once these troops were handed over to Army Group B, Field Marshal Model decided that they were more sorely needed to shore up the left flank of the Fifth Panzer and Seventh Armies than at Bastogne. One regimental combat team from the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division was all he would give Luettwitz for the Bastogne operation.
On both sides of the line, then, the daylight hours of the 24th were spent in regrouping, this punctuated with heavy gusts of artillery and mortar fire whenever the opponent showed signs of movement. Once again, however, a beautiful flying day gave the Americans an edge. P-47's belonging to the 512th, 513th, and 514th Squadrons of the XIX Tactical Air Command worked around the Bastogne perimeter, at one point, in the Noville sector, bombing so close to the airborne lines that the 101st sent frantic word to the VIII Corps asking that the flight leader be told to call off the mission. The 115th Kampfgruppe from the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division duly arrived for attachment to Kokott's division and took over a sector in the northwest between Flamierge and Givry. The 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and the medium howitzer battalions displaced to new firing positions just north of the Marche road and not more than a mile and a half from Bastogne. The Americans abandoned their last roadblock at Mande-St. Etienne--now it was too far out--and drew in the western line held by Team Roberts and the 3d Battalion of the 327th. Germans and Americans both claimed Marvie, a circumstance which may have accounted for an American air strike on Marvie by P-47's during the afternoon.
In the headquarters at Bastogne McAuliffe's staff had been kept pretty well abreast of the enemy movements indicative of incoming reinforcement. Team Anderson, scouting around Champs, reported armor and tracked vehicles moving into Givry (this was the new 115th Kampfgruppe); other reports noted the movement of German traffic coming from the northeast and moving southward across the American front. All this must have been a headache for the 101st
G-2, but aside from shortening the lines and tightening up tactical control there was little the Americans could do but wait for the blow to fall.
Early in the afternoon the VIII Corps relayed a message from General Patton and the Third Army: "Xmas Eve present coming up. Hold on." But there were more tangible items to lessen the nostalgia and depression of the surrounded garrison on Christmas Eve. The second day of air resupply had been "a tremendous morale booster"--so reported CCB and most of the regiments. Allied air activity on the 24th had heartened the men on the ground. When night fell they could see the fires left as aftermath of the fighter-bomber strikes blazing all the way round the perimeter. (Twice during the night of 24 December, however, the Luftwaffe retaliated with very damaging and lethal bombing sorties on Bastogne and the surrounding area.) Less obtrusive but of considerable impact was the confidence that the commanders and the troops had in each other; a lesson for future commanders may be read in the considerable effort put forth by McAuliffe, Roberts, and the regimental commanders to apprise all the troops of the "situation."
Christmas Eve in the German headquarters brought forth some cognac and a few "Prosits" but in the main was devoted to preparations for a major attack on Christmas Day. As late as the evening of the 24th Luettwitz hoped to obtain more troops from the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, but the Fuehrer had other ideas. Earlier in the day the Fifth Panzer Army commander posed a question which finally reached Jodl and Hitler: should he turn to finish off Bastogne or continue, with the bulk of his divisions, toward the Meuse and seize the Marche plateau in an attempt to widen the German thrust? Hitler's answer, finally relayed by Model, was that the attack to seize the Marche plateau should be continued with all available forces. This answer did nothing to relieve Manteuffel's worries about his thin and endangered southern flank.18 To leave Bastogne as a sally port onto his left rear made no military sense to this experienced soldier--so Manteuffel ordered that Bastogne be taken on 25 December. (The attack order read: "Displacement [in this context a kind of euphemism for "destruction"] of the enemy at Bastogne.")
The German order of battle on Christmas Eve was this (read from the north clockwise). The 26th Volks Grenadier engineer battalion and a few antitank guns maintained a security screen in the Foy-Recogne sector. The 78th Fuesiliers, brought back to strength by a large draft of replacements, held on a front extending from Foy to Neffe. The 901st, its ranks much depleted by the fighting just ended, continued the circle past Marvie and to a point west of the Arlon road. The 39th was deployed on both sides of the Neufchâteau road. What earlier had been the "western front"--that is, from Senonchamps north to the Marche road--was
occupied by the reconnaissance battalion of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division, which had moved onto the ground left free by the American withdrawal on the 24th. The regiment from the incoming 15th Panzer Grenadier Division (Colonel Deckert) was bivouacked west of Flamizoulle. The 77th Fuesilier Regiment completed the circle, the bulk of its troops concentrated west of Champs. Uneasy about the ability of the 5th Parachute Division to cover his back, Kokott was forced to strip a few companies from his own division and the 901st to form a subsidiary front facing south.
The attack plan for the 25th turned on the fresh strength provided by the 15th Panzer Grenadier (-). The main effort would be made in the northwest between the Marche road and Champs, the latter point included as an initial objective. It was known that the American hold in this sector was weak, the frozen ground gave good tank going and observation for the artillery, and there were no large villages or woods to hold up the assault. To open a way for the main effort Kokott quietly assembled the major part of his division artillery around Flamierge and Givry. The plan included a heavy blow by the Luftwaffe against Bastogne itself (this eventuated in the two bombing attacks during the
A BASTOGNE STREET AFTER LUFTWAFFE BOMBARDMENT
night of 24 December which killed a Belgian nurse and a score of wounded paratroopers).
The original time schedule was exceedingly optimistic: to put in the infantry assault at 0400; to break through the American rifle line by 0600, at which time the artillery could see to fire on targets of opportunity and the tanks would be able to move with speed; and to rush an armored group from the 15th Panzer Grenadier into Bastogne between 0800 and 0900 hours before the American fighter-bombers took to the air.
The optimism breathed by this schedule must have expired shortly after it was put on paper although the plan remained. Kokott has recorded his shock and surprise at the weak state of the reinforcements brought in by Deckert: the 115th Regiment (three battalions of fusiliers), the reconnaissance battalion and two armored field artillery battalions of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, a company of tank destroyers, and seventeen tanks belonging to the 115th Panzer Battalion. Hitler's failure to name Bastogne as the primary objective had been reflected in the dilatory and contradictory orders issued by the higher commanders for the employment of Deckert's division. True, the second of Deckert's regiments (the 104th) finally had been given to the XLVII Panzer Corps, but on Christmas Eve it was toiling slowly toward the east side of Bastogne and would not arrive in time to join the battle. Col. Wolfgang Maucke, commander of the 115th, objected--as strongly as a colonel would dare--when he received his orders toward dusk on the 24th. He had been given no time for reconnaissance; no coordination had been arranged with the tanks supposed to support the 115th. Maucke's superiors simply pointed out the tremendous advantage that would accrue to a surprise attack on Christmas Day--he had his orders.19
The main assault, handed the elements of the 15th Panzer Grenadier, was to be a straight thrust over Flamizoulle into Bastogne with the right wing guiding on the Marche highway, a distance of about four miles. For this Maucke put two battalions in line and one in reserve. The 1st Battalion, with tanks carrying some of the infantry, was to pass through Flamizoulle; the 2d Battalion, supported by the tank destroyer company, would circle Flamizoulle to the north and strike for the northern edge of Bastogne. To the left of Maucke's kampfgruppe the 77th Grenadier Regiment was ordered to attack along the secondary road running through Champs and Hemroulle into Bastogne. Here the 1st Battalion had the job of seizing Champs and opening the way while the 2d Battalion, following to the left and rear, would be prepared to leapfrog forward as Champs fell, the two making the final push into Bastogne abreast. The reconnaissance battalion of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division, south of Maucke's force, had a special mission: to attack from Senonchamps and pierce the new American position by seizing Isle-la-Hesse, a hamlet standing where the Senonchamps road fed into the Marche highway. Although nearly all the German units surrounding
Bastogne had some diversionary mission during the Christmas Day assault, only the 39th Grenadier Regiment had a major attack assigned in support of the effort in the northwest, this to be an advance astride the Neufchâteau-Bastogne highway (which was never carried out).
The Battle on Christmas Day
About 0300 a few German planes droned over the 502d lines and dropped bombs indiscriminately around Rolle, the regimental command post. This seems to have been the Luftwaffe support promised Kokott. A few minutes later the German gunners and mortar crews started to work, their target the American positions at Champs. Here Company A of the 502d was deployed on the northwest edge of the village, its right flank joining the 2d Battalion in a large wood lot midway between Champs and Longchamps. Clad in white snow suits the first German assault party, some fifty grenadiers from the 77th, crept forward under the waning moon toward Champs. At 0400 this group dashed into the village and the German attack began. More of the enemy moved through the woods against the left flank of the 2d Battalion, and within the hour a full German battalion had joined the fight. Company B moved up as a backstop if its sister company should be engulfed or pushed aside, but the confused melee around Champs in the predawn darkness pinned the Germans down.
Meanwhile the two assault battalions of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division were moving against the 3d Battalion of the 327th. The tank group on the right of the German line drew ahead of its marching partner and an hour and a quarter after the advance began reported to Kokott that the only evidence of American reaction was some tank or tank destroyer fire coming in from the south. Thirty minutes later a brief and optimistic radio message flashed to the rear: the tanks and the infantry battalion festooned thereon had reached the western edge of Bastogne. But elation at the German command post was short lived; word that the German tanks were in the streets of Bastogne never came. The commander of the 115th sent a liaison officer forward to find the battalion or its tanks, but without success. German forward observers were alerted to listen for the sound of German tank fire--but all they could hear was the crash of artillery fire and the crump of exploding mortar shells.
The story of the lost tank group is soon told. The eighteen Mark IV's and the riding grenadiers had broken through the positions held by Companies A and B of the 327th Glider Infantry before dawn and got as far as the battalion command post. Several of the enemy tanks passed straight through battery positions of the 755th Field Artillery Battalion, whose gunners opened up with machine guns as soon as they discerned the distinctive German muzzle-brakes. But the 155-mm. howitzers could not be brought to bear at such close range and the Germans rolled on unscathed. Just west of Hemroulle about half the German tanks wheeled left, defiling along a cart path which led to the road between Champs and Bastogne. As they approached the road the panzers formed in line abreast, now bearing straight toward Companies B and C of the 502d, which were on the march to
help the paratroopers in Champs.
Colonel Chappuis had a few minutes to face his companies toward the oncoming tanks, but the initial shock was absorbed by two tank destroyers from Company B of the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion which were knocked out as they fell back toward the Champs road.20 As the panzers rolled forward, Company C made an orderly withdrawal to the edge of a large wood lot midway between Champs and Hemroulle. Now it was the paratroopers' turn. They showered the tanks with lead, and the German infantry clinging to the decks and sides fell to the snow. The tank detachment again wheeled into column, this time turning toward Champs. Two of the 705th tank destroyers, which were backing up Company C, caught the column in process of turning and put away three of the panzers; the paratroopers' bazookas accounted for two more.
The half of the enemy tank-infantry formation which had kept on toward Hemroulle after knifing through the 327th foxhole line received its coup de grâce in a fury of cross fire laid down by four of the 705th tank destroyers, tanks from Team Roberts, the 463d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, and bazookas handled by the glider infantry. As recounted by Col. S. L. A. Marshall after the battle: "The German tanks were fired at from so many directions and with such a mixture of fire that it was not possible to see or say how each tank met its doom." The survivors of those panzer grenadiers of the 1st Battalion who had ridden into battle on the tanks found themselves surrounded and alone, for the American rifle line had sealed itself after the initial armored punctures. About fifty German riflemen who had hidden in a stream bed were captured by cannoneers from the 755th. At noon General Kokott wrote the tanks and the accompanying infantry from the 1st Battalion of the 115th off as lost--why and where remained a mystery to the German headquarters.
The 2d Battalion of the 115th seems to have made good use of the rupture created in the 327th positions west of Hemroulle, advancing almost unperceived and unopposed until daybreak when it was brought under fire by Company C, the 3d Battalion reserve. At first light the American artillery and mortars took on the German infantry starkly outlined against the snow-covered slopes west of Hemroulle. The panzer grenadiers tried digging in but the ground was too hard frozen; so they lay in the snow and took their losses. The regimental commander, Colonel Maucke, began in midmorning to re-form his remaining troops, pulling what was left of the 1st Battalion back to a hill southeast of Flamizoulle (where it took a merciless pounding from Allied fighter-bombers) and sending his reserve battalion into the woods north of the 1st to cover its flank. When night fell Maucke ordered the remnants of the 1st Battalion to sideslip south across the gap left by the disappearance of the tank group. Of the battalion staff all were dead or wounded and the battalion commander was a young lieutenant from one of the rifle companies. Maucke himself went forward to find his lost tanks but was stopped by machine gun fire.
At Champs, where the battle had begun, most of the Germans left the village in the middle of the morning to let their
gunners blast the paratroopers out of the houses and surrounding woods. The commander of the 77th, apprehensive of a continued house-to-house battle, asked for and received permission to circle around the village, but the new attack up the slopes toward Hemroulle was shot to pieces. In the early afternoon General Kokott called the German attack to a halt, planning to resume the battle under cover of the night.
This last "desperate effort," as Kokott himself termed it, took long to organize and did not get under way until the morning hours of the 26th. Using the German salient at the Isle-la-Hesse road fork as his base, Kokott sent a small assault group from his own division and ten mobile tank destroyers northeast in the direction of Hemroulle with the intention of circling through Savy into Bastogne. This force wedged its way between the two right flank companies of the 327th but was caught in the open by the howitzers massed west of Bastogne which literally blew the infantry assault apart. Four armored tank destroyers continued toward Hemroulle but were finally brought to a halt by a large ditch. Here, while maneuvering, all were put out of action by artillery and tank destroyer fire at close range.
In midafternoon more bad news reached Kokott's command post. He had counted on the 5th Parachute Division to keep Patton's armor at bay in the south, and to make doubly certain had faced parts of the 901st and 39th away from Bastogne in support of the paratroopers. Now word came that the 5th Parachute Division had broken and that the 39th Regiment was under attack. Kokott had little to give the 39th, only five or six tanks which had just been repaired, and he did not dare put these on the road until darkness sent the American fighter-bombers home. Both Kokott and the corps commander, Luettwitz, still expected the main battle to be fought on the Arlon or Neufchâteau road, but in the late afternoon the commander of the 39th radioed that American tanks had broken through farther to the west at Assenois. Kokott asked Luettwitz for help, but the latter had empty hands. Late that night new orders came from Field Marshall Model: the 26th Volks Grenadier Division would hold the defenders inside the Bastogne perimeter until the tanks of the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade could arrive to sever the narrow corridor opened to the defenders that afternoon by the American armor.
The siege of Bastogne, for purposes of historic record, may be considered ended at 1645 on 26 December when the 326th Airborne engineers reported contact with "three light tanks believed friendly." True, the breach in the German-held ring opened by the 4th Armored Division was narrow and precarious, but it would not be closed despite the most strenuous enemy efforts in coming days. The staunch defense of Bastogne had impeded the Fifth Panzer Army drive to the west, just as the desperate rear guard battle by the 7th Armored at St. Vith had slowed the advance of the Sixth, demonstrating the axiom of World War I that no salient thrust into the defender's position can be expanded rapidly and successfully if the shoulders of the salient are firmly held by the defender. The human cost of the Bastogne battle, therefore, probably was not out of proportion to the military gains achieved. The 101st Airborne
Division suffered battle casualties numbering 105 officers and 1,536 men. CCB of the 10th Armored Division had approximately 25 officers and 478 men as battle casualties. There is no means of numbering the killed, wounded, and missing in the miscellany of unrecorded tankers, gunners, infantry, and others who shared in the defense of Bastogne. Nor can any casualty roster now be compiled of those units which fought east of Bastogne prior to 19 December and gave the 101st Airborne Division the time and the tactical opportunity to array itself in the defense of that town.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (XVIII) * Next Chapter (XX)
*. The most complete story of the siege of Bastogne is S. L. A. Marshall's Bastogne: The First Eight Days (Washington: The Infantry Journal Press, 1946). The then Colonel Marshall was on the scene, had complete access to the daily record entries, and was persona grata to the entire command, this happy circumstance resulting in the fine collection of combat interviews which formed the basis for this interesting and graphic account. It is worth noting that the authors of the official history of the 101st did not write a chapter on Bastogne but simply introduced an abridged version of Marshall's book. (The present author has borrowed extensively from Brigadier General Marshall, but the careful reader will notice quite different interpretations of the same actions based on the same source materials. Marshall, concerned with the heroic story of an encircled unit, focuses on that unit, in effect looking from Bastogne at the perimeter. The present author, engaged in presenting the over-all campaign, directs his attention from the periphery inward.) The G-3 journal of the 101st is rather cursory. The 501st Summary of Actions is reconstructed from memory since most of the regimental records were lost; the 502d AAR is slim; the 327th Narrative is terse but informative; the 506th AAR is the most complete and useful of any of the regimental reports. See also Scrapbook 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (Munich, 1945).
1. Middleton recalls that he directed McAuliffe to reinforce the 10th Armored roadblock on the Longvilly road. (Ltr, Middleton to Col. Marshall, 1 Jul 45.) The S-3 journal of CCB, 10th Armored Division, notes at 0740 on 19 December that Ewell's mission is to relieve "the surrounded groups" and assist CCB. The 101st AAR simply states that Ewell was ordered to attack to the east and "secure Bastogne." The story as given in the text is based on Ewell's recollections (in a conversation with the author on 22 July 1961) and squares with information given the author by Middleton and McAuliffe.
2. On the earlier actions by the armored units see Chapter XXI and also the documents cited there. The CCB, 10th Armored, AAR and S-3 journal are among the most valuable of the documents describing the Bastogne operation. The personal recollections of the CCB commander have been incorporated in Nichol's Impact: The Battle Story of the Tenth Armored Division.
3. Generals Kokott and Bayerlein were responsible for the initial investiture of Bastogne, and their accounts, basic for "the other side of the hill," can be found in eight manuscripts: ETHINT-44, B-040, and P-32d by Kokott; and A-941 through A-945 by Bayerlein.
4. S. L. A. Marshall, who interviewed Bayerlein says that the Panzer Lehr commander momentarily lost his nerve on the 19th and failed to prod his troops forward personally. (Marshall, Bastogne, pp. 184-86.) Bayerlein admits to his great surprise when he encountered strong armored opposition east of Bastogne. MS # A-941 (Bayerlein).
5. For bravery in this action Pfc. Gilbert Van Every was awarded the DSC.
6. It is indicative of the confusion and lack of precise information then current that the 2d Battalion journal reports, as if in surprise, that no casualties were sustained during this move.
7. Ezell's excursion is treated with the 4th Armored story in Chapter XXI. The news of Ezell's subsequent departure from Bastogne is reflected only in scant journal notations.
8. The records of the badly fragmented armor absorbed in the lines of the 101st Airborne are so scanty as to give no really precise strength figures.
9. In the vernacular of the time, SNAFU stood for: Situation Normal, All (Fouled) Up. Thus Team SNAFU was named in a typical soldier cock of the snoot at adverse fate and the sensibilities of higher command.
[SNAFU was reserved for "normal" screw-ups. Escalated screw-ups were denoted by FUMTU ((Fouled) Up More Than Usual) and FUBAR ((Fouled) Up Beyond All Recognition). --HyperWar]
10. General McAuliffe subsequently was given the DSC for the defense of the town.
11. Both the German and American records for the Ardennes contain, from time to time, reports of "attacks" which in fact were never noticed by the alleged targets and which probably were no more than dutiful commotion in response to the promptings of higher authority.
12. Team Yantis (1st Lt. Ray J. Yantis was sent back on the night of 22 December to find a way through the enemy and bring back badly needed artillery ammunition from Neufchâteau, The team was ambushed and shot up near Pinsamont and had to abandon its vehicles. Special AAR, Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion.
13. See above, Chapter XIV, pages 328-29, for the rest of the story of the 58th Armored Field Artillery.
14. In a television interview early in 1960 General von Luettwitz admitted that he was responsible for the ultimatum to the Bastogne garrison. This confirms a like statement made to Colonel Marshall in 1945 but later denied by Luettwitz.
15. A complete listing of the Bastogne airdrop missions, carrier losses, weather conditions, and similar information can be found in Thompson's MS, Air Supply to Isolated Units, pp. 64-135.
16. The official records credit Pfc. N. A. Osterberg, a bazooka man of headquarters company, with driving back the German tanks that assaulted the 2d Battalion positions. Private Osterberg was wounded during the three-hour fight. He was awarded the DSC.
17. He received a posthumous award of the DSC.
18. All of the higher German field commanders appear to have been in a quandary at this stage as to Hitler's intention toward Bastogne. See Manteuffel's queries to his superiors as described in MS #B-151a, and ETHINT-46, Fifth Panzer Army, Mission of November 1944-January 1945. In a conference which the author held with Manteuffel and his chief of staff, Generalmajor Carl Gustav Wagener, in Karlsruhe on 10 June 1960 Wagener said that Hitler expressed no particular interest in Bastogne during the offensive phase, nor did he insist that his original orders to capture Bastogne be followed.
19. The history of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division is related by the commander of the detachments at Bastogne in MS # P-032c, Ardennes Project: Report on the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, 16 December 1944-2 February 1945 (Maucke).
20. Colonel Chappuis later was awarded the DSC.