The End of the Defensive Battle
Intercepted radio messages, a most fruitful source for German intelligence, had clearly indicated by 9 December that the Americans were moving reinforcements in large numbers toward the Bulge. The OB WEST staff reasoned that the bulk of these new divisions would be committed in the west in defense of the Meuse River or along the north side of the salient. Thus far there was no cause to be concerned about the southern flank. The weak Seventh Army had made progress, although not so much as Hitler wished, and there were no signs of change in the defensive attitude shown by the Americans in this sector. Late in the evening of the 19th, Army Group G reported that the U. S. Third Army was giving ground on the Saar front, but the American move was interpreted as a readjustment which could not bring Third Army reinforcements to the Ardennes before 22 December. The German intelligence staffs again agreed that there was no immediate threat to the Seventh Army, and that the westward advance by the Fifth Panzer Army would necessarily force the Americans to strengthen the battle line there and prohibit any thrust into the deep southern flank.
Although the Seventh Army was in the process of going over to the defensive, it had pushed its right wing forward, according to plan, and on 20 December re-established contact with its northern neighbor, the Fifth Panzer Army. In effect the right wing of the Seventh Army had wheeled to face south, while at the same time elongating the shoulder of the Fifth. This extension had widened the gap between the LXXX Corps, in the Ettelbruck sector, and the LXXX Corps, west of Echternach, but as yet the higher German headquarters were unconcerned about the thinning line. (See Map V.)
The division and corps commanders of the Seventh Army were less sanguine. By intuition, or through the natural apprehension induced by heavy losses, they already flinched mentally from the retaliatory blow. Concerned with their own weakness, rather than the strength and successes of the panzer armies, it seemed logical to them that the Americans would seek to exploit such weakness.1 Across the lines, as it happened,
plans were in process for a counterattack against the German southern flank, but General Patton, charged with this operation, would not have his troops in readiness before 22 December and feared that in the interim the enemy would launch a spoiling attack from the Echternach area.
With the main weight of the Seventh Army echeloned forward on its right (western) wing, pressure to regain contact and to grapple with the 109th Infantry was stepped up during the night of 20 December. The 352d Volks Grenadier Division pushed through Ettelbruck and probed cautiously in the dark, searching to the west and south for the outlines of the 109th's new position. This advance onto the ridge rising in the triangle formed by the Wark Creek and Alzette River had a limited object. Luxembourg, an appetizing target, lay only fifteen miles south of Ettelbruck and on a good road, but the orders received by the 352d aimed solely at the quick acquisition of a good blocking position against any American riposte from the south. The objective of the 352d, therefore, was a line based on the villages of Bettborn and Bissen that would cut the main roads running north and northeast from Luxembourg and Arlon, respectively. Parts of two regiments, the 914th and 916th, went up against the outpost positions of the 106th Infantry on 21 December, gaining ground on both of the open flanks. For the Americans the fight was one to gain time (they permitted no serious penetration of the ridge position overlooking the Wark valley) until, on the morning of 22 December, troops of the incoming 80th Infantry Division headed north through their positions.
To the south and east the 276th Volks Grenadier Division, now some distance from the 352d, re-formed its two leading regiments on a common front and worked feverishly to bring artillery ammunition and supplies forward from bridges which at long last were in operation. It appears that the new division commander of the 276th had ordered a limited attack for 21 December, intended to carry from Waldbillig to Christnach and the more readily defended creek line there. Late on the previous day a few assault guns, probably no more than five or six, had arrived west of the river. These weapons, it was hoped, would lend the tired German infantry the necessary punch.
In the 9th Armored Division (-) sector plans were under way to retake Waldbillig, using Task Force Chamberlain of the 10th Armored Division, which had been reorganized with a strength of thirteen medium tanks and two much understrength armored infantry companies (total: 130 men). Before the German attack got under way on 21 December Task Force Chamberlain attacked toward Waldbillig. The Shermans, protected by tank destroyers over-watching on the flanks, negotiated the dangerous skyline crossing on the ridge between Christnach and Waldbillig and by noon were in Waldbillig.
Reports that the enemy had withdrawn proved erroneous the moment that the supporting infantry started to move up with the tanks. Mortar and rifle
fire burst from the village, while Werfers in the neighboring woods joined in. Although the infantry support had a bad time, the tanks were little concerned by this enemy action. Their presence inside the village had some effect: a hundred prisoners were taken from the 988th. About midnight the American artillery laid on a brief, sharp concentration and the few tanks still in Waldbillig made a rapid withdrawal. Then Americans and Germans both shelled the village, by now a kind of no man's land.
To the east, opposite the weakest portion of the 4th Infantry Division line, the 212th Volks Grenadier Division made still another effort to reach its original objective--the good defensive terrain and blocking position in the Consdorf-Scheidgen-Michelshof area. In the afternoon of 21 December the 212th Fuesilier Battalion moved along the main Echternach-Luxembourg road through Lauterborn, which the Americans earlier had abandoned. Just ahead lay Hill 313, overlooking the road south. Here a part of Company C, 159th Engineer Combat Battalion, was stationed, with Company B occupying a smaller hill just to the west. There was no protection for the engineer flanks. About 1300 the Germans started a 30-minute shelling, covering their advance through the draws fringing the American-held heights.
Company B caught the full force of the first assault, the grenadiers erupting from the draws, firing their burp guns, and shouting in broken English, "Kill the sons of bitches." Two platoons fell back from Company B onto Company C, which in turn came under attack by Germans who had worked around Hill 313 and threatened to cut the road back to Scheidgen. The engineers had no working radios and did not know that reinforcements in the shape of a hundred or so men from the division headquarters company were on the way. Actually this relief party had to fight its way forward as the engineers struggled to clear a path back, and darkness was coming when the two bodies made contact. Almost out of ammunition, the engineers fell back to Scheidgen, but the Germans made no move to follow.
While the fusilier battalion was gaining ground in its drive toward Scheidgen, other troops of the 212th Volks Grenadier Division were trying, albeit with less success, to make headway to the east and west. Assembling in the woods near Rodenhof, the 320th Grenadier Regiment launched an attack to take Osweiler, but ran into two companies of the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, en route to clean out the woods. Neither side was able to advance and the Americans dug in for the night a few hundred yards south of Rodenhof. On the left flank of the 12th Infantry sector a sharp fight flared up in midafternoon when two companies of the 423d Grenadier Regiment tried to take Consdorf. The American tanks and infantry held their fire until the enemy assault formation had cleared its assembly area in the woods and was fully deployed on the bare slope before the town. Then they cut loose. Some sixty Germans were killed and the rest withdrew.
The 212th Volks Grenadier Division made a last attempt to expand the gains achieved in the Scheidgen sector on 22 December, the date on which the American counterattack finally began. A stealthy advance through the draws between the Americans occupying the
villages of Scheidgen and Michelshof during the early afternoon was perceived and handily checked by shellfire. At dusk the Germans tried again, debouching from the central ravine in a wedge formation. This effort was suicidal. Tanks, tank destroyers, artillery, engineers, and infantry were all in position and watching the draw like hungry cats in front of a mouse hole. The German point was only a hundred yards from the American foxholes when the first American fired. When the fusillade ended, 142 dead and dying Germans were left on the snow, still in their wedge formation. One lone grenadier, with five bullet holes in him, came forward with his hands held shakily over his head.
This bootless enemy effort on 22 December was no more than a counterattack to cover a general withdrawal which the 212th had begun the night before on corps orders. The defensive period for Americans in the Sauer sector in fact had closed with darkness on 21 December. This six-day battle had given adequate proof of General Barton's dictum, "The best way to handle these Heinies is to fight 'em." It was a battle fought off the cuff in a situation which mimeographed periodic reports would call "fluid" but which, for the most, could better be described as "obscure" seen from either side of the hill.2
The XII Corps Moves to Luxembourg
Three days before the beginning of the German thrust into the Ardennes, General Patton and Maj. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg met to discuss plans for a combined air and ground attack to smash through the German West Wall--target date, 19 December. After three or four days of intense bombing by the Ninth Air Force and the Royal Air Force, Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy's XII Corps would attack from the Saar River to penetrate the West Wall and start the Third Army, stymied by mud,
reinforced concrete, and the wasting effect of the past battles of attrition, once again on the way to the Rhine. Patton was jubilant at the prospect of the biggest blitz (so he fondly referred to the planned air assault) in the Third Army's history. General Eisenhower, however, did not conceive of the attack in the Saar sector as the major Allied effort and had decided "regardless of [the] results," to transfer divisions from this sector, once the attack had been made, to the north for the
major assault against the Rhine and Germany itself.
Meanwhile the XII Corps had the task of cleaning out the German positions in the small forests and wood lots between the Saar and the West Wall so that no entanglement in these outworks would dull the full shock of the hard blow which was being readied. For this mission General Eddy employed two infantry divisions, the new 87th and the veteran 35th, their attack to begin on 16 December.
The fighting was extremely bitter, and the enemy made the Americans pay dearly for each yard gained toward the West Wall. The superiority of the attacker in men and matériel, however, as usual was clearing the field, a fact of battlefield life that was all too evident to the German defenders. On the night of 16 December the commander of the XC Corps, facing Eddy's divisions, warned his superiors that the German line was so thin and ragged that if the Americans decided on an all-out attack neither the existing battle line nor the West Wall could be held. But in this instance the calculated risk assumed by Hitler in stripping the Army Group G sector to feed troops and weapons into Army Group B paid off. It turned out that the battered and weakened German divisions in front of the XII Corps had done their job, had held long enough.
To take the pressure off the XII Corps infantry Patton was preparing to bolster the attack with the 6th Armored Division when General Bradley informed the Third Army commander of the day's happenings on the VIII Corps front. The army group commander ordered that the 10th Armored be dispatched to Middleton forthwith, this move from the Third Army to begin on the 17th. General Morris started his division north, and Patton canceled the 6th Armored attack which had been poised in front of Forbach--one of the few occasions on which the Third Army commander called off an attack that he personally had ordered. So far as the Third Army staff knew at this stage, however, the German blow in the Ardennes presented no dire threat and the attack on the 19th would go as scheduled.
But on 18 December Bradley called Patton to his Luxembourg headquarters, and there Patton learned for the first time of the grave situation faced by the First Army. When asked what help he could give, the Third Army commander replied that he could intervene in the battle with three divisions "very shortly." He telephoned the Third Army chief of staff to stop the XII Corps attack forming for the following day and to prepare the 4th Armored and 80th Infantry Divisions for immediate transfer to Luxembourg. The 87th Division halted its slow advance, as did the 35th. On the move out of rest area for assembly in preparation for the XII Corps' attack, the 4th Armored and 80th likewise stopped.
When it became apparent by nightfall of the 18th that the situation on the First Army front had deteriorated beyond expectation, General Bradley decided upon immediate use of the Third Army's resources. Patton had returned to his command post at Nancy when, a couple of hours before midnight, Bradley called with word that conditions on the VIII Corps front were much worse, that the troops promised by the Third Army had to move at once, and that Patton was to attend a meeting with the Supreme Commander the following morning at Verdun.
By midnight one combat command of the 4th Armored Division was on its way north to Longwy; at dawn on the 19th the 80th Infantry Division had started for Luxembourg City. And through the night before the Verdun meeting the Third Army staff worked feverishly to draft plans for the intervention of all or any part of Patton's forces in the battle raging in the north, for Bradley had intimated that Patton was to take command of the VIII Corps and other forces moving to its assistance.
Bradley already had directed that the III Corps headquarters would be moved from Metz to take command of an attack to be mounted somewhere north of Luxembourg City. Patton's general staff,
therefore, prepared three plans for a counterattack: on the axes Neufchâteau-St. Hubert; Arlon-Bastogne; and Luxembourg-Diekirch-St. Vith. The final attack selected would, as Patton then saw it, be delivered by the VIII and III Corps. When Patton arrived at Verdun on the morning of the 19th, Eisenhower asked how soon the III Corps could launch its counterattack. Patton replied that he could start a piecemeal attack in three days, a co-ordinated attack in six. The Supreme Commander, who seems to have felt that Patton was a bit too confident, subsequently informed Field Marshal Montgomery that the counterattack from the south would be made on the 23d or 24th.3
The master plan outlined by Eisenhower in the Verdun meeting of the 19th turned on a major effort to plug the holes developing in the north and the launching of a co-ordinated attack from the south. To free the force needed for this initial counterattack, Eisenhower ordered all offensive operations south of the Moselle to be halted forthwith and turned over the entire Third Army sector (except for that occupied by Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker's XX Corps on the border of the Saar) to General Devers' 6th Army Group. This northward extension of Devers' command would spread the American forces in Alsace and Lorraine rather thin, but Devers (who was present at the Verdun meeting on the 19th) was promised some of the Third Army divisions and artillery.
It was now clear that Patton would be responsible for a major effort to knife into the German southern flank, that he would have at least two of the three Third Army corps, six of its divisions,
The Southern Shoulder
22-26 December 1944
and the bulk of the army troops for the task. (On 20 December, however, after a visit to Middleton's command post, Patton found that the VIII Corps was in such shape that it could not be used offensively and that the two Third Army corps would have to carry the ball.) A telephone call from Verdun, using a simple code which had been arranged before Patton left Nancy, informed the Third Army chief of staff (Brig. Gen. Hobart R. Gay) that the XII Corps was to disengage at once, that the command post of Eddy's corps and an advance command post for the Third Army were to transfer to Luxembourg City, that the 26th Infantry Division was to start north on the following morning, and that the 35th Infantry Division--which had been in the line for 160 consecutive days--was to be relieved as quickly as possible and be sent to Metz for much needed rehabilitation en route to the Ardennes battle. At midnight of the 20th, the XII Corps front was taken over by its southern neighbor, Maj. Gen. Wade H. Haislip's XV Corps. The 4th Armored and 80th Infantry Divisions had that day passed to the command of the III Corps in the Arlon sector south of Bastogne.
The next morning General Eddy and his immediate staff departed for Luxembourg with a new mission: to assume command of the American troops north and east of Luxembourg City who had held so tenaciously along the southern shoulder of the original German penetration. General Eddy's new command, aside from corps troops, consisted of those units already in the area and the 5th Infantry Division, which had been added to the roster of Third Army formations rolling northward. It moved in piecemeal as it was relieved from the XX Corps' bridgehead at Saarlautern.4 The troops in the line when Eddy took over were the 4th Infantry Division, the 10th Armored Division (less CCB), CCA of the 9th Armored Division, the 109th Infantry, and other smaller units of the 28th Infantry Division. (Map IX)
When the XII Corps took control of its new zone on the 21st, the German thrust into eastern Luxembourg had been pretty well checked. The three German divisions which the Seventh Army had thrown into the initial attack were drastically depleted by then and apprehensive that the Americans might undertake a counterattack in such force as to penetrate this part of the Seventh Army's blocking position on the southern flank of the German salient. The Americans likewise were concerned lest the enemy make a last major try for a breakthrough before the promised reinforcement arrived from the Third Army.
There was, however, a fairly continuous--although jagged--line of defense confronting the enemy. The new corps' front, facing east and north, reached from Dickweiler, near the west bank of the Sauer River, to Schieren, on the Alzette River, due north of Luxembourg City. The eastern wing was defended by the 4th Infantry Division and task forces from the 10th Armored Division. The northern wing was held by the 109th Infantry and CCA, 9th Armored Division, backed by detachments from the 10th Armored. This wing, at its
western tip, had been wide open. But the 80th Infantry Division of the III Corps was moving in to establish an extension of the American line beyond the Alzette and on the 22d deployed to envelop the enemy bridgehead west of Ettelbruck.
General Patton intended to give General Eddy two infantry divisions from the old Third Army front, the 5th and 35th. The latter had seen very rough fighting; it would need some refitting and for this reason had been ordered to Metz to reorganize before rejoining the XII Corps. Maj. Gen. S. LeRoy Irwin's 5th Infantry Division was in good condition. Introduced into Walker's XX Corps bridgehead at Saarlautern to relieve the 95th Division, two of Irwin's regiments had attacked on 18 and 19 December to widen the breach made earlier in the main bunker lines of the forward West Wall position. General Irwin, however, had some inkling that his division might soon leave the bridgehead for on the night of the 19th the corps commander warned that the attack was to be held up, that the situation in the north was very much confused and that the 5th Division might be moved in that direction. The 10th Infantry division reserve was put on one-hour alert to move "in any direction."
General Walker arrived at Irwin's command post toward noon of the following day. He told Irwin that one regiment of the 95th would relieve the 5th Division in the bridgehead and that the XX Corps was pulling back across the Saar except in one small bridgehead. As to the future employment of the 5th Division he had no word. More precise directions shortly came from the corps headquarters, moving the 10th Infantry, the 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and the 735th Tank Battalion toward Thionville on the Luxembourg road. The next order bade Irwin bring his 11th Infantry out of the bridgehead during the night.
The withdrawal of the tank and tank destroyer battalions, each of which had two companies west of the river, went forward by ferry in full daylight; by 1700 these battalions were on the road to Luxembourg. The relief of the 11th Infantry, by an extension of the 2d Infantry sector, began as soon as darkness settled. It went well also, only two casualties being incurred. By 1000 the next morning the entire regiment was in trucks en route to Thionville. The enemy was neither in strength nor in frame of mind able to interfere with the American withdrawal, although the 2d Infantry attempt to hide the reduction of the line by increased fire fooled the Germans not one whit. Relieved on the night of 21 December by troops of the 95th Division, the 2d Infantry was already rolling to join its sister regiments when the morning fog blew away.
The XII Corps' Counterattack
That same morning the 10th Infantry initiated the 5th Division fight on a new battleground.5 Despite confusion, fragmentary
orders, and a general sense that the leading columns of the division were moving toward an unknown destination and enemy, the 10th Infantry (Col. Robert P. Bell) transfer to Luxembourg had been accomplished in good time. Two officers of Irwin's staff reached the Third Army headquarters in Luxembourg at 1730 on 20 December and there received an assembly area for the regiment and some maps. Hurrying back down the Thionville road the staff officers met the column, blacked out but moving at a good clip. In the early evening the column rolled through the streets of Luxembourg City, and an hour or so after midnight the first trucks drove into the assembly area near Rammeldange. Then the column closed, the infantry shivering out the rest of the night in the trucks.6
The mission of the 5th Infantry Division had not yet been defined, but it was clear that it had moved from one battle to another. A series of meetings in Luxembourg during the morning of the 21st resulted in the decision to place the 5th Division north of the city in the sector briefly occupied by the 80th Division. Further, the XII Corps commander told General Irwin to be prepared to attack north or northeast, or to counterattack in the southeast. Later General Eddy warned that the 10th Infantry might have to go into the line that very afternoon to help the 12th Infantry restore the American positions south of Echternach. The 10th did move forward to Ernzen, but no counterattack order was forthcoming.
In the meantime the 11th Infantry arrived in Luxembourg City, its mission to take over the 80th Division position north of the city between Ernzen and Reuland and cover the deployment of the XII Corps--a rather large order for a regimental combat team. However the regimental commander, Col. Paul J. Black, was forced to halt his column when the 80th Division commander gave him a direct order to keep off the road net then being used by the 80th for a shift west into the III Corps' sector. The regimental S-3 later reported that the 80th Division had used the roads only intermittently during the afternoon and that the 11th Infantry could have moved north without difficulty. But on the other hand Maj. Gen. Horace L. McBride had orders to attack the next morning, and the Third Army commander, as he very well knew, would brook no delay. In any case the halt of the 11th Infantry on the north edge of the city did create a mammoth road jam.
During the evening General Eddy met his commanders at the 4th Division command post. Reports coming in from the 12th Infantry, holding the weakest section of the 4th Division front, were discouraging, for that afternoon the 212th Volks Grenadier Division had made substantial progress in an attack along
5TH INFANTRY DIVISION TROOPS MOVING TOWARD THE FRONT
the main road leading from Echternach toward Luxembourg City. Although the 12th Infantry line had hardened and now held near Scheidgen, General Barton expected that the enemy would try another punch down the road. But, even while the American commanders were meeting, the German LXXX Corps staff was drafting orders for a piecemeal withdrawal by the 212th Volks Grenadier Division to begin that very night.
The enemy gains on 21 December marked the high tide of the advance over the Sauer begun six days before, a fact that could not yet be appreciated by the little group of commanders gathered in the 4th Division command post. General Irwin probably summed up what all were thinking: "Situation on whole front from east of us to north varies from fluid to no front at all. Information is very scanty and the situation changes hourly." Under these circumstances General Eddy decided that the 10th Infantry should be placed under tactical control of the 4th Division and attack around noon the following day to restore the situation on the 12th Infantry front.
Admittedly this was the kind of partial solution frowned upon by the field service regulations. General Irwin noted, "I anticipate too much piecemeal action for a while to get any tangible results." But the 4th Division had undergone six
days of heavy fighting, its last reserves had been used up, and the events of the day just ended seemed to presage a hardening of the enemy's resolve.
The critical section of the main line of resistance was that marked by the villages of Scheidgen, Michelshof, and Osweiler. Here the line was defended by elements of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 12th Infantry, the regimental antitank company, and part of the 159th Engineer Battalion. During the afternoon of the 21st the 212th Volks Grenadier Division had used one rifle regiment and the divisional fusilier battalion (both at low strength) in the attempt to take the three villages and the commanding ground on which they stood, ground that represented the final objective of the 212th. General Barton, therefore, planned to meet the German threat by sending the 10th Infantry into attack astride the road from Michelshof to Echternach, the two attack battalions jumping off at noon from the crossroad Scheidgen-Michelshof. This line of departure was occupied by two rifle companies, four tanks, and five platoons of engineers.
Through the morning of the 22d enemy batteries busily shelled the area just behind the American positions. The attack by the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 10th Infantry never really got going. The 2d Battalion on the left of the road deployed some three hundred yards behind the assigned line of departure and started forward just as the Germans began an assault against the small force dug in on the line. German guns supporting the grenadiers made any movement in formation impossible. As it was, the bulk of the two fresh companies reached the line about the same time that the German assault waves struck. The troops on the line were able to beat the enemy back, but not before the 2d Battalion troops had been deflected to the right and left by the enemy onrush. Considerably disorganized, the two companies hurriedly dug in just to the south of the original American covering force.
On the right of the road the 1st Battalion was faced with thick woods and very rough ground. During the morning reconnaissance parties had come forward to look over the route of advance but had been foiled by a thick ground fog and alert enemy gunners. When the battalion deployed for the advance to the line of departure it ran into trouble, for the company next to the road came under the artillery concentration laid down in support of the German assault just described and suffered a number of casualties. Control in woods and ravines was difficult and the company drifted across the road behind the 2d Battalion. It was growing dark when the 1st Battalion finally reorganized and dug in, still short of the line of departure. The intense artillery and Werfer fire by enemy gunners throughout the day, together with the infantry assault of the afternoon, had been designed to cover the 212th Volks Grenadier Division while it withdrew from the exposed position in the Scheidgen salient. Fresh American reinforcements had been held in check; the German withdrawal had been successful.
General Eddy telephoned General Irwin during the evening to say that he planned to use the 5th Division as part of a corps attack to drive the Germans back over the Sauer in the angle formed by the Sauer and Moselle Rivers. Irwin's whole division was in Luxembourg but
somewhat dispersed. The 11th Infantry had taken over the reserve battle positions north of Luxembourg City formerly occupied by the 80th Division. The 2d Infantry, having left the XX Corps' bridgehead with only minor incident,7 was assembled around Junglinster, ready with trucks and attached tank destroyers for use as the corps' mobile reserve. Given time to assemble, the fresh 5th Division could take over from Barton's battle-weary 4th. That night Irwin and his staff pored over maps and march orders for the attack to clear the enemy from the near side of the Sauer, an attack scheduled for the morning of 24 December.
In the interim the two battalions of the 10th Infantry began their second day of action, a clear day but bitter cold with snow underfoot. On the right the 1st Battalion made some progress, but one company lost its way in the heavy woods and a gap opened between the battalions. The main difficulty encountered by both battalions was that of negotiating the heavy belt of timber which lay to the front and in which a relatively small number of the enemy could put up a fight out of all relation to their actual strength. Further, the American advance followed a series of parallel ridge lines; screened by the woods the Germans could and did filter along the draws separating the American companies and take them on individually.
The 2d Battalion had a particularly rough time. Company F, which entered the forest northeast of Michelshof, at first killed or captured a number of Germans in snow-covered foxholes just inside the woods. Then the German shells began to burst through the trees. The company broke into little groups, turning this way and that to avoid the fire--many were scooped up by Germans who had been waiting in their foxholes. When the company withdrew it numbered forty-six men, but later a large number of stragglers appeared at Michelshof. On the left Company E advanced until it came under fire from a cross-grained ridge just ahead. As the company deployed for the assault a large force of German infantry erupted from the draw on its flank, preceded, as it moved, by a curtain of bursting shells. There was plenty of American artillery on call for such an emergency--six battalions were supporting the 10th Infantry attack--and the Germans were dispersed. A few tough enemy riflemen dug in as best they could on the frozen ground and held their place, forcing Company E to "infiltrate" back to its take-off position. This day, then, had been only moderately successful for the 10th Infantry, in part because it was working without the support of its own 5th Division artillery, but the reserve battalion had not been committed and the division stood waiting to expand to attack.
The final field order issued by the XII Corps called for an attack at 1100 hours on the 24th to seize and hold the line of the Sauer and Moselle Rivers with such enemy crossings as might remain intact. The main effort was delegated to the 5th Infantry Division and the 10th Armored Division, the latter having extracted much of its strength from the line on the left of the 4th Division to form a counterattack reserve. The 4th Infantry Division was to hold in place as
the 5th passed through, supporting the 5th's attack by fire wherever possible. Finally, the 2d Cavalry Group (reinforced), which was just moving into the new XII Corps area from the old, would take over the extended Moselle flank on the right of the corps. This had been a constant concern to General Barton during the 4th Division battles and had absorbed battalions of the 22d Infantry badly needed on the fighting line. The artillery support planned for the attack included fifteen battalions of corps artillery plus the organic battalions in the divisions. The mechanized units available represented considerable strength: two combat commands of the 10th Armored Division with CCA of the 9th Armored Division attached; two separate tank battalions; five tank destroyer battalions, of which three were self-propelled; and two cavalry squadrons.
The German LXXX Corps faced the XII Corps with two divisions in the line anchored on the Sauer and no corps reserve. The deep valley of the Schwarz Erntz remained the boundary between these divisions, constituting as it had in earlier fighting an ever present physical obstacle to a homogeneous corps front and coordinated maneuver. On the right the 276th Volks Grenadier Division was engaged in small-scale attacks near Savelborn and Christnach. The extreme left or eastern wing of this division was not solidly anchored, and all attempts to break out of the Schwarz Erntz gorge and bring the left forward in conformity with the advance of the neighboring division had been thwarted. The result was that the 212th Volks Grenadier Division, on the right, occupied a south-facing line stepped forward of the 276th and precariously open at its western end. To cover this gap the 423d Regiment had spread thin, so thin that its main line of resistance was little more than a series of smallish strongpoints. As a result the LXXX Corps' order shortening the 212th line by withdrawal on the night of 21 December was issued with the intention of contracting the 423d to give more body to absorb the American punches when they came.
The Echternach bridgehead, expanded toward Michelshof, was defended by the 320th Infantry and the division fusilier battalion. The far left wing of the division and corps was tied to the Sauer by the 999th Penal Battalion. On paper, General Sensfuss' 212th Volks Grenadier Division had a third regiment, the 316th, but although this unit had helped establish the bridgehead it was the Seventh Army reserve and not even the corps commander could use it freely. The field replacement battalions belonging to the LXXX Corps were almost completely drained by the heavy losses incurred in the infantry regiments. The rifle companies of the two line divisions numbered about forty men apiece. Each division had only one light and one medium field artillery battalion in direct support; the corps had perhaps five battalions, plus one Werfer brigade. Probably the bulk of this firepower had displaced across the river to positions directly behind the divisions. The infantry companies had fought during the first days without the aid of assault guns, but a few of these and two companies of antitank guns reached the LXXX Corps just before the American attack on the 24th.
The Seventh Army, and more particularly Beyer's corps, began the Ardennes battle as the kitchen maid in the scullery
and would end it in the same status. Replacements, artillery, armor, and supplies by this stage of the German counteroffensive went first to the two panzer armies. Since there was inadequate transport for resupply in the main battle area, Brandenberger could hardly expect that additional trucks and critical items would reach the tactical backwater where his army was stranded. The German commanders on the Sauer front had recognized as early as the 21st and 22d that the bolt had been shot; they and their weary troops knew that the coming battle already was lost. The ground to be held, however, generally favored the defense, just as it had favored the Americans in the first phase.
There was one notable exception--the natural corridor of the Schwarz Erntz. This corridor could be used to split the two German divisions. Moreover, it led directly to the main corps' bridge at Bollendorf and this bridge, if lost, would leave the bulk of the 276th Volks Grenadier Division stranded on the west bank of the Sauer. So seriously was this threat regarded that on 22 December the Seventh Army started work on a heavy bridge at Dillingen to the rear of the 276th.
The morning of the 24th broke clear and cold, bringing a mixed blessing. The thermometer stood below 20° F, and the American foot sloggers would suffer (trench foot was commencing to appear), but the gunners and fighter-bomber pilots could rejoice. With two fire direction centers handling the corps artillery and with perfect visibility at the observation posts, the battalions fired salvo after salvo for interdiction and destruction. A few woods and villages got special treatment--TOT's with white phosphorus, a killing device for which General Patton had built up some attachment among troops of the Third Army. It seemed to the Americans that the good shooting by enemy gunners in the forty-eight hours past required an answer; so counterbattery work began the moment the infantry jumped off in the attack. During the day and night the XII Corps artillery would fire 21,173 shells to support the attack on a ten-mile front. The 5th Division artillery fired 5,813 rounds, exceeding the daily expenditure during the bitter September battle in the Arnaville bridgehead. General Weyland's XIX Tactical Air Command, old friend of the 5th Division, made good use of beautiful flying weather, but there were many targets to divert the fighter-bombers beyond the XII Corps zone. The 405th Fighter Group flew eight missions during the day, dropping fragmentation and napalm bombs at points along the Sauer, then strafing and bombing the roads east of the river.
At 1100 the ground attack commenced. There must have been an uneasy feeling that the enemy had plenty of fight left because the corps commander told Irwin that should he feel the attack was proving too costly it would be called off. Caution, it may be said, had become less opprobrious in the Third Army since 16 December. The XII Corps G-2, who like many other intelligence officers had miscalculated the German ability to resist during the optimistic days of early September, now estimated that the enemy reserves in front of the corps equaled one infantry and one armored division. At the same time the American staffs had an uncertain feeling that the extremely tenuous connection between
A WHITE PHOSPHORUS BURST during bombardment of German emplacements.
the XII and XX Corps along the Moselle would attract German attention.
The 5th Division began the attack with three regiments in line on an 8-mile front reaching from Savelborn on the west to Osweiler on the east. From the line of departure, generally in the rear of the main line of resistance, Irwin would feed his battalions into the 10th Armored line on the left and the 4th Division line on the right, eventually relieving the latter by extending the 5th Division wing, lengthened by the 2d Cavalry Group, to the Sauer. Task forces of the 10th Armored Division were to attack on a northern thrust line, clearing the villages on the south banks of the Sauer as they went. The main effort by the 5th Division, also looking north, aimed in its early stages at high ground overlooking the Echternach bridgehead: Hill 313 southwest of Lauterborn, the scene of much bitter fighting when first the Germans pushed down the road from Echternach; the ridge south of Berdorf commanding the Schwarz Erntz gorge; and, in the old 9th Armored sector north of the gorge, the plateau and village of Haller.
On the right of the division the two battalions of the 10th Infantry continued their attack north of Michelshof. Along the thickly wooded ridges to their front the 320th Infantry, supported by most of the 212th Volks Grenadier Division artillery, was concentrated to block the way to Echternach. The 1st Battalion, advancing to the right of the Michelshof-Echternach
highway, once again found the combination of heavy woods, Germans in well-disguised foxholes, and accurate shellfire too much. Two hours after the attack began the enemy retaliated with a counterattack, assault guns paving a way for the infantry. The American gunners quickly disposed of this. The 2d Battalion, to the west, had eight medium tanks belonging to the 737th Tank Battalion and less difficult ground. Four tanks and two platoons of Company G started along the main road, covered by other troops advancing on the ridges to either side of the draw. Shell bursts on the road and bullet fire soon drove the troops to the cover of the trees lining the draw, where others of the battalion were ferreting German riflemen out of camouflaged foxholes. Smoke fired to cover the attack gave added momentum; then the tanks destroyed a pair of machine gun nests on Hill 313. Momentarily, however, the attack wavered when a part of Company G turned west toward a hill mass it mistook for its objective. Brought back, the infantry followed the tanks to the proper objective. The Germans there decided not to engage the Shermans, and by dark the battalion had Hill 313.
The 2d Infantry sector, in the division center, extended from the Scheidgen draw west to the Müllerthal (Schwarz Erntz). Immediately to the north lay the thick forest and rugged ground of the Kalkesbach, an unsavory obstacle. Col. A. Worrell Roffe, the 2d Infantry commander, decided to risk a flanking thrust along the Müllerthal with his 2d Battalion and to use his 3d Battalion in a frontal attack against the Kalkesbach. For the final punch a tank company and the 1st Battalion lay waiting in Colbet. If all went well the regiment would swing onto the Berdorf plateau and face eastward above the Sauer River.
To gain entrance to the Müllerthal was no simple task. It required an attack due west down into the draw, where artillery could be of no help. Companies F and G undertook the task, and the fight became a manhunt, rifleman against rifleman, stalking one another in crevices, on cliffs, from tree to tree. The quarry, skillfully hidden, had the best of it. Company F ran against a strong-point on a cliff and was the loser in a fire fight. Company G lost direction several times in the maze of cross corridors, but at every point drew sharp fire. At dark the two companies dug in against bullets seemingly whistling in from every direction. It was evident that the tree-covered and rocky floor of the gorge was no place for further attack, and Colonel Roffe ordered the two companies to fight their way out of the gorge at daybreak. The battalion was then to gather in an attack on Doster Farm, which overlooked the road to Berdorf.
The 3d Battalion, north of Scheidgen, also had hard fighting and a slow advance. The terrain over which the attack was made consisted of alternating draws and ridges, cleared ground and timber. Advance by ridge line or draw terminated in cross corridors, natural glacis for the enemy riflemen firing down the slope. At one point Company L suddenly was swept by rifle and machine gun fire, suffered thirty casualties, lost two company commanders in the space of minutes, and became disorganized and unable to move. Lt. Col. Robert E. Connor, the battalion commander, got the division artillery to work on the ridge line confronting the company, sent
his S-3, Capt. Frederic C. Thompson, up to sort out the demoralized soldiers and replace the platoon and squad leaders who were hors de combat, then put his reserve, Company K, in to flank the German position. The reserve company made its way to the head of a draw from which the enemy could be taken in enfilade. While this flanking fire swept the German line, Company L (reorganized in two platoons of twenty-five men each) attacked with marching fire. The ridge was gained and most of the defenders killed, but this time the attackers lost only three men. Company I, advancing along a draw on which Werfers were directed, took many losses during the day. All told the 2d Infantry had made only a few hundred yards gain by the close of 24 December.
The 3d Battalion commander reported that the action had been like trying to catch a rat in a maze. The Germans, familiar with the ground, had run back and forth through the draws, popping up in new and unexpected positions. The Americans had lost direction and found maneuver difficult in the dense woods and jagged terrain, while their advance along the more direct paths offered by the draws had given the German batteries easy targets. After the untoward events of this first day the regimental commander instructed his battalions to avoid the draws as much as possible and work along the higher ground by short flanking attacks in which control could be retained.
The 11th Infantry took its attack positions during the night of the 23d in the rear of the 10th Armored screen, the 3d Battalion on the left at Larochette (Fels) and the 1st Battalion southeast of Christnach. Colonel Black had been ordered to put his main effort on the right in an attack up the draws in support
of the 2d but decided to throw his weight on the left. The left battalion, draped in white sheets and supported by tanks, made its advance in column of companies on a narrow thrust line bearing north in the direction of Haller and hit squarely between the battalions of the 988th Regiment. Whenever the enemy stood his ground, artillery and tank fire was brought to bear, quickly followed by infantry assault paced with machine gun fire. Following a level ridge line the 3d Battalion made good time. By midafternoon it held its objective, a wooded rise less than a thousand yards southwest of Haller.
The 1st Battalion had as its objective the wooded table which arose above the Schwarz Erntz northeast of Christnach--the scene of bitter fighting and bloody losses for the Americans when the enemy had held the initiative. Company A, sent down into the Müllerthal gorge while the remainder of the battalion threw in a holding attack on the left, moved slowly but steadily, until after some three hours it was opposite the village of Müllerthal. Here the Germans had dug in, checking the advance with machine gun and mortar fire into the gorge from Waldbillig. Company B came in to help against Waldbillig, moving northwest through one of the cross corridors. As soon as the troops left the cover of the draw they encountered direct fire, and it looked as though the 1st Battalion would find it tough to continue a frontal attack.
The rapid advance by the 3d Battalion on the left appeared a solution to this tactical problem. Colonel Black prepared to alter the 11th Infantry scheme of maneuver on the 25th. The 3d Battalion was to be relieved by the regimental reserve, then wheel to the right, bypass south of Haller, and seize the two hill objectives, the Hardthof and Hohwald, in front of the 1st Battalion. During the night 1st Battalion patrols worked to the edge of Waldbillig, found little indication of enemy strength and by daylight the battalion had a company in the village.
This first day of the 5th Division attack had netted rather limited gains except on the extreme left flank and in the 10th Infantry sector at Hill 313. The six American battalions engaged had lost about two hundred dead and wounded. The enemy generally had held the attackers at arm's length (only nineteen prisoners went through the 5th Division cage) and probably had fewer casualties. The German artillery had been very active and effective, despite heavy counterbattery fire, while the tortuous nature of the ground had robbed the gunners supporting the 5th Division of much good shooting. But something had been accomplished. The 4th Infantry Division at last had been relieved (although it proved difficult to find and make physical contact with some isolated outposts of the 4th Division line), and Col. Charles H. Reed's 2d Cavalry Group took over the quiet portion of the line on the right of the 5th Division.
At the close of day, there were indications at several points that the enemy was pulling away. A German withdrawal actually did take place during the night. The 2d Infantry battle along the floor and sides of the Schwarz Erntz, viewed so pessimistically by those engaged, had convinced General Sensfuss, the 212th Volks Grenadier Division commander, that his extended right flank soon would be pierced or turned.
WHITE-CLAD 11TH INFANTRY TROOPS ATTACK TOWARD HALLER
To form a shorter and thicker line, Sensfuss drew in both flanks and gave up ground at his center, creating a new position which reached from Berdorf across the hills flanking the entrance to Echternach (only 2,500 yards from the center of that town) and west to the Sauer. Meanwhile the miscellaneous troops covering the flank of the 212th west of the river withdrew behind the Sauer, leaving only small outposts behind.
The 10th Armored Division, to which were attached the 106th Infantry and CCA, 9th Armored, put two task forces into the attack on 24 December, their mission to clear the enemy from the Ermsdorf-Gilsdorf road. In keeping with the 5th Division attack on the right, the axis of advance generally ran northeast. Task Force Standish, on the right, was weighted with tanks and armored infantry backed by two armored field artillery battalions. One of its two teams advanced with little opposition, ending the day just northwest of Eppeldorf. The second team came under the German guns while moving across open ground west of Eppeldorf; the first reports said half the team was lost to shellfire and rockets. Driven back to the cover of a wood lot the team reorganized, took on reinforcements, and returned to the attack, this time swinging wide of the town to join the companion team. Later a task force from CCX (as CCA, 9th
Armored Division, now was named) seized the high ground west of Eppeldorf.
Task Force Rudder, composed of two battalions (less than half strength) of the 109th Infantry, most of the 90th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, and a company of tank destroyers, found the Germans decamping from the narrow strip they had held south of the Sure River. Most of the fighting involved enemy on the north bank from Ettelbruck to the east. The tank destroyers claimed to have caught and destroyed numerous vehicles and one horse-drawn battery. In Gilsdorf the German rear guard succeeded in gaining a little time, but the attack continued eastward until nightfall, when Rudder's troops paused on the hill west of Moestroff.
While this advance was sweeping the near bank of the Sure the enemy destroyed his foot and pontoon bridges. The 10th Armored attack and the deep thrust achieved by the left wing of the 5th Division in the Haller sector was rapidly crowding the 276th Volks Grenadier Division back on Wallendorf and Dillingen, the crossings over which the division had come on 16 December. On Christmas Eve Colonel Dempwolff moved the command posts of his division and regiments closer to the river--a sign of things to come. By this time there was no real tactical connection between the 276th and the 212th Volks Grenadier Divisions; each had been compressed into the area of its original bridgehead.
Since the river line in the 10th Armored Division zone had been reached on the first day of the XII Corps' attack, Christmas passed quietly on the Ettelbruck-Moestroff-Eppeldorf line except for sounds of the tank destroyers sporadically blasting at German traffic across the Sure on the Diekirch-Bettendorf road. But for the 5th Infantry Division Christmas was no day of celebration. At 0730 the infantry crawled out of their frozen foxholes and moved into the attack. During the first hours they encountered few of the enemy, for the 212th had given up considerable ground during the night withdrawal, but the German assault guns and artillery quickly made their presence known. Although the 10th Infantry right slammed against the new enemy line in the Hardt woods before the day was through, it succeeded in lining up with the 22d Infantry to the east.
The 3d Battalion, which had taken over Hill 313 during the night, found that the Germans had fallen back a few hundred yards to the far side of a fine natural barrier, the Leimerdelt draw. This ravine was some two hundred feet deep and five hundred yards across; its sides were virtually cliffs. Attempts to work around the draw by way of tributary cross corridors failed because the enemy had blocked these routes with machine guns. Lt. Col. Alden Shipley, the battalion commander, asked permission to sideslip westward and flank the draw from higher ground, but the 2d Infantry was engaged in the area Shipley needed for this maneuver and the request had to be denied.
North of Scheidgen, on the 3d Battalion, 2d Infantry, front, American artillery had pounded the enemy all through the night in preparation for the attack, some batteries using the new POZIT fuze. Soon after the infantry started forward, reports came back that much damage had been done the enemy,
that his line was softening. By afternoon the battalion had advanced well into the Friemholz woods, but not until the tankers had shelled the enemy out of a foxhole line at the timber's edge. The 2d Battalion, after a rugged night for its main force in the Müllerthal gorge, set about extricating the two companies there in preparation for the attack against Doster Farm. This was no easy task. Rather than work its way the length of one of the exit draws in which Company G had settled during the night, this company attacked up and over the bank, firing and taking its losses. Company F had a hard time disengaging, but got out along the path taken by Company G.
The battalion finally re-formed on Company E, and the three serviceable tanks left in the attached platoon then prepared to attack Doster Farm, a small collection of stone buildings on an open rise. The German infantry had entrenched here, while in the woods to the north a section of antitank guns covered the clearing. One of the enemy guns knocked out a tank but in so doing enabled American observers to direct accurate fire on the gun positions. Once the guns were stilled the tanks and infantry took the farm by assault, then pushed to within a thousand yards of Berdorf.
West of the Müllerthal the 11th Infantry set out on the wheeling movement
planned the night before to reduce the stubborn resistance in front of its right flank. Company A of the 91st Chemical Battalion smoked Haller while the 3d Battalion, reinforced by ten Jumbo tanks from the 737th Tank Battalion, crossed the southern face of the village and attacked toward the Hardthof rise. After this rapid and successful advance, the tanks withdrew to help the 1st Battalion drive the enemy off the Hohwald northeast of Waldbillig. Haller itself fell to the reserve battalion, which at twilight sent a rifle company and tank platoon against the village. Nearly two hundred prisoners were rounded up from the 988th, the center regiment of the 276th Volks Grenadier Division.
The 5th Division rate of advance had accelerated appreciably during the second day of action, particularly at those points where tanks were brought into action. Difficult terrain, however, denied rapid exploitation and a clear breakthrough to the Sauer. Then, too, trench foot showed an alarming incidence among the attacking infantry, who found it impossible to keep their feet dry in this attack across the snow-fed streams in the bottom of the draws. The 5th Division, like other veteran divisions, was filled with troops who had returned to duty after evacuation for wounds for sickness, and these "RTD's" were much more susceptible to trench foot than other troops. Still, it was obvious that the enemy was in bad shape and lacked the rifle strength or the heavy weapons to stand for long against tank-infantry assault. General Eddy and General Irwin agreed that the attack was profitable and should continue, although both were anxious to get their troops under cover.
The LXXX Corps could hardly be said to have a line of defense in either of its division bridgeheads on the 26th. Rather there remained an unevenly linked chain of small troop concentrations defending wood lots, hills, or villages--in effect a series of bridgeheads within the two main bridgehead areas. The 212th Volks Grenadier Division was in a particularly hazardous position, for the attack by the 3d Battalion in the 2d Infantry sector had carried to within sight of the Sauer, thus separating the German centers of defense at Berdorf and Echternach. In fact the enemy infantry to the front of the 3d Battalion had been forced to swim the chilly river on the night of the 25th.
The 1st Battalion, 10th Infantry, emerged from the Hardt woods and advanced astride the ridge lines leading north to Echternach. German Teller mines linked with trip wires dotted the trails and the ridge crests, slowing the advance, but by dark the battalion was only a half-mile from the town. The 3d Battalion, stopped the previous day at the Leimerdelt draw, renewed its advance about 0300 with a stealthy descent into the draw, Company L moving on the right to the bend where the draw turned north toward Echternach. Company I, on the left, attacked at daybreak through two tributary draws leading out to the north, each rifleman weighed down with three bandoleers of ammunition. Attacking boldly, firing at every possible enemy hiding place, and never halting for cover, the company killed the Germans in their foxholes or drove them back in flight toward the river. A small detachment of the enemy made a brief stand at Melick Farm,
then gave way to artillery shelling and assault by Company L. Company I drove on to the ridge overlooking Echternach and the Sauer, while tanks shelled the woods and draw on the flank.
From this vantage point the artillery observer accompanying the riflemen could see little groups of the enemy paddling across the river in rubber boats. A few were swimming, others were running across a small wooden bridge. Time after time the forward artillery observer called for battalion concentrations, watching the bursts with the POZIT fuze thirty feet over the heads of the fleeing Germans and the murderous effects therefrom. For a while the enemy persisted in using the crossing site, then broke, fleeing into Echternach or along the road to Berdorf. That night patrols entered Echternach but could find no signs of the enemy or of Company E, 12th Infantry, which, it was hoped, still would be holed up somewhere in the town.
In the 5th Division center the 2d Infantry struck at Berdorf and the hill mass next to the Sauer, two companies of the 2d Battalion closing on Berdorf at dawn. There in the half-light Company G, marching on the left, saw troops standing in formation along the main village street while an officer pointed to various houses, apparently disposing his men. The American commander thought that Company E might have come in from the right, but when he called out, "Is that Easy Company?" a gruff voice answered "Yah, das ist Easy Company." The surprised Americans recovered in time to shoot down or capture a number of the enemy, but enough reached the houses to organize a stubborn defense. Nevertheless by dark the 2d Battalion had captured half the town, a few prisoners, a number of decorated Christmas trees, and the cold leftovers of Christmas dinner.
Early in the fight Colonel Roffe decided to employ his reserve, the 1st Battalion, in a drive for the final regimental objective, the woods near Hamm Farm on the ridge north of Berdorf. The reserve battalion marched in column toward Berdorf, expecting to pass through the 2d Battalion, but found a bitter fight in progress and the surrounding area plastered with shellfire. When the 1st Battalion tried to sideslip to the west it ran into a group of Germans in the draw on its left flank and very heavy artillery fire. Company C alone lost thirty-two men while deploying to attack. Not until the morning of 27 December did the final collapse of the Berdorf defense enable the 1st Battalion to reach the woods at Hamm Farm. The 3d Battalion had meanwhile come forward to the east of Berdorf and reached Birkelt Farm, overlooking the river. All that remained were small rear guard detachments, but these put up a real fight in the woods and stone farmhouses. That night many Germans withdrew and swam the river to reach the West Wall lines.
The operations of the 11th Infantry on Christmas Day had forced considerable retraction in the southern flank of the 276th Volks Grenadier Division. Colonel Black ordered the attack continued on the 26th, sending two battalions against what was left to the 987th and 988th Regiments. Before daybreak the 2d Battalion wheeled right and began an attack along the road running from Haller to Beaufort. The leading company encountered
the first of the enemy in the wooded ravine of the Hallerbach, well camouflaged in unorthodox positions facing both sides of the ravine so that the attackers found themselves receiving mortar, Werfer, and bullet fire from front and rear.
About 1000 Maj. John N. Acuff, the battalion commander, withdrew his infantry a short distance to see what a mortar barrage could do. The woods were thick, visibility was poor, and mortar fire proved not very effective. When the Americans resumed the assault they in turn were hit by a counterattack. It was dusk when the enemy finally gave way and the 2d Battalion reached the woods north of the ravine. Ordered by Colonel Black to continue the attack through the night, the battalion converged shortly after midnight in a pincers move on the town of Beaufort, located on commanding ground and controlling one of the main exit roads leading to the Dillingen bridge. The enemy held for awhile in the north edge of Beaufort but by daybreak had abandoned the town to the 2d Battalion.
During the morning of 26 December the 3d Battalion had attacked almost without opposition, crossing the Hallerbach ravine and gaining the high ground to the east of Beaufort and overlooking the road to Dillingen. But when the first appetizing target appeared, a column of a hundred or more vehicles heading for the Dillingen bridge, the artillery radios failed to function and a hasty barrage laid on the road by mortars and machine guns caught only the tail of the column. By noon patrols were in position on the river bank to observe
the Dillingen bridge site. Calls for artillery fire this time got through to the batteries, but the gunners had difficulty in directing fire into the deep river valley. The division air support party vectored a flight of P-47's over the bridge, but three separate passes failed to gain a hit. Later in the day the artillery observers succeeded in getting high-angle fire on the bridge; one hit registered while the span was crowded with men and vehicles, but the bridge continued in use.
At the end of this third day of the 5th Division attack General Eddy and General Irwin agreed that the mission assigned was as good as accomplished. The west bank of the Sauer had been gained at several points, and the enemy was hastening to recross the river and gain the protection of the West Wall. The Americans had taken over five hundred prisoners in the period of 24-26 December and had recovered much American matériel, lost in the first days of the German advance. There still remained some necessary mopping up in those pockets where the German rear guard held on to cover the withdrawal of the last units of the LXXX Corps as these made their way to safety.
Although the 212th completed its withdrawal over the Bollendorf bridge during the night of 26 December, roving patrols continued to operate on the American side of the river well into January. The 276th Volks Grenadier Division held in some force for another twenty-four hours under specific Seventh Army orders to do so in keeping with the larger army mission of containment. For the 11th Infantry, therefore, there was one last round of fighting, fighting which cost the 1st Battalion dear in attacks against Bigelbach on the 27th. German artillery and Werfers, emplaced on the east bank of the river, made good practice, while the worn grenadiers fought stubbornly wherever they were assailed.
There was one exit through which the German rear guard could hope to escape with minimum loss of men and equipment once its delaying stint was completed--the Dillingen bridge, built by the Seventh Army engineers for just this purpose. American fighter-bombers made a second effort against the span on 27 December, but reported near misses. Colonel Dempwolff has said that he was much worried about the bridge during the daylight hours of the 27th. Dramatically, the real danger to the division came after dark just as the final withdrawal commenced. Perhaps the law of averages was working, or it may be that an American gunner put some particularly potent spell on this one shell; in any case, a direct hit blasted a gap of about fifteen yards in the bridge structure. When the German engineers hastened to repair the span, they came under small arms fire from American patrols working down toward the river. Then, about 0200, shellfire suddenly increased to feverish intensity and the engineers were driven off the bridge. This shelling finally slackened, the span was repaired, the assault guns, flak, and vehicles filed across, and just after daybreak the Germans blew the bridge.
From 22 December, when the 10th Infantry launched the 5th Division attack toward the Sauer, until 28 December, when the last formal resistance ended, the division took over 800 prisoners. Estimates by burial parties set the number of Germans killed at about the same
figure. Losses in the 5th Division totaled 46 officers and 899 men as battle casualties; 22 officers and 598 men were nonbattle casualties--a high ratio but understandable in terms of the continued 20° cold and the footslogging advance through countless icy streams. The 276th Volks Grenadier Division lost about 2,000 officers and men between 20 and 28 December, from all causes, and the original division commander had been killed in the action. Many of its companies were reduced to ten-man strength. The average strength of the rifle companies in the 212th Volks Grenadier Division, when they returned to the West Wall, was 25-30 men, but the figure is derived from losses suffered since 16 December. Although this division was better trained than the 276th, it generally had engaged in harder fighting. Its total losses, as estimated by the division commander, were about 4,000 officers and men. The only exact casualty report extant is that of the 988th Regiment, which on 15 December had been at its full strength of 1,868 officers and men. By 28 December the regiment had suffered losses as follows: 190 known killed, 561 missing in action, 411 hospitalized as sick or wounded.
The terrain on which the 4th Infantry Division had defended and over which the 5th Infantry Division had attacked proved to be as difficult as any on which military operations were conducted in the course of the Ardennes campaign. For this reason the battle at the south shoulder of the Bulge merits perusal by the student of tactics. American superiority in heavy supporting weapons, tanks, and tank destroyers never had the full tactical effectiveness on this broken ground which normally would be the case. The military student, however, will have noticed that the psychological effect of American tanks and tank destroyers on an enemy who had no tanks and very few antitank guns was considerable. For this battle German commanders all make much of those periods during the initial American defense and the ultimate counterattack when tanks, even in platoon strength, were employed against them. The relative immobility of the two German divisions, whose flexibility in attack and defense depended almost entirely on the leg power of tired infantry, gave both General Barton and General Irwin a considerable advantage in timing, whether it was in moving troops to counter a thrust or in exploiting weaknesses in the enemy line.
The use of artillery on both sides of the line is one of the features of the XII Corps operations at the Sauer, and in numerous actions German use of the rocket launcher proved particularly disquieting to the Americans. This weapon, whose total weight was only some 1,200 pounds, but which could discharge 450 pounds of high explosive in ten seconds, more than made up for the limited number of conventional artillery tubes that the LXXX Corps had in the bridgehead, and its ease of movement and small silhouette were admirably suited to the broken ground west of the Sauer. The rate and weight of rocket projector fire, plus the fact that the limited German artillery could concentrate to cover well-defined and delimited paths of advance, led the veteran 5th Division to claim that it had been more heavily shelled during these days than in any battle it had sustained.
The artillery support furnished the 5th Division, however, had been very effective; German records note it with considerable distaste. As might be expected of this pockmarked and tortuous ground, both sides speak with respect of the enemy's mortars.
By 26 December, the last day of full-fledged attack by the XII Corps against the Sauer salient, the Third Army was fully oriented on its new axis. With the 6th Armored Division en route from the south to join the XII Corps, it was possible to relieve the armor already in the zone and effect a general regrouping calculated to restore some organizational unity. CCA, 9th Armored, therefore, was ordered to Arlon and III Corps control; the 106th Infantry was restored to the 28th Infantry Division, still with the VIII Corps; the 10th Armored Division was directed to hand over its sector to the 6th Armored Division on 27 December and rejoin the XX Corps at Metz. General Patton, wishing to integrate his northern front a little better, redrafted the boundary between the III and XII Corps so that the 80th Infantry Division passed in place to the latter. This new intercorps boundary would originate in the north near Wiltz, run south toward Heiderscheid, and continue to a point below Merzig.
Neither Patton nor Eddy had a definite plan for the employment of the XII Corps once its immediate mission was accomplished and the anchor position of the Third Army opposite the German shoulder was secured. When it became apparent that the fight on the near bank of the Sauer was nearly finished, the corps commander made a tentative plan--probably at Patton's instigation--for an attack north over the Sure River and on toward Bitburg using his new armored division and the 10th Infantry. In addition Eddy asked Irwin's opinion on a river crossing by the 5th Infantry Division. General Irwin agreed that such a follow-up was "worth a thought," reasoning that "the West Wall line in front is weak and we have destroyed much of the garrison."
The Third Army commander finally decided that the 5th and 80th Infantry Divisions would hold the existing line while the 6th Armored moved west to the Bastogne sector and there attacked northward on the left of the 4th Armored Division. The corps front was duly re-formed, the 5th Division edging to the left to join the 80th and the 4th Infantry Division (now commanded by Brig. Gen. Harold W. Blakeley because General Barton had been evacuated by reason of illness) taking over a wider sector on the right. The corps commander did not immediately dismiss the idea of an attack east across the Sauer River and through the West Wall. This project was on-again-off-again until, on 2 January, Patton ordered that plans be made for a corps attack northward. The XII Corps front, however, would remain quiet until 18 January.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (XIX) * Next Chapter (XXI)
1. The German sources of greatest use are: the OB WEST/IC-Tagesmeldungen for this period; MSS ETHINT-34 (Buecks); ETHINT-40, LXXXV Infantry Corps in the Ardennes Offensive (General der Infanterie Baptist Kniess); ETHINT-51 (Jodl); ETHINT-54, Seventh Army, Ardennes (Generalmajor Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff); MSS # A-876 (Brandenberger); A-930 and A-931 (Sensfuss); B-029, LIII Corps, 8 December 1944-21 January 1945 (General der Kavallerie Edwin Graf Rothkirch); B-030 (Kniess); B-067 (Schmidt); B-073 (Sensfuss); B-081 (Beyer); P-032f (Dempwolff).
2. See Chapter X, passim, and the American records cited therein. 1st Lt. Edgar C. Heist, Company D, 70th Tank Battalion, so distinguished himself that he was awarded the DSC. He was killed on 22 December.
3. See below, Chapter XXI, note 2, for documentary sources relating to Patton and the Third Army.
4. The combat interviews with the XII Corps provide an enlightening account of the problems encountered in the Third Army ninety-degree wheel to the north. See also the XII Corps AAR and G-3 journal. The semiofficial history of the XII Corps is Lt. Col. George Dyer's XII Corps: Spearhead of Patton's Third Army (Baton Rouge: Military Press of Louisiana, n.d.), ch. 11, passim.
5. The 5th Infantry Division, as one would expect of an old line outfit, maintained very good records. General Irwin also made his personal diary available to the author. All three of the infantry regiments published official accounts: History of the Second Infantry Regiment, History of the Tenth Infantry Regiment, History of the Eleventh Infantry Regiment (All Baton Rouge: Army and Navy Publishing Company, 1946). The journals maintained by each of the rifle battalions are particularly useful.
6. Combat interview and General Irwin's diary. The move of the 10th Infantry seems to have gone according to plan only in its first stages. Lt. Col. Donald W. Thackeray, the division G-2, and Lt. Col. George K. Moody, assistant G-3, were told by the Third Army staff that the regiment would go into assembly area in the vicinity of Rammeldange but that the 10th Armored would provide guides and prepare billets at the bivouac point. Apparently the 10th Armored did not get the word, and the skeleton staff in Luxembourg made no plans for the reception of the 10th Infantry until an officer from the 5th Division literally stumbled upon the 10th Armored forward command post. As a result the incoming infantry were put on the road to Rammeldange but no billets were provided. See Ltr, Maj. Gen. William M. Breckenridge to OCMH, 30 Nov 60.
7. The enemy pitched a couple of smoke grenades into a crowded cellar, causing quick spread of the rumor that gas warfare had begun.