Hitler's hope of victory rode with his two panzer armies. He was confident that the Allies would not be able to react in a forceful way until these armies were across the Meuse and it would appear that he expected this reaction to take the form of a counterattack somewhere on the west bank of that river. Under no circumstances was he prepared to diminish the main striking force in order to build up strong protection for the German flanks during the advance east of the Meuse. The assignment of four infantry divisions to cover the southern flank of the assault armies was as far as he would go, nor could the numerous pleas advanced by his field commanders for additional strength in the south alter his decision one whit.
Despite the poverty of forces allotted Brandenberger's Seventh Army, the Fuehrer was prepared, as always, to expect the impossible. At one point in the planning period Hitler envisaged these four divisions as forming a blocking line all the way from the German frontier to Charleville on the Meuse. Both Jodl and Model resisted this idea, but when the counteroffensive began there were still rather vague plans afoot for employing the Seventh Army in a push west and south to form a position based on Luxembourg City, Arlon, and Neufchâteau. Hitler likewise attempted to intervene in the initial assault plans of the Seventh Army by directing that the attack would start as a pincers move in which one prong shot west out of Trier and the other penetrated northwest of Echternach. Jodl and Model again acted as a team in killing this idea, pointing out that the Seventh Army had neither the troops nor the guns to support two separate attacks. It is clear that throughout the planning phase Jodl took a realistic view of the limited capability of Brandenberger's army. After the war he admitted that the Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab would have been satisfied to see the Seventh Army advance only half the distance between Echternach and Luxembourg City.1
When Brandenberger and his chief of staff, Generalmajor Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff, finally were allowed to map their own scheme of maneuver they settled on a containing mission for the two infantry divisions in the left corps (General der Infanterie Franz Beyer's LXXX Corps), and an advance by the two infantry divisions on the right which comprised General der Infanterie Baptist Kniess's LXXXV Corps. Beyer's troops, in this final plan, had the mission
The Seventh Army Attack
16-19 December 1944
of establishing a bridgehead at Echternach on the Sauer River, then undertaking a limited advance to the southwest. The LXXXV Corps was given orders to cross the Our River, north of its juncture with the Sauer, and advance on a westward axis parallel to that of the Fifth Panzer Army. If all went well one of the two divisions would come to a halt in a blocking position around Arlon, south of Bastogne.
Brandenberger would have to rely in the main on his artillery if the Seventh Army was to hold its position at the shoulder of the counteroffensive against any strong attack from the south. One of the first objectives, therefore, would be to neutralize or destroy the American artillery groupments, and for this purpose the army was given a few batteries of the new, long-range 120-mm. guns. The total artillery strength available in the army was 319 guns and 108 rocket projectors. When it came to close and mobile support for the assault Brandenberger's divisions would be in a bad way; there were only thirty assault guns in the army and half of these were with the 5th Parachute Division on the right wing.
At 0530 on the morning of 16 December the guns and rocket projectors of the German Seventh Army opened fire, signaling the attack across the Our and Sauer Rivers. The sector in which the Seventh Army would advance, as flank guard for the two panzer armies carrying the weight of the main counteroffensive, was weakly held. Only small local reserves were at hand to reinforce the vastly outnumbered American troops facing the four divisions under General Brandenberger's command. The northern limit of the Seventh Army attack coincided with the north boundary of the 109th Infantry Regiment (28th Infantry Division) near Stolzembourg; its southern limit was roughly the same as the southern boundary of the 12th Infantry Regiment (4th Infantry Division) near the confluence of the Sauer and Moselle Rivers.
Along this winding front, a distance of some thirty miles, the opponents would be matched at the first shock approximately as follows. On the north wing of the Seventh Army the 5th Parachute Division would cross the Our and strike the 2d Battalion of the 109th Infantry. The boundary between the 109th and 110th ran obliquely, however, and in consequence the 5th Parachute would shortly engage troops of the latter regiment. Next in line on the Our the 352d Volks Grenadier Division would cross into the zone held by the 3d Battalion of the 109th. South of the village of Wallendorf, where the Our flows into the Sauer, the 276th Volks Grenadier Division would push into the narrow segment of the Sauer front held by the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 9th Armored Division (-), then fan out against the left flank of the 12th Infantry. The 212th Volks Grenadier Division, acting as the southern pivot for the entire German counteroffensive, would cross the Sauer in the Echternach sector and drive head on against the 12th Infantry.2 (Map V)
The 109th Infantry Defense on the Sauer and Our Rivers
The 109th Infantry, led by Lt. Col. James E. Rudder, a former Ranger commander, was close to full strength, although, like the rest of the 28th Division, its rifle companies were filled by replacements with limited experience and training. The division commander had considered that the enemy might make a "distracting" attack toward Diekirch and Ettelbruck, in an attempt to cut the road and rail lines running north from the city of Luxembourg, and had disposed the 109th accordingly. On the division south flank, the 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. Jim H. McCoy) was allotted a four-mile front, but had concentrated men and weapons in an almost continuous 3,000-yard defense line along the heights in the triangle formed by the Our and Sauer Rivers which overlooked the valley road west to Ettelbruck. On this road the 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. H. R. Williams) lay in reserve at Diekirch, with two field artillery battalions, the 107th and 108th, emplaced close to that town. The 2d Battalion sector to the north was over five miles in width. In this weak portion of the line, defense was based on two strongpoints of rifle company strength, one on a ridge road about a mile and a half west of Vianden and the Our River, the other at Führen about a mile from the river. These strongpoints were nearly two miles apart; behind them the third rifle company was located in reserve at Brandenburg with one howitzer battery to give support. Some distance back from the river the 2d Battalion (Maj. William J. Maroney) maintained a series of seven outposts watching the German fortifications on the eastern bank.
During the two nights prior to 16 December the 5th Parachute Division moved its regiments into these east bank fortifications and the extensive woods which lay just to the rear. The 5th Parachute Division had its full complement of officers and men, but lacked its antitank battalion (which had lost much equipment to air attack en route from Holland) and its mortar battalion. Colonel Heilmann, who had recently taken over the division, was not too sanguine as to its ability or state of training as a unit. He relied on the 15th Parachute Regiment, the 5th Parachute Engineer Battalion, and the attached 11th Assault Gun Brigade, which were well trained and motorized, to furnish the main striking force. The division artillery lacked the motors to accompany a rapid advance, and fire support would be given by the assault guns and a regiment of Volks artillery. The latter was horse-drawn but expected to motorize with captured American vehicles.
Only a few days before the attack Heilmann warned Model that the 5th Parachute Division was only a Class IV outfit, but Model, who by now must have been surfeited with complaints on lack of equipment and insufficient training, merely replied that success would be won by the paratroopers' "usual audacity."
Perhaps Model did not care to recognize that the paratroopers in this once elite division had been replaced by meagerly trained Luftwaffe ground troops and Navy battalions. Lacking experienced fighting men and the heavy weapons requisite for close support, Heilmann instructed his line officers to avoid pitched battles for defended positions. After all, the goal to be reached by the night of 16 December was near the town of Wiltz some ten miles west of the Our. Therefore the 5th Parachute Division plan called for a quick and unopposed crossing at the Our; a bridge to be in at Roth by midafternoon of the first day; a rapid advance past the villages where the weak American forces were located; and a lightning stroke to force the crossing sites near Wiltz.
If this plan were successful the 5th Parachute Engineer Battalion would ferry the assault companies across the Our, then join the advance and reach the Wiltz sector with ferrying equipment by the end of the first day. The 14th Parachute Regiment had orders to cross the Our in the north near Stolzembourg, drive past Putscheid and seize a crossing point on the Wiltz someplace west of Hoscheid. To the south the 15th Parachute Regiment was intended to cross the Our at Roth (named as the main divisional bridge site), seize the high ground near Vianden, then establish a bridgehead over the Sure at Bourscheid. The task of erasing such American units as might be left in the towns and villages was given the 13th Parachute Regiment, which had no transport and would be brought forward with the bulk of the heavy weapons once the Our bridge was in. Since the Seventh Army had ordered each of its divisions to commence the attack with only two battalions, spearheaded by single shock companies, the initial transfer to the far bank of the Our would be a gradual process (and would, as it proved, lead the Americans to believe that the first Germans across were only patrols). Nonetheless, Heilmann hoped that the vehicles of the 15th Parachute Regiment and the self-propelled 75-mm. guns of the 11th Assault Gun Brigade would be across the Our River before the close of the first day, for he counted on these two units to lead the advance to the division objective south of Bastogne.
The second German division assembled opposite the 109th Infantry was the 352d Volks Grenadier Division (Col. Erich Schmidt). The boundary point between the latter and its northern neighbor was fixed about a half-mile south of Roth, but for some reason the precise extension of the boundary line west of the Our had not been settled. As a result complications would arise once the 5th Parachute Division and the 352d Volks Grenadier Division advanced beyond the river. The 352d had full ranks, mostly from the Luftwaffe and Navy, but lacked training and veteran noncoms. Its artillery regiment contained four battalions, but was mostly horse-drawn and woefully short of radio equipment. There were only six assault guns in the divisional company. On the night of 12 December the 352d pulled out of the long line between Stolzembourg and Bollendorf which then comprised the division front and re-formed in the woods east of the Our, leaving only a small security force to screen the movements of the divisions moving up on the right and left. When the 109th Infantry sent a large combat patrol across at Vianden on the morning
of the 14th, the Americans therefore found no enemy.
The night before the attack the 352d marched back to the new and narrow sector on the river from which the jump-off would be made: the 915th Regiment on the right, the 916th on the left, and the 914th, which had furnished the covering force, in reserve. Thus poised, the assault regiments would cross the Our on either side of Gentingen, with orders to bypass defended villages, seize the dominant heights in the Sauer-Our triangle, and drive as far as the Sauer bridges at Ettelbruck--all this on the first day of the attack. In total, then, two German divisions and the metal of the LXXXV Corps' artillery were to be thrown against the 109th Infantry and neighboring troops of the 110th Infantry in the first hours of the great counteroffensive.
There were nearly three hundred tubes and projectors in the LXXXV Corps groupment which opened fire at 0530 on 16 December. These pieces were laid on targets deep in the 109th Infantry zone: notably Diekirch, Bastendorf, the ridge road running north from Ettelbruck across the rear of the 28th Division, and the command posts of the two artillery battalions. It would seem that the German gunners were firing by the map (there had been numerous changes of position in this area which were unknown to German intelligence) and the opening barrage shortly dwindled away to occasional salvos without inflicting much damage or disrupting communications. With the first sound of gunfire the assault companies pushed their rubber boats into the Our, only some fifty feet wide, and the engineers began swinging the portable infantry bridges into position over the shallow but turbulent river.
The 109th outposts on the far bank of the Our could see little in the half-light of the foggy morning. Some were quietly bypassed as the German shock companies moved quickly inland. Others, closer to the crossing sites, were assaulted by small detachments. Thus the 5th Parachute Division engineers wiped out the 2d Battalion outpost in the château ruins at Vianden before any warning could be sent out. The Americans fired flares onto the east bank in an attempt to discover the purpose behind the heavy concentration of German artillery, but no certain word of enemy troops reached the 109th command post at Ettelbruck until about 0900 when Company B reported that a 20-man patrol had assaulted the outpost near Hosdorf. This advance detachment of the 916th Regiment had hit head on into the continuous and strongly defended right flank position of the 109th Infantry on the heights at the Sauer-Our triangle. By this time, however, the German advance parties farther north had passed through the weak outpost line and were gathering strength and momentum.
The situation in the 109th area developed as follows. The 14th Regiment, composing the right of the 5th Parachute Division advance, was moving along the boundary between the 110th and the 109th without much opposition. In actual fact this regiment would "lean" on the neighboring XLVII Panzer Corps, which had struck into the center of the 28th Division, and through most of the day lagged while the Panzer Corps opened the way. To the south the 15th
Regiment took advantage of the wide gap between the two strongpoints manned by Companies E and F of the 109th, its leading battalion marching without a fight to Walsdorf, an unoccupied village about two miles from the river. This move particularly threatened Company F, which was on the ridge road three miles north of Bastendorf (the 2d Battalion command post), and which represented the northern linchpin of the regiment. At 1000 Company G came up from reserve at Brandenburg and was put on the right of Company F.
For some reason the German force at Walsdorf did not press its advantage. The forward units of the 15th Regiment were out of contact with the rest of the 5th Parachute Division, and the regimental commander had difficulty in holding his outfit together. At dusk, however, a second German battalion had arrived at Walsdorf and was committed to the southwest in a drive toward Brandenburg, slipping through a wooded depression between Companies F and G. Colonel Rudder dispatched Company C from the reserve battalion at Diekirch to check this penetration. But the company reached Brandenburg shortly before midnight without encountering the Germans.
The 15th Regiment drive through Walsdorf marked the most extensive penetration of the 109th Infantry positions on this first day. Farther south battle had been joined in bitter but inconclusive fighting. Company E, in Führen, was bypassed by the German first thrust to Walsdorf. This crossroads village lay athwart the main road leading west from the Roth bridgehead and furnished observation for the American batteries firing on the crossing site. About 1100, detachments from the 15th Regiment in the north turned and brought Führen under small arms fire. Radio communication with the menaced company was lost three hours later, but direct assault failed to dislodge the Americans.
Company E was further isolated by the interposition of the 915th Regiment between Führen and the 3d Battalion. The 915th had crossed the Our near Bettel and moved swiftly and unopposed up the draws through the 2,000-yard gap between Rudder's 2d and 3d Battalions. Shortly after 1000 the German advance guard was firing its burp guns into Battery A, 108th Field Artillery, east of Diekirch. An hour or so before, the American gunners had seen figures moving through the fog but mistook them for Americans. By noon the 915th Regiment held Longsdorf and Tandel, the latter two miles from the Our, and had patrols to the south only two thousand yards from the main supply road linking Diekirch and Bettendorf on which the 3d Battalion, deployed facing the Our, depended.
Colonel Rudder called on the meager armored reserve allotted him by Cota (the 1st Platoon of Company C, 707th Tank Battalion), sending it north from Diekirch about 1300 to check the 915th thrust. With the tanks went Company A, shortly followed by Company B, the last of the reserve battalion. The fight through the afternoon was hard and the Americans made little progress, but shortly before nightfall the counterattack forged ahead; Company A and the medium tanks came to the edge of Longsdorf and Company B occupied the high ground between that village and Tandel.3
While the American counterattack pushed in against the south flank of the 915th that regiment continued to work its way southwest through the darkness, establishing an advance position on the ridge overlooking Bastendorf. The ex-sailors who comprised this regiment had moved fast and gained ground, but their commander had been wounded, their flanks were open, and communications with the rest of the 352d were uncertain. In fact this leading contingent of the 915th had shot its bolt and for the next couple of days would take little part in the battle. Nonetheless the Seventh Army commander was well pleased with the advance made by his right wing.
The 916th Regiment found the going much more difficult than its northern sister regiment. Its opponent, the 3d Battalion, was deployed on what for this sector was a narrow front, well dug in on the heights overlooking the Our and with its right flank protected by the Sauer. The initial German assault near Hosdorf had provided the 109th with the first confirmation of an enemy advance west of the Our, but accomplished little else. From excellent observation on the heights the 107th and 108th Field Artillery Battalions brought the howitzers positioned near Diekirch into play, pinning the German shock troops to the river bank where they remained for the rest of the day. True, one arm of the 352d was reaching north of the 3d Battalion, but the latter still blocked the Sauer valley road and the direct approach to Diekirch and the Ettelbruck bridges.
The 109th Infantry had held its positions in this first day, and Rudder saw no cause for alarm since he occupied good terrain. The hard fact remained that the German infantry, masked by the accidents of the rugged Our country, had achieved considerable success in exploiting the gaps between the village strong-points. Also, the German armored vehicles and heavy weapons, which had been observed just at dark assembling across the river facing Führen, had yet to be encountered. The 109th commander, under orders from General Cota that "nobody comes back," now had to restore contact between his companies and get his regiment in position to meet the next enemy move. The regiment could expect little aid, for most of the slim reserves of the 28th Division would go to the hard-pressed 110th Infantry in the center. But the 109th had one paramount advantage in that the solid anchoring of its right flank on the natural barrier provided by the Sauer permitted some freedom to concentrate on restoring the situation to the left. Colonel Rudder's reserves consisted of Company A, 103d Engineer Battalion; Company C, 707th Tank Battalion; the towed 3-inch guns of Company A, 630th Tank Destroyer Battalion; and his regimental antitank company. By midnight a platoon of engineers and some tank destroyers were moving up to reinforce the attack through Longsdorf to relieve the company at Führen. An additional tank platoon was ready to add weight to a second thrust toward Führen by way of Tandel.
At 0240 on the morning of 17 December the division commander phoned Colonel Rudder and made an unexpected demand on his reserves. What had happened was this. On the previous evening the force from the 5th Parachute Division which had been moving along the boundary between the 109th and 110th reached the primary ridge road (known to the Americans as the Skyline Drive) which extended laterally across the 28th Division sector from Weiswampach to Ettelbruck. The 5th Parachute had rafted some light field pieces and vehicles over the Our and a few self-propelled guns that had negotiated a way across on top of a weir near Vianden were sent down the road to Hoscheid. Meanwhile the left battalion of the 14th Regiment had been ordered to take Hoscheid. This movement in the dark appeared to pose a threat to cut off the 109th with an attack straight south to Ettelbruck.
General Cota ordered the 109th commander to get a platoon of tanks, mount an infantry platoon on them, and "help out up north where things are getting hot." Rudder immediately dispatched this force, plus a few engineers, northward on the Skyline Drive. In the meantime, however, the 2d Battalion of the 14th Parachute Regiment had cut the road south of Hoscheid and the relief force was checked within a thousand yards of the village by enemy fire concentrated on a sharp bend in the road. Hoscheid was garrisoned by part of the 110th Infantry Antitank Company, six medium tanks mounting 105-mm. howitzers (which the 707th Tank Battalion had organized as an assault gun platoon) and three regular mediums. Through most of the 17th the defenders held on against infantry attack from the west and German assault guns attacking from the north on the Skyline Drive. Finally, about 1530, the Hoscheid garrison received orders to fight its way out and join the relief force. These orders came too late, for an hour and a half earlier this task force had been ordered to the aid of a battery of the 107th Field Artillery north of Diekirch. In Hoscheid the tanks were running low on ammunition. When night fell they loaded on the foot soldiers and made a dash south to the 687th Field Artillery command post at Lipperscheid, where they found that the batteries were in process of displacing across the Wiltz River. The Hoscheid defenders joined the withdrawal westward and subsequently reached the town of Wiltz, there taking part in the defense of the 28th Division command post. The fight at Hoscheid, German prisoners later reported, had cost the assaulting battalion at least a hundred dead but, more, it had helped delay the 14th Parachute Regiment advance to the Wiltz River.
In the 109th sector proper the battle during 17 December turned on attempts to relieve Company E (Capt. R. W. Cureton) at the crossroads in Führen. The enemy was determined to take this village, located as it was on the boundary between the 5th Parachute Division and the 352d Volks Grenadier Division. Führen was attacked during the day by troops of the 15th Parachute Regiment, the 915th Regiment, and the 914th Regiment. As might be expected there was little coordination in this assault; furthermore the Germans were forced to divert much strength to meet the twin-pronged American counterattack moving
on Führen from the south. At daybreak Company A and its tank platoon resumed attempts to break through Longsdorf and open the road to Führen, but by 0845 mortar and machine gun fire had pinned down the infantry five hundred yards short of Longsdorf. Company B, now missing the platoon sent with the Hoscheid task force, moved a short distance along the road between Tandel and Führen but likewise was checked. The commander of Company C, 707th Tank Battalion, took two of his tanks from Longsdorf to aid the infantry beyond Tandel, but a strong German patrol slipped through a draw lying between Companies A and B and ambushed the tanks.
This German force, finally amounting to a battalion of infantry and two tanks, moved south during the morning until it met the 109th Antitank Company, which was dug in with a few engineers and a single 40-mm. Bofors where the Tandel and Longsdorf roads met. The American 57-mm. antitank guns scored "many hits" on the German tanks, but as usual without effect, and two of the guns were lost. The enemy infantry proved more vulnerable, twenty-five being captured and a large number killed.
Although the penetration was checked, the dual attempt to relieve Führen made no headway. On the east road Company A dwindled under bitter fire. By midafternoon it numbered only twenty-five men and an artillery observer commander as the single officer left. Company B again started up the Tandel-Führen road, but the Germans swept the road with bazooka and burp gun fire from the ridges on either side forcing the company to withdraw to Tandel and ask for more infantry. All this while Company E had been under attack in Führen, but with its own fire greatly thickened by accurate artillery concentrations the company held the enemy at bay. Late in the day Company E radioed for ammunition and rations. Colonel Rudder ordered a patrol sent from Tandel under cover of night to bring ammunition, but it failed to reach Führen.
At other points the enemy strength increased as the day wore on. The 352d Volks Grenadier Division succeeded in crossing a few tanks and assault guns, as well as more light artillery. With these heavy weapons the advance guard of the reserve regiment, the 914th, appeared on the west bank to take a hand in the fight. On the north flank of the 109th Infantry a tank platoon attack east of Brandenburg had restored the connection between Companies F and G early in the morning. But as the day wore on German infantry and assault guns poured into the Our bridgehead and across the open flanks of the two companies. Company F knocked out two assault guns in a 5th Parachute column with bazooka fire. Near Brandenburg the American tank platoon destroyed four assault guns belonging to the 352d. But the German march to the west continued.
In the 3d Battalion sector, on the extreme right flank, the enemy achieved little success during the day and German reports speak of "bloody fighting." Having failed to take the heights by frontal assault, the 916th Regiment started a flanking attack along the south bank of the Sauer, moving for this purpose into the zone of the 276th Volks Grenadier Division, which thus far had been held in check around Reisdorf and
Bigelbach. Although there were no American troops in the Sauer valley, observers on the heights were able to follow every move of the 916th. One infantry officer, 1st Lt. E. L. Peer, Company L, adjusted the fire of the supporting howitzers "so effectively that an estimated enemy infantry battalion was destroyed." With good wire and radio communication, excellent observation and a wealth of targets, the two artillery battalions were able to fire 3,123 rounds on 17 December, contributing particularly to the defense of Führen and the checkmate of the flanking movement by the 916th.
As the day progressed, however, the enemy spread through the rear areas of the 109th and menaced the gun positions west of the Diekirch-Hoscheid road. Battery A, 107th Field Artillery, for example, had been harassed by fire from small groups of Germans since the previous midnight. By midafternoon the 2d Battalion of the 915th Regiment, which had bypassed Bastendorf earlier, was pressing in on that battery and Battery A, 108th Field Artillery, emplaced nearby. The gunners, fighting as infantry, first beat off the approaching Germans while a neighboring battery blasted the woods east of the road in which the enemy assembled.
Hard pressed as the day wore on, the gunners were relieved by a series of friendly sorties. Two motor carriages mounting quadruple .50-caliber machine guns (the M16) from the 447th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion were put on the Diekirch-Hoscheid road. One was crippled by enemy fire, its driver and loader wounded by a rifle grenade when it drove squarely into the files of German infantry on the road, guns blazing; but the other fought its way north to the beleaguered batteries. Lt. Col. James C. Rosborough, commanding officer of the 107th Field Artillery, meanwhile gathered a scratch force and with it fought through to the howitzer positions. (Rosborough was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in this action.) About the same time the tanks which had been in the Hoscheid task force were ordered into the fight and rolled from the north in on the enemy. The batteries were saved, but the positions from which the gunners had given such heartening support to the 109th were no longer tenable.
At the close of the second day the 109th still was holding tenaciously but against increasingly heavy attack. All its reserves were committed, and the larger part of the attached company from the 630th Tank Destroyer Battalion had been called away to defend the 28th Division command post at Wiltz. The gap between the 2d and 3d Battalions in the Longsdorf-Führen area had been widened while the enemy column in the north had driven deep between the 109th and 110th.
The German attacks suddenly gained strength on the night of 17 December. For two days the 5th Parachute Division had operated with only such heavy weapons as could be ferried across the Our or maneuvered over the Vianden wier, because for two days trouble had dogged the bridge builders at Roth. The selection of this particular site had been forced upon the German commander because it was the only point at which the river had moderate banks that could be reached by a passable approach road. On the east side of the river, however, American bombers had
left a large bomb crater in the road close to the Our. No work could be done to fill the crater until the attack actually began on 16 December. Bridging equipment promised by the Seventh Army had arrived late and inexperienced engineers had further delayed the construction. American artillery and mortar fire also played its part in harassing the bridge builders.
Finally, in the early evening of 17 December, the bridge was completed, and the bulk of the assault gun brigade, the antitank battalion, and the vehicles of the 15th Parachute Regiment began to roll, the division artillery and trains lining up to await their turn. The 14th Parachute Regiment, badly disorganized in the series of village fights at Hoscheid and elsewhere, was pulled together and sent marching to the Clerf River. Here, during the night, the 14th made a crossing near Kautenbach, opening the way to Wiltz and the west for the main forces of the division. The higher German headquarters no longer expected any concerted resistance in front of the 5th Parachute Division and attached its immediate reserve, the 13th Parachute Regiment, to the neighboring division on the south.
This division, the 352d Volks Grenadier, also had met obstacles at the Our River. Bridge work at Gentingen went badly on the first day. Men and matériel were lost when American howitzers and mortars found the range. Handling bridge sections in the swift current and on the muddy river bottom was difficult enough without this steady fire. The approach roads on both sides of the river were steep, curved, and mud slick. The 352d had been promised a Todt Brigade for work on the roads and at the bridge, but the labor brigade never appeared. A wooden support bridge was finished at Gentingen late on 17 December, but the transfer of artillery and motor vehicles would be very slow and only a portion of the division's heavy weapons were west of the river by the next morning.
Troops of the 914th Regiment had arrived in the bridgehead late in the day with orders to form a link between the 915th and 916th, now widely separated, and to mop up the pockets of American resistance wherever found. But there was no contact between the three German regiments when daylight ended. The chief problem, however, was not so much that of establishing a homogeneous front as of jarring the Americans loose from the heights at the Sauer-Our triangle. The defenders at this point not only had stopped the left regiment of the 352d Volks Grenadier Division but also had helped check the right regiment of the neighboring 276th Volks Grenadier Division by laying fire across the Sauer valley.
Resupply and evacuation were the chief concern of the 109th Infantry on the night of 17-18 December, particularly the problem of getting ammunition to the tanks and Companies E and F. Carrying parties were used and tanks employed to bring up supplies and evacuate the wounded. The 2d Platoon of the 707th's Company C, supporting Companies F and G of the 109th, was refueled and resupplied during the night. But the 1st and 3d Platoons could not be reached because of enemy patrol activity.
When day broke on 18 December the 109th Infantry was no longer in contact with its northern foe, the 5th Parachute
Division, because this division, under peremptory orders from its commander, had continued the westward advance through the night, the forward troops defiling into the Kautenbach bridgehead. The 352d Volks Grenadier Division was still on hand; it was approaching full strength west of the Our and for the first time could employ a number of its heavier supporting weapons in the attack. At dawn the 916th Regiment launched the strongest assault yet leveled at the 3d Battalion position on the 109th right flank, striking hard under cover of smoke to break through at the left of the battalion northwest of Hosdorf. Early in the assault a platoon from Company K was captured when its ammunition gave out. Company E, which had served to deflect some pressure from the 3d Battalion by its stubborn defense at Führen, was no longer in the fight. No word had come from Führen since 2300 the previous evening. Company B, sent up the Tandel road to reach Führen, had paused at about the same hour only a short distance from the village.4 The next morning a patrol with a tank and a jeep reached the edge of Führen, but found the company command post burned and no sign of American troops.
The loss of Company E and the platoon from Company K made the 3d Battalion position precarious. Meanwhile the twenty-five men left in Company A had withdrawn from the Longsdorf road under cover of indirect fire laid down by two tanks which formed a rear guard. The tankers were shown how to give indirect fire by a forward observer from the 107th Field Artillery Battalion. The remnants of Company A joined the regimental antitank company at road junction 206, the avenue by which enemy vehicles had to move to cut the supply road to the 3d Battalion, with orders to "hold that road." But in the north there was no longer any question that Companies F and G could hold on, isolated as they were, along the road beyond Bastendorf. About 0900 the division chief of staff gave Colonel Rudder permission to withdraw the two companies for use as a reserve. Under cover of the attached tank platoon roadblock at Bastendorf the companies fell back to Diekirch.
During the afternoon the situation of the 109th Infantry rapidly deteriorated. At 1300 two Mark VI tanks appeared on the Longsdorf road and with infantry assistance attacked the vital road junction 206. In the fight that followed the antitank company lost all six of its remaining 57-mm. guns, one of the three tanks left with Company A was knocked out by a direct hit, and a breakthrough threatened momentarily. At 1410, while the fight was in progress Colonel Rudder asked for and received permission to pull his regiment together on the high ground around Diekirch; this withdrawal, however, already was in progress. Forty tons of supplies and the hospital units were moved first. At 1300 the tank platoon at the battery positions on the Hoscheid road hooked up the artillery pieces and started south. By then the 2d Battalion was moving from Bastendorf, under small arms fire "from all directions." The 3d Battalion, last out, made its way west along the Bettendorf road, which already was under fire. During the late
evening the assembly of the regiment at Diekirch was completed, the 3d Battalion and engineers blowing the bridges at Bettendorf over which the enemy might pass to the south bank of the Sauer. With the river momentarily secure at its back the regiment dug in along an arc facing out from Diekirch.
But the 109th was no longer strong enough to man a continuous defensive line. Five hundred officers and men had been lost in the three-day battle; of the heavy infantry weapons only one section of 81-mm. mortars and four sections of heavy machine guns were left; the antitank company had no pieces; the tank company badly needed fuel and maintenance. But in these three days the regiment had held the enemy short of the Ettelbruck crossing and prevented the planned concentration of the 352d Volks Grenadier Division south of the Sauer. That the 109th had used every weapon at its disposal is shown by the ammunition expenditure for these days: 280,000 rounds of small arms ammunition, 5,000 rounds of mortar, 3,000 grenades, and 300 bazooka rounds. That the 109th had disrupted the German plans is witnessed by the fact that the commander of the 352d was unable to get his division in hand until 19 December, while the attack in force could not be resumed until 20 December.
The 109th Infantry, however, had been forced back fanwise away from the rest of the 28th Division. Its closest friendly forces were those of CCA, 9th Armored Division, now south and east of the 109th across the Sauer. Colonel Rudder, still under orders to fight for time and space, was enjoined by General Cota on the morning of 19 December "not to recoil any further than the Sure [Sauer] River." The 109th, fortunately, was given a few hours to rest and better its defenses before the enemy continued the advance to wipe out the Diekirch-Ettelbruck bridgehead.
Early in the afternoon German guns opened up on the Diekirch positions (the artillery regiment of the 352d had just come into position west of the Our), and those elements of the 915th and 916th Regiments which the 352d commander could personally gather were thrown into a series of piecemeal assaults. For two hours the fight went back and forth,5 involving the 2d Battalion on the Diekirch-Hoscheid road and the 3d Battalion aligned on the ridge east of Diekirch. Schmidt, the German division commander, tried to lead his troops forward and was seriously wounded. When night came the fight flared up once more, small groups of the enemy probing for weak points while artillery fire and searchlights were employed to guide the attack and distract the defenders. Colonel Rudder phoned the 28th Division chief of staff about 2000, told him that the 109th might be cut off and surrounded, and suggested that he should pull his regiment back to the southwest across the Sauer to cover the left flank of the 9th Armored Division. General Cota agreed that a further withdrawal could be made but instructed Rudder to stay in his own zone of action, that is, to make a withdrawal to the west.
Fifteen minutes later the 28th Division commander got in touch with General Middleton, the VIII Corps commander, and presented the alternatives now facing the 109th Infantry. The 109th "could fight it out . . . and that would be the end"; the regiment could tie in closely with the 9th Armored force and withdraw to the south; or the 109th and the 9th Armored force could be pulled back toward Bastogne. General Middleton had just finished speaking to Maj. Gen. John W. Leonard, the 9th Armored commander, and had promised a battalion from the incoming 80th Infantry Division to fill the gap between Leonard and Rudder. (General Bradley or Maj. Gen. William H. H. Morris, Jr., the provisional corps commander, later canceled this move so as to keep the 80th together.) Middleton therefore told Cota that the 109th was to hold, but if forced back it should retire to the west behind the Alzette, a stream line directly south of Ettelbruck. These orders were passed on to the 109th. However the final instructions to Rudder recognized the need for reliance on the commander on the ground; he was to "act according to the situation." In point of fact the 109th already was on the march west through Ettelbruck. General Leonard still expected that the 109th would fall back to the south and join the 9th Armored (the 109th was
not yet under his command), but Rudder was in contact with the enemy and could not risk the disorganization attendant on a change in plans at this point.
The withdrawal itself was a success, despite the intense interdiction fire laid down by the Germans, fire that cost thirty-four casualties from shelling alone. The 107th and 108th Field Artillery Battalions, emplaced near Bissen, answered the enemy guns and gave what protection they could to the marching infantry. Engineer parties laid mines on the main roads and blew the last bridges at Diekirch. The rear guard, formed from the attached tank company, stayed on in Diekirch, where the first platoon captured 107 prisoners. By midnight the 1st and 3d Battalions were west of the Alzette, strung along the west-reaching line of hills which began just south of Ettelbruck and anchored near Grosbous. Here the 109th faced north, forming the westernmost segment of the still firm south shoulder of the VIII Corps line. General Leonard ordered the 2d Battalion, reduced to half strength, over to the east side of the Alzette to offer some infantry protection for the 9th Armored tanks in the Stegen-Ermsdorf area. In Ettelbruck demolition parties remained at work until the morning of 20 December; then they withdrew, blowing the bridges behind them.
The troop withdrawal from Diekirch was followed by a mass exodus of the civilian population. When the Germans first shelled the town on 16 December, the citizenry had started to leave Diekirch but had been halted by American officers and local officials so as to keep the supply roads open to the 109th. Rumors of the American withdrawal on the 19th brought the people of Diekirch out of their cellars and into the streets. They were particularly apprehensive because members of the local gendarmerie had fought alongside the Americans and taken a score of German prisoners who now were housed in the local jail. Finally it was agreed that the civil population would evacuate the town at midnight on the 19th following the main troop movement. So, in freezing cold, some three thousand men, women, and children set out on the road to Mersch, leaving behind four hundred of the townspeople who refused to abandon aged relatives or property.6
All during the day of the 20th the 109th Infantry was out of touch with the enemy. The 352d Volks Grenadier Division had assembled two of its regiments west of Bastendorf during the previous night, leaving the 916th Regiment to occupy Diekirch as the Americans left. Strict orders had arrived from the Seventh Army headquarters, located at Ingendorf (a little village southwest of Bitburg), that the 352d must start the attack rolling once more and take possession of the vital crossings at Ettelbruck. To make success certain, General Brandenberger, the Seventh Army commander, sent army artillery and rocket projectors to join the 352d artillery battalions in creating an "artillery center of gravity" at Bastendorf. The shortage of bridging equipment continued to plague the Seventh Army, but Brandenberger's staff scraped together an impromptu bridge train and started it toward
CAVE REFUGE FOR CIVILIANS
Ettelbruck. Fortunately for the Seventh Army drivers, gunners, and pontoneers, the skies remained overcast and the columns moved freely along the roads. At Diekirch the 916th Regiment found that one bridge had escaped complete destruction and could bear infantry and single heavy weapons; so the regiment moved across the Sauer, its intention to take Ettelbruck from the rear. The German center, and the bridge train, converged on Ettelbruck. Meanwhile part of the 352d Volks Grenadier Division crossed the north-south branch of the Sauer and marched west to the Wark Creek, apparently intending to envelop the open American flank from the left.
Elements of the 9th Armored Division Battle at the Sauer
Only six days prior to the German attack, troops of the 9th Armored Division (General Leonard) had been assigned a 3-mile sector on the VIII Corps front between the 28th Infantry Division and the 4th Infantry Division. This sector fronted on the Sauer River south of the junction with the Our and earlier had been held by a battalion of the 109th
Infantry. The bulk of the 9th Armored Division, a unit with no prior battle experience, was held in the west as the VIII Corps reserve, but just before the German attack CCB was transferred to V Corps. The new sector was manned by the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion, supported by the 3d Armored Field Artillery Battalion at Haller. As was customary the armored infantry had been placed in line in this quiet sector for combat indoctrination, and in the first few days the Germans on the opposite bank of the Sauer showed so little inclination to disturb the prevailing quiet that Collins was concerned lest his battalion secure no combat experience whatever. He need not have worried.
Across the river a fresh German Division, the 276th Volks Grenadier (Generalleutnant Kurt Moehring), had just come in from Poland and was dispersed in the little Eifel villages between Echternach and Bitburg. Units of the 276th were moved frequently in the week before the attack, companies exchanging billets to mislead both the local populace and the American intelligence. Finally, in two night marches the division concentrated on the east bank of the Sauer, its zone of attack defined in the north by Wallendorf (at the junction of the Our and the Sauer) and in the
WALLENDORF, VIEWED FROM REISDORF on the western side of the Sauer River.
south by Bollendorf. The 276th Volks Grenadier Division, then, generally faced the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion, but it should be noticed that the tortuous gorge of the Schwarz Erntz lay in the zone of the 276th and would be used to gain entry to the left flank and rear of the 4th Infantry Division.
Moehring's division had been reconstituted during the autumn following almost complete destruction in Normandy and the retreat across France. Rebuilt around wounded veterans who had returned from the hospitals, the division was fairly young in terms of the conscription classes it represented and was at full strength when it moved west from Poland. The 276th, however, could not count on accompanying gun support for its infantry since no assault guns had been supplied. In addition the divisional artillery and train were horse-drawn. In the Seventh Army plan this division formed the right wing of the LXXX Corps. The 276th Volks Grenadier Division, which with the 212th Volks Grenadier Division constituted this corps, had no distant objective such as those assigned the Fifth Panzer Army formations on its right. The only definite mission given the 276th was to gain the high ground across the Sauer, dislocate the American artillery positions around Haller, and form the western extension of the blocking line which the LXXX Corps was to present to any American thrust aimed at the southern pivot of the great counteroffensive. Once the western Sauer heights between Wallendorf and Bollendorf were in hand, the advance of the 276th would turn toward the southwest, moving alongside the 212th. In case the opportunity offered, advance contingents might push as far as Mersch and the area north of Luxembourg. This last maneuver, however, was not a mandatory part of the Seventh Army plan.
On the morning of the attack the LXXX Corps artillery broke the long quiet on the Sauer River as six battalions and a rocket projector brigade divided their fire to reinforce the divisional artillery of the 276th and 212th. The initial concentration in the 9th Armored Division (-) sector, estimated by the Americans at about a thousand rounds, was aimed principally at Beaufort, the largest town in this area, and the batteries around Haller. Damage was not extensive but the forward telephone lines were shot out. The thick fog and early morning darkness must have been as much a problem to the German assault units as to the American observers looking out toward the river. In any case there was considerable confusion and delay on the east bank, and few or none of the rubber assault boats landed on the American side before 0630. Once across, the German assault troops moved rapidly up the draws, masked from view by the fog and the heavy woods.
The main crossing was made by the 986th Regiment near Wallendorf. Part of one battalion circled into the sharp valley where the Our and Sauer meet, intending to seize Hill 402 (southwest of Bigelbach), which offered the best observation in the vicinity. These troops succeeded in wiping out a squad of armored infantry that had been stationed to watch the valley, but soon mortar and machine gun fire from the 3d Battalion, 109th Infantry, watching from the heights north of the Our, stopped the Germans in their tracks.
The second battalion of the 986th moved cautiously up the draws and ravines toward Bigelbach. This village lay on a slope and had not been occupied, although American patrols moved in now and then at night to check suspicious lights. As a result the 986th was able to report that it had made gains on its left and "taken" Bigelbach. For some reason the Germans did not push on and Company C, holding the hills and crests south of Bigelbach, engaged them in a desultory, long-range fire fight for the rest of the day.
The center German regiment, 988th, made its crossings near Dillingen, aiming in the direction of Beaufort and Haller. Here Company A was deployed in the woods above the Sauer with observation on the river but with insufficient strength to block the numerous ravines running up the wooded heights. By noon the attack threatened to overrun the company and infiltration had taken place at several points, the German movements hidden by the dense pine. Colonel Collins committed Company B, in reserve at Beaufort, to attack through Company A in an effort to restore the position and drive the Germans back over the Sauer. The reserve company ran up against units of the 988th which had penetrated between the two forward companies but moved fast and reached a position abreast of A and C. All this while the batteries around Haller had been shelling the enemy crossing points; the cost to the Germans must have been high, but they kept coming.
In midafternoon General Leonard dipped into his reserves to support the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion. Since the 9th Armored Division was in this sector with a force equivalent only to a combat command, Leonard's reserves consisted of one tank battalion (the 19th), a company from the divisional engineers, a battery from the 482d Aircraft Artillery Battalion, most of the 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, a company of self-propelled tank destroyers, and two reconnaissance platoons belonging to the 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion. These units would fight as a combat command, although the sector was not turned over to Col. Thomas L. Harrold and CCA headquarters until the next morning. One troop was taken from the cavalry and given to the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion; the armored cars moved forward and spent the night of 16-17 December outposting Beaufort and patrolling the road which ran from the town into the Schwarz Erntz gorge.
This deep, thickly wooded gorge posed a constant threat to both CCA and the 4th Infantry Division. As yet the enemy made no attempt to utilize the natural sally port, but in the 4th Division sector German infantry surrounded Berdorf, which controlled a lateral road descending into the gorge. In the 9th Armored sector three lateral draws debouched west from the gorge toward Haller, Waldbillig, and Christnach. In the late afternoon Company A, 19th Tank Battalion, joined the 12th Infantry (4th Division) as a mobile reserve in this area. Troop B, 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, came up to reinforce Company B, 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion, whose 76-mm. self-propelled guns covered the Waldbillig and Christnach draws. The right flank of the 9th Armored, although none too secure, at least was outposted. During the late afternoon the enemy, who earlier
had been stopped on the left flank worked closer in toward Reisdorf using the cover of the woods. This threat as yet was not too serious, but the light tank company of the 19th Tank Battalion was dispatched north of Ermsdorf to watch the road which angled from Reisdorf behind the left flank of the position occupied by the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion.
The 276th Volks Grenadier Division had failed to seize control of the Sauer heights. Although assault parties had made successful penetrations in undefended sectors, some as deep as one and a half miles, stubbornly defended strongpoints had checked any coordinated advance. The deeply incised terrain had given tactical advantage, but this had been canceled by communications failures brought on by the poor performance of the German radio sets on the deep-pocketed ground. Furthermore, the 276th lacked the artillery so necessary for close infantry support in this type of terrain and had been forced to parcel its two howitzer battalions in small sections along the east bank. On the whole the Seventh Army command was far from pleased by the day's performance, pressing General Moehring to continue the attack through the night.
Infiltration tactics began to bear fruit as day came on 17 December. In the center of the 9th Armored sector the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion headquarters at Beaufort discovered that the enemy had cut in between the headquarters and the three companies of armored infantry in the line.7 Six armored cars counterattacked and cleared the high ground north of Beaufort but were unable to drive the Germans from the woods behind the isolated companies. The enemy meanwhile bore in on both flanks. On the south the 987th Regiment, thus far missing in American identifications of the 276th Volks Grenadier Division, appeared during the morning. One of its battalions marched unopposed through the Schwarz Erntz gorge and occupied Müllerthal, the point at which narrow, wooded defiles led out to Waldbillig and Christnach in the 9th Armored (-) zone, and to Consdorf in the 4th Division rear.
About 1330 Troop B, 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, and four tank destroyers from the 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion, launched a counterattack from Waldbillig to regain Müllerthal. The leading tank destroyer was set afire by a German Panzerfaust, effectively blocking the narrow road. The dismounted cavalry encountered accurate small arms fire as they attempted to work ahead and the acting commander of Troop B was killed. The unseen enemy, firing behind the cover of huge boulders and trees, had the upper hand; at dark a platoon of cavalry assault guns laid down a protective barrage and the American task force withdrew to the hills flanking the exit from the Waldbillig-Müllerthal defile.
German efforts to achieve a real penetration on the left flank were less successful than on the right. Advance troops of the 2d Battalion, 986th Regiment, worked their way through the crossfire coming from the 109th Infantry and the
60th Armored Infantry Battalion and briefly occupied Eppeldorf, only to be run out by the light tanks based on Ermsdorf.
The chief German success on 17 December came at the close of day, with an attack by the 1st Battalion, 988th Regiment, on Beaufort. Here, during daylight hours, the attackers had literally been "blown all over" (as American observers reported) by the howitzers firing from Savelborn and the guns on three headquarters tanks. But at dark Germans seeped into the town from assembly points in the woods, only some fifteen hundred yards distant, and ambushed an 81-mm. mortar platoon when this shifted to meet the assault. Colonel Collins ordered the headquarters of the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion back to the motor park near Savelborn and committed Troop A, 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, to fight a rear guard action in Beaufort. The cavalry unit, led by Capt. Victor C. Leiker, held on until 2030, by which time the German infantry controlled all the street corners, then fought its way south to Waldbillig. This rear guard stand cost Troop A 16 jeeps and 7 of its 12 armored cars as well as 43 casualties.
While the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion headquarters withdrew to Savelborn, the 3d Armored Field Artillery Battalion moved its batteries west from Haller to the Savelborn-Medernach road. Despite continuous counterbattery fire, the gunners had given steady and effective support whenever called upon, expending about 4,000 rounds during the two-day action. When the batteries displaced, forty artillerymen, with four half-tracks, and Battery A of the 482d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion remained behind to block any German penetration through the cross-corridor of the Schwarz Erntz which led past Haller back into the Savelborn position. By midnight, then, the 9th Armored line was re-forming, from Waldbillig (still held by cavalry and tank destroyers) to Ermsdorf, where the light tanks continued to patrol. Contact with the three line companies was lost, but they fought on in their original positions, under orders from the battalion commander to hold their ground. With company fronts a mile wide, the fight became a series of squad actions as the enemy infantry filtered through and behind the American "line." Each attempt to relay a telephone wire or carry forward an ammunition case became a major tactical effort.
Although the 276th Volks Grenadier Division had driven a number of wedges into the 9th Armored sector during 17 December, the Seventh Army commander was very dissatisfied with the division performance. The 276th was still hung up on the Sauer River. A part of its infantry and nearly all supporting heavy weapons remained on the east bank waiting for a bridge to be completed at Wallendorf, where American shells had smashed much equipment and killed many engineers. Brandenberger sent word to OB WEST that a new commander was needed for the 276th Division. But General Moehring did not live to greet his successor en route in his staff car from Beaufort to Müllerthal. He was killed by machine gun fire.
The fighting armored infantry had so successfully contained the German main forces on 16 and 17 December that the infiltrating units which first made headway in the Beaufort area were relatively
small. The 9th Armored intelligence estimates set the enemy strength to be encountered here at approximately three companies. Against this supposedly limited force the CCA commander mustered his remaining men, assault guns, and armored vehicles for a counterattack to reestablish contact with the three isolated companies "and drive the enemy into the river." Colonel Harrold's available force now included only Company B, 19th Tank Battalion; a platoon of Company D's light tanks; a cavalry assault gun platoon; the I and R platoon from the 60th; and Company A, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion (a part of which was loaded in half-tracks).
The counterattack was to be made by two task forces. Task Force Hall (Capt. John W. Hall) would lead from the Savelborn assembly area north to Berens and then drive north to Company C while the second task force, Task Force Philbeck (Maj. Tommie M. Philbeck), attacked to the east and northeast to reach the other two companies. Before dawn on 18 December the I and R platoon started in its jeeps along the narrow road to Berens, reconnoitering in advance of the main column. Fire suddenly
BELGIAN WOMAN SALVAGING GRAIN IN GUTTED BARN
poured in from all sides, killing the platoon commander and cutting the unit to pieces in a matter of minutes. Task Force Hall, continuing the advance in daylight, reached the thick Eselbour woods, but there took the wrong turning at a crossroad. The light tanks, forming the advance guard, had moved only a few hundred yards when the Germans opened fire with bazookas, knocking out the lead tank and blocking the road. Captain Hall, the leader of this task force, was wounded but manned an assault gun and cleared the enemy from the road. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Shortly after noon Task Force Philbeck passed through Hall's position, only to lose more tanks. The Americans lost seven tanks before the order finally came to withdraw.
The American setback had stemmed from the last act of General Moehring as commander of the 276th. Moehring had collected a battalion of the 986th Regiment and an antitank company armed with fifty-four Panzerfausts for an attack across the Savelborn-Ermsdorf road to seize Medernach. During the night of 17-18 December this force assembled in the cover of the Eselbour woods, waiting to jump off at dawn. There it lay, with perfect cover for close-in work with the bazooka, when the American advance began. Lacking sufficient infantry to clear the woods or defend the tanks, the Americans had been unable to profit by their superiority in heavy weapons.
The situation on the flanks in the CCA sector also was unfavorable to the Americans. At Ermsdorf, which had been the linchpin on the northern flank, elements of the 1st Battalion, 986th Regiment, brought up mortars and attacked. The light tanks beat off the Germans but were forced to give up their screening activities in this area. On the right flank Troop C of the cavalry made a dismounted assault from Haller with the intention of retaking Beaufort. The troopers were supported by six half-tracks from Company A, 482d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, mounting the deadly quadruple .50-caliber machine guns, but the half-tracks found it impossible to maneuver in the heavy woods. The Germans ahead laid down mortar fire; the cavalry were hard hit and could not maneuver, the half-tracks could not close with the German mortar crews, and the attack was abandoned.8
In fact the American force was too slight to hold the original position on the high ground north of Haller, and it withdrew to the new defensive position being formed by CCA as an aftermath to the reverses suffered during the day. In the course of this withdrawal the armored field artillery batteries were hard beset and had to beat off the enemy at four hundred yards range. Two batteries actually took new firing positions in front of the rifle line. After dark CCA reorganized on a line running roughly northwest from Waldbillig to Ermsdorf, thence west to the high ground around Stegen, the latter about two and a half miles south of Diekirch where the 109th Infantry was in the process of assembly. The Germans finally had opened the western Sauer valley and driven an entering wedge between the 9th Armored Division and the 109th Infantry. The gap between Stegen and Diekirch could be closed to the enemy
only by roadblocks and roving patrols, but the Germans failed to follow up their advantage on the night of 18-19 December.
There was no longer thought of relieving the three armored infantry companies still behind the enemy lines. Colonel Collins sent word to withdraw, via a radio which a forward observer from the 3d Field Artillery Battalion had repaired and by officers from the isolated companies who previously had made daring dashes by jeep through the Germans to bring out wounded and carry forward ammunition. During the next three days volunteers led back nearly 60 percent of the armored infantry but the three-day fight had cost the 60th an estimated 231 casualties.9
Across the lines the psychological lift which might have been given by the appearance of the new commander, Col. Hugo Dempwolff, and the successful attack against the 109th Infantry by the 352d Volks Grenadier Division, which had finally shaken the 276th north flank loose, was offset by General Moehring's death and the failure to provide a bridge in the division bridgehead. So short was bridging equipment in the Seventh Army that the initial losses at Wallendorf could not be immediately replaced. On the night of 18-19 December, the divisions on the right and left of the 276th permitted artillery, some rocket projectors, and supplies to move across their bridges to the 276th. As yet the company of assault guns which the Seventh Army had promised was nowhere in sight.
Colonel Dempwolff, taking stock of conditions in his new command, found that losses had been high (ascribed by the unit commanders to the continued absence of assault gun support) and that spirits were low. He determined to continue the attack, nevertheless, this time using the newly arrived supporting weapons to bring his left and center regiments together in a coordinated thrust against Waldbillig, the anchor position for the south flank of the 9th Armored Division. On 19 December, then, Dempwolff reorganized his regiments, moved artillery and rocket projectors forward, and gave his troops food and rest. At Bollendorf his engineers finally completed a bridge over the 40-yard-wide river, lessening somewhat the pinch on the 276th.
CCA took this much needed breathing spell to prepare roadblocks and demolitions in front of its new 7-mile-long main line of resistance. At best this position amounted to a thin screen with numerous gaps; so a slim reserve was created consisting of two engineer platoons and a dozen assault guns. During the morning, contact with the Germans was lost. Patrols that went out to the front and flanks found nothing in the dangerous gap between Ermsdorf and Diekirch but drove off a German patrol which was moving south from Eppeldorf, not west into the gap. At the right end of the American line patrols discovered a
large group of Germans in a farmhouse. After a platoon of tank destroyers shelled the house, a volunteer squad of seven noncoms from Battery A, 482d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, made the assault with Tommy guns and hand grenades. A corporal killed three Germans with a blast from his Tommy gun, after he himself had been shot in the stomach, and fifty-nine Germans gave up the fight.
The 9th Armored Division could report on the night of the 19th that the situation on its right flank was satisfactory, and on the left flank too as far as Stegen; beyond Stegen the situation was "obscure." General Leonard borrowed the 90th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (less three troops) from the 4th Infantry Division zone, where a part of its parent organization, the 10th Armored Division, had initiated counterattacks the previous day. But the gap between the 9th Armored Division and the 109th Infantry was too large to be covered by a minimal cavalry screen. Worse, the gap widened during the evening as the 109th withdrew from Diekirch en route to the Ettelbruck-Grosbous line. The compromise solution that moved one much depleted battalion of the 109th southeast to make contact at Stegen gave General Leonard's tanks some badly needed infantry protection but could hardly deflect any determined enemy thrust around the left flank of the 9th Armored Division. In this instance, however, the military axiom that a commander who is worried about the enemy may reflect on the worries besetting the enemy commander, was proven by the event. While General Leonard voiced concern to his corps commander over the gap between the 9th Armored Division (-) and the 109th Infantry, Colonel Dempwolff was plagued by the thought of the widening gap between the 276th Volks Grenadier Division and the 352d Volks Grenadier Division. But he had a clear order from General Brandenberger: the 276th must contain as many American troops as possible. This mission in Dempwolff's judgment required a continuation of the attack southwestward toward Waldbillig and Christnach where American reinforcements already had arrived to help the 4th Infantry Division.
Late on 19 December word reached the 276th that its missing assault gun company had detrained at Trier. The planned attack against the 9th Armored right flank was therefore postponed until the guns could reach the 988th Regiment, which had been assigned the main role. In midafternoon on 20 December the weapons remaining to the company, apparently not more than three or four, joined the 988th at Haller and the attack against Waldbillig commenced. Twice the American 76-mm. tank destroyers and supporting batteries of the 3d Field Artillery Battalion drove off the Germans. But when night fell Dempwolff brought the 987th Regiment through Müllerthal and into the gorge running west to Waldbillig. Menaced from two sides by superior strength, the American tank destroyers and cavalry were ordered to withdraw to the ridge south of the village.
The capture of Waldbillig on 20 December marked the high-water mark of the 276th Volks Grenadier Division advance. The division now had a bridge at Bollendorf, its weapons were west of the Sauer, the division command post had been moved across to Beaufort, and the center and left regiments had made
contact at Waldbillig. The 276th, however had paid heavily for the restricted success achieved in the five day's attack, success more limited than that gained by any other division in the Seventh Army.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (VIII) * Next Chapter (X)
1. ETHINT-51, OKW, Ardennes Offensive (Generaloberst Alfred Jodl).
2. The chief German source for the Seventh Army operations is MS # A876, Ardennes Offensive of Seventh Army, 16 December 1944-25 January 1945 (General der Panzertruppen Erich Brandenberger). The corps accounts are in MSS # B-030, LXXXV Corps, 1 December 1944-10 January 1945 (General der Infanterie Baptist Kniess) and B-081, LXXX Corps, 13 September 1944-23 March 1945, Part Two (General der Infanterie Dr. Franz Beyer). The individual divisions are covered in MSS # A-930, A-931, 212th Volks Grenadier Division--Ardennes, 16 December 1944-25 January 1945 (Generalleutnant Franz Sensfuss); B-023 (Heilmann); B-067, 352d Volks Grenadier Division, 16 December 1944-25 January 1945 (Generalmajor Erich Schmidt); B-073 212th Volks Grenadier Division, Ardennes (Generalleutnant Franz Sensfuss); and P-032f, Ardennes Project (Generalmajor Hugo Dempwolff). LIII Corps' KTB covers the first hours of action but ends with 17 December.
3. During the advance by Company A, 2d Lt. Samuel Leo silenced two enemy machine guns with grenades and killed five Germans with his rifle. He was given the DSC. On this day Pvt. J. W. Jones made a lone attack upon a machine gun which was firing directly at him; he destroyed the weapon and its crew but then was cut down by a second machine gun. Jones was awarded the DSC.
4. The 109th Infantry AAR says of this incident: "It is believed that if Company B had been more aggressive in their attack to Fouhren [Führen], they could have relieved the pressure on Company E, permitting them to conduct a withdrawal."
5. When the antitank company was forced to pull back to a new position, Capt. Paul P. Gaynor remained alone to cover the withdrawal. He killed eight Germans with his carbine, wounded several others, then made a dash under fire across open ground and rejoined his company. He was awarded the DSC.
6. This story is given in Rapport sur L'activite de la Gendarmerie Grand-Ducale lors du bombardment et de L'evacuation de la ville de Diekirch, provided the author by the Luxembourg liaison officer at Headquarters, SHAPE.
7. Companies A and C had no communications with the battalion. During the night of the 16th the two company commanders, Capt. John W. Schalles and Capt. Roger L. Shinn, each got a half-track loaded with rations and ammunition and ran it through to the rifle line.
8. Pfc. T. J. Zimmerer, an aid man, stayed behind enemy lines for eleven days with a severely wounded soldier. He was awarded the DSC.
9. The 9th Armored Division never fought as a complete division during the period covered by the present volume. As a result the 9th Armored after action report and files are of little value in tracing the action of one of its combat commands. For the series of events described in this section the main sources are the combat interviews; the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion AAR; the 9th Armored Engineer Battalion AAR, which tells the very detailed story, by companies; the CCA AAR and S-3 Jnl; the separate troop histories in the 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron AAR; and the useful AAR of the 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion.