Victory in the Ardennes
The Ardennes Counteroffensive
3-28 January 1945
"If you go into that death-trap of the Ardennes," General Charles Louis Marie Lanzerac reputedly told a fellow French officer in 1914, "you will never come out."1 This remark for a long time typified the attitude of the French and their allies toward the Ardennes. It was a region to be avoided.
For centuries before 1914, warfare, like commerce, had skirted the Ardennes to north or south; yet at the start of the Great War, Helmuth von Moltke, under influence of the Schlieffen Plan, had sent three armies totaling almost a million men directly through the Ardennes. Although not constituting the German main effort, these armies contributed to it by outflanking hasty Allied attempts to form a line against the main blow on the Belgian plain. In 1940, expecting a repetition of the 1914 maneuver, the French had entrusted defense of the Ardennes to reserve divisions while concentrating their battleworthy forces across the gateway to the plain. That had led to breakthrough by panzer columns at Sedan and Dinant.
Although made against scattered opposition consisting sometimes of nothing more imposing than horse cavalry, these speedy German conquests tended to obscure the fact that the Ardennes is a major barrier presenting the most rugged face of any terrain from the Vosges Mountains to the North Sea. While the highest elevations are less than 2,500 feet above sea level, deep and meandering defiles cut by myriad creeks and small rivers sharply restrict and canalize movement either along or across the grain of the land. (Map II)
Properly a part of a vast, high plateau lying mostly inside Germany, the Ardennes and its contiguous region, the Eifel, are separated from the rest of the plateau by the accidents of the Moselle and Rhine Rivers. The Ardennes and Eifel are divided only by the artificial barrier of an international frontier. It was back across this frontier into the casemates of the West Wall and the forests cloaking them that the Allies had to drive the Germans before victory in the Ardennes might be consummated and the final offensive in Europe begun in earnest.
The Ardennes encompasses all the grand duchy of Luxembourg, that part of southern and eastern Belgium bounded on the west and north by the gorge of the Meuse River, and a small portion of northern France. It can be divided into two unequal parts, the smaller Low Ardennes in the northwest, into which the winter counteroffensive had achieved only minor penetration, and the High
or True Ardennes in the northeast, center, and south, covering some three-fourths of the entire region.
Stretching westward from the German frontier in something of the shape of an isosceles triangle, the High Ardennes encompasses in its northern angle a marshy ridgeline near Spa and Malmédy called the Hohe Venn or Hautes Fanges, meaning high marshland. The highest point in the Ardennes is here (2,276 feet). Southwest of the Hohe Venn along the northwestern edge of the triangle is another stretch of high, marshy ground containing the headwaters of three picturesque rivers, the Plateau des Tailles. The central portion of the triangle, around Bastogne and Neufchâteau, is high but less sharply incised than other portions. In the southwestern corner stands the Forêt des Ardennes, or Ardennes Forest, a name which Americans with a penchant for generalized inaccuracy gave to the entire region of the Ardennes. Across the border in Luxembourg lies sharply convoluted terrain that the natives with an eye toward tourism call la Petite Suisse or Little Switzerland.
A picture-postcard pastoral region marked by few towns with populations of more than a few thousand, the Ardennes nevertheless has an extensive network of improved roads knotted together at critical points such as Bastogne and St. Vith, the latter in the northeast close to the German border. Like the general lay of the land, the major roads favor military movement from northeast to southwest, or the reverse. By holding fast in front of the Hohe Venn, American troops in December 1944 had denied the Germans roads in the north with more favorable orientation toward the German goal of Antwerp, forcing them into an all-out fight for Bastogne and roads emanating from that town to the northwest. As the Americans headed back toward the German frontier, the orientation of the roadnet would afford some advantage.
In plunging out of the Eifel, the Germans had attained their deepest penetration on Christmas Eve when armored spearheads got within four miles of the Meuse River. The bulge in American lines reached a maximum depth of not quite sixty miles. At the base, the bulge extended from near Monschau in the north to the vicinity of Echternach in the south, just under fifty miles. It encompassed much of Little Switzerland, the Plateau des Tailles, and some of the more open highland around Bastogne; but it fell short of the two vital objectives, the Meuse and the Hohe Venn.
American offensive reaction to the German blow had begun even before the penetration reached its high-water mark. As early as dawn of 22 December one division of the Third Army had opened limited objective attacks to stabilize the southern shoulder of the bulge near its base while an entire corps began a drive toward Bastogne. On Christmas Day an armored division of the First Army had wiped out the spearhead near the Meuse.
As General Eisenhower on 19 December had met with his top subordinates to plan opening countermoves, the obvious method was to attack simultaneously from north and south to saw off the penetration at its base close along the German border; but several considerations denied this approach. Still heavily involved trying to prevent expansion of the bulge to north and northwest, the First Army was in no position yet to hit
the northern flank. Nor could the Third Army, which had to provide the troops for striking the southern flank, make available immediately enough divisions to do more than stabilize the southern flank and possibly relieve Bastogne. Because Bastogne was the key to the roadnet not only to the northwest but to southwest and south as well, and since nobody knew for sure at the time which way the Germans wanted to go, the need to hold Bastogne never came into question.2
This early commitment to relieving and reinforcing Bastogne in large measure dictated the way the Allied command would go about eliminating the penetration, a drive to squeeze the bulge at its waist rather than its base, then a turn to push in what was left. It was a conservative approach but one necessitated, at least in the opening moves, by the surprise, early success, and persisting strength of the German assault.
Yet once Bastogne was relieved on the 26th, the way was open for another solution, the classic though venturesome maneuver for eliminating a deep penetration, cutting it off at its base. This the Third Army commander, General Patton, proposed, a drive by his army north and northeast from Luxembourg City into a westward-protruding portion of the Eifel to link with a complementary thrust by the First Army in the vicinity of Pruem, a road center a little over ten miles inside Germany, southeast of St. Vith.3
Although Patton's opposite on the north flank, General Hodges of the First Army, agreed with this approach in principle, he advised against it because he deemed the roadnet close to the border in the north inadequate to sustain the large force, heavy in armor, that would be necessary for the cleaving blow essential to a successful amputation. Nor did the 12th Army Group commander, General Bradley, endorse it. Bradley was concerned about the effect of winter weather, both on the counterattack itself and on air support, and of the inhospitable terrain. He was worried too about a lack of reserves. Already the 6th Army Group had extended its lines dangerously to release the bulk of the Third Army for the fight in the Ardennes. Although the matter of reserves might have been remedied by greater commitment of British troops, the British commander who also controlled the First U.S. Army, Field Marshal Montgomery, wanted to avoid major realignment of British forces lest it unduly delay return to the scheduled main effort in the north against the Ruhr.
On 28 December General Eisenhower met with Montgomery to plot the role of the First Army in the offensive. Already in hand was General Bradley's view that the Third Army should strike not at the base of the bulge but from Bastogne generally northeast toward St. Vith. As formulated after earlier conversations with General Hodges and corps commanders of the First Army, Montgomery's decision was for the First Army to link with the Third Army at Houffalize, nine miles northeast of Bastogne, then broaden the attack to drive generally east on St. Vith. Noting that he was moving British units against the tip of the bulge to assist the First Army to concentrate,
Montgomery indicated that the attack was to begin within a day or two of the New Year.
As the old year neared an end and the two American armies prepared their offensives, this was the picture around the periphery of the German penetration:
From a point north of Monschau marking the boundary between the First and Ninth Armies, the sector of the V Corps (Maj. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow) extended southward as far as Elsenborn, thereby encompassing high ground serving as an outpost for the Hohe Venn, then swung west along a deep-cut creek to Waimes, where V Corps responsibility yielded to the XVIII Airborne Corps (Maj. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway). The line continued to follow the creek through Malmédy to Stavelot, thence along the Ambleve River for a mile or two to Trois Ponts. At that point, the forward trace extended cross-country to the southwest along no clearly defined feature. Where it cut across the Lienne River near Bra, the sector of the VII Corps (Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins) began. The VII Corps line extended southwest across the Bastogne-Liège highway to the Ourthe River near Hotton.
The Ourthe was, temporarily, the First Army's right boundary. On the other side Field Marshal Montgomery had inserted under his direct command contingents of the 30 British Corps. Running from the Meuse south of Dinant generally eastward to Houffalize, the boundary between the 21 and 12th Army Groups split the bulge roughly in half.
From the army group boundary southeast to St. Hubert, fifteen miles west of Bastogne, no formal line existed. Patrols of an American regiment hard hit early in the fighting, a reconnaissance squadron, and a French parachute battalion covered the sector, while a fresh American airborne division backed it up from positions along the Meuse. The sector was part of the responsibility of the VIII Corps (Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton), the corps that had been hardest hit by the opening blows of the counteroffensive. Serving at this point under the Third Army, the main body of the VIII Corps was located between St. Hubert and Bastogne.
In the sector of the VIII Corps, at Bastogne itself, and southeast of the town, the front was in a state of flux because here General Patton had begun opening moves in his part of the offensive two days before the New Year. Charged with reaching the First Army at Houffalize, the VIII Corps was to pass to the west of Bastogne, then swing northeast on Houffalize. East and southeast of Bastogne, the III Corps (Maj. Gen. John Millikin) was to broaden to the east the corridor its armor had forged into the town, then continue northeast toward St. Vith. Holding the south flank of the bulge generally along the Sûre River east to the German border, the XII Corps (Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy) was to join the offensive later.4
That these opening blows by the Third Army collided head on with a major German effort to sever the corridor into Bastogne, again encircle the town, and take it, contributed to the fluid situation prevailing there. Night was falling on the second day of the new year before the Americans around Bastogne could claim that they had parried
what would turn out to be the stronger of two final German blows aimed at seizing the town.
German dispositions within the bulge reflected the broad pattern shaped by early stages of the counteroffensive, plus the recent emphasis on taking Bastogne. Three infantry divisions on the south wing of the Fifteenth Army (General der Infanterie Gustav von Zangen) opposed the V Corps in the angle at the northern base of the bulge. The Sixth Panzer Army (Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Josef "Sepp" Dietrich), comprising six divisions, opposed the XVIII Airborne Corps and the VII Corps. Opposite the British in the tip of the bulge and part of the VIII Corps were contingents of three divisions of the Fifth Panzer Army (General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel), while as a result of the efforts to capture Bastogne the bulk of that army--nine other divisions and a special armored brigade--was concentrated around Bastogne and to the southeast of the town. The remainder of the southern flank was the responsibility of the Seventh Army (General der Panzertruppen Erich Brandenberger), whose five divisions and several separate units of battalion or Kampfgruppe (task force) size extended the line to the border near Echternach and southward along the frontier as far as the Moselle.5
The First Army's Attack
As finally determined by Field Marshal Montgomery, the First Army's attack was to begin on 3 January. Since the troops around Bastogne had stopped a major German effort to take that town late on 2 January, the Third Army might be able to renew its offensive in earnest on the same day.
A veteran force that had come ashore on the beaches of Normandy, liberated Paris, and penetrated the West Wall around Aachen, the First Army on the eve of resuming the offensive contained thirteen divisions. Included were three armored divisions, one of which had been badly mauled in a heroic defense of St. Vith and two of which had given as good as they took in later stages of the Ardennes fight. These two were old-style heavy divisions, the 2d and 3d. A loan of 200 British Shermans had helped replace tank losses incurred in the December fighting, and all except a few files had been filled in infantry ranks.
A calm--almost taciturn--infantryman, General Hodges had assumed command of the First Army in Normandy when General Bradley had moved up to army group. Shaken in the early days of the counteroffensive by what had happened to his troops, Hodges had come back strong in a manner that drew praise from his British superior, Montgomery. Reflecting both Bradley's interest and his own, Hodges' staff was heavy on infantrymen, including the chief of staff, Maj. Gen. William G. Kean. Two of the three corps commanders then under the army, Generals Gerow and Collins, had long been members of the First Army's team, and both enjoyed a close rapport with Hodges.
The burden of the First Army's attack was to fall on General Collins's VII Corps, which Montgomery had been carefully hoarding since early in the counteroffensive for just such a role. General Hodges directed this corps to advance generally southeast between the
Ourthe and Lienne Rivers to seize forward slopes of the high marshland of the Plateau des Tailles, which command the town of Houffalize. General Ridgway's XVIII Airborne Corps meanwhile was to advance its right flank to conform with progress of the VII Corps while Gerow's V Corps held in place. Parts of two British divisions were to push in the bulge from the west, eventually to be pinched out short of Houffalize by the converging First and Third Armies.6
Heavily reinforced, the VII Corps contained almost a hundred thousand men, including the two armored divisions, three infantry divisions, and twelve field artillery battalions in addition to divisional artillery. Each infantry division had the normal attachments of a medium tank battalion and a tank destroyer battalion.
Two of the infantry divisions, the 75th and 84th, held a 14-mile corps front extending from the vicinity of Bra southwestward to the Ourthe near Hotton. In an attempt to trap those German troops still in the tip of the bulge, General Collins planned to open the attack with his two powerful armored divisions in hope of a swift penetration across the high marshland to his objective twelve miles to the southeast. As the armor passed through the infantry line, the 84th Division was to follow the 2d Armored Division to mop up while the 83d Infantry Division did the same for the 3d Armored. The 75th Division was to pass into corps reserve.7
The estimate of the enemy situation
by the VII Corps G-2, Col. Leslie D. Carter, was basically correct. First concern of the Germans, Colonel Carter believed, was Bastogne. Until the south flank could be stabilized there, the Germans to the west were liable to entrapment. A number of divisions that earlier had fought the VII Corps had moved south to help at Bastogne, their departure leaving Sixth Panzer Army a blunted residue of what had once been the steel skewer of the counteroffensive. Of the panzer army's six remaining divisions, three under the II SS Panzer Corps (General der Waffen-SS Willi Bittrich) confronted the VII Corps: the 12th Volks Grenadier Division opposite the left wing of the corps, the 560th Volks Grenadier Division in the center, and the 2d SS Panzer Division opposite the right wing. First-line German units,
these divisions had taken sizable losses during the counteroffensive; strengths varied from 2,500 men in the 560th to 6,000 in the panzer division. Preoccupation with the Bastogne sector and with the new counteroffensive (NORDWIND) in Alsace would restrict severely, Colonel Carter noted, the reserves that might oppose the American attack.8
What Colonel Carter could not know was that on the very eve of the First Army's attacks, German field commanders were conceding defeat, not only in terms of the broad objectives of the counteroffensive, which as early as Christmas Eve they had come to accept, but also of the limited objective of taking Bastogne. The failure to sever the American corridor to Bastogne had convinced the commander of the Fifth Panzer Army, General von Manteuffel, that the time had come to abandon all thought of continuing the offensive in the Ardennes. Lest the troops farthest west be trapped, Manteuffel appealed late on 2 January to Field Marshal Model, commander of Army Group B, for permission to pull back to a line anchored on Houffalize.
Although Model apparently agreed professionally with Manteuffel, he was powerless to act because of Hitler's long-professed decree that no commander give up ground voluntarily unless Hitler himself endorsed the move in advance, something that seldom happened. Since the unsuccessful attempt on his life the preceding July, the Fuehrer had come to accept any indication of withdrawal as evidence of defeatism, even treason. Model and even the Commander in Chief West, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, had to live with the fiction that nobody ever withdrew.
Even though Hitler himself the next day, 3 January, would issue his qualified admission of failure under the original concept in the Ardennes, he had arrived by this time at definite ideas of how the salient still might be turned to German advantage, and withdrawal had no part in the plan. Taking Bastogne did. Despite the failure of the latest attempt, Model and his staff at Army Group B were compelled to continue planning for yet another attack on Bastogne, this to begin on 4 January.9
As the hour for American attack neared, the weather augury was anything but encouraging. It was bitterly cold. The ground was frozen and covered with snow. Roads were icy. A low, foglike overcast so restricted visibility that planned support from fighter-bombers of the IX Tactical Air Command (Maj. Gen. Elwood R. Quesada) was hardly to be assured. Yet since hope of improvement in the weather was dim, the attack was to proceed. Top commanders in the First Army had for some time been chafing to shift to the offensive lest the Third Army be called upon to do it all, and delay would give the Germans in the tip of the bulge that much more time to escape.10
Stretching all the way across the zone of attack of the VII Corps, the high marshes of the Plateau des Tailles added a third dimension to the obstacles of woods and deep-cut streambeds that are common in the Ardennes, thus making the roadnet the number one tactical objective. Only one major road, the Liège-Houffalize-Bastogne highway, led directly to any part of the objective. A web of secondary roads connecting the villages in the region would have to serve as main avenues of advance despite numerous bridges, defiles, and hairpin turns.
Preoccupation with roads was apparent from the first objectives assigned the armored divisions. Both were to aim at high ground commanding roads leading approximately four miles to the southeast to the La Roche-Salmchâteau highway, a lateral route from which a number of local roads in addition to the Liège-Bastogne highway provide access to the forward slopes of the Plateau des Tailles. On the left the 3d Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose) would have only one road at the start, while on the right the 2d Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Ernest N. Harmon) could employ both the main highway leading to Houffalize and a secondary route to the southwest. Cutting the lateral La Roche-Salmchâteau highway would eliminate one of only two escape routes left in this sector to the Germans still standing to the west. Seizing the high ground overlooking Houffalize would eliminate the other.11
Hardly had the van of the armor passed through the infantry line early on
3 January when the hostile weather and terrain began to have effect. So foggy was the atmosphere that not a single tactical plane could support the attack at any time during the day. Observation by artillery planes was possible for no more than an hour. It was a pattern that would undergo little change for the next fortnight. On only one day in two weeks would visibility allow tactical aircraft to operate all day; on only two other days would fighter-bombers be able to take to the air at all.
Much of the time infantry and armor advanced through snow flurries interspersed with light rain on a few occasions when temperatures rose above freezing. During late afternoon and evening of 7 January, a heavy snowfall added several inches to the cover already on the ground. Drifts piled in some places to a depth of three to four feet.
On the first day, the enemy from his
GENERAL VON MANTEUFFEL
outposts offered relatively light resistance, though antitank minefields hidden by the snow caused several delays and in late afternoon a force of infantry supported by from six to ten tanks of the 2d SS Panzer Division counterattacked forward units on the right wing. On the next and succeeding days, resistance stiffened. Artillery, antitank, mortar, and Nebelwerfer fire increased. Battalion-size counterattacks supported by a few tanks or self-propelled guns increased too, though seldom did they accomplish more than to delay local advances for a few hours.
The terrain and the weather were the big obstacles. Whenever the tanks found fairly level terrain, they could move cross-country over the frozen ground with some facility, but more often than not the ground was hilly, wooded, or marshy, confining the tanks to the icy roads. In advancing up a steep hill on 5 January, eight tanks of a task force of the 2d Armored Division stalled in a row on the ice. Two antitank guns of the 84th Division and their prime movers skidded, jackknifed, collided, and effectively blocked a road for several hours. Two trucks towing 105-mm. howitzers skidded and plunged off a cliff.
FIELD MARSHAL MODEL
Deliberate roadblocks consisting of felled trees with antitank mines embedded on the approaches usually could be eliminated only by dismounted infantry making slow, sometimes costly flanking moves through adjacent woods. In other cases, blown bridges blocked the routes. Sometimes fords or bypasses to other roads were available, but usually infantrymen had to wade an icy stream and create a small bridgehead while
tanks awaited construction of a new bridge. Because bridge sites seldom could be cleared immediately of enemy fire, engineers did most of their work after darkness blinded German gunners.
Advances on the first day against the enemy's outposts averaged about two miles, but progress slowed on succeeding days. Facing the bulk of the German armor in this sector, the 2d Armored Division on the right encountered particularly stubborn German stands on both its routes of advance. When the neighboring 3d Armored on the third day, 6 January, cut the lateral La Roche-Salmchâteau highway, General Collins sent part of the division westward to seize the intersection with the main highway to Houffalize in an effort to loosen the opposition in front of the other division. It was late the next day before the Americans gained the intersection, which they knew as Parker's Crossroads after the commander of a task force that had made an epic stand there during the winter counteroffensive. This did the job expected; late on the same day, the 7th, a task force of the 2d Armored Division also cut the La Roche-Salmchâteau road.
Artillery was hamstrung throughout by poor observation resulting from the weather, the woods, and the broken ground. Since weather denied air support on the opening day, General Collins canceled a preliminary artillery bombardment as well in hope of gaining some advantage from surprise. Artillery subsequently averaged about 19,000 rounds a day. Each armored division expended about 7,000 rounds daily, corps guns fired another 3,500 rounds, and infantry divisional artillery and British pieces west of the Ourthe provided additional support.
While the role of the infantry divisions was nominally supporting, it turned out to be more than that. In the main the 83d and 84th Divisions were to mop up bypassed resistance, but when the first shock of the armor failed to produce a penetration, the role of the infantry increased. Both divisions from the first contributed a regiment each for attachment to the armor, and before the fighting was over both would incur appreciably greater casualties than either of the armored divisions.
For all the grudging nature of the defense, the enemy produced few surprises. Through the first week, full responsibility for defense lay with the three units of the Sixth Panzer Army previously identified, the 2d SS Panzer and 12th and 560th Volks Grenadier Divisions. At times, the panzer division loaned some of its tanks to neighboring infantry units, as on 5 January when four tanks reinforced a battalion of the 12th Volks Grenadier Division in an effort to retake a hill from the 3d Armored Division. The only outside help came from assorted engineer and low-grade replacement battalions. By the end of the week all three German divisions were reduced on occasion to using artillerymen and other supporting troops as infantry.
Near the end of the first week, on 8 January, Hitler at last authorized a withdrawal, not all the way back to a line anchored on Houffalize as General von Manteuffel had urged but only out of the extreme tip of the bulge to a line anchored on a great eastward loop of the Ourthe River some five miles west of Houffalize. Because of the point at which Hitler drew the withdrawal line,
only a few troops of the Sixth Panzer Army, those on the extreme west wing near La Roche, were involved. Those authorized to withdraw were mainly contingents of the Fifth Panzer Army facing the British and the U.S. VIII Corps west of Bastogne.
While the units of the Sixth Panzer Army were to continue to hold, Dietrich's headquarters was to pull out, gradually relinquishing control to the Fifth Panzer Army. Thereupon, the two SS panzer corps headquarters and four SS panzer divisions that originally had belonged to the Sixth Panzer Army were to join Dietrich's headquarters in the rear near St. Vith, there to form a reserve to guard against attacks near the base of the bulge. This was, in effect, tacit admission--Hitler's first--that the Ardennes counteroffensive had failed utterly.12
Reflecting the withdrawal, resistance on the right wing of the VII Corps gradually slackened. Patrols on the 10th entered La Roche, while British troops on the opposite bank of the Ourthe reported no contact with the enemy. Although the British re-established contact on subsequent days, they met only light covering detachments and, in keeping with Montgomery's desire to avoid major British commitment, pressed their advance only enough to spare the Americans flanking fire from Germans west of the Ourthe.
The fight was as dogged as ever on the other wing, where in deference to marshy ground and an impoverished roadnet leading to the final objectives on the southeastern slopes of the Plateau des Tailles, the 83d Division (Maj. Gen. Robert C. Macon) on 9 January assumed the assault role on the left wing of the VII Corps. It took the infantry two days to break into and clear a village south of the La Roche-Salmchâteau highway and another day to beat off counterattacks. Not until forcibly rooted out would the Germans budge from any position.
At the same time, the 82d Airborne Division (Maj. Gen. James M. Gavin) of General Ridgway's XVIII Airborne Corps had the job of protecting the left flank of the VII Corps. To do this, the airborne division was to press forward to the line of the Salm River, which like the Lienne and the Ourthe has its source in the Plateau des Tailles.13
Assisted by an attached separate regiment, the 517th Parachute Infantry, the airborne division jumped off along with the VII Corps on 3 January. Like the armored divisions, the paratroopers and glidermen met resistance immediately from the weather, the terrain, and, to a lesser extent, the enemy. The roadnet was even more restricted than in front of the VII Corps, and a thick forest stretched across the center of the division's zone.
Possibly because the enemy relied too heavily on the forest as an obstacle, the 82d's 505th Parachute Infantry found relatively few defenders. In three days the paratroopers advanced four miles to reach the far edge of the forest overlooking the valley of the Salm.
Close alongside the boundary with the VII Corps, the 517th Parachute Infantry made only limited progress until it turned abruptly on 7 January to take the enemy in flank. The next day the paratroopers
drove all Germans before them east of the Salm and sent patrols to range as far as two miles beyond the river. On the 9th they established a small bridgehead across the Salm to be used as a stepping stone when the offensive turned in the direction of St. Vith.
Another division of the XVIII Airborne Corps, the 30th (Maj. Gen. Leland S. Hobbs) did much the same thing. On 6 January the division began limited objective attacks with an attached regiment, the 28th Division's 112th Infantry, to forge a bridgehead two miles deep in an angle formed by the joining of the Salm and Ambleve Rivers.
Resistance in the zone of the VII Corps continued stiffest opposite the left wing along a land bridge between headwaters of the Salm and the Ourthe. There the Germans occupied a forest mass in strength with contingents of the 9th SS Panzer Division moving in to support a faltering 12th Volks Grenadier Division. The infantry of the 83d Division still was finding the going slow when the 3d Armored Division's Reconnaissance Battalion discovered a network of back roads and trails less staunchly defended.
The reconnaissance troops having shown the way, the division commander, General Rose, early an 13 January sent a combat command to trace the route, break out of the woods, and cut the lateral highway that follows the forward slopes of the Plateau des Tailles en route from Houffalize toward St. Vith. Although the Germans still made a fight of it for towns along the highway, the cut by the armor effectively blocked this last major route of escape for German troops in the vicinity of Houffalize.
As night fell on the 13th, men of the VII Corps could see to the south lightninglike flashes of artillery pieces supporting the Third Army. Patrols prepared to probe in that direction the next day, eager to end the separation the counteroffensive had imposed between the First and Third Armies.
Getting this far had cost the VII Corps almost 5,000 casualties, a high but hardly alarming figure in view of the harsh weather and terrain. Although fighting a deliberate withdrawal action with determination and skill, the Germans had lost several hundred more than that in prisoners alone.
A Grim Struggle Around Bastogne
Having collided head on with another German effort to capture Bastogne, the Third Army's four-day-old offensive had reached, on the eve of the First Army's attack, positions that mirrored a combination of American and German intentions. Making a main effort against the corridor southeast of Bastogne, Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army with some help from the right wing of Brandenberger's Seventh Army had managed to retain or establish positions that formed a salient four miles wide and four miles deep into lines of the Third Army's III Corps. That the salient was no deeper represented a defensive triumph for the III Corps but at the same time marked a failure thus far of this phase of General Patton's offensive. East and north of Bastogne, a line roughly three miles from the town that stalwart soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division and assorted lesser units had established and held through the days of encirclement remained intact. Against a German attack west and southwest of Bastogne, troops of the VIII Corps had managed not only
to contain the thrust but also to make gains of their own, so that by nightfall of 2 January the front line ran generally west from Bastogne toward St. Hubert.14
As the Third Army prepared to continue its offensive, the original plan remained unchanged. While the III Corps advanced generally northeast, in the process eliminating the salient southeast of Bastogne, the VIII Corps was to pivot on the town and swing northeast to establish contact with the First Army's VII Corps at Houffalize.
Intending to return to the offensive on 4 January, the Germans proposed a change in their approach. Although Rundstedt at OB WEST ordered another attempt to sever the corridor into Bastogne, Field Marshal Model at Army Group B pleaded that the Americans had become so strong around the salient southeast of the town and had confined it so tightly that no additional German units could be inserted. Model suggested instead an attack to push in the northern and northeastern periphery of the Bastogne defense. There the ground was more suited to tank warfare and General von Manteuffel might employ the I SS Panzer Corps (Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Hermann Priess) with the 9th and 12th SS Panzer Divisions and the Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade, the last an elite unit originally drawn from Hitler's household guard, consisting of a battalion each of tanks, panzer grenadiers, and foot soldiers.15
Possibly because Model was one of the Fuehrer's more faithful disciples among top commanders, Hitler listened to this change. What mattered to the Fuehrer was not how Bastogne was taken but that it be taken. As revealed on 3 January when he acknowledged that the counteroffensive would not gain Antwerp or even the Meuse, Hitler required Bastogne as a vital anchor for holding the bulge. Bastogne's nexus of roads was essential for securing the southern flank and thus for helping the Sixth Panzer Army to resist the American offensive from the north that had begun that day.
In creating the bulge in the Ardennes, Hitler reasoned, he had forced General Eisenhower to employ almost all his resources. The desperate commitment of elite airborne divisions to brutal defensive battles was in Hitler's mind proof enough of that. By holding the bulge, the Germans might keep the Allies widely stretched while pulling out some of their own units to attack at weak points along the extended Western Front and thereby prevent the Allies from concentrating for a major drive. Operation NORDWIND in Alsace, Hitler rationalized, was the first of these intended strikes; yet only with Bastogne in hand was the new stratagem practical in the long run.16
As finally determined, the main effort of the new attack on Bastogne by the I SS Panzer Corps was to be made astride the Houffalize highway. Since some units would arrive too late to attack early on the 4th, only the 9th Panzer and 26th Volks Grenadier Divisions west of the highway were to attack at first, this in midmorning, while the 12th SS Panzer Division and a unit that only recently had been brought into the Ardennes from the Aachen sector, the 340th Volks Grenadier Division, attacked at noon along the east side of the highway. The
Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade was to serve as a reserve. The XLVII Panzer Corps (General der Panzertruppen Heinrich Freiherr von Luettwitz) west of Bastogne and the divisions in the salient southeast of the town were to hold in place, counterattacking in strength where necessary to maintain their positions or assist the main attack.17
Having fought through early stages of the counteroffensive as part of the Sixth Panzer Army, all divisions of General Priess's I SS Panzer Corps except the 340th had taken heavy losses. Between them the two SS panzer divisions had 55 tanks, only one more than normally supported every U.S. infantry division. Although one of the so-called Volks Artillery Corps that Hitler had created especially for the counteroffensive was to be moved in to strengthen existing artillery, a shortage of gasoline made it problematical when this force and even some of the subordinate units of the panzer and volks grenadier divisions would arrive.
Top commanders hid their concern, but neither Manteuffel, who already had recommended stopping all attacks in the Ardennes, nor his superior, Model, held out much hope for the new attack. This state of mind was clearly indicated when they released without protest to OB WEST for transfer to Alsace the corps headquarters that had been controlling the divisions in the salient southeast of Bastogne. If the superior forces the Germans previously had employed at Bastogne against limited American strength had failed, what hope with makeshift forces now that the Americans had sharply increased their commitment?18
For renewing the Third Army's offensive around Bastogne, General Patton had eight divisions. East and southeast of the town, Millikin's III Corps had three veteran units, the 6th Armored and 26th and 35th Infantry Divisions. Holding part of Bastogne's old perimeter defense to north and northwest, the 101st Airborne Division with an attached combat command of the 10th Armored Division was the only readily available experienced force in Middleton's VIII Corps. Middleton had in addition the 17th Airborne Division and two newcomers to the front, the 11th Armored and 87th Divisions, which General Bradley had specifically directed to be employed at Bastogne lest Patton stint the offensive there in favor of his cherished drive near the base of the bulge.19 In the four days of fighting preceding renewal of the offensive on 3 January, the 87th and the armor had taken substantial losses, leaving the armored division "badly disorganized" after loss of a third of its tanks.20 To enable the armor to catch its breath, the new airborne division was to enter the line on 3 January. Meanwhile, an eighth division, the veteran 4th Armored, had been pulled into
reserve after its tank strength had fallen dangerously low as a result of heavy fighting through much of December.
The remaining six of a total of fourteen divisions in the Third Army were split equally between Eddy's XII Corps along the generally quiescent line of the Sûre River running eastward to the German frontier and Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker's XX Corps. The latter had not been drawn into the Ardennes fight and continued to hold positions in Lorraine.21
The Third Army and its veteran commander, George Patton, had entered the campaign in France in early August to exploit the breakout from Normandy engineered by Hodges' First Army. While one corps turned westward against the ports of Brittany, the bulk of the army had driven swiftly eastward across northern France until a gasoline drought forced a halt at the border of Lorraine. Through the fall Patton's troops had fought doggedly across water-logged terrain to gain a small foothold within the West Wall at Saarlautern just as the Ardennes counteroffensive began. While the XX Corps continued to hold that position, Patton had turned the rest of his army toward Bastogne.
Despite General Patton's affinity for armor, most of his staff and his corps commanders were infantrymen, including Eddy of the XII Corps, an old-timer with the Third Army; Walker of the XX Corps, another old-timer; and Middleton of the VIII Corps, whose command had made the sweep into Brittany before joining the First Army for a rendezvous with fate in the Ardennes and then a return to the Third Army. Only Patton's chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Hobart R. Gay, and General Millikin of the III Corps, a relative newcomer to the Third Army, had been commissioned as cavalrymen.
Bitterly cold, stung by biting winds and driving snow, American troops on the frozen ground around Bastogne saw little change on 3 January in a pattern too long familiar. Many of the German units had fought here since before Christmas, such respected names as the 3d and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions, the 5th Parachute Division, the 1st SS Panzer Division, and the Panzer Lehr Division, the last so called because it originally had been a training unit. The place names too, after more than a fortnight of grim combat, were accustomed: Marvie, Wardin, Mageret, Longvilly, Oubourcy, Noville, Longchamps. So was the tactic of almost every attack followed by an immediate German riposte, intense shelling preceding a seemingly inevitable tank-supported counterattack.22
Early on the 3d the Germans surrounded a company of the 87th Division (Brig. Gen. John M. Lentz) on the west flank of the VIII Corps, though a relief column broke through before the day was out. In the afternoon tanks and infantry hit the 101st Airborne Division (Maj. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor) at Longchamps and south of Noville, achieving some penetration at both places before the paratroopers rallied to re-establish their lines. Only the 6th Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Robert W. Grow) on the left wing of the III Corps generally east of Bastogne made any appreciable gain, an advance of from one to two
WIND-SWEPT SNOW IN THE ARDENNES
miles that took the battered villages of Oubourcy, Mageret, and Wardin.
The renewed German attempt to seize Bastogne began before dawn on the 4th when a regiment of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division attacked Longchamps in a token assist by Leuttwitz's XLVII Panzer Corps to a main assault that began a few hours later close by the road from Houffalize. Combat raged in this sector all morning, but at noon counterattacking paratroopers still maintained their hold on Longchamps, and intense artillery fire delivered in open, snow-covered fields had driven back tanks and assault guns of the 9th SS Panzer Division. The airborne troops and their armored support claimed to have destroyed during the day thirty-four German tanks.
East of the Houffalize highway and east of Bastogne, the 12th SS Panzer and 340th Volks Grenadier Divisions achieved greater success in the main German assault. Tank against tank, the German armor forced the 6th Armored Division to relinquish all three villages taken the day before, but once the American tanks had pulled back to high ground west of the villages the Germans
could make no more headway. Here and elsewhere artillery pieces of the III and VIII Corps shared their power in moments of crisis to deal telling blows whenever the Germans massed and moved into the open.
From the moment the 6th Armored Division halted the panzers, the fighting around Bastogne again reverted to pattern. In combat as bitter as any during the counteroffensive, attack followed counterattack on both sides until it was scarcely possible to distinguish which was which.
Handicapped by piecemeal commitment of tardily arriving subordinate units, the I SS Panzer Corps could do little more than maintain the minor gains achieved against American armor on the 4th. West of Bastogne the XLVII Panzer Corps reacted so strongly to American efforts to renew the attack on the 4th with the inexperienced 17th Airborne Division (Maj. Gen. William M. Miley) that the division had to spend the next two days reorganizing and adjusting its positions. ("God, how green we are," said one regimental commander, "but we are learning fast and the next time we will beat them.")23
Nor could the infantry divisions of General Millikin's III Corps make any headway against the salient southeast of Bastogne. Late on the 5th Maj. Gen. Paul W. Baade reluctantly asked and received permission to call off the attack in the southern part of his 35th Division's front; such a battle of attrition had it become that his men could hope to do no more for the moment than hold their own.
As was the case with the First Army, the Third Army could count on little help from its supporting aircraft of the XIX Tactical Air Command (Brig. Gen. Otto P. Weyland). So dismal was the weather that only briefly on one day, 5 January, were planes able to operate. In one way this was a blessing, since the weather also cut short a resurgence that had begun around Bastogne a few days earlier by a long-dormant Luftwaffe.
For all the success in blunting the German thrust on the 4th, few Americans viewed the situation with any complacency. Visiting the front late on the 4th during a German artillery bombardment, the army commander, General Patton, noted to himself glumly, "We can still lose this war."24 The commander of the VIII Corps, General Middleton, kept close personal rein on his division commanders and alerted the depleted 4th Armored and the 11th Armored Divisions to be prepared to move swiftly to the aid of either or both of the airborne divisions.
Unknown to the American command, any crisis engendered by the German attack had passed by nightfall of 5 January. Late on that day Field Marshal Model tacitly admitted failure at Bastogne by ordering General von Manteuffel to release the 9th SS Panzer Division to go to the aid of the Sixth Panzer Army
in its hour of trial against the American offensive from the north. The next day Manteuffel took it upon himself to order the 12th Panzer Division to pull out of the line the night of the 7th to constitute a reserve.
Sensing as early as the 6th that the Germans soon might begin to withdraw, General Patton for all his concern about the bitterness of the fight deplored the possibility. Only the day before he had acquiesced in the artful persuasion of General Bradley to move a newly available division from the XX Corps to the salient southeast of Bastogne rather than to use it in a strike against the base of the bulge. Still hoping to mount an attack against the base, Patton worried now lest the Germans make good their escape before he could act.25
Despite the exodus of German armor, American troops found no evidence on 7 and 8 January of German intent to withdraw. Although the U.S. divisions around the salient postponed further attacks to await arrival of the new division, patrols found the enemy as full of fight as ever. The 17th Airborne and 87th Divisions meanwhile renewed their attacks on both days with the usual violent German reaction.
For the 87th, trying to break into the crossroads settlement of Tillet, midway between Bastogne and St. Hubert, the fighting proved bitterly frustrating as every attempt met sharp riposte from the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade, another elite unit heavy in armor that also had been created from Hitler's household guard.26 Although a regiment of the 17th Airborne Division entered Flamierge along a major highway leading northwest from Bastogne, the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division counterattacked late on the 7th and again early on the 8th, trapping the bulk of a battalion in the town. Most of the able-bodied paratroopers eventually escaped by infiltrating to the rear but they had to leave their wounded behind.
As divisions of the III Corps rejoined the offensive on the 9th, any evidence of German withdrawal still was hard to come by, despite Hitler's approval on the 8th for troops in the tip of the bulge to pull back. Hitler's authorization affected only units west of Bastogne in any case, since the new line he ordered to be held ran generally northwest from Longchamps toward the eastward bend of the Ourthe. Even the affected units made no precipitate exodus but instead executed the kind of gradual, grudging withdrawal that nobody did better than the Germans with their penchant for counterattack whenever and wherever a position approached the untenable.
Not until the third day of the renewed offensive, 11 January, did any firm indications of withdrawal develop. On the west wing of the VIII Corps, the 87th Division after finally having entered Tillet the night before found the Germans pulling back, abandoning St. Hubert and several smaller towns but leaving behind rear guards, roadblocks,
and deadly quilts of mines. At the same time, southeast of Bastogne, men of the III Corps saw their enemy also beginning to give ground in the face of an enveloping movement against his salient that imposed a forced rather than intentional retreat.
On 9 January a newly arrived but veteran 90th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. James A. Van Fleet) attacked to the northeast through positions of the 26th Division (Maj. Gen. Willard S. Paul) along the southeastern fringe of the German salient, while the 6th Armored Division, later reinforced by a regiment of the 35th Division, tried a converging attack from the northwest. The axis of advance for both drives was a ridge road running southeast from Bastogne that served as a watershed for the little Wiltz River along the base of the salient.
Having arrived under a heavy cloak of secrecy, the 90th Division on the first day took the enemy's 5th Parachute Division by surprise. Even though a snowstorm denied air support and turned roads into slick chutes, the attack on the 9th carried just over a mile and the next day reached high ground commanding the only road leading out of the salient. The Germans, despite a stalwart stand denying progress in the converging attack from the northwest, had no choice but to abandon the salient.
They began to retire the night of the 10th. On the 11th and again on the 12th, as infantrymen of the 90th Division shook hands with colleagues of the 35th Division on the other side of the salient, the Americans took over a thousand prisoners. Pulling back to the Wiltz River where the cuts, fills, and tunnels of a railroad aided the defense along a natural extension of the line of the Sûre River, the survivors of the salient joined a hastily committed reserve, the Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade, to hold fast.27 From the American viewpoint, this mattered little, since emphasis shifted at this point to the left wing of the III Corps where Millikin's troops were to aid the drive of the VIII Corps toward a linkup with the First Army at Houffalize.28
Despite German withdrawal on the extreme west wing of the VIII Corps, the going was slow. Disorganized in the bitter give-and-take west of Bastogne to the extent that the corps commander had asked Patton to delay renewed attack, the 17th Airborne and 87th Divisions pushed forward with little verve. Yet their snail-like pace made small difference in the end, because the veteran 101st Airborne Division could make only measured progress astride the road to Houffalize, where advance had to be swift if any Germans were to be trapped farther west. A relatively fresh 340th Volks Grenadier Division, plus counterattacking contingents of the 3d Panzer Grenadier and 12th SS Panzer Divisions, insured not only firm but often dogged resistance.
The most encouraging progress on the direct route toward Houffalize appeared about to develop on 10 January east of the main highway as General Middleton inserted a combat command of the 4th
Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Hugh J. Gaffey) along the corps boundary to seize Bourcy. Located on high ground commanding the highway to Houffalize where it passed through Noville, an enemy strongpoint, Bourcy in American hands might unhinge the defenses along the highway. Yet hardly had the armor begun to advance early on the 10th when General Patton called a halt.
Having shared in the failure to guess the enemy's intent to launch a counteroffensive in the Ardennes, intelligence staffs at SHAEF and the 12th Army Group these days were seeing burglars under every bed. They were concerned lest the Germans spoil the American offensive by counterattacking from positions near the base of the bulge southward toward Luxembourg City or at some point to the southeast where American lines had been thinned to provide forces for the Ardennes. General Bradley ordered Patton to pull out an armored division to guard against this threat. Seeing no burglars himself, General Patton filled the requirement by selecting the 4th Armored Division, which needed a rest for refitting anyway.29
General Bradley directed further that Patton halt the attack of the VIII Corps immediately and that of the III Corps when it reached a logical stopping point. Only after the German threat (based, Patton believed, more on rumor than solid intelligence) failed to materialize did Bradley on the 12th give approval for the Third Army to resume the offensive, this time with the 11th Armored Division (Brig. Gen. Charles S. Kilburn) inserted between the two airborne divisions of the VIII Corps.30
Progress of the renewed drive reflected less of American intent than of German. On the west, in the sector included in Hitler's authorization to German units to withdraw, patrols of the 87th Division reached the Ourthe River the first day, the 13th, those of the 17th Airborne Division the next. The armor, meanwhile, attacking generally astride the line Hitler had designated as stopping point for the withdrawal, had to fight hard for every objective and as late as the 15th beat off a counterattack by some twenty tanks supported by a covey of fighter aircraft. Concurrently, the 101st Airborne Division astride the road to Houffalize encountered the same determined stand as before. At Foy, south of Noville, for example, the Germans counterattacked three times, retaking the town at dawn on the 14th with a battalion of infantry supported by a company of tanks.
Yet the airborne troops, too, were destined soon to experience softening resistance. On the 14th, the Commander in Chief West, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, appealed to Hitler to authorize a further withdrawal: the line Hitler earlier had specified west of Houffalize already had been compromised in the north and was being rolled up in the south. He asked approval to pull back farther to anchor a new line on high ground just east of Houffalize, extending it northward behind the Salm River and southward through existing positions east of Bastogne.
PATROLS OF THE FIRST AND THIRD ARMIES MEET AT HOUFFALIZE
Having accepted by this time the inevitability of losing the bulge, Hitler agreed, but he refused to listen to ardent pleas by both Rundstedt and the Army Group B commander, Field Marshal Model, that they be allowed to withdraw by stages all the way to the Rhine, the only line, they believed, that the Germans in the west still might hope with any assurance to hold. They could withdraw, Hitler said, but only under pressure and only as far as the West Wall. There they were to make their stand.31
On the 15th, men of the 101st Airborne Division entered Noville, five miles south of Houffalize.32 Early the next morning, the 11th Armored Division seized high ground along the highway
immediately south of Houffalize. Southwest of the town, a patrol commanded by Maj. Joseph M. L. Greene met a patrol from the 2d Armored Division of the First Army's VII Corps.
Rent by the counteroffensive, the First and Third Armies at last had linked at the waist of the bulge. In one way, it was an empty accomplishment; so measured had been the advance, such delays had the Germans imposed, that most of the troops in what might have been a sizable pocket had escaped.
Juncture at Houffalize nevertheless marked completion of the first phase of the campaign to push in the bulge. It also meant that the break in communications between American armies, which had caused General Eisenhower to put the First Army under Montgomery's command, no longer existed. At midnight the next day, 17 January, the First Army returned to Bradley's 12th Army Group.
The Drive on St. Vith
From the viewpoint of the First Army, the juncture at Houffalize marked no interval in the offensive to erase the bulge, but it pointed up a shift in emphasis that had gradually been evolving as linkup neared. Having begun to attack early in January in support of the VII Corps, General Ridgway's XVIII Airborne Corps took over the main assignment, a drive eastward on the road center of St. Vith. Collins's VII Corps was to support this drive briefly by also turning east; but because of the northeastward orientation of Patton's Third Army, the VII Corps soon would be pinched out of the line.
A more important supporting role was to be performed by the V Corps. From the northern shoulder of the bulge close by its base, the V Corps was to seize a defile along upper reaches of the little Ambleve River, thereby springing loose an armored division for a direct thrust southward on St. Vith. The armor, once free, was to come under command of the airborne corps to constitute the northern arm of a two-pronged thrust on St. Vith.33
For the Third Army, the juncture at Houffalize did represent a distinct break in the offensive, since it gave Patton an opportunity he would embrace with relish--to return to his original concept of an attack close to the southern base of the bulge. Patton intended to launch this thrust across the Sûre River with General Eddy's XII Corps.
It was too late at this point (if it had ever been feasible) to try seriously the maneuver Patton had talked about in December, a full-blooded attack northeastward across the German frontier to Pruem to cut off and destroy the Germans in the bulge. The rationale now for an attack from the south, directed almost due northward in the direction of St. Vith, was precisely the opposite of envelopment, a hope that threat from the south would prompt the Germans to shift enough strength from the vicinity of Houffalize and Bastogne to enable Millikin's III Corps and Middleton's VIII Corps to advance with relative ease toward the northeast. Yet against the slim possibility that the XII Corps might achieve a breakthrough, despite sharply compartmented terrain and heavy snow, General Eddy held an armored division in reserve. The 12th Army Group commander, General Bradley, also proposed
that once the First Army took St. Vith, General Hodges should send a corps south to link with the Third Army's XII Corps, a shallow envelopment that might trap any German forces still remaining farther west.34
Having at last gained Hitler's permission to withdraw from the bulge, German commanders faced the problem of how to get out before converging American attacks at the base cut them off. They had to make their withdrawal either on those days when weather cloaked them from the Jabo, as German troops called Allied fighter-bombers, or by night. A shortage of gasoline, that had developed early in the counteroffensive as the logistical pipeline over snow-drenched Eifel roads broke down, was at this point acute; and the prospects of bottlenecks at the few tactical bridges in the snow-slick gorge of the Our River along the frontier filled many a commander with dread.35
German commanders now faced their number one task of holding the shoulders of their salient without the services of the two SS panzer corps headquarters and four SS panzer divisions that Hitler had directed to assemble near St. Vith under the Sixth Panzer Army. The Fuehrer was becoming increasingly piqued that field commanders had not taken these divisions immediately out of the line and were still using portions of them as fire brigades in threatened sectors. That the SS divisions soon would be totally out of reach of the western commanders became apparent on the 14th when Hitler ordered two volks artillery corps shifted hurriedly from the Ardennes to the east in response to the new Russian offensive and alerted the SS divisions for a similar move. All that would be left to hold in the Ardennes would be men who not only had seen the grandiose prospects of the counteroffensive dashed to bits but who also were embittered by Hitler's pulling out the SS divisions for what looked to the men in the foxhole like a rest.36
The new main effort by General Hodges' First Army had begun even before the linkup at Houffalize and a day before Hitler authorized withdrawal to a new line east of Houffalize. This line was already breached along its northward extension, for even while acting in a supporting role to the VII Corps General Ridgway's XVIII Airborne Corps had established a bridgehead across the Salm River and another over the Ambleve near where the two rivers come together.
Beginning on 13 January, as a first step in the drive on St. Vith, the XVIII Airborne Corps attacked to flatten the corner formed by the meeting of the Ambleve and the Salm. At General Ridgway's insistence, this drive was to be no measured blunting of the angle all along the line; emphasis instead fell to the 30th Division from positions on the northern shoulder some three miles north of the meandering Ambleve River at Malmédy to drive southward, thereby posing threat of envelopment to Germans in the Salm-Ambleve angle to the west.37 Having replaced the 82d Airborne Division along the Salm on the right flank of the corps,
the 75th Division (Maj. Gen. Fay B. Prickett) attacked in an easterly direction toward St. Vith to form the second arm of a pincers threatening the Germans in the corner. The 106th Division (Brig. Gen. Herbert T. Perrin) pressed forward in the angle itself with the separate 517th Parachute Infantry and the division's sole surviving regiment (the others had been destroyed early in the counteroffensive).
Nowhere was there a solid German line. Although defense was stubborn and included small counterattacks, it centered primarily in villages and on occasional key high ground. On the first day and again on the second, the 30th Infantry Division south of Malmédy made the most gains, advancing up to four miles to take high ground that guarded approach to the west shoulder of the defile through which armor of the V Corps later was to debouch.
Part of the 30th Infantry Division's success was attributable to hitting near a boundary between major German units--to the east the LXVII Corps (General der Infanterie Otto Hitzfeld) of Zangen's Fifteenth Army and to the west the XIII Corps (General der Infanterie Hans Felber), which was still under control of Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army. Pushing back and occasionally overrunning portions of a depleted volks grenadier division of Felber's XIII Corps, the infantrymen cut into the flank and rear of the 3d Parachute Division of Hitzfeld's LXVII Corps, prompting Hitzfeld to bring up another understrength volks grenadier division in hope of filling the breach.38
The big disappointment to the Americans was slow progress by the 75th Division, whose advance across the Salm toward St. Vith was so limited that it took much of the threat out of General Ridgway's intended envelopment of the Germans in the Ambleve-Salm angle. While trying to make allowance for the fact that the division had seen its first combat only a day before Christmas, both Ridgway and the First Army commander, General Hodges, feared all offensive punch temporarily gone. On the 19th, patrols of the 75th and 30th Divisions at last met to pinch out the 106th Division and seal off the corner, but so slow had been the 75th's advance that two divisions of Felber's XIII Corps had escaped with little difficulty. Seeing the problem as one of command, General
Hodges recommended the division commander's relief.39
The main fight centered in the meantime on the defile through which armor under the V Corps was to drive in order to come upon St. Vith from the north. Named for a town on the northern approach, this was known as the Ondenval defile.
As the V Corps began its drive early on 15 January, a new commander took over while General Gerow left to head an army headquarters newly arrived from the United States, the Fifteenth, destined to serve primarily as an occupation force as the Allies swept across Germany.40 The new corps commander was Maj. Gen. C. Ralph Huebner, who had guided the veteran 1st Infantry Division since the end of the campaign in Sicily.
General Huebner's former command, headed now by the former division artillery commander, Brig. Gen. Clift Andrus, drew the assignment of opening the Ondenval defile for the armor. While the regiments of the 1st Division took high ground east of the defile and contingents of the 30th Division wooded high ground to the west, the 2d Division's 23d Infantry, attached to the 1st Division, moved south through Ondenval directly against the defile.
A five-day fight developed, primarily against the 3d Parachute Division. Sensing the full import of the attack as a threat to St. Vith and those German units still west of the town, Field Marshal Model at Army Group B on the 17th unified command in the sector by transferring Hitzfeld's LXVII Corps to Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army. Two days later, in an effort to shore up a faltering defense all along the line, General Dietrich risked Hitler's wrath by recommitting artillery of the I SS Panzer Corps to reinforce fires at the Ondenval defile and small contingents of tanks from three of his four SS panzer divisions to reinforce local counterattacks.
Dietrich might slow the advance but neither he nor cruel winter weather with waist-high drifts of snow could stop it. Sometimes the weather was more of a problem than the enemy. On one occasion two men stopping to rest dropped unconscious from exhaustion. "We are fighting the weather," said General Hobbs, commanding the 30th Division, "and losing about one hundred a day. . . . It is a hell of a country."41
The state of the weather gave the little Ardennes towns an added dimension as prizes of war. Not only did the towns control the roads needed for tanks and trucks but they also afforded shelter, a chance for the men to thaw out and dry out, to get a night's sleep under cover. The towns, unfortunately, were almost always in a draw or on a reverse slope, making it necessary to seize the high ground beyond and hold it from foxholes blasted out of frozen earth with small explosive charges. It became a matter of constant nagging concern to forward commanders to rotate their men and allow all at least brief respite from the cold.
Partly because the German soldiers,
MEDICS USE A "LITTER JEEP" TO EVACUATE PATIENTS
too, wanted shelter, and partly because buildings made good strongpoints, the villages and small settlements at critical road junctions were hardest to get at. Although sometimes delayed by mines hidden by the deep snow, tanks and tank destroyers proved almost essential for blasting the Germans from the houses. Artillery could chase the defenders into the cellars, but it could not keep them there. As men of one battalion of the 23d Infantry entered a village close behind an artillery preparation, Germans emerged in their midst to promote a fight so intimate that at one point an American soldier reputedly engaged a German with his fists.42
The enemy, fortunately, was not so consistently persistent as was the weather. Nearly all units had the experience of advancing for an hour or sometimes even half a day without a round fired at them; then, suddenly, at a stream bank, a farmhouse, the edge of a wood or a village, a flurry of fire from automatic weapons or shelling from artillery and mortars, or both, might erupt. Sometimes this signaled start of a counterattack, usually in
no more than company strength, precipitating a sharp but usually short engagement.
The 23d Infantry finally cleared the Ondenval defile on the 17th, held it with the help of massed artillery fires against a battalion-size counterattack supported by three tanks on the 18th, then passed on in a blinding snowstorm on the 19th to seize the first tier of towns beyond. Through the defile and along another road to the west in the 30th Division's zone, tanks, tank destroyers, and half-tracks of the 7th Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Robert W. Hasbrouck) began to pass early on the 20th, headed for the rubble that St. Vith had become after this same division had fought gallantly for the town in December.
Northward Across the Sûre
Patton's Third Army resumed its role in pushing the Germans back with surprise crossings of the Sûre River before daylight on 18 January. Close by the German frontier, a regiment of the 4th Infantry Division (Brig. Gen. Harold W. Blakeley) began to cross into an angle formed by confluence of the Sûre and the Our, while two regiments of the 5th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. S. LeRoy Irwin) crossed on either side of Diekirch, less than five miles west of the frontier. While the men of the 4th Division protected the 5th Division's right flank and took out the enemy's bridges across the Our below the Luxembourg frontier town of Vianden, four miles north of the Sûre, the men of the 5th were to drive north along a highway that runs within several miles of the frontier. Because the highway follows the crest of a ridgeline through semimountainous countryside (la Petite Suisse), American soldiers long ago had christened it the "Skyline Drive."
Even more than in the vicinity of St. Vith, it was imperative for the Germans to hold firm along the Sûre River, because the heaviest concentration of German force remaining in the bulge, that which had fought around Bastogne, was peculiarly susceptible to a thrust from the south. Four divisions of General Brandenberger's Seventh Army, charged with defending the southern flank, and at least nine of General von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army in the vicinity of Bastogne had to withdraw through this southern portion of the bulge. The east-west roads they had to use were markedly inferior to the north-south routes that beckoned an attacker from the south; and the Germans had only five tactical bridges over the Our River, three of which, at and south of Vianden, were dangerously close to the existing American line along the Sûre. The bridges in any case inevitably meant congestion, slowing the withdrawal and inviting attack from the air.43
Toward the end of December, the presence in reserve south of the Sûre of the 6th U.S. Armored Division had alarmed General Brandenberger lest the Americans strike while the bulk of his strength was trying to help the Fifth Panzer Army break Bastogne; but with the shift of the armor to Bastogne and the beginning of American attacks there, Brandenberger had begun to view his vulnerable positions along the Sûre with greater equanimity. If his Seventh Army was to be hit any time soon, Brandenberger deduced, the strike would come
not along the Sûre close to the base of the bulge but farther west where his troops still held positions between Ettelbruck at the southern terminus of the Skyline Drive, and Wiltz, positions that were south and west of the Sûre in one place and between the Sûre and Wiltz Rivers in another.
Brandenberger was seeing American intentions in terms of his own dispositions. He was stronger west and northwest of Ettelbruck, where three volks grenadier divisions under the LIII Corps (General der Kavallerie Edwin Graf Rothkirch und Trach) held the line. Along the Sûre between Ettelbruck and the frontier, he had only one volks grenadier division, which with another that was holding a 30-mile stretch of the West Wall along the frontier to the southeast, made up the LXXX Corps (General der Infanterie Franz Beyer).
Although the little Sûre River is fordable at many points, the weather was too cold for wading. Nor was American artillery to forewarn the enemy with a preparatory barrage. The night was black, cold, and silent as men of the 4th and 5th Divisions moved assault boats and three-man canvas rafts to the ice-crusted edge of the stream.44
The troops gained the surprise they sought. Hardly a shot sounded along the Sûre that night before the first waves of infantrymen touched down on the north bank. Only at a place just west of Diekirch, where a machine gun opened up on an assault company of the 5th Division's 2d Infantry, was there troublesome German fire; and there the infantrymen were able to pull back and cross in an adjacent sector.
Just east of Diekirch, a battalion of the same division's 10th Infantry turned the icy, snow-covered river bank to advantage by loading men into the assault boats at the top of the slope and shoving the boats downhill like toboggans. At another point engineers tied 150-foot ropes to either end of the boats so that, once the first wave had passed, they could pull the boats back and forth across the little river. In two places infantrymen crossed on footbridges that engineers had quietly shoved into place just before H-hour.
The night was so dark and the early morning made so obscure by a combination of mist in the river bottom and American smoke pots that the Germans were hard put at first to determine the extent of the threat posed against them. In many cases U.S. troops passed unseen by German machine gun and mortar crews. Already seriously weakened by loss of field pieces earlier in the Ardennes fighting and by ammunition shortages, German artillery was "as good as blinded."45 Some three hours passed before the first artillery shells struck along the river.
By the end of the first day a vehicular ford and several treadway bridges were operating to enable supporting tanks and tank destroyers to cross the Sûre. A bridgehead up to two miles deep was solidly established, in enough depth to bring the two German bridges over the Our downstream from Vianden under punishing artillery fire. German troubles
had been further compounded when in midmorning the 80th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Horace L. McBride) had begun to attack to the northeast to drive General Rothkirch's LIII Corps behind the Wiltz and another stretch of the Sûre between Ettelbruck and the Wiltz River and to facilitate the 5th Division's advance up the Skyline Drive.46
As surprised by the American thrust as were the volks grenadiers on the ground, the Seventh Army commander, General Brandenberger, ordered most of the supporting army artillery and engineer units that had been grouped behind the LIII Corps to shift to the more seriously menaced LXXX Corps. He also directed a volks grenadier division to fall back from the western tip of the LIII Corps to establish a blocking position astride the Skyline Drive along a cross-ridge northwest of Vianden, there to form a mask for the two tactical bridges upstream from Vianden.
Field Marshal Model at Army Group B provided help by ordering first a Kampfgruppe, then all that was left of the Panzer Lehr Division, transferred from the Fifth Panzer Army. He followed this with an order for a severely depleted 2d Panzer Division also to turn south, then headquarters of the XLVII Panzer Corps to command the two panzer divisions. Behind the Fifth Panzer Army, engineers began building another bridge over the Our.
It would have required long hours under ideal conditions for any of these expedients to have effect. In view of crippling gasoline shortages and the heavy snowstorm of 19 January, it would take not hours but days.
The 5th Division in the meantime fought steadily up the Skyline Drive to reach a point almost due west of Vianden on the 21st; there the division paused amid rumors of impending armored counterattack. Several observers having reported heavy German troop movements around Vianden, the division commander, General Irwin, was disturbed that the 4th Division had been unable to keep pace on his division's right. There the original defenders, their positions compressed and their backs to the Our, kept the 4th Division's 12th Infantry at a respectable distance from Vianden and its vital bridge.
The situation was less disturbing on the 5th Division's other flank. There the advance up the Skyline Drive had posed such a threat of entrapment to the Germans of Rothkirch's LIII Corps that on 21 January they began to pull out, leaving only strong rear guards to oppose the 80th Division's attack to the northeast. So precipitate was the exodus that much of it took place in full view of men of the 5th Division on the high ground. The infantrymen cheered to see the Germans run. They cheered, too, at the rich gunnery targets presented by long columns of trucks, tanks, and horse-drawn artillery. "Let her go, boys" one artillery observer radioed to his gunners; "you
can't miss a Jerry wherever you land them."47
Other observers demanded to know, "Where is the air?"48 Yet as on so many days of the foggy, snowbound January, there was no air. During the morning, ice and snow on runways prevented most squadrons of the XIX Tactical Air Command from taking off, and during the afternoon pilots of the few planes that got up found ground haze too thick for them to spot the targets.
That changed dramatically the next day, the 22d. A brilliant sun came up, its rays glistening on the new snow cover.
Four groups of fighter-bombers assigned to support the XII Corps began early to attack, then quickly called for help until eventually the entire XIX Tactical Air Command joined the hunt. The snow-drenched roads were thick with German traffic--much of Rothkirch's LIII Corps pulling back to the northeast, rear elements of the Fifth Panzer Army seeking the east bank of the Our, and the XLVII Panzer Corps with the 2d Panzer and Panzer Lehr Divisions cutting across the grain of the withdrawal to go to the Seventh Army's aid. Snarled by the snow and the deep canyon of the Our, vehicles at the Our bridges were stalled bumper-to-bumper.
American pilots were jubilant, reminded of the days in August when so many of the Germans fleeing France had been squashed along the roads like insects. "For the first time [in the Ardennes]," noted General Brandenberger, "the situation in the air was similar to that which had prevailed in Normandy."49 When the day came to an end, 25 squadrons had flown 627 sorties. Although the pilots as usual made unrealistically high estimates of their accomplishments, the day's strikes caused considerable damage and compounded the delays that terrain, weather, and gasoline shortages already had imposed on the German withdrawal.50
The day of 22 January was notable for another development as well. On that day Hitler ordered the Sixth Panzer Army to quit the Ardennes entirely and to transfer with all speed to the east to oppose a broadening Russian offensive, an unqualified admission not only that the counteroffensive had failed but also that the Eastern Front again had priority on resources. In addition to headquarters of the two SS panzer corps and the four SS panzer divisions, the shift included the Fuehrer Begleit and Fuehrer Grenadier Brigades and assorted supporting units. General von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army assumed control of the two corps in the north that General Dietrich had been directing in opposing the American drive on St. Vith.
The next day, 23 January, was notable, too, not in the air, since the weather closed in again, but in three places on the ground. In the north, General Hasbrouck's 7th Armored Division came back to St. Vith, signaling the approximate end of the First Army's role in flattening the bulge. Along the Skyline Drive, General Brandenberger on the same day turned over defense of the
blocking position, northwest of Vianden to the XLVII Panzer Corps with assistance on the west from Rothkirch's LIII Corps. There would be no armored counterattack, if indeed the depleted, gasoline-short panzer corps had ever seriously considered one, only a continuing passive defense to keep the Americans away from the Our bridges until the last of the Fifth Panzer Army could pull out. Also on the 23d, General Middleton's VIII Corps and General Millikin's III Corps got back into the fight even as the 12th Army Group commander, General Bradley, came up with the genesis of a new plan destined to affect employment of these corps.
As early as 19 January, General Patton had detected enough indications that the northward drive by Eddy's XII Corps would prompt German withdrawal from the eastward-facing line of the bulge to justify ordering Middleton and Millikin to resume their advance. Although Patton specified 21 January for the push to begin, patrols all along the front made so little enemy contact during the afternoon of the 19th that both corps commanders feared delaying another day lest they collapse a bag filled only with air. They ordered their divisions to put out strong patrols and follow them up in strength if resistance failed to develop.
It failed to develop for three days. A tank-supported ambush in a village mangled a company of the 90th Division in the center of the III Corps, but other than that, few units encountered any of the enemy except stragglers. Although some of these fired before surrendering, none represented a true rear guard. So heterogeneous was the mixture that the 6th Armored Division alone took prisoners from ten different divisions. The 11th Armored Division on the north wing of the VIII Corps was pinched out of the line before ever catching up with the enemy.
Yet for all the lack of resistance, the pursuit was slow. The deep snow and slick roads saw to that. Protecting the right flank of the III Corps, the 6th Cavalry Group most of the time had to advance dismounted. To find suitable roads, the 6th Armored Division often had to impinge on the zone of the neighboring 90th Division.
When coupled with staunch defense against the attack of Eddy's XII Corps from the south, the German withdrawal meant an end to any hopes General Patton still might have entertained for trapping his enemy with a drive close along the base of the bulge. Nor was there any point in implementing General Bradley's earlier suggestion that the First Army send a corps southward from St. Vith.
On the 23d Bradley called Patton to his headquarters, there to propose a plan that he had been contemplating for more than a fortnight, a plan designed to parlay the attack to flatten the bulge into a major drive through the Eifel to gain the Rhine.51 Since Bradley's plan involved use of a strong corps of the Third Army close along the flank of the First Army around St. Vith, Patton decided to employ Middleton's VIII Corps. Like the First Army's VII Corps, which was pinched out of the fight after only one day of the renewed attack (22 January), the VIII Corps had been scheduled to be pinched out by the northeastward orientation of the III Corps; but because Middleton and his staff knew the terrain
around St. Vith from earlier fighting, Patton altered boundaries to change this.52 Turning the III Corps eastward to pass directly across the front of Eddy's XII Corps, he made room for Middleton's command.
While the VIII Corps with only one division still forward adjusted to the boundary change, the divisions of the III Corps ran into a shooting war again. After having fallen back approximately nine miles, the Germans paused to attempt a new stand behind the little Clerf River, just over two miles west of the Skyline Drive. Yet the resistance, though strong in places, was spotty and depended largely on infantry weapons. Both the 6th Armored and 90th Divisions crossed the Clerf on the 23d, while the 26th Division jumped the stream the next day. By the 25th the hasty German line had ceased to exist, and the defense reverted to delaying action by isolated groups chiefly in a row of villages along the Skyline Drive.
Although some fighting to clear the west bank of the Our continued through 28 January, it was a mop-up operation occupying only a fraction of the Third Army's troops. The focus shifted to shuffling units and boundaries in preparation for the new offensive General Bradley had outlined on the 23d. With the Germans at last driven back into the West Wall, the bulge created by the futile counteroffensive that had cost Germans and Americans alike so heavily was erased.
The drive from 3 through 28 January to flatten the bulge in the Ardennes added 39,672 battle casualties to an American total of 41,315 incurred during that phase of the fighting when the Germans were on the offensive. Of the additional losses, 6,138 were killed or died of wounds and 6,272 were missing or known captured.53 Just how many more losses the combat in January produced on the German side is difficult to say. Estimates of enemy losses for all the fighting in the Ardennes have ranged from 81,834 (lowest German estimate) to 103,900 (highest Allied estimate).54 Possibly as many as 30 to 40 percent of these occurred during the January campaign.
That the Germans were forced to retire to the positions whence they had emerged from the mists of the Eifel on 16 December was testament enough to a victory for American arms. Yet a combination of an American drive to push in rather than cut off the bulge and an adroit German withdrawal had enabled the Germans to escape with losses no greater than might be considered normal in any deliberate delaying action under harsh conditions of weather and terrain. The Germans did it under the handicaps of an acute shortage of gasoline and a vastly superior, almost predominant, Allied air force. In the process, they saved most of their arms and equipment too, although large numbers of tanks and artillery pieces had to be destroyed near the end for lack of spare parts and gasoline.
To the Germans, American tactics appeared to consist of a series of quickly shifting attacks that probed for weak spots to take individual divisions in flanks or rear. Noting that their adversary eschewed night attacks, stopping
with almost clocklike regularity as darkness fell, the Germans deemed him slow in following up retrograde movements but doggedly determined. A constant nibbling away at German positions forced German commanders to weaken one spot to shore up another, only to see a new penetration develop elsewhere. What saved them in numbers of instances, the Germans believed, was an American tendency to stop at a given objective rather than to exploit an advantage fully and quickly. American fighter-bombers, the Germans also noted, failed to hit traffic bottlenecks such as road intersections and bridges as hard as the Germans thought they might.55
Against these observations would have to be weighed American difficulties. The same cruel weather, the same slick roads affected American operations, probably more than the Germans', since the offensive force is normally the more exposed. Like the Germans, too, American units had problems with replacements. Even the manpower well in the United States was showing signs of going dry, and at the height of the Ardennes fighting General Eisenhower directed both a combout of rear echelon units and a program whereby Negro service troops might volunteer for the infantry. The Third Army was particularly short of infantry replacements until well along in the January campaign, and in all cases replacements in terms of experience hardly could equal the fallen.
The question of whether the counteroffensive in the Ardennes had any chance, however slim, of succeeding and thus of whether Hitler was justified in gambling major resources on the Western Front would forever remain unanswered, one of those imponderables that each student of warfare is apt to decide only for himself.56 As for the effect of the counteroffensive and the heavy losses it entailed on subsequent operations and the final quest for victory in Europe, that remained to be demonstrated as a last offensive born in the cold and snow of the Ardennes gradually expanded, eventually to encompass Allied armies all along the line.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (1) * Next Chapter (3)
1. For details on the military history and terrain of the Ardennes, see Charles B. MacDonald, "The Neglected Ardennes," Military Review, Vol. 43, No. 4 (April 1963), pp. 74-89.
2. For an account of early decisions, see Cole, The Ardennes, pp. 487-88, 509-10.
3. Cole, The Ardennes, pp. 610-13, provides a detailed discussion of the deliberations. See also Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 383, 393.
4. A detailed account of the first four days of the Third Army's offensive is provided in Cole, The Ardennes, ch. XXIV.
5. Situation Map, OKW/WFSt Op (H) West (3), 4 Jan 45.
6. FUSA Ltr of Instrs, 1 Jan 45, FUSA Ltrs of Instrs file, Jan 45; First Army Rpt of Opns, 1 Aug 44-22 Feb 45, pp. 126-27.
7. VII Corps FO 14, 2 Jan 45, VII Corps FO file, Jan 45.
8. VII Corps Annex 2 to FO 14 and Incl 1, VII Corps FO file, Jan 45; MS # A-924, Operation of Sixth Panzer Army, 1944-45 (Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Fritz Kraemer, CofS, Sixth Panzer Army).
9. German material is from Cole, The Ardennes, pp. 647-48, See also MS # A-858, The Course of Events of the German Offensive in the Ardennes, 16 Dec 1944-14 Jan 1945 (Maj. Percy E. Schramm, keeper of the OKW/WFSt War Diary).
10. VII Corps AAR, Jan 45; Ltr, Bradley to Hodges, 26 Dec 44, 12th AGp 371.3, Military Objectives, vol. IV; Diary of Maj. William C. Sylvan, aide-de-camp to Gen Hodges (hereafter cited as Sylvan Diary), entry of 2 Jan 45, copy in OCMH.
11. Unless otherwise noted, the tactical story is based on the field orders, after action reports, and journals of the VII Corps and subordinate units.
12. Magna E. Bauer, The German Withdrawal From the Ardennes, prepared to complement this volume, annotated copy in OCMH.
13. The tactical story is from official records of the XVIII Airborne Corps and subordinate units.
14. See Cole, The Ardennes, ch. XXIV and Map X.
15. MS # A-858 (Schramm).
17. MS # B-779, The I SS Panzer Corps During the Ardennes Offensive, 15 December 1944-25 January 1945 (Col. Rudolf Lehmann, CofS); MS # A939, The Assignment of the XLVII Panzer Corps in the Ardennes, 1944-45 (General der Panzertruppen Heinrich von Luettwitz).
18. MSS # B-779 (Lehmann); # B-151a, Fifth Panzer Army, Ardennes Offensive (General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel); # A-940, XLVII Panzer Corps in the Ardennes Offensive (General der Panzertruppen Heinrich von Luettwitz), See also Charles von Luttichau, Key Dates During the Ardennes Offensive 1944, Part II, MS prepared to complement this volume, copy in OCMH.
19. On this point, see Cole, The Ardennes, pp. 612-13.
20. Army Commander's Notes on the Bastogne Operation, TUSA AAR, 1 Aug 44-8 May 45.
21. The depleted 28th Division and a combat command of the 9th Armored Division were awaiting transfer from the Third Army.
22. This account is from official unit records. German material is from manuscripts previously cited.
23. Third Army Diary kept by Gen. Gay, entry of 5 Jan 45, quoting Col. James R. Pierce, 194th Glider Infantry. As two German tanks counterattacked a company of the 513th Parachute Infantry on 4 January, Staff Sgt. Isadore S. Jachman seized a bazooka from a fallen comrade, ran to a position close to the tanks, and opened fire. He damaged one and prompted both to retire but himself died of wounds incurred in the fight. A German-born U.S. citizen, Sergeant Jachman was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
24. George S. Patton, Jr., War As I Knew It (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1947), p. 213.
25. Ibid.; Army Commander's Notes on the Bastogne Operation.
26. Near Tillet, Staff Sgt. Curtis F. Shoup of the 87th Division's 346th Infantry charged head on against a German machine gun, firing his automatic rifle as he went. Although German fire cut him down, he mustered strength as he died to hurl a hand grenade that knocked out the enemy gun. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
27. MS # A-876, Ardennes Offensive of Seventh Army, 16 December 1944-25 January 1945 (General der Panzertruppen Erich Brandenberger).
28. In an attack in this sector on 11 January, a squad leader in the 6th Armored Division's 9th Armored Infantry Battalion, Staff Sgt. Archer T. Gammon, charged ahead of his platoon to knock out two German machine guns and to close in with such daring on a German tank that the tank began to withdraw. Firing its 88-mm. gun as it retired, the tank killed the intrepid soldier with a direct hit. Sergeant Gammon was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
29. Patton, War As I Knew It, p 217; Gay Diary, entry of 10 Jan 45; Leonard Rapport and Arthur Northwood, Jr., Rendezvous With Destiny--A History of the 101st Airborne Division (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1948), p. 643. The last is one of the better unofficial unit histories.
30. Gay Diary, entries of 10, 11, 12 Jan 45.
31. Bauer, The German Withdrawal From the Ardennes; MS # A-858 (Schramm).
32. In a complementary attack by the 6th Armored Division on this same day, a gunner in the attached 603d Tank Destroyer Battalion, Cpl. Arthur O. Beyer, dismounted from his vehicle to capture two Germans. When a German machine gun opened fire on him, he rushed forward to knock it out with a grenade, then worked his way along a German defense line, wiping out the occupants of one foxhole after another. In his one-man assault, he destroyed 2 machine guns, killed 8 Germans, and captured 18. For this feat, Corporal Beyer received the Medal of Honor.
33. FUSA Report of Operations, 1 Aug 44-22 Feb 45.
34. Gay Diary, entry of 15 Jan 45; TUSA AAR, Jan 45.
35. MS # B-151a (Manteuffel); MS # A-876 (Brandenberger); Bauer, The German Withdrawal From the Ardennes.
36. MS # A-858 (Schramm); Bauer, The German Withdrawal From the Ardennes.
37. Sylvan Diary, entries of 4, 9 Jan 45.
38. German material is from Bauer, The German Withdrawal From the Ardennes.
39. Sylvan Diary, entries of 16, 17, 20 Jan 45.
40. History of the Fifteenth United States Army (no publisher, no date), an unofficial unit history. See also below, ch. XV.
41. 30th Div G-3 Jnl, 22 Jan 45, This division's journal contains valuable verbatim records of telephone conversations. See also Robert P. Hewitt, Workhorse of the Western Front (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1946), an excellent unit history.
42. 1st Div G-3 Jnl, 19 Jan 45.
43. German material is from Bauer, The German Withdrawal From the Ardennes.
44. For an annotated account of this attack at a small-unit level, see Maj. Dello G. Dayton, The Attack by XII Corps 18-29 January 1945, unpublished MS in OCMH, prepared in the European Theater of Operations Historical Section soon after the war. See also combat interviews with men of the 5th Division.
45. MS # A-876 (Brandenberger).
46. Ten days before, on 8 January, in the village of Dahl, near Wiltz, a 9-man squad of the 80th Division's 319th Infantry commanded by Sgt. Day G. Turner fought savagely for four hours to hold a house on the fringe of the village against a local German attack. Turner himself bayoneted two Germans, threw a can of flaming oil at others, and, when his ammunition was exhausted, used enemy weapons to continue the fight. Only three of his men still were alive and unhurt when the Germans broke, leaving behind 11 dead and 25 captured. Sergeant Turner received the Medal of Honor.
47. 5th Div G-3 Jnl, 21 Jan 45.
49. MS # A-876 (Brandenberger).
50. For various reasons, claims of enemy losses from air action almost always were high, One study conducted by the British proved by ground check that air force claims of German tanks destroyed in the Ardennes were at least ten times too high. See Directorate of Tactical Investigation, War Office, The German Counter-Offensive in the Ardennes, MS in OCMH.
51. Gay Diary, entry of 23 Jan 45; ch. III, below.
52. Patton, War As I Knew It, pp. 224-25.
53. 12th AGp, G-1 Daily Summary, master file, 1 Jan-28 Feb 45. Figures for the earlier period are from Cole, The Ardennes, p. 674.
54. Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 396.
55. See Bauer, The German Withdrawal From the Ardennes.
56. For a discussion of this point, see Cole, The Ardennes, pp. 673-76.