The 526th Armored Infantry Battalion was a special unit and the only Armored Infantry Battalion (Separate) to get overseas during World War Two. The creation and activation being outside of the regular system used during World War Two because of the proposed purpose of this unit, I will have to dig a little in the big American Military History Book to find out about this Armored Combat Battalion. Born, in fact, inside Gen George S. Patton’s Desert Training Center, the 526-AIB (S) was one of these units mounted at Camp Bouse, Phoenix, Arizona for the Candlelight Caper Program.
Not only was the 526-AIB (S) a strange unit but Camp Bouse itself was the mystery post of the California – Arizona Maneuver Area. This large tent city complex located in remote Butler Valley in western Arizona was the ideal location for the Ninth Tank Group (Medium) (Special) to train in absolute secrecy for American participation in the British developed Canal Defense Light (CDL) project in 1943-1944.
In mid-1943, the US Army ordered the formation of a special tank group to be entirely manned by carefully screened, highly qualified volunteers. The order further stated that once selected to become a member of this elite unit, future transfers were prohibited and that they would train with a weapon system that would change the course of the war.
The 9-TG would subsequently consist of six tank battalions and one armored infantry battalion with the unit isolated in a remote part of Fort Knox, Kentucky, known was Area X, once the selection process was completed. Officers and men were assembled in the post theater for a security briefing where they learned that mail would be censored and the enlisted men would only be permitted to leave their compound in groups of five with a sergeant in charge. The rigid security precautions taken care of, the 9-TG was introduced to their T-10 Shop Tractor or Gizmo as the troops affectionately called it.
Security and secrecy became a way of life with some families firmly convinced their son were under military arrest when they were accompanied home on leave with their group and sergeant. Even today, there are former members of this special unit who firmly insist their project has never been declassified and will not discuss their participation with the CDL project or their training at Camp Bouse.
While the troops trained in the technical side of the CDL project, a team of officers was sent to the Camp to select a training area. Operating with blanket orders from Hqs Desert Training Center, the team determined that Butler Valley would be a suitable area for the practical training required for the 9-TG to become combat-ready. Butler Valley, approximately 34 Km (20 miles) east of the small village of Bouse, Arizona, is an isolated area 50 Km (30 miles) long and 17 Km (10 miles) wide, surrounded by high mountains that enhanced security.
Work began in late August to ready the camp for operations by mid September. Baker Co 369th Special Engineer Battalion, put in 73 Km (45 miles) of highway, laid out the camp and manufactured the frames for supply, kitchen and company headquarters tents. One large wooden building, 150 feet by 120 feet (45×35 M) with a reinforced concrete floor was constructed for tank maintenance. A secure schooling area and the digging of a well was commenced. Because of the high degree of security required for the CDL project, a hospital with four buildings, a surgical clinic, surgical and medical wards and a mess building were constructed in order to provide proper medical care within the Bouse complex rather than sending anyone to an outside medical facility. Hot and cold water was provided by boilers shipped in and a high-pressure steam sterilization plant was also constructed.
In early September, 1943, the 150th Station Hospital with 8 officers, 12 nurses and 45 enlisted men arrived in the desert from Mississippi. Originally scheduled for England, the group was sworn to secrecy and immediately confined to camp, much to the dismay of the nurses who felt that ‘Lady Luck’ had been unkind, indeed. By September 10, the camp was ready for occupancy except for well construction, which was incomplete. Mother Nature entered the picture at this time with one of her infamous high winds and thunderstorms which practically slushed the camp down Cunningham Wash. The hospital bore the brunt of damage and was relocated near the command circle. The storm damage took one week to repair and subsequently delayed troop arrivals until mid-October. The first train from Fort Knox arrived at the Bouse, Arizona rail water station at 2400 October 14 and the second movement came in the following day. Trucks hauled the men to their new home. For many this was a first introduction to the Great West. The 37 Km (23 mile) trip to Camp Bouse was made on newly built rough, rocky and dusty roads and to make matters worse, the troops passed the remains of an ammo truck that had blown up scattering duds two hundred yards in all directions.
The Ninth Tank Group (9-TG), commanded by Col Joseph Gilbreth, was composed of the following units during their stay at Camp Bouse : the 701-TB (Medium) (Special), the 736-TB (Medium) (Special), the 738-TB (Medium) (Special), the 739-TB (Medium) (Special), the 740-TB (Medium) (Special) and the 748-TB (Medium) (Special); the 526th (Medium) (Special) Armored Infantry Battalion, the 150th Station Hospital (150 bed), the 554th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company (Tank), the 166th Quartermaster Battalion (Mobile), Hqs and Hqs Detachment, the 629th Quartermaster Laundry (2 sections). The 629th Quartermaster Laundry Company was not actually within the Bouse Restricted Area, but was stationed at the Bouse rail-head.
When offered the opportunity of joining the 9-TG, the Negro soldiers declined asserting that anyone who goes in there never comes out. The men quickly discovered that everything in the desert had either a sting or a thorn as scorpions, rattlesnakes, cactus, gila monsters and tarantulas contested the intrusion of the 9-TG into their homeland. Also contesting the intrusions were local homesteaders who refused to leave Butler Valley when the 9-TG arrived. This problem was quickly resolved with the artillery firing in close proximity. Where words failed, artillery muzzle blasts convinced. Butler Valley now belonged to the 9-TG who shared it with jackrabbits and other desert creatures.
Most of the old soldiers remember the meals being the finest of modified ‘B’ rations which looked and tasted the same as dog food served with a coating of fine golden dust that seemed to hang in the air. Motivation suffered when the men were told they had one week to ready their camp, prepare training, schedules and to submit to proficiency tests on their previous training.
Police details of 400 men worked placing large rocks, almost a foot in diameter, in neat rows about the headquarters, chapel, post exchange, troop areas, and so on creating streets and sidewalks. A concrete sidewalk was constructed in the hospital area near the nurses’ quarters. The backside of the Harcuvar Mountains became a massive firing range and a regulation machine gun range was built on the Buckskin Mountain immediately adjacent to the camp. To add insult to injury, the DTC edict that only limited ice was permitted did little to improve tempers when beer, chilled to 100 degrees, was sold at the PX. But the lack of a cold beer did not slow consumption if the beer bottle cap residue in the PX area today are any indication.
Others came to Camp Bouse at various times, arriving, for example, by milk trucks from the rail depot at Wickenburg, Arizona. Orders, identification, security clearances were checked repeatedly at many checkpoints en route to Camp Bouse. Replacements were required to submit to search and when they finally arrived in the main camp, no one would discuss the CDL program. Instead, these few replacements were told to report to the school area for an ‘electronics briefing’ the following day.
Finally, the secret ‘Gizmos’ began arriving in small quantities and a decision was made to train the first arrivals while the others continually policed the area. At last, the police details were reduced to 100 men per day and eventually everyone was involved in becoming combat ready in the T-10.
At Camp Bouse, most training began at 1500 hours and would take most of the night as the 9-TG exercised and perfected small unit operations with heavy emphasis on night platoon operations. Supporting fire, time-on-target and split second maneuvering became second nature. Weapons cross-training was begun and soon tank repairmen were handling mortars like professionals.
More importantly, tactics and communications for moving and employing tanks were standardized between the British and the US CDL units. To further this standardization and to help in realistic combat training, a small cadre of British officers was assigned to Camp Bouse shortly before its closure.
Other combat techniques honed to a high degree included night artillery fired directly over the camp with minimum clearance. This was done almost on a nightly basis so those who were having a rare evening for relaxation would not forget what they were training for. Sleep was hard to come by, but the troops adjusted.
Thanksgiving and Christmas Days 1943 brought some relief to the dull rations and intensive training when the traditional turkey, dressing and the trimmings were served to the troops, complete with dust.
A Christmas present of a four day pass gave the men an opportunity of seeing green grass, having some cold beer and sleeping in a real bed for a change. All this in groups of five and their sergeant.
Then back to ‘Happy Valley’ for more day-and-night firing, combat infiltration courses, fire and movement against surprise targets of varying types at varying ranges. When orders were received to close the DTC, it was directed that the 739-TB and the 740-TB, the last units into Camp Bouse, would remain to police the area and salvage as much government property as possible in preparation for closing the camp. Anyone who has seen army service will appreciate the following sentiment :
We not only policed the camp and the desert valley surrounding it, but what seemed the entire southwest as well before we were finished. We took down all the tents, packed and shipped them. We delivered several hundred tanks and miscellaneous vehicles to the Bouse rail-head. You will remember we talked of hauling and stacking rocks along neat, nice rows, well, we hauled them back into the mountains and on April 24 1944, we departed ‘Happy Valley’ and boarded the train for Fort Knox, Kentucky.
On October 26, the 526th Armored Infantry Battalion, assigned to the 10th Armored Group and located in the vicinity of Granville in Normandy received orders to move to Verdun and become a part of Special Troops of Gen Bradley’s 12-AG. From Verdun the battalion departed for destination in Belgium and Luxembourg.
From December 1 1944 to December 16 1944, the 526th Armored Infantry Battalion (Separate) (10th Armored Group) less Charlie Co, was assigned to the T Force Unit (Intelligence), 12-AG (Bradley), and was engaged in training for its assigned mission. During this period, Charlie Co was the Guard Company for Eagle TAC Headquarters in the city of Luxembourg.
At 1100, December 17, the Commanding Officer of the T Force, 12-AG Headquarters located in Spa, alerted the battalion and stated that a large number of German paratroopers had landed in the vicinity.
At that time, the battalion had plans for defense of the area and local installations, so this plan was put into effect immediately, and the battalion warned that it may be ordered to move out at any moment.
At 1600, orders were received from the Hodges’ 1-A trough T Force Headquarters, for the battalion to move at once to Malmedy, Belgium. Company commanders and the Staff being already assembled, orders for movements were issued at 1605. The company commanders then returned to their companies and prepared for the movement. At 1630, orders were received from 1-A, for the 526-AIB (S) to join the Norwegian-American 99th Infantry Battalion (S) at Remouchamps and then, proceed to Malmédy by way of Spa. The orders issued at 1605 were rescinded and new orders issued. The battalion S-3 went to Remouchamps to meat a representative of the 99-ID (S) for orders for the movement. The battalion, at this time, was between Aywaille and Remouchamps and ready to tie in the tail of the 99-IB (S).
While waiting, there was an Air Alert. An enemy plane came over and bombed in the vicinity of Remouchamps. At 2100, no representative of the 99-IB (S) arrived, so the Commanding Officer of the Task Force issued verbal orders to the S-3 for the battalion to move at once, without the 99-IB (S), to Malmedy, Able Co 825-TDB to join the battalion at La Reid and be assigned to the 526-AIB (S) for operations. The 526-AIB (S) reinforced with Able Co 825-TDB was to come under the command of the CO of the 99-IB (S), Col Harold D. Hansen. The battalion, now in tactical formation, proceeded to Malmedy picking up Able 825 on their way in La Reid.
The night was cold and very dark which made driving in blackout very difficult. En route, one half-track (Able 526) and another one with a towed 57-MM AT Gun (Baker 526) were detached from the column and temporary lost.
The rifle squad and the half-track from Able 526 rejoined their Company in Malmedy on December 18, the 57-MM AT gun squad rejoined Baker 526 a few days later. An account of the action of this AT Squad, is given in the following resume of a letter from Capt Robert N. Jewett, S-4, 1111-ECB : On December 18, this squad did establish a road block consisting of a string of mine (Daisy Chain) and one 57-MM AT Gun on the Highway N-68, the eastern entrance into the city of Trois-Ponts. An enemy armored column, the Panzer-Aufklärung-Abteilung from the Kampfgruppe Peiper (1.SS-Panzer-Division), was reported approaching from Stavelot. At approximately 1230, the first tanks approached and were stopped by two men pulling a daisy chain in the front of the leading tank. Although there were 8 tanks visible, the men showed no panic and manned the 57-MM AT Gun with the result that the lead tank was disabled and possibly the second one. A direct hit on the gun resulted in the 57-MM Gun being destroyed and the crew killed. The remainder of the men escaped and rejoined the other Charlie 526 elements assisting in operations against the enemy in Trois-Ponts for the next few days.
At approximately 0025, December 18, while the battalion was on Highway N-62 between Spa and Francorchamps, the following order was received from 1st Army Provost Marshal : Enemy tanks reported southeast of Stavelot. Send one company Infantry and one platoon Tank Destroyers to block the roads into Stavelot from south and east. Acknowledge receipt and report progress.
The column was halted and orders issued to the Battalion Executive Officer to take Able 526 and one platoon TDs from Able 825 to Stavelot. The remainder of the battalion consisting of the 526-AIB less two rifle companies and the 825-TDB less one platoon then proceeded to Malmedy. At a four roads crossroads in Meiz (eastward : Bernister, Malmedy; westward : Rivage, Cheneux, Stavelot; north-south being the main road Spa – Malmedy – Stavelot), the column was met by guides from the 291-ECB who led the the column into town.
Maj Paul Solis, CO 526-AIB, the Battalion Staff and Company Commanders met Col David E. Pergrin (CO 291-ECB) and Col Harold D. Hansen (CO 99-IBS) and received orders for the defense. Baker 526 and Able 825 (less one Plat) were immediately sent out to block all roads leading into Malmedy. The remainder of the battalion (Hqs 526) was kept in reserve in Malmedy. A little later, in the early hours of the day, the CO of the Task Force at Stavelot reported that it had met a strong enemy force and was in desperate need of physical aid. The mortar and assault gun Platoons were ordered to Stavelot. During the night of December 18-19, two rifle platoon of Able 526 reported in to Battalion HQs. These two platoons were placed in reserve in Malmedy and hold in readiness to send to Stavelot or employed in the defense of Malmedy as the situation warranted.
On December 19, 120-IR (30-ID) arrived in Malmedy and deployed for the defense of the town. The 526-AIB was then attached to the 120-IR. The two platoons from Able 526 with a combined strength of two officers and 75 men were employed by the 3/120-IR as guard for the local installations and as mobile reserve. That night, the 120-IR warned the men of the 526-AIB that Germans dressed with American uniforms, speaking English and having Dog Tags and other identification were in American vehicles behind our lines. All the units of the 526 received this information and warned to be on alert for such.
On December 20, that men of Able 526 in Malmedy were relieved from the 120-IR and reverted back in control of the 526-AIB. During the day, Baker 526 reported receiving artillery fire which lasted a few minutes but not resulted in any casualties. Later, the battalion was warned that there was a strong possibility that the enemy would attack any time after 2400 and all units would be alerted from 0300 to daylight. This order was given to the battalion but during the remainder of the night 20-21 December, no enemy activity was noted.
At 0700, December 21, Able 825 reported that a road block was attacked but the enemy force was repulsed with the following losses : one captured US Jeep; one captured US M-8 armored car; one captured US half-track, one German Mark VI Tiger Tank, and one captured US Dodge. Heavy personnel casualties were suffered by the enemy but the exact number is unknown. The 825-TD’s had 4 men wounded and one 3 inch gun overran.
At 0815, the Krauts attacked again, 300 yards northeast of the 2nd Platoon of Baker 526. The attack was again repulsed. At 0925, the 526’s CP was moved to the Paper mill in Malmedy. At 2035, a German soldier approached Baker 526’s position and was taken prisoner. He spoke good English and was a member of the 150.Panzer-Brigade whose mission was to infiltrate behind Allied lines. During the early morning hours, December 22, enemy vehicles were moving about in front of Baker 526’s position at about 3500 M. They were driven off by artillery fire. At 1010, one 10 men enemy patrol was observed in front of our positions. Baker 526 was ordered to intercept this patrol and capture as many as possible. One German was taken prisoner but was latter killed while trying to escape. Again at 1305, another enemy patrol approached Baker 526 but was repulsed by mortar fire. At 2025, the 120-IR notified the 526-AIB that 20 Ju52 two-motors enemy transport plane were observed approaching Malmedy and that they would probably drop paratroopers. The next morning, the 120-IR reported that 7 Krauts in US uniforms had been captured and that there were similar groups in the vicinity.
As part of the German Ardennes offensive, Skorzeny’s English-speaking troops were charged with infiltrating American lines disguised in American uniforms in order to produce confusion to support the German attack. For the campaign, Skorzeny was the commander of a composite unit, the 150.SS-Panzer-Brigade. As planned by Skorzeny’s Operation Greif involved German soldiers, most of them in captured American Jeeps and disguised in American uniforms, who would penetrate American lines in the early hours of the Battle of the Bulge to cause disorder and confusion. Skorzeny was well aware that under the Hague Convention of 1907, any of his men captured while wearing US uniforms would be executed as spies. In all, twenty-three of Skorzeny’s men were captured behind American lines and eighteen were executed as spies for contravening the rules of war by wearing enemy uniforms.
The new brigade needed US Army vehicles, weapons and uniforms; OB West was asked to find 15 tanks, 20 armored cars, 20 self-propelled guns, 100 jeeps, 40 motorcycles, 120 trucks, British and US Army uniforms all to be delivered to the brigade’s training camp which had been set up at Grafenwöhr in eastern Bavaria. The equipment delivered fell short of the requirements, including only two Sherman tanks in poor condition, and Skorzeny had to use German substitutes, 5 Mark V Panther and 6 armored cars.
The brigade was also flooded by Polish and Russian equipment sent by units who had no idea what the request was for. As far as English-speaking soldiers went, only 10 men who spoke perfect English and had some knowledge of American idioms were found, 30-40 men who spoke English well but had no knowledge of slang, 120-150 who spoke English moderately well, and 200 or so who had learned English at school. Faced with these setbacks, Skorzeny scaled down the 150.SS-Panzer-Brigade from three battalions to two and assembled the 150 best English speakers into a commando unit named Einheit Stielau. Skorzeny also recruited a company of SS-Jagdverbände Mitte, two companies from 600.SS-Fallschirmjäger-Abteilung, and was given two Luftwaffe parachute battalions formerly of Kampfgruppe 200, tank crews from Panzer regiments, and gunners from artillery units. A total of 2500 men were eventually assembled at Grafenwöhr, 800 less than had been hoped.
The final total of equipment assembled was also less than had been hoped; only enough US Army weapons had been found to equip the commando unit, and only 4 US Army scout cars, 30 jeeps, and 15 trucks were found, the difference being made up with German vehicles painted in US olive drab with Allied markings applied. Only a single Sherman tank was available, and the brigade’s Panther tanks were disguised as M-10 tank destroyers by removing their cupolas and disguising their hulls and turrets with thin sheet metal.
The problem of recognition by their own forces was crucial, and they were to identify themselves by various methods : displaying a small yellow triangle at the rear of their vehicles; tanks keeping their guns pointing in the nine o’clock position; troops wearing pink or blue scarves and removing their helmets; and flashes from a blue or red torch at night.
As the brigade prepared for action, rumors began to fly that they were to relieve the besieged towns of Dunkirk or Lorient, capture Antwerp, or capture the Allied Supreme Command at SHAEF in Paris.
It was not until December 10 that Skorzeny’s own commanders were made aware of the brigade’s true plans. Panzerbrigade 150 was to attempt to capture at least two of the bridges over the Meuse river at Amay, Huy, or Andenne before they could be destroyed, the troops to begin their operation when the Panzer advance reached the High Fens, between the Ardennes and the Eifel highlands. The three groups (Kampfgruppe X, Kampfgruppe Y, and Kampfgruppe Z) would then move towards the separate bridges.
On December 24, Army Air Force Heavy Bombers from the US Luftwaffe bombed Malmedy. The city, in that period, was in our hands and had been so during the entire German breakthrough. Many buildings were destroyed and others set afire by the bombing. Casualties among the civilians and troops were heavy. At 1622, American A-20 bombers attacked Baker 526’s position by bombing and strafing. No casualties were suffered from this action. Again, on December 25, US Bombers bombed Malmedy which was still in our hands. The city was still in fire from the precedent bombing of December 24, the fire was spread more and more casualties resulted. At 1255, December 26, Baker 526 contacted a small enemy patrol and captured one man. A civilian reported enemy activity in the immediate front of the company so a patrol leader dispatched a 13 men patrol to investigate the report.
The patrol found nothing at the place reported so that the leader took the patrol on out farther to the front. The group was ambushed at (797024) by a force estimated to be at least 15 men who were dug in with machine gun and mortar. The patrol withdrew with the leader slightly wounded and 2 other men failing to return. That night, another patrol from Baker 526 was sent along the road (787020 – 790021) with the mission of taking prisoners. This patrol sent out at 2010 reported no result.
On December 27, at 1600, Charlie 99 was to launch a limited objective attack to Hédomont. At 1305, the CO of the 120-IR directed the 526-AIB to reconnoiter the town prior to the attack and determine what amount, if any, enemy were there. A 4 man patrol was sent out with an officer. At 1542, 2 of the men returned reporting that there was enemy in Hédomont.
The patrol leader and the sergeant were trapped in the town but joined the attacking force of Charlie 99 and withdrew with them when the mission was accomplished. One prisoner was taken and 15 Krauts were killed in the attack. Later, it was reported that one officer and one soldier were killed by one mine in one US unmarked minefield. At 1900, Baker 526 received artillery fire but was unable to locate the enemy gun. On the morning of December 28, at 0715, Service Co 526-AIB was hit by 3 large caliber enemy shells. One man was wounded and 3 trucks were damaged. Fires were started but were soon extinguished.
At 0900, the 526-AIB’s CO and the S-3 reported to the CP of the 120-IR and received orders for regrouping of the regiment and attached units. The 526 was ordered in regimental reserve and move to another location. The move was done on December 29-30. In the morning of December 29, the men of Able 526 still in Stavelot were relieved by the 117-IR and returned to battalion control in Malmedy. On December 30, at 1230, the Army Air Force Heavy Bombers again dropped bombs in the battalion area. Several of the bombs were within a few yards of Baker 526’s CP. One casualty resulted of this action. The company CP was at that time approximately 3500 M behind the front line. No activity was reported for the 526-AIB for the last day the the year.
Casualties for the period December 17-31 1944 ware as follow : KIA : 2 officers, 10 enlisted men; WIA : – officer, 28 enlisted men and MIA : – officer, 5 enlisted men. During the period covered by this rapport, the main action was reconnaissance in force by the enemy. All such attempts by the enemy were repulsed and the enemy suffered heavy casualties each time. After the 99-IB-(S), the 526-AIB reinforced by Able 825 was the first combat force to reach Malmedy in the breakthrough by the German counter-attack. It was the first combat mission for the battalion. The orders were for the 526-AIB to hold Malmedy at all costs and prevent the Germans from coming through. The enemy did not come through.
Maj Roy E. Battson S-3 526-AIB (S)
Appendix AAR 526-AIB
At about 0045, December 18 1944, while halted on the Highway 62 between Spa and Francorchamps, the CO of the 526-AIB and the 1st Platoon of Able Co 825-TDB, ordered his Battalion Executive Office and his S-1 to proceed with Able 526 to Stavelot. Their missions was establishing road blocks east and southeast of Stavelot. Only enemy information at time was that enemy tanks had been seen somewhere in the area. So, the Task Force left the main column at the junction N-62 N-68, just outside Burnenville, approximately 3500 M of Malmedy and immediately reorganized into new march unit. Because of road congestion this force was unable to take the shorter route via the Highway from Francorchamps which delayed the force about two hours.
Before proceeding towards Stavelot, Capt Loyd B. Sheets (291-ECB), drove up from Stavelot to inform the Task Force Commander, Maj Paul Solis, that the situation there was quiet and in their hands but that they had had road blocks fired upon, that some of the units there had moved out. No enemy of any kind had been seen and it was presumed that the outpost had been fired upon by paratroopers of German reconnaissance patrol. Capt Sheetz agreed to lead the column into town towards Stavelot, the unit arriving on outskirts of the town about 0345 December 18. Maj Solis with the CO of Able 526 and the S-1 continued on foot into town and to the Engineer CP which the Task Force Staff took over as a temporary CP.
There, no further information could be obtained except that there were only two bridges across the Amblève River, one being a vehicular bridge and the other a foot bridge. Also that the road block had been withdrew but guardswere posted on the bridge over the river in the town and around the CP. The Commander of the 526-AIB, called to inform Maj Solis that the road blocks be established as soon as possible then, Maj Solis informed the battalion CO that no detailed recon could be made until daylight.
Col Wallis H. Anderson, the Commander of the 1111th Engineer Combat Group also called to assume that the Engineer road blocks be reestablished and that the Engineers be relieved of their posts by men of the Task Force. The Task Force Commander, ordered the CO of Able 526 to establish the road blocks and to defend the town along the river with one platoon on the right and one platoon on the left to include the road running south over the bridge.
The remainder platoon with the Tank Destroyers less one section and the the AT platoon were in reserve. The reserve platoon was to relieve the interior guards of the 202-ECB and to set up road guards southwest and northeast of the town.
1111th Engineer Combat Group (Extract)
On December 16 1944, the 1111th Engineer Combat Group (Col H. Wallis Anderson) occupied positions directly in the path of 5.Panzer-Army (Manteuffel) and the 6.SS-Panzer-Army (Dietrich) axis of advance. The Group headquarters was located in Trois-Ponts, approximately twenty-five miles behind the front lines. The 291-ECB (Col David E. Pergrin) was within a few miles of the Group Headquarters at Basse-Bodeux, half of the 51-ECB (Col Harvey R. Fraser) was located over twenty miles to the southwest at Marche-en-Famenne while the other half of the 51-ECB (Maj Robert B. Yates) was also in Trois-Ponts. The 296-ECB (Col Jack C. Jeffrey) was in Sourbrodt, near Elsenborn, approximately twenty miles to the north. The 962-EMC (Maintenance) was ten miles east of group headquarters at Malmedy. The 629-ELEC (Light Equipment) and the 767-EDTC (Dump Truck) were located further east at Butgenbach, only nine miles behind the forward line of troops.
The Group’s assigned missions was : responsibility for engineer work in its assigned area, close support of the V Corps (Gerow), and rear area security missions. In addition to normal operations such as bridge repair, road maintenance, snow removal, and quarry operations, the 1111-EG was heavily committed to operating forty-one sawmills and producing lumber for construction of bridges and winter quarters.
The Group’s first indication that the Germans had launched a major assault came early on the morning of December 17, when at 0200 hours, the 1-A (Hodges) issued a general alert stating that enemy paratrooper landings had taken place and a large scale enemy counter-attack was a possibility. Col Anderson received no further information until 1005, when Maj Dick Carville, Group Liaison Officer at the V Corps, reported that the 629th Light Equipment Company had been overrun by German armor units.
Col Anderson immediately grasped the seriousness of the situation and made a quick appraisal of the Group’s disposition. Not only were his battalion headquarters strung along an arc over sixty miles long, but individual companies were dispersed on platoon and even squad project sites over an area of 750 square miles stretching from Dinant on the Meuse River to the town of Eupen just south of Aachen.
In addition to the 629 located at Butgenbach, other 1111 units in the general vicinity included Baker 291 and the 962 located at Malmedy; Charlie 202 at Stavelot while the Group Headquarters with elements of the 291 were at Trois Ponts. Col Anderson decided to order Col David E. Pergrin (CO 291-ECB) to Malmedy to take charge of all Group units in the area, ascertain the situation, and take steps necessary to prevent the German advance. Col Anderson also ordered the 629 to withdraw to Malmedy.
Having dispatched Col Pergrin to take charge of the situation in Malmedy, Col Anderson turned his attention to the defense of Trois-Ponts. Around 1900, he radioed Col Fraser (CO 51-ECB) to send a company to Trois-Ponts to assist in establishing a coherent defense. He also requested additional supplies of demolitions, mines, bazookas, and machine guns. By 2000, Col Fraser ordered Charlie 51 (located at Melreux near Hotton) to proceed immediately to Trois-Ponts. The advance elements of Charlie 51 arrived at Trois-Ponts by 2330 and began immediately to prepare both the Amblève and the Salm River bridges for demolition and establish road blocks. Col Anderson was also worried about the defense of Stavelot. Learning that Charlie 202 had withdrawn, he immediately ordered them to return to Stavelot and to establish a blocking position at the Stavelot bridge.
Early on the morning of 17 December, SS-Standartenführer Joachim Pieper ordered his combat group forward and began his race for the Meuse. Kampfgruppe Pieper was a powerful force of over 4000 men. Formed around the 1.SS-Panzer-Division’s 1.SS-Panzer-Regiment, Pieper had seventy-two Mark IV (PzKpfw IV) and Mark V (Panthers) tanks as well as thirty Mark VI (King Tiger) tanks of the 501.SS-Heavy-Panzer-Battalion. His armored vehicles also included four flak tanks, and a light flak battalion with self-propelled 20-MM guns. Infantry support was provided by the 3/2.SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment mounted on armored personnel carriers and supported by twenty-five assault guns. Kampfgruppe Pieper also included a battalion of towed 105-MM artillery, two companies of engineers, and logistical units. Pieper, however, lacked tactical bridging and depended on speed and surprise to capture bridges along the way. Pieper also lacked gasoline and planned to capture US Army POL (Petrol Oil Lubricant) stocks along the way. In march column, Kampfgruppe Pieper was fifteen miles long and mostly road bound.
On the morning of December 17, with Able 291 at Werbomont, Charlie 291 at the Chateau de Froidcour and Baker 291 at Malmedy, the 291’s line was stretched over a twenty-two mile sector along a natural defensive line directly astride the route to be used by the 1.SS-Panzer-Division on his way to the Meuse River.
Arriving in Malmedy around noon, Col Pergrin found Baker 291 establishing a perimeter defense of the town. Under command of Capt John T. Collin, Baker 291 called in its platoons and was setting up road blocks, sending out reconnaissance patrols, and loading trucks with TNT, mines, and ammunition. Realizing that the 180 men of Baker 291 could not hope to hold Malmedy for long, Col Pergrin ordered Charlie 291 to Malmedy and reorganized the Malmedy defense as follow :
(1) Highway N-632 heading to Waimes, at Bagatelle, one roadblock, Baker 291 Lt Colbeck; (2) Highway N-681 in Chodes and heading to G’Doumont, one roadblock, Baker Lt Colbeck; (3) Highway N-62 (Av Monbijou) heading to Baugnez, Charlie 291; (4) Junction roadblock, north of the CP 291, Lt Colbeck; (5) Highway N-681, inner defense roadblock heading to Chodes, Baker 291, Lt Rhea, (6) Highway N-62, Bévercé, (Warche River bridge), Baker 291, Lt Rhea; (7) Baker 291, (Sawmill); (8) Abatis Defense, one roadblock, Bernister, mixed Baker and Charlie 291; (9) Level grade crossing roadblock, Floriheid, Charlie 291; (10) Overpass railroad route de St Vith, Charlie 291; (11) Overpass railroad route de Falize, Charlieb 291; (12) Railroad Viaduc route de Stavelot, Able and Baker 291, Sgt McCarty; (13) Wooden bridge Warche River, one roadblock, Sgt McCarty.
At about 1300, patrols reported seeing sixty-eight German armored vehicles including thirty tanks on a road a few miles southeast of Malmedy. Concerned that the spearhead of the 1.SS-Panzer-Division (Kampfgruppe Peiper) might bypass Malmedy and head for Stavelot, Col Pergrin sent a squad of engineers equipped with twenty mines and a bazooka to set up a roadblock at Stavelot. When they arrived, Stavelot was in a state of confusion caused by several units trying to withdraw through the town. Finding no established defensive positions, the squad emplaced a hasty minefield, covered by rifles and bazookas, at the approach to the stone bridge across the Amblève River and waited.
At 1900, three Mark IV tanks approached the bridge. The first struck a mine that blew off its treads and the other two withdrew after receiving bazooka and rifle fire from the engineers. Believing he was facing a strong infantry force and considering his badly disorganized column, strung out for twenty-five miles, Peiper decided not to attack Stavelot, but wait until his column closed up and attack at dawn the next morning.
Thus, thirteen men of 3rd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Charlie 291 with a bazooka, twenty mines and some rifles, plus the mass of vehicles moving through Stavelot, caused the first long pause in Kampfgruppe Peiper’s implacable advance.
Around 0400, 18 December, a company of the 526-AIB with an attached platoon of 57-MM towed antitank guns from Able 825 arrived in Stavelot and immediately began establishing defensive positions. Charlie 202-ECB also joined in the defense and wired the bridge for demolition.
Peiper launched his attack at daylight. 57-MM AT guns and bazookas were no match for Peiper’s tanks. They soon rolled across the bridge, bypassed the 526’s strong points and drove towards Trois-Ponts. Although the 202-ECB attempted to blow the bridge, the charges failed to go off. Apparently two German soldiers, disguised as Americans, sabotaged the attempt. Anyway, Peiper’s delay in front of Stavelot afforded time for Col Anderson to prepare defensive positions at Trois-Ponts. At 1000, December 19, Col Anderson ordered Group HQs, the 629 and the 962 to relocate to Modave. A forward command post would remain in Trois Ponts. In addition to Charlie 51 and a platoon from the 291, Col Anderson was aided by a 57-MM AT gun and its crew from the 526. The gun was part of the 526 convoy moving to talmedy when the half-track towing the gun threw a tread and fell out of the convoy. They had only seven rounds of ammunition.
At 1115, the first enemy tank came into sight. The 57-MM gun immobilized it, but fire from the tank’s 75-MM gun destroyed the gun and killed the crew. The engineers then blew the two bridges over the Amblève River. Peiper’s column hesitated for about forty-five minutes before trying to outflank the town to the north and southeast. At that point, Col Anderson ordered the bridge over the Salm River within Trois-Ponts and the bridge southeast of town destroyed. Seeing their route blocked the German column withdrew. In mid-afternoon, Col Anderson departed for First Army Headquarters in Spa to confer with Col Carter, placing Maj Robert B. Yates, Executive Officer of the 51-ECB, in charge.
Studying his map, Col Anderson deduced that the Kampfgruppe Peiper was now trapped in the Ambleve River valley. He was also aware the Peiper’s only chance to escape from the serpentine valley was by the bridge at Cheneux. It was too late to demolish this bridge, but, once across the Amblève at Cheneux, Peiper would also have to cross another bridge on the way to Werbomont over the Lienne River Creek near the hamlet of Habiemont. Col Anderson promptly radioed Hqs Able 291 in Werbomont to send a detail immediately to prepare the bridge over the Lienne for demolition. Able 291 had only fifteen men
left in Werbomont. The rest were in Trois-Ponts, Malmedy, or out hunting German paratroopers. Nevertheless, S/Sgt Edwin Pigg assembled those men left and the necessary wire and TNT. The detail reached Habiemont at 1500 and immediately began to wire the bridge for demolition. Col Anderson arrived about 1600 along with several men and vehicles from the 291 and Group HQs who were withdrawing to Modave. Thirty minutes later, the first German tank rounded a curve not more than two hundred yards from the bridge. The engineers immediately blew the bridge, blocking Kampfgruppe Peiper last route to the Meuse River.
At that time, one company of the 202-ECB was being relieved by another company of the 202-ECB. One Engineer Company was to leave the town that morning. The 202-ECB Company was notified by Maj Solis to keep runners at the Task Force CP and to alert that the company was a reserve for the Task Force. Lt Obinlund of the 202 was with the company that was to remain. Lt Clifford Wilson was also present with 2 squads of his platoon which was to leave that morning also.
At About 0530, December 18, before the road blocks could be established the second platoon, which was deployed on the left, reported contact with enemy in the vicinity of the former road block. Enemy strength was estimated to about two squads. A similar report came in from the 3rd platoon and at about 0600, both platoons were engaged in force, and were forced to withdraw back across the bridge under heavy MG, rifle and 88-MM fire.
Two half-tracks of the 526 and two others of the 825 were lost during the withdrawal. There was confusion due to the lack of adequate reconnaissance, the extreme darkness and the heavy fog but by daylight the defensive line along the river had been stabilized and platoons reorganized. The bridge was temporarily taken by enemy infantry in fierce fighting but retaken again by our infantry. Mines had been placed upon the bridge by the Engineers but the bridge had not been prepared for demolition. This was impossible after the fire fight started as it was too hot at the bridge.
The CP was moved to the town square as the Engineer CP was just 40 yards from the bridge and under heavy small arms and 88 fire. This cut off all the telephone communications with higher Hq. The Battalion S-1 managed to get back into the building and had a message relayed to the CO 526. Radio was also used to inform the 526’s Hq of the situation and request reinforcements.
At about 0830, the enemy tried to force the bridge with Mark VI Tiger Tanks. Four of these were knocked out by TD guns firing from a point near the bridge. About this time an AAA unit from the 7-AD which was passing thru Stavelot stopped to fire across the river at the enemy gun positions which were dug in on high ground to the south and which were placing heavy caliber fire into the village. Maj Solis tried to contact the CO of this unit but this unit pulled out before that could be done. This fire helped considerably as their fire with the fire from our .50 cal vehicular guns were counter-firing into the house across the river from which heavy fire was coming.
When heavy 88-MM and Nebelwerfer fire was placed in Stavelot the Command Post moved to the north of the village and later even farther to the hill north of an overlooking village. Most vehicles moved into the town square for protection but some of the vehicular MG were dismounted and placed to fire up the streets.
The enemy had infiltrated into the town and a house to house fighting developed. Platoons leaders reported that they would be unable to hold the line along the Amblève river as they were receiving much MG and artillery fire. They were ordered to continue to defend. At about 1130, the Leader of the 1st Platoon reported that he was unable to continue so a message was sent over the radio to withdrew northward to high ground and to contact and inform the 3rd Platoon of action as the 3rd Platoon radio had been silenced. Communication was difficult with only vehicular radios, as platoon leaders were seldom near tracks.
It was felt at this time that all that could be hoped for was to fight a delaying action until help arrived. The 2nd Platoon which was now in reserve was also ordered to retire to high ground up north of Stavelot. Tanks then broke in Stavelot dividing some of the units. Tank Destroyer guns knocked out a fourth Panzer in the town. The 1st and 2nd Platoons missed the rallying point and moved up Highway N-23 towards Spa while the TD Platoon and part of the AT Platoon were forced to withdraw up Highway 28 towards Malmedy as they had been cut off.
Just prior to this, the Commander of a platoon of the Belgian 5-FB (Fusiliers) in charge of the 1st Army Gasoline Dump #3 on the highway 23 asked Maj Solis if he could destroy the almost 1 million gallons of gasoline stacked in Jerrycans piles along the road as he had not been issued any orders in that regard. Maj Solis assured him that reinforcements were on its way and that unless ordered by higher HQs he would not destroy the depot until told to do so by the CO.
At about 1200, the 3rd Platoon withdrew up the road to the rallying point and the CO Able 526 informed Maj Solis that several Mark VI Tiger Tanks were approaching up same road towards Spa. Maj Solis told one of the Belgian Fusilier to find his Commanding Officer and tell him to destroy the gasoline. Not loosing anytime, the Belgian Fusiliers entrucked and headed to the first stack of Gasoline Jerrycans. Lemaire was among the first to jump off the truck, along with Sgts Harpigny, Magain, Vermeulen, Cpl Suinen and fellow Pvts Robert Delbois, Robert Tille, Alfred Cantigneau, Elomir Cambier, Jean Lesire, Paul Wantiez and F. Ingels. Following Maj Solis orders to set fire to the fuel depot to prevent the SS from retrieving the supplies needed to rejuvenate their offensive.
With the 3rd Platoon and one AT gun Maj Solis established a road block between the burning gasoline dump and Francorchamps approximately 4000 meters north of Stavelot and awaited reinforcements. The long black smoke column and the fire barrage created by the burning gasoline made a very formidable road block.
The enemy tanks did not choose to come thru and the enemy infantry was too far back to exploit the tank gains.
Au about 1300, the first advance elements of 1/117-IR (30-ID) arrived. Maj Solis informed the CO of the situation ahead and the 3rd Platoon moved back to the outskirts of Stavelot to take up defensive position for the infantry to pass thru. Contact was reestablished about 1400 and the 3rd Platoon of Able 526 continued to fight along with the 117-IR until relieved on December 28.
Maj Solis remained with the 117 as a liaison officer between the 1/117-IR, Able-526 and the Assault Gun Platoon of the 526 which came into the Stavelot fight with the 117-IR, until he was relieved on December 21.
For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Email : gunter [at] eucmh.be
Thank You for your support !