Early in the month of December 1944 two of the greatest armies the world has ever seen were facing each other in northern Europe. One army, the German, was tired, beaten back, but as yet undefeated. The other, the American 1-A had enjoyed great success on the continent and was somewhat over-confident. The result of this situation was the greatest single battle fought by American troops in World War II, the Ardennes Campaign. During this battle three German Armies, two of which were Panzer, penetrated the sector of the 1-A in the region of Luxembourg and Belgium, and only after over a month of the bitterest fighting were thrown back to a line approximating that from which they had started. A total of 56 divisions, 29 US and 27 German, participated in this battle. Among these 29 American divisions were 10 Armored divisions as well as numerous separate tank battalions. As a mute testimony of the savage fighting, 85.000 casualties were suffered on each side before the battle ended.
This study deals with four major features of armored division employment during the Ardennes Campaign. These features are : (1) piecemeal versus coordinated of the armored division; (2) deficiencies of organization and equipment; (3) effect of the type of mission assigned by higher headquarters on the employment of the armored division and (4) operations during a unusually obscure combat situation. On the 29 US divisions engaged in this action, only two will be covered in detail in this study.
These are the 2-AD and the 3-AD. The tactical employment of these units will be developed to portray the use of armor on the division level during operations under extremely obscure circumstances, over the difficult rugged terrain of the northern Ardennes sector, and in severe winter weather.
The German Ardennes offensive began early on the morning of December 16 1944, splitting the American line on a 50 mile front. This gap in the line was finally closed one month later on January 16 1945 at the little Belgian town of Houffalize. During this period the action of the 2-AD and the 3-AD took place in three phases. The first phase was the action of the 3-AD during the period of December 18 to December 31 1944 and the second, was the employment of the 2-AD during the period of December 21 to December 31 1944. The the third phase was the motion of January 11 to January 16 1945 in which both divisions under the US VII Corps attacked abreast to make a juncture with troops of Gen George S. Patton’s 3-A advancing from the south.
The extreme winter weather was superimposed upon the entire action with increasing severity as the battle progressed. These winter conditions seriously affected the efforts of both Allied and German forces – sometimes favorably and sometimes adversely. To the individual soldier, however, the weather always was a miserable handicap that gradually sapped his endurance and efficiency. A better understanding of the events that took place in the Ardennes on the northern flank of the German counter-offensive may be gained from a knowledge of how the Ardennes sector was related to the overall situation along the front of western Europe.
On December 15 1944, the Allied forces were disposed generally north and south along the Siegfried Line almost parralel to the western border of Germany. These troops had landed in Normandy the previous June, had driven eastward to the German border, and by early September, had stopped until mid-November for a build-up of supplies. Then, they had attacked into Germany with the mission of reaching the Rhine River along the entire front.
Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower’s forces met heavy resistance, made slow progress, and were just launching a renewed drive when the German Ardennes counter-offensive began. At this time the Allied forces were disposed in three army groups : Gen Sir Bernard Montgomery’s 21-AG on the north, Gen Omar N. Bradley’s 12-AG in the center and Gen Jacob Devers’ 6-AG on the south of the line.
In the center of this effort, Bradley’s 12-AG had his 1-A disposed generally along the Siegfried Line. At the moment, the major strength of the army was heavily engaged to the north in the Huertgen Forest in an attempt to seize the vital Roer River Dams. Such was the character of the terrain and opposition that these troops were concentrated on a comparatively narrow front in the the sector of the US V Corps, then charged with the immediate mission of securing the dams.
South of the V Corps, and occupying over half of the 125-mile 1-A front, was the VIII Corps, commanded by Maj Gen Troy H. Middleton. This Corps, disposed thinly along an 80-mile front that wound through the forested hills of Belgium and Luxembourg, enjoyed comparative inactivity. As a result, this portion of the front was used as an area for resting battle-weary divisions and for indoctrinating unseasoned units to foxhole life in front of the Siegfried Line.
It was into this broad sector, lightly held by 3 infantry divisions, that the 3 German Armies launched their winter offensive before daylight in the morning of December 16 1944. This German effort, which fortunately for the Allied cause was never to accomplish its capabilities, had been conceived many months earlier by the Fuehrer Adolph Hitler. While bedridden with injuries received in an attempted assassination during the months of July and August 1944, he planned a counter-blow at the Allied forces threatening Germany. This was to be his means of keeping the support of the German people and of regaining the initiative lost to the Allies by their successful landings in Normandy.
The plan, erroneously referred to as the Offensive von Rundstedt and refined by the German high command, was to consist of an armored dash through the difficult country of the Ardennes with the object of capturing the bridges on the Meuse River between Namur and Liège. Once this spurt of over 50 miles had been completed, and bridgeheads on the west bank of the Meuse secured, the Panzer Divisions would continue their advance in a northwesterly direction and, seize the cities of Brussels and Antwerp. By this bold maneuver it was hoped to deprive the Allies of their chief supply base at Antwerp and at the same time, trap the entire British and Canadian forces of Montgomery’s 21-AG, then lining the banks of the Meuse.
Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander in Chief of the German Forces in the West thought so little of the plan’s chance of success that he refused to participate. Thus Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model actually implemented the plan, and under his command three German armies trained and assembled for the attack. The effectiveness of Model’s divisions varied greatly due to the personnel. Some units were composed of highly trained officer and enlisted cadres of fanatical young SS troopers. Others contained Kriegsmarine (Navy) and Luftwaffe (Air Force) personnel and some were made up of boys and old men brought to service by the final draft of the dregs of German power. Divisions were reorganized or reconstituted at about 85% of war tables of organization and equipment was issued on a similar basis, actual vehicle strength being approximately 60% wartime authorization.
With rigid secrecy, supplies were assembled under the code name of Watch on the Rhine (Watch on the Rhine), designed in the event of information leaks to mislead the Allies as to German intentions, making it appear that these resources were being marshaled for a defensive effort. So successful was this plan that not only were Allied intelligence officers deluded, but an uninitiated German logistical commander stored the larger portion of German gasoline reserves east of the Rhein River. As a later result, these reserves never reached the attacking troops, who were then forced to plan on capturing American supply dumps to keep their, motorized elements moving.
These three German armies were assembled west of the Rhine River in the US V and VIII Corps sectors. At 0530 on December 16 1944, 17 divisions of the 27 that were to see action in this battle accessed the line of departure. They included approximately 180.000 men and 400 tanks. The magnitude of the H-hour force is important because of its tremendous contribution to the overwhelming obscurity of the action during the next ten days. These preparations had been kept so well secret that the initial reports of the attack were considered in the US Military Channels as a rather small-scale German effort.
Bad weather prevented aerial reconnaissance which should have located the German columns and indicated the size of the attack. It was not until Day #4 (December 19) that Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower realized the the full seriousness of the situation. The theater commander had no troop in theater reserve, therefore units had to be shifted from other areas of the front to engage this German threat. The 2-AD and the 3-AD were thus moving to the Ardennes area where they helped form the northern line along the penetration. Here they helped, bring the German effort to a stop and moved into a coordinated offensive to close the gap of the enemy penetration.
Since the landing on the Allies in Normandy on June 6 and along the French Riviera two months later which almost pushed back the German Armies on the east side of their own borders, Hitler had no intention of staying on the defensive over the winter. As early as mid-September he was planning a counter-offensive.
By October, with the front stabilizing, he had decided on an attack in the Ardennes. This attack, designed to split the British and American fronts at a weakly held point then cross the Meuse and recapture Antwerp. On October 27, Feldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt and Feldmarschall Walter Model met with Gen Alfred Jodl, CoS Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), and told him flatly that they considered this impossible with the available forces. Instead they suggested a more modest operation to destroy the Allied concentrations around Liège and Aachen.
Alfred Jodl took their views back to Hitler, but on November 3, he told them that the Führer’s mind was made up, and that he wanted the attack to begin before the end of November. The spearhead was to be Oberst-Gruppenführer Sepp Dietrich’s 6.SS-Panzer-Army, composed largely of Waffen-SS units such as SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke’s 1.SS.Panzer-Division (LSSAH), SS-Brigadeführer Heinz Lammerding’s 2.SS-Panzer-Division (Das Reich), SS-Standartenführer Hugo Kraas’s 12.SS-Panzer-Division (Hitlerjugend) and the Wehrmacht 5.Panzer-Army, from General Hasso von Manteuffel.
Walter Model persuaded Alfred Jodl that the deadline was unrealistic, and on December 2, he and Gen Siegfried Westphal went to Berlin to argue their case with Hitler. Rundstedt refused to go, because, he said that he hated listening to Hitler’s monologues. This marked his effective abdication as a military leader. He was now only a figurehead, and apparently content to be so. After the war he disowned all responsibility for the offensive and even said ‘If old von Moltke thought that I had planned that offensive he would have turned over in his grave’.
Hitler arrived on the western front on December 10 to supervise the offensive, which was now set for December 16. He gave orders directly to the army commanders, bypassing both Rundstedt and Model. Manteuffel said : ‘The plan for the Ardennes offensive was drawn up completely by the OKW and sent to us as a cut-and-dried Führer order’. Taking advantage of surprise and poor weather (which helped neutralize the Allies’ command of the Army Air Forces, the offensive made initial progress, breaking through the weak American formations in this quiet sector of the front. But the Allies were quick to react, and the Germans were soon falling behind their ambitious time tables.
Manteuffel, in the centre, did better, reaching the town of Celles, a few kilometers short of the Meuse, on December 25. This was a penetration of about 80 Km, less than halfway to Antwerp, and on such a narrow front as to create an indefensible salient.
The resistance of the American garrison at Bastogne greatly delayed the advance, making a forcing of the Meuse impossible. When the cloud cover lifted on December 24, the Allied air forces attacked with devastating effect. Rundstedt urged the OKW to halt the offensive, lest the ‘bulge’ created by the German advance become a ‘second Stalingrad’, but Hitler was determined to press on. A few days later US forces attacked from the north and south of the bulge, forcing the Germans first to halt and then to retreat.
Waffen-SS units under Rundstedt’s overall command committed war crimes during the campaign in the West, including the Malmedy massacre, which was perpetrated by troops under the command of Joachim Peiper. His unit of the 1.SS-Panzer-Division LSSAH was under the command of Wilhelm Mohnke. Peiper’s battle group (Kampfgruppe) was charged with seizing the bridges over the Meuse ahead of the advance of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army. On December 17, near the town of Malmedy (Baugnez), a group of Peiper’s men, opened fire on a large group of unarmed US POWs from the 285th Field Artillery Observer Battalion captured on there way to Ligneuville, killing 84.
Responsibility for this crime ran from Peiper to Mohnke to Dietrich to Model to Rundstedt, although none of them had been present and none had ordered such action. When Rundstedt heard about it, he ordered an investigation, but in the chaos of the failing offensive nothing came of this.
Although such occurrences were commonplace on the Eastern Front from both sides, they were a rarity in the West, and the outraged Americans were determined to prosecute all those with responsibility for this massacre. Here Rundstedt’s problem was his reputation. The Ardennes offensive was known to the Allies as ‘the Rundstedt offensive’, and the Allied press routinely described him as being in charge of it. The British commander in Europe, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, said on January 7 1945 : I used to think that Rommel was good, but my opinion is that Rundstedt would have hit him for six. Rundstedt is the best German general I have come up against. Since Rundstedt, as far as the Allies knew, was in charge of the offensive, it followed for them that he was responsible for what his subordinates did during it.
The American 3-AD was the first of these units to go into action. Thus, it will be treated first. It will be shown that this division was committed in a piecemeal fashion under extremely obscure circumstances and that a lack of organic infantry, now corrected, in the T/O&E of the Armored Division, was’ a definite handicap, particularly in the rugged terrain of the Belgian Ardennes.
The T/O&E, better said Table of Organization and Equipment, was a chart-like document published by the War Department which prescribed the organic structure and equipment of military units from divisional size and down, but also including the headquarters of corps and armies. Prior to 1943 organization and equipment were expressed in T/Os (Tables of Organization) and (T/BAs) Tables of Basic Allowances. Unfortunately the T/BAs were not closely coordinated with the T/Os. In October 1942 the (T/E), Table of Equipment, was substituted for the T/BA. The difference was that a T/E was set up for each standard unit, whereas there had been a single T/BA for each combat arm, covering all standard units of that arm. To provide complete coordination between organization and equipment, a consolidated T/O&E was issued for each standard unit beginning in August 1943.
The T/O&E prescribed the standard form of the unit, whether stationed in the US or overseas, for combat or service under normal operating conditions. In the theaters of operation, unit commanders frequently modified their organization, rearranging or adding additional personnel and equipment wherever possible, according to their best judgement of the immediate situation. However, in general, units formed, trained, and operated as prescribed by their T/O&E. It is important to note that formal T/O&Es were not issued for the many provisional units that were organized to meet special combat and service requirements. T/O&Es were identified by a specified numbering system according to arm or service and by the date which it was published. The War Department frequently published changes (numbered C1, C2, etc.) to the existing T/O&Es when relatively minor changes in organization, weapons, or equipment were required. When a T/O&E became outdated, the old T/O&E was superseded by a new T/O&E using the same number but with a later date. In addition to T/O&Es of general application, special T/O&Es were authorized for units operating under special conditions.
These T/O&Es were identified by the letter ‘S’ immediately after the number (e.g. 7-157S Combat Intelligence Platoon, Alaskan Department). Tentative T/O&Es were also prepared for experimental purposes and for tests of organization, equipment, or both. Upon completion of the tests, standard T/O&Es were to be prepared if the unit concept was approved. These tentative T/O&Es were identified by the letter ‘T’ immediately after the number (e.g. 7-71T Light Infantry Regiment). Each T/O&E provided the official title and designation of the unit. Section I ‘Organization’ of the T/O&E prescribed the authorized number, grades, and qualifications of personnel, and also showed the number and distribution of weapons, transportation, and principal items of equipment. Where applicable, a remarks column was included to define the unit’s capabilities, functions, and normal assignment.
Section II ‘Equipment’ of the T/O&E prescribed the authorized allowance of equipment for units organized with the strength provided in Section I except for : (1) equipment required for temporary use for special purposes; (2) items of clothing and individual equipment; (3) component parts, spare parts, and accessories of kits and sets; (4) training equipment and (5) expendable items and ammunition.
The action of the American 2-AD in December 1944 will be studied next. Emphasis will be placed upon the obscure situation, poor weather and again, a lack of organic infantry to work with the tank units. Finally, the action of the 2-AD and the 3-AD in a coordinated attack will be studied. This study will emphasize the employment of armored divisions in a tactical situation which was more suited to infantry, the extremely severe weather, stubborn enemy resistance, and the accomplishment of its mission by armor, under perhaps the most adverse conditions that armor could face.
Piecemeal Employment of the 3rd Armored Division
December 16 – 31 1944
At the time that the German counter-offensive in the Belgian Ardennes began on December 16 1944, the 3-AD was in an assembly area in the vicinity of Stolberg, Germany. Acting as reserve for the VII Corps, the division was undergoing a period of maintenance and rest after participating in the battles which had ended only a few days before. The 3-AD was Commanded by Maj Gen Maurice E. Rose. Combat Command A was led by Brig Gen Doyle O. Hickey, Combat Command B by Brig Gen Truman E. Boudinot and Combat Command Reserve by Col Robert L. Howze.
On December 14 1944, the division was placed on a four hour alert. There were strong rumors that enemy paratroopers were being dropped near the division area. As a result of these, rumors the security measures in force around the assemble area were greatly strengthened, but no other action took place until December 18 1944, when the division began to roll out of its assembly area to take part in the greatest battle of World War II on the Western Front.
To follow the 3-AD during the early days of the German offensive it will be, necessary to trace three separate and distinct actions, as the division was widely scattered in its employment. We shall follow these three separate actions to the time that they converged into a unified division action and then follow the division through to the close of the first phase of the Ardennes counter-offensive in the last days of December.
The first unit to leave the division assembly area was CCA which was attached to the V Corps on December 18 and ordered to Eupen, Belgium, where it was employed in anti-airborne operations until December 21 when it reverted to the control of the 3-AD. The day after CCA departed from the vicinity of Stolberg, CCB was attached to the V Corps and ordered to the vicinity of Spa, Belgium. Upon arrival near Spa, CCB was transferred to control of the XVIII A/B Corps and attached to the 30-ID. The command was employed in the La Gleize – Stavelot area until December 25 when it reverted to control of the 3-AD. With the departure of both of the major fighting units of the division the remainder of the division was attached to XVIII A/B Corps on December 19, and moved during the night to Hotton, Belgium. Upon arrival the division was ordered to attack southeast from Hotton to secure the Manhay – Houffalize road. This attack was made by the 83-ARB (Recon), reinforced.
On December 21, the division, still minus CCA and CCB, was attached to the VII Corps, and on December 24, the CG of the VII Corps, ordered the division to establish a defense line from Grandmenil to Melroux, and to tie in with the 7-AD on the left and the 84-ID on the right.
As the action progressed and the situation became more clearer, the division gradually regained control of it’s organic units and received strong attachments. CCA came back under control of the division (December 21), CCB (December 25). Also about as December the small but heroic Task Forces of the 83-ARB (Recon) were withdrawn through the division lines after stubbornly resisting repeated attacks from a greatly superior enemy force. In the closing days of December, 1944, the 3-AD succeeded in stabilizing a line which ran generally from Hotton to Grandmenil, and just South of the road which, connected the two towns. At this time the division was reinforced by the attachment of the 289-IR, the 290-IR (75-ID), the 2/112-IR (28ID), the 509-PIB (101-A/B) and the 517-PIB (17-A/B). Tying in with the 7-AD in the east and the 84-ID on the west, this line enabled the Allied forces to prepare and launch the attack of January 3 1945, which resulted in the reduction of the German salient.
We shall flow take up a detailed account of the employment of CCA, followed in turn by CCB, and concluding with the division less CCA and CCB.
As noted, previously, CCA was the first element of the 3-AD to move from the division assembly area for participation in the Ardennes counter-offensive. On December 18, the command, composed of : HQ Det, CCA; 32-AIR (less 1st Bn), 3/36-AIR, 67-AFAB, Able Co 23-AEB (Engineer), Able Co, 45-AMB (Medic), Det from Able Co of the Maintenance Battalion and the 1st Plat, Able Co, 738-TB (SP), was attached to the V Corps and ordered to the vicinity of Eupen. Clearing the division assembly area by 1200 on December 18 the command arrived in the zone of the V Corps and relieved the 18/1-ID located there (Eupen) on December 19. While in this vicinity the infantry of the command was employed in mopping up German paratroopers in the woods south of the town. Armored elements of the command established road blocks on the main roads leading to the town and were to be employed as a mobile reserve by the V Corps in event of enemy attacks.
However, the expected enemy attacks failed to develop, and on December 21, the command was relieved from, attachment to the V Corps and reverted to control of the 3-AD. CCA departed from Eupen on December 22 for a new assembly area near Werbomont on that same day. Immediately upon arrival at Werbomont the command was split into two task forces.
The TF Doan, composed of the 32-AIR (less 1st and 3rd Bns), the 3/36-AR (less Item Co), 1st Plat Able Co 23-AEB (Engineer), 1st Plat Recon Co 32-AIR and the 67-AFAB, was ordered to move to the main highway junction 7000 meters north of Marche in order to cut the Marche – Bastogne road at that point. Arriving in the vicinity of Hargimont at 1615 on December 22, Task Force Doan established the road blocks and tied in their defense with elements of the 84-ID, which. was operating in the area. During the night of December 22-23, Col Doan’s road blocks received heavy pressure from enemy armor and infantry, but hold fast. On December 24, TF Doan was attached to the 84-ID. Meanwhile, the other Task Force made of CCA, TF (Lt Col Walter B. Richardson), was placed under division control and ordered to go to the aid of elements of the 106-ID defending a road block at a crossroads located at #578853, which is about 23 miles southeast of Odeigne.
Task Force Richardson
Composed of the 3/32-AIR and Item Co 36-AIR, moved December 23 toward the crossroads. The defense, of crossroads at #578853 was very important because it gave the division time to organize its position. Without the action at the crossroads, the division most likely would have been overrun. The crossroads was under attack and the Richardson’s force, under command of Maj Olin F. Brewster, had to fight in order to reach it. Upon reaching the crossroads Maj Brewster returned to the TF Command Post to bring up reinforcements. While he was gone, the road block was overrun by the enemy. Maj Brewster returned with an additional platoon of tanks and a platoon of infantry and managed to set up another road block farther to the north in the Vicinity of Belle-Haie. However, on December 24, this block was also overrun by a numerically superior enemy force who was advancing on Manhay. Lt Col Richardson and his headquarters withdrew to Grandmenil and Maj Brewster was ordered to withdraw his force by way to Malempré.
Proceeding north, Brewster ran into strong enemy fire which was coming from Malempré and was forced to halt. Hopelessly cut off from friendly lines Maj Brewster ordered the destruction of the few remaining vehicles, and the remnants of the TF withdrew on foot cross country. On December 25, this force passed through the lines of the 3/289-IR, just west of Grandmenil. Keeping in mind the fact that TF Richardson was operating under division control, the loss of TF Doan to the 84-ID on December 24 stripped CCA of all its combat units with the exception of a small reconnaissance outfit.
On December 24, the HQs of CCA moved to Heyd, where it took over the defensive sector from Amonines to Manhay. The 3-AD was at this time attempting to stabilize the lines in that area. The principal unit coming under control of CCA was the 289-IR, which held a line running just south of the Erezée – Manhay road. Its 3/289-IR was blocking to the north and east, as the enemy at this time held the town of Grandmenil. On December 25, the 289-IR attempted to advance on the line Amonines, Aisne, Rau sous l’Eau, Le Chat, Grandmenil, but the 3rd Bn was unable to seize Grandmenil which was strongly hold by the enemy. The other two battalions of the regiment endeavored to cover the entire line, but in doing so left a gap of about one thousand yards in the line just south of the town of Sadzot.
Task Force MacGeorge from CCB (attached to CCA on December 26) drove enemy tank and infantry forces from Grandmenil, securing the crossroads in the center of the town. The task force also established contact with CCB of the 7-AD. Up to this time several attempts to close the gap in the lines of the 289-IR had been unsuccessful. During the night of December 27, elements of 12.SS-Panzer-Division and other troops infiltrated through the gap and launched a determined attack on Sadzot.
This enemy attack was counter-attacked by the 509-PIB (att. CCA). The counterattack was successful and the paratroopers continued their attack southeast through the forests to La Fosse. While the paratroopers were driving to the southeast, the 1/112-IR, also attached now to CCA, moved forward and closed the gap in the line. With these operations the last thrusts of the enemy into the lines of the 3-AD was repelled. The sector control passed to the 75-ID at 1800 Dec 28. Elements of the 3-AD left the area on Dec 29 for a short period of rest and reorganization.
In evaluating the employment of CCA we see considerable piecemeal use of its forces. In the initial action at Eupen the tank and the infantry units were separated. Upon return to control of the division the command was split into two forces, Task Force Doan passing to control of the 84-ID and Task Force Richardson to direct division control. CCA then took control of a defensive sector hold by infantry troops, finally succeeding in stabilizing the lines. Now, let us consider CCB’s actions during the same period.
On December 19 1944, the day following the departure of CCA for Eupen, CCB, under the command of Brig Gen Truman B. Boudinot, was attached to the V Corps and ordered to Spa and La Reid, Belgium. The command moved in two columns, Task Force Lovelady (Lt Col William B. Lovelady) consisting of : the 2/33-AIR, Baker Co 36-AIR, 1 Platoon of the Recon Co 33-AIR and 1 Platoon Baker Co 23-AEB (Engineer) went to Spa, while Task Force MacGeorge (Maj Kenneth T. McGeorge), with : Item Co 33-AIR, Fox Co 36-AIR, 1 Platoon of Dog Co 36-AIR, 2 Platoons of Assault Guns, 1 Mortar Platoon 36-AIR, 2 Platoons of Light Tanks and an Engineer Squad, went to La Reid. Upon arrival in their new areas, the units of CCB were attached to XVIII A/B Corps. On December 20, the command was attached to the 30-ID and committed to action in the La Gleize – Stavelot Sector. The command was ordered to attack from their present positions toward the Amblève River with the mission of blocking and eliminating an enemy force which was headed for Spa from the direction of Stavelot.
This enemy force was a Kampfgruppe (Combat Team) of the 1.SS-Panzer-Division LSSAH (I.SS-Panzer-Korps – SS-Oberführer Wilhelm Mohnke), led by SS-Standartenfuhrer Joachim Peiper, perpetrator of the infamous Malmedy Massacre. Though short on tanks, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) division contained an extra battalion of infantry in each of its two infantry regiments. The 1.SS-Panzer-Division was organized into four specialized kampfgruppes for the Battle of the Bulge, each named for its commander, and they are presented as follows, along with their objectives.
Kampfgruppe Peiper (SS-Standartenfuhrer Joachim Peiper)
Kampfgruppe Peiper was probably the most famous and controversial German formation of the Ardennes battle. It contained all the tanks from the division along with an attached battalion of King Tiger tanks. This formation was intended to be the ‘tip of the spear’ in the drive to the Meuse River. On December 16 1944, still in Germany, Peiper was so unhappy at the 3.Fallshirmjäger-Pioneers progress at building bridges that he sent his own engineers forward to finish the job. Fuming, he finally got his force moving almost 10 hours after the start of the battle. Peiper pushed his column forward relentlessly and his successes included capturing a 50.000 gallon fuel dump at Bullingen, which he used to refill his panzers. His opposition consisted of small scattered groups of Americans which he easily pushed aside. Unfortunately, Peiper experienced much trouble advancing his kampfgruppe on the narrow winding roads.
What should have been a 10 mile column straggled out over 20 miles in length. Peiper eventually fought his way to Stoumont, where he ran into serious trouble against the 30-ID and CCA and CCB of the 3-AD.
His kampfgruppe was cut off there and became desperately low on supplies. On Christmas day, Peiper led about 1000 men on foot back to German lines, having abandoned all their vehicles and heavy equipment. (Greg Moore)
Kampfgruppe Hansen (SS-Standartenfuhrer Max Hansen)
Kampfgruppe Hansen contained a full regiment of SS troopers with a bit of artillery. Armor support consisted of Pz IV/70’s in the Panzerjäger Battalion. Their job was to advance on a road to the south of Peiper so as to broaden the front and protect the southern flank. Their progress was slow as they got stuck behind the horse drawn artillery of the 3.Fallshirmjager-Division at the beginning. The high water mark for Kampfgruppe Hansen consisted of a failed attempt to recapture Stavelot from the Americans, thus helping to seal the fate of Kampfgruppe Peiper. (Greg Moore)
Kampfgruppe Sandig (SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Sandig)
Kampfgruppe Sandig contained two battalions of infantry and the heavy artillery of the regiment. This formation acted as a reserve and was to follow behind Peiper and Hansen (on both roads) and provide support where needed. (Greg Moore)
Kampfgruppe Knittel (SS-Sturmbannführer Gustav Knittel)
Kampfgruppe Knittel consisted of a reinforced Recon Battalion. Its job was to loiter behind the spearhead until a breakthrough had been achieved and then to race forward and seize and hold bridges for the main force.
In the end, the breakthrough was never achieved and this formation never got to achieve the glory they had hoped for. (Greg Moore)
3rd Armored Division History (Extract)
[…] By dawn, we had more definite orders, and proceeded southward to secure a road junction towards which the enemy spearheads were rapidly advancing in their unabated dash from Stavelot to Spa, then Marche en Famenne and Liège. Spa, world famous for its mineral baths, had been the site of 1-A headquarters. In imminent danger of capture they had moved out leaving behind only a few service troops who happily guided, with sighs of relief the tanks of Task Force Lovelady through the city.
A short distance further on, we passed through a tremendous gasoline dump (photo above), millions of five-gallon cans stacked at intervals through hundreds of acres of dense forests. Service troops were hastily loading these in trucks, moving them to safety. We later learned that the Germans were just as earnestly drawing gasoline from the other side of the dump. As we found along the narrow, snowy roads, it became clear that American troops were scarce. The only visible defense were anti-aircraft guns, the larger ones being used for road blocks, strategically dug-in on curves and tops of hills. Soon, these disappeared and we were in no-man’s land, approaching the road junction we were to secure.
Easy Co was in the lead that day, commanded by Lt Hope. They reached their objective at the same time an enemy column was driving through. This surprised the Germans, all of whom were killed or captured before they could fire their guns. Leaving road blocks here, we received orders to move on to Stavelot. An enemy armored column had apparently received orders exactly contrary to ours, for they were coming, with equal resolve, towards us. The two spearheads met, locking horns of hot steel in ferocious mortal combat. Lt Hope was killed when his tank was hit, and Lt Stanko wounded. Casualties mounted but were not excessive, considering the raging battle. The day ended and we had lost four Sherman tanks by anti-tank and tank fire. The enemy task force must have sent a gloomy report back to their higher headquarters, too, because they lost a Mark IV tank with a 150-MM cannon mounted on it, five armored and two personnel and supply trucks, one towed 150-MM artillery piece, two towed 75-MM anti-tank guns, three large personnel carrying half-tracks, and one Volkswagen. Thus ended our first day in the Battle of the Bulge, with the promise of even harder ones to come. Von Rundstedt must exploit his advantage to the fullest extent before we could get organized, or lose his great gamble. Our Combat Command was attached to the XVIII A/B Corps and the 82-A/B worked along our right flank, also in the direction of Stavelot.
The Easy Co battle group was still detained in the vicinity of Trois-Ponts when Dog Co tried to ease the predicament by a flanking movement to the left. At Parfondruy, they encountered large numbers of enemy infantry. These troops were more than ordinarily savage, composed mostly of SS and Paratroopers. Since infancy, they had been Hitler’s favorite children, whose only creed was victory or death for the Fuhrer. Their minds had become warped by the narrow limits of military training to such an extent that the commitment of atrocities was a fascinating diversion for them. Human life was the least precious of German commodities, and they dealt their blows and gave their own lives with the same sadistic abandon.
The Investigation Committee of the Belgian National Defense Ministry concluded that the Germans arrived in the Parfondruy area between 1400 and 1500, where their appearance had completely surprised the villagers. Due to the close proximity of the hamlet to Stavelot, SS-Untersturmführer Kollaschny suspected the presence of the enemy. He therefore ordered his Fahrradzug (Mobil Group) and the squad from the Nachrichtenzug (Recon Group) to systematically fire at the windows of the houses as they passed. The fearful inhabitants had been nervously listening to the battle noises since the previous day and had prudently found shelter in their cellars.
Approximately twenty people had gathered in the basement of the Hurlet farm. The 58 year old Léon Crismer’s house was the first they encountered at the village entrance. Crismer was immediately seized by the SS. A bit further down the road, 54 year old farmer Jules Hurlet and his wife were in their barn tending their cattle when Kollaschny and his men approached. Alarmed by the sound of smashing windows they went out into the street and came eye to eye with approximately one hundred German soldiers. Mrs. Hurlet begged them not to fire at the houses as she was in great fear for the safety of the villagers. In response, the soldiers asked the couple if there were Americans in the area. Ignoring their denials, one of the soldiers aimed his MP-38/40 Machine Pistol at the belly of the farmer and forced him to accompany them in the direction where they suspected the presence of the enemy. Mrs. Hurlet searched for her maid Léonie Angèle, a 26 year old refugee from Luxemburg who spoke German to intervene and this seemed to work as the German soldiers allowed
Mr. Hurlet to return to the farm.
As the Germans continued their advance into Parfondruy, they forced the farmer’s pregnant daughter-in-law, the 26 year old Fernande Hurlet-Nouprez, to come with them in order to open the door to her house, together with Léonie Angèle who had to act as an interpreter. Meanwhile, Léon Crismer was shot by the SS men for no apparent reason. Fifteen minutes later, two other German soldiers came down the road from the direction of Coo. In the Hurlet’s kitchen they found the women and children who had spent the night in the basement of the farm seeking shelter against the American artillery. They then seized Jules Hurlet and this time forced him and his wife to go into the shed next to the house, followed by the other people from the kitchen.
As if she knew what was about to happen, Mrs. Hurlet hurried for the door on the opposite side of the shed which led into the garden, but she did not manage to open it. All the people in the shed now gathered near the backdoor, as if driven by instinct. Their worst fears were realized when one of the soldiers entered the shed, machine pistol in hand. Callously he kicked aside two women who begged him for their lives and opened fire : several salvos caused his victims to fall on top of each other and under the weight of their bodies the backdoor flew open. Before they left the scene of their crime, the two soldiers set the Hurlet farm on fire. The tally of victims continued to mount, outside on the street in front of the farm lay the body of the maid, Léonie Angèle. Eyewitness accounts state that she and Fernande Hurlet had been shot in the back as they walked back to her parent’s farm.
The mortally wounded pregnant woman had managed to crawl back into the kitchen before she succumbed to her injuries. Her body was later found in the burned out farm. Her 3 year old daughter Christiane had died in the shed together with the 34 year old Marie Beauvoix-Pondant and her 6 year old son Paul. Additionally, the 31 year old Julia Thonon-Adam, the 14-year old Josée Mors and the 7 year old Émile Collin were murdered there also. After both perpetrators had left Mrs. Hurlet who had been nearest to the backdoor and as such had been shielded by the unfortunates who stood between her and the soldier, managed to free herself as she had only been wounded. She took little Yvan Beauvois in her arms and grabbed his sister Marcelle, had been hiding behind the farm, and fled into the woods with the two small children.
Her husband, who had been standing next to her, had also been protected by the bodies of the other victims and realized that the bullets had miraculously only hit him in his right foot, hands and knees. After the German soldiers had left, he managed to free himself from under the corpses and crawled out the backdoor. One of the servants, Jules Blaise, had been in the hayloft when the Germans arrived and had luckily managed to stay hidden. He found the wounded farmer and together they took refuge in the cellar of the Gillard home.
When Mrs. Hurlet returned to the farm two days later, she found the 2 year old Monique Thonon in the shed, miraculously still alive, covered in blood and shivering with cold, next to her dead mother, Julia Thonon, who had been heavily pregnant with her second child due in mid-January. Little Monique was later brought to the hospital in Dison by the Americans and thankfully survived. Her father, who had been in Huy since before the start of the battle, returned to Parfondruy on December 30 and rushed to Dison once he learned about the massacre and the fate of his wife and son. An SS soldier then entered the farm of their neighbours and after demanding Ferdinand Bolette and his family to come out of the cellar, had shot dead the 86 year old farmer. Meanwhile, more villagers fell victim to the SS as Kollaschny and his men advanced further up the road towards the centre of Parfondruy. The 69 year old François Terf, his 36 year old daughter Jeanne Klein-Terf and her 9 months old baby Bruno were murdered in their family home. On the opposite side of the street, 71 year old François Mignon met the same fate. In the Chemin Sous Bailleu, the road which led from Parfondruy down the hill to Knittel’s command post in the Antoine farm, the 69 year old Joseph Georgis and his 64 year old wife Adolphine were shot in front of their house.
As the soldier aimed to shoot the farmer’s daughter, Mrs. Terwagne-Bolette, his weapon jammed which gave the terrified woman ample opportunity to escape. Meanwhile, Bolette’s son had remained in the safely of the cellar and as the German had not dared go down there, instead he only fired a salvo down the stairway and so the terrified boy had managed to remain unharmed. Good fortune would not hold out for others though. Across the road, a soldier entered the house of the Sougné family. In mortal fear, the 29 year old Jeanne Kapsitz-Sougné tried to explain to them that her husband served in the German army but it is unclear if the boy even listened to her. The 68 year old Lucie Sougné-Gruselin rushed into the room after she heard the shots which killed her daughter and was also murdered. Then the soldier went after the other daughter, 31 year old Madeleine Lemoine-Sougné. He chased her through the house before mortally wounding her. A visiting villager, Mrs. Breda, managed to hide herself and thus escaped death. In the house at the end of the street, just 600 meters from Knittel’s command post, the 67 year old Mr. Joseph Denis was also brutally shot. Still the killing continued, in the centre of the hamlet, the 69 year old Henri Dessonay was murdered as he chopped wood next to his house near the Ruy, the small creek that ran though Parfondruy down to the Amblève River.
Six farms in total were set ablaze that day. Out of a total population of just over one hundred people, twenty-six had been murdered seemingly without pity.
Marie Beauvoix-Pondant 34
Her Son Paul 6
Ferdinand Bolette 86
Antoine Breda 73
Emile Collin 7
Léon Crismer 58
Joseph Denis 67
Henri Desonnay 69
Léonie Engel 26
Joseph Georis 67
Adolphine Gerard-Georis 64
Josephine Grosjean-Houpand 70
Lucien Hurlet (missing) 31
Fernande Nouprez-Hurlet 26
Christiane Hurlet 3
Jeanne Kapsitz-Sougné 29
Jeanne Klein-Terf 36
Bruno Terf 9 (months)
Madeleine Lemoine-Sougné 31
François Mignon 71
Josée Mors 14
Lucie Sourné-Gruslin 68
François Terf 69
Julia Thonon-Adam 31
Alfred Tombeux 60
It is difficult for Americans to develop the emotion called hate. Good sportsmanship, fair play, reluctance to kill, failure to beat the foe when he is down, will of times lose a battle, for by these rules, a team dedicated to killing, cannot be fully aggressive. Parfondruy shall remain a monument to the birth of the deepest, fiercest hate for the German people by all the ranks in the command of Task Force Lovelady. When Dog Co with infantry liberated the tiny village, they found only a few living civilians, huddled in dark corners of cellars, too terrified, too overcome by grief, to move or welcome American troops with their usual hearty greetings. For, strewn about the houses were the corpses of whole families, from babies to parents and grandparents. Obviously innocent bystanders, they had been killed by beating or shooting in cold blood. Compassion for the victims and burning hate for the foe welled up simultaneously in the hearts of the soldiers who witnessed these gruesome scenes. We had read accounts of the massacre at Malmedy, but no amount of reading can replace a few minutes of seeing.
With doubled efforts, Task Force Lovelady suddenly became a wild beast, stampeding enemy positions with increased ruthlessness and ferocity, which often, throughout this memorable campaign, made even the most rigorously disciplined enemy troops wither in horrified amazement, their dying soldiers more than once expiring, not with the word of their Fuhrer on their tongues, but a final conviction, learned far too late, Deutschland Kaput ! By way of disposition of our task force, the situation was peculiar. The command post, in order to maintain liaison with both battle groups, split into two communications sections, one at Moulin du Ruy, one in the railroad station on the road to Grand Coo. Driving from the command post to Grand Coo, a distance of two miles in a southerly direction, one looked down into a valley on the right side with a parallel range of hills rising above it. Halfway up this range was the town of La Gleize, strongly held by the 1.SS-Panzer-Division LSSAH.
Task Force Lovelady and other units had cut them off completely, then left them quite alone, while Task Force MacGeorge and his 1st Battalion systematically set about to eliminate this potent pocket. In the meantime, as one drove from our command post towards Grand Coo, he would invariably be fired upon by enemy tanks in La Gleize, which often could be plainly seen as they changed positions.
At Grand Coo, the route turned sharply eastward, through Petit Coo, whose only installations were the aid station guarded by a platoon of light tanks from Baker Co and the Recon Platoon. Half a mile further east was Trois-Ponts, the right boundary of the main line of resistance, held by Easy Co in charge of Maj Stallings. North of this was Parfondruy, the left boundary of the main line of resistance, held by the Dog Co battle group, led by Capt Richard Edmark. Thus a triangle was formed by the two battle groups and the aid station, the left leg of which was exposed to enemy attack, unprotected and unguarded except for occasional patrols. The right leg was secure by virtue of a small river with units of the 82-A/B on the other side.
To relieve the increasingly desperate plight of Hitler’s finest soldiers in La Gleize, the logical axis of advance would be behind our two battle groups, the attack proceeding from the northeast, directed towards Petit Coo, thence up the valley to their objective. Unfortunately, this important probability, although it occurred to us, was not seriously considered, since our chief interest was directed towards organizing an attack to retake Stavelot.
Early in the afternoon on December 22, the present writer returned to Petit Coo from the command post and engaged in replacing a radio in the peep. One of the light tankers noticed a group of soldiers walking towards us in the distance. The radio was disregarded temporarily; its aerial left unconnected. Had it been in operation, a frantic warning from Maj Stallings would have been heard, telling us to get out of there in a hurry. Standing complacently in the doorway of the aid station, previously a restaurant, we watched, with little more than mild interest, the advancing soldiers, silhouetted against the sunlit hillside. We recognized them as enemy troops when they were perhaps 200 yards away. There were about fifty of them, but more came over the crest of the hill until approximately eighty were counted. They advanced in approved infantry fashion, irregularly dispersed and about six paces apart. Nonchalantly, and with no effort at concealment, they marched towards us, utterly disregarding our plainly visible light tanks, whose guns were now threateningly trained upon them.
With admirable presence of mind, seen so frequently among tankers, the Baker Co men held their fire until the enemy was about 50 yards away. By that time, our aid station personnel were so intrigued by the attack, in which no shots had yet been fired, and so confident that our light tanks could annihilate what we thought was simply a large patrol, that no effort was made to escape. Finally, the tanks opened up smartly and in unison, with their .30 caliber bow guns, spraying the thoroughly exposed German infantry mercilessly. Many fell, but many more continued their advance, still marching almost at attention, polished black boots and aluminum mess equipment shining brightly. Then our tanks began firing their 37-MM guns loaded with high explosive ammunition, among the foe. More fell, and more advanced, seeking cover behind the buildings on their side of the road. Now the Germans began to fire rifle and other small arms at us, the first round shattering a large mirror behind the doorway we had been standing in.
This brought us, the medical section, to the shocking realization that we were not watching a training film, and, in fact, were in the midst of a fire fight. Judiciously, we repaired to the basement, there to discuss our sad predicament. Another wave of enemy infantry came over the hill, followed by others which we did not wait to see. Their mortar support had arrived, and these unbearable missiles crashed around the aid station until it became completely untenable. The first groups of the attackers had reached cellars in the houses across the street, from whose windows they fired Panzerfausts and Panzerschrecks at our far from impregnable light tanks, knocking two of them out, killing or wounding most of the courageous occupants.
A brief and trembling underground council brought us to the decision that we should try to escape by dashing through a barbed wire fence to the slightly sunken railroad bed, thence towards Grand Coo. This we did, but when the sixth man was shot to death by a machine gun, the remaining two aid men returned to the basement, where they spent a harrowing forty-eight hours waiting for us to retake the village, at the same time performing valuable services to the wounded left behind. The rest of us escaped unharmed, and reported the details of the incident. The Recon Platoon fared less well, nearly all of them being captured, including Lt Gray and Cpl Dye. In the meantime, the two battle groups were completely cut off, and only the river prevented them from being surrounded.
By utilizing every bit of fire power they had, and by the very close artillery support offered by the 82-A/B unit, the main fighting elements of the task force held their ground. We were still in radio communication and Maj Stallings would report at regular intervals that everything was : Just fine, thank you ! Since all of the infantry was with these isolated battle groups, Baker Co had to launch an attack against the intruders alone. This they did, but it was simply impossible to retake a diligently defended town with nothing but tanks. However, they did lengthen the enemy casualty list and prevented further penetration towards La Gleize.
Task Force Lovelady was ordered to move southward to establish a road block on the La Gleize – Stavelot highway east of La Geize, and then drive to the east to assist the 30-ID, which was fighting in the vicinity of Stavelot with the 99-IB (Separate).
Task Force MacGeorge was ordered to organize into two forces for the execution of its Mission. Gen Boudinot personally gave the attack order to Maj MacGeorge who commanded one column and to Capt John W. Jordan, who commanded the second column. Capt Jordan was to advance southward, seize Stoumont, then turn east and seize La Gleize in conjunction with Maj MacGeorge’s column who was to advance south toward le village of La Gleize on an axis parallel to and east of Jordan’s route.
Task Force Lovelady moved from its area near Spa (La Reid) and proceeded on its mission. The road block east of La Gleize was establi1shed, as ordered after a sharp fight. The column continued to the south, minus the personnel necessary to man the road block, and in the vicinity of Trois-Ponts again struck enemy resistance consisting of tanks & infantry teams. Despite the resistance, another road block was set up and Lovelady continued to move to the south.
A third road block was established just north of Grand Coo, and Lovelady turned to the east on the road to Stavelot. The road blocks that he had left behind him in order to protect his rear and keep the road open had employed all of the infantry of his command with the exception of an attached company from the 120-IR (30-ID). Moving to the east, Lovelady reached Parfondruy but was unable to advance farther. On December 22 he held his position but enemy forces which had bypassed him cut him off from his road blocks, overran his aid station, and captured several vehicles. The enemy force which accomplished this were dressed in American uniforms and used American vehicles (Skorzeny’s Brigade). This turn of events forced the task force to turn away from Parfondruy and move to the west to the aid of the road blocks.
On December 23, Lovelady succeeded in reaching Grand Coo, and went into position to attack south where his road block under Maj Stallings was surrounded. The attack began on December 23 but progressed only to Petit Coo that day before being halted. However, during the night Lovelady received a company of infantry from the 30-ID, and on December 24, the Task Force reached the cut off road block and took, up a defensive position near Petit Coo. At 2300, on December 24, the Task Force was relieved by elements of the 30-ID and then moved to an assembly area near Les Forges.
Farther to the north, Maj MacGeorge and Capt Jordan had succeeded in accomplishing their mission after several small but very severe engagements. On December 20, Jordan reached the outskirts of Stoumont but was stopped by heavy anti-tank fire and halted for the night. On the same day, Maj MacGeorge had reached Borgoumont. His advance had been slow because of the very poor roads, numerous detours from the planned route of advance, and stubborn enemy resistance.
On the next day, Jordan’s force was attached to the 119-IR (30-ID) and attacked Stoumont. The little town was strongly defended and the attack met with no success. During the night additional artillery was given the Task Force and on December 22, Jordan’s force entered Stoumont. Maj MacGeorge was at this time on the north edge of La Gleize, but had been unable to penetrate the defenses of the town.
The next day, December 24, Jordan advanced to the east and attacked La Gleize in conjunction with Maj MacGeorge’s attack from the north. The town was heavily defended by anti-tank guns, tanks, and well hidden mine fields. The lack of infantry combined with poor, terrain which kept the tanks on the roads was a severe handicap in this attack, the two columns finally succeeded in occupying the town. At 1530 they were ordered to an assembly, area near Stinval while elements of the 30-ID relieved the task forces in La Gleize. With this action the deepest westward penetration of the entire 6.SS-Panzer-Army was stopped, and this major German force was put upon the defensive.
CCB reverted to division control on December 25. At 0930 that day, the Commanding General 3-AD ordered the command to send a force to the aid of CCA in the vicinity of Grandmenil. Task Force MacGeorge was ordered on this mission and was attached to CCA. In the narrative dealing with CCA, we have already seen how this Force seized Grandmenil after attacking with the 3/289-IR. CCB, less Task Force MacGeorge moved to the vicinity of Hotton and on December 26, the command took over a defensive sector from CCR. This sector ran from Ny to Melreux where the defense was tied in with the 84-ID. This sector was held by the 290-IR.
December 27 found the units of Task Force MacGeorge in Soy, having been relieved in Grandmenil by the 289th RCT. The rest of CCB was improving the defensive positions held by the 290-IR. On December 30, the command was relieved from responsibility for the sector, moved to assembly areas near Modave and prepared to join the remainder of the division.
3rd Armored Division History (Extract)
[…] On the second day, part of the 30-ID joined our light tanks and what few medium tanks were available, retaking Petit Coo, establishing contact with the battle groups, and sending the remnants of the SS Infantry Regiment back over the hill. Many of the enemy soldiers were dressed in American uniforms and wore American equipment. Almost all were SS troops, and the most aggressive we had ever met. Maj Stallings reported that they had had a good time and felt that they could kill more Germans when they were attacked on three sides, than when they could fire in only one direction.
The La Gleize pocket had been expertly demolished, and the 30-ID resumed the attack on Stavelot as TF Lovelady moved to another front on Christmas Eve. The crunching of fresh, dry snow added another sound to the ordinary noises that tanks make, as TF Lovelady rolled through the crisp, moonlit night. Whole forest of Christmas trees spread out before us, and could have been adorned no more beautifully than by their natural trimmings. Paradoxically, some seemed to be hung with silvery artificial icicles, the same as we used to use on the trees at home. Closer scrutiny revealed these to be bunches of narrow tin-foil strips dropped by Allied bombers to distort enemy radar equipment.
Real stars hung over our Christmas trees and they were lighted by the dotted tinsel of exhaust flames from the frequent flights of Buzz Bombs. Shivering in the cold steel of half-tracks, peeps, and tanks, we drove into the night, finally bivouacking in the early morning hours in a grove of scrub spruce. We made our beds on the snow and were worn out sufficiently by the long cold ride to sleep for a few hours. Awakening more from coldness than necessity, we stretched our benumbed legs, beat our arms against our bodies, and halfheartedly wished one another Merry Christmas.
By ten o’clock, we were again on the move, stopping in the afternoon for turkey dinner served from the kitchen trucks. The mess personnel deserved much credit for preparing such a heartening repast under such untoward conditions. Spirits lightened and we set up defenses around Oppagne, sleeping more soundly and comfortably than we had on Christmas Eve.
On December 26, we moved a few miles where we instituted strategic defenses from the high ground east of Ny to the railroad tracks in Melreux. Never had the tanks of TF Lovelady been so firmly entrenched against an anticipated enemy attack. We had been brought here to thwart the most recent German threat, whose cold steel fingers were already probing the area for a weak spot. Daily the line of defense was elaborated upon. Tank-dozers scooped out tons of earth, where all but the turrets of tanks were thoroughly concealed. Then they were camouflaged so expertly that anyone who did not know they were there would have difficulty finding them. Mines were laid, and concertina wire stretched between trees for hundreds of yards.
During these days, Col Lovelady would go from outpost to outpost inspecting his positions and talking cheerfully with the tankers. His favorite question would be : Have you killed any Germans today ? and were the answer : No, sir !, he would good naturally remind us that the war would end quicker if each of us killed at least one German a day. This usually brought a grin from the prematurely lined faces of the tankers and a hearty retort that : the day isn’t over yet, sir !
A few scattered rounds of artillery was all that reminded us that the enemy was within shooting distance. On December 29, we were directed to send reconnaissance in force into Trinal, which appeared to be a center of activity. A platoon from Dog Co performed this mission, losing one tank to a mine. Retribution was more than equal, for they killed a hundred enemy soldiers in addition to knocking out a self-propelled and an anti-tank gun. Returning to Ny after accomplishing their mission, our artillery took over, singing a Serenade to Trinal, by firing several rounds from every available piece to our sector at the same instant. […]
In summing up the actions of CCB during this period it is apparent that it contributed greatly to stopping the German drive in the La Gleize – Stavelot area. It furnished the 30-ID with much needed armored support and provided the armored punch which took La Gleize and Stoumont. Later, TF MacGeorge seized Grandmenil while attached to CCA after several infantry attacks to take the town had failed. It is hoped that the inclusion of organic tanks in the Infantry Division will provide the Infantry with armor support so that it will not in the future necessary to employ Armored Division in piecemeal fashion in order to provide tank battalions.
Having seen the separate employment of CCA and CCB, let us again retrace this same period of time and consider the employment of the remainder of the division.
The 3rd Armored Division (less CCA & CCB)
On December 18, the XVIII Corps (Airborne) was given a sector of American Ardennes front. One of the divisions assigned to this corps was the 3-AD, then in an assembly area in the vicinity of Stolberg, Germany. As we have seen, the division was sent into action quickly after the German offensivre became obvious, but was committed in a piecemeal fashion by losing its two combat commands which were, sent on widely separated missions under two different corps. After having been assigned to the XVIII Corps, the division was ordered to Hotton, where it was to be prepared to attack either east, southeast or south. This, directive, in itself tells much of the uncertainty and confusion that was rampant at the time.
3rd Armored Division History (Extract)
[…] Slowly, the big division ground to a halt in the Stolberg – Mausbach – Breinig area in Germany. Elements of the 1-ID took over part of the wide sector, and the 3-AD began to regroup and take stock of losses which were severe. That 18 day dash from the Seine to the Siegfried Line had been successful and very spectacular, but it had cost a great deal in men and machinery.
There were scarcely 100 tanks of the original 400 left in proper operating condition. Supply had begun to lag in spite of the heroic effort of those troops who made trips of more than 200 miles in order to bring up vital ammunition, fuel and rations. Much of this supply, in fact, was still tunneling through the floating piers in Normandy beach areas, and it was nothing short of a miracle that the armies had been able to drive so far without a great port on the continent of Europe.
Now, the entire 1-A had reached Germany’s borders, but the ‘Spearhead’ and the 1-ID were out on the point of a salient, and it was impossible for them to advance further until their flanks were secure. Therefore, the battle of attrition, which was hoped to be of short duration, began. Although men of the striking forces still believed that the war was practically over, there was still eight months of furious combat to be concluded before VE Day. There was no magic formula or employment of secret weapons in this first breaching of the Siegfried Line. It was done by one armored division supported by attached infantry and artillery, but without air support. There was tactical surprise in the victory, but much of it could be ascribed to plain Yankee guts and know-how. One could go into the tactical plan and see how the entire operation had been the result of well-integrated teamwork. There was first the ‘Queen of Battles’, the men of the infantry who take so great a part in every victory by force of arms. And there were the engineers, the heroic technicians of combat who must solve their problems of demolition or construction under the heaviest of defensive fire.
There were the tanks and tank-destroyers, the pin-point accuracy of division artillery, and the non-conforming, but highly successful blasting of pillboxes by direct 155-MM gunfire. These different branches of service, all working together as one vast team, took their losses and bored in to complete the job.
Actually, the battle for the Siegfried Line had begun at Mons, Belgium, on September 3, when the 3-AD and the 1-ID destroyed that German corps which was retreating to take up positions inside the Westwall fortifications. As a result of that historic engagement, Germany was forced to supplement her first line forces with a number of very poorly trained elements. On September 19, for example, a prisoner of war was taken who asserted that he was 63 years old and had been a non-com in 1914. The prisoner, an infantryman captured in the fierce house-to-house fighting which took place in the factory district of Stolberg, said that he had been in the army for only three weeks and was told that his duties would be confined to guarding the ‘numerous’ American POWs taken by the Wehrmacht. Instead of which, he griped, he had been given a rifle and sent to the front.
There were numbers of such ancient warriors in the daily POW line-up, plus a percentage who were terribly young. Several declared that they had been sent to clean up block houses and defense points prior to their occupation by fresh troops. The promised reinforcements never arrived, and the raggle taggle army of boys and old men suddenly found themselves in a desperate battle for which they had never been trained. There were even a few reports of women in the pillboxes. American troops flushed a number of these females who had been living with soldiers in front line bunkers. Whether the ‘Blitz Maedels’ ever actually took part in fighting is a point for discussion. GI’s of the Spearhead didn’t much care. They promptly labeled these characters ‘Pillbox Annies’ and sent them to the rear for interrogation along with the other sad-sack prisoners.
Battered, and finally at a standstill, the 3-AD had wound up one of the most amazing armored force operations in the history of warfare. Eighteen days from the Seine to the Siegfried Line ! And now, in a last, climactic surge of strength, the division had smashed completely through that legendary westwall into the confines of greater Germany. Then, like an athlete who has breached the tape of victory and stands exhausted, the ‘Spearhead’ paused. Vehicles were demanding maintenance. Men were haggard with fatigue. It was a long road they traveled and the far horizon was still befogged with smoke of battle.
Stolberg was a divided city, half in German hands, half occupied by the 3-AD. There was a constant exchange of shellfire here, and fall rains had begun to change the front into a quagmire. Big guns of division artillery, buzz-bombs, ‘incoming mail’, and air raids kept troops from sleeping too soundly at night. For the most part, CCA was stationed in Breinig. Gen Boudinot’s CCB was between Breinig and Kornelimunster, and the Division Rear Echelon at Raeren in Belgium. Col Robert L. Howze, commander of CCR, maintained a headquarters near forward echelon, on the outskirts of Stolberg. All of the other small towns in the area, such as Busbach, Schutzheid, and Mausbach, were also occupied by division troops and shelled periodically. The road from Busbach to Stolberg was a bowling alley for German 88’s, and that from Breinig to Stolberg could not be considered much better. While the stalemate continued and supply built up behind the lines, a bitter series of patrol actions went on in and about the demolished houses which constituted a sort of modern no-man’s-land on this new western front. From a world viewpoint, patrol clashes were merely a line in the daily communique, but to GI-Joe and his German counterpart, the men who kept the deadly rendezvous, it was primitive battle at its horrific height of strangle-hold and knife.
These actions were seldom of great importance but they helped to round out the G-2 intelligence picture of enemy activity and were therefore necessary. Sometimes they were extremely successful and again, as in the case of Sgt Archie Dustin, the report contained the sort of grim irony which made operations officers chuckle over the papers which told of mission not accomplished. Dustin went out on a gusty October evening. He and five of his men intended to capture one German soldier and bring him back for interrogation. That was their intention, and they came pretty close to succeeding.
Entering the German half of the city of Stolberg at dusk, Dustin and his smudge-faced crew proceeded to work through alleyways and backyard flower gardens until they had passed several Jerry outposts. Well within enemy lines they entered a partially demolished building and began a ticklish job of playing cat and mouse with the Wehrmacht. Presently a German patrol entered the house opposite. Other groups walked by on the sidewalk, their hob-nails echoing in the night; but they were always in great enough strength to resist capture. The Yanks were suddenly in a tough spot themselves. Dawn was on the way, and soon the hunters would be the hunted. They needed lots of luck and they got it too, with a load of high explosives. American artillery began to rip and tear into Stolberg. Two German soldiers, who had been clumping down the road, bolted in opposite directions. One darted in beside Dustin and stopped short with his eyes goggling as six M-1 rifles swung menacingly.
The trip back to American lines was even more hazardous than had been the penetration to enemy territory. Dawn was beginning to light the landscape and Jerry, as usual, was celebrating the return of day with a lot of automatic fire. Every machine gun in the world seemed to be searching for the little patrol. The prisoner was submissive; in fact he usually beat the Yanks to the ground whenever shell or mortar fire landed nearby. Dustin was beginning to congratulate himself on a job well done. However, as the patrol passed through its own forward listening posts, a particularly wicked concentration of mortar landed nearby. Upon regaining his feet, Dustin found that the prisoner seemed unwilling to continue. Scared to a blue funk, he thought. Tell him to get his butt off that ground and come along said Dustin to Pvt John Weiner. Can’t do it he’s dead ! said Weiner grimly. A splinter of German steel had killed the prisoner. Sgt Dustin walked back to his CP in the sordid grey dawn. He had to report that the mission was not accomplished.
Of course there were many successful patrols. Sgt Bob Wallace, another member of the 36-AIR, went out one night and brought back a burly Kraut whom he had bested in hand to hand combat. And, to top all patrol actions, there was the affair Geitz. Lt William D. Hill led that one and, in the misty darkness beyond American outpost lines, the lieutenant and his squad leader, Sgt Phillip Sullivan, suddenly discovered that their getaway man had disappeared. They held a whispered conversation. The man’s name was Geitz. He’s probably just out of place. Try calling him, but don’t make it too loud. Hill whispered. Geitz ! Cried Sullivan, in a stage whisper. A clump of bushes to the left front rustled slightly, and a distinctly teutonic voice declared Ja, hier ! Was is los ? The Recon patrol lost no time in performing that strategic maneuver known as getting the hell out of there ! Geitz was back at the CP; he’d been lost early in the game and returned to his own lines. Geitz number two probably died a hero’s death when his machine gun nest was mortared on the following morning. On the other hand, he may be still wondering who called him that night, and why!
Shellfire was the bane of existence at Stolberg and in the surrounding towns. German guns located in the Duren area constantly lobbed projectiles of various sizes into the ‘Spearhead’ positions. There were a number of casualties and a greater percentage of near misses. Recon Co of the 32-AIR probably caught more shells than any other outfit on the line. For some reason Jerry seemed to have the unfortunate Recon troops zeroed in no matter where they moved. The narrow escape department blossomed with strange tales at Stolberg and vicinity.
A 170-MM projectile whirled in to hit a house occupied by CCA guards at Schutzheid. The shell was a dud but it managed to smash through the roof and two floors of the billet, finally coming to rest up against the blanketed form of Pvt Louis Navarro, who was sleeping peacefully at the time.
Also at Schutzheid, Pvt Jake Cox grumbled because he had to go out in the rain to gas his vehicle. I wish that the damned thing would blow up he griped. Presto ! A German shell arrived on the truck, setting it ablaze from radiator cap to tailboard. I’m a ruined man there was a package of cigarettes in the glove compartment ! said Cox, as he climbed out from under the table. The grim humor of the front line manifested itself in many ways. When a shrapnel splinter imbedded itself in the wall just above Lt Junius Layson’s head, the young officer couldn’t resist pasting a sign in the window of his billets. It said : ACHTUNG! ACHTUNG! GERMAN SHELLS WILL DETOUR IMMEDIATELY !
Because brushes with death were so frequent, a certain nonchalant fatalism came to the veterans. Lt Col Paul G. Fowler and Maj Robert E. Chaney were peacefully eating breakfast one morning when ‘incoming mail’ shattered the windows. Pass the salt, please said Chaney calmly. Sorry, but a bit of shrapnel has just smashed the shaker said Col Fowler. A nervous orderly brought more salt. Maj Chaney eyed the frightened man as he placed the new salt cellar in the center of the table. Now, he said, I’ll give you five to one that they can’t do it again !
Aside from shell fire, nocturnal air raids and patrol actions, the front was quiet. The 3-AD Military Government, formerly called Civil Affairs, was extremely busy working out the problems of occupation. Being the first unit of its kind to operate in Germany, there were no precedents upon which to base decisions. Lt Col William E. Dahl and his men probably set the pattern for future dealings with German civilians in the soon to be occupied Reich. It was a good example. The Germans were tired of the war and, in the main, peaceful and cooperative, although a little astonished and dismayed at the non-fraternization policy. Not that there wasn’t fraternization ! A percentage of ‘Spearhead’ soldiers openly violated the ruling and took their court martials as a matter of fact when they were caught at it. In Stolberg it was said that an artillery concentration was often welcomed. GI’s who ducked into the nearest doorway for safety were often found to have picked a house which contained beaucoup frauleins !
During this period of relative calm at Stolberg, Maj Gen J. Lawton Collins’s VII Corps was building up for the attack on Aachen. Men of the 3-AD took a small part in this action, but it was a memorable one. A Task Force commanded by Lt Col Sam Hogan was attached to the veteran 1-ID and committed in the western reaches of the city. The ‘Spearhead’ units seized strategic Loueberg Hill on October 19, while working with the 26-IR (1-ID). There was moderate resistance and heavy mortar fire, but Hogan’s men found the mud their worst enemy.
The sticky clay fogged tanks and half-tracks while German troops sprayed a steady concentration of fire from well concealed strong points. One Sherman, commanded by T/4 Dries Franken, actually sunk into a shell hole until the crew could not see out of their periscopes. This is the first time, said their platoon leader Lt Harland Austin, that I’ve seen a bunch of tankers jump into a foxhole without getting out of their tank !
The defenders of the key city of Aachen fought until the last bottle ! When elements of the 3-AD, fighting with infantrymen of the Big Red One, captured the last strongpoint, they found a great deal of ammunition and plenty of empty flasks. In this connection, Col Hogan probably made the greatest error of the campaign when he captured seven German half-tracks and then sent them to the rear without conducting a detailed examination. Soldiers of the 1-ID found the vehicles crammed with drinks – and they weren’t soft ! Hogan, a Texan, was reputed to know the difference in drinks and to appreciate it.
Col Hogan was luckier at that, than the 1/Sgt of How Co 33-AIR, who took time out to examine a Jerry halftrack during the last hours of the Loueberg Hill fight. One of How Co’s tanks saw movement, fired at the already knocked out German vehicle and managed to blow it up in their top-kick’s face ! Muttering imprecations, as only a 1st Sergeant can, that worthy walked off with two cases of cognac salvaged from the wreck. A few moments later he was strafed by an FW-190 which added insult to injury by smashing the remaining bottles of liquor !
By mid-November, the 3-AD had recuperated after the long summer offensive, and waited for corps orders to attack. Intelligence channels had discovered that the German 4.Infantry-Division was preparing to replace the harried and weary 12.Infantry-Division, then on the line. It was an opportune time for an American offensive. In November the entire battle zone was wet. Heavy mist and fall rains kept sweeping dismally across the still-green fields of the Rhineland. It was doughboy weather, mean and muddy. Even the air force kept its head down and the sky belonged to Jerry’s rumbling buzz bombs.
Thoughtfully, tankers watched road surfaces degenerate into sticky ribbons of mud. There was no bottom, not even on high ground. The inclement weather broke momentarily on November 16. Under a shifting, scud-blown sky the men of CCB loaded up and waited for orders to move out. This was to be a strike for the troublesome Hamich – Hastenrath ridge which barred the way to the Roer River and the plain of Cologne. There wasn’t much talk that day; the combat commanders scowled and chewed their lips. The men waited impassively but they knew very well what the attack would mean. They knew all about the way of a Sherman in soft ground. On this front the enemy had been digging in for two solid months. The Kraut was a good professional soldier and he had plenty of dual purpose 88’s – each of which was capable of holing a medium tank from frontal drive to exhaust. The odds were not especially reassuring. Preparation for the breakthrough began at 1115 when 1300 Fortresses and Liberators of the 8-AAF hit the area Eschweiler – Langerwehe. The bombing was not nearly as spectacular as that in Normandy, but troops could see the long, grey smoke markers drifting where the bombers had passed, and they could hear the surging thunder of explosives up ahead.
The attack jumped off at 1300 as Division Artillery hammered targets to the direct front and rockets cut flaming arcs in the air. The tank tracks spun hard, gripped, and sheets of water flew to right and left. No dust this time. Within 24 minutes of H-hour, Lt Col William B. Lovelady’s TF had reached its first objective in Kottenich. Initially it appeared that resistance might be less than had been expected, but then TF Mills ran into a cleverly concealed minefield and a vicious covering fire by mortars, artillery and small arms. A dirty, disheartening struggle developed for Hastenrath and Scherpenseel. The route was deep in mud, water and debris. Underneath this surface scum lay the Teller and Riegel mines that could, and did, blow peeps into masses of tangled wreckage, or rip tracks and bogey wheels off the Sherman tanks.
Mills found his task force battling desperately to survive. The Mat Co of the 33-AIR sent its men into the flaming attack in order to retrieve crippled fighting vehicles. Back at Mausbach, the mechanics of the command worked night and day in order to return these machines to the line where they were so urgently needed. Yard by yard the task forces ground ahead, finally taking both towns after a bitter give and take slugging match.
On November 18, Col Mills was killed in action and Col John C. Welborn assumed command of the depleted force. In spite of heavy casualties, action showed that Gen Rose’s division had not lost any of its driving ability. The objectives had been reached and secured regardless of mud and mines and a well prepared defense. The action of the tankers and infantry had been superb, but the badge of courage was not awarded to them alone. For extraordinary heroism, the Medical Aid Section of the 2/33-AIR, was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation. These soldiers of the red cross had brushed aside the concern of veteran ‘Blitz Doughs’ in order to set up a forward receiving station in the midst of the battle. Their work saved lives and earned the gratitude and administration of front line tankers and doughs.
By November 21, CCB had been pinched out of the new offensive at Hastenrath and Scherpenseel. However, a new drive began almost immediately and, while Gen Boudinot’s troops rested, TF Richardson of CCA, went into action in an attempt to take high ground between Langerwehe and Frenz.
Now the routes of advance had begun to resemble those terrible salients of World War I. The territory beyond Eschweiler had been heavily shelled by American artillery, periodically bombed, and now torn by tank fire. Small towns were masses of wreckage and every field was peeked with new craters. Buildings and dwelling houses leaned in lop-sided surrender, torn by American steel, and dead cows lay in stifflegged postures reminiscent of Normandy. Mud and mines were still the order of the day as TF Richardson began to throw a steel arm around the outskirts of Weisweiler.
Recent rains had swollen every marsh and stream in the battle area and high ground was soaked so thoroughly that attacking armor wallowed hulldeep in the clinging stuff. There was no opportunity for maneuver and Col Richardson watched in agony as his Shermans bogged down and were set aflame by accurate German anti-tank fire. Smoke screens were used to some advantage in this push, but the combination of mud, mines and well dug-in defenses seemed to nullify every theory of armored attack. Even at night the command knew little rest. While bivouaced at Nothburg, preparatory to jumping off, a dam on the Inde River was blown by the German defenders, flooding the task force positions to a depth of nearly five feet in some particulars.
Crews were forced out of basements and had much of their equipment soaked. Later, near Weisweiler, while German searchlight batteries cast an eerie artificial moonlight over the area, Luftwaffe squadrons scattered anti-personnel and high explosive bombs among the ‘Spearhead’ vehicles. There were few casualties among the men, but peeps and command cars were riddled with fragments.
In spite of the raw cold and unfavorable weather conditions, Richardson maintained his steady but costly advance. Engineer units removed hundreds of mines along the way; one crew under Lt Edmund Socha lifting more than 1000 of the big tank-killers in a three day period. While tanks continued to bog down, the 2-IR (4-ID), attached, went forward to take the objective. For the most part, this last phase of action was an infantry show supported by tank and tank-destroyer fire. The played-out, frustrated elements of the task force returned to division control in the vicinity of Busbach. It had been a cold, miserable and bloody struggle.
Push to River Banks
In the last stages of the push to the Roer, a little river which was troublesome because its levels could be so efficiently controlled, CCR, led by Col Robert H. Howze, jumped off on December 10. Once again the combination of mud and mines and anti-tank guns nearly spelled ruin for attacking units. The enemy continued to defend with fanatical determination and, although Division Artillery paved the way with concentrated barrages, the German exacted a heavy price for every yard of ground he yielded. Two task forces, however, one led by Lt Col Matthew W. Kane, and the other by Lt Col Sam Hogan, supported by a battalion of the attached 60-IR (9-ID), continued to advance. Kane’s force took Echtz after a sharp battle, and Task Force Hogan drove into Geich and Obergeich. The combat command then went on to clear Hoven, on the banks of the Roer, slugging out a close decision over tanks, anti-tank guns and the ever-present infantry.
During this action at Obergeich, doughboys and tankers of the 3-AD witnessed one of those incidents which tend to become legend in wartime. It had to do with a pair of soldiers who displayed that sort of nonchalant bravery which is usually encountered only in motion picture accounts of battle. The two gallant doughs, like so many of those men who become legends of war, disappeared almost immediately into anonymity. Nobody knew who they were; even their descriptions became a subject for debate. However, all accounts agreed that the enlisted man carried a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), and the officer – a walking stick. The lieutenant, it was said, was killed in action on the day following his greatest moment, but even that information is shrouded in doubt.
The facts of the matter remain
Division tanks were attacking Obergeich, the little town which lay to the east of Langerwehe on the road to Duren. The axis of advance led along one of Germany’s main rail lines. In the mud-bound terrain tanks and armored cars proceeded slowly, bogging down frequently and receiving heavy anti-tank, artillery, and small arms fire. Leading the armor were two small figures. The first was a GI carrying a BAR and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of grenades; the second was a lieutenant, strolling along with no weapon at all except his cane. With it the officer pointed out machine gun nests and other strong points for the following tankers to attack. Neither of these doughboys attempted to duck the constant rain of heavy German mortar and shell fire.
They walked upright, the dough spraying every position with his BAR and tossing grenades to right and left. About him terrified Jerries rose from their slit trenches and walked forward to surrender. The lieutenant, ambling a few paces behind, appeared unaware of danger. He pointed with his absurd little walking stick, and went on. Together, the two small figures led the armored column into the town of Obergeich, which was subsequently captured by the tanks, and there they disappeared, promptly to become another brave legend of the western front.
During the period of vicious attrition on this sector, the VII Corps had set up a rest camp in Verviers, Belgium, which was visited by many of the division’s personnel. Passes to the Belgian towns and to Paris were also issued. It seemed as if the war would remain locked in a bitter stalemate until spring. Men of the combat commands performed ever-necessary maintenance on their fighting vehicles, washed clothing, and made billets more comfortable.
Division engineers repaired and kept operating the Stolberg water system, and crews of local citizenry labored on the muddy roads. Up in Busbach, Lt Arthur Rutshaw of the military police had organized an efficient police department. His German staff arrived punctually each morning, snapped to stiff attention and received their orders. During this period the only excitement was occasioned by small, miserable attacks for limited objectives, by air raids and robot bombs.
Division artillery had moved up and the night was no longer a steady series of rippling, crashing explosions. Robots sputtered and rumbled overhead night and day until troops began to manufacture weird tales about ‘chimney details’. It was necessary, the solemn GI’s stated, to have a man on every roof. His duty ? To refuel buzz bombs and bend the chimneys to allow the robots to pass on over the Stolberg – Breinig – Busbach area !
By mid-December division troops had begun to prepare for the Christmas holidays. Trees were selected and, in many billets, were set up and decorated for the celebration. Although positions were still under occasional bombardment by long range weapons, the front had been pushed forward until this was the exception rather than the rule. Even the roads were beginning to look relatively clear of mud, water and rubble. It looked like a peaceful Christmas for the ‘Spearhead’ Division. And then, of course, one week before holiday, electrifying news came clamoring over the lines of communication. The great counter attack had begun. St Nicolas, with a considerable-assist by Gen von Rundstedt, had presented a bitter gift to the allied high command. […]
The division, minus CCA and CCB, closed into an assembly area in the vicinity of Hotton during the night of December 19-20, and immediately received an attack order. The mission received by Gen Rose from the CG 1-A (Hodges) and the CG XVIII Corps (Airborne)(Ridgway) was to initiate intensive reconnaissance in the Hotton – Grandmenil sector, to locate the enemy, to secure a line running east of La Roche to CR-576853 and to tie in with the 82-A/B on the left and the 84-ID on the right !
It is obvious that this mission was an impossible one in view of the enemy strength and the lack of strength of the division at that time. However, on December 20, no one knew anything of the enemy situation, nor did he know much about the Allied situation. As Gen Rose stated later in an interview, information of the enemy was practically non-existent. The operation was a bluff, because on occasions the enemy had enough strength to overrun the division. During the ten days of the first phase of the Ardennes, the division succeeded in its mission because it attacked instead of passively defending. On December 20 at about 1200, under immediate command of the Commanding Officer, 83-ARB (Recon), Lt Col Prentice E. Yeomans, and under general control of the Commanding Officer of the CCR, three task forces rode south across the Hotton – Manhay road to carry out the mission of the division. These three forces and their missions were :
Able Co 33-AIR.
Able Co 83-ARB (Recon).
Plat, Charlie Co 83-ARB.
AAA Sect, 486-AAAB.
Mission : to parallel the Ourthe River, pass through La Roche turn east and cut the Manhay – Houffalize road at Dinez.
Task Force Orr (Lt Col William R. Orr)
Baker Co 83-ARB.
Plat, Charlie Co 83-ARB.
1 Co M-4 Tanks.
Btry B, 54-AFAB.
AAA Sect, 486-AAAB.
Mission : to advance with this axis on the Erezée – Dochamps – Samrée road, turn east and occupy the Manhay – Houffalize road at crossroads 576853.
1 Co M-4 Tanks.
Dog Co 83-ARB.
Btry A, 54-AFAB.
AAA Sect, 486-AAAB.
Plat, Charlie Co 83-ARB.
Mission : to advance on the highway from Mormont through Grandmenil to Manhay thence east to Malempré.
As stated previously, the attack began at about 1200 on December 20. In an interview later, Lt Col Hogan stated that his attack was delayed because he waited for the trains to bring up gasoline. When he finally started, the sorely needed gasoline had not arrived and, his vehicular tanks were only half full. It may be presumed that the same situation existed in the other Task Forces.
On the first day of the operation, TF Hogan proceeded south through Beffe, Marcourt, Marcouray, Cielle and La Roche until it was halted by strong enemy road block south of La Roche. Restricted to the roads by the nature of the terrain, the force stopped for the night and set up its CP in La Roche. Meanwhile, to the northeast, TF Orr moved, first to Erezée, where the main body halted. A Recon company and a company of tanks were sent south on the road to Dochamps. This force found Dochamps strongly defended by the enemy, so it by-passed the town to the south and continued on toward Samrée. Just south of Dochamps, a superior enemy force was encountered and the two companies were forced to withdraw. Unable to leave the road under heavy fire, the tanks were abandoned and the force retired to Amonimes where it met the rest of TF Orr moving to the south. The force halted for the night in Amonimes, out posting the town. The 1/36-AIR was dispatched from CCR to reinforce TF Orr and joined him in Amonimes that evening.
On the same day the column to the east, TF Kane, succeeded in reaching Malempré without encountering resistance. Road blocks were set up on all roads leading into the town. The CP was established in Manhay. Thus, on the first day of the attack, one of the forces had reached its objective, but the other two were forced to halt shortly after crossing the line of departure. On the second day of the operation, December 21, TF Hogan attempted to continue its move to the south but it was again stopped by enemy road blocks. Col Howze, CCR Commander, ordered the force to return to Hotton at this point. The force moved back to the north and at dusk reached Beffe where it came under heavy enemy fire who had apparently passed Hogan to the east and was moving north. Hogan turned to the south again, moved about two and halted for the night.
The center force, TF Orr moved out of Amonimes in another effort to seize Dochamps and continue to the south. The attack was beaten off by the strongly entrenched enemy and Orr withdrew into Amonimes again. In the east, TF Kane pushed elements of his force to crossroads 576853, then held with the help of scattered elements of the 106-ID. Kane received then the order to move to the west and attack Dochamps in conjunction with Orr. The force moved west through Freyneux and Lamormenil and was stopped by enemy fire about one thousand yards to the east of Dochamps, where it halted for the night. By the night of December 21, it had become apparent that the battalion had met a strong enemy drive head-on.
On December 22, all of the task forces received heavy tank-infantry attacks. In the west, TF Hogan met resistance at Beffe and could not advance to the north. He turned south again and proceeded to Marcouray where he occupied the town and set up a perimeter defense. It was apparent that Hogan was surrounded and cut off from his own lines and his supple. By this time Hogan’s vehicles were almost out of gasoline. In the center, TF Orr tried again to move south against Dochamps. He was beaten back again and withdrew into Amonimes where a defense was establish6d to meet the enemy who was moving to the north out of Dochamps. In order to man the defenses around Amonimes adequately, Lt Col Orr had to use tankers of the 33-AIR dismounted as infantry. His road blocks were manned by cooks and drivers of the infantry half-tracks.
TF Kane was stopped to the east of Dochamps and repeated attacks against the town failed as the terrain strongly favored the defenders. Some 70 paratroopers from an unknown unit joined the TF and tried two night attacks against the town. They were unable to advance over the rugged terrain against heavy enemy fire. TF Hogan continued to defend Marcouray on December 23. Two attempts to supply him by air were made by C-47 aircraft, but the drops failed, and the supplies fell into the hands of the enemy. TF Orr continued to defend Amonimes and remained in that town until December 27, when it was relieved by elements of the 75-ID. TF Kane continued to press its attack on Dochamps but was forced to fall back toward Freyneux and Lamormenil. A road block on the Manhay – Houffalize road just south of Manhay which had been established by Lt Col Kane was overrun as the enemy moved in toward Manhay and Grandmenil.
Continued attempts to supply Hogan by air failed again on December 24. Gen Rose sent a message to Lt Col Hogan stating that another attempt to supply him by air would be made on December 25 and that if it failed Hogan was to destroy his vehicles and withdraw on foot. Lt Col Hogan radioed a recommendation that no further attempts to supply him and that the force withdraw. This was approved by Gen Rose. By December 24, TF Kane was also in a precarious situation defending Freyneux and Lamormenil. The force was cut off from friendly lines and supplies but in defending as it did it prevented enemy reinforcements from moving to the north.
Christmas Day was spent by TF Hogan in preparing for it’s withdrawal. Vehicles were disabled by removing vital parts, as burning them would have disclosed the intent to the enemy. Also during the day, a reconnaissance was made of the proposed route of withdrawal. At 1600, Lt Col Hogan and four hundred men moved out of Marcouray and struck north through the woods. Although several times during the night the men came so close to the enemy that they could hear command being given to German artillery batteries. No men were lost and the force reached friendly lines in the morning of December 26. TF Kane also spent Christmas Day in planning a withdrawal while fighting off several attacks at Freyneux and Lamormenil. On December 26, at 1900, Kane and his men moved out under cover of smoke and fog. They passed through La Fosse, Sadzot and Erezée, where they were again within friendly lines.
From the beginning of this action around the Hotton – Grandmenil sector, this battalion was in constant contact with Hitler’s best (116.Panzer-Division and 560.Panzer-Grenadier-Division). They fought well against great odds, and gave a good account of themselves. This action was probably the toughest assignment that men of this battalion have been given yet. With the withdrawal of TF Hogan and TF Kane on December 26, the operation of the 83-ARB in this sector ended. During this period they had carried the brunt of the action for the 3-AD. The defense of Marcouray by Hogan, the attacks on Dochamps and the defense of Amonimes by Orr and the occupation of Malempré, the defense of crossroads 576853, the attacks on Dochamps, and the defense of Freyneux and Lamormenil by Kane all served greatly to slow and stop the German advance, and at the same time gave the infantry units under CCA and CCB the vital time necessary to establish and strengthen the lines farther to the north.
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 !
(NB : Published for Good – May 2019)