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 First Army 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 First US Army 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, first :
piecemeal versus coordinated of the armored division;
deficiencies of organization and equipment;
effect of the type of mission assigned by higher headquarters on the employment of the armored division;
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 2nd and the 3rd Armored Divisions. 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 Dec 16 1944, splitting the American line on a 50 mile front. This gap in the line was finally closed one month later on Jan 16 1945, at the little Belgian town of Houffalize. During this period the action of the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions took place in three phases. The first phase was the action of the 3rd Armored Division during the period Dec 18/31 1944, the second was the employment of the 2nd Armored Division during the period Dec 21/31 1944. The the third phase was the motion of Jan l1/16 1945 in which both divisions, under the US VII Corps, attacked abreast to make a juncture with troops of the US Third Army 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 Counteroffensive 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 western border of Germany. These troops hand landed in Normandy the previous June, had driven eastward to the German border by early September, had stopped until mid-November for a build-up of supplies, and had then 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 Counterattack began. At this time the Allied forces were disposed in three army groups, the 21st Army Group on the north, the 12th Army Group in the center, and the 6th Army Group on the southern flank of the line.
In the center of this effort, as the interior army of Gen Omar N. Bradley’s 12th Army Group, the First US Army was 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 l25-mile First Army 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 on 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 Adolph Hitler. During July and August 1944, while bedridden with injuries received in an attempted assassination 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 oft their chief supply base at Antwerp and at the same time, trap the entire British and Canadian forces of Field Marshal Montgomery’s 21st Army Group, then lining the banks of the Meuse.
Gen Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander in Chief, German Forces in the West thought so little of the plan’s chance of success that he refused to participate. Thus Gen Field Marshall Walter Model actually implemented the plan, and under his command three German armies trained and assembled for the attack (Statement of Prisoner of War Gen. d. Kav. Siegfried Westphall, Chief of Staff to Commander in Chief West, von Rundstedt – Salvaged Third Army Files). 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 and Luftwaffe 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 6o% wartime authorization.
With rigid secrecy, supplies were assembled under the code name 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 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 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions 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.
This study, in the next three chapters, takes up in detail the part which the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions played in closing the gap.
The American 3rd Armored Division 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 (1) of the US Armored Division, was’ a definite handicap, particularly in the rugged terrain of the Belgian Ardenne.
(1) – What is a Table of Organization and Equipment ?
A Table of Organization and Equipment (T/O&E)1 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 Tables of Organization (T/Os) and Tables of Basic Allowances (T/BAs). Unfortunately the T/BAs were not closely coordinated with the T/Os. In October 1942 the Table of Equipment (T/E) 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
– 5) expendable items and ammunition
The action of the American 2nd Armored Division 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 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions 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 Counteroffensive in the Belgian Ardenne began on December 16 1944, the 3rd Armored Division was in an assembly area in the vicinity of Stolberg, Germany. Acting as reserve for 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 3rd Armored Division was Commanded by Maj Gen Maurice E. Rose. Combat Command A (CCA) was led by Brig Gen Doyle O. Hickey, Combat Command B (CCB) by Brig Gen Truman E. Boudinot and Combat Command Reserve (CCR) 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 3rd Armored Division 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 Counteroffensive in the last days of December.
The first unit to leave the division assembly area was CCA (Combat Command A), which was attached to 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 3rd Armored Division. The day after CCA departed from the vicinity of Stolberg (Germany), CCB was attached to V Corps and ordered in the vicinity of Spa (Belgium). Upon arrival near Spa, CCB was transferred to control of XVIII Corps and attached to the 30th Infantry Division. The command was employed in the La Gleize – Stavelot (Belgium) area until December 25 when it reverted to control of the 3rd Armored Division.
With the departure of both of the major fighting units of the division the remainder of the division was attached to XVIII Corps on December 19, and on the night of December 19 to 20 it moved to Hotton (Belgium). Upon arrival the division was ordered to attack southeast from Hotton to secure the Manhay – Houffalize (Belgium) road. This attack was made by the 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, reinforced.
On December 21, the division, still minus CCA and CCB, was attached to the VII Corps, and on December 24, the CG VII Corps, ordered the division to establish a defense line from Grandmenil (Belgium) to Melroux (Belgium), and to tie in with the 7th Armored Division on the left and the 84th Infantry Division 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 83rd Armd Rcn Bn 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 3rd Armored Division succeeded in stabilizing a line which ran generally from Hotton to Grandmenil in Belgium, and just South of the road which, connected the two towns. At this time the division was reinforced by the attachment of the 289th RCT, the 290th RCT, the 2/112th Infantry Regiment, the 509th PIB and the 517th PIB. Tying in with the 7th Armored Division in the east and the 84th Infantry Division 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.
Combat Command A
As noted, previously, CCA was the first element of the 3-AD to move from the division assembly area for participation in the Ardennes counteroffensive. On December 18, the command, composed of :
HQ Det, CCA
32nd Armored Regiment (less 1st Bn)
3rd Battalion, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment
67th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
A Co, 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion
A Co, 45th Armored Medical Battalion
Det, A Co, Maintenance Battalion
1st Plat, A Co, 738th Tank Battalion (SP) ME
was attached to V Corps and ordered to the vicinity of Eupen (Belgium). Clearing the division assembly area by 1200 on the 18th the command arrived in the zone of V Corps and relieved the 18th Infantry Regiment the 1st Infantry Division located there (Eupen) on December 19, 1944. 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 V Corps in event of enemy attacks. However, the expected enemy attacks failed to develop, and on Dec 21, the command was relieved from, attachment to V Corps and reverted to control of the 3rd Armored Division. CCA departed from Eupen on Dec 22 for a new assembly area near Werbomont (Belgium) on that same day. Immediately upon arrival at Werbomont the command was split into two task forces :
Task Force Doan (Col Leander L. Doan)
– 32nd Armored Regiment (less 1st and 3rd Bns)
– 3rd Bn, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment (- I Co)
– 1st Plat, A Co, 23rd Armored Engineer Bn
– 1st Plat Rcn Co, 32nd Armored Regiment
– 67th Armored Field Artillery Battalion.
was ordered to move to the main highway junction 7 kilometers north of Marche (Belgium) in order to cut the Marche-Bastogne road at that point. Arriving in the vicinity of Hargimont at 1615 on Dec 22, Task Force Doan established the road blocks and tied in their defense with elements of the 84th Infantry Division, which. was operating in the area.
During the night of Dec 22 to 23 and on Dec 23 Col Doan’s road blocks receivred heavy pressure from a enemy armor and infantry, but hold fast. On Dec 24, Task Force Doan was attached to the 84th Infantry Division. Meanwhile, the other Task Force of CCA, Task Force Richardson, Lt Col Walter B. Richardson commanding, was placed under division control and ordered to go to the aid of elements of the 106th Infantry Division defending a road block at crossroads #576653, which is about 23 miles southeast of Odeigne.
Task Force Richardson
3rd Battalion, 32nd Armored Regiment and I Co, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment; moved Dec 23 toward the crossroads. The defense, of crossroads #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 Task Force 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 Dec 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 in to 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 Task Force withdrew on foot cross country. On Dec 25, this force passed through the lines of the 3rd Battalion, 289-RTC, just west of Grandmenil. Keeping in mind the fact that Task Force Richardson was operating under division control, the loss of Task Force Dean to the 84th Infantry Division on Dec 24 stripped CCA of all its combat units with the exception of a small reconnaissance outfit. On Dec 24, the headquarters 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-RTC, which held a line running just south of the Erezée – Manhay road. Its 3rd Bn was blocking to the north and east, as the enemy at this time held the town of Grandmenil.
On Dec 25, the 289th-RCT 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 Dec 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 7th Armored Division. Up to this time several attempts to close the gap in the lines of the 289th RCT had been unsuccessful. On the night of Dec 27, elements of 12. SS Panzerdivision and other troops infiltrated through the gap and launched a determined attack on Sadzot. This enemy attack was counter-attacked by the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, now attached to 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, now also attached 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. Official control of the sector passed to the 75-ID at 1800 Dec 28 and 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 84th Infantry Division 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 sane period.
Combat Command B
On Dec 19 1944, the day following the departure of CCA for Eupen, CCB, under the command of Brig Gen Truman B. Boudinot, was attached to V Corps and ordered to Spa and La Reid, Belgium. The command moved in two columns, Task Force Lovelady, Lt Col William B. Lovelady cormmanding, consisting of :
– 2nd Battalion, 33rd Armored Regiment
– B Company, 56th Armored Infantry Regiment
– Plat, Rcn Company, 33rd Armored Regiment
– Plat, B Company, 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion
went to Spa, while Task Force MacGeorge, Maj Kenneth T. McGeorge commanding with :
– I Company, 33rd Armored Regiment
– F Company, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment
– Plat, D Company, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment
– 2 Plats of Assault Guns
– Mortar Plat, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment
– 2 Plats of Light Tanks
Engineer Squad, went to La Reid. Upon arrival in their new areas, the units of CCB were attached to XVIII Corps. On Dec 20, the command was attached to the 30th Infantry Division 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 combat team of the 1. SS-Panzerdivision, I. SS-Panzerkorps, led by Lt Col Joachim Peiper, perpetrator of the infamous Malmedy Massacre.
3rd Armored Division History
[…] 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, Marche en Famenne, Liège. Spa, world famous for its mineral baths, had been the site of First US Army 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, 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 wound 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.
E Co was in the lead that day, commanded by 1/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. 1/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 15 CM (150 millimeter) cannon mounted on it, five armored and two personnel and supply trucks, one towed 15 CM artillery piece, two towed 75 millimeter 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 Corps (Airborne) and the 82nd Airborne Division worked along our right flank, also in the direction of Stavelot.
The E Co battle group was still detained in the vicinity of Trois-Ponts, when D 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 Fallschirmjäger (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.
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 D 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 LSSAH Panzerdivision. 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 B Co and the Rcn Plat. Half a mile further east was Trois-Ponts, the right boundary of the main line of resistance, held by E Co in charge of Maj Stallings. North of this was Parfondruy, the left boundary of the main line of resistance, held by the D 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 82nd Airborne Division 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 Dec 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 B 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 millimeter 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 bazookas 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 reconnaissance 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 82nd Airborne 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, B 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 30th Infantry Division, which was fighting in the vicinity of Stavelot with the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate)(US-Norvegian). 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 120th Infantry Regiment (30-ID).
Moving to the east, Lovelady reached Parfondruy but was unable to advance farther. On Dec 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 150. 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 Dec 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 Dec 23 but progressed only to Petit Coo that day before being halted. However, during the night Lovelady received a company of infantry from the 30th Infantry Division, and on Dec 24 the Task Force reached the cut off road block and took, up a defensive position near Petit Coo. At 2300-H on Dec 24, the Task Force was relieved by elements of the 30th Infantry Division 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 Dec 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 119th Infantry Regiment (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 Dec 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, Dec 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, but on the 24th, the two columns finally succeeded in occupying the town. At 1530-H they were ordered to an assembly, area near Stinval. Elements of the 30th Infantry Division 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 Dec 25. At 0930-H that day, the Commanding General 3rd Armored Division 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 3/289th RCT.
CCB, less Task Force MacGeorge moved to the vicinity of Hotton. On Dec 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 84th Infantry Division. This sector was held by the 290th RCT.
Dec 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 290th RCT.
0n Dec 30, the command was relieved from responsibility for the sector and moved to assembly areas near Modave and prepared to join the remainder of the division.
3rd Armored Division History
On the second day, part of the 30th Infantry 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 30th Infantry Division resumed the attack on Stavelot as Task Force 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 Task Force 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 Dec 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 Task Force 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 Dec 29, we were directed to send reconnaissance in force into Trinal, which appeared to be a center of activity. A platoon from D 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 30th Infantry Division with much needed armored support and provided the armored punch which took La Gleize and Stoumont. Later, Task Force 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 Dec 18, the XVIII Corps (Airborne) was given a sector of American Ardenne front. One of the divisions assigned to this corps was the 3rd Armored Division, 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 (BE), 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
[….] Slowly, the big division ground to a halt in the Stolberg – Mausbach – Breinig (Germany) area. Elements of the 1st Infantry Division 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 First Army had reached Germany’s borders, but the “Spearhead” and the 1st Infantry Divisions 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 Sep 3, when the 3rd Armored Division and the 1st Infantry 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 Sep 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.
Stalemate at Stolberg
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 (DE). Gen Boudinot’s CCB was between Breinig and Kornelimunster (DE), and Division Rear Echelon at Raeren (BE). 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.
– 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!
Living with Shelling
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 “Spearhead” positions. There were a number of casualties and a greater percentage of near misses. Rcn Co of the 32nd Armored Regiment 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.
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. 3rd Armored Division 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 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 !
A Role in Aachen Siege
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 3rd Armored Division 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 1st Infantry Division and committed in the western reaches of the city. The “Spearhead” units seized strategic Loueberg Hill on Oct 19, while working with the 26th Infantry. 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 3rd Armored Division, 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 1st Infantry 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 H Co, 33rd Armored Regiment, who took time out to examine a Jerry halftrack during the last hours of the Loueberg Hill fight. One of H 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-I90 which added insult to injury by smashing the remaining bottles of liquor !
By mid-November, the 3rd Armored Division had recuperated after the long summer offensive, and waited for corps orders to attack. Intelligence channels had discovered that the German 4. Infanteriedivision was preparing to replace the harried and weary 12, 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 Nov 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 (DE) 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-H when 1300 Fortresses and Liberators of the 8th Air Force 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.
Drive to the Roer River
The attack jumped off at 1300-H 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 task force had reached its first objective in Kottenich. Initially it appeared that resistance might be less than had been expected, but then Task Force 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. Mat Co of the 33-AR 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 Nov 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-AR, 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 Nov 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, Task Force 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 Task Force 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 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 2/4-IR, 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 Dec 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 60th Infantry, 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 3rd Armored Division 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.
Back at Stolberg
During the period of vicious attrition on this sector, 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 on the night of l9/20 Dec, and immediately received an attack order :
The mission received by Gen Rose from the CG 1st Army and the CG XVIII Corps (Airborne) 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 82nd Airborne Division on the left and the 84th Infantry Division 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 Dec 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 Dec 20 at about 1200-H, under immediate command of the Commanding Officer, 83rd Armd Rcn Bn, Lt Col Prentice E. Yeomans, and under general control of the Commanding Officer, CCR-3-AD, 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 :
Task Force Hogan (Lt Col Samuel Hogan)
– Hq, 3rd Bn, 33rd Armored Regiment
– A Co, 3rd Armored Regiment
– A Co, 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
– Plat, C Co, 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
– Btry, 54th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
– AA Sect, 486th AAA Battatlion – 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)
– B Co, 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
– Plat, C Co, 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
– Co M-4 Tanks
– Btry B, 54th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
– AA Sect, 486th AAA Battalion – to advance with this axis on the Erezée / Dochamps / Samrée road, turn east and occupy the Manhay / Houffalize road at crossroads 576853.
Task Force Kane (Lt Col Matthew W. Kane)
– Hq, 1st Bn, 32nd Armored Regiment
– Co, M-4 Tanks
– D Co, 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
– Btry A, 54th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
– AA Sect, 486th AAA Battalion
– Plat, C CO, 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
– Squad Engineers – to advance on the highway from Mormont through Grandmenil to Manhay thence east to Malempré.
As stated previously, the attack began at about 1200-H on Dec 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, Task Force 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, Task Force Orr moved, first to Erezée, where the main body halted. A reconnaissance 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 Task Force Orr moving to the south. The force halted for the night in Amonimes, out posting the town. The 1/376-AIR was dispatched from CCR to reinforce Task Force Orr and joined him in Amonimes that evening.
On the same day the column to the east, Task Force 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, Dec 21, Task Force 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, Task Force Kane pushed elements of his force to crossroads 576853, then held with the help of scattered elements of the 106th Infantry Division. 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 Dec 21, it had become apparent that the battalion had met a strong enemy drive head-on.
On Dec 22, all of the task forces received heavy tank-infantry attacks. In the west, Task Force 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, Task Force 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 33rd Armored Regiment dismounted as infantry. His road blocks were manned by cooks and drivers of the infantry half-tracks.
Task Force 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 Task Force and tried two night attacks against the town. They were unable to advance over the rugged terrain against heavy enemy fire. Task Force Hogan continued to defend Marcouray on Dec 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. Task Force Orr continued to defend Amonimes and remained in that town until Dec 27, when it was relieved by elements of the 75th Infantry Division. Task Force 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 Dec 24. Gen Rose sent a message to Lt Col Hogan stating that another attempt to supply him by air would be made on Dec 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 Dec 24, Task Force 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 Task Force 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-H, 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 Dec 26. Task Force Kane also spent Christmas Day in planning a withdrawal while fighting off several attacks at Freyneux and Lamormenil. On Dec 26, at 1900-H 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. Panzerdivision and 560. Panzergrenadierdivision). 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 Task Force Hogan and Task Force Kane on Dec 26, the operation of the 83rd Armd Rcn Bn in this sector ended. During this period they had carried the brunt of the action for the 3rd Armored Division. 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.
Summary of Action
This has been the story of how one American Armored Division was employed in the first phase of the Ardennes counter offensive. Not an ideal employment, to be sure, but neither were the conditions under which it was employed. Today, it is an accepted fact that all levels of command were taken by surprise on Dec 18, surprised not only by the fact that the Germans were capable of making an attack, but also by the strength and fury with which it was undertaken. With confusion rampant, lines of communication cut, and commanders frequently cut off from higher headquarters and certainly from any reliable information, the employment of all units had tot be based on what little was known of the situation. The somewhat piecemeal employment of the 3rd Armored Division was probably a direct result of the obscure situation and resultant panic. There could be unlimited speculation as to the results which may have been obtained had the division been employed as a unit, but that speculation does not fall within the scope of this work. The employment of CCA at Eupen apparently was not necessary, as units other than armor were available for the mission. The employment of CCB in the La Gleize / Stavelot sector did reinforce the 30th Infantry Division with much needed armor, and succeeded in eliminating a grave threat in that sector.
While the mission given to the division at Hotton was certainly beyond its capabilities, much was accomplished. The defense made by the task forces of the 83rd Armd Rcn Bn in the Hotton / Grandmenil sector served to slow down the enemy, forced him to use his dwindling supplies in efforts to break through, and gained the time necessary for moving in infantry reinforcements to stabilize a defensive line, from which was later launched the attack of January 1945.
The terrain and weather in the Hotton / Grandmenil sector worked to the disadvantage of armor. In most of the sector armor was forced to remain on the roads, which are narrow and winding. Heavy forests and steep hills prevented it from leaving the roads. Since both forces were heavy in armor and light in infantry, the advantage lay with the defenders. It is worthy of note that the line finally stabilized by the 3rd Armored Division was largely held by infantry units, although they were given the time to deploy and take up this line by armored action to their front.
The attack to the southeast by the Spearhead’s relatively light forces may be called, with some reason, a blood bluff. How well this move succeeded in screening the assembly and deployment of the VII Corps may be gauged by the story of the actions that followed.
The mobility, flexibility, and firepower of armor were proven in this battle. Mobility allowed rapid movement, movement over difficult terrain, and employment over wide areas. Flexibility allowed the division to accomplish widely separated missions with varied forces, and firepower allowed small units to hold against a numerically superior and fanatic enemy.
While the 3rd Armored Division was engaged in this action, the 2nd Armored Division had also been committed to battle in a nearby sector. In the next posting, we turn to an account of the action of the 2nd Armored Division during this same December period od the Ardennes counter-offensive.