7th Armored Division (Battle of St Vith) Belgium December 1944

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BOB-000001

The job is quiet simple : Get the hell out of the area you are in (the 3 corners area – Holland – Germany – Belgium), move your entire division to the vicinity of St Vith, and help the elements of the 9th Armored Division to get out of the valley, stop the Krauts while the 9-AD’s Combat Command engaged pass trough your positions then move your division trough the 82nd Airborne Division line somewhere around Lierneux …

patche-7th-armored-division-usaAfter Action Report
7th Armored Division
December 1944
St Vith & Vicinity, Belgium

The 7th Armored Division was activated on March 1 1942, reorganized on September 20 1943, and sent to the United Kingdom in June 1944. The division landed on Omaha and Utah, on August 13-14 1944, and was assigned to the Third Army (US). The 7-AD drove through Nogent le Rotrou, France in an attack on Chartres which fell August 18. From Chartres, the division advanced to liberate Dreux, then Melun, where they crossed the Seine River, on August 24. The 7-AD then pushed on to bypass Reims, liberated Château-Thierry and Verdun on August 31, then halted briefly for refueling until September 6, when it drove toward to the Moselle and made a crossing near Dornot. This crossing had to be withdrawn in the face of the heavy fortifications around Metz.

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The 7-AD then made attempts to cross the Moselle northwest of Metz but the deep river valley was not suitable terrain for an armored attack. Elements of the division assisted the 5th Infantry Division in expanding a bridgehead east of Arnaville, south of Metz, and on September 15, the main part of the division crossed the Moselle there. The 7-AD was repulsed in its attacks across the Seille River at and near Sillegny, part of an attack in conjunction with the 5-ID that was also repulsed further north. On September 25, the 7-AD was transferred to the Neinth Army (US) and began the march to the Netherlands where they were needed to protect the right (east) flank of the corridor opened by Operation Market Garden. They were to operate in the southeast Netherlands, so that British and Canadian forces and the 104th Infantry Division could clear the Germans from the Scheldt Estuary in the southwest Netherlands and open the shipping lanes to the critical port of Antwerp, to allow Allied ships to bring supplies from Britain. During the month of Sept 1944, the 7-AD launched an attack from the north on the town of Overloon, against significant German defenses. The attacks progressed slowly and finally settled into a series of counter-attacks reminiscent of World War I trench warfare. On October 8, the division was relieved from the attack on Overloon by the 11th Armoured Division (UK) and moved south of Overloon to the Deurne – Weert area. Here they were attached to the Second Army (UK) and ordered to make demonstration attacks to the east, in order to divert enemy forces from the Overloon and Venlo areas, where British troops pressed the attack. This plan succeeded, and the British were finally able to liberate the city of Overloon.

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gen-robert-w-hasbrouckOn October 27, the main part of the 7-AD was in essentially in defensive positions along the line Nederweert (and south) to Meijel – Liesel, with the demonstration force still in the attack across the Deurne canal to the east. The Germans launched a two-division offensive centered on Meijel, catching the thinly stretched 87th Cavalry Recon Sq (7-AD) by surprise. However, the response by the 7-AD and the VIII Corps (UK) to which the division was attached, stopped the German attack on the third day and then from October 31 to November 8 gradually drove the enemy out of the terrain that they had taken. During this operation, at midnight on the night of October 31 – November 1, Gen Robert D. Hasbrouck replaced Gen Lindsay Silvester as Commanding General of the division. On November 8 1944, the 7-AD was again transferred to the Ninth Army (US) and moved south to rest areas at and east of Maastricht. Following an inflow of many replacements, they began extensive training and reorganization, since so many original men had been lost in France and Holland that a significant part of the Division was now men who had never trained together. At the end of November, the Division straddled the Dutch – German border with one combat command in Germany (in the area of Ubach-Palenberg, north of Aachen) and two in the Netherlands. Elements of the Division were attached to the 84th Infantry Division for operations in early December in the area of Linnich, on the banks of the Roer River. The division order of battle was as follows :

Combat Command A

    48th Armored Infantry Battalion
    A Co, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion
    D Co 87th Cavalry Recon Squadron Mecanized

Combat Command B

    23rd Armored Infantry Battalion
    31st Tank Battalion
    B Co, 33rd Armored Infantry Battalion
    B Co, 87th Cavalry Recon Squadron Mecanized
    D Co, 203rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion
    C Co, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion
    1st Plat, B Co, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion
    1st Plat, Recon, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion

Combat Command R (Reserve)

    38th Armored Infantry Battalion
    B Co, 40th Tank Battalion
    C Co, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion
    Ordnance Detachment
    Medical Detachment

Division Troops

    203rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion (-)
    814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (-)
    33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (-)
    87th Cavalry Recon Squadron Mecanized

Division Trains

    129th Ordnance Maintenance Company (-)
    77th Armored Medical Battalion (-)
    446th Quartermaster Truck Company (-)
    3967th Quartermaster Troop Transport Company (-)
    B Co, 203rd Aantiaircraft Artillery Battalion

Division Artillery was under XIII Corps control and consisted of :

    434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
    440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
    489th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
    A Co, C Co, 203rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion

Attached to the division were the :

    814th Tank Destroyer Battalion
    203rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion
    446th Quartermaster Trucking Company
    3967th Quartermaster Troop Transport Company

Detached from the division were the :

    17th Tank Battalion (attached to the 102nd Inf Div)
    40th Tank Battalion (-) B & D Cos (attached to the 84th Inf div)

Combat Command Reserve

    (CCR/7-AD), commanded by Col John L. Ryan Jr, was in the vicinity of Ubach, on December 1 1944. The only divisional unit in action under division command was B Co, 40th Tank Battalion which was supporting the 84th Infantry Division’s operations in the vicinity of Lindern. It was under the control of CCR. A Co, 40th Tank Battalion was holding Lindern with elements of the 84-ID. B/40-TB was sent in to reinforce it. Due to enemy artillery concentrations on the supply route, supplies were brought to the two companies by means of the “Blue Ball Express,” an innovation using the light tanks of D Co, 40th Tank Battalion to bring up trailer loads of rations and ammunition under the cover of darkness.

Combat Command B

    (CCB/7-AD) under the command of Col Bruce C Clarke, was alerted to move east of the Wurm River and to assemble at Gereonsweiller. The mission was to attack southeast from Lindern, and to seize Linnich by passing through the 84-ID and 102-ID. The 814-TDB was to support the attack. However, due to the progress of the infantry divisions, it was not necessary to commit CCB.

Combat Command A
(CCA/7-AD) under Col Dwight A. Rosenbaum, located in the vicinity of Heerlen, was undergoing a training and maintenance program pending operations to the east.

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Dec 2 1944
Division Tactical Headquarters was established in Rimburg. CCB/7-AD moved east of the River. This placed two combat commands east of that river, prepared for immediate operations to the east, northeast, or north. At 0115, the elements of the 40-TB which had been attached to the 84-ID, were relieved from such attachment. B/40-TB was then attached to the 84-ID. While prepared to repel any enemy counterattacks, the division units continued with training and maintenance programs.

Dec 3 1944 (at 1200)
The 17-TB was relieved from attachment to the 102-ID and returned to CCR/7-AD control. Proposed operations to the east were dependent upon the destruction of the enemy-held Roer River dam, south of Düren. The enemy was capable of countering an Allied offensive in this area by flooding the Roer River valley. This would result in either destruction of the troops in the flooded region or the cutting of our supply lines. To eliminate this threat, Allied air forces made several attempts to destroy the dam by bombing. The first of the attempts was made on Dec 3. While training and maintenance continued for the division as a whole, various divisional units were in action while under attachment to other commands. B Co 40-TB was attached to the 84-ID on Dec 2 2230, C Co 38-AIB was also under attachment to the 84-ID on Dec 3 at 2100 and the 48-AIB was attached to the 102-ID on Dec 5 at 1400. The 17-TB was also attached to the 84-ID on Dec 9 at 1400. During the period, detailed plans were made for seizing the town of Brachelen. The town was defended by the German 694. Infanterie Regiment, 695. Infanterie Regiment and the 696. Infanterie Regiment from the 340. Infanterie Division. The attack was dependent upon the destruction of the Roer River dam which would isolate the town. When the dam was broken it would take from 4 to 5 1/2 hours for the crest of the flood to reach Brachelen, and as the dam could not be bombed before 1000, the attack was to be launched the day after the destruction of the dam. CCB/7-AD was assigned the job of taking Brachelen. The plan of attack was outlined in Operations Instructions December 11 0900, known as plan ‘Dagger’. CCA/7-AD was to move east of the Wurm River after CCB’s attack. Both combat commands were constituted as follows :

CCA
40th Tank Battalion
48th Armored Infantry Battalion
A Co, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion
D Co, 87th Cavalry Rcn Squadron (Mecz)
A Co, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion
1st Co, Rcn, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion
Detachment, 77th Armored Medical Battalion

CCB
23rd Armored Infantry Battalion
31st Tank Battalion
38th Armored Infantry Battalion
B Co, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion
B Co, 87th Cavalry Rcn Squadron (Mecz)
C Co, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion
1st Plat, B Co, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion
Detachment, 129th Ordnance Battalion
D Co, 203rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion
Detachment, 77th Armored Medical Battalion

CCR (Reserve)
1 Squadron Rcn, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion
C Co, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion

Dec 10
Col Bruce C. Clarke was promoted to brigadier general, as CG of CCB/7-AD. At 1000, Dec 10, CCB/7-AD was placed in Corps reserve, but at 1500 Dec 11, it was released and CCA/7-AD became Corps reserve. Division Main Headquarters moved from Robroek to Heerlen, on Dec 13. The division continued training and maintenance, pending destruction of the Roer River dam and the beginning of the operations ‘Dagger’.

Dec 16 – at 1730
(Day of the German offensive in Belgium), the division was alerted for early movement to the VIII Corps in the vicinity of Bastogne (BE). The Assistant G-3, Maj Moeller, and the CG, CCB/7-AD, left at 2100 for VIII Corps Hq. Instructions were received outlining the division assembly area as generally between Vielsalm and St Vith. Advance billeting parties departed for the new area at 2130.

Dec 17 – Movement South
The Division was alerted to move at 0200, Dec 17. It received orders to cross the initial point on the west route at 0330. The column was on the road when further orders were received to delay the movement one hour. Trouble commenced even before the Division arrived in the prescribed assembly area. The east route was cut by the enemy south of Malmedy between Division Headquarters (TAC) and Division Artillery, necessitating the latter and all following elements to turn back and place themselves on the west route in rear of the troops already moving thereon. This was successfully accomplished, but resulted in a considerable delay in the arrival of the artillery to its firing positions. Traffic on the west route continued to roll fairly well until noon on December 17, then it was slowed by congestion resulting from the ever thickening stream of friendly troops flowing west and northwest from the threatened

Poteau
Vielsalm
Beho
St Vith area

Towards nightfall the traffic congestion increased, and the 7-AD column stretching from Poteau through Vielsalm, Trois-Ponts and Stavelot to the north was brought to a complete standstill. The only troops which had arrived in the Vielsalm – St Vith area were the

87th Cav Rcn Squadon
CCR 7-AD
CCB 7-AD
CCA 7-AD
Division Headquarters (TAC)

The artillery, tank destroyers, anti-aircraft artillery, engineers and Trains were still on the road unable to move. By daylight the column was rolling again but was again intercepted by the enemy, this time at Stavelot at 0800, December 18. D Co, 203d Antiaircraft Artillery (Automatic Weapons) Battalion (SP) was attacked by fire from the southeast of Stavelot, but successfully disengaged and with the one company of ordnance to its rear withdrew to the north. They finally rejoined the division by circuitous route through Spa and Aywaille.

front-battle-of-the-bulge-15-12-1944

CCB-7AD Goes into Position
CCB had closed in an assembly area near Vielsalm at approx. 1100, Dec 17. Gen Clarke, CG CCB, had visited CG VIIII Corps, at Bastogne and had been partially acquainted with the general situation as well as it was known at that time. The Corps CG directed him to proceed to the 106th Infantry Division’s Hqs at St Vith and give that division assistance. At 1200, Dec 17, the situation in the St Vith area was critical. The 14th Cavalry Group was retiring. Communications with the two surrounded Combat Teams 422d and 423d Regiments (106-ID) was sporadic by radio. To the south of 424th Regiment (106-ID), the situation was hazy. There was no physical contact between the units. The CG 106-ID, urged an immediate attack east from St Vith to take and hold Schoenberg in order to provide an escape corridor for the two surrounded combat teams. This was prepared for and plans were made and approved by the Division Commander. However, due to the congestion an the roads, it was impossible to get troops of CCB/7-AD from the vicinity of Vielsalm to St Vith in time to launch the attack that afternoon. In the meantime the enemy had approached St Vith from the east and was only three to four thousand yards from the town.

At about 1530, the 106-ID sent elements of Hqs 81-ECB, 168-ECB (less one company) and one platoon of infantry, formerly used as CP guard, to block the road to the east of St Vith. The 106-ID made available to CCB the 275th AFAB, in position at Ober-Emmels. During the afternoon of Dec 17, the 38-AIB, first CCR unit to arrive southeast of Recht by the east route; the 87-CRS, first unit to arrive by the west route; and troops of CCB/7-AD were rushed to the east of St Vith, arrived piecemeal, and disposed defensively by the CG of CCB. When this was accomplished, the CG of the 106-ID turned over the defense of St Vith to the 7-AD at 1530. At 2030, on Dec 17, the following message was received by telephone from the S-3, CCB :

    Request that CCB/7-AD liaison officer at Division Headquarters be released and returned to CCB Headquarters in order to get overlay of CCB situation. Have set up defensive line east of St Vith which is tied in in all areas. These are being corrected at this time. While we have been receiving all manner of reports that there are as many as sixty enemy tanks in our sector, the troops have received comparatively little fire – some small arms and mortar fire on their positions with very few casualties. The reserve of CCB consists of 38-AIB minus one company. We feel that we can handle the situation.

It should be noted that at 1640 the 87-CRS and 38-AIB were attached VOCG to CCB.

Battle-of-the-Bulge-Poteau-01

(above) An SS-Panzergrenadier of 2. Kompanie, SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 1, Kampfgruppe Hansen, pose for the SS-Kriegsberichter among the wreckage after the attack against Task Force Mayes, 14th Cavalry Group in Poteau, Dec 18 1944

(bellow)(left) SS-Panzergrenadiers Berthold Nasse and another grenadier of Kampfgruppe Hansen, Panzergrenadier Regiment 1 LSSAH, run after the ambush against the 14th Cavalry, which occurred early in the morning on the road between Recht and Poteau) December 18 1944.

Battle-of-the-Bulge-Poteau-02

CCR – Arrives in Assembly Area
During the afternoon of Dec 17, while CCB was thus establishing the defense east of St Vith, CCR was moving by the east route into its assigned assembly area generally south of Recht. There it closed less stragglers at 1500. As the 38-AIB was attached to CCB at 1640, the only unit remaining under CCR control was the 17-TB. The CP of the Combat Command was established in Recht.

CCA – Arrives in Assembly Area
Also during the afternoon of Dec 17, CCA, which had marched behind CCB on the west route, assembled in the vicinity of Beho. Hqs CCA closed in Beho at 1755 and the remainder of the command closed in the new area in the vicinity of Beho at 1905. Due to the gravity of the situation east of St Vith and at Recht and in view of the enemy’s approach towards Poteau from the northeast, threatening to outflank CCB on the north, the CG, CCA, was instructed at midnight of Dec 17 to report to the Division CP at 180700 and to have his command alerted to move on thirty minutes’ notice after 0700, Dec 18.

814-TDB – Arrives in Assembly Area
During the afternoon, Dec 17, the Corps Commander ordered that the 7-AD establish a road block at RJ797944. Upon arrival of the 814-TDB in the assembly area at Vielsalm at 2300, a platoon of destroyers with reconnaissance elements of the 814-TDB was dispatched on this mission. The platoon reached the road junction without incident where it stayed until 1525, Dec 18, at which time it was recalled. Also the CG of the 814-TDB was instructed to send one tank destroyer company to CCB by way of Beho at first light on the December 18.

Dec 18 – Orders Issued
The Division Artillery was still tied up in the traffic jam north of Vielsalm. At 0300 a field order in fragmentary form was issued assigning troops and missions to each of the major subordinate commands of the Division as follows :

CCR : Your comd will have responsibility for defense N sector Div Z which include Road Block establised at Grand Halleux. Attched your comd 1/38, 1/33, 1 (minus 1 plat)/814, 1 plat/203, 1/87 all effective Dec 18, 0800. Est and maintain contact with CCB vic (839909)

CCB : Det your Comd 1/38 to CCR. Atchd 1 plat 203, 1/87, A/814; all effective Dec 18, 0800. Est contact CCR. Your comd is responsible for defense of east sector of Div Z to include Road Block established at Nieder Emmels

CCA : Your Comd reverts Div Res with normal local security on S. Atch 1 Rcn Tr effective Dec 18, 0800

Corresponding orders concerning the changes of attachments were sent to :
203rd AAA AW Battalion (SP)
87th Cavalry Rcn Squadron
814th Tank Destroyer Battalion
33rd Armored Engineer Battalion

At this time information of the enemy was extremely sketchy, the only source being divisional units which had just arrived in the area. The Division Artillery observation planes had not yet arrived. As the enemy was strong on the east and was approaching Poteau from the northeast, and in view of the presence of CCB/9-AD and 424th Regiment, 106-ID on the South giving protection to that flank, the Division Commander decided to have CCA attack the enemy in Poteau.

CCA’s mission
take Poteau and secure the St Vith – Poteau road

The plan included having CCB push to the east of St Vith sufficiently to allow CCA to move from Beho via Maldingen, St Vith and Rodt against the enemy at Poteau. At the same time CCR, less the 17-TB still in position southeast of Recht was to establish patrols on the Division’s north flank from the Salm River along the high ground north of Petit Thier to Poteau and make contact with CCA on its right.

CCB – is Attacked
At 0800, Dec 18, the enemy attacked CCB from the northeast and east. Two medium tank companies from the 14-TB, and A Co 811-TDB, all from CCB/9-AD, were sent north to reinforce the 87-CRS line. By 1100 this attack had been stopped and the line was restored to its original position. At 1200 the tank destroyer company of the 814-TDB which had been ordered forward the night before finally arrived in CCB sector and was sent into position. D Troop 87-CRS, was detached from CCB and attached to CCA in accordance with the orders of 0300 that morning, but it was never possible to send a reconnaissance troop to CCR. At 1530 a second attack, estimated to be a battalion of infantry, was launched against the positions east of St Vith. This attack was repulsed. A readjustment of troops was made at approximately 1600, and the elements of CCB/9-AD, were withdrawn and returned to their parent headquarters at 2130. At 2230 attacks by enemy tanks were repulsed, but continuous noises and troop movements were audible throughout the night.

CCA – Attacks
CCA/7-AD moved out at 1010 from its assembly area at Beho to proceed to Poteau. D Troop 87-CRS, was to remain on the south to occupy outpost positions vacated by the 48-AIB vicinity Thommen, Espeler and Deifelt. Likewise, D Co 40-TB and A Co 33-AECB, remained in positions near Beho and Rogery respectively. As the advance guard approached Poteau, contact was made with a hostile tank. The infantry company of the advance guard dismounted and entered Poteau at 1320. Hostile resistance was strong and at 1530 CCA was still held up at Poteau. At 1600 the Division Commander sent a message to the Commanding Officer, CCA : Imperative you seize Poteau this PM and hold it.
By 1700 the road junction was in our control and by 1800 our infantry and tanks were in Poteau. At the end of the day Poteau was in our hands, outposts had been established, and strong defensive measures on avenues of approach to the town were organized. Nevertheless, there was no contact between CCA and CCR on the west, nor was the road between Petit Thier and Poteau safe to travel, as it was covered by enemy fire.

CCR – is Attacked
At midnight, Dec 17, CCR was almost completely ignorant of the enemy situation. Having received increasing numbers of reports of enemy in the vicinity of Recht and information indicating that the 14-CG had been withdrawn from their north, northeast and east, CCR increased local security with all available personnel and equipment. After continued reports of enemy activity, including an ambush 800 meters east of Recht, one tank company of the 17-TB moved into town to outpost to the west, north and east, supported by existing outposts. After an enemy attack and infiltration commencing at 0200, CCR determined that in the absence of infantry attachments it would be impossible to hold the town without great loss of vehicles. Consequently, at 0245, troops in the town were ordered to evacuate to the southwest covered by the tank company which withdrew in a southeasterly direction towards the 17-TB assembly area. The CC’s CP moved initially to Poteau but was forced by enemy action from there to Ville du Bois before daylight. However, the 17-TB remained in its original position southeast of Recht. At 0600, C Co 38-AIB was attached to CCR for outpost duty with the tanks and was further attached to the 17-TB. During the day the 17-TB held its position. Furthermore, CCR established a strong outpost composed of its attached engineers and tank destroyers along with a platoon of B Co 23-AIB, and a number of straggler vehicles and personnel which it collected. These troops held their positions throughout the day. The railroad overpass at (724901) was prepared for demolition by C Co 33-AECB, to be blown on the order of CO CCR. During the day of Dec 18, two M-16 AAA units, a pair of M-36 tank destroyers, and a reconnaissance platoon of the tank destroyer battalion were placed north of Vielsalm to block the road from Trois Ponts. Initially under the command of the 814-TDB, this force was attached to CCR at 1500, Dec 20 1944.

Division Trains – Move West
The Division Trains closed into their assigned assembly area in and near Vielsalm and Salmchateau at 0600, Dec 18. Due to the enemy threats on the Division’s east, Trains were ordered to move at 1030 to the west and select new positions near Samrée or La Roche, and by 1230 they had cleared their area en route to the vicinity of La Roche. Hqs & Hqs Co of the engineer battalion followed the Division Trains to the west in order to clear the combat area for combat troops.

14th Cavalry Group – Is Attached
On Dec 17, the Division had had telephone communication with Corps Headquarters, but on Dec 18, when Corps headquarters was forced to move, all contact was lost. At 1600, Dec 18, the Division Liaison Officer to Corps arrived and reported that the 30-ID at that time had one regiment in Malmedy, and that by dawn of Dec 19, the 82-Abn was expected to be in the area centered about (K5508). Corps was out of contact with the 112th Regiment 28-ID, still thought to be south of the 424th Regiment 106-ID. The only other contact with Corps headquarters was a visit at the Division CP by the Corps Deputy Chief of Staff during the afternoon of Dec 18. At the time of his visit the picture from Corps’ viewpoint was hazy. At 1345 he informed the Division CO that the 14-CG was attached to the Division effective 1300. (This order was confirmed by letter of instructions, Headquarters, VIII Corps, dated December 18 1944.) It was immediately ordered to concentrate near Vielsalm, collect its stragglers and reorganize as quickly as possible. It was in an extremely disorganized state and badly in need of rest and a chance to regain its feet.

Dec 19 : Attack Continues Against CCB
At 0930, an attack developed against CCB/7-AD north of Hunningen. The attack moved west and then turned south. Difficulty was experienced in firing due to haze, but by 1300 the situation had quieted. At 1355 the 17-TB with C Co 38-AIB, which still remained southeast of Recht, were attached to CCB/7-AD. At the same time CCB/7-AD was ordered to defend a sector between CCB/9-AD on the right and the Recht – Rodt road inclusive on the left. At 1510 the 434-AFAB and two (2) batteries 965-FAB were attached to CCB/7-AD and placed in position. The only artillery support on Dec 18 and 19, prior to the arrival of the 434-AFAB, was the 275-AFAB. The Corps artillery observers had left during the night of Dec 17 to 18. In the afternoon, a conference was held between the CGs of CCB/9-AD and CCB/7-AD. At this conference it was pointed out that CCB/9-AD was ahead of the stream and a railroad south of St Vith and its only exit was through St Vith. In case St Vith should be lost, CCB/9-AD would be cut off. Therefore, it was agreed that CCB/9-AD should withdraw through St Vith the night of Dec 19-20 and occupy its original zone in rear of the railroad and stream running south from St Vith. This withdrawal was accomplished without difficulty. Close liaison was maintained between the two Combat Commands during the whole period in the vicinity of St Vith.

CCA – Organizes Positions Poteau
In Poteau, the enemy resistance against CCA/7-AD continued to be strong. The CG instructed CCA/7-AD to prepare plans for an attack on Recht and also plans for a withdrawal via Petit Thier and Vielsalm. Assault gun, tank, and artillery fire commenced falling on Poteau at 0850 and at 1100 a heavy artillery concentration fell on Poteau. However, the situation remained the same, and CCA/7-AD continued to improve its positions. During the afternoon it cleared the woods east of Poteau and established road blocks at Rodt at 1615. At 1730 CCA/7-AD was warned to expect friendly units of CCR/7-AD from the west, and at 1850 physical contact between the two combat commands was actually made.

All Around Security Established
In the meantime the Division was receiving all manner of reports indicating the enemy to be on every side. The enemy was reported to be in strength at Houffalize, La Roche, Samrée and Trois-Ponts as well as on the southeast, east, and northeast of St Vith.

tank-snow-armored-dec-1944-bulge-belgium

Hence, A Co 33-ECB and D Co 40-TB – elements of CCA/7-AD which had been left on the south flank – were ordered shortly after daylight to outpost Cherain and Gouvy. At Gouvy they found an army ration dump containing 50000 rations which had just been set on fire by army quartermaster personnel to prevent its capture by the enemy, already threatening with small arms fire. D Co 40-TB drove off the enemy and extinguished the fire, which had done little damage, and began the issuance of rations to all units of the Division. Also found at Gouvy was an abandoned army prisoner of war camp containing over seven hundred German prisoners of war guarded by one officer and eight military police. These prisoners were successfully evacuated by the Division. Also D Troop 87-CRS, was relieved of all CCA/7-AD missions at 0800 and directed to proceed at once to Salmchateau, then west, dividing into two columns to the northwest at points 655867 and 576852 with the mission of screening the north flank of the Division Rear as far out as the general line Basse Bodeux – Vaux Chavanne until relieved on order or until pushed back by enemy action. To replace D Troop 87-CRS, on the southeast Task Force Lindsey was created from the 14-CG with 11 armored cars, 11 light tanks, 6 assault guns, 236 enlisted men and was placed in positions at Grüfflingen, Thommen and Espeler with the mission of protecting the southeast flank of the Division. In assigning this position to Task Force Lindsey the Division Commander had in mind the lack of depth in the defensive position of the 424th Regiment 106-ID to the east. Two other security groups, known as Task Force Hawks and Task Force Wanke, were formed from the 14-CG. The former 5 light tanks, 1 rcn team, 30 enlisted men, established a road block at Bovigny, and the latter 8 vehicles, 80 enlisted men was attached to CCR/7-AD for additional security on the north flank between Poteau and Vielsalm. In addition to all of the above, a tank destroyer section with a reconnaissance section was dispatched at 1030 to eliminate an enemy tank reported to be harassing friendly traffic in Houffalize. This force, however, met with ill fate; it did not find the enemy tank at Houffalize. On the return trip it was ambushed at Sommerain and lost 1 tank destroyer, 3 peeps, 2 officers, and 5 enlisted men.

112th Regiment 28-ID is discovered
Along with the numerous reports continuously arriving of enemy activity in the sector, some vary heartening information of friendly troops was received at about 1030 on Dec 19. Officers from the 112th Regiment visited the Division CP and stated that their unit had lost all contact with the balance of the 28-ID, and that the regiment upon the initiative of the Commanding Officer was adopting a defensive position on the southern edge of the Woods about one and one-half kilometers south of Holdingen. They knew nothing of our own or any other friendly dispositions at that time. Fortunately, this placed the 112th Regiment on the 7-AD’s south flank, although there was a gap between the 112th (28-ID) and the right flank of the 424th Regiment (106-ID). Effective Dec 19, 1600, the 112th Regiment was attached to the 106-ID, and on the following day it was moved to its left so that the gap was closed.

Dec 20 – Task Force Jones is Created
The most significant change in the composition and disposition of troops that occurred on December 20 was the formation of Task Force Jones, commanded by the commanding officer of the 814-TDB, and its disposition on the southern and southwestern flank of the Division. Centered at Bovigny with outposts at Cherain, Gouvy, Ourthe, and Deifeld, the force consisted of the :

17-TB (- A Co)
440-AFAB
814-TDB (- A & B Cos)
2 Plats of the 38-AIB
1 Plat of the 31-TB
3 M-4 Tanks of the 40-TB
D Co 40-TB
G Co 112/28-ID
A Co 33-AEB (-1 platoon)
(Detachment of the 14-CG with 15 M-8 Armored Cars, 5 assault guns, 13 light tanks)

A restriction was placed on the employment of the 17-TB by Task Force Jones. It was not to be employed without authority from the Division CG. This task force absorbed the elements of CCA/7-AD remaining on the south (D Co 40-TB and A Co 33-AECB) and Task Force Hawks of the 14-CG. The strength of the enemy and the seriousness of the situation on the south leading to the formation of Task Force Jones was obtained in part from a Lt Col Stone with whom the Division had been in touch for about two days. This officer was located at Gouvy with an assortment of about 250 stragglers, including OD, QM, Engr and Sig personnel whom he had collected. He had established a defensive position and said : By God… ! the others may run, but I’m staying here and will hold at all costs ! Stone’s force was incorporated into Task Force Jones. The force, in position by about 1600, immediately became engaged at Cherain and Gouvy and by 1800 was receiving a strong German attack which it successfully repulsed.

CCB – Has Relatively Quiet Day
In the meantime CCB/7AD was having a relatively quiet day. During the night, on Dec 19-20 1944 some infiltration was reported by the 17-TB at Recht. At 0800, Dec 20, the 17-TB was instructed to withdraw to Rodt, leaving one company plus a platoon of infantry in position north and east of Rodt to maintain contact with CCA/7-AD on the left. Enemy concentrations of tanks and infantry collected in Walleröde and Nieder Emmels (BE). Heavy artillery concentrations quieted the threat. At 1145 the 17-TB (- A Co) with C Co 38-AIB attached, was ordered to Bovigny to join Task Force Jones. During the afternoon enemy columns were reported moving from Medell to Born (BE), and at 1630 enemy tanks moved into Ober Emmels (BE) and forced out a light tank platoon on outpost there, but the forces on the ground to the south held firmly. On the night, Dec 20-21, approximately 68 men and two officers from the two (2) surrounded regiments of the 106-ID (422d & 423d Infantry Regiments) infiltrated back through our lines. These men were assembled in the schoolhouse in St Vith and given rations and such other supplies as they needed. They constituted a reserve for CCB/7-AD, to be called upon when needed. During the night, Dec 21-22, these men were put into the line to aid in the final defense of St Vith.

CCA – Consolidates Positions
All through Dec 20, units of CCA/7-AD held and continued to consolidate positions gained despite stiff resistance. The artillery gave support upon request. At 0825 the CG sent CCA a message : Hold your posns at all costs. At 0925 another message : Imperative that you command road leading into Poteau from Recht. In answer to a question put to the commanding officer, CCA/7-AD at 1130 : Can you release one medium tank Co ? If so alert it at once and await orders for its movement, the reply was received :
Cannot comply with request for one med tk co and hold present position. At noon the elements of CCA/7-AD on the south (D Co 40-TB and A Co 33-AECB) were detached and placed under control of Task Force Jones.

D Troop, 87th Cav Rcn Sq
At 0900 on Dec 20, D Troop 87-CRS, which was still patrolling the Division’s left rear, was instructed to contact the 82-ABD, reported to be coming from the northwest, and to notify the CG to send a liaison officer to the 7-AD at once as an urgent situation existed. The enemy route of march was from the southeast in the direction of the 82-ABD. Then, at 1100, D 87-CRS was notified that enemy infiltration was reported moving east towards Samrée and was instructed to contact and intercept the enemy. However, the troop was unable to reach Samrée that afternoon. At 2342 the troops of D 87-CRS, was instructed to contact the 3-AD north of Samrée and arrange a coordinated attack on the town with the mission of recapturing it and the 50000 gallons of gasoline that the enemy had taken from the Div QM there. D Troop, 87-CRS, was unable to contact the 3-AD north of Samrée because the enemy had reached Dochamps.

st-vith-01

Dec 21, CC B – Retires from St Vith
At 0400 Dec 21, outposts of CCB/7-AD reported indication that a German tank and infantry attack was massing in the vicinity of Nieder Emmels. Continued noise of movement was heard in Nieder Emmels and Ober Emmels during the remainder of the early morning. An attack at 1100 was repulsed at 1115. There was continuous artillery fire during the day. An attack at 1610 east of St Vith was repulsed 1710. Continued pressure was exerted by the enemy on all section of the line, with the main effort being southeast of St Vith. A coordinated tank-infantry drive finally penetrated in at least three points. The battle continued until approximately 2200 at which time the order was issued to withdraw the center of the line to the high ground west of St Vith. Those elements which were cut off east of the town were ordered to attack through the town or north of it to join the forces which were establishing a new defense line. It was planned to anchor a defense west of St Vith on the still substantial north flank. The center of the defensive line – from Hünningen to the St Vith – Walleröde road – was to swing back to the west of St Vith and establish a line for the elements south of St Vith to fall back through. This was accomplished. All through the night of Dec 21-22, stragglers were coming back from the troops which had been overrun east of St Vith. Officer control posts were set up on all roads to intercept these men and to send them to the Hinderhausen (BE) area. This was done and by early forenoon of December 22, about 150 had been gathered up. At dark, December 21, an enemy infiltrating force coming from the north had worked into Hinderhausen. A light tank attack drove them out into the woods in the early evening. The Division CO advised CG, CCB/7-AD, that he would be reinforced with the 17-TB in the morning if needed.

CCB/9-AD – Requests Assistance
At 0730, morning of Dec 21, the CG CCB/9-AD, requested that Task Force Lindsey be attached to him to be used in strengthening his right flank. As the Task Force was not employed and had not been in contact with the enemy at all on the previous day the request was granted. The commanding officer of the 14-CG was ordered at 0840 to have Task Force Lindsey proceed at once to Galhausen (BE) to assist CCB/9-AD, and to go himself to Galhausen to take charge of the force. CCB/9-AD successfully repulsed an enemy attack west from Neidegen, and assistance by elements of CCB/7-AD which had been arranged by mutual consent of the two commanders was never given. It had also been planned to send the 17-TB from Task Force Jones to CCB/9-AD, but at 0955 Lt Col Jones was notified that it would not be needed. As the situation seemed to be well in hand Task Force Lindsey was returned to its former mission (1000 – Dec 21).

CCA – Holds Against Heavy Attacks
CCA/7-AD maintained its position in and about Poteau throughout Dec 21. A strong attack from the northwest of Poteau was engaged with tanks and artillery and was successfully under control by 1330. The units of the combat command were shifted a bit during the day for better defense of the sector. Strong combat patrols by the enemy and by the Combat Command were active during the day, probing each other’s positions. The enemy established a very effective ambush on the St Vith – Poteau road in the thick woods southeast of Poteau. Before it was discovered, he had succeeded in capturing the occupants of eight peeps and one light tank which he knocked out, including such key officers as the : Executive Officer (CCA/7-AD), Liaison Officer (CCA/7-AD), Executive Officer and Adjutant (48-AIB), 2nd in command of A Co 33-AECB, and numerous others. Upon discovery, the enemy abandoned his ambush and the key road was reopened for friendly traffic. At the close of the day another strong hostile supported by heavy mortar, machine gun, and artillery fire was repulsed at 2000.

CCR – Has Relatively Quiet Day
On Dec 21, CCR/7-AD had a relatively quiet day. During the morning units of CCR cleared the Vielsalm – Poteau road completely of enemy fire, making the road safe for traffic for the first time since the night of Dec 17. Active patrolling continued throughout the day, but the enemy was not contacted except in the CCA/7-AD sector northeast of Poteau. Commanding officer, Task Area Jones, was instructed at 0935 to alert the 17-TB for movement to the east to assist CCB/7-AD, but the situation cleared and at 1000 the battalion was released from the alert status. During the morning of Dec 21, patrols of Task Force Jones entered the towns of Vaux-Chavanne, Montleban and Baclain and met no enemy resistance. Likewise the outpost at Deifeld had no contact with the enemy, but the enemy was still strong in Gouvy. During the forenoon the outpost in Deifeld pushed out reconnaissance along the road south of Deifeld to the intersection at 798746 where it ran into an enemy road block covered by small arms fire. It then withdrew to the crossroads at 777776 and reconnoitered the road net towards Espeler and Durler, meeting enemy road blocks towards those towns. Gouvy was cleared of enemy forces by 1630 and Task Force Jones consolidated on high ground south, east and west of town. The enemy attacked these positions south of Gouvy at 1800 with armored vehicles, but he was driven back by mortar, machine gun and artillery fire.

D Troop 87th CRS – Defense of Parker’s Crossroads (P575853)
In accordance with orders received the previous night, D/87-CRS, proceeded on morning of Dec 21 towards Samrée from the east but was repulsed. It was then sent to join the defense of the critical crossroads at (P575853) between Samrée and Vielsalm (Baraque Fraiture – Parker Crossroads). The defense of this crossroads had been established several days earlier by a Maj Parker, Executive Officer of a Corps Field Artillery Bn, who dug in the only 3 105-MM howitzers left from his battalion at the crossroads for direct fire purposes. He had continuously augmented his defenses by collecting stragglers, and at 0300 on Dec 20, the 7-AD sent him two sections of AAA from D Co 203rd AAAAW Bn (SP), all that it could spare. Later, on Dec 21, the lieutenant who was in charge of the AAA units there contacted the CG 3-AD at a point north of the crossroads and arranged for the immediate dispatch of two companies of medium tanks to add to the defense. The force held but was sorely in need of infantry. It was apparent that the right flank of the 82-ABD which by this time had formed a line Trois-Ponts – Vielsalm – Regné, would be turned if the enemy were not held south of the crossroads. The 82-ABD therefore sent a battalion of infantry upon request of the 7-AD to add to Maj Parker’s force, which during the 21 and 22 of Dec beat off repeated attacks. The defenders were finally overwhelmed at noon on Dec 23.

Defensive Circle Must Be Tightened
At 2200 when the CG, CCB/7-AD, reported the situation such that it was impossible to restore the line east of St Vith and hence necessary to withdraw, it was obvious that the Division as a whole might at any moment find itself in a very serious position. It was necessary to pull all elements into a tighter circle. Consequently Task Force Jones, already warned that the 17-TB might be pulled away morning Dec, was instructed at 2230 : hold on east and pivot around on Deifeld. Delay enemy, drop back to Gouvy and hold like grim death towns of Beho, Bovigny. We must have the road. Make liberal use of mines and know where they are. The Corps Commander was informed of the urgency of the situation.

Dec 22, Corps Orders Smaller Defensive Circle
At 0153 the following order from the CG XVIII Corps (Airborne), was delivered orally by his Deputy Chief of Staff to the Division Commander : Gen Ridgway feels that the enemy forces, identified in the vicinity of Limmerlé is the 2. SS Panzer Division. In view of the loss of St Vith he does not consider it safe to hold the 424/106-ID and the 112/28-ID in their present positions. He directs withdrawal under cover of darkness in the order 106-ID, 7-AD to positions along the general line Bovigny – Beho – Maldingen railroad. The exact positions on the terrain as agreed upon between CG 106-ID and CG 7-AD. The following towns are to be cleared of friendly troops by 0700 this morning for an air mission : Sterpigny, Cherain, Rettigny, Gouvy, Limmerlé and St Vith. Covering force along this line (generally to the east of Gouvy) is to be left in place to cover the withdrawal.

Enemy Penetrates CCB
On Dec 22 the enemy infantry which had infiltrated the night before into Hinderhausen, reinforced by tanks, attacked Rodt from the west and got behind the left flank of CCB/7-AD. This required that the left flank of CCB fall back to clean out this force and protect Hinderhausen which was the emergency exit route to Commanster and Vielsalm. This was done and the whole CCB line was adjusted to conform. C Co 814-TDB, was attached to CCB/7-AD and emplace to support the left of the line where contact with CCA/7-AD had been lost. By dark the CCB/7-AD position was reestablished and strengthened by the addition of the 17-TB (-), which was used to tie in with CCB/9-AD, on the south. During the day all unessential vehicles were sent to the rear. At 1845 enemy tanks and infantry attacked along the railroad towards Crombach. Infantry broke through and occupied the town, necessitating the withdrawal of HQs 31-TB and HQs 87-CRS to Braunlauf. The 17-TB was able to fight its way out the next morning without heavy losses. During the night an effort to obtain a company of infantry from the 424/106-ID then attached to CCB/9-AD, to counter-attack Crombach was unsuccessful. It was used later to defend Braunlauf during the withdrawal.

CCA – Holds Poteau Against Fierce Attack
In view of the urgency of the situation and the paucity of roads available for a withdrawal the Commanding General again instructed the Commanding Officer, CCA/7-AD, on the morning of Dec 22 to hold his present position and control of the road at Poteau at all costs. The two platoons of C Co 38-AIB, which had been with Task Force Jones were attached to CCA at 0830. They were sent at once to patrol towards the north and east the heavy woods southeast of Poteau (vicinity 8090), for at this very time it was known that approximately one company of German infantry was encircling our troops southeast of the town. At 0945 a platoon of B Co 40-TB, was sent to the vicinity of Rodt to repel an enemy company south of that town. By 1100 that platoon plus one from A Co 40-TB, were engaging 16 enemy tanks. At about the same time enemy infantry infiltrated through our positions in the heavy woods southeast of Poteau into the vehicle park of the 48-AIB where they managed to destroy several of our vehicles. The remainder were withdrawn to Petit Thier. Hostile tanks gained control of Rodt, but two platoons of the 40-TB still held on. Beginning at about 1645 the CCA/7-AD units were reestablished on a shorter line extending generally north and south, anchored on the left at Poteau. All contact with CCB/7-AD on the right had been lost. Morale was not good and the combat efficiency was down to about 80%. The enemy did not rest. At 2210 another attack by tanks and infantry with panzerschreck was launched from the east on Poteau, resulting in the loss of two of our tanks.

CCR – Maintains Screen in Assigned Zone
CCR/7-AD had a relatively quiet day on Dec 22, receiving only scattered artillery fire and very slight contact with light enemy patrols on the high ground north of Petit Thier. At 1115 the Division Commander ordered the CO, CCR, to send all his tank destroyers to CCA/7-AD and for him to go to CCA, get the situation, and return. Throughout this period telephone communication remained in with CCR and CCB, but not with CCA, with the consequence of an obscured understanding at Division Headquarters of CCA’s situation.

Task Force Jones – Is Reduced in Size, Shortens Line
In the meanwhile task force Jones was not too busy either. At 0320 Dec 22, the 17-TB was ordered to move at once to CCB/7-AD and at 1045 Col Jones was directed to send his only remaining tank destroyer company and every rifleman he could find to CCB at Crombach. These changes rendered Task Force Jones considerably weaker. It still contained the Rcn Co of the 814-TDB and a healthy detachment from the 14-CG, as well as some miscellaneous groups of stragglers which had been collected. In addition the 440-AFAB was still in position near Bovigny supporting the force. By daylight the defensive positions had been withdrawn in accordance with orders from the Division Commander to a ling generally from Bovigny to Vielsalm, with outposts 1000 yards behind the two towns Cherain and Gouvy. About noon the enemy began a build-up at Gouvy which was pounded throughout the day with artillery fire. He did not debouch in a heavy attack.

106th Infantry Division – Shortens Lines
To conform with the plan of tightening the defensive circle the 112/28-ID and the 424/106-ID closed into their new defensive positions southwest and southeast of Beho respectively, at 1300, and CCB/9-AD drew back slightly to tie in with the right flank of CCB/7-AD and the left flank of the 424/106-ID. At 1120 the CG 106-ID, sent two battalions of infantry to Crombach to reinforce CCB/7-AD and assist in stabilizing the position. Also to conform to the general plan of shortening our lines, elements of Task Force Lindsey began withdrawing positions at Thommen to the vicinity of Beho at 1120. Throughout the latter part of the day there was strong pressure by the enemy on Task Force Lindsey between Thommen and Beho.

Withdrawal West of Salm River Commences
During the late afternoon and night of Dec 22, the enemy was pressing strongly on all positions. It was also definitely confirmed that the enemy was in strength along the Salm River from Trois Ponts to Grand Halleux and along the high ground from south of the highway running west from Salm-Château. This meant that the 106-ID, CCB/9-AD, the 112/28-ID, what remained of the 14-CG, some corps troops including some corps artillery which had been attached to the 7-AD, and the entire 7-AD with attachments less Trains, were left east of the Salm River, low on supplies, and completely fatigued by five or more days and nights of continuous fighting, with only one sure exit route, a secondary road running west from Vielsalm, and one probable route, the road Salm-Château – Joubiéval – Lierneux. The outnumbered troops were not holding well. As the position was obviously untenable a withdrawal was planned. All unessential vehicles were withdrawn at once, followed by part of the artillery (medium), which began displacing rearward at about midnight.

Enemy Attacks – Withdrawal Postponed
As CCB/9-AD was the first unit scheduled to withdraw, the order was rushed to it by a staff officer before it was published to the other units. At 0125 CCB/9-AD was so ferociously engaged with the enemy that the CG advised the Division CO that a withdrawal at the scheduled time would be unfeasible. Consequently the initial time was postponed and the plan was published on the basis of an H-Hour. In the sectors of both CCs : CCB/7-AD and CCB/9-AD the fighting continued without abatement. At the same time the enemy was building up strong forces in front of the 82-ABD west of Salm-Château. In view of the enemy’s relentless pressure the Division CG radioed Gen Clarke and Hoge of the two CCBs that the situation is such on the west of river south of the 82nd that if we don’t join them soon, the opportunity will be gone. It will be necessary to disengage whether circumstances are favorable or not if we are to carry out any kind of withdrawal with equipment. Inform me of your situation at once, particularly with regard to the possibility of disengagement and execution of withdrawal. Shortly afterwards the enemy’s pressure from the east eased slightly, and H-Hour was announced as 0600. CCB/9-AD, having received the announcement late, actually initiated the movement at about 0700.

CCB Withdraws
The plan of CCB/7-AD was to bring out all the vehicles and troops at Crombach and southwest thereof through Beho to Vielsalm. The infantry company of the 424/106-ID at Braunlauf accompanied them. North of Crombach all troops and vehicles were to come out through Hinderhausen to Commanster then to Vielsalm. A covering force consisting of a medium Tank Co, a Tank Destroyer Co, and an infantry company, or its equivalent, was to hold Hinderhausen until all other troops had left and then fall back with maximum delay. All this was done. The 965-FAB and 275-FAB had withdrawn the night before. The 434-AFAB left just ahead of the covering force, giving it fire support as it withdrew under heavy pressure. Due to a frozen road between Hinderhausen and Commanster the withdrawal was facilitated and practically all the vehicles were evacuated. So far as is known no men were left behind. The troops of the Combat Command were originally given instructions to assemble at Lierneux, but later were directed that the assembly area had been changed to Xhoris. The Combat Command was closed in the vicinity of Xhoris at 2300 Dec 23.

CCA Withdraws
air-support-vs-german-armored-1944The plan of CCA/7-AD was to withdraw by the northern route beginning at 1530 and to clear their area by 1830 moving through CCR/7-AD at Petit Thier. An Advance Guard composed of a company of tanks and one of infantry was to leave first. Than the infantry was to withdraw, support by fire and limited attacks by the 40-TB minus. Finally the tanks would pull back, acting as a rear guard. All this was done. The 489-AFAB supported the entire section with prepared fires and smoke. Prior to the commencement of CCA’s withdrawal a hostile attack was launched by enemy infantry at 1035. Artillery and tanks effectively broke it up by 1115. CCA received good air support from 1230 throughout the remaining daylight hours which materially assisted the operation. Support was also received from the 275-FAB beginning about 1400. CCA successfully passed all elements through CCR, which then assumed responsibility for coverage of the rear, and proceeded to its new assembly area in the vicinity of Harzé.

CCR Withdraws
After CCA/7-AD had withdrawn through CCR/7-AD, the latter commenced its own withdrawal almost without incident. The artillery between CCA and CCR cleared the bridge at 1650, followed by CCR, which came out fast. All vehicles having cleared the railroad underpass at P725900, it was blown at 1715, and the final covering force of infantry was withdrawn at 1745. CCR was able to disengage both its defensive positions without committing any forces. One outpost was ambushed by an enemy force of 12 to 15 men who, after setting one M-8 armored car afire by panzerfaust and / or panzerschreck fire and wounding one enlisted man, were ultimately driven off. No other casualties, vehicular or personnel, were sustained, and the combat command closed in its new assembly area at 2000.

Covering Force Withdraws
Meanwhile on the south CCB/9-AD and portions of CCB/7-AD, as well as the reserve battalion of the 424/106-ID cleared successfully, leaving a portion of the 14-CG and Task Force Jones on the east side of the Salm River. Their plan of withdrawal consisted of leapfrogging from defensive positions at the Beho crossroads (P7581), Bovigny (P7082) and Cierreux (P7184). One battalion of the 112/28-ID was to cover the east flank. The withdrawal of Task Force Jones started at 1430 after all miscellaneous elements had been previously withdrawn. An enemy column including tanks was reported moving from Limerlé towards Gouvy and then west. The 440-AFAB fired on the column without results. Successfully disengaging by leap-frogging the several blocks, Task Force Jones proceeded north towards Salm-Château along the exit route. A few hundred yards south of that town (695860) an enemy ambush destroyed one light tank of the 14-CG with one panzerschreck, and in Salm-Château two light tanks of D Co 40-TB were destroyed by 88-MM shells either from German Field Artillery or King Tiger Tanks fire. The enemy had come from the east. The enemy was also contacted at Cierreux where B Co 814-TDB, destroyed two Mark VI Tiger tanks. The column withdrew to 1½ miles south of Salm-Château at 1700, and the 112/28-ID attempted to clean cut the town with an attack at 1930. Meanwhile a reconnaissance for an alternate route in the vicinity of St Marie – Provedroux was completed. Simultaneously the rear of the column was attacked by tanks from the south and east which destroyed four M-36 tank destroyers, a medium tank, two towed guns and two other vehicles. Six of the tanks were destroyed. The majority of the personnel escaped on foot. As the enemy was pressing strongly, the alternate route was taken. In the creeks west of St Marie an enemy ambush destroyed two armored cars and three ¼-tons. At (865692) two Mark IV tanks attacked the column, destroying two more armored cars and three ¼-tons. Part of the column attempted to move towards Provedroux and met an enemy column of unknown strength, losing one armored car. The balance of the vehicles negotiated the creeks (two ¼-tons and one armored car mired and abandoned) and moved on road north from St Marie until they reached the road Salm-Château – Sart where contact was made with the outpost line of the 82-ABD. From there the force proceeded safely to its assembly area.

Action at Manhay
The successful withdrawal from the region to the east of the Salm River was hardly completed when, on the evening of Dec 23, the Division Commander was called to the XVIII Corps (Airborne) Hqs. Here he was informed of the threat of the 2. SS-Panzerdivision coming up the road towards Manhay, between the positions of the 82A-BD and the 3-AD. On 0330 Dec 24, Task Force Corbin, consisting of : B Co 40th Tank Battalion, 48th Armored Infantry Battalion, 1/A Co 33rd Armored Engineer Combat Battalion, 1/B Co 814 Tank Destroyer Battalion was formed. This force moved out at 0700 to defend Manhay and to block the roads leading north-south highway through Manhay at Sur les Monts and Drî l’Cheslain. This force, however, was disolved that same morning when all of CCA/7-AD was committed to defend Manhay. CCA took up positions in the Manhay – Malampré area, south of the road junction in Manhay. At about 1800, instructions were issued to withdraw to a defensive position along the line Grandmenil – Manhay – Drî l’Cheslain. The move was ordered by XVIII Corps (Airborne) at the request of the 82-ABD which felt it was necessary to move back to shorten the defensive lines. The withdrawal was to begin at 2230. The enemy attacked in force almost simultaneously with the withdrawal. The attacking force was composed of tanks and infantry with panzerfausts and panzerschrecks. C Co 40-TB, was lost entirely and the enemy inflicted other heavy losses. The enemy continued on into Manhay. CCA, fell back from Manhay and established defensive positions to the north.

CCB/7-AD was alerted Dec 25 at 2400, to reinforce CCA, and on Dec 25 it was decided to commit CCB to retake Manhay. The tanks were unable to reach the town, but the infantry did reach the outskirts. The division line was moved forward to better positions overlooking the town. CCA relieved elements of the 82-ABD in Drâ l’Cheslain and Vaux Chavanne on Dec 26 while CCB assumed the responsibility for the western half of the division sector, and at 1500 the 424/106-ID (-3rd Bn) was attached to CCB. The 3rd Bn, (-l Co), 517-PIR assembled in the CCA area, and at 0225 Dec 27, attacked Manhay. Two platoons of medium tanks from the 17-TB supported that attack. The town was retaken and defended against several counterattacks during the day.

On Dec 28, the 3rd Bn (-1 Co), 517-PIR, was attached to CCA and the division continued the defense of Manhay. Patrols were maintained south to the east-west road, Grandmenil and Drî l’Cheslain. Contact with the 82-ABD on the left flank and the 3-AD on the right flank was maintained and the defense of Manhay continued on Dec 29. Plans for the relief of the division by the 75-ID were prepared, and the relief was carried out during the night of Dec 29-30. At 0410 Dec 30, the relief of the 7-AD was completed and the division moved to an assembly area north of the line Hamoir – Ferrières – Werbomont, closing at 1230. The Division Artillery remained to reinforce the fires of the 75-ID’s artillery.

Dec 31 saw the division reorganizing and performing maintenance of equipment and rehabilitation of personnel. December, 1944, was an epoch-making month for the 7-AD. The division’s stand at St Vith brought commendations from Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower and Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery.

airborne-in-manhay-1944

manhay-1944-after-the-battle

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For the Commanding General :
John L. Ryan Jr
Colonel, G. S. C.
Chief of Staff

Appendix I
Administrative and Statistical Summary
During the month, the 7th Armored Division had several changes in command.
– On Dec 17 1944, it was attached to the VIII Corps (8-C) and the First US Army (1-A) from the XIII Corps (13-C) of the Ninth US Army (9-A)
– On Dec 20, it came under the command of the XVIII Corps (A/B) (18-ABC).
– On Dec 26, word was received that the division was released from attachment to the First US Army and assignment to the Ninth US Army and assigned to the First US Army, effective Dec 22. Within the division there were also changes in the important positions. Col Church M. Matthews, Chief of Staff, became MIA on Dec 17 and was succeeded by Col John L Ryan Jr, who had commanded CCR. Col Fred W. Warren became Acting Commanding Officer of CCR until Dec 28, when Col Francis P. Tompkins assumed the command. The 7th Armored Division’s losses, both in personnel and equipment, were the highest in December of all of the months in combat. During the period Dec 17-30 alone, the losses were 231 combat vehicles and 165 general purpose vehicles. A partial breakdown of the month’s losses includes the following : 72 Medium tanks, 31 Light tanks, 25 Armored Cars, M-8, 75 Halftracks, 2 Howitzers, M-7/105-MM and 7 Howitzers, M-8/75-MM. Personnel losses of the division and attached units for the month are as follows : 61 KIA and DOW, 518 Wounded, 747 Missing and 654 Non-battle casualties 654.

During the period Dec 1 to Dec 31 1944, the Division used the following amount of supplies :

  • 206913 gal. fuel
  • 4102 gal. oil
  • 5360 lbs. grease
  • 980 tons rations
  • 310085 gal. water
  • Cal .30, all types 596074
  • Cal .45, Ball 52200
  • Cal .50, MG 79840
  • 37-MM Gun, all types 2160
  • 57-MM Gun, all types 340
  • 60-MM Mortar, all types 2798
  • 75-MM Gun, all types 1674
  • 75-MM How, all types 159
  • 76-MM Gun, all types 1821
  • 81-MM Mortar, all types 3191
  • 90-MM Gun, all types 1244
  • 105-MM, How, all types 53198
  • 3″ Gun, all types 161
  • Mines, HE, AT, M1A1 3680
  • Grenades, all types 2925
  • Rockets, HE, AT 1060
  • 2″ Mortar, Smoke 90
  • Flares, Trip 200
  • TNT 2500 lbs

Troop Assignments & Code Names
Dec 17 0300 – March South

CCA
40th Tank Battalion (Wordy)
48th Armored Infantry Battalion (Worse)
A Company, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (Worker)
CCB
31st Tank Battalion (Wyoming)*
23rd Armored Infantry Battalion (Wolf)
B Company, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (Worker)
CCR
17th Tank Battalion (Wrapper)
38th Armored Infantry Battalion (Woody)
Div Arty
489th Armored Artillery Battalion (Wow)
440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Woven)
A & C Companies, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)
Div Trs
Division Headquarters (Workshop)*
87th Cav Rcn Squadron (Mechanized)(Wonder)*
Div Hq
87th Cav Rcn Squadron (Mechanized)(Wonder)*
33rd Armored Engineer Battalion(-)(Worker)
203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(-)(Highdeed)
814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
Div Tns
129th Armored Ordnance Battalion (Wopper)
77th Armored Medical Battalion (Wounded)
446th QM Truck Company (?)
3967th QM Truck Company (2)
B Company, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)

Dec 17 2400

CCA
40th Tank Battalion (Wordy)
48th Armored Infantry Battalion (Worse)
A Company, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (Worker)
CCB
31st Tank Battalion (Wyoming)*
23rd Armored Infantry Battalion (Wolf)
38th Armored Infantry Battalion (Woody)
B Company, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (Worker)
275th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
CCR
17th Tank Battalion (Wrapper)
Div Arty
434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Wooten/Wotten)
440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Woven)
489th Armored Artillery Battalion (Wow)
A & C Companies, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)
Div Trs
Division Headquarters (Workshop)*
33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (-) (Worker)
87th Cav Rcn Squadron (Mechanized)(Wonder)*
203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(-)(Highdeed)
814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
Div Tns
129th Armored Ordnance Battalion (Wopper)
77th Armored Medical Battalion (Wounded)
446th QM Truck Company (?)
3967th QM Truck Company (2)
B Company, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)

Dec 18 2400

CCA
40th Tank Battalion (Wordy)
48th Armored Infantry Battalion (Worse)
A Company, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (Worker)
D Troop 87th Cav Rcn Squadron (Mechanized)(Wonder)*
CCB
31st Tank Battalion (-)(Wyoming)*
23rd Armored Infantry Battalion (-)(Wolf)
38th Armored Infantry Battalion (-)(Woody)
B Company, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (Worker)
87th Cav Rcn Squadron (Mechanized)(-)(Wonder)*
275th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
A Company, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
1 Plat Rcn, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
CCR
17th Tank Battalion (Wrapper)
C Company, – 38th Armored Infantry Battalion (Woody)
C Company, – 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (-) (Worker)
B Company (-) 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
1 Plat Rcn, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
1 Bn, 23rd Armored Infantry Battalion (Wolf)
1/1, 31st Tank Battalion (Wyoming)*

Div Arty
434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Wooten/Wotten)
440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Woven)
A & C Companies, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)
489th Armored Artillery Battalion (Wow)
Div Trs
Division Headquarters (Workshop)*
33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (-) (Worker)
203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(-)(Highdeed)
814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
14th Cavalry Group (-)
Div Tns
129th Armored Ordnance Battalion (Wopper)
77th Armored Medical Battalion (Wounded)
446th QM Truck Company (?)
3967th QM Truck Company (2)
B Company, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)

Dec 21 2400

CCA
40th Tank Battalion (Wordy)
48th Armored Infantry Battalion (Worse)
A Company, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (Worker)
D Troop 87th Cav Rcn Squadron (Mechanized)(Wonder)*
CCB
31st Tank Battalion (-)(Wyoming)*
23rd Armored Infantry Battalion (-)(Wolf)
38th Armored Infantry Battalion (-)(Woody)
B Company, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (Worker)
87th Cav Rcn Squadron (Mechanized)(-)(Wonder)*
275th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
A Company, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
1 Plat Rcn, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
CCR
17th Tank Battalion (Wrapper)
C Company, – 38th Armored Infantry Battalion (Woody)
C Company, – 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (-) (Worker)
B Company (-) 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
1 Plat Rcn, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
1 Bn, 23rd Armored Infantry Battalion (Wolf)
1/1, 31st Tank Battalion (Wyoming)*

Div Arty
434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Wooten/Wotten)
440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Woven)
A & C Companies, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)
489th Armored Artillery Battalion (Wow)
Div Trs
Division Headquarters (Workshop)*
33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (-) (Worker)
203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(-)(Highdeed)
814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
14th Cavalry Group (-)
Div Tns
129th Armored Ordnance Battalion (Wopper)
77th Armored Medical Battalion (Wounded)
446th QM Truck Company (?)
3967th QM Truck Company (2)
B Company, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)

Dec 22 2400

CCA
40th Tank Battalion (- 3 Tanks)(Wordy)
48th Armored Infantry Battalion (Worse)
A Company, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (Worker)
C Company, 38th Armored Infantry Battalion (Woody)
B Company, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
CCB
31st Tank Battalion (-)(Wyoming)*
17th Tank Battalion (-)(Wrapper)
23rd Armored Infantry Battalion (-)(Wolf)
38th Armored Infantry Battalion (-)(Woody)
B Company, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (Worker)
87th Cav Rcn Squadron (Mechanized)(-)(Wonder)*
434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Wooten/Wotten)
1 Sec/C Company, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)
275th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
965th Field Artillery Battalion (-)
A Company, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
C Company, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Herald/Harold)
CCR
Task Force Wanke
17th Tank Battalion (-)(Wrapper)
14th Cavalry Group (-)
1 Sec/D Company, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)
Div Arty
A Company, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)
C Company (-), 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)
489th Armored Artillery Battalion (Wow)
Div Trs
Division Headquarters (Workshop)*
33rd Armored Engineer Battalion (-) (Worker)
203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(-)(Highdeed)
D Troop, 87th Cav Rcn Squadron (Mechanized)(Wonder)*
14th Cavalry Group (-)
Div Tns
129th Armored Ordnance Battalion (Wopper)
77th Armored Medical Battalion (Wounded)
446th QM Truck Company (?)
3967th QM Truck Company (2)
B Company, 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)
D Company (-), 203rd AAAAW Bn (Self-Propelled)(Highdeed)

General d. Panzertruppe Hasso-Eccard Freiherr von Manteuffel has agreed at several joint press conferences that for the German counter-offensive of the month of December 1944 in Belgium and Luxembourg, to be successful at least three things had to happen :

General-d.-Panzertruppe-Hasso-Eccard-Freiherr-von-Manteuffel(a) the German attack had to be a surprise (b) the weather to be such as to prevent strikes by allied aircraft on the German columns coming through the Ardennes (c) the progress of the German main effort through and beyond St Vith must be rapid and not delayed. Requirements a. and b. were met. Requirement c. was not met because of the defensive and delaying action of Brig Gen Robert W. Hasbrouck’s Luky Seventh, the 7th Armored Division and the attached troops in the St Vith area from December 17 to December 23 1944. His timetable called for the capture of St Vith by 1800 hours on December 17. He did not capture it until the night of December 21 and did not control the St Vith area until December 23 when CCB withdrew on order. On December 22 1964, at a press conference in Watertown, New York, Gen von Manteuffel stated : on the evening of December 24 1944 I recommended to Hitler’s Adjutant that the German Army give up the attack and return to the West Wall. The reason for this recommendation was due to the time lost by his 5. Panzer-Army in the St Vith area. Hitler did not accept von Manteuffel’s recommendation.

St-Vith-Aerial-Dec-26-1944

USA-E-Ardennes-VII

Suggested Bibliography for Further Study
(Original List from this Archives but Linked to Amazon)

1 – W. Wesley Johnston 1 – 7th Armored Division Presidential Unit Citation, St Vith, Belgium, December 1944 : Recommendation, Supporting Documents, Combat Command B Citation
2 – W. Wesley Johnson Combat Interviews of 7th Armored Division Headquarters : St Vith and Manhay, Belgium, including 14th Cavalry Group, December 16-26, 1944
3 – Gen Omar N. Bradley A Soldier’s Story (Modern Library War)
4 – Bryan Arthur Triumph in the west, 1943-1946
5 – Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower Crusade in Europe
6 – First United States Army, Report of Operations, 1 August 1944 – 22 February 1945
7 – Greenfield, Kent Roberts (ed.) Command Decisions
8 – Hart, Liddell B. H. The German Generals Talk
9 – Gen Manteuffel, Hasso von, Appraisal of the US Anny During The Ardennes; The Battle of the Bulge, Hugh M. Cole The Ardennes – Battle of the Bulge (World War II from Original Sources)
10 – Merriam, Robert E. Dark December : The Full Account of the Battle of the Bulge
11 – Field Marshal Montgomery, Sir Bernard L., Memoirs The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery
12 – Gen George S. Patton Jr War As I Knew It
13 – Pogue, Forrest C. The Supreme Command (United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations)
14 – Stamps, T. Dodson and Esposito, Vincent J. (eds.) A Short Military History of World War I with Atlas
15 – Lt Col Trahan E. A. Armor in the Bulge, Armor Cavalry Journal, Jan-Feb. 1948
16 – Toland, John Battle : The Story of the Bulge
17 – The Battle of St. Vith, Armor; Nov.-Dec. 1964
18 – John S. D. Eisenhower The Bitter Woods: The Battle of the Bulge
18 – Whiting Charles DECISION AT ST VITH (West Wall Series)

Gunter’s Selection, eucmh.com
1 – Charles B. MacDonald Company Commander : The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II
2 – Charles B. MacDonald United States Army in World War II, European Theater of Operations : The Last Offensive
3 – Charles B. MacDonald U.S. Army in World War II: The Siegfried Line Campaign (European Theater of Operations, Volume 7)
4 – Charles B. MacDonald A Time for Trumpets : The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge

Foreword – 1966
Nearly twenty-two years ago this battle was fought as the result of a surprise attack on the Western Front. Since then the details have gradually unfolded and the Battle of the Bulge is now held in better perspective. Twenty-two years later five United States divisions plus other NATO troops are along the Iron Curtain in Europe facing a Russian force that could launch another such surprise attack without build up. If such should occur, the pattern of the battle could well follow this one … surprise, cut off units, bad weather, short supply to some units, cut communications, loss of contact to the right and left and to the rear, and the other confusions of a modern fluid battle. For these reasons the study of this battle is of value to the officer student.

Bruce C. Clarke
General, United States Army (Retired)

7-AD-Map-1

Foreword
Two of the most important tactical localities on the eighty-eight mile front held by the VIII Corps in the Ardennes Forest, at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, December 16, 1944, were Bastogne and St Vith. Through these localities were the road nets which, if held, would disrupt the plan of any Aggressor. Bastogne was an important communications center and was worth the gamble made for its defense. Its garrison wrote a brilliant chapter in history by denying the locality to the enemy; therefore, much of the comment pertaining to the Battle of the Bulge has centered around this important terrain feature. This fact has caused many to lose sight of the importance of St Vith and the gallant stand made for its defense by elements of Corps troops, by remnants of the 106th Infantry Division, and by CCB of the 7th Armored Division. Realizing the importance of St Vith to the American Forces, the Corps Commander directed the Commanding General of CCB, 7th Armored Division, to march his command to that locality, report to the Commanding General of the 106th Infantry Division, whose headquarters was there, and to assist in the defense of that important road center. In my opinion it was CCB which influenced the subsequent action and caused the enemy so much delay and so many casualties in and near this important area. Though armor was not designed primarily for the role of the defensive, the operation of CCB was nevertheless a good example of how it can assume such role in an emergency. Its aggressive defense measures completely disrupted the enemy’s plan in the St Vith sector.

Troy H. Middleton
Lieutenant General, US Army (Retired)

US_Foxholes

Introduction
This is the narrative of one phase of the greatest pitched battle on the Western Front in World War II. The battle at St Vith (December 17-23, 1944) is an excellent example of how American troops held their ground in the midst of confusion, defeat, and uncertainty; and thereby threw the German timetable sufficiently off schedule to allow American forces to regroup, hold, and then counterattack. The stand at St Vith has been recognized by both German and Allied commanders as a turning point in the Battle of the Bulge. Gen Eisenhower fully appreciated the time given to him by the defenders of St Vith when on December 23 he addressed all commanders in the defensive horseshoe : The magnificent job you are doing is having a great beneficial effect on our whole situation. I am personally grateful to you and wish you would let all of your people know that if they continue to carry out their mission with the splendid spirit they have so far shown, they will have deserved well of their country.

The German plan for the Ardennes counter-offensive is supposed to have been conceived by Hitler himself during the summer of 1944. The plan was not well received by the German generals (they had also been lukewarm to the Ardennes offensive of 1940), who felt that it was far too ambitious. It was not to be the banzai charge of a hopeless foe, however, but a well planned and coordinated attack calculated to strike the American line in a relatively quiet sector with overwhelming force and to drive on to Anvers and Bruxelles before counter-measures could be taken. The success of this plan might well have changed the entire course of the war.

The academic questions as to the strategic soundness of this offensive, which were raised by German and Allied generals after the war, hold little interest to the men who were called upon to stand against overwhelming odds and turn back the onslaught. This story is concerned with the defense of the St Vith salient and will not deal with speculations as to the strategic expediency of the German plan. To be successful, it was necessary for the German counter-offensive to be carried out with surprise and speed. As the record indicates, surprise was attained. I told the Fuehrer on the first day of the attack that surprise had been completely achieved; the best indication was that no reinforcements were made in your sector before the attack, commented Generaloberst Alfred Jodl after the war.

Just a local diversion, one American intelligence officer remarked after the first day. How our intelligence could so mistake an attack of some 17 divisions representing probably a total of 200,000 men is not our problem here; it is enough to say surprise was gained by the enemy. The fact that speed was denied the enemy caused his defeat. The entire operation demanded that German spearheads be driven deep into the American rear installations, thus paralyzing the American ability and will to strike back. I expected the right corps to capture St Vith on the first day of the attack, and hoped that in the evening of the second day of the attack its advance detachments would be engaged west of the Salm River and the bulk of its forces at Vielsalm, Manteuffel, commander in chief of the 5. Panzer-Army. The Report of Operations, First US Army, points out : The elimination of the St Vith salient was of prime importance to the German Commander in Chief West. Because of the delay imposed here, the offensive was already three days behind schedule. In retrospect it can be said that almost from the second day of the offensive, von Rundstedt’s plan began to go wrong.

Late on December 16, Generalfeldmarschall Otto Moritz Walter Model, commander of Army Group B, ordered : Quick exploitation of the successes of the first day of the attack is decisive. The first objective is to achieve liberty of movement for the mobile units. The stubborn defense of St Vith contributed materially to delaying the enemy, and is credited as a major factor in the failure of the German main effort. The importance of the stand at St Vith is described in the 1A Report of Operations : Without the communications center of St Vith, focal point of five main highways and three rail lines, the enemy’s armored, infantry, and supply columns were all practically immobilized. The rugged, hilly terrain of the Ardennes, heavily forested, permitted no cross country movement. The few columns that were able to move, struggled along muddy, cratered, narrow secondary mads. Traffic was jammed bumper-to-bumper for miles from the original point of departure and provided excellent targets for our artillery and fighter bombers. Also, lacking St Vith and its high ground the enemy could not launch his ‘Operation Greif’ in accordance with plan.

The salient at St Vith not only threatened the whole of 5. Panzer-Army’s northern flank, but continued to prevent the movement of 6. SS-Panzer-Army. This afforded the US 1A sufficient time to bring up reinforcements to a new defensive line

December 16, 1944, the Front Line
On the eve of the German attack, the US 1A (Maj Gen Courtney Hodges) held a 165-mile front, roughly from Aachen to southern tip of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The US 3A (Lt Gen George S. Patton) was on the south flank and the new US 9A was on the north flank. The 1A had three corps in the line :

    VII Corps (Maj Gen Lawton J. Collins) in the north pushing toward the Roer River
    V Corps (Maj Gen Leonard T. Gerow) in the center probing towards the Roer Dams
    VIII Corps (Maj Gen Troy Middleton) holding approximately a 90-mile front in the relatively quiet Ardennes sector.

The 2-ID and 99-ID held the south flank of V Corps, nearest VIII Corps. The gap between V and VIII Corps was held by the 14-CG (Cavalry)(Mechanized) under VIII Corps control. The VIII Corps sector front was held :

    Northern Sector – by the 106-ID, which had just arrived in Europe and had not yet received its baptism of fire
    Center Sector – by the 28-ID, whose front extended for 27 miles, east of Bastogne
    Southern Sector – by units of the 9-AD and the 4-ID

Frontline-Map-1944-Dec

Although the sector was lightly held, it was considered improbable that a large-scale counter-attack would be attempted over this terrain under winter conditions. Gen Eisenhower and Gen Bradley accepted the calculated risk. It was not even rated as much of a gamble; the American front was offensive minded; the mental approach of all ranks was one of attack; no real action was anticipated here, hence the Allied portion of the line was not built up for attack. Intelligence reports of German troop concentrations were interpreted as an indication of a stiffer German defense. Our intelligence officers were optimists. Few seemed seriously to consider that the German had a Sunday punch left.

104

GIs-of-the-Timberwolf-Division-resting-December-1944

The German Strike
As finally ordered, the German plan earmarked elements of 17 divisions for the first day’s attack. To the north, Dietrich’s 6. SS-Panzer-Army sought to open a hole and to turn two SS panzer divisions of the I SS Panzer Corps loose for a dash to the Meuse River. The infantry of Dietrich’s army collided head on with Gen Gerow’s V Corps and the 99-ID finally, on December 19, fell back a couple thousand yards to the Elsenborn Ridge; and there, with the help of the 26-RTC (1-ID), withstood all enemy attacks and formed an anchor on the line. South of the 6. SS-Panzer-Army, the 5. Panzer-Army, under Manteuffel, planned to strike using tank and infantry teams with only light artillery preparations. The LXVI Corps, (Lucht), was to strike the 106-ID, isolate the Schnee Eifel, and drive rapidly into St Vith. Meanwhile, to the south the LVIII Corps and the XLVII Corps were to burst through the 28-ID, isolate Bastogne, and then drive on to the Meuse with the panzer divisions. The 7. Army (Brandenberger), was to push back the US 4-ID, furnish flank protection, and stem any attempt to reinforce the battle area from the south. With this picture, it can be seen that the mailed fist was pointed, poised, and ready to strike. Now, let us see how the blow was received by the troops in the St Vith area.


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On that bleak, cold morning of December 16 1944, Germans troops from Manteuffel’s 5. Panzer-Army sprang out of hiding in the dense forests of the Ardennes and began a gigantic pincers movement around the Schnee Eifel, the large ridge mass about 16 miles due east of St Vith. Astride this ridge line were the 422-IR and the 423-IR (106-ID), which had landed in France less than two weeks prior to this time; this unit had been sent to the Ardennes for a conditioning and seasoning program prior to heavy fighting. As the attack progressed, it became apparent that the Germans planned to by-pass the troops on the Schnee Eifel; cut them off; and converge upon St Vith. The American higher headquarters intended to counter by moving the 7-AD (Hasbrouck) into the area to assist in the restoration of the lines. Maj Gen A. W. Jones, CG 106-ID, moved CCB-9-AD south to assist the 424-IR, the regiment on the southern flank of the 106-ID, a regiment just between two main German axes of penetration.

South of Sepp Dietrich’s 6. SS-Panzer-Army, Manteuffel’s 5. Panzer-Army, planned to strike using tank and infantry teams with only light artillery preparations. The LXVI Corps, (Lucht), was to strike the 106-ID, isolate the Schnee Eifel, and drive rapidly into St Vith. To the south the LVIII and XLVII Corps were to burst through the 28-ID, capture and isolate Bastogne, and then drive on to the Meuse River with the panzer divisions. Brandenberger’s 7. Panzer-Army, was to push back the 4-ID, furnish a good flank protection, and stem any attempt to reinforce the battle area from the south. With this picture, it can be seen that the mailed fist was pointed, poised, and ready to strike.

Russland Erich von Manstein, Brandenberger

Invasion of Russia, 1941. General der Panzertruppe Erich Brandenberger (left) with Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein.

Let us see how the blow was received by the troops in the St Vith area. On that bleak, cold morning of December 16 1944, troops from Manteuffel’s 5. Panzer-Army sprang out of hiding in the dense forests of the Belgian Ardennes and began a gigantic pincers movement around the Schnee Eifel, the large ridge mass about 16 miles due east of St Vith (Schoenberg – Amelscheid). Astride this ridge line were the 422 and 423-IRs of the 106-ID. The division had landed in France less than two weeks prior to this time and the unit had been sent to the Schnee Eifel for a conditioning and seasoning program prior to heavy fighting. As the attack progressed, it became apparent that the Germans planned to by-pass the two regiments, cut them off, and converge upon St Vith. The American higher headquarters intended to counter by moving the 7-AD into the area to assist in the restoration of the lines. Maj Gen Allan W. Jones, CG 106-ID, moved CCB-9-AD south to assist the 424-IR, the regiment on the southern flank of the 106-ID.

On December 16 1944, the Hasbrouck’s 7-AD with its attached troops, located east and northeast of Heerlen in Holland as XIII Corps’ reserve. At 1730 it was alerted for early movement to VIII Corps in the vicinity of Bastogne, Belgium. The action taken is described by Brig Gen Bruce C. Clarke, CG CCB, 7-AD, who was to play a leading role in the defense of St Vith.

    At 2000, I received a telephone call from Gen Robert W. Hasbrouck, Commanding General, 7-AD, saying that the division had received orders to march immediately south to Bastogne and report there to the Commanding General VIII Corps. What we were to do when we got to Bastogne was unknown. He told me that the division would march as soon as road clearances could be obtained. Gen Hasbrouck directed that I proceed immediately to Bastogne, report to CG VIII Corps, to get information on the situation. He said that my combat command would lead the division on its march of some 60 to 70 miles south.

    At 0400, December 17, Maj Owen E. Woodruff, my S-3, and I, with two drivers, were in Bastogne where we reported to Gen Troy Houston Middleton that the 7-AD was marching south. I was told of the general situation and was told to go to St Vith at daylight and give the 106-ID help.

    At 1030 I was in St Vith where I learned the detailed situation. The Germans had attacked at daylight the day before. Two regiments (422-IR and 423-IR) of the Golden Lions division were surrounded 7 or 8 miles to the east of St Vith. The other regiment (424-IR) had been hard hit. The situation to the north and south was hazy. Vehicles were streaming to the rear. Rumors of ‘Tiger’ tanks were prevalent. Contact with elements of the division was sporadic. There was an air of impending disaster.

    A radio message was sent to my combat command, which was leading the division on its march south, to report to me at St Vith. I later learned that the division had not started to move before 0500, December 17, because it had been unable to obtain road clearance. I planned to counterattack and relieve the surrounded combat teams of the 106-ID, but traffic conditions prevented this action until it was too late.

Bruce C Clark

The weather conditions on December 16 1944, were typical of the weather which was to be, experienced for the next seven days. Overcast; cloudy; penetrating cold; snow flurries, turning to rain; poor aerial observation with no aerial activity; ground soft; roads muddy and slick, read the reports. The terrain between the Schnee Eifel and the Ardennes was rough, forested, and rocky. Frequent streams and numerous saddles added to the difficulties which channeled all vehicular traffic along the few narrow, tortuous roads which served the area. St Vith was one of the three key road junctions to the entire Ardennes, and from it roads radiated to Dinant and Liège in the west and northwest; to Malmedy and Stavelot in the north; to Houffalize and Bastogne in the south; and to Schoenberg and Prüm in the east. Through St Vith ran the only east-west railroad extending from the Rhine River through the Eifel and into the Ardennes.

st-vith

The March to St Vith
On the morning of December 17, when it had been thought that the 7-AD would arrive in the St Vith area, the division was fighting clogged roads to the west rather than Germans. To reach the St Vith area, the division moved in multiple columns over two routes, east and west. The weather was rainy and the roads were a sea of mud; movement cross-country or in the fields alongside the roads was impossible. The division was alerted to move at 0200, December 17. It received orders to cross the initial point on the west route at 0330. The column was on the road when further orders were received to delay the movement one hour.

On the west route, the 87-CRS led the way followed by CCB, CCA, 814-TDB, 7-AD (Main) HQs, 33-AEB, and Division Trains. Clearances on the east route were delayed until 0800 December 17 when Reserve Combat Command led off followed by Division (TAC) Headquarters, Division Artillery, and the 203-AAAB. Trouble was encountered from the beginning; German aircraft were active over the Heerlen area, more active than they had been for weeks. There had not been time for the proper dissemination of information and many staff officers and company commanders did not know their destination until their arrival in the St Vith area. Maps were not available, the mission was not known, and there had been little time to post the routes with guides.

The east route was cut by the enemy just south of Malmedy, between the Division (TAC) Headquarters and the Division Artillery, thus necessitating the artillery and the elements which followed to turn back and place themselves on the west route in the rear of the troops already moving on that road. This was successfully accomplished, but resulted in considerable delay in the arrival of the artillery. Traffic on the west route continued to roll fairly well until noon of December 17, when it was slowed by congestion resulting from the ever-thickening stream of friendly troops flowing west and northwest from the threatened Poteau – Vielsalm – Beho – St Vith area. Towards nightfall, the traffic congestion increased, and the 7-AD column stretching from Poteau through Vielsalm, Trois-Ponts and Stavelot to the north was brought to a complete standstill. The picture as described by Maj Donald P. Boyer, S-3, 38-AIB, gives some idea of the traffic conditions faced by the march columns as they tried to hasten to the defense of St Vith.

7AD-East&West

    My driver and I arrived at the road junction at Poteau at about 1230, December 17. We were about an hour ahead of the 38-AIB which was the lead unit in the Reserve Command’s march column. As we arrived at the road junction, we were hit by a sight that we could not comprehend, at first; a constant stream of traffic hurtling to the rear (to the west) and nothing going to the front (to the east). We realized that this was not a convoy moving to the rear; it was a case of ‘every dog for himself’; it was a retreat, a rout !

    Here would come a 2.5-ton, with only a driver, then another with several men in it (most of them bareheaded and in various stages of undress, next perhaps an engineer crane truck or an armored car, then several artillery prime movers – perhaps one of them towing a gun, command cars with officers in them. 1/4-tons-anything which would run and which would get the driver and a few others away from the front. It wasn’t orderly; it wasn’t military; it wasn’t a pretty sight – we were seeing American soldiers running away.

    About a mile farther up the road at the little town of Petit-Thier, all traffic had stopped. In fact, it was the most perfect traffic jam I have ever seen. We had run into this hopeless mass of vehicles fleeing to the rear on a narrow road which would barely support two-way traffic at slow speeds. Vehicles streaming to the rear had attempted to pass each other in the intervals between the tanks of the 31-TB, which was leading CCB, and now no one could move.

    It was already 1515 and from the looks of the road jam, neither the tanks nor anything else was going to reach St Vith for a long time. Lt Col Fuller, Cpl Cox, and I took over the job of clearing a path for the tanks, and we started getting vehicles to move over to the sides. Slowly a path was beginning to open and the tanks began to roll along at a snail’s pace with halts ever 50 to 100 feet. Several times we had to wave the lead tank forward at full speed when some vehicle refused to pull over. Usually the sight of 30-odd tons of steel roaring down on him was all we needed to get the driver to move over.

    Several times senior officers in command cars attempted to pull out into a space which I was opening up, and each time I told them to get back, that I didn’t care who they were, nothing was coming through except our tanks and anything else which was headed for the front, and to get out of the way. One company commander, Capt Dudley J. Britton, B Co, 23-AIB, said : ‘that day I saw the highest ranking traffic cops I have ever seen’. Finally, at 2015, A Co entered St Vith, followed closely by B Co and Headquarters Cos. It had taken two and one-half hours for a company to move three miles – all because of the vehicles fleeing to the rear with men who refused to pull aside and let troops through (troops who actually would save them if they could reach the town before the Germans did). There was one of the biggest tragedies of St Vith; that American soldiers fled, and by their fleeing crowded the roads over which reinforcements were coming; and thus prevented the arrival of these reinforcements in time to launch a counterattack to save the 422-IR and the 423-IR (106-ID), then cut off by the Germans east of St Vith.


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Gen Clarke commented on the traffic conditions as follows ;

    The panic of the afternoon of December 17 was so great at the road crossing just west of St Vith that an officer I stationed there to stop rearward movement was pushed aside by senior officers and I had to take charge personally to control the traffic.

7-AD-023-1

The Defense is Organized
At 1200, December 17, the situation in the St Vith area was critical. The 14-CG on the north of the 106-ID had been driven back to about a north-south line through St Vith. Their situation was one of confusion and was extremely hazy. To the east of St Vith, the 422 and 423-IRs of the 106-ID was cut off to the southeast of Schoenberg. Communication with them by radio was sporadic. To the south of St Vith, CCB-9AD, was attacking to try to retake Winterspelt (Germany). To its south, the 424/106-ID was holding the line. To their south, the situation was hazy. There was practically no tie-in of the units mentioned with units on their flanks.

St-Vit-17-12-1944

The 14th Cavalry Group had been driven back to positions shown here and were under heavy pressure from the enemy. To the east of St Vith the 422-IR and 423-IR (106-ID) were cut off. CCB-9-AD was attacking toward Winterspelt. The 424/106-ID was holding a line to the south.

The plan for an immediate attack east from St Vith, to take and hold Schoenberg and open escape corridors for the two surrounded regiments could not be carried out; it was impossible to bring the 7-AD up to the St Vith area over the traffic-congested roads in time to launch the attack that afternoon. CCB-7-AD (Clark) established its command post in a school building in the southeast corner of St Vith; the same building housed the command post of the 106-ID. Staff members of CCB tried to get a relatively accurate picture of the situation from officers of the 106-ID; but it was obvious that the shock of the initial German blow, together with their lack of combat experience, had partially disrupted the staff functioning of the 106. All kinds of rumors were being spread; men who had fled from the front, apparently seeking to justify their action, gave an exaggerated and inaccurate picture of what was taking place. The situation most certainly was bad, and the impression that officers of CCB got was that the 106-ID no longer existed as an effective division.

106Infantry_Division.svgAs staff sections of CCB began to arrive, carrying their equipment into the building, they met men from the 106-ID Headquarters leaving with their equipment. The defense of the St Vith sector was turned over to Gen Clarke, the CG of CCB-7-AD, by Gen Jones the CG of the 106-ID at about 1430, December 17, and was largely in his hands for the remainder of the action. At the time of the transfer, the enemy was only about three or four thousand yards from the town, and small-arms fire from the east was coming into the vicinity of the command post. The troops from the 106-ID, which came under Gen Clarke’s command, were :

    Headquarters Co, 81st Engr Bn, Lt Col T. J. Riggs
    Headquarters Co, 168th Engr Bn, Lt Col W. L. Nungesset
    1st Plat, F Co, 423rd Inf Regt, (106-ID CP guard)
    275th Armd Fld Arty Bn (Separate)(105-MM)

This artillery battalion, the 275-AFAB (Separate) assigned to VIII Corps and in position near Ober Emmels (Belgium). They had remained in place despite the fact that no friendly troops were between them and the enemy. They had shifted their batteries so as to form road blocks, and had sited their guns for direct fire. When the 7-AD began to arrive at St Vith, the commanding officer of the 275-AFAB, Lt Col Clay, offered his battalion’s services to Gen Clarke and this unit provided the entire artillery support for the initial defense until the organic artillery of the 7-AD could be brought up into position. The infantty platoon and the engineer elements were sent to the east of St Vith with instructions to proceed until they met Germans and then to dig in and hold. These troops furnished the only resistance to the German advance on St Vith until the arrival of 7-AD units.

The build-up of a defensive cordon around the town was a piecemeal procedute, units being placed in the line as they atrived. Troop B of the 87-CRS was the first unit to arrive. This troop was placed in position on the left of the road block established by the troops from the 106-ID. Other troops from CCB were added to the right and left as they arrived until a defensive line was formed east and notth of St Vith. On the 17, Troop B, dismounted, went into the center of the line with 6 officers and 136 men. On the 23, this troop had a strength of 47 enlisted men and no officers; casualties included the troop commander, Capt Robert J. Stewart, who was killed. The 87-CRS (minus Troop B) was sent to the northeast of St Vith in the Wallerode (Belgium) area to contact the 14-CG and to protect and screen the left flank. The next unit to arrive was the 38-AIB, less one company. It was put to the east of St Vith, and Lt Col William H. G. Fuller, 38-AIB, was given command of that sector, including elements of the 106-ID in place. He was also given Troop B of the 87-CRS, and later on that evening was reinforced with B Co of the 23-AIB and A Co of the 31-TB. The remainder of CCB (31-TB (-), 23-AIB (-), B Co 33-AEB) closed in the assembly area to the west of St Vith. Before midnight, on December 17, CCB was disposed as shown bellow.

7-AD-St Vith-0

The build-up of the defense was a piecemeal procedure. At about 1530, elements of Hqs Co, 81-ECB, under Lt Col T. J. Riggs; 168-ECB (-) under Lt Col Nungesser; and one platoon of infantry (1/F/423) established a road block east of St Vith. Troop B (Capt R. J. Stewart) (87-CRS) was placed to the north of this road block. About 1630 B Co (Capt D. J. Britton) of the 23-AIB was placed south of the road block. A Co (Capt R. C. Foster) of the 31-TB was placed south of the road block. A Co (Capt W. H. Antsey) (38-AIB) was placed north of Troop B, 87-CRS and all troops to the east of St Vith were attached to the 38-AIB under Lt Col W. H. G, Fuller. Troops of the 87-CRS were sent to the north to secure that flank. Other CCB units closed in assembly areas west of St Vith before midnight.

At 0200, the Germans launched the first of the bitter attacks which were to be hurled at the 7-AD during the next six days. The attack hit Reserve Command to the north of St Vith and seemed to be a drive to take Recht. Germans of the 1. SS-Panzer-Divisions (LSSAH) struck with such force in this night attack that withdrawal of Reserve Command Headquarters to Poteau was ordered. The Germans made effective use of flares shot from their tanks to silhouette out tanks and blind our gunners. The 17-TB (plus C Co, 38-AIB), commanded by Lt Col John P. Wemple, took up positions south of Recht where they could place commanding fire on the town and could assist in covering the north flank of CCB, which was now seriously threatened.

Stopped by Reserve Command, the Germans continued their squeeze play on the St Vith area during the cold, misty morning when at 0800 they hit CCB with a well-coordinated attack by infantry supported by heavy tanks. From the north the attack moved in on Hunningen and from the east against the line across the Schoenberg road. Hunningen was lost temporarily, but an aggressive counter-attack was mounted by CCB, using three medium tank companies and one tank destroyer company (B Co, 31-TB; plus two medium tank companies from the 14-TB; A Co, 811-TDB, borrowed from CCB-9-AD). The crossroad was recaptured at a cost to the Germans of seven tanks and one armored car destroyed, and over 100 infantry killed. On the east, CCB restored the line with a counter-attack by two medium tank companies (A and C Cos, 31-TB) after initial penetrations had been made. Such counter-attacks, carried out by CCB with aggressiveness and determination, were characteristic of the defense of St Vith and must have caused the Germans to think the defenders were in greater strength than was the case.

While the northern and eastern flanks had been heavily engaged, the northeastern sector (Troop A, 87-CRS; A Co, 38-AIB; Troop B, 87-CRS) had been had been rather quiet. The only excitement there had been when an M-8 armoted car from Troop B destroyed a Tiget tank. The armored car had been in a concealed position neal the boundaly of Troop B, 87-CRS and A Co, 38-AIB, when the Tiger approached the lines at right angles to move along a trail in ftont of the main line of resistance. As the tank passed the armored car, the latter slipped out of position and started up the trail behind the Tiger, accelerating in an attempt to close. At the same moment the German tank commandet saw the M-8, and started traversing his gun to beat on it. It was a race between the Ameticans, who were attempting to close so that their 37-MM gun would be effective on the Tiget’s thin rear armor, and the Germans, who were despetately striving to bring their 88 to beat. Rapidly the M-8 closed to 25 yards, and quickly pumped in thee rounds; the lumbeting Tiget stopped and shuddered; there was a muffled explosion, followed by flames which billowed out of the tutret and engine ports, after which the armored car returned to its position. This action was reported to Maj Donald P. Boyer, S-3, 38-AIB, by Capt W. H. Anstey (CO A Co, 38-AIB) who witnessed the engagement.

At about 1000, during the fighting on the notth and east flanks, the 31-TB received the disturbing news that its trains, togethet with those of the 23-AIB, were separated from the rest of the battalion, and fighting a despetate action against strong combat pattols pushing west from Poteau. The two service companies had spent the night near Petit-Thier and were preparing to move up and join their battalions when they were attacked. Using cooks, mechanics, clerks, and a few casuals as infantry, and three tanks, which had just been repaired, the trains successfully disengaged and moved to the rear, then south, and finally into position at Krombach (Belgium), about four miles southwest of St Vith.

M8 Bulge

This information indicated that the same tank and infantry forces, which had forced Reserve Command and its 17-TB out of Recht during the early morning, hours, had pushed on to the southwest, had taken Poteau, and were in danger of isolating CCB from the rest of the division. To counter this threat, D Co of the 31-TB was placed astride the St Vith – Poteau Road about 1000 yards west of Rodt. Meanwhile, the division ordered CCA to move from Beho, where it was in reserve, and attack to the north and retake Poteau. The Germans recognized well the value of the crossroads at Poteau and intended to hold it at all costs. Immediately after occupying it they stated digging in their tanks and infantry along the woods to the north and east overlooking the crossroads and the open ground surrounding it.


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In its initial attack at 1320, CCA forced its way into Poteau, but the murderous fire of the enemy forced them back to cover south of the crossroads. Later, CCA received new orders from the division :

    Imperative you seize Poteau this PM and hold it !

Just as dark fell, CCA launched its second attack and this time secured the crossroads. It was bitter fighting in the dark; house-to-house fighting by the infantry, and a stand to the last man by the Germans. The stand put up by elements of the 1. SS-Panzer-Division (LSSAH) which had seized Poteau was an excellent index of the caliber of troops involved in the St Vith operation. Vigorous, well-trained, in splendid physical condition, superbly equipped, and imbued with the idea that nothing could stop them, these SS veterans displayed initiative and skill that stamped them as being the equal of the best troops Germany had employed at any time since 1939.

By noon, it was apparent that although von Rundstedt had not gained St Vith in his first drive, he was determined to take the town through St Vith ran the only east-west railroad between the Rhine River and the Ardennes, and it was learned later that the entire counter-offensive was based upon utilizing the town as the advance rail depot for both the 5. Panzer-Army and the 6. SS-Panzer-Army. Also the network of roads was needed for deploying the advancing columns of the 5. Panzer towards the northwest so as to support the 3. SS-Panzer in its drive toward Liège and Anvers. Having failed in their initial attempts to take the city, armored spearheads were sliding by on the north and south and preparing to cut into the rear, isolating the 7-AD just as they were to do to Bastogne and the 101-A/B, several days later.

To the north, Stavelot had been occupied in force, and on the south Gouvy (a large supply depot) and Cherain were reported to be occupied. It was no longer a question of relieving the surrounded 422 and 423-IRs; it was a question of denying St Vith to the Germans and of keeping the division from being cut off to the rear, if the two combat teams (422 & 423) were to save themselves they would have to fight their way westward to St Vith. Although CCB probably could have denied St Vith to the Germans by holding the high ground to the west of the town, the situation had been such that the defenders had been unable to choose the place for their stand. The enemy had been met in a very critical tactical situation, on the high ground east of the town and he was held from that position until December 21.

By now it was known that immediately opposing CCB was a German corps with the 18. and the 62. Volksgrenadier-Divisions, while northeast of CCB in the Recht – Poteau area was at least one combat command from the 1.SS-Panzer-Division (Kampfgruppe Hansen). Also in the area of the afternoon assault on B Co 38-AIB, 19 dead German paratroopers wearing the insignia of the Gross-Deutschland-Division had been identified. The following was the total of known casualties inflicted on the Germans by CCB-7-AD, after one and one-half days of intense combat :

    Destroyed
    – 1 Mark VI (King Tiger)
    – 9 Mark IV (Panther)
    – 1 88-MM Assault Gun (Ferdinand)
    – 2 75-MM Assault Gun (StuG III)
    – 8 Armored Cars

    Damaged
    – 2 75-MM Assault Gun (StuG III)

    Killed
    – 339

In the afternoon of December 18 it was decided that St Vith was no longer tenable for the Combat Command Hqs, and the latter was moved to Krombach to the southwest. This was accomplished just before dark. Communication and liaison were established with the troops in the line from the new command post and with CCB-9-AD on the right flank. Following a German attack at 2230, which was repulsed, continued noises and troop movements were heard, but no further developments occurred.

The experience of B Co, 38-AIB, which had been placed in the line east of St Vith, was typical of the small unit action on the nose of the defensive horseshoe. It was the sum total of such actions as these that made up the big picture on December 18 1944. An interview with a member of B Company reveals a portion of the picture.

    At about 0900, Capt Greene came down from the Company CP to check the line, and after checking the 1st Platoon he went on to the 2d. When he was about halfway down to the 2d Platoon, 88-MM fire and small-arms fire announced a German attack by infantry with at least one tank. It was reported that Capt Greene went forward with a tommy gun. He did not return. Lt Higgins took over command of the company. The main force of the attack was against the 2d and 3d Platoons. At about 1000 or 1100, Lt Jamie1 and Sgt Knight, his platoon sergeant, saw a squad from the 2d Platoon taking off, and the lieutenant sent Sgt Knight after the men. It was the Machine-Gun Squad and they did not return. Their absence weakened the 2d Platoon so that they were forced to fall back about 100 yards. The other two platoons remained in the same positions in foxholes. The attacking Germans were paratroopers, and they suffered heavy losses. Lt Jamie1 himself saw over 30 dead Germans. The tank which supported them was knocked out by a medium tank of ours. This first attack commenced after 0950 and lasted until about 1500. The remainder of the afternoon and night was quiet. Vehicular movement and even shouted German commands could be heard during the night.

561-FAB-St-Vith-Dec-1944

561-FAB-CP-St-Vith-Dec-1944

KG-Knittel-18-12-1944-Kaiserbaracke

Events of December 18 1944
During the night of December 18/19, there were noises indicating considerable activity and vehicular movement in the German rear areas, the arrival of more troops to reinforce those already attacking St Vith. After midnight there was constant patrol and counter-patrol activity on both sides and the Germans placed a great deal of harassing fires on all roads and road junctions, using 81-MM and 120-MM mortars, 88’s, and for the first time, artillery firing battalion concentrations. Two night attacks were launched against CCB’s northern flank with infantry and tanks, apparently in an effort to seize Hunningen. Both attacks were repulsed by the combined fires of the tanks of the 31-TB and of armored cars and assault guns of the 87-CRS. At no time during the day was enemy pressure absent from any portion of the division’s perimeter.

Map-7-AD-87-CRS-19-12-1944

At 0930 an attack developed in the area held by Troop C (87-CRS)(Capt D. L. Johnson) of the. At 1355 the 17-TB (Lt Col John P. Wemple) was attached to CCB. At 1510 the 434-AFAB and two batteries of the 965th FAB were attached to CCB and placed in positions shown. The 275-AFAB is shown in position.

It seemed that the Germans were seeking a soft spot; if they found one part of the line strongly defended, they pulled back and tried another. Statting on the northern flank at 0539, the enemy attacked in the direction of Hunningen in an attempt to envelop CCB’s left flank. For more than three hours they attacked repeatedly, employing more than 500 infantry supported by tanks. At 1300 they finally withdrew, leaving one tank burning and 150 dead. Other tanks were hit and damaged, but were able to withdraw. Another attack started from the direction of Wallerode, where the Germans were massing in strength, but it was broken up when our artillery caught the Germans in the open terrain before our lines. Failing to find a soft spot on the north, the Germans next hit the southern flank where they moved against CCB-9-AD. Before this attack even got going three enemy tanks were knocked out and the rest of the force withdrew to try another place. The southern flank of CCB-7-AD was then hit by a reinforced infantry company with armored support (one Panther and two assault guns).

During the morning, this part of the line had been reinforced by a tank destroyer section of two 90-MM guns from A Co, 814-TDB. This tank destroyer section, with three rounds, knocked out the Panther and one assault gun, leaving the infantry to advance across open ground with no armored support. On they came only to be slaughtered by our infantry (A Co, 23-AIB), who held their fire until the enemy had closed to less than 50 yards. What was left of the attacking Germans quickly fled leaving almost 60 casualties.

destroyed-german-armor-dec-1944

St_Vith_Belgium

CCB received additional support at 1510 on December 19, when the 434-AFAB and two batteries of the 965-FAB were attached and placed in position. The only artillery support up to this time had been furnished by the 275-AFAB. The 965-FAB (-), the 275-AFAB, and the 434-FAB were placed under control of Col James G. Dubuisson, the CO of the 434-FAB; and a group file direction center, which functioned smoothly and continuously throughout the action, was established. Observation of fires was limited; there were no liaison planes with the artillery at St Vith. Although the enemy was channelized in his movement along the roads, offering wonderful opportunities to destroy him by artillery fire, CCB could not deliver the blow with complete effect because of the lack of aerial observation needed to adjust fire.

During the afternoon of the December 19, Gen William M. Hoge, CG CCB-9-AD, visited the command post of CCB-7-AD in Krombach. The vulnerability of Gen Hoge’s position on the forward side of the stream and on the railroad, which ran south from St Vith, was discussed. Should St Vith be lost, CCB-9-AD would have been isolated and cut off, as there was no way for them to withdraw their vehicles across the stream and railroad tracks except though St Vith. A plan was agreed upon to be executed after dark that night. First, the vehicles of the 27-AIB (CCB-9-AD), were withdrawn to areas in the rear of the new position. Medium tank companies of the 14-TB followed and the infantry elements came out last. This movement was accomplished without too much difficulty, and the right flank of CCB-7-AD, was thereby made more secure. Close liaison and excellent cooperation were maintained between the two combat commands during the whole period in the vicinity of St Vith, even though the next higher headquarters of CCB-9-AD, was in doubt and conflicting orders were received.

During the morning of December 19, part of the 112-IR (28-ID)(Col G. M. Nelson), joined the 7-AD in its defense of this area. The combat team had been out of contact with their division and were completely in the dark as to the location of any friendly troops whatsoever until a patrol from the 7-AD had contacted them. This was an indication of the situation as it existed southwest of CCB.

116_PDpa10

Events od December 20 1944
The general situation in the vicinity of St Vith.
St Vith, by the morning of December 20, was not yet desperate, but was becoming increasingly difficult. (See figure bellow). Everyone realized by this time that we were not facing a local counter-attack, but a full scale offensive and that the St Vith defenders were catching a heavy portion of it in their sector. Through intelligence reports from higher headquarters, and captured prisoners, the Americans knew that they were meeting the best of the German troops.

Map-St-Vit-Dec-20-44

Combat Command B had a relatively quiet day, but there was a constant build-up of enemy strength for an attack on St Vith. Task Force Jones was formed to secure the southern flank. There was increasing enemy pressure on supply installations at Samrée (Belgium) and La Roche (Belgium).


By the end of the day prisoners from the following German divisions had been interrogated by the IPW Team of the 7-AD (enemy divisions listed in relative order of positions from north to south) :

    1. SS-Panzer-Division
    Gross Deutchland-Brigade
    18. Volksgrenadier-Division
    62. Volksgrenadier-Division
    2. Panzer-Division
    560. Volksgrenadier-Division
    116. Panzer-Division

Manteuffel had assigned the task of taking St Vith to two infantry divisions of the 66. Corps; his failure to accomplish this in a reasonable time had caused the commitment of additional troops from both, the 5. Panzer-Army and the 6. SS-Panzer-Army. All manner of reports were received indicating that the enemy was by-passing the 7-AD’s positions on the north and rolling up the flank on the southeast, making the St Vith sector comparable to a thumb protruding into the enemy’s mouth; and it seemed that this thumb could be easily bitten off. The enemy was reported to be in strength at Houffalize, La Roche, and Samrée, all to the west of CCB, and at Trois-Ponts to the northwest. In order to protect their flank, Division Headquarters, on Dec 19, had ordered the 40-TB and A Co 336-AEB, to outpost Cherain and Gouvy.

At Gouvy, these troops found an army ration dump, containing 50,000 rations, which had just been set on fire by army quartermaster personnel to prevent its capture by the enemy, who were already threatening with small-arms fire. D Co 40-TB drove off the enemy and extinguished the fire, which had done little damage, and began the issuance of rations to all units of the division. In Gouvy, there was also an abandoned army prisoner of war enclosure, containing over 700 German prisoners of war, guarded by one officer and eight military police. These prisoners were successfully evacuated by the division. Division Headquarters created other task forces out of the remnants of the 14-CG and assigned them the mission of screening and protecting the southeast flank of the division. Troop D, 87- CRS, was directed to proceed to Salmchateau and then west, and was given the mission of screening the northern flank of the division rear.

The most significant change that occurred in the disposition and composition of division troops on the 20 was the formation of Task Force Jones, commanded by the commanding officer of the 814-TDB, and in position on the southern and southwestern flank of the division to the right rear of CCB-7-AD. The force consisted of part of the 17-TB, the 440-AFAB, part of the 814-TDB, and elements of the 38-AIB, 31-TB, 40-TB, 33-AEB, and a detachment of the 14-CG. The strength of the enemy and the seriousness of the situation on the south, leading to the formation of Task Force Jones, was obtained in part from Col Stone, with whom the division had been in touch about two clays. This officer was located near Gouvy with an assortment of about 250 stragglers, including both officer and enlisted Quartermaster, Engineer, and Signal personnel whom he had collected. He had established a defensive position, saying, By God the others may run, but I am staying here and will hold at all cost. Stone’s force was incorporated into Task Force Jones.

The force was in position by about 1600 and immediately became engaged at Cherain and Gouvy. By 1800 it was receiving a strong German attack which it successfully repulsed. In spite of this activity in its rear, CCB had a relatively quiet day. During the night of December 19/20 some infiltration was reported by the 17-TB at Recht. At 0800 the 17-TB was instructed to withdraw to Rodt, leaving one company plus a platoon of infantry in position north and east of Rodt to maintain contact with CCA on the left. Enemy concentrations of tanks and infantly collected in Wallerode and Neider Emmels. Heavy artillery concentlations quieted these threats. Duting the afternoon enemy columns were reported moving from Medell to Born and at 1630 enemy tanks moved into Ober Emmels and forced out a light tank platoon on outpost there; but the forces on the high ground to the south held firmly. During the night of December 20/21, approximately 68 men and two officers led by Lt Long of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, 423-IR (one of the surrounded regiments of the 106-ID) infiltrated back through CCA’s lines.

012

When interviewed, Lt Long stated that the commanding officers had told them that the two regiments (422 and 423) were preparing to surrender, and that orders were being given for the destruction of their arms and equipment. The troops had been told that and personnel wishing to attempt to infiltrate to friendly lines rather than surrender were authorized to leave. These men were some of those who had chosen to risk returning and fighting again to laying down their arms and surrendering. CCB established an assembly point in the schoolhouse at St Vith where these men were given rations, such other supplies as they needed, and a well-deserved rest.

During the night of December 21/22, when the situation became critical, these men ware put back into the line. When they were told that they were going back into the line, their enthusiasm was high, and subsequent reports obtained from the troops with whom they fought indicated that without exception these men discharged their duty in exemplary fashion. During the day, CCA, to the left rear of CCB, was under considerable pressure in the vicinity of Poteau. Division HQs had sent them a message at 0925 that it was imperative that they command the road from Recht and leading into Poteau. Although CCB did not know at this time, the situation to the left rear and on the northern flank was critical.

Events of December 21 1944
The Germans realized that the failure to control the network of roads and railroads centering on St Vith was disrupting the timetable and the entire counter-attack. The stand of the 7-AD had left a dangerous salient in the German lines which threatened the northern flank of Manteuffel’s 5. Panzer-Army, preventing also to link these forces with Dietrich’s 6. SS-Panzer-Army. All further westward movement of the 6. SS-Panzer-Army had virtually stopped for lack of needed gasoline and ammunition, which were on the supply columns immobilized far from St Vith, or on the trains halted between Prüm and Gerolstein (Germany). Accordingly, orders were issued to the II. SS-Panzer-Corps to move to the south and take St Vith without delay.

All during the night of December 21/22, tanks and other vehicles could be heard massing to the north, east and south of St Vith. Troops of the II. SS-Panzer-Corps was moving to position and at 1100, the assault was launched.

Map-7-AD-87-CRS-21-12-1944

A full-scale corps attack was launched against the town, and at 2200 CCB-7-AD withdrew to the high ground west of St Vith. CCA-7-AD captured the high ground northwest of Poteau and repelled the counter-attacks. Task Force Jones was receiving enemy attacks from the south.

From the time of the first attack on the 21 until the completion of the successful withdrawal of the 7-AD across the Salm River two days later, the enemy attacked unceasingly along the entire front of the division. Throughout the 21 and until 2200 that night, the lines held against continuous assault of infantry, supported by heavy artillery and screaming meemies concentrations of unprecedented size and duration. Large formations of enemy tanks joined in the assault, and smashed their way into the lines, where they blasted the defenders from their foxholes with point-blank tank fire. Time after time, the German infantry were forced to withdraw under the aimed short-range fire of the gallant infantrymen, engineers, tankers, reconnaissance troops, and others who stood their ground and inflicted huge losses upon the attacking formations. Even the heavy tanks were forced to withdraw, leaving destroyed hulks battered and burning in their wake. On that day, the men of the 7-AD performed, individually and collectively, repeated deeds of heroism; soldiers not only engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the German infantry, but also destroyed German tanks with bazookas and grenades.

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BOB-01009

Still the Germans attacked. Starting at 1100 with an artillery barrage on the northern and eastern positions of CCB and an infantry-tank attack against the juncture of CCB-7-AD and CCB-9-AD, the Germans stepped up the scale of their assault; by 1300 the entire line of CCB-7-AD, was aflame with enemy artillery, screaming meemies, tanks, and infantry pouring a concentration of steel at the defenders. As the enemy closed in they were met in turn by all possible concentrated fires that could be brought to bear – but still they attacked. Major attacks were launched against that part of the line held by the 38-AIB at 1100, 1230, 1400, 1610, and 1710; while the northern flank manned by the 31-TB and the 87-CRS was hit with attacks at 1300, 1730, 1805, and 1820. All attacks were turned back, and the CCB’s lines continued to hold. Then three heavy assaults were started by the Germans, with each directed along the axis of the main roads entering St Vith; at 1650 from the east along the Schoenberg Road; followed by an attack down the Malmedy Road at 1835; with the last one starting up the Prüm Road at 2000.

Each of these attacks was preceded by intense artillery barrages lasting from 15 to 35 minutes, and closely followed by the infantry and tanks. The Germans were not to be denied and their relentless pressure since 1100 in the morning had left gaps in the line, since there were no replacements for the dead and wounded. By 2000 the CCB’s lines had been penetrated in at least three points. The battle continued until approximately 2200 when Gen Clarke, seeing that a portion of his position was no longer tenable, issued the order to withdraw the center of the line to the high ground west of St Vith.

Those elements which were cut off east of town were ordered to attack through the town or north of it to join the forces which were establishing a new defensive line. Officers were established at control points west of the town to collect stragglers and to place units in a defensive position as they got back within the friendly screen. During the time this concerted drive was being made on the front, the troops on the northern flank were not heavily engaged, although there was a definite threat in the Ober Emmels – Nieder Emmels area. It was planned to anchor a defense west of St Vith on this still substantial north flank and hold there. The center of the defensive line (from Hunningen to the St Vith – Wallerode Road) was to swing back to the west of St Vith and establish a line for elements east of the town to fall back through. This was accomplished and most of the troops were brought out as units. All through the night of December 21/22, stragglers were coming back from the troops which had been overrun east of St Vith. Officer control posts had been set up on all roads to intercept these men and send them to the Hinderhausen (Belgium) area. This was done and by early forenoon of December 22, about 150 stragglers had been gathered up.

The situation on the right flank of the division became critical during December 21. CCB-9-AD, requested assistance, and Task Force Lindsey, which had been held in division reserve, was ordered to Galhausen (Belgium) to reinforce that unit. This assistance was sufficient to restore the situation, and Task Force Lindsey was returned to its former mission of reserve at 1000. On the left flank of CCB-7-AD, CCA-7-AD maintained its position in and around Poteau throughout the day. A strong attack, which included tanks and artillery, was successfully repulsed around 1330. Strong patrols on both sides was active during the day. The enemy established an effective ambush in some thick woods southeast of Poteau on the Sy Vith – Poteau Road. Before the ambush was discovered, the enemy was successful in capturing the occupants of eight peeps and one light tank which had been knocked out. Personnel included such key officers as the Executive Officer, CCA; Liaison Officer, CCA; Executive Officer and Adjutant, 48-AIB; and others. Upon discovery, the enemy abandoned its ambush, and the key road was again opened for friendly traffic. At 2000 another strong hostile attack, supported by heavy mortar, machine gun, and artillery fire, was repulsed.

Anticipating the possibility of CCR’s being unable to hold the present position, Gen Clarke had initiated reconnaissance on the road leading to the west, through Hinderhausen and Commanster to Vielsalm, a possible avenue of withdrawal. This road was in poor condition and for the most part passed through a forest. Engineers and artillerymen had been put to work on critical and impassable spots; but even with this improvement passage over this road was not easy.

samree2

Events of December 22 1944
The Germans continued to attack with infantry and tanks. At 0200 the 928. Grenadier-Battalion attacked Rodt from the rear. The enemy widened this penetration and at 1135 Rodt was captured, splitting CCA and CCB. The nine-hour battle for Rodt was a grim affair in which personnel from every possible source-cooks, drivers, radio operators were employed to augment the defense in a desperate effort to prevent the enemy from driving a deeper wedge between the two combat commands. The loss of Rodt necessitated CCB’s pulling back its left flank to protect Hinderhausen, a key position on the emergency exit route to Commanster and Vielsalm.

map-10

By dark the line was established again and was strengthened by the addition of the 17-TB (-) on the south flank of CCB-7-AD to tie in with CCB-9-AD. Contact with CCA on the northwest was lost. At 0700 the command post of CCB was moved to Commanster. During this day all unessential vehicles were sent to the rear. By nightfall the line was being held with the 87-CRS, Lt Col Boylan commanding, on the left; the 31-TB, Lt Col Erlenbusch commanding, in the center; the 17-TB, Lt Col Wemple commanding, on the south. The boundary between the 31-TB and the 17-TB was the railroad line running southwest from St Vith.

map-11

At 1845 enemy tanks and infantry attacked along the railroad towards Krombach. Infantry broke through and occupied the town. Most of Col Wemple’s force was able to fight its way out the next morning. CCB-9-AD was also receiving a heavy attack at this time and was being slowly pushed back toward Braunlauf (BE). It held on to its contact with CCB-7-AD, pivoting back on Gen Clarke’s right flank and preventing an attempt of the enemy to separate the two combat commands.

At Poteau, to the left rear of CCB-7-AD, CCA-7-AD was receiving increasing pressure from the enemy, who was continuing his attempts to outflank the right of CCA. Meanwhile, the enemy on the north struck heavily at 2215 but was driven off. A measure of the bitterness of the fighting on all fronts is indicated by the following extract from the personal reports of members of B Co of Col Robert C. Rhea’s 23-AIB :

    On Friday, the company trains were moved to the west of Krombach. During the morning the men walked back crosscountry to a new line which was set up about 1000 yards to the east of Krombach. This line had no depth, and as Capt Britton pointed out : ‘Once the line was pierced, it was finished’. At the railroad underpass about 1000 yards northeast of Krombach, a bazooka man and a machine-gun squad were posted. They wanted to mine the underpass, but no mines or explosives were available. The 81-MM mortars of B Co were in position in Krombach, where they fired 600 rounds in 20 minutes and broke the base plates which were welded to the floor of the half-track. At about 1700, strong enemy combat patrols began coming along the railroad embankment, and tanks came toward the underpass. The bazooka man fired at the tanks, and when the bazooka round bounced off the front, he withdrew. Capt Britton had just come up toward the front and was warming his feet in an oven when the enemy burst into his position. Some of the men pulled back to the north until they ran into tanks of D Co of the 31-TB; these men rode out with those tanks. The remainder of the company fell back to the motor park in Krombach where the half-tracks were gassing. Late friday night these half-tracks moved to Vielsalm where they met the remainder of the company next morning.

    Capt Britton said there were men from almost every conceivable unit on the vehicles. Back at the line, some men remained with another unit which held fast and fought it out. Our artillery and mortar fire worked up and down the railroad track. One B Co mechanic, T/5 Robert Cutts, had a radio with which he called back to the FO giving him the necessary adjustments in the artillery fire. These men also finally pulled back from the line when the 17-TB moved out, and many of them rode the tanks out of the area.

tank-snow

Pressure continued to increase along the entire front; and, as the 7-AD shortened its lines and again regrouped, German infantry and tanks pressed strongly on all positions. Practically the entire division area was now being engaged by long-range artillery fire. In the north, the enemy in strength was along the east bank of the Salm River from east of Trois Ponts to Grand Halleux, and in the south along the high ground south of the highway running west from Salmchateau. This meant that the remainder of the 106-ID, CCB-9-AD, the 14-CG, some Corps troops, including artillery which had been attached to the 7-AD, and the entire 7-AD with attachments, less trains, were left east of the Salm River; all units were short of supplies and were
completely fatigued from five or more days and nights of continuous fighting. There was only one sure exit route, a secondary road running west from Vielsalm; and one probable alternate route, the road Salmchateau – Joubieval – Lierneux.

As the position was obviously untenable, Montgomery in a message to Gen Hasbrouck, CG 7-AD and its conglomeration of units, ordered a withdrawal : You have accomplished your mission, a mission well-done. It is time to withdraw. All unessential vehicles were withdrawn at once, followed by part of the artillery, which began displacing rearward about midnight. CCB-9-AD was scheduled to be the first unit to withdraw, but their commanding general advised Gen Hasbrouck that they were engaged with the enemy and the muddy condition of the roads and fields was such that an immediate withdrawal would be unfeasible. It was necessary to postpone the initial time for withdrawal, as CCB-7-AD was also heavily engaged with the enemy. At the same time the enemy was building up strong forces in front of the 82-Abn, west of Salmchateau.

In view of the enemy’s relentless pressure, especially at base of the salient, the 7-AD commander radioed Gen Clarke (CCB-7AD) and Gen Hoge (CCB-9-AD) this message :

    The situation is such on the west of the river south of the 82-Abn that if we don’t join them soon, the opportunity will be gone. It will be necessary to disengage, whether circumstances are favorable or not, if we are to carry out any kind of withdrawal with equipment. Inform me of your situation at once, particularly with regard to the possibility of disengagement and execution of withdrawal.

The Seventh Day – December 23 1944
The enemy’s pressure from the east eased slightly, and H-hour for withdrawal was announced as 0600. CCB-9-AD, having received the announcement late, actually initiated the movement about 0700. Gen Clarke, CCB-7-AD, ordered Col Wemple to bring out all vehicles and troops at Krombach and southwest thereof through Beho to Vielsalm. An infantry company of the 424-IR at Braunlauf was to accompany them. North of Krombach all troops and vehicles were to come out through Hinderhausen to Commanster, thence to Vielsalm. A covering force under Col Boylan and consisting of a medium tank company, a tank destroyer company, and an infantry company, was ordered to hold Hinderhausen until all other troops had left and then to fall back with maximum delay; they were to take wounded with them. This was a narrow road, and in the event of vehicle failure, vehicles were to be dumped to the side of the road and destroyed with a minimum of delay, so that the column would not be held up.

The 956-FAB and the 275-FAB were withdrawn the night of December 22. The 434-AFAB came out just ahead of the covering forces, displacing battery by battery in order to give fire support to the covering forces, which were withdrawing under heavy pressure. It was providential that on the night of December 22/23 the roads froze, enabling practically all of the vehicles to get out. So far as is known, no men were left behind. The troops of CCB were originally given instructions to assemble at Lierneux, but later other instructions were received and the assembly area was changed to the vicinity of Xhoris. The combat command closed in the vicinity of town at 2300 December 23 and units were instructed to reorganize, refuel, and prepare for action in the morning.

[youtube width=”600″ height=”400″]https://youtu.be/jFgokYKR-fM[/youtube]

Supply Difficulties
It might be well to mention at this point some of the difficulties encountered in the problems of supply and maintenance. This story is well told by Lt Col Erlenbusch, CO, 31-TB :

We held a supply dump at St Vith belonging to the 106th Infantry Division, and used it until it was exhausted (8000 rations and 10.000 gallons of gasoline). Resupply from the rear was extremely hazardous because a goodly portion of the enemy had gone around St Vith to the north and south. As a result of these forces ‘slipping by’ on the flanks, our division rear area was a mixture of friendly and enemy troops. Some Corps and Army ASPS were in our hands; some were in the hands of the enemy; some changed hands frequently; while other supply points were destroyed or evacuated by retiring friendly troops. Division Trains were at La Roche, where they were heavily engaged in combat in order to keep from being overrun, and little help could be expected from that quarter.

The supply problem then was one of running trucks through miles of enemy-infested temtory in search of friendly dumps having the desired type of supplies, and then coming back through miles of the same enemy infested territory to deliver the much needed supplies to the combat elements. The service facilities of the units of CCB were pooled, and the maintenance sections were all consolidated under Capt La Fountain, Maintenance Officer 31-TB, who set up a small ordnance shop. Any of our vehicles which could be evacuated to this shop were repaired there. At the same time, this group salvaged many vehicles and weapons which had been abandoned in the area by retreating units before the arrival of the 7-AD. This equipment was repaired, or, if beyond repair, was ‘cannibalized’ for parts to use in the repair of other vehicles and equipment. Frequently this combined maintenance section operated under artillery fire, and many times they had to drop their work and engage in a small fight with enemy patrols which penetrated to their area.

In one instance, a crew of four lost one man before they could withdraw from the scene with their equipment. There were two cases which stand out as indicative of the determination and heroic efforts of the service personnel to keep the combat elements supplied. In the first instance, seven trucks of the 31-TB, with a corporal in charge of the convoy, set out from the vicinity of Krombach to obtain fuel from a dump near Samrée. As no escort was available, only trucks with machine gun mounts were used. To help protect the convoy, two guards with rifles and ‘tommy guns’ were placed in the rear of each truck, the guards having been recruited from volunteers among the various company kitchen crews. This convoy was gone for two days and during that time they ‘ran the gauntlet’ of four enemy ambushes. When they arrived at their destination, they found one side of the dump burning and a light tank company from the 87-CRS bitterly defending the other portion. Under these conditions, the trucks were loaded to capacity, and then started on the return trip, hiding out in the woods that night. The next day they had two engagements with the enemy; in one of these attacks the corporal in charge was killed and three men were wounded, while one truck was damaged so badly that it had to be towed the rest of the way. Arriving at Krombach at dusk of the second day, now commanded by a Pfc truck driver, it could report. ‘Mission accomplished.’

The other case is practically the same story. This convoy was commanded by Sgt Trapp and consisted of three trucks from the 31-TB and one truck of the 23-AIB, with a defense crew organized very similar to the first convoy. Their mission was to obtain badly needed ammunition from a dump in the La Roche area. Their experiences were about the same; they had two skirmishes and suffered one casualty. The ammunition dump was not guarded by friendly or enemy forces. Like the first group, they too returned at dusk of the second day, reporting, ‘Mission accomplished’.

Dec-21-1944

The magnificent effort of all service personnel was recognized and appreciated by all troops in the line. In many cases these service troops were called upon to repel enemy attacks. In one action (December 21), near Samrée, the combat command Assistant S4, Capt Robert H. Barth, was killed while attempting to maintain the constant flow of supplies to the front. The supply problems for artillery were especially critical. The only way ammunition supply could be kept up was by hunting for and finding abandoned dumps toward the front. Very little ammunition was getting through from the rear. Some of the artillery trains were with division trains in the vicinity of Samrée where they were forced to fight for their existence. A balance of ammunition was maintained between battalions; when the expenditures were exceptionally heavy in one battalion, several truck loads would be sent to it from another battalion.

On December 22, ammunition amounted to only a few rounds per 105-MM howitzer for CCB artillery. Any sizable amount of firing had to be approved by the combat command commander. At one time during this critical ammunition shortage, a German column got lost on the road between Ober Emmels and Nieder Emmels and stopped, bumper-to-bumper, a perfect target for a concentration. When artillery was called for, the ammunition shortage had to be considered. Finally it was decided that this target merited the firing of the remaining white phosphorus. The German column was burned and destroyed. Later, that same day, a 90-truck convoy carrying 5000 rounds of 105-MM ammunition finally made its way through after traveling many miles of circuitous routes and back roads. From then on the ammunition situation eased.

The drivers of the 40-truck convoy, which came through to the combat elements, on December 22, had been behind their steering wheels for hours on end without sleep. They had driven through ambushes by German patrols and had suffered casualties en route. Their devotion to duty saved the division and its attached units from almost certain disaster duping the ordered withdrawal which took place the next day. Without the gasoline, many vehicles would have to have been abandoned. The artillery and other ammunition they brought held the enemy at bay until the Salm River was crossed.

US Tri-le-Cheslaing, Belgium

An Inventory
In retrospect, it is difficult to understand how it was possible for CCB to hold St Vith against the overwhelming power and superiority in numbers possessed by the Germans. The German attack was well organized and the build up of strength was achieved with great secrecy. The Germans gambled everything on striking a lightning blow and achieving surprise, so that they could knife through while our troops were disorganized and before the latter could be re-shifted to set up an effective defense line. During the period the American troops were in St Vith, the weather was a strong ally of the Germans, and American planes were not seen for this entire period. One factor that probably caused the Germans to proceed so cautiously was the fact that elements of the 7-AD were in St Vith at all on the 17 of December when their intelligence had identified them in the Linnich (Germany) area on the 16. It is supposition, but they must have been surprised, and they must have felt that if these troops could be moved such a distance and be in the thick of the fighting so quickly, other dispositions could be effected as expeditiously.

Another factor that gave the Germans pause was the aggressiveness and tenacity of the defense. CCB was not content to dig in and merely try to hold the Germans when they attacked. Their patrols were aggressive, and wherever a weakness was sensed, a probing attack was made. Their counterattacks were quick and effective. Had the Germans realized the limited strength CCB had at its disposal and the disorganization and loss of morale of some of the Allied troops caused by the initial attack, they could have closed the pincers and annihilated the American forces at their choosing. However, instead of committing their forces to a major blow, they dissipated their strength and lost valuable time in making limited objective and probing attacks. Defenders of St Vith were puzzled at the time as to why the Germans did not pour more artillery fire into St Vith. It was only after the third or fourth day that they began firing anything that resembled the intensity of an American barrage. Undoubtedly, they counted on a quick capture of the town and did not want to destroy it or make the streets impassable. As was learned afterwards, in this offensive the Germans were counting heavily on using St Vith as a forward railhead.

The arrival of CCB-7-AD in St Vith on the afternoon of December 17 was quite timely. Advance patrols of the Germans were on the Schoenberg – St Vith Road at that time. The only forces to stop them were the provisional engineer troops, and there is no doubt that the Germans could have, and probably would have, been in St Vith on the night of December 17, had 7-AD units not arrived and been placed in position when they were. It would be very interesting indeed to have a transcript of the conversations between commanders of the various echelons of command of the Germans after their failure to take St Vith on schedule, particularly when they discovered the size of the small force that was denying this area to them. The attitude of the German command was well-expressed by a German lieutenant colonel who, while he was attempting to interrogate one of our men who had been captured, remarked :

    You and your damned panzer division have kept us from getting to Liège !

Every officer and man of the 7-AD who participated in the St Vith action, sings the praises of the 275-AFAB. This VIII Corps Artillery Battalion, commanded by Col Clay, chose to stay and fight. The coolness and the poise of the officers and men in this organization were the subject of admiration on the part of all who came in contact with them. The battalion reflected the excellent training that it had received, and the missions that it was called upon to fire were always fired effectively. The forward observers were outstanding in cooperating with front-line commanders of CCB. Six forward observers were lost during this action.

One of the more critical moments in the defense of St Vith occurred on the night of December 20/21, when the Germans finally penetrated the defense and isolated some of CCB’s troops. These troops had been constantly engaged since their commitment on the 17, and the nervous tension and fatigue produced by the constant pressure under which they were operating was beginning to tell. Combat fatigue casualties up to this time had been light, but with the Germans pouring through, the men were rapidly being separated from the boys. One of the former was 1/Sgt L. H. Ladd (B Troop – 87-CRS). This troop had gone into the line on December 17 with six officers and 136 men. When it was cut off to the east of St Vith on the night of December 21, 1/Sgt Ladd brought back about 46 men, which was all that remained of the troop. Unshaven, lines of fatigue showing on his face, his eyes bloodshot, he nevertheless demanded to see the combat command commander. Staff officers tried to dissuade him and told him to get what little rest he could before the remainder of the troop was committed again. 1/Sgt Ladd would have none of this and repeated his demand to see Gen Clarke. Along about midnight he found the general and said : I want to get it from you personally that B Troop was ordered out of the position that we were holding. Me and my men had decided that we were not leaving and I just want to get it straight that we were ordered out by you. When Gen Clarke assured 1/Sgt Ladd that he had issued the order, the Sergeant was satisfied and moved out into the darkness and rain to occupy a new position in the defense line west of St Vith.

The following message from the 7-AD commander, Gen Robert W. Hasbrouck, was read to the men about January 4 1945 :

    To the Officers and Men of the 7th Armored Division ! Since it is impossible for me to talk personally to each of you. I am taking this method of bringing to your attention some of the things I want you to know.

    – First of all, I want you to know that the German attack has been disrupted and their plans upset. This division, by its gallant action in denying the important road center of St Vith to the enemy for more than five days contributed greatly towards upsetting Von Rundstedt carefully planned schedule. Gen Eisenhower and our old friends, the VII British Corps, have telegraphed us their congratulations. These messages will be read to you later.

    – Secondly, we are resuming the offensive ! On January 3, the XVIII Corps (Airborne)(Ridgway) to which we now belong, resumed the offensive by attacking south. We are in Corps Reserve and may be called upon at any time to add our power to the attack. This attack may help to shorten the war by many months. If the German forces to our south are cut off by the power and speed of our drive, the enemy will have suffered an overpowering defeat.

    – Naturally there will be obstacles to overcome. The Germans will fight savagely to avert defeat. We must fight even more savagely, knowing what is at stake and remembering the American prisoners who were shot down in cold blood by the Germans at Stavelot and Malmedy. German paratroopers may be dropped in our rear; Germans in American uniforms may infiltrate our lines. This will necessitate unceasing vigilance by all troops, wherever located, to prevent sabotage and espionage. No matter how many parachutists come down in any one area, there will always be a far greater number of our troops in the vicinity who can be concentrated quickly against them.

    – The terrain we may expect to encounter is not good tank terrain, but when have we ever had good tank terrain? By will power, muscle power, American ingenuity, and just plain guts we will get over roads and trails considered unfit for tanks and thus surprise the enemy.

    – Last but not least, I want you to know that I am proud of the division. Thrown into combat piecemeal as you arrived on the scene, every unit and every man performed magnificently. God bless you all, and may 1945 bring the victories you so richly deserve.

The 7th Armored Division was sent into the fight northwest of St Vith as the Allies resumed the offensive, and the Germans became the defenders of the town. The same German artillery officer (Lt Behman) quoted before had this to write in his diary as the Americans approached :

    – January 20 : I am ordered to organize a defense in St Vith. For the first time since Christmas, I’m in St Vith again. The town is in ruins, but we will defend the ruins. We expect the attack on St Vith. Only small forces are available for the defense. The ‘8-balls’ in the unit speak of a little Stalingrad.

    – January 21 : There are no new messages. The battle noises come closer to the town. We can already see the infantry in some of the heights. I am organizing everything for a last defense. Rumor has it that the Tommies have the town surrounded. Some even believe It. At higher commands they believe that we will be forced to yield. These rear’ echelon men ! I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic and I don’t give up hope. When the kitchen goes back, I will send all personnel not immediately needed back with it. During the day, it is naturally quiet. Will the enemy surround the town ? I’m sending back all my personal belongings. One never knows. I wonder what Heide is doing ?

    – January 22 : Nothing new during the night. At eight o’clock the enemy recommences his saturation fire from the direction of Neider Emmels. Exactly one month ago, we took St Vith.

On Sunday afternoon, January 23 1945, CCB-7-AD attacked and retook St Vith capturing this German artillery officer and his diary, but that is another story.

AP-01

AP-2

Troop List
7th Armored Division
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Combat Command A
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Combat Command B
Headquarters, Reserve Command
147th Armored Signal Company
87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized)
17th Tank Battalion
31st Tank Battalion
40th Tank Battalion
23d Armored Infantry Battalion
38th Armored Infantry Battalion
48th Armored Infantry Battalion
Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, Division Artillery
434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
489th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
33d Armored Engineer Battalion
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Division Trains
77th Armored Medical Battalion
129th Armored Ordnance Maintenance Battalion
Military Police Platoon
Band

Attached and Supporting Units, 7-AD
203d Antiaircraft Artillery AW Battalion (Self-Propelled)
814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Self-Propelled)
446th Quartermaster Truck Company
3967th Quartermaster Truck Company
275th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
965th Field Artillery Battalion
168th Engineer Combat Battalion
Headquarters and Service Company, 81st Engr Cbt Bn, 106-ID
3d Plat, F Co, 423d Infantry Regiment, 106-ID
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, CCB-9-AD
14th Tank Battalion
27th Armored Infantry Battalion
Troop D, 89-CRS (Mechanized), + attached platoons of Troop E and F Co
B Co, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion
A Co, 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Self-Propelled)
Battery B, 482d Antiaircraft Artillery AW Battalion (Self-Propelled)
B Co, 2d Armored Medical Battalion
C Co, 131st Armored Ordnance Maintenance Battalion
112th Infantry Regiment, 28-ID
229th Field Artillery Battalion
C Co, 1036 Engineer Combat Battalion
424th Infantry Regiment, 106-ID
591st Field Artillery Battalion, 106-ID

AP-03

GENERAL ORDERS )
NO. 43 1 – DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
Washington 25, D. C., 19 December 1950

7th Armored Division

    Hq & Hq Co, 7th Armd Div
    Combat Command A, Hq & Hq Co
    Combat Command B, Hq & Hq Co
    Reserve Command, Hq & Hq Co
    17th Tank Battalion
    23d Armd Inf Bn
    31st Tank Battalion
    33d Armd Engr Bn
    38th Armd Inf Bn
    40th Tank Battalion
    48th Armd Inf Bn
    87th Cav Rcn Sq (Mecz)
    147th Signal Co
    Hq & Hq Btry, 7th Armd Div Arty
    434th Armd FA Bn
    440th Armd FA Bn
    489th Armd FA Bn
    Hq & Hq Co, 7th Armd Div Trains
    77th Armd Med Bn
    129th Ord Maint Bn
    Band, 7th Armd Div
    M P Platoon, 7th Armd Div
    + Attached non divisional units (listed above)

CITED IN THE ORDER OF THE DAY of the Belgian Army, in Decree No. 7253, 13 July 1950, by Charles, Prince of Belgium, Regent of the Kingdom, with the following citation : During the crucial period of the German offensive of the Ardennes, in 1944, the American 7th Armored Division, attacked by enemy forces estimated at eight divisions, among them 3 SS Panzer and 2 Panzer Divisions, held the important center of Saint Vith, preventing any advance and any exploitation on this main line, thus dooming the German offensive to frustration and, by its sacrifice, permitting the launching of the Allied counteroffensive.

CITED IN THE ORDER OF THE DAY of the Belgian Army, in Decree No. 7253, 13 July 1950, by Charles, Prince of Belgium, Regent of the Kingdom, with the following citation : Passing over to the attack on 20 January in the Saint Vith sector where it had fought previously, the 7th Armored Division pushed the enemy out of the position that it had been organizing for two weeks, and pushed it without respite seven kilometers beyond the Belgian frontier, inflicting heavy losses on this enemy. During these nine days it captured more than one thousand prisoners.

BELGIAN FOURRAGERE (1940), awarded by Decree No. 7253, 13 July 1950, by Charles, Prince of Belgium, Regent of the Kingdom.

BY ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY : J. LAWTON COLLINS, Chief of Staff, United States Army

OFFICIAL :
EDWARD F. WITSELL
Major General, USA

(end of archive)
(Gunter)

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