After Action Report
Hqs, Combat Command B (CCB)
7th Armored Division
Brig Gen Bruce C. Clarke
December 16 1944
At 1800, word was received that the 7th Armored Division would prepare for movement immediately to the VIII Corps, 1st Army, in the vicinity of Bastogne (BE). Gen Bruce C. Clarke and his S3, Capt Woodruff, left immediately for VIII Corps Headquarters in Bastogne. For this move CCB consisted of the 31st Tank Battalion, 23rd Armored Infantry Battalion and B Co 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion. CCB crossed IP at Kunrade (NL), at 0540 and arrived in new location at Vielsalm (BE) at approximately 1100, December 17. In the meantime Gen Clarke had seen the Commanding General VIII Corps at Bastogne, had been acquainted with the general situation, had been directed to proceed to the 106th Infantry Division Headquarters at St Vith (BE), and give that Division assistance.
December 17 1944
At 1200, the situation in the St Vith area was critical. The 14th Cavalry Group on the north of 106th Infantry Division had been driven back to about a north-south line through St Vith. Their situation was one of confusion and extremely hazy. To the east of St Vith the 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments (106-ID) were cut off southeast of Schoenberg (BE). Communications with them was sporadic by radio. To the south of St Vith, CCB, 9th Armored Division was attacking to try to retake Winterspelt (GER). To its south, the 424th Infantry Regiment (106-ID) was holding a line. To the south the situation was hazy. There was practically no tie-in of the units mentioned with units on their flanks. The CG 106-ID (Gen Allan W. Jones) urged an immediate attack east from St Vith to take and hold Schoenberg, then turn south to provide escape corridors for the two surrounded Regiments. This was prepared for and plans were made which were approved by CG 7-AD (Brig Gen Robert W. Hasbrouck) by phone about 1300. However, due to the congestion on the roads caused by units and vehicles streaming to the rear, especially artillery, 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 or four thousand yards from the town. The 106-ID, at about 1530, sent elements of Hqs Co 81st Engineer Battalion, the 168th Engineer Battalion less one company, and one platoon of infantry formerly used as CP guard to block the road to the east of St Vith. The Division made available to CCB/7-AD the 275th Field Artillery Battalion (A) in position at Ober Emmels (BE), and there was some Corps Artillery still in support.
The Executive Officer, CCB/7-AD who had marched the CC from the north had been informed to send forward CCB and some other 7-AD troops as fast as he could. The first to arrive was the 87th Cav Rcn Sq. It, less one Troop, was sent to the northeast of St Vith in the Wallerode (BE) area to contact the 14th Cav Gp and to protect and screen the left flank. The next to arrive was the 38th Armored Infantry Battalion, less one company. It was put to the east of St Vith and Lt Col Fuller, 38th AIB, was given command of that sector including elements of the 106-ID in place. He was given also B Co, 87th Rcn and later on that evening was reinforced with B Co 23rd AIB and A Co 31st TB. The CG 106-ID turned over the defense of St Vith sector to CCB/7-AD. The remainder of CCB, 31st TB (-), 23rd AIB (-), B Co 33rd EB, closed in assembly area to the west of St Vith. Later that evening it was learned that the 14th Cav Gp had withdrawn to Recht (BE) and beyond, and that Born (BE) was not held. The CO 14th Cav Gp was directed by CG 106-ID to reoccupy Born, but this was not accomplished.
December 18 1944
At 0800 the enemy began an attack from the northeast and east towards St Vith. Two Medium Tanks from the 14th TB, 9-AD and A Co 811th TDB were sent north to reinforce the 87th Cav Rcn line. B Co 31st TB attacked Hunningen (BE) from the west while C Co 31st TB attacked it from the south. Later C Co 31st TB was moved east of St Vith to support that portion of the line. B Co 31st TB was withdrawn west of St Vith and placed in CCR. By 1100 this attack had been stopped and the line was restored to its original position. At 1200, A Co 814th TDB was attached to CCB and was immediately sent to Task Force Fuller. D Co, 87th Rcn was detached CCB and attached to CCA. At 1530, a second attack estimated to be a battalion of infantry, was launched against our positions east of St Vith. This attack was repulsed. A readjustment of troops was made at approximately 1600 and two medium companies of the 14th TB, 9-AD plus A Co 811th TDB were withdrawn from the area north of St Vith. B Co 31st TB was sent to replace them. At 2130 A Co 87th Rcn area (Hunningen) was attacked by enemy tanks. The attack was repulsed with no casualties. Another attack on A Co 87th Rcn at 2230 was repulsed with no casualties. Continued noises and troop movements were heard throughout the night. At 1700 the CP of CCB was moved from St Vith to Crombach (BE).
December 19 1944
At 0930 an attack developed from east to west, north of Hunningen. The attack moved west and then turned south. Difficulty was experienced in firing due to haze. By 1300 the situation had quieted. At 1355 the 17th TB, reinforced (vicinity of Recht) was attached to us and we were informed that we would defend a sector between the 9-AD on our right and the road between Recht and Sart-lez-St Vith (BE) inclusive. At 1510 the 434th AFAB and two Batteries 965th FAB were attached to CCB and placed in position. The only artillery support on December 18 and December 19 prior to the arrival of the 434th AFAB was the 275th FAB (A). The Corps Artillery observers left during the night of December 17/18 1944. The 965th FAB (-) and the 275th FAB, and 454th FAB were placed under the control of CO 434th FAB. In the afternoon, a conference was held between CG, CCB/9-AD and CG CCB/7-AD. At this conference it was pointed out that the combat command of the 9-AD was ahead of a 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 would withdraw through St Vith the night of December 19/20 and occupy its original front only in rear of the railroad and stream running south of 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.
December 20 1944
During the night of December 19/20 some infiltration was reported by 17th TB at Recht. At 0800 instructions were issued to the 17th TB to withdraw to Rodt (BE). They were instructed to leave a company plus a platoon of infantry in position north and south of Rodt to tie in between the 31st TB and A Co. Enemy concentrations of tanks and infantry collected in Wallerode (BE) and Nieder Emmels (BE). Heavy artillery concentrations were placed on these areas and the threat was quieted. At 1050 the 17th TB was moving into its assigned positions. At 1145 the 17th TB (-1 Medium Company) plus C Co 38th AIB (-) was ordered to go to Bovigny (BE) to constitute a part of the Division reserve. During the afternoon enemy columns were reported moving from Medell (BE) to Born (BE). At 1630 enemy tanks moved into Ober Emmels (BE) and forced out a Light Tank Platoon on outpost there, but the forces on the high ground to the south held firmly.
December 21 1944
On the night approximately 68 men and two officers from the two surrounded regiments of the 106-ID infiltrated back through our lines. These men were assembled in the schoolhouse in St Vith and given rations and each other supplies as they needed. They constituted a reserve to be called upon when needed. During the night these men were put into the line to aid in the final defense of St Vith. At 0400 outposts reported indications 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 on B Co 23rd AIB by enemy infantry at 1100 was repulsed at 1115. There was continued artillery fire during the day. At 1610 the 38th AIB received an attack from enemy infantry following an artillery preparation. This attack was repulsed at 1710. Continued pressure was exerted by the enemy on all sections of our line, with the main effort being made on the right flank of B Co 23rd AIB. A concerted tank-infantry drive finally penetrated the right flank of B Co 23rd AIB and at 1930 the enemy was behind B Co 23rd AIB. Attacks were launched simultaneously along the Schoenberg – St Vith road against B Co 87th Rcn and from the northeast against A Co 38th AIB. By 2020 our lines had been penetrated in at least three points. The battle continued until approximately 2200 when the Combat Command CO, 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. These elements of the command which were cut off east of the town were ordered to attack through the town or north of it and join the forces which were establishing a new defense line. During the time this concerted drive was being exerted on our east flank the troops on the north 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 plan of the defensive line (from Hunningen to St Vith – Wallerode road) was to swing back to the west of St Vith and establish a line for the elements east of St Vith to fall back through. This was accomplished. All through the night of December 21/22 1944 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 (BE) area. This was done, and by early forenoon, about 150 had been gathered up. At dark 21 December 1944 an enemy infiltrating force had worked into Hinderhausen coming from the north through the CCA sector west of Rodt (BE). A light tank attack drove them out into the woods in the early evening.
December 22 1944
During the forenoon this force, reinforced by tanks, attacked Rodt from the west and got in behind our left flank. This required that the left flank fall back to clean out this force and protect Hinderhausen (BE) which was our emergency exit route to Commanster (BE) and Vielsalm (BE). This was done and the whole line was adjusted to conform. C Co 814th TDB was attached CCB, and was emplaced supporting the left of the line. By dark the line was established again and was being strengthened by the addition of 17th TB (-) on our south flank to tie in with CCB/9-AD. Contact with CCA on the northwest was lost. At 0700 the CP of CCB was moved to Commanster but the CG CCB spent the day forward with the Battalion Commanders. During this day all unessential vehicles were sent to the rear. By nightfall the line was held with CO 87th Cav Rcn Sq (Lt Col Boyland) commanding on the left, CO 31st TB (Lt Col Erlenbusch) commanding in the center, and CO 17th TB (Lt Col Wemple) on the south. The boundary between Wemple and Erlenbusch was the railroad line running southwest from St Vith. At 1845 enemy tanks and infantry attacked along the railroad towards Crombach. Infantry broke through and occupied the town. Hqs 31st TB and 87th Cav Rcn Sq which were in the town withdrew to Braunlauf (BE). Lt Col Wemple was able to fight his way out the next morning saving most of his command. During the night an effort to obtain a company of infantry from the 424th Infantry Regiment, then attached to CCB/9-AD, to counterattack Crombach was unsuccessful. It was used later to defend Braunlauf during the withdrawal.
December 23 1944
At 0456 instructions to withdraw to west of Vielsalm were received. Later H hour was set at 0600. The plan of withdrawal was to withdraw Lt Col Wemple and all other troops and vehicles at Crombach and southwest thereof through Beho (BE) to Vielsalm. The Infantry Company of the 424th Regiment at Braunlauf was to be brought out with us. This was done. North of Crombach all troops and vehicles were to come out through Hinderhausen (BE) to Commanster (BE) thence to Vielsalm (BE). A covering force under Lt Col Boylan consisting of a tank company (medium), a tank destroyer company and an infantry company or its equivalent was to hold Hinderhausen until all other troops had left and then fall back with maximum delay. This was done. The 965th and 275th FABs had pulled back the night before. The 434th FAB 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 vehicles were evacuated. So far as is known no men were left behind. The troops of Combat Command were originally given instructions to assemble at Lierneux (BE), but later other instructions were received and the assembly area was changed to the vicinity of Xhoris (BE). The Combat Command being closed in the vicinity of Xhoris at 2300, December 23. Units were instructed to reorganize and refuel and prepare for action in the morning.
24 December 1944
At 0800 the CG reported to Division Headquarters for instructions and sent back instructions to immediately alert the Command for movement to the vicinity of Fays (BE) to take up a defensive position. The 17th TB was detached from CCB and attached to CCR. The order of march was 38th AIB, 31st TB and 23rd AIB and Hqs CCB. B Co 33rd Engineers moved as a separate unit. 38th AIB commenced moving at 1000 and all units closed in assembly area at 1540, with no stragglers. At 1530 the 23rd AIB was detached CCB and attached CCA. CCB established four roadblocks to supplement the defensive positions set up by CCA and sent forces to guard three bridges over the Ourthe River at Bomal (BE) and to the east. At 2400 the Combat Command was notified of the breakthrough which occurred during CCA’s withdrawal from the south of Manhay (BE) and steps were taken to strengthen our roadblocks and to alert the Command for immediate movement in the event that this attack became too serious.
December 25 1944
It was decided that CCB would attack to recapture the town of Manhay at the same time the whole division line would move forward. The attack was launched at 1450, and, although our tanks did not reach the town of Manhay, due to circumstances out of our control, the attack allowed our infantry to enter it temporarily and the whole line advanced to better positions overlooking the town. On the morning of December 26 the Combat Command remained in Division Reserve.
December 26 1944
At approximately 1200, the Combat Commander made a visit to the front and found the west flank of the Division front to be in a disorganized state and fallen back. The Combat Commander took charge of the situation and placed one company of the 38th AIB and one Troop of Rcn with a light tank platoon attached into the line. At 1500 CCB assumed responsibility for the west half of the Division sector and the 424th Infantry Regiment (-3rd Battalion) 106th Infantry Division was attached to CCB.
December 27 1944
CCB moved forward, made contact with friendly troops on the right and left and straightened the line.
December 28 1944
Officers from the 75th Infantry Division reported to CCB to make arrangements for relief of our troops in the CCB sector. Due to reports of strong enemy attacks this relief was postponed.
December 29 1944
During the night the 75th Infantry Division was ordered to take over the CCB sector, and CCB was to move to new assembly area to the west of Harzé (BE). The relief of our troops, except C Co 814th TDB, was completed by 0400 December 30 1944 and H hour for the movement to the new assembly area was set at 0445 December 30 1944. Upon withdrawal the following changes in composition of CCB became effective : detached from CCB :
- 31st TB
- 38th AIB
- B Co 33rd AECB
- 87th Rcn Sq
- 424th IR (-)
- 434th FAB
attached to CCB :
- 40th TB
- 48th AIB
- A Co 33rd EB
The 31st of December 1944 was devoted to reorganization and rehabilitation. The 40th TB was detached from CCB and attached to CCR. The 31st TB was detached CCR and attached to CCB.
BRUCE C. CLARKE
Brig General, USA