1st Infantry Division – Dom Butgenbach – December 1944

0
232


December 1 to December 31 1944
Luchem (December 1 to December 7)

On December 1 1944, after two weeks of arduous fighting, the enemy had succeeded in delaying the advance on the Roer River. At Merode, he had achieved a local success in holding the town and eliminating two companies which had entered it. On the other hand, he had lost Hamich, Heistern and Langerwehe, the frame-work of his defenses before Düren. In losing them, moreover, he had suffered serious losses in personnel and materiel, and, in spite of his efforts, the line on December 1, roughly paralleled the course of the Roer and the natural defenses of the terrain had been overrun. This weakening tactical situation, however, in no way diluted the enemy’s determination to hold what he had. The Wenau-Merode road was a very sensitive point; any effort on the part of the Division to move down the road was met by heavy and concentrated fire, although the penetration of the 3/26-IR (1-ID) north of the road met much lighter opposition. The Stutgerhof (a large farmhouse) east of Langerwehe was an equally troublesome point. A platoon from George Co, 18-IR, which assaulted the house was pinned down by intense artillery fire and surrounded by enemy troops; after extremely bitter fighting on the part of rescue parties, ten of the men were pulled out. Enemy artillery, likewise, was at its high-water mark. It was estimated that the enemy had available, besides the organic artillery of the 3.Fallschirmjäger-Division, the remnants of the 12.VGD and 47.VGD’s artillery, possibly that of the 3.Panzergrenadier Division, as well as normal corps and Army artillery.



At the beginning of the period, it was believed that the 3.Fallschirmjäger Division (Paratrooper) alone opposed the 1st Division’s advance; the survivors of the 47.VGD with the 48.Regiment and the 89.Regiment (12.Infantry-Division) had been pulled out. Of the 3.Fallschirmjäger, the 3.Battalion, 8.Regiment, was in position north of the Military Highway; the 2.Battalion extended the line to the south, with outposts in the Stutgerhof, and the 1.Battalion was in the line south of the Division sector. The 1.Battalion and 3.Battalion of 5.Fallschirmjäger-Regiment, were believed to be in position east of Jungerhof and west of Merode, with the 2.Battalion in local reserve east of Merode. The 9.Regiment was probably in division reserve somewhere in the vicinity of Merken. Luchem was the next enemy strong point to be eliminated. It was reduced by a power play of infantry, tanks, TDs and artillery. On the morning of December 3, Luchem was held by elements of the 2.Battalion, 8.Regiment, supported by a platoon of the 14.Company covering a road-block on the Langerwehe-Luchem road. A large part of the 12.Company was in the town, although some of its mortars were about 600 yards to the northeast. Altogether, the enemy with fairly good reason considered himself secure from attack.

At 0600, December 3, the 1/16-IR, moved across the open ground between Langerwehe and Luchem, and entered the western edge of the town. There was no artillery preparation and the enemy was taken completely by surprise. As the infantry advanced they liquidated the road-block shutting off the Langerwehe road. At first light, tanks and TDs were moved into the attack, and with their arrival our artillery boxed in the area to prevent the bringing up of reserves. Although the enemy stubbornly defended his positions at the main crossroads, the town was cleared in the afternoon. More than 150 prisoners were taken. The POWs said that the sudden appearance of our tanks had decided the question for them, further evidence that a few tanks may produce the German hopeless situation and consequent honorable surrender. During the attack on Luchem the enemy artillery, which might have been a weighty factor in the seizure of the town, was slow in taking up fire, possibly because its forward observers had been bottled up by our deceptive attack. It was not until later in the day that the enemy laid heavy fire on the town, and by then it was too late. Several American soldiers were recaptured; they said that the parachutists, before surrendering, had burned all valuable papers and destroyed their weapons; it was obvious all during the Division’s contact with the 3.Fallschirmjäger Division that the paratroopers’ sense of security was far higher than that of the ordinary Landser.

The enemy’s reaction to our seizure of Luchem started with reconnaissance patrols in the morning of December 4. Shortly before dark in the afternoon, movement was observed in the area northwest of Echtz, and our artillery, preparing for a concentration, had just registered on the area when the first elements of the attack left the enemy positions and advanced on Luchem. In the subsequent disaster, only one PW was taken, and he believed himself to be one of the few survivors of his company, the 6.Company, which had been given the mission of retaking the town. The prisoner said that his battalion commander, a 1st Lieutenant who had been elevated from commanding the 5.Company the day before, had decided to take Luchem on his own initiative, spurred on by desire for a Ritterkreuz. The 6.Company and one platoon of the 5.Company were ordered to assault the town, and after a short artillery and mortar barrage the men started across the open fields in line of skirmishers. They were fairly in the middle when the four battalions of artillery caught them. Some of them managed to struggle through to come to grips with the 16-IR, but the back of the attack had been broken. With the loss of Luchem, enemy activity went on the descendant; artillery slackened off, and although large-scale movements were observed and attacked by our aircraft well behind the enemy lines, enemy activity in the forward areas was confined to minor reshuffling of troops and positions. The enemy’s attention swung to the north, where he mounted an attack, supported by ten tanks, against Lucherberg, previously captured by the 104th Infantry Division. The attack was unsuccessful and did not spread to the Division area. This decline of activity continued, interrupted by patrolling on both sides, until December 7, when the 1st Infantry Division was relieved by the 9th Infantry Division.

Enemy Breakthrough (December 16 – December 31 1944)

On December 16, the enemy, implementing a capability which had existed since the start of the Allied drive to the Rhine, launched a high-geared meticulously-planned counter attack in the center of the American line between Monschau and Echternacht. The ultimate objectives of this drive are still not clear and it is probable that the operation was designed as a monumental spoiling attack cutting off the Allied supply port of Antwerp and communications center of Brussels. In any case, the German people and the Wehrmacht were promised Liège and the Meuse River, and in the POW cages during the early days there was considerable high talk of Paris for Christmas. One of the primary objectives of the attack was the seizure of the enormous American supply dumps in the Liège, Verviers and Eupen area; in fact, the continued impetus of the drive hinged on the capture of these supplies. Certainly the thrust was for more than a local counter pressure; if its success could not win the war for the enemy, at least it could delay the Allies’ winning for a depressing length of time. The enemy’s plan for the blow was carefully thought out and carefully disguised (*). He picked the terrain an unlikely spot and therefore lightly held. He waited for the weather, and for the first week his operations were blanketed in baffling fog. He built up enough supplies to catapult the initial momentum. And he gathered up all his strategic reserves, including the 6.SS-Panzer-Army, and drove them through in a gamble that was far from unreasonable. Furthermore, beyond the normal means at his command he used every deception and surprise element he could conceive, labeling them collectively Operation Greif. The plan was simple enough once the necessary force had been assembled. Detailed intelligence reports and estimates kept track of the American situation in the avenue of the proposed attack (*), and it was plain that the one imponderable in the German planning was the mobility of the American forces which could be made available to block the drive. Operation Greif had the mission of equalizing this factor.

Prisoner of War Interrogation

(*) Captured Photograph Captions

Evidence of the enemy’s long-range planning and elaborate preparations for his drive to the west is obtained from four reels of newsreel and propaganda films captured by the 16-IR. The films were taken off a courier who had been dispatched from Cologne to the leading elements of the 1.SS-Panzer-Division to pick them up. He was to return to Schleiden, the CP of the division, but was captured en route. Eventually the films were to be sent to Berlin for development; instead, they have been forwarded to higher US headquarters. With the films was following descriptive note :

Unit : 1.SS-Div
No. 85—88 Subject : We Attack
Light : Dark, rain
Develop and cut!
s/ Schaefer
Contents and Captions : 1.SS AH, Ligneuville, Belgium, December 18 1944, Battle Sector : Belgian Border. Route : Munstereifel, Hallschlag, Belgian Border, Bullingen, six kilometers south of Eupen—Malmédy : The attack started on December 16 across the Westwall, at 0530. The weather is extremely bad. A very heavy artillery barrage throws the surprised enemy out of his position. We follow up our attack day and night. Already plenty of POWs are being brought in during the early hours of the first day. Many guns and vehicles are being captured. Most of the American gun crews are surprised and killed at their guns.

– Reel Picture 230 : (1—4) : The first surprised POWs come in during the early hours. (6—8) : Bridges demolished by the Americans are rapidly fixed by our engineers and we only stop for a few hours. (9—11) : Only four shots were fired from this US 75-MM AT gun, after that our tanks took care of it. (13—19) : New POWs stream back. (20—24) : Pictures from a vacated American tent city in the Eifel. (25—30) : New weapons and vehicles are captured, and plenty of dead are left by the surprised enemy.
– Reel Picture 231 : (1—3) : Snapshots of the advance; Laughing drivers; Captured cigars are distributed. (4—8) : Scenes of the march through the Eifel mud. (9—23) : Pictures of the advance of the infantry. From our SPs we have shot up many US tanks, scout cars, and supply vehicles.
– Reel Picture 232 : (1—30) : Attack; captured vehicles, burned out US tanks and vehicles.
– Reel Picture 233 : (1—17) : On road to Malmédy. (18—20) : CO of Reconnaissance Unit, SS Stbf. Knittel, speaks to an officer.

(Danger G-2 Note: Many of the photographs captured in this haul later received prominent attention in the Allied press.)

Roughly 700 parachutists dropped behind our lines would seize the important road junctions between Eupen and Malmédy and block the American troops which could be counted on to be pulled from the north, where the main strength of the Allied Armies had been committed in the drive on the Rhine. In conjunction with the parachutists, special troops in American uniforms and equipped with American transportation and Sherman tanks would spearhead the German panzers to spread confusion behind the American lines and disrupt tho organization of resistance. These men (Skorzeny’s 150.Panzer-Brigade) planned to race toward the American rear, shouting The Germans are 500 yards back!, to stall Sherman tanks at critical points in the American road net and, in general, carry on dozens of similar divertissements. With the American ability to organize and strike back thus tied down, the panzers could get under way and move west. The preponderance of the weight was committed in the north with SS-Oberstgruppenführer Joseph ‘Sepp’ Dietrich’s 6.SS-Panzer-Army; to the south was General Hasso von Manteuffel’s 5.Panzer-Army, and below that was General Erich Brandenberger ‘s 7.Army with the mission of holding the southern flank and, eventually, the rear of the drive west and north. The two panzer armies were to advance, with eight panzer divisions in line, on a vast, simple turning movement : four SS divisions on the axis Malmédy — Liège, and four army divisions on the axis Marche-en-Famenne – Namur.

Four routes were allotted to the 6.SS-Panzer-Army : Rollbahn A and B ran eastward through the Monchau area and were for the use of the 277.VGD, the 246.VGD and the 326.VGD breaking a way for the panzers on the northern flank. Rollbahn C and D, and presumably other routes to the south, were to carry the 6.SS-Panzer-Army, with the 1.SS-Panzer-Division (SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke) heading west along the Malmédy-Stavelot line to reach the Meuse River west of Liège, and the 12.SS-Panzer-Division (SS-Obersturmbannführer Hubert Meyer) to get on the Losheim-Bullingen-Butgenbach-Waimes-Malmédy-Spa axis to hit Liège from the north. Things went wrong, at least in the northern sector, from the start. On the night of December 16/17, nearly 700 Fallschirmjäger (Operation Stösser) were dropped in the general area of the Malmédy-Eupen woods. They were, as established from POWs taken by the 18th Infantry Regiment later, members of a special unit led by Oberstleutnant Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte, and had been culled from various parachute divisions on a ‘volunteer’ basis. Von der HEYDTE himself was a veteran of the Crete landings and a former holder of a $ 16.000 Carnegie Fellowship for the study of international law in VIENNA. In spite of this distinguished leadership, however, the plan went awry. None of the paratroopers had been told of his mission, other than that further instructions would be given him once he landed. The NCOs only knew that they were to hold certain road junctions; beyond that they knew nothing. A cross wind and bad briefing of the JU 52 pilots scattered the units and their weapons and equipment over an area far wider than planned. Much of the equipment was lost during the fall and more was broken; the radios were knocked out and reorganization was sketchy. With no secondary mission, those paratroopers who managed to reassemble hid out in the woods, harassing isolated vehicles and taking a few prisoners. They were entirely unable to block the arrival of reinforcing troops (*).

Meanwhile, to the south the 1.SS-Panzer-Division was going well, but the 12.SS had stalled east of Bullingen; the II Panzer Corps (2. and 9.SS-Panzer-Divisions) for some reason had not even tried to force a passage through the Monschau area, possibly because of the failure of the Volksgrenadiers to break the crust. Still further to the south, however, the 5.Panzer-Army was doing very well, having completed its breakthrough on schedule. This success of mere Wehrmacht troops was probably a matter of some chagrin to the superior SS men.

(*) – Captured Intelligence Estimate, 12.SS.Division

12.SS.Pz.Div Hitlerjugend Annex to G-3 Journal 1503/44, G-2 Section top secret, Div HQ 14. 12. 1944 TOP SECRET I 111/25, Intelligence Report Page 1, closed 14. 12. 44, 1200.

Enemy Strength and Organization
In the first line of our own frontal sector the 99th US Infantry Division has been identified. The Division covers the Monschau-Ormont sector (along the road bend 2 kilometers west of Hollerath) with 3 Regiments along a front of 30 kilometers. At Monschau the newly-arrived 78th US Infantry Division is in position. This unit succeeded in penetrating the German defense lines with the intentions of reaching the Erft reservoir. The 99-ID and the 78-ID belong to the V Corps of the 1st US Army. South of the 99-ID sector the 108th independent Cavalry Regiment is probably committed. It may be assumed that the operational reserves in the rear of the 99-ID consist of the 2nd Infantry Division plus the 4 and 102 independent Cavalry Regiments. Furthermore those units, now in rest areas, which have been relieved from the Roer sector, including the 1st US Infantry Division, may be considered as operational reserves. In this sector may be committed units of Division size from the reserve of the 9th US Army now attacking in the Julich area.

Enemy Operations
In the sector of the 99-ID the enemy is in a defensive position. His defensive line in the sector in the sector Hofen-Hollerath consists of strong points only, due to the wooded terrain, while in the area Hollerath-Udenbreth and to the south a system of strong entrenchments has been identified. Due to the recent digging activities in the area Hofen-Hollerath it may be concluded that his defense line will be strongly fortified. It may even be assumed that the enemy will commit his units south of Monschau into the attack in the direction of the Erft reservoir. (99th US Infantry Division) German prisoners of war are being used to dig entrenchments. A large number of dogs have been observed at many places. Apparently troops occupy all villages near the front. The American soldier is very careless in guarding his billets. In many instances the guards desert their posts at night. Enemy artillery build-ups are apparent in three main areas : In the area Krinkelt-Hunningen (5 to 6 battalions). South of Monschau (approx 4 battalions). At Manderfeld (approx 4 battalions). So far only harassing fire has been employed.

Evaluation of Enemy Units
99th US Infantry Division activated 1942; in Europe since end of October; first combat experience middle of November … The 78th US Infantry Division is also a newly-activated infantry division without combat experience. These units in reserve areas which will probably be committed from their rest areas have suffered heavy losses during the battle in the sector west of the Roer. In spite of the fact that they are old and battle-experienced divisions it appears that the replacements are not of the desired caliber, since it has been learned that one of the divisions used members of a penal company as replacements.

Enemy Capabilities
In view of his intentions in the area east of Aachen, and the heavy losses sustained there, the enemy has occupied the Eifel front only very weakly. In order to secure this sector against German surprise attacks the relieved units from the Roer sector have been placed in rest areas in the forward sector. These units are only capable of offering strong resistance against an energetic attack if the enemy succeeds in bringing to the south in a short time the operational reserves held in readiness for the Roer attack. As learned from experience it is assumed that the enemy will not quickly recover from his unexpected reverses. As far as terrain is concerned, the attackers as well as the defenders must cope with the heavy clay of the area Hohen Venn and also the many rivers and rivulets which mostly flow from north to south. A good road net is available for troop movements in a north-south direction.

Enemy Air Force Employment
In the area of Belgium and northern France, enemy can employ from 1700 to 1800 fighters and fighter-bombers. Besides, he has at his disposal units stationed in Holland and northeast France.

Partisan Activities
At all times one must consider the employment of a Belgian – French Militia or members belonging to units of the Armee Blanche. In this connection your attention is brought to the instructions about interrogation of civilians, which has been sent to the FPA (lower unit interrogation).

For the 12 SS Pz Div HITLER JUGEND
First General Staff Officer
signed/ Illegible

Butgenbach Ridge, December 16 – December 31

On December 16, the 1st Infantry Division was in a rest area north of Eupen. When it became apparent that the breakthrough was of major proportions, the Division was put on an alert. At 0300, December 17, the 26-IR was sent down to Camp Elsenborn, on the northern flank of the breakthrough, to contain the enemy’s drive and prevent it from spreading north. The Division, less the 18-IR and elements of the 16-IR, unmolested by von der Heydte’s paratroopers, was in position 24 hours later. From that time to the end of the period the enemy’s frantic efforts to break through by the Bullingen-Butgenbach-Waimes route of approach to the dumps of Spa and Verviers were blocked by the Division.

It is impossible to overlook a startling parallel between this enemy operation (and the Division’s reaction to it) and the enemy’s attempted breakthrough at the Kasserine Pass in late February, 1943. At Kasserine, the Division, in the Ousseltia Valley, was threatened by a major breakthrough to the south in the vicinity of the Faid Pass. Here, the breakthrough south of Monschau caught the Division in a rest area to the north. In both cases the enemy was spurred on by the hope of capturing supplies : Tebessa in Tunisia (North Africa), and the Verviers-Liège-Eupen area in this drive. In both cases the 26-IR was detached from Division control and sent out to hold the flank of the German spearhead, attached to II Corps in Africa and V Corps here. In both cases the Division turned back the threat, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy : on the 2.Panzer-Division in Africa, and the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, the 3.Fallschirmjâger-Division and 12.VGD here. And finally, in the case of Africa, the Tunisian campaign was over three months later.

The enemy attack in the north, around Monschau and Bullingen, was slow in starting. On December 17, the enemy attacked Monschau in some force, but was turned back by artillery fire; subsequent attacks, which did not seem to be pressed to the full extent of the enemy’s potential, were likewise repulsed. Meanwhile the Germans occupied Bullingen and pushed patrols toward Butgenbach, failing to take advantage of the fact that our defenses had not yet completely congealed in the area : the first elements of the 26-IR only reached Camp Elsenborn to the north at 0700, December 17. Consequently, something of a race developed between the 26-IR and the 12.SS-Panzer-Division for the occupation of Butgenbach, the next town on the projected northern route of the enemy. Before dark on December 17 the 2/26-IR had taken over the town and was defending the high ground (Doom Butgenbach) to the southwest against any thrust from Bullingen. The 16-IR was on its way down from its bivouac area in the vicinity of Verviers to take up positions north of Waimes; the 18-IR remained just south of Eupen on an anti-parachute mission.

During December 19, the enemy continued his attacks to reach his assigned road net from the east, putting heavy pressure on Krinkelt and Rocherath, and finally occupying these towns after the 2nd Infantry Division and the 99th Infantry Division had been ordered to withdraw by V Corps. Preparatory to a full-scale offensive, the enemy probed our positions constantly during December 19. The attacks grew in violence as the enemy tested our defenses from all sides with up to ten tanks and approximately a battalion and a half of infantry. During the day of December 19 no prisoners were taken who could identify the attacking units, but it is probable that they were elements of the 12.SS-Panzer-Division which was falling far behind in its failure to get on its route of approach according to the German over-all plan. With every day he delayed the enemy’s opportunity of breaking the line and getting control of the Elsenborn and Malmédy roads lessened; during the day of December 19, the 18-IR was moving south to take up a position in the line after sweeping the woods south of Eupen for parachutists. During the hunt King Co ran into a sizable force from the von der Heydte group dug in in the woods, but a large part of the group took off to the east and southeast during the night. Members of von der Heydte’s ill-starred crew, in fact, kept showing up all over the area and turning themselves in to anti-aircraft units, supply installations and artillery positions; the whole venture was officially pronounced a fiasco when the colonel himself, trying to beat his way back to the German lines, called for an ambulance in the vicinity of Monschau (Mutzenich) a few days later and asked the US Medic to be evacuated. Although well aware of the failure of his mission, he asked the interrogator to notify him should the German radio announce that he had been awarded the Swords to the Knights Cross.

At 0225, December 19, the first thrust at our positions southeast of Butgenbach was launched when 20 truck-loads of enemy infantry and several tanks hit Easy Co (26-IR); supporting artillery was called in and the attack faded out within an hour. Patrols from Easy later counted over 100 enemy dead in front of their positions. Later, at 1010, two tanks and about a company of infantry were observed moving in on the 2/26-IR positions from the south. The tanks managed to work their way up to our road-blocks where one of them was destroyed by 90-MM fire; the other tank withdrew, but not before a Panzerschreck team had damaged one of our 90-MMs. The supporting infantry was disposed of handily by artillery fire. At the same time another attack in about the same strength thrust eastward from Bullingen; it, too, was dispersed with one tank destroyed. Other tanks, working their way toward Waimes from the east and west, were turned back by intense artillery and mortar fire. Before dark two more forces, both of company size and supported by tanks, tried again to find a soft spot on the southern and eastern edges of Waimes, with a complete lack of success. Altogether, the day was totally unproductive from the enemy’s point of view; not only did he fail to sound a hollow spot in our defenses, but his attempts to do so were very expensive in both infantry and armor.

Nevertheless, with the 1.SS-Panzer-Division in serious straits to the west on account of the 12.SS-Panzer-Division’s failure to clean up the north flank, and probably because it was clear to the most inflated SS ego that the campaign had stalled, the enemy continued resolute in his decision to force a passage to the north and west. He attacked on December 20, in greater strength but with no greater success. At 0615, the 2/26-IR, reported contact with a heavy force of tanks and about a battalion of infantry. The attacking force was probably the 2.Battalion, 25.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment, reinforced by additional infantry (possibly elements of the special parachute regiment attached to the 150.Panzer-Brigade, part of Operation Greif and supported by the 3.Battalion, 12.SS-Panzer-Regiment. Although first contact with our forces was made just before daybreak, previously, as an extremely interesting captured document indicates (*), the attack had suffered high casualties and had been confused by our intense artillery, mortar and small-arms fire. In spite of this initial disadvantage the attack was driven home hard and a slight penetration was made. By 0815, however, the attack had been completely repulsed, eight tanks had been knocked out and were seen burning (the number knocked out and not seen must have been considerably higher, according to the same captured report), and all the Division positions had been restored.

(*) A letter written by an eager SS man to his sister Ruth

Eifel 16 Dec. 44 (Saturday)
Dear Ruth,
My daily letter will be very short-short and sweet. I write during one of the great hours before an attack-full of unrest, full of expectation for what the next days will bring. Everyone who has been here the last two days and nights (especially nights), who has heard the constant rattling of Panzers, knows that something is up and we are looking forward to a clear order to reduce the tension. We are still in the dark as to ‘where’ and ‘how’ but that cannot be helped! Some believe in big wonders, but that may be shortsighted! It is enough to know we attack, and will throw the enemy from our homeland. That is a holy task! I do not want to talk or write much now-but wait and see what the hours ahead will bring! Overhead is the terrific noise of VI, of artillery – the voice of war. So long now wish me luck and think of me …
The following postscript was hurriedly scribbled on the back of the sealed envelope :
16 December 1944 … Ruth! Ruth! Ruth! We March!!!

While this attack was under way, another attack, possibly coordinated with the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, but more probably not, was coming in against our positions south of Waimes. The unit engaged in this thankless task was identified as the 8.Regiment, 3.Fallschirmäger-Division, old acquaintances from Normandy, Langerwehe and Jungersdof. The parachutists had had, in fact, much the same history as the Division during the month. Relieved from the line in the Düren area on December 15, they were sent back to a rest area near Munstereifel to refit and re-equip. On December 16, they were alerted and sent to Moderscheid to hold the northern flank of the German breakthrough. On December 20, the 3.Battalion of the 8.Regiment, was ordered to attack our positions in (Ober)Weywertz from the south. According to the captain commanding the 11.Company, who was taken prisoner during the fighting, the 11. and 12.Companies worked their way northward along the railroad track to the edge of the objective. There the captain was told by a civilian that the area was lightly held by American troops. The captain was not sure of the civilian’s integrity and circled the town to the east, intending to take it by the main road. Our troops opened fire on him before he could group his forces for the assault and the two companies scattered. The captain said that a great many of his men had been killed; the 10.Company, which was to support the attack, never showed up after suffering heavy casualties from our artillery fire.

Although these and subsequent smaller attacks throughout the day of December 20, were unpromising from the enemy’s point of view, the build-up in front of the Division positions continued, and it was plain that it presaged far more than continued local pressure. On December 21, another assault was launched. Into it the enemy put everything he had at his command, as well he had to, for by this time his need to break through to the north and come to the rescue of the beleaguered 1.SS-Panzer-Division to the west was imperative. At 0130 the enemy opened up with machine gun and tank fire on the 2/26-IR, positions southeast of Butgenbach; artillery was brought down and the attack was disposed of as another feint. At 0300, however, the enemy laid down an intense, concentrated artillery, nebelwerfer and mortar barrage. The battalion positions were blanketed, communications were reduced to radio and no contact at all was possible with the forward elements of the battalion, but when the inevitable follow-up thrust developed, our infantry was ready for it. Ten to fifteen tanks and approximately a battalion of infantry drove forward on the battalion positions. Artillery defensive fires were laid down (during the day the artillery fired nearly 10.000 rounds) and succeeded in putting a serious crimp in the assembly of the reserve and following troops. In spite of this disruption of his rear elements, however, the enemy drove his attack hard and a slight penetration was made. Five tanks which hit between Easy an Fox Companies, got through the lines, but our infantry held fast and cleaned out the infantry following. The tanks which got through, although working on borrowed time, succeeded in pinning down the 2/26’s CP with direct fire at a range of 75 yards and overrunning the Easy Co CP.

Anti-tank guns near the battalion CP destroyed four of the tanks; the fifth got away. By 1140, the full force of the enemy assault began to abate and the situation in the Easy and Fox Co’s area was being restored. The enemy, though operating under considerably reduced power after his rough handling, continued to try to force his way through our positions during the day. Late in the morning, a couple of tanks, spearheading the attack of approximately a battalion of infantry (again, probably the 12.SS) broke through the lines of the 1/26, but again was isolated. At 1430, another attack led by tanks hit Fox Co, but was so punished by our artillery that the enemy was not able to come to grips with our infantry.

After the full weight of the fighting was over it was possible, through the interrogation of the one prisoner captured (*), to reconstruct the enemy’s attack. This man said that the 9.Company, 25.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment, had led the attack with the mission of taking Butgenbach with strong tank support; following in line were the 10., 12. and 11.Companies. Leading the attack, the 9.Company suffered extremely severe casualties from our machine gun and small arms fire and withdrew, but the following companies pressed on with, in the end, no greater success and at an equal cost. Although the 25.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment was pretty well eliminated as a potential in the fighting of December 21, the enemy continued to place the highest priority on cracking our defenses to allow him to roll up the Butgenbach road. On December 22, the 26.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment was committed to succeed where the 25. had failed. For a while this new outfit, again with heavy tank support, almost succeeded. Tanks started north against the Division positions shortly after dawn, attacking from three points west of Dom Butgenbach; enemy infantry following the tanks managed to push our lines back. At 0940, an undetermined number of panzer grenadiers had forced through our lines, splitting Able and King, 26-IR. Elements of the 18-IR were committed to hold further penetrations, Baker, 26-IR, advanced to restore the ground and Able attacked due east to close the gap. Later, around 1600, elements of the 18-IR moved in and helped in retaking the ground. One tank was still behind our lines after the fighting was over, but managed to escape after dark.

This second attack, which was equal in intensity to that of the 25.Regiment the day before, was, in the end, equally disastrous to the enemy. Beyond his failure to reach the promised land of his northern road net, he lost well over twenty tanks and his casualties, although uncounted, ran into crippling figures. Patrols sent out on December 23 reported enemy dead as common as grass, with corresponding amounts of abandoned equipment. For the two days fighting it was estimated that the enemy lost more than 44 tanks — more than 44 since that number was actually seen and counted. The 26-IR estimated that it had inflicted over 1200 casualties on the enemy. With the collapse of his plan to force his way north, the enemy subsided into the defense, bringing up infantry units to hold the line while he withdrew the 12.SS-Panzer-Division for repairs. Movement in front of the Division was heavy but undetermined in purpose; the most significant report of December 23 was that horse drawn equipment was observed moving across the Division sector indicating the arrival of purely infantry units. Small attacks came in against the 16 and 26-IRs, but they were obviously intended as holding efforts rather than serious attempts at penetration. Two more enemy tanks were knocked out in the vicinity of Bullingen.

From December 23 to the end of the period the enemy continued to bring in infantry elements to replace his armor and to build up an artillery concentration, both field and anti-aircraft, southeast of Bullingen. Movement on the limited road net in front of the Division line continued heavy, and was taken under punishing artillery fire, but rather than indicating a new formation for an attack, it proved to be traffic supplying the deeper penetrations of the enemy salient, driven off the main roads by our air attacks. The Division prisoner count dropped to practically nothing; those who were taken were usually lost and snared on our minefields. Division patrols moving to the front were often able to penetrate 1000 yards before contact, and from their reports it was evident that the enemy was digging in and preparing to defend. On December 26, prisoners and documents indicated that the 3.Fallschirmjäger-Division still held the western flank of the Division’s front; to the east it was believed that the 12.Infantry-Division had moved into line.

On December 28, this belief was confirmed. Shortly before dawn the 3/27.Volksgrenadier-Regiment (12.Division) attacked the left flank of the Division positions after an intense artillery and nebelwerfer barrage. The plan was ambitious. The 1/48.Regiment, was to make a simultaneous attack to secure the high ground west of Wirtzfeld, and elements of the 246.VGD, previously identified in front of the unit on the left of the Division, were to push through to Elsenborn from the east. In spite of these elaborate plans the attack was a complete fiasco. The 3/27.Regiment, was taken under intense artillery fire during its approach march and a high percentage of the Volksgrenadiers reversed their field and moved rapidly to the rear. Some elements of the 9.Company and a handful of engineers from the 12.Engineer-Battalion succeeded in infiltrating up the draw northwest of Bullingen; they remained ineffective during the day and were combed out by strong combat patrols before dark. The attacks of the 1/48.Regiment, and the elements of the 246.VGD were equally discouraged, and the net result of the day’s work was the capture of three men from the 53.Nebelwerfer-Regiment which had supported the attack, thus giving a source for much of the nebelwerfer fire which had been falling on Division positions during previous days.

The failure of his last ambitious attack apparently convinced the enemy of the futility of trying to force his way through our defenses, for enemy activity to the end of the period, as reported by patrols, consisted only of busy digging and moderate counter-patrolling. The enemy continued to lay artillery fire on our forward positions and extended his efforts to interdiction of roads in the rear areas. To what extent the stand of the 1st Infantry Division southeast of Butgenbach put a spoke in the wheel of the enemy’s plan is an open question. Certainly the enemy, from the high priority he placed on getting through to the northwest and his successive all-out attacks, considered it of primary importance.






The stand, moreover, was disastrous to the enemy in a negative way. On the positive side he had two regiments of one of his top-drawer SS panzer divisions ground down to a framework and lost up to 60 tanks in addition. On the negative side, however, he was unable to come to the rescue of the 1.SS-Panzer-Division caught in a vise in the Stavelot – La Gleize area by the 30th US Infantry Division. And, possibly most important of all, he was forced to rearrange his high-level plan completely, abandoning the idea of getting at the First Army dumps in the Verviers & Soumagne areas. As a result, the II.SS-Panzer-Corps, which was to follow up the successes of the I.Panzer-Corps, was committed to the the south instead. With the 1st US Infantry Division jutting out into the salient, the overloaded road net supplying the point of the thrust was further restricted in the radius of artillery fire. Altogether, the northern flank of the German penetration was not a matter of heart-warming satisfaction to the German High Command. If the enemy had failed to gain his ground, certainly he had tried hard enough with every means at his command. Treachery and deception played an integral part in his plan. The tactics of the 150th Panzer Brigade (the power behind Operation Greif) were never fully successful due to greatly increased security measures taken by the Division. Although no established penetrations of Germans in American uniforms took place in the Division zone, an idea of the effectiveness of control can be had from the case of a strange officer from higher headquarters who got lost on his way to one of the regimental CPs and ended up on a road leading through one of the front-line company positions. Within an hour of the first alarm, the officer had been arrested four times and cheched for identity. Treachery had an equally important part in the enemy operation.

A number of American prisoners taken by the 1.SS-Panzer-Division southwest of Malmédy on December 17, were disarmed and shot by their captors; more than 25 civilians were murdered in Stavelot by the same unit. On December 26, a three-man enemy patrol entered the lines of the 16-IR with the indication it wanted to surrender. It was discovered, however, that one of the enemy was carrying a machine-pistol behind his back. The patrol was eliminated. Enemy artillery during the period was consistently strong, although it reached the intensity of the Hamich Woods only on the few occasions before an attack. At the end of the period a considerable artillery build-up was still reported southeast of Bullingen. During the operation, the Luftwaffe put in an appearance in greater strength than the Division had encountered since the European campaign started. Enemy air attacks were frequent but not very productive; the highest number of enemy planes reported over the Division area at one time was 30. The enemy air situation was further confused by the appearance of American P-47s which committed hostile acts and were believed to be enemy-operated; it was later learned that the planes were American and that the fault lay with the pilots’ briefing.

(*) – Captured Combat Report, 3/12.SS-Panzer-Regiment

During the night of December 19—20, the 26th US Infantry Regiment received a heavy armored and infantry attack on its left flank. The attack, which started at about 2300, continued in varying degrees of intensity throughout the night and until about 0800. An hour later a second attack, at the time believed to be a continuation of the first, came in on the right flank of the 26-IR. After the attacks had subsided, the 26-IR estimated that it had knocked out six tanks. During the morning of December 24, a courier, apparently lost, ran across a minefield laid by the 16-IR in a tracked motorcycle and blew up. The courier was carrying the document below. The report deals with the attack on the left flank of the 26-IR, and it is evident that considerably more than the estimated six tanks were knocked out by our fire. The infantry mentioned is believed to be the 2/25.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment; the parachutists were probably from the special (z.b.v.) (zur besonderen verwendung – for special use) parachute regiment attached to the 150.Panzer-Brigade. The later attack on the right flank of the 26-IR was launched by elements of the 3.Fallschirmjäger-Division.

3/12.SS-Pz-Regt – Bn CP, 23 Dec 1944

Combat Report For Period 18/23 Dec 1944

After the night attack on Krinkelt during the night of 18/19 December the battalion was ordered back to its starting position on orders from regiment. The battalion, less the 11.Company, reached the highway in the wooded area vicinity point 639 and 672 at 2400. The 11.Company, which, together with 5.Company, had remained at the northeastern edge of Krinkelt for security, was also pulled back into the wooded area later during the night. Losses in the night attack : 1 Mark IV belonging to 10.Company became a casualty when it hit a mine and another Mark IV belonging to 11.Company was damaged by a Sherman tank during the night fighting in the town (damage to tracks). 1 Officer of the 11.Company was slightly injured by shrapnel.

Accomplishments : 1 Sherman put out of action by 11.Company, 10 prisoners taken. After replenishing its gas and ammunition supply, the battalion was to assemble at 0500 and start its advance on Butgenbach via Losheimergraben – Bullingen. Because of difficulties in connection with refueling and the clogged highways, the battalion’s point reached the road near (left out of original) at 1200. The battalion commanding officer, together with his liaison officer, went ahead to Bullingen in order to reconnoiter terrain and situation and establish contact with elements committed there. After being briefed by SS-Hauptsturmführer Urabel (3/26.SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment), the battalion was oriented as follows by the commanding officer of the advance elements of the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, Major (Wehrmacht) Meier : I reached Bullingen which had already been taken for one or two days. (The exact date slipped my mind; it can, however, be established by further inquiry). I was then stopped by my division in spite of my suggestion to penetrate to Butgenbach without delay, lest the enemy gain time to bring up reserves and establish a strong line of defense. Major Meier further explained that the enemy had strengthened himself continually during the preceding day, that he had dug in, and thus established a defense line in the vicinity north of Bullingen, (Dom Butgenbach), to the edge of the woods southwest of Dom Butgenbach.

After the report concerning the situation at Bullingen had been given to the Regimental Commanding Officer in the Division Commanding General’s presence, the latter gave instructions concerning further plans. The alerted battalion moved as follows:

– 10.Company with Engineer Platoon
– 9.Company
– 11.Company
– Parts of Headquarters Company

As the infantry reached its first objective west of Bullingen only at 2300, the battalion started its attack 10 minutes later. In the darkness, the tank point, instead of advancing in a westerly direction, advanced towards the southwest; yet it was possible to halt it and direct it to the correct road. In the meantime, the liaison officer had found out that the infantry was still on both sides of the road about 800 meters west of the road junction at the western entrance into Bullingen. Slowed down by the pace of the infantry, the attached paratroopers and mine detector squads, the point made halting progress only After the security lines of the infantry, paratroopers, and engineers already committed in that area, had been passed by about 220 meters, heavy anti-tank fire from the left, from the direction of Dom Butgenbach, as well as exceedingly heavy artillery and mortar fire was encountered. The infantry suffered most serious losses as a result of this fire and the accompanying heavy rifle and enemy machine gun fire. The attack failed before the point could be fully committed, as several vehicles were in bad shape because of artillery and mortar hits. The company was withdrawn by the commanding officer, and the battalion was regrouped.

At about 0500, the battalion, on both sides of the highway, renewed its attack with the 9.Company (Jagdpanther) as point. It penetrated the foremost anti-tank defenses, but the commanding officer and his tank were hit. The commanding officer took his burning command tank to the rear and took the command tank of 11.Company, which he led during the attack. In the meantime, the 9.Company, in spite of extremely heavy anti-tank fire, had penetrated to the high ground west of Dom Butgenbach, and was engaged by superior enemy forces, which put three of eight tanks out of action. The 9.Company, engaged in that vicinity, was exposed to extremely heavy artillery and mortar shelling.

The 11.Company, which had been brought up in the meantime, received heavy anti-tank fire from the right flank, and the command tank with the battalion commanding officer, received a direct hit and started to burn. Other tanks were damaged by artillery and anti-tank fire. As the 9.Company was unable to advance further, and the point was pinned down, the commanding officer decided to discontinue the attack. There was no further hope of success, and friendly artillery was unable to diminish the enemy’s artillery fire. The battalion was taken back into its starting positions. Refueling, repairs, and receipt of ammunition could not be accomplished in Bullingen as originally planned. For that reason (the enemy’s artillery having zeroed in on the town), the battalion was taken two kilometers to the rear to the vicinity of Tiefenbach. Since very few elements of the battalion were left (3 Jagdpanther and 10 Mark IVs), they were consolidated under SS-Hauptsturmführer Wewers in order to take part in another attack on December 21. During that action, the battalion’s liaison officer, SS-Untersturmführer Fritsch, was killed by a direct anti-tank hit on his tank. Detailed reports about that action will have to follow, as SS-Hauptsturmführer Wewers has probably been killed and the situation will have to be cleared up through further inquiry. The same is true of the attack of Schoppen on December 22 1944. (Illegible Signature)



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.