The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge/Chapter XIII
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Chapter XIII: VIII Corps Attempts To Delay the Enemy
|Chapter XIV: The VIII Corps Barrier Lines→|
CCR, 9th Armored Division, and the Road to Bastogne
- CCR, 9th Armored Division, the armored reserve of the VIII Corps, had been stationed at Trois Vierges on 13 December in position to support the corps left and center. It consisted of the 52d Armored Infantry Battalion, 2d Tank Battalion, 73d Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and the conventional task force attachments. By the afternoon of 17 December German armored gains at the expense of the 28th Division, forming the center of the corps front, caused General Middleton to start gathering what anti-mechanized means he could find for commitment; this included the platoon of self-propelled tank destroyers from CCR which, as described earlier, he dispatched toward Clerf.
- When the second day of the battle came to a close, it had become apparent that the German columns advancing in the central sector were aiming at the road system leading to Bastogne. Delayed reports from the 28th Division indicated that an enemy breakthrough was imminent. The 9th Armored Division commander already had sent CCR south to Oberwampach, behind the 28th Division center, when General Middleton ordered the combat command to set up two strong roadblocks on the main paved road to Bastogne "without delay." This order came at 2140, ten minutes after word that the enemy had crossed the Clerf reached the VIII Corps command post.
- The two roadblock positions selected by the corps commander lay on Highway N 12, which extended diagonally from St. Vith and the German border southwestward to Bastogne. Both positions were on the line which General Middleton would order held "at all costs." Earlier, Middleton had directed the commander of the 106th Division to watch the northern entrance to this road, but the immediate threat on the night of the 17th was that the mobile spearheads of the German attack would gain access to this road much closer to Bastogne. One of the blocking positions was the intersection near the village of Lullange where the hard-surfaced road from Clerf entered that leading to Bastogne. Clerf and its bridges were only five miles away from this junction and, on the evening of 17 December, already under German fire. The second position, three miles to the southwest on Highway N 12 near the village of Allerborn, backed up the Lullange block. More important, the Allerborn road junction was the point at which a continuation of Highway N 12 turned off to the southeast and down into the Wiltz valley where advance patrols of the main German forces, albeit still on the far bank of the Clerf, had appeared. The Allerborn block was only nine miles from Bastogne.
- A little after midnight CCR had manned these two important positions, under orders to report to the VIII Corps command post the moment they were brought under assault. Off to the east, however, the 110th Infantry continued the unequal contest with an enemy whose strength was growing by the hour. The force in the hands of the CCR commander, Col. Joseph H. Gilbreth, was small. Now split into two task forces and the supporting CCR headquarters group, the whole was spread thin indeed. Task Force Rose (Capt. L. K. Rose), at the northern roadblock, consisted of a company of Sherman tanks, one armored infantry company, and a platoon of armored engineers. The southern roadblock was manned by Task Force Harper (Lt. Col. Ralph S. Harper), which consisted of the 2d Tank Battalion (-) and two companies of the 52d Armored Infantry Battalion.
- In midmorning the troops peering out from the ridge where the northern roadblock had been set up saw figures in field gray entering a patch of woods to the east on the Clerf road, the first indication that the enemy had broken through the Clerf defenses. These Germans belonged to the Reconnaissance Battalion of Lauchert's 2d Panzer Division, whose infantry elements at the moment were eradicating the last American defenders in Clerf. Lauchert's two tank battalions, unaffected by the small arms fire sweeping the Clerf streets were close behind the armored cars and half-tracks of the advance guard.
- Two attempts by the Reconnaissance Battalion to feel out Task Force Rose were beaten back with the help of a battery from the 73d Armored Field Artillery Battalion whose howitzers were close enough to give direct fire at both American roadblocks. About 1100 the first Mark IV's of the 2d Battalion, 3d Panzer Regiment, appeared and under cover of an effective smoke screen advanced to within 800 yards of the Shermans belonging to Company A, 2d Tank Battalion. The Germans dallied, probably waiting for the Panzer Battalion, which finally arrived in the early afternoon, then deployed on the left of the Mark IV's. Taken under direct fire by the enemy tank guns, the American infantry withdrew in the direction of the southern roadblock and Rose's tanks now were surrounded on three sides.
- Colonel Gilbreth, whose combat command was directly attached to VIII Corps and who was charged with the defense of the entry to the Bastogne highway, could not commit his tiny reserve without the approval of the corps commander. A telephone message from Gilbreth to the VIII Corps command post, at 1405, shows the dilemma in all tactical decisions made during these hours when a few troops, tanks, and tank destroyers represented the only forces available to back up the splintering American line.
- TF Rose ... is as good as surrounded. ... have counted 16 German tanks there. ... TF is being hit from 3 sides. Recommend that they fight their way out. They could use 2 platoons of A/52d Armd Inf Bn [the last rifle reserve in CCR]-everything else is committed.... Did not commit any of the TDs, will wait until the over-all plan is known. Plan to push TF Rose toward the other road block. If the decision is to stay, some units will be sent there to help them out.
- The corps commander refused to let Rose move; and even if adequate reinforcement for Task Fore Rose had been at hand the hour was too late. A flanking move had driven back the American howitzers, German assault guns saturated the crest position with white phosphorus, and when the Shermans pulled back to the rear slope the panzers simply ringed Rose's company. CCR headquarters got the word at 1430 that the northern roadblock and its defenders had been overrun, but despite the loss of seven Shermans Company A continued to hold. It had been forced back from the road junction, however, and the bulk of the 3d Panzer Regiment was moving out onto the Bastogne highway. The early winter night gave the Americans a chance. Captain Rose broke out cross-country with five tanks and his assault gun platoon, rolling fast without lights through little villages toward Houffalize, near which the detachment was ambushed. A few vehicles and crews broke free and reached Bastogne.
- The southern roadblock came under German fire in the late afternoon, light enemy elements seeping past the beleaguered block at the northern junction. The Mark IV's and Panthers actually did not reach Task Force Harper until after dark. Sweeping the area with machine gun fire to clear out any infantry who might be protecting the American tanks, the panzers overran and destroyed two tank platoons of Company C, 2d Tank Battalion. Perhaps the weight of this night attack had caught the American tankers off guard: the enemy later reported that only three Shermans at the Allerborn block were able to maneuver into a fighting stance. The armored infantry, about 500 yards from the Shermans, had no better fortune. The panzers set the American vehicles afire with tracer bullets, then picked out their targets silhouetted by the flames. During this action Colonel Harper was killed. What was left of Task Force Harper and stragglers from Task Force Rose headed west toward Longvilly, where CCR headquarters had been set up.
- Longvilly, five and a half miles from Bastogne, was the scene of considerable confusion. Stragglers were marching and riding through the village, and the location of the enemy was uncertain, although rumor placed him on all sides. About 2000 an officer appeared at Gilbreth's command post and, to the delight of the CCR staff, reported that a task force from the 10th Armored Division (Team Cherry) was down the Bastogne road. The task force commander, Lt. Col. Henry T. Cherry, he then announced, had orders not to advance east of Longvilly. This word abruptly altered the atmosphere in the command post.
- Two armored field artillery battalions (the 73d and 58th) still were firing from positions close to Longvilly, pouring shells onto the Allerborn road junction from which Task Force Harper had been driven. A handful of riflemen from the 110th Infantry, including Company G which had been ordered to Clerf and the remnants of the 110th headquarters which had been driven out of Allerborn, were still in action. These troops, together with four tank destroyers from the 630th Tank Destroyer Battalion (-), had formed a skirmish line to protect the firing batteries of the 58th south of the village.
- Late in the evening firing was heard behind the CCR position. This came from Mageret, next on the Bastogne road, where German troops had infiltrated and cut off the fire direction center of the 73d Field Artillery Battalion. The firing batteries nevertheless continued to shell the road east of Longvilly, tying in with the 58th Field Artillery Battalion. Both battalions were firing with shorter and shorter fuzes; by 2315 the gunners were aiming at enemy infantry and vehicles only two hundred yards to the front. Somehow the batteries held on. A little before midnight Colonel Gilbreth ordered what was left of CCR and its attached troops to begin a withdrawal via Mageret. A few vehicles made a run for it but were am- bushed by the Germans now in possession of Mageret. When a disorderly vehicle column jammed the exit from Longvilly, Gilbreth saw that some order must be restored and stopped all movement until morning light.1
- Under orders, the 73d Armored Field Artillery Battalion displaced westward, starting about 0400, one battery covering another until the three were west of Longvilly firing against enemy seen to the east, north, and south, but giving some cover for the CCR withdrawal. The 58th Field Artillery Battalion and its scratch covering force were hit early in the morning by a mortar barrage, and very shortly two German halftracks appeared through the half-light. These were blasted with shellfire but enemy infantry had wormed close in, under cover of the morning fog, and drove back the thin American line in front of the batteries. About 0800 the fog swirled away, disclosing a pair of enemy tanks almost on the howitzers. In a sudden exchange of fire the tanks were destroyed.
- About this time CCR started along the Bastogne road, although a rear guard action continued in Longvilly until noon. The 58th Field Artillery Battalion, with cannoneers and drivers the only rifle protection, joined the move, Battery B forming a rear guard and firing point-blank at pursuing German armor. The head of the main column formed by CCR was close to Mageret when, at a halt caused by a roadblock, hostile fire erupted on the flanks of the column. There was no turning back, nor could the vehicles be extricated from the jam along the road. The melee lasted for several hours. Company C of the 482d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion (Capt. Denny J. Lovio) used its mobile quadruple machine guns with effect, working "heroically," as CCR later acknowledged, to hold the Germans at bay. The two batteries of the 8th Armored Field Artillery Battalion that had been able to bring off their self-propelled howitzers went into action, but the fog had thickened and observed fire was wellnigh impossible. At long last the dismounted and disorganized column was brought into some order "by several unknown officers who ... brought leadership and confidence to our troops."
- In mid-afternoon CCR headquarters, the remnants of the 58th, and the stragglers who had been accumulated in the Longvilly defense made their way around to the north of Mageret, thence to Foy, and finally to Bastogne, this move being made under cover of fire laid down by paratroopers from the 101st who seemed to materialize out of nowhere. The losses sustained by CCR cannot be accurately determined, for a part of those listed in the final December report were incurred later in the defense of Bastogne. 2 The 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion had lost eight of its howitzers; the 73d Armored Field Artillery Battalion had lost four. That these battalions were self-propelled accounts for the fact that so many pieces, closely engaged as the batteries had been, were saved to fire another day.
- While the battle for the roadblocks and Longvilly was going on, a third task force from CCR (Lt. Col. Robert M. Booth) had been separately engaged. As a guard against tank attack from the north, the CCR commander sent Booth with the headquarters and headquarters company of the 52d Armored Infantry Battalion, plus a platoon from the 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and a platoon of light tanks to occupy the high ground north of the Allerborn-Longvilly section of the main highway. During the night of 18-19 December Booth's position received some enemy fire but did not come under direct assault. Communications with CCR had broken down, however, and German tanks had been identified passing to the rear along the Bourcy road.
- Booth decided that the best chance of escaping encirclement lay in moving out to the northwest. At daylight on the 19th the column started, picking up stragglers from the original roadblocks as it moved. The light tank platoon dropped off early in the march to fight a rear guard action against the enemy who was closing in on the column and to protect a number of half-tracks which had bogged down. Hard pressed and unable to disengage its vehicles, the rear guard finally escaped on foot. The main column dodged and detoured in a series of small brushes with the Germans, who by this time seemed to be everywhere, until it reached Hardigny, three miles northwest of the starting point. German tanks and infantry were waiting here, and in the ensuing fight the column was smashed. About 225 officers and men escaped into the nearby woods and after devious wanderings behind the German lines, some for as long as six days, finally reached Bastogne.
The Advance of the XLVII Panzer Corps
- Luettwitz' XLVII Panzer Corps was coming within striking distance of Bastogne by the evening of 18 December. The 2d Panzer Division, particularly, had picked up speed on the north wing after the surprising delay at Clerf. Luettwitz' mission remained as originally planned, that is, to cross the Meuse in the Namur sector, and the capture of Bastogne remained incidental-although none the less important-to this goal.
- Having erased the two roadblocks defended by CCR, General Lauchert turned his 2d Panzer Division to the northwest so as to swing past the Bastogne road nexus and maintain the momentum of the westward drive. This maneuver was according to plan for there was no intention to use the 2d Panzer Division in a coup de main at Bastogne. Lauchert's column followed the remnants of Task Force Harper from the Allerborn roadblock, then turned off the Bastogne highway near the hamlet of Chifontaine and headed toward Bourcy and Noville. It was the 2d Panzer tanks which Task Force Booth had heard rolling in its rear on the night of 18-19 December and with which its rear guard collided on the 19th. Although Task Force Booth and the Germans at first missed each other, the subsequent American attempt to circle around the northwest and thus attain Bastogne threw Booth's column straight into the German path. Lauchert's advance guard had hit Noville but found it strongly held and was forced to withdraw. As a result a strong detachment moved north to Hardigny, before a flanking attempt against the Noville garrison, and here encountered and cut to pieces Booth's column.
- The American troops defending in and around Longvilly were given a period of grace by Lauchert's decision to turn off on the Bourcy road. A second on-the-spot decision by another German commander added a few hours' breathing space. Bayerlein's Panzer Lehr Division was slowly climbing out of the Wiltz valley on the afternoon and evening of 18 December, en route to an assembly point at Niederwampach. The division had met little resistance but the roads were poor (the corps commander had caviled against the zone assigned the Panzer Lehr even during the planning period), and march control was further burdened by the fact that the 26th Volks Grenadier Division was marching two of its rifle regiments toward the same assembly area. Theoretically the mobile columns of Panzer Lehr now should have been ahead of the infantry division. In fact the foot troops of the 26th were making nearly as much speed as the armor. Horse-drawn artillery was mixed up with armored vehicles, the roads had been pounded to sloughs, and the German timetable for advance in this sector had gone out the window.
- In the early evening Bayerlein himself led the advance guard of the Panzer Lehr (four companies of the 902d Panzer Grenadier Regiment and some fifteen tanks) into Niederwampach. On the march the advance guard had heard the sounds of battle and seen gunfire flaming to the north, "an impressive sight," Bayerlein later recalled. This was the 2d Panzer Division destroying the Allerborn roadblock defense. Bayerlein had two choices at this point. He could direct his division south to the hardsurfaced road linking Bras, Marvie, and Bastogne, or he could risk an unpaved and muddy side road via Benonchamps which would put the Panzer Lehr onto the main Bastogne highway at Mageret, three miles east of Bastogne. Bayerlein decided on the side road because it was shorter and he believed that it probably was unguarded.
- A kampfgruppe (a dozen tanks, a battalion of armored infantry, and one battery) was sent on to seize Mageret and arrived there an hour or so before midnight. The Americans occupied the village, but only with a small detachment of the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion, which had been ordered in to block the road, and a few of the service troops belonging to CCR. Fighting here continued sporadically for an hour or two as Americans and Germans stumbled upon each other in the dark. By 0100 on 19 December the enemy had set up his own roadblock east of the village, for about that time ambulances evacuating wounded from Longvilly were checked by bullet fire.3 Thus far the Panzer Lehr advance guard had run into no serious trouble, but a friendly civilian reported that American tanks had gone through Mageret earlier, en route to Longvilly.4 These tanks belonged to Team Cherry from CCB of the 10th Armored Division.
Team Cherry on the Longvilly Road
- On the evening of 18 December Team Cherry moved out of Bastogne on the road to Longvilly.5 Since he had the leading team in the CCB, 10th Armored, column, Cherry had been assigned this mission by Colonel Roberts because of the immediate and obvious enemy threat to the east. Cherry had Company A and two light tank platoons of his own 3d Tank Battalion, Company C of the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion, the 2d Platoon of Company D, 90th Cavalry Reconnaissance, and a few medics and armored engineers. His headquarters and headquarters company was established in Neffe, just east of Bastogne; his trains, fortunately as it turned out, remained in Bastogne. The VIII Corps commander had designated Longvilly as one of the three positions which CCB was to hold at all costs. Cherry knew that CCR, 9th Armored Division, was supposed to be around Longvilly, but beyond that he was totally in the dark. Even the maps at hand were nearly useless. The 1:100,000 sheets were accurate enough for a road march but told little of the terrain where the team would deploy.
- About 1900, after an uneventful move, 1st Lt. Edward P. Hyduke, commanding the advance guard, reached the western edge of Longvilly. Seeing that the village was jammed with vehicles, he halted on the road. An hour later Cherry and his S-3 arrived at the headquarters of CCR where they learned that the situation was "vague." CCR had no plans except to carry out the "hold at all costs" order, and at the moment its southern roadblock had not yet been overrun. Cherry went back to Bastogne to tell the CCB commander, 10th Armored Division, how things were going, leaving orders for the advance guard to scout and establish a position just west of Longvilly while the main force (Capt. William F. Ryerson) closed up along the road with its head about a thousand yards west of the town. Hyduke's reconnaissance in the meantime had convinced him that the main gap in the defenses around Longvilly was in the south, and there he stationed the cavalry platoon, four Sherman tanks, and seven light tanks.
- Just before midnight Lieutenant Hyduke learned that CCR intended to fall back toward Bastogne (although, in fact, the CCR commander later curtailed this move) and radioed Colonel Cherry to this effect. When Cherry got the message, about two hours later, he also learned that Mageret had been seized by the Germans and that his headquarters at Neffe now was cut off from the team at Longvilly. Team Hyduke was in the process of shifting in the dark to cover Longvilly on the east, north, and south. Ryerson had sent a half-track load of infantry to feel out the situation at Mageret, while independently CCR headquarters (9th Armored Division) had dispatched a self-propelled tank destroyer from its platoon of the 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion on the same mission. After apprehensive and belated recognition the two crews agreed that the road through Mageret could be opened only by force. This word ultimately reached Cherry who sent back orders, received at 0830, that Ryerson should fight his way through Mageret while the erstwhile advance guard conducted a rear guard defense of Longvilly.
- During the night small German forces had tried, rather halfheartedly, to get into Longvilly or at least to pick off the weapons and vehicles crowded in the streets by the light of flares and search-lights directed on the town. As yet the German artillery and heavy mortars had not come forward in any number and Longvilly was shelled only in desultory fashion. The two right-wing regiments Of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division were reoriented to the northwest in a move to reach the Noville-Bastogne road and place the division in position for a flanking attack aimed at penetrating the Bastogne perimeter from the north. On the extreme right the 77th Grenadier Regiment had bivouacked near Oberwampach, its orders to advance at daybreak through Longvilly and head for Foy. Its left neighbor, the 78th, was to make the main effort, swinging around to the north of Mageret and attacking to gain the high ground beyond Luzery.
- This plan failed to recognize the limitations of physical stamina and supply. With the dawn, the two regimental commanders reported that their troops must be rested and resupplied before the advance could resume. Shortly after 1000 the 77th was ready to start its advance guard through Longvilly, believing that the town was in German hands. In light of the way in which troops of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division, Panzer Lehr, and 2d Panzer Division had poured into the area east of Bastogne during the night, crossing and recrossing boundary lines which now existed mostly on paper, it is not surprising that General Kokott and his commanders were a little vague as to whose troops held Longvilly.
- The 77th was close to the town, advancing in route column when patrols suddenly signaled that the Americans were ahead. It was too late to bypass the town; so the German regimental commander hastily organized an attack behind a screen of machine guns which he rushed forward, at the same time borrowing some tanks from the 2d Panzer Division for a turning movement northeast of Longvilly. The division commander, however, ordered the attack held up until it could be organized and supported, made arrangements with the Panzer Lehr Division to join by a thrust from the southwest, and hurried guns and Werfers up to aid the infantry. General Luettwitz, the corps commander, also took a hand in the game, without reference to Kokott, by ordering the 78th Grenadier Regiment to turn back toward the east in support of the 77th. When Kokott heard what had been done with his left regiment the 78th already was on the road, and it took until early afternoon to get the regiment turned around and moving west. An hour or so after noon the reinforced 77th was ready to jump off from the attack positions south, east, and northeast of Longvilly.
- By this time the bulk of CCR (9th Armored Division) and the mass of stragglers who had attached themselves to CCR were jammed in an immobile crowd along the road to Mageret, but a few riflemen were still holed up in the houses at Longvilly and the third platoon of Company C, 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion, was manfully working its guns to cover the rear of the CCR column. The main action, however, devolved on the tanks and armored infantry which Hyduke had shifted during the night to form a close perimeter at Longvilly.
- The first indication of the nearing assault was a storm of Werfer and artillery shells. Then came the German tanks borrowed from the 2d Panzer Division, ramming forward from the north and east. In the confused action which followed the American tankers conducted themselves so well that Lauchert later reported a "counterattack" from Longvilly against the 2d Panzer flank. But the Shermans and the American light tanks were not only outnumbered but outgunned by the Panthers and the 88's of a flak battalion. The foregone conclusion was reached a little before 1400 when the last of the light tanks, all that remained, were destroyed by their crews who found it impossible to maneuver into the clear. The armored infantry were forced to abandon their half-tracks. The same thing happened to the three tank destroyers. At least eight panzers had been destroyed in the melee, but Longvilly was taken.
- Lieutenant Hyduke's team, acting under orders to rejoin Captain Ryerson's main party, threaded a way west on foot and in small groups through the broken and burning column now in the last throes of dissolution, in the woods along the road, under a rain of shells and bullets. Ryerson's team, which Colonel Cherry had instructed early in the morning to withdraw to the west, had been hard put to reverse itself and negotiate the cluttered road leading to Mageret. The leading American tank had reached a road cut some three hundred yards east of Mageret when a hidden tank or antitank gun suddenly opened fire, put a round into the Sherman, and set it aflame. The road into Mageret was closed and all possibility of a dash through the village ended.
- Protected somewhat by the banks rising on either side of the road the Americans spent the day trying to inch forward to the north and south of the village. Some of the gunners and infantry from the CCR (9th Armored Division) column attempted to take a hand in the fight and help push forward a bit, but constant and accurate shelling (probably from Panzer Lehr tanks which had been diverted northward from Benonchamps to aid the 26th Volks Grenadier Division) checked every move. At dark a small detachment from Ryerson's team and CCR reached the houses on the edge of Mageret. The village was held in some strength by detachments of the 26th Reconnaissance Battalion and Panzer Lehr. Ryerson had to report: "Having tough time. [The Germans] are shooting flares and knocking out our vehicles with direct fire." But the Americans held onto their little chunk of the village through the night.
- While the bulk of Team Cherry was engaged at Longvilly and Mageret, the team commander and his headquarters troops were having a fight of their own at Neffe, a mile and a quarter southwest of Mageret. Here, cut off from his main force, Colonel Cherry had waited through the small hours of 19 December with the comforting assurance that troops of the 101st Airborne Division were moving through Bastogne and would debouch to the east sometime that day. At first light a detachment of tanks and infantry from the Panzer Lehr hit the Reconnaissance Platoon, 3d Tank Battalion, outposting the Neffe crossroads. The platoon stopped one tank with a bazooka round, but then broke under heavy fire and headed down the Bastogne road. One of the two American headquarters tanks in support of the roadblock got away, as did a handful of troopers, and fell back to Cherry's command post, a stone château three hundred yards to the south.
- The enemy took his time about following up, but just before noon moved in to clear the château. For four hours the 3d Tank Battalion on command post group held on behind the heavy walls, working the automatic weapons lifted from its vehicles and checking every rush in a blast of bullets. Finally a few hardy Germans made it, close enough at least to pitch incendiary grenades through the Window. Fire, leaping through the rooms, closed this episode. Reinforcements, a platoon of the 501st Parachute Infantry, arrived just in time to take part in the withdrawal. But their appearance and the covering fire of other troops behind them jarred the Germans enough to allow Cherry and his men to break free. Before pulling out for Mont, the next village west, Colonel Cherry radioed the CCB commander this message: "We are pulling out. We're not driven out but burned out."
- Through the afternoon and evening of 19 December Captain Ryerson and the little force clutching at the edge of Mageret waited for reinforcements to appear over the ridges to the south, for CCB had radioed that help (from the 101st Airborne Division) was on the way. Finally, after midnight, new word came from CCB. Ryerson was to withdraw northwest to Bizory at dawn and join the 501st Parachute Infantry there. A little after daybreak Team Ryerson took its remaining vehicles, its wounded, and the stragglers who had paused to take part in the fight and pulled away from Mageret. Forty minutes across country and it entered the paratrooper lines. The total cost to Team Cherry of the engagements on 19 December had been 175 officers and men, one-quarter of the command. matériel losses had included seventeen armored half-tracks and an equal number of tanks. Team Cherry records fifteen German tanks destroyed in this day of catch-as-catch-can fighting, a likely figure since the 2d Panzer Division counted eight of its own tanks knocked out in one spot north of Longvilly.
- The story here set down has been one of mischance and confusion. But regard the manner in which CCR, 9th Armored Division, and Team Cherry altered the course of the German drive on Bastogne. Through the night of 18-19 December General Luettwitz hourly expected word that the advance guard of the XLVII Panzer Corps had reached Bastogne and the road there from north to Houffalize. This good news failed to arrive. While it was true that the resistance in the sector held by the American 110th Infantry had finally crumbled, the cost to the Germans had been dear in men, matériel, and tactical disorganization, but most of all in time. Fatigue too was beginning to tell. Yet Luettwitz had some reason to expect, as he did, that the road to the west at last was clear and that the lost momentum would shortly be restored. Instead, as the record shows, the XLVII Panzer Corps continued to encounter irritating delays, delays compounded by American resistance, fatigue among the attacking troops, disintegrating roads, a general loss of control on the part of the German commanders, and, most telling of all, a momentary thickening of the "fog of war." On the right wing of the corps the fight waged at the Lullange road junction by Task Force Rose cheated the 2d Panzer Division of vital daylight hours. More time was lost in reducing the Allerborn roadblock, and Lauchert's advance guard found itself on the Bourcy-Noville road in the middle of the night. It is not surprising that the German advance was cautious and further attack to the northwest delayed. The whole affair added up to several extra hours that allowed the American defenders at the Noville outpost of Bastogne until midmorning on the 19th to get set.
- The story of events at Longvilly and on the Longvilly-Mageret road merits particular attention by the student of tactics. Here was a confused and heterogeneous force whose main concern on the night of 18-19 December and the following day was to find a way out of the German trap whose jaws were in plain view. Further resistance by either CCR or Team Cherry was intended strictly as a rear guard action. Yet the mere physical presence of these troops in the Longvilly area caused a confusion in German plans and a diversion of the German main effort on 19 December out of all proportion to the tactical strength or importance of the American units involved. The "discovery," on the morning of 19 December, that American troops were in and around Longvilly cost the 26th Volks Grenadier Division at least four hours of precious daylight, first in setting up an attack for the 77th Grenadier Regiment and then in straightening out the 78th. As a result when night came the right wing of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division was only a little over two miles beyond Longvilly, and the left, which had crossed to the north side of the Bastogne road in the late afternoon, reached Bizory too late for a full-scale daylight assault.
- Although the main advance guard of the Panzer Lehr Division continued to the west on 19 December, where it ran afoul of Cherry's headquarters group at Neffe, a considerable part of the Panzer Lehr armored strength was diverted north from Benonchamps to use its tank gun fire against the Americans seen along the road east of Mageret and later to attack that village. Troops of both the 901st and 902d were thrown in to mop up the woods where the CCR column attempted to make a stand and they did not complete this job until midafternoon. So, although the Panzer Lehr elements had helped free the Longvilly-Mageret road for the belated advance by the 26th Volks Grenadier Division to the northwest, the Panzer Lehr advance west of Bastogne was not the full-bodied affair necessary at this critical moment. The sudden blow at Bastogne which the commander of the XLVII Panzer Corps had hoped to deliver failed to come off on 19 December. Some American outposts had been driven in, but with such loss of time and uneconomical use of means that the remaining outposts in front of Bastogne now were manned and ready.
The 101st Airborne Division Moves Into Bastogne
- After the long, bitter battle in Holland the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions lay in camp near Reims, resting, refitting, and preparing for the next airborne operation. General Ridgway's XVIII Airborne Corps, to which these divisions belonged, constituted the strategic reserve for the Allied forces in western Europe. Although the Supreme Allied Commander had in the past attempted to create a SHAEF Reserve of a size commensurate with the expeditionary forces under his command, he had been continually thwarted by the demands of a battle front extending from the North Sea to Switzerland. On 16 December, therefore, the SHAEF Reserve consisted solely of the two airborne divisions in France.
- Less than thirty-six hours after the start of the German counteroffensive, General Hodges, seeing the VIII Corps center give way under massive blows and having thrown his own First Army reserves into the fray plus whatever Simpson's Ninth could spare, turned to Bradley with a request for the SHAEF Reserve. Eisenhower listened to Bradley and acceded, albeit reluctantly; the two airborne divisions would be sent immediately to the VIII Corps area. Orders for the move reached the chief of staff of the XVIII Airborne Corps during the early evening of 17 December and the latter promptly relayed the alert to the 82d and 101st. There seems to have been some delay in reaching the corps commander in England, where he was observing the training of a new division (the 17th Airborne), but a couple of hours after midnight he too had his orders and began hurried preparations for the flight to France.
- The two divisions had little organic transportation-after all they were equipped to fly or parachute into battle-but in a matter of hours the Oise Section of the Communications Zone gathered enough 10-ton open trucks and trailers plus the work horse 2 1/2-tonners to mount all the airborne infantry. Because the 82d had been given a little more rest than the 101st and would take less time to draw its battle gear and get on the road, it was selected to lead the motor march into Belgium. Ridgway would be delayed for some hours; so General Gavin, commanding the 82d, assumed the role of acting corps commander, setting out at once for the First Army headquarters where he arrived in mid-morning on the 18th. Since Maj. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor was on leave in the United States, Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe, artillery commander of the 101st, prepared to lead this division into battle.
- To alert and dispatch the two veteran airborne divisions was a methodical business, although both moved to the front minus some equipment and with less than the prescribed load of ammunition. This initial deployment in Belgium presents a less ordered picture, blurred by the fact that headquarters journals fail to square with one another and the memories of the commanders involved are at variance, particularly as regards the critical decision (or decisions) which brought the 101st to Bastogne and its encounter with history.6
- General Middleton, the VIII Corps commander, had his headquarters in Bastogne when the storm broke in the east. The city quite literally commanded the highway system lacing the southern section of the Belgian Ardennes. Middleton, having done all he could on the 16th and 17th to assemble his meager reserve of tanks and engineers in last-ditch positions on the roads entering Bastogne from the east, read the pattern of the enemy advance in these terms on the 17th. The number of German divisions and the speed at which they were moving would require the acquisition of a much larger road net than the Germans had thus far used. If St. Vith held and the V Corps shoulder did not give way, the enemy would attempt to seize the excellent highway net at Bastogne. Middleton therefore planned to hold the original VIII Corps positions as long as possible (in accordance with orders from General Hodges), and at the same time to build strong defenses in front of St. Vith, Houffalize, Bastogne, and Luxembourg City.
- For the second stage of his plan he counted on prompt assistance from the First and Third Armies to create the defenses for St. Vith and Luxembourg, while the two airborne divisions-which Hodges had assured him would be forthcoming-took over Bastogne and Houffalize. Middleton reasoned that a strong American concentration in the Bastogne-Houffalize sector would force the enemy to come to him, and that in any case he would be in strength on the German flank and rear. At midnight on the 17th the VIII Corps commander had a telephone call from Hodges' headquarters and heard the welcome word that he probably would get the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions "immediately." Middleton's plan, it seemed, could be put in effect by the morning of the 19th.
- Eisenhower's order to commit the two airborne divisions did not specify exactly how they would be employed. Bradley and Hodges were agreed that they would be thrown in to block the German spearhead columns, but Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, the SHAEF chief of staff, seems to have selected Bastogne as the initial rendezvous point in Belgium without any knowledge of the First Army and VIII Corps plans. In any event Smith expected both of the airborne divisions to assemble around Bastogne.
- The subsequent order of events is rather uncertain. When Gavin reported at Spa on the morning of the 18th, he found the First Army staff gravely concerned by Peiper's armored thrust toward Werbomont and he was ordered to divert the incoming 82d, then en route to Bastogne, toward Werbomont. Initially both Gavin and McAuliffe were under the impression that the 101st was to go to Werbomont; actually McAuliffe started with his advance party to report to Gavin at that point but detoured with the intention of first getting Middleton's view of the situation. Middleton, on the other hand, expected that the 82d Airborne would be put in at Houffalize to seal the gap opening on the north flank of the VIII Corps. McAuliffe reached Bastogne about 1600.
- The VIII Corps roadblocks east of Bastogne had meanwhile begun to give way. Middleton got Bradley's permission to divert the 101st to the defense of Bastogne, whereupon Hodges turned the 101st over to Middleton and ordered him to withdraw his corps headquarters from the threatened city. Middleton, however. remained with a few of his staff to brief Ridgway, who reached Bastogne in the early evening, and to help McAuliffe make his initial dispositions, the latter selecting an assembly area around Mande-St. Etienne, some four miles west of Bastogne. The VIII Corps commander telephoned Bradley that he had ordered the 101st to defend Bastogne, that there was no longer a corps reserve, and that the 101st might be forced to fight it out alone.
- Turning the motor columns of the 101st was catch-as-catch-can. At the village of Herbomont two main roads extend southeast to Bastogne and northeast of Houffalize (en route to Werbomont). When the leader of the 101st column, Col. Thomas L. Sherburne, Jr., reached Herbomont about 2000 he found two military police posts some two hundred yards apart, one busily engaged in directing all airborne traffic to the northeast, the other directing it to the southeast. This confusion was soon straightened out; the last trucks of the 82d roared away in the direction of Werbomont and Sherburne turned the head of the 101st column toward Bastogne. The story now becomes that of the 101st Airborne Division and of those units which would join it in the fight to bar the way west through Bastogne.
- The 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (Lt. Col. Julian J. Ewell) headed the 101st Division columns rolling into Belgium, followed by the 506th Parachute Infantry (Col. Robert F. Sink), the 502d Parachute Infantry (Lt. Col. Steve A. Chappuis), and the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (Col. Joseph H. Harper) to which was attached the 1st Battalion of the 401st Glider Infantry. (The 1st Battalion from the 401st is carried as the "3d Battalion" in the journals of the 327th and this designation will be used throughout the narrative.)
- The division was smaller than a conventional infantry division (it numbered 805 officers and 11,035 men), but the organization into four regiments was better adapted to an all-round or four-sided defense than the triangular formation common to the regular division. The 101st had three battalions of light field pieces, the modified pack howitzer with a maximum effective range of about 8,000 yards. In place of the medium artillery battalions normally organic or attached to the infantry division, the airborne carried one battalion of 105-mm. howitzers. Also the airborne division had no armor attached, whereas in practice at least one tank battalion accompanied every regular division. The odd bits and pieces of armored, artillery, and tank destroyer units which were en route to Bastogne or would be absorbed on the ground by the 101st would ultimately coalesce to provide a "balanced" combat force in the defense of Bastogne.
- Three of these ancillary units retained their tactical identity throughout the fight at Bastogne. The 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Lt. Col. Clifford Templeton) was in Germany with the Ninth Army when it received orders on the evening of the 18th to go south to Bastogne. By the time the column reached the Ourthe River, German tanks were so close at hand that Templeton had to detour to the west. To protect his trains he dropped off two platoons to hold the Ortheuville bridge, one of those accidents of war which have fateful consequences. On the night of the 19th the battalion reached Bastogne. The 705th was equipped with the new self-propelled long-barreled 76-mm. gun which would permit a duel on equal terms with most of the German tank guns.
- The 755th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Lt. Col. William F. Hartman) was sent from Germany on the evening of the 18th with equally vague orders to proceed to Bastogne. The battalion reached its destination the following morning to find Bastogne jammed with vehicles. Middleton ordered Colonel Hartman to keep his bulky prime movers and 155-mm. howitzers out of the city until, in the evening, some traffic order had been restored.
- The 969th Field Artillery Battalion (Lt. Col. Hubert D. Barnes), also equipped with medium howitzers, joined the Bastogne defense more or less by chance. Originally assigned to support the 28th Division artillery, the battalion had been ordered to displace west as the enemy broke into the open. Sent hither and yon by liaison officers who apparently knew no more of the situation than did the cannoneers, the battalion was moving out of the Bastogne sector when orders came to emplace and fire by map on German troops along the road entering Noville from the north. Thus the 969th joined the Bastogne battle. Ordered by McAuliffe into the slowly forming perimeter, it took firing positions at Villeroux near the 755th and the 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalions. These three battalions together would form a groupment firing from the west around the entire sweep of the Bastogne perimeter.7
- The 101st move from Camp Mourmelon to Bastogne was made in rain and snow flurries; for the later serials most of the 107-mile trip was in darkness. All parts of the column were forced to buck the mass of vehicles streaming back to the west. But the move was made in good time, the 501st in the van taking only eight hours before it detrucked at midnight. By 0900 on 19 December McAuliffe had all four regiments in hand.
- There could be no prolonged pause for an integrated division deployment, for all through the night messages of apprehension, defeat, and disaster-none too precise-came into Bastogne. Middleton counted on CCB of the 10th Armored Division (Col. William Roberts) to heal the breach for a time at least-opened on the main road east of Bastogne. He expected McAuliffe to support this force, but as yet the enemy dispositions and intentions were too uncertain to permit any wholesale commitment of the 101st.
-  Gilbreth was convinced that he must "freeze" the vehicles in place after he had talked to the Commander of the 58th Field Artillery Battalion who had witnessed such precipitate withdrawals during the North African campaign. Ltr, Col Joseph H. Gilbreth to author. 6 Sep 58.
-  The total losses for December 1944 (which include those sustained later in the defense of Bastogne) are reported in the AAR as being about 800 killed and missing; the 2d Tank Battalion lost 45 medium tanks and 1 light tanks.
-  Sgt. M. N. Shay was awarded the DSC for organizing a group of soldiers to man machine guns and defend the village. When the defenders attempted to break out, Sergeant Shay stayed behind to cover the withdrawal and there was killed.
-  The German sources for the Longvilly fight are MSS # A-939 (Luettwitz); A-942 (Bayerlein); and B-040 (Kokott).
-  The useful records of the early and confused American reaction east of Bastogne are for the most part those compiled in the combat interviews, shortly after the event, with personnel of the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions. The journals of the 2d Tank Battalion, for example, were destroyed. Most units lost their records and then attempted to compile an AAR from memory. The interviews mentioned above have served as the basis for the description of the Longvilly action in three publications: The Armored School, Armor at Bastogne (1949); Marshall, Bastogne: The Story of the First Eight Days; and Nichols, Impact: The Battle Story of the Tenth Armored Division.
-  Combat interviews; VIII Corps AAR and G-3 Jnl; XVIII Airborne Corps AAR and G-3 Jnl; 101st Airborne Div AAR and 3 Jnl.
-  The 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion AAR, 755th Armored Field Artillery Battalion Unit History. and 969th Field Artillery Battalion AAR are must reading for anyone attempting to reconstruct the Bastogne defense.