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22 December, 1944

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 ...in the Bastion of the Battered Bastards of the 101st, Bastogne.



"To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands. There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note. If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours' term. All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well known American humanity.

The German Commander. "
To the German Commander:

Nuts!

The American Commander.

The American Commander was Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, Division Artillery Commander of the 101st Airborne Division. Redlegs (like yours truly) aren't usually noted for their brevity. McAuliffe's troops weren't the only ones inspired by his response. There was extra effort on the home front, too.   Unaware of the mistake they made by surrounding the 101st, thus making it easier for the Screaming Eagles to kill Germans, the evening situation report that reached OB WEST (German Western Front HQ) on the 21st made good reading for the assembled staff. FeldMarschall von Rundstedt was convinced that the time was ripe for a concentric attack to crush those uppity light infantry in Bastogne and more importantly clear this key road junction so the the build-up required to support the Fifth Panzer Army in its efforts to get over the Meuse river. This year I'm excerpting from the Official History - The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, by Hugh Cole. Let's let Mr. Cole pick up the story

Rundstedt's order to General Manteuffel made the seizure of Bastogne a must, but at the same time stressed the paramount necessity of retaining momentum in the drive west. Manteuffel had anticipated the OB WEST command and during the evening visited the XLVII Panzer Corps' command post to make certain that Luettwitz would start the squeeze on Bastogne the next day-but without involving the mobile armored columns of the Panzer Lehr. Manteuffel, Luettwitz, and Kokott, who was now made directly responsible for the conduct of the Bastogne operation, were optimistic. For one thing the fight could be made without looking over the shoulder toward the south (where the Luftwaffe had reported heavy American traffic moving from Metz through Luxembourg City), because the right wing of the Seventh Army finally had shouldered its way west and seemed ready to take over the prearranged blocking line facing Neufchateau, Arlon, and the American reinforcements predicted from Patton's Third Army. The advance guard of the 5th Parachute Division already had crossed the Arlon road north of Martelange. General Brandenberger, the Seventh Army commander, himself came to Luettwitz' command post during the evening to promise that all three regiments of the division would take their allotted positions. Kokott apparently was promised reinforcement for the attack on Bastogne but he had to begin the battle with those troops on the spot: his own 26th Volks Grenadier Division, the 901st Kampfgruppe (which had been detached from Panzer Lehr), an extra fifteen Panther tanks, and some artillery battalions. What the 5th Parachute Division could put into the pot depended, of course, on the Americans to the south. It would take some time to relieve those troops pulling out and redress the alignment of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division's battalions. There was little point to attacking the 101st Airborne in the eastern sector where its strength had been demonstrated, but west of Bastogne the Panzer Lehr and Kokott's own reconnaissance troops had encountered only weak and disorganized opposition. The first blow of the new series designed to bore into Bastogne would be delivered here in the western sector, accompanied by systematic shelling to bring that town down around the defender's ears. The battle on the 22d, therefore, largely centered along an arc rather roughly delimited by Villeroux and the Neufchateau highway at one end and Mande-St. Etienne, just north of the Marche highway, at the other. One cannot speak of battle lines in this sector: the two antagonists were mixed higgledy-piggledy and for much of the time with no certain knowledge of who was in what village or at what crossroads. It is indicative of the confusion prevailing that the 501st tried to evacuate its regimental baggage train-which had suffered from enemy shelling-through Sibret after Kampfgruppe Kunkel had cut the road north of the town by the dash into Villeroux. (The 501st lost fifteen trucks and nearly all its bed rolls.) The arena in question earlier had been the 101st service area and contained in addition a good deal of the VIII Corps' artillery and trains. Much of the fighting on the 22d revolved around two battalions of armored field artillery: Colonel Paton's 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, which had emplaced near Tillet-after the Longvilly battle-to support the 101st Airborne; and Browne's 420th, now operating as a combined arms team on a 4,000-yard perimeter in the neighborhood of Senonchamps. Tillet lay about six miles west of Senonchamps. Much of the intervening countryside was in the hands of roving patrols from Panzer Lehr, one of which had erected a strong roadblock midway between the two villages. On the night of the 21st the Germans encircled Tillet, where Paton, hard pressed, radioed the VIII Corps for help. Middleton relayed this SOS to Bastogne but Browne, himself under attack by Kunkel's 26th Volks Grenadier Division reconnaissance battalion, was forced to say that the 58th would have to get back to Senonchamps under its own power. Nevertheless, Team Yantis (one medium tank, two light tanks, and a couple of rifle squads) moved forward to the German roadblock, expecting to give the 58th a hand when day broke.12 Paton and his gunners never reached Team Browne, 13 which had had its hands full. Browne's force not only had to defend a section of the Bastogne perimeter and bar the Senonchamps entry, but also had to serve the eighteen 105-mm howitzers which, from battery positions east and south of Senonchamps, provided round-the-clock fire support for friendly infantry five to eight miles distant. Close-in defense was provided by a platoon of thirty stragglers who had been rounded up by an airborne officer and deployed three hundred yards south of the gun positions. (This platoon held for two days until all were killed or captured.) Browne's main weapon against the German tanks and self-propelled guns was not his howitzers but the seventeen Sherman tanks brought up by Team Pyle and Team Van Kleef the day before. These were disposed with nine tanks facing a series of wood lots west of the battery positions, four firing south, and the remaining four placed on the road to Villeroux. At daybreak the first task was to clear the enemy from the woods which lay uncomfortably near the firing batteries. Pyle's scratch force of riflemen entered the woods but found only a few Germans. Off to the northwest came the sound of firing from the area known to be occupied by a battalion of the 327th Glider Infantry; so Browne reported to Colonel Roberts that his team would join this fight as soon as the woods were clear. Before the sortie could be organized, a detachment from Kampfgruppe Kunkel struck out from Villeroux against the American flank. Direct tank fire chased the enemy away, but this was only the opener. During the afternoon the enemy made three separate assaults from the woods that earlier had been reported cleared, and again the tanks made short work of the Germans (Van Kleef reported eighteen enemy tanks destroyed during the day). As the afternoon wore on fog and snow clouded the scene and the tank gunners began to lose their targets. The American howitzer batteries, however, provided a static and by this time a well-defined target for enemy counterbattery fire. At twilight Colonel Browne radioed CCB that his heterogeneous team was taking "terrible casualties." Earlier he had asked for more troops, and McAuliffe had sent Company C of the 327th and Team Watts (about a hundred men, under Maj. Eugene A. Watts) from Team SNAFU. At dark the howitzer positions had a fairly substantial screen of infantry around them, although the enemy guns continued to pound away through the night. The airdrop laid on for the 22d never reached Bastogne-bad flying weather continued as in the days past. All that the Third Army air liaison staff could do was to send a message that "the 101st Airborne situation is known and appreciated." Artillery ammunition was running very low. The large number of wounded congregated inside Bastogne presented a special problem: there were too few medics, not enough surgical equipment, and blankets had to be gathered up from front-line troops to wrap the men suffering from wounds and shock. Nonetheless, morale was high. Late in the afternoon word was circulated to all the regiments that the 4th Armored and the 7th Armored (so vague was information inside the perimeter) were on their way to Bastogne; to the men in the line this was heartening news. What may have been the biggest morale booster came with a reverse twist-the enemy "ultimatum." About noon four Germans under a white flag entered the lines of the 2d Battalion, 327th. The terms of the announcement they carried were simple: "the honorable surrender of the encircled town," this to be accomplished in two hours on threat of "annihilation" by the massed fires of the German artillery. The rest of the story has become legend: how General McAuliffe disdainfully answered "Nuts!"; and how Colonel Harper, commander of the 327th, hard pressed to translate the idiom, compromised on "Go to Hell!" The ultimatum had been signed rather ambiguously by "The German Commander," and none of the German generals then in the Bastogne sector seem to have been anxious to claim authorship.14 Lt. Col. Paul A Danahy, G-2 of the 101st, saw to it that the story was circulated-and appropriately embellished-in the daily periodic report: "The Commanding General's answer was, with a sarcastic air of humorous tolerance, emphatically negative." Nonetheless the 101st expected that the coming day-the 23d-would be rough. [The tide, almost imperceptibly to the participants, starts to turn] The End of the Defensive Battle 22 December Intercepted radio messages, a most fruitful source for German intelligence, had clearly indicated by 9 December that the Americans were moving reinforcements in large numbers toward the Bulge. The OB WEST staff reasoned that the bulk of these new divisions would be committed in the west in defense of the Meuse River or along the north side of the salient. Thus far there was no cause to be concerned about the southern flank. The weak Seventh Army had made progress, although not so much as Hitler wished, and there were no signs of change in the defensive attitude shown by the Americans in this sector. Late in the evening of the 19th, Army Group G reported that the U.S. Third Army was giving ground on the Saar front, but the American move was interpreted as a readjustment which could not bring Third Army reinforcements to the Ardennes before 22 December. The German intelligence staffs again agreed that there was no immediate threat to the Seventh Army, and that the westward advance by the Fifth Panzer Army would necessarily force the Americans to strengthen the battle line there and prohibit any thrust into the deep southern flank. Although the Seventh Army was in the process of going over to the defensive, it had pushed its right wing forward, according to plan, and on 20 December re-established contact with its northern neighbor, the Fifth Panzer Army. In effect the right wing of the Seventh Army had wheeled to face south, while at the same time elongating the shoulder of the Fifth. This extension had widened the gap between the LXXXV Corps, in the Ettelbruck sector, and the LXXX Corps, west of Echternach, but as yet the higher German headquarters were unconcerned about the thinning line. (See Map V.) The division and corps commanders of the Seventh Army were less sanguine. By intuition, or through the natural apprehension induced by heavy losses, they already flinched mentally from the retaliatory blow. Concerned with their own weakness, rather than the strength and successes of the panzer armies, it seemed logical to them that the Americans would seek to exploit such weakness.1 Across the lines, as it happened, plans were in process for a counterattack against the German southern flank, but General Patton, charged with this operation, would not have his troops in readiness before 22 December and feared that in the interim the enemy would launch a spoiling attack from the Echternach area. With the main weight of the Seventh Army echeloned forward on its right (western) wing, pressure to regain contact and to grapple with the 109th Infantry was stepped up during the night of 20 December. The 352d Volks Grenadier Division pushed through Ettelbruck and probed cautiously in the dark, searching to the west and south for the outlines of the 109th's new position. This advance onto the ridge rising in the triangle formed by the Wark Creek and Alzette River had a limited object. Luxembourg, an appetizing target, lay only fifteen miles south of Ettelbruck and on a good road, but the orders received by the 352d aimed solely at the quick acquisition of a good blocking position against any American riposte from the south. The objective of the 352d, therefore, was a line based on the villages of Bettborn and Bissen that would cut the main roads running north and northeast from Luxembourg and Arlon, respectively. Parts of two regiments, the 914th and 916th, went up against the outpost positions of the 106th Infantry on 21 December, gaining ground on both of the open flanks. For the Americans the fight was one to gain time (they permitted no serious penetration of the ridge position overlooking the Wark valley) until, on the morning of 22 December, troops of the incoming 80th Infantry Division headed north through their positions. To the south and east the 276th Volks Grenadier Division, now some distance from the 352d, re-formed its two leading regiments on a common front and worked feverishly to bring artillery ammunition and supplies forward from bridges which at long last were in operation. It appears that the new division commander of the 276th had ordered a limited attack for 21 December, intended to carry from Waldbillig to Christnach and the more readily defended creek line there. Late on the previous day a few assault guns, probably no more than five or six, had arrived west of the river. These weapons, it was hoped, would lend the tired German infantry the necessary punch. In the 9th Armored Division (-) sector plans were under way to retake Waldbillig, using Task Force Chamberlain of the 10th Armored Division, which had been reorganized with a strength of thirteen medium tanks and two much understrength armored infantry companies (total: 130 men). Before the German attack got under way on 21 December Task Force Chamberlain attacked toward Waldbillig. The Shermans, protected by tank destroyers over-watching on the flanks, negotiated the dangerous skyline crossing on the ridge between Christnach and Waldbillig and by noon were in Waldbillig. Reports that the enemy had withdrawn proved erroneous the moment that the supporting infantry started to move up with the tanks. Mortar and rifle fire burst from the village, while Werfers in the neighboring woods joined in. Although the infantry support had a bad time, the tanks were little concerned by this enemy action. Their presence inside the village had some effect: a hundred prisoners were taken from the 988th. About midnight the American artillery laid on a brief, sharp concentration and the few tanks still in Waldbillig made a rapid withdrawal. Then Americans and Germans both shelled the village, by now a kind of no man's land. To the east, opposite the weakest portion of the 4th Infantry Division line, the 212th Volks Grenadier Division made still another effort to reach its original objective-the good defensive terrain and blocking position in the Consdorf-Scheidgen-Michelshof area. In the afternoon of 21 December the 212th Fusilier Battalion moved along the main Echternach-Luxembourg road through Lauterborn, which the Americans earlier had abandoned. Just ahead lay Hill 313, overlooking the road south. Here a part of Company C, 159th Engineer Combat Battalion, was stationed, with Company B occupying a smaller hill just to the west. There was no protection for the engineer flanks. About 1300 the Germans started a 30-minute shelling, covering their advance through the draws fringing the American-held heights. Company B caught the full force of the first assault, the grenadiers erupting from the draws, firing their burp guns, and shouting in broken English, "Kill the sons of bitches." Two platoons fell back from Company B onto Company C, which in turn came under attack by Germans who had worked around Hill 313 and threatened to cut the road back to Scheidgen. The engineers had no working radios and did not know that reinforcements in the shape of a hundred or 50 men from the division headquarters company were on the way. Actually this relief party had to fight its way forward as the engineers struggled to clear a path back, and darkness was coming when the two bodies made contact. Almost out of ammunition, the engineers fell back to Scheidgen, but the Germans made no move to follow. While the fusilier battalion was gaining ground in its drive toward Scheidgen, other troops of the 212th Volks Grenadier Division were trying, albeit with less success, to make headway to the east and west. Assembling in the woods near Rodenhof, the 320th Grenadier Regiment launched an attack to take Osweiler, but ran into two companies of the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, en route to clean out the woods. Neither side was able to advance and the Americans dug in for the night a few hundred yards south of Rodenhof. On the left flank of the 12th Infantry sector a sharp fight flared up in midafternoon when two companies of the 423d Grenadier Regiment tried to take Consdorf. The American tanks and infantry held their fire until the enemy assault formation had cleared its assembly area in the woods and was fully deployed on the bare slope before the town. Then they cut loose. Some sixty Germans were killed and the rest withdrew. The 212th Volks Grenadier Division made a last attempt to expand the gains achieved in the Scheidgen sector on 22 December, the date on which the American counterattack finally began. A stealthy advance through the draws between the Americans occupying the villages of Scheidgen and Michelshof during the early afternoon was perceived and handily checked by shellfire. At dusk the Germans tried again, debouching from the central ravine in a wedge formation. This effort was suicidal. Tanks, tank destroyers, artillery, engineers, and infantry were all in position and watching the draw like hungry cats in front of a mouse hole. The German point was only a hundred yards from the American foxholes when the first American fired. When the fusillade ended, 142 dead and dying Germans were left on the snow, still in their wedge formation. One lone grenadier, with five bullet holes in him, came forward with his hands held shakily over his head. This bootless enemy effort on 22 December was no more than a counterattack to cover a general withdrawal which the 212th had begun the night before on corps orders. The defensive period for Americans in the Sauer sector in fact had closed with darkness on 21 December. This six-day battle had given adequate proof of General Barton's dictum, "The best way to handle these Heinies is to fight 'em." It was a battle fought off the cuff in a situation which mimeographed periodic reports would call "fluid" but which, for the most, could better be described as "obscure" seen from either side of the hill.2 The XII Corps Moves to Luxembourg Three days before the beginning of the German thrust into the Ardennes, General Patton and Maj. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg met to discuss plans for a combined air and ground attack to smash through the German West Walltarget date, 19 December. After three or four days of intense bombing by the Ninth Air Force and the Royal Air Force, Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy's XII Corps would attack from the Saar River to penetrate the West Wall and start the Third Army, stymied by mud, reinforced concrete, and the wasting effect of the past battles of attrition, once again on the way to the Rhine. Patton was jubilant at the prospect of the biggest blitz (so he fondly referred to the planned air assault) in the Third Army's history. General Eisenhower, however, did not conceive of the attack in the Saar sector as the major Allied effort and had decided "regardless of [the] results," to transfer divisions from this sector, once the attack had been made, to the north for the major assault against the Rhine and Germany itself. Meanwhile the XII Corps had the task of cleaning out the German positions in the small forests and wood lots between the Saar and the West Wall so that no entanglement in these outworks would dull the full shock of the hard blow which was being readied. For this mission General Eddy employed two infantry divisions, the new 87th and the veteran 35th, their attack to begin on 16 December. The fighting was extremely bitter, and the enemy made the Americans pay dearly for each yard gained toward the West Wall. The superiority of the attacker in men and materiel, however, as usual was clearing the field, a fact of battlefield life that was all too evident to the German defenders. On the night of 16 December the commander of the XC Corps, facing Eddy's divisions, warned his superiors that the German line was so thin and ragged that if the Americans decided on an all-out attack neither the existing battle line nor the West Wall could be held. But in this instance the calculated risk assumed by Hitler in stripping the Army Group G sector to feed troops and weapons into Army Group B paid off. It turned out that the battered and weakened German divisions in front of the XII Corps had done their job, had held long enough. To take the pressure off the XII Corps infantry Patton was preparing to bolster the attack with the 6th Armored Division when General Bradley informed the Third Army commander of the day's happenings on the VIII Corps front. The army group commander ordered that the 10th Armored be dispatched to Middleton forthwith. this move from the Third Army to begin on the 17th. General Morris started his division north, and Patton canceled the 6th Armored attack which had been poised in front of Forbach-one of the few occasions on which the Third Army commander called off an attack that he personally had ordered. So far as the Third Army staff knew at this stage, however, the German blow in the Ardennes presented no dire threat and the attack on the 19th would go as scheduled. But on 18 December Bradley called Patton to his Luxembourg headquarters, and there Patton learned for the first time of the grave situation faced by the First Army. When asked what help he could give, the Third Army commander replied that he could intervene in the battle with three divisions "very shortly." He telephoned the Third Army chief of staff to stop the XII Corps attack forming for the following day and to prepare the 4th Armored and 80th Infantry Divisions for immediate transfer to Luxembourg. The 87th Division halted its slow advance, as did the 35th. On the move out of rest area for assembly in preparation for the XII Corps' attack, the 4th Armored and 80th likewise stopped. When it became apparent by nightfall of the 18th that the situation on the First Army front had deteriorated beyond expectation, General Bradley decided upon immediate use of the Third Army's resources. Patton had returned to his command post at Nancy when, a couple of hours before midnight, Bradley called with word that conditions on the VIII Corps front were much worse, that the troops promised by the Third Army had to move at once, and that Patton was to attend a meeting with the Supreme Commander the following morning at Verdun. By midnight one combat command of the 4th Armored Division was on its way north to Longwy; at dawn on the 19th the 80th Infantry Division had started for Luxembourg City. And through the night before the Verdun meeting the Third Army staff worked feverishly to draft plans for the intervention of all or any part of Patton's forces in the battle raging in the north, for Bradley had intimated that Patton was to take command of the VIII Corps and other forces moving to its assistance. Bradley already had directed that the III Corps headquarters would be moved from Metz to take command of an attack to be mounted somewhere north of Luxembourg City. Patton's general staff, therefore, prepared three plans for a counterattack: on the axes Neufchateau-St. Hubert; Arlon-Bastogne; and Luxembourg-Diekirch-St. Vith. The final attack selected would, as Patton then saw it, be delivered by the VIII and III Corps. When Patton arrived at Verdun on the morning of the 19th, Eisenhower asked how soon the III Corps could launch its counterattack. Patton replied that he could start a piecemeal attack in three days, a co-ordinated attack in six. The Supreme Commander, who seems to have felt that Patton was a bit too confident, subsequently informed Field Marshal Montgomery that the counter- attack from the south would be made on the 23d or 24th.3 The master plan outlined by Eisenhower in the Verdun meeting of the 19th turned on a major effort to plug the holes developing in the north and the launching of a co-ordinated attack from the south. To free the force needed for this initial counterattack, Eisenhower ordered all offensive operations south of the Moselle to be halted forthwith and turned over the entire Third Army sector (except for that occupied by Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker's XX Corps on the border of the Saar) to General Devers' 6th Army Group. This northward extension of Devers' command would spread the American forces in Alsace and Lorraine rather thin, but Devers (who was present at the Verdun meeting on the 19th) was promised some of the Third Army divisions and artillery. It was now clear that Patton would be responsible for a major effort to knife into the German southern flank, that he would have at least two of the three Third Army corps, six of its divisions, and the bulk of the army troops for the task. (On 20 December, however, after a visit to Middleton's command post, Patton found that the VIII Corps was in such shape that it could not be used offensively and that the two Third Army corps would have to carry the ball.) A telephone call from Verdun, using a simple code which had been arranged before Patton left Nancy, informed the Third Army chief of staff (Brig. Gen. Hobart R. Gay) that the XII Corps was to disengage at once, that the command post of Eddy's corps and an advance command post for the Third Army were to transfer to Luxembourg City, that the 26th Infantry Division was to start north on the following morning, and that the 35th Infantry Division-which had been in the line for 160 consecutive days-was to be relieved as quickly as possible and be sent to Metz for much needed rehabilitation en route to the Ardennes battle. At midnight of the 20th, the XII Corps front was taken over by its southern neighbor, Maj. Gen. Wade H. Haislip's XV Corps. The 4th Armored and 80th Infantry Divisions had that day passed to the command of the III Corps in the Arlon sector south of Bastogne. The next morning General Eddy and his immediate staff departed for Luxembourg with a new mission: to assume command of the American troops north and east of Luxembourg City who had held so tenaciously along the southern shoulder of the original German penetration. General Eddy's new command, aside from corps troops, consisted of those units already in the area and the 5th Infantry Division, which had been added to the roster of Third Army formations rolling northward. It moved in piecemeal as it was relieved from the XX Corps' bridgehead at Saarlautern.4 The troops in the line when Eddy took over were the 4th Infantry Division, the 10th Armored Division (less CCB), CCA of the 9th Armored Division, the 109th Infantry, and other smaller units of the 28th Infantry Division. (Map IX) When the XII Corps took control of its new zone on the 21st, the German thrust into eastern Luxembourg had been pretty well checked. The three German divisions which the Seventh Army had thrown into the initial attack were drastically depleted by then and apprehensive that the Americans might undertake a counterattack in such force as to penetrate this part of the Seventh Army's blocking position on the southern flank of the German salient. The Americans likewise were concerned lest the enemy make a last major try for a breakthrough before the promised reinforcement arrived from the Third Army. There was, however, a fairly continuous-although jagged-line of defense confronting the enemy. The new corps' front, facing east and north, reached from Dickweiler, near the west bank of the Sauer River, to Schieren, on the Alzette River, due north of Luxembourg City. The eastern wing was defended by the 4th Infantry Division and task forces from the 10th Armored Division. The northern wing was held by the 109th Infantry and CCA, 9th Armored Division, backed by detachments from the 10th Armored. This wing, at its western tip, had been wide open. But the 80th Infantry Division of the III Corps was moving in to establish an extension of the American line beyond the Alzette and on the 22d deployed to envelop the enemy bridgehead west of Ettelbruck. General Patton intended to give General Eddy two infantry divisions from the old Third Army front, the 5th and 35th. The latter had seen very rough fighting; it would need some refitting and for this reason had been ordered to Metz to reorganize before rejoining the XII Corps. Maj. Gen. S. LeRoy Irwin's 5th Infantry Division was in good condition. Introduced into Walker's XX Corps bridgehead at Saarlautern to relieve the 95th Division, two of Irwin's regiments had attacked on 18 and 19 December to widen the breach made earlier in the main bunker lines of the forward West Wall position. General Irwin, however, had some inkling that his division might soon leave the bridgehead for on the night of the 19th the corps commander warned that the attack was to be held up, that the situation in the north was very much confused and that the 5th Division might be moved in that direction. The 10th Infantry division reserve was put on one-hour alert to move "in any direction." General Walker arrived at Irwin's command post toward noon of the following day. He told Irwin that one regiment of the 95 would relieve the 5th Division in the bridgehead and that the XX Corps was pulling back across the Saar except in one small bridgehead. As to the future employment of the 5th Division he had no word. More precise directions shortly came from the corps headquarters, moving the 10th Infantry, the 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and the 735th Tank Battalion toward Thionville on the Luxembourg road. The next order bade Irwin bring his 11th Infantry out of the bridgehead during the night. The withdrawal of the tank and tank destroyer battalions, each of which had two companies west of the river, went forward by ferry in full daylight; by 1700 these battalions were on the road to Luxembourg. The relief of the 11th Infantry, by an extension of the 2d Infantry sector, began as soon as darkness settled. It went well also, only two casualties being incurred. By 1000 the next morning the entire regiment was in trucks en route to Thionville. The enemy was neither in strength nor in frame of mind able to interfere with the American withdrawal, although the 2d Infantry attempt to hide the reduction of the line by increased fire fooled the Germans not one whit. Relieved on the night of 21 December by troops of the 95th Division, the 2d Infantry was already rolling to join its sister regiments when the morning fog blew away. The XII Corps' Counterattack That same morning the 10th Infantry initiated the 5th Division fight on a new battleground.5 Despite confusion, fragmentary orders, and a general sense that the leading columns of the division were moving toward an unknown destination and enemy, the 10th Infantry (Col. Robert P. Bell) transfer to Luxembourg had been accomplished in good time. Two officers of Irwin's staff reached the Third Army headquarters in Luxembourg at 1730 on 20 December and there received an assembly area for the regiment and some maps. Hurrying back down the Thionville road the staff officers met the column, blacked out but moving at a good clip. In the early evening the column rolled through the streets of Luxembourg City, and an hour or so after midnight the first trucks drove into the assembly area near Rammeldange. Then the column closed, the infantry shivering out the rest of the night in the trucks.6 The mission of the 5th Infantry Division had not yet been defined, but it was clear that it had moved from one battle to another. A series of meetings in Luxembourg during the morning of the 21st resulted in the decision to place the 5th Division north of the city in the sector briefly occupied by the 80th Division. Further, the XII Corps commander told General Irwin to be prepared to attack north or northeast, or to counterattack in the southeast. Later General Eddy warned that the 10th Infantry might have to go into the line that very afternoon to help the 12th Infantry restore the American positions south of Echternach. The 10th did move forward to Ernzen, but no counterattack order was forthcoming. In the meantime the 11th Infantry arrived in Luxembourg City, its mission to take over the 80th Division position north of the city between Ernzen and Reuland and cover the deployment of the XII Corps-a rather large order for a regimental combat team. However the regimental commander, Col. Paul J. Black, was forced to halt his column when the 80th Division commander gave him a direct order to keep off the road net then being used by the 80th for a shift west into the III Corps' sector. The regimental S-3 later reported that the 80th Division had used the roads only intermittently during the afternoon and that the 11th Infantry could have moved north without difficulty. But on the other hand Maj. Gen. Horace L. McBride had orders to attack the next morning, and the Third Army commander, as he very well knew, would brook no delay. In any case the halt of the 11th Infantry on the north edge of the city did create a mammoth road jam. During the evening General Eddy met his commanders at the 4th Division command post. Reports coming in from the 12th Infantry, holding the weakest section of the 4th Division front, were discouraging, for that afternoon the 212th Volks Grenadier Division had made substantial progress in an attack along the main road leading from Echternach toward Luxembourg City. Although the 12th Infantry line had hardened and now held near Scheidgen, General Barton expected that the enemy would try another punch down the road. But, even while the American commanders were meeting, the German LXXX Corps staff was drafting orders for a piecemeal withdrawal by the 212th Volks Grenadier Division to begin that very night. The enemy gains on 21 December marked the high tide of the advance over the Sauer begun six days before, a fact that could not yet be appreciated by the little group of commanders gathered in the 4th Division command post. General Irwin probably summed up what all were thinking: "Situation on whole front from east of us to north varies from fluid to no front at all. Information is very scanty and the situation changes hourly." Under these circumstances General Eddy decided that the 10th Infantry should be placed under tactical control of the 4th Division and attack around noon the following day to restore the situation on the 12th Infantry front. Admittedly this was the kind of partial solution frowned upon by the field service regulations. General Irwin noted, "I anticipate too much piecemeal action for a while to get any tangible results." But the 4th Division had undergone six days of heavy fighting, its last reserves had been used up, and the events of the day just ended seemed to presage a hardening of the enemy's resolve. The critical section of the main line of resistance was that marked by the villages of Scheidgen, Michelshof, and Osweiler. Here the line was defended by elements of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 12th Infantry, the regimental antitank company, and part of the 159th Engineer Battalion. During the afternoon of the 21st the 212th Volks Grenadier Division had used one rifle regiment and the divisional fusilier battalion (both at low strength) in the attempt to take the three villages and the commanding ground on which they stood, ground that represented the final objective of the 212th. General Barton, therefore, planned to meet the German threat by sending the 10th Infantry into attack astride the road from Michelshof to Echternach, the two attack battalions jumping off at noon from the crossroad Scheidgen-Michelshof. This line of departure was occupied by two rifle companies, four tanks, and five platoons of engineers. Through the morning of the 22d enemy batteries busily shelled the area just behind the American positions. The attack by the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 10th Infantry never really got going. The 2d Battalion on the left of the road deployed some three hundred yards behind the assigned line of departure and started forward just as the Germans began an assault against the small force dug in on the line. German guns supporting the grenadiers made any movement in formation impossible. As it was, the bulk of the two fresh companies reached the line about the same time that the German assault waves struck. The troops on the line were able to beat the enemy back, but not before the 2d Battalion troops had been deflected to the right and left by the enemy onrush. Considerably disorganized, the two companies hurriedly dug in just to the south of the original American covering force. On the right of the road the 1st Battalion was faced with thick woods and very rough ground. During the morning reconnaissance parties had come forward to look over the route of advance but had been foiled by a thick ground fog and alert enemy gunners. When the battalion deployed for the advance to the line of departure it ran into trouble, for the company next to the road came under the artillery concentration laid down in support of the German assault just described and suffered a number of casualties. Control in woods and ravines was difficult and the company drifted across the road behind the 2d Battalion. It was growing dark when the 1st Battalion finally reorganized and dug in, still short of the line of departure. The intense artillery and Werfer fire by enemy gunners throughout the day, together with the infantry assault of the afternoon, had been designed to cover the 212th Volks Grenadier Division while it withdrew from the exposed position in the Scheidgen salient. Fresh American reinforcements had been held in check; the German withdrawal had been successful.
If this seems a little muddled - I'm playing a trick. Rather than give you Cole's neat, organized layout of events... I'm giving you *something* of an idea of how it looked to commanders and staffs... who had to make sense of it all as it happened, without benefit of hindsight and neatly organized data. That's one of the things that chaps my fat butt about armchair historians and Monday morning quarterbacks - their sniffing disdain for the guys in the arena, because it's all just so *obvious* in hindsight - especially when the armchair general has the benefit of dozens of researchers and historians who take weeks, months, years, to collect, collate, analyze and summarize what the participants had hours and minutes to synthesize and make decisions about. Many times while being shot at. Not that some of the players in the arena don't deserve the disdain, in the sum of all things.

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11 Comments

Story I heard is that Gen. McAuliffe actually said two words ... the second was 'You', and the first would have the PG-17D nipping at my heels.  *grin*

 
Would that Gen'l McAuliffe had been enough of a German scholar to say, "Goertz von Berlichingen!". That expresses a similar sentiment to the one Brab mentions.
 
Well, we're working with the *Official* history of the event.

We're down with all the myth-building.
 
Yes...yes...I just toured all over the Bulge. And yes McAuliffe's one word answer was wonderful. But I also liked the translation by Col Joseph Harper of the 327th Glider Reg who's lines the German surrender team came through. When asked what the response means Harper said "Nuts is plain English for Go to Hell. And I'll tell you something else. If you continue to attack, we'll kill every goddam German that tries to break into this city." 

The Germain saluted and said "We will kill many Americans"

Harper, "On your way, Bud, and good luck to you."

It seems in retrospect Harper wished he never wished good luck but hey, manners are manners.
 
P.s. Oh, what Goetz said: "Er aber, sags ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!"
 
John, THANK YOU! You did something very important, you simply told the narrative about the military action at  Bastogne on or about 22 DEC 1944. But what is more important, is what you did not do, you let the record stand on its own merit, without embellishment. You did not compare or contrast, I'm aware this was the work of Hugh Cole,  but you put this up on your site. This says a great deal. You and Cole write a little about the framework, but the primary focus is on the nameless "Battered Bastards of Bastogne."

Grumpy
 
John,
I found your "abridged" version quite stimulating and so to get a better idea of what was happening, I opened up Google Earth, zoomed in to the crossroads of Michelshof, then I laid the view down to near horizontal (aka birdseye view) and then continued to read your version.  Adding the "fog of war" in my mind it is now easy to see what a challenge thse men were up against.

Thanks,
BBB
 
BBB - that's an excellent idea.  I'll have to remember to suggest that to readers next time I do a similar post!
 
...thank goodness the tankers got there in time to rescue those poor grunts and redlegs!
 
Mike - The way I heard the story, the Airborne never asked anybody to "rescue" them...but then, these are the people who want to jump out of our perfectly good airplanes, so what do they know...

Heroes like these really make me proud of this country.
 

I've flown with you guys before.  Jumping out of your perfectly good airplane was a relief.

Nothing wrong with your airplanes, just the way you fly them.

You guys got the passenger pallets.  We got the red seats facing the wrong way.