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In December 1944, the almost 2,000,000 American soldiers and Allied Armies had fiercely fought the German Army back across France and Belgium to the German border. In front of the Allied front lines was The Siegfried Line, a deep series of concrete pillboxes and tank traps, with walls from 5 to 11 feet thick, stretching 390 miles across the western border of Germany.
Those Armies had moved across France more rapidly than leadership had anticipated. Troops were exhausted from weeks of continuous combat. Supplies had been dangerously depleted, and supply lines stretched to the breaking point. In August the Red Ball Express had been created. It was almost 6,000 trucks, with two drivers in each truck. About 75 percent of the drivers were black, because at that time the Army was segregated and black men were normally assigned to support jobs. When it started the highways were too congested, so parallel highways, which were eventually extended across France, were designated as “Red Ball Express Traffic Only”, no civilian or military traffic. Each was one way, one going out from Normandy and Cherbourg and the other coming back. The highways were marked with white signs with a red ball, warning all others to stay off, and the trucks were marked with a red ball. It started with a speed limit of 25 MPH and a convoy of at least five trucks, but it soon turned into a truck leaving when it was loaded, and the drivers learned how to disable the trucks governors, which restricted the trucks to 56 MPH. The stories are that they drove flat out, as fast as the truck would run. The problems were finding enough drivers, sleep and maintenance. The Red Ball Express ran for three months, until the seaport at Antwerp, Belgium was recaptured from the Germans and reopened. During that time, they had delivered about a half a million tons of supplies to the Army.
By December 1944, the drive across France had beaten and battered the German army, but the allied armies were also battered and exhausted. The winter of 1944/1945 in Europe was extreme. It was very wet and had warm days with thawing and mud scattered in with extremely cold days and heavy snow. Those conditions, by December 1st, caused General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, to realize that winning the war by Christmas wouldn’t happen, that it would probably be May 1945 before victory. Allied forces in December 1944 were arranged with the British 21st Army Group in the north, commanded by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the US 12th Army Group in the central section, commanded by General Omar Bradley, and the 6th US Army Group in the south, commanded by General Jacob Devers, all under the command of General Eisenhower.
On November 16th, General Bradley had initiated an offense to try to break through the German defensive line. In the north, Bradley’s First Army commanded by Lieutenant General (LTG) Courtney Hodges, fighting in miserable weather, through the Hurtgen Forest, ran into punishing German resistance. They did manage to slightly punch through the Siegfried Line, but at a cost of 35,000 casualties. In the south, LTG George Patton’s Third Army, bulled its way 40 miles, but was stopped at the Siegfried Line, after incurring 27,000 casualties in three weeks. Clay Blair wrote in “Ridgway’s Paratroopers”, “The Allied Armies from Nijmegan to the Saar were mired in a ghastly war of attrition and winter was upon them”.
Believing that the German army was all but beaten and incapable of mounting any serious offense, the American and Allied armies settled in for the winter. In early December, General Bradley assigned the new 106th Infantry Division, fresh from the United States, to a thinly manned, relatively quiet area around St Vith in the Ardennes to get acclimated, get some experience and finish training. His staff called it a “Ghost Front”. He later described his decision as a “calculated risk”. General Eisenhower added that because of a shortage of divisions, risk had to taken somewhere, and the German Ardennes front was a “quiet” sector, or a training ground, manned by inferior Volksgrenadier divisions (composed of sailors and airmen and new recruits, many of them hastily trained old men and young boys), incapable of major offensive operations. The 106th became part of VIII Corps, commanded by LTG Troy H. Middleton, which was headquartered at Bastogne. After sleeping in the mud for two nights while crossing France and Belgium, the 106th relieved the battle hardened 2nd Infantry Division, which was being pulled back to prepare for an attack on the Roer River Dams. Moving into defensive positions already prepared by the 2nd Infantry Division, the change was completed on Wednesday, December 13th. The 106th commander, Major General (MG) Alan Jones assumed responsibility for the defense of that sector.
In early December, Colonel Ben “Monk” Dickson, the G2 (Intelligence Officer) of LTG Hodges First Army, which VIII Corps was part of, had pieced together information from various sources and concluded that the Germans were planning offensive operations in the Ardennes area. Senior leaders didn’t think so. General Bradley’s G2 dismissed Dickson’s report, and stated, “It is now certain that attrition is steadily sapping the strength of German forces on the Western Front.” Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expedition Forces (SHAEF) joined Dickson’s critics, General Eisenhower’s G2 issued a report that the Germans were all but finished, and the British concurred. Montgomery had stated flatly that the Germans “cannot stage major offensive operations.” Colonel Dickson had been wrong once before, so he went on leave to Paris. General Hodges put up his Christmas tree, as did Montgomery, who attended to his Christmas cards, and prepared to go home for Christmas.
The only battle experienced command in reserve was the XVIII Airborne Corps, consisting of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division. Both divisions had been pulled back to France in late November, after having spent 60 days in continuous hard combat in Holland after operation Market Garden. All who could be spared were given leaves and passes. Ross Carter wrote in “Those Devils in Baggy Pants” about he and the original old guys in his platoon attempting to “take in” the culture, hotels, restaurants, night clubs, bars, and women of Paris on a 48 hour pass. The XVIII Airborne Corps commander, Major General (MG) Matthew B. Ridgeway, was in England at XVIII Airborne Corps Headquarters Rear, observing training of the 17th Airborne Division. MG Maxwell Taylor, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division was in Washington, DC making a pitch to the War Department for increasing the strength of Airborne divisions. The Assistant Division Commander (ADC) of the 101st, Brigadier General (BG) Gerry Higgins, and five senior commanders of the 101st were in England conducting a critique on Operation Market Garden. The remaining senior officers in the area were the 82nd commander, MG James M. (Jim) Gavin, who was, at that time, the youngest general in the army at 37 years old, and his brand new ADC Colonel Ira Swift, the 101st Artillery commander, BG Anthony (Tony) McAuliffe, and BG Doc Eaton, the XVIII Airborne Corps Chief of Staff.
On Friday December 15th, a woman was brought to LTG Middleton’s headquarters in Bastogne, who claimed that she had been taken and placed on a work party by German soldiers. Before slipping away, she said that she saw German troops and tanks massing east of Clervaux, twenty miles away. Elsie Dele-Dunkel told that she had seen horse-drawn wagons loaded with pontoons and small boats, and troops in SS uniforms, and overheard soldiers talking about their three week struggle to get there from Italy. She was sent to LTG Hodges First Army headquarters at Spa, but the G2 himself, Colonel Dickson, was on leave, so she was listened to by intelligence officers and politely told to go home.
Meanwhile on the other side. In September, Hitler called in General Alfred Jodl, his Chief of Staff to review a map of the Ardennes, the area lightly manned by the Americans. Noting that American defensive positions in some areas were only manned during the day, not at night. Hitler’s plan was to mass all forces available, and drive a wedge between the allied forces, thrusting 125 miles to the north and retake the port at Antwerp, hoping to bring the allies to the negotiating table at the German border. German Field Marshall Gerd Von Rundstedt commanded all German forces on the Western Front, but for this operation Hitler had moved close to the front lines to personally supervise. Hitler also gave SS Lieutenant Colonel Otto Skorzeny the task of organizing a regiment of commandos dressed in American uniforms, fluent in American language, and using American vehicles and equipment, to wreak havoc behind the American lines. When Hitler revealed the plans to Von Rundstedt and his chief field commander, Walter Model, they were shocked. Model confided privately to Von Rundstedt, “This damned thing hasn’t a leg to stand on.” They knew that the Americans could bring in reinforcements by the thousands.
In “PATTON: Ordeal and Triumph”, Ladislas Farago wrote about General George Patton’s sixth sense – what Eisenhower had praised as Patton’s uncanny ability to worm himself mentally into the enemy’s thinking and anticipate his moves. The last week of November 1944, Patton said; “The First Army is making a terrible mistake by leaving Middleton’s VIII Corps static where it is. It is highly probable that the Germans are building up east of them for a terrific blow.”
In the First Army area, in the Ardennes Forest area in Belgium, there was a two mile wide gap between the V Corps and VIII Corps. The connecting units, the 106th Infantry Division’s 14th Cavalry Group, of VIII Corps, and north of them, the 394th Infantry of the 99th Infantry Division of V Corps, patrolled back and forth to cover the area. On Saturday morning December 16th 1944, the only unit in that sector was the I&R (Intelligence and Reconnaissance) Platoon of the 394th. There were 18 men in the platoon plus four artillery forward observers (FO’s). Twenty year old Lieutenant Lyle Bouck, from Fenton, Missouri, was the Platoon Leader. A Recon Platoon’s job is not to engage the enemy, but to find what the enemy is doing and report it. The Recon platoon members are usually the best troops, hand-picked. The platoon had dug in and fortified their positions with logs, on a ridge over-looking the town of Lanzerath. Lanzerath, was a village of about 15 houses on the only road network which would support major military traffic through the Losheim Gap, a narrow valley about five miles long, along the base of the Schnee Eifel, a heavily wooded mountainous range.
That road network was the northern route of attack planned in Hitler’s operation “Watch on the Rhine”, for General Josef “Sepp” Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army, consisting of the best German troops available, with the German 1st SS Panzer Corps leading. The lead element was commanded by a ruthless 28 year old lieutenant colonel Joachim Peiper. A battalion of 500 German paratroopers was the lead element. Dietrich’s mission was to attack from Monschau to the Losheim Gap, through the gap in the American lines, roll over Elsenborn Ridge, across the Meuse River and on to Antwerp and recapture seaport there. South of the 6th Panzer, General Hasso Von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army was to encircle the Schnee Eifel salient, trapping the US 106th Division, and then capture St Vith, the most vital rail and road center east of Bastogne. South of the 5th Panzer, General Ernst Brandenberger’s 7th Army was to basically protect the left flank of the 5th Panzer from Patton’s US 3rd Army in the south.
It was bitterly cold, that morning, foggy and overcast. At 5:30 AM an eighty mile wide front, literally exploded with German artillery, mortars, and railway guns firing 14 inch shells. The barrage went on for an hour and a half, destroying most all telephone lines. Radio traffic was jammed with the Germans playing loud music on all known American military frequencies. About 8:00 AM, the 394th I&R Platoon spotted white clad German soldiers, with rifles slung over their shoulders, moving along the road. The Germans didn’t expect to meet any resistance. The I&R platoon fired on the column, the Germans scattered, some into the town buildings, some platoon members went into the town and ran the Germans out. The Germans organized a direct attack across an open field, they were sitting ducks for hand picked American troops. The attacks went on all day, but were unable to dislodge that I&R platoon. Finally, at dusk, an overwhelming number of German Infantry over ran the platoon and captured them. One artillery forward observer had been killed, fourteen were wounded, all were taken to the rear as prisoners of war, and all refused to provide the Germans with any information about their units. The Germans reported 16 killed, 63 wounded, and 13 missing in action. Because of the high volume of accurate fire, the Germans thought that they had captured just one platoon of a much larger force, and that the woods were full of American troops, only when Peiper arrived after midnight, did they prob and find that there were no more Americans to their front. Finally, at 4:30 AM on December 17th, the German column started moving again. That one American Recon Platoon had stopped the entire German 6th Army, which was now 18 hours behind its planned time table. Knowledge of that action was lost for years, because Lyle Bouck thought that by being captured, he had failed. In 1981, after a push by Bouck, to gather statements, including information from German records, the platoon members were presented valor awards, making it the most decorated platoon of World War II.
By around noon on the 17th, a frustrated Joachim Peiper had pushed about 30 miles further to the Baugnez crossroads about two miles south of Malmedy, when his lead element encountered a US convoy of about 30 vehicles of B Battery of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. The German Tiger tanks destroyed the first and last vehicle in the convoy and surrounded the unit. Armed with only rifles and pistols, B Battery surrendered. About 125 American soldiers were grouped in a field, next to a café, and machine gunned. Those appearing to be alive were shot in the head. Some played dead and survived. Of the 84 bodies recovered at the “Malmedy Massacre”, 40 had wounds in the head, some with powder burns. American POW’s were also reported massacred in Stavelot, Cheneux, La Gleize, and Stoumont. At Stavelot Peiper’s men murdered about 100 Belgium civilians – men, women, and children. Word quickly spread that the Germans were killing POW’s.
South of the Losheim Gap, when the shelling stopped, the Germans turned on giant anti-aircraft search lights behind their own lines. The light reflected off the clouds and light up the American front lines. Americans came out of their positions to see hundreds of white clad German Infantry moving toward them, with tanks following them. With each regiment, the 422nd, 423rd, and 424th Infantry, of the 106th Infantry Division, covering an area over seven miles wide, the front line was too thinly manned to prevent the German Infantry from simply bypassing many positions and encircling them.
Elements of the 422nd counterattacked toward the village of Auw, preventing the Regimental Command Post (CP) from being overrun. The Germans drove a wedge between the 423rd surrounding some companies. The 106th Division Reconnaissance Troop and a company of the 424th were overrun and captured. The 424th began pulling back, giving up ground slowly.
South of the 106th Division, was the 28th Infantry Division, full of new recruits, having recently suffered high casualties in the Hurtgen Forest. The 28th was also covering an area 25 miles wide, three times that normally assigned to a division. In the center of the 28th area was the 110th Regimental Combat Team (RCT), with around 5,000 men. Facing the 110th, across the Our river was Germany’s entire 47th Panzer Corps with 27,000 infantry and 216 tanks intending to smash through the 110th positions in one day, seize the Clerf river bridges intact and drive on to reach Meuse two or three days later. Throughout the night, before the attack, German Infantry had crossed the river and snuck into positions surrounding much of the 110th. When the artillery barrage ended, the German Infantry came out into the open and started moving toward the American positions. A couple of shivering guards in a water tower in Hosingen spotted an entire company of white clad Germans, and alerted their fellow GI’s, who put up a serious defense, stopping the German advance. Many elements of the 110th fell back to defend the Regimental CP in the town of Clervaux. The Germans expected the 110th to simply surrender, being surrounded by overwhelming numbers. The 110th did not surrender, they fought the Germans down to house to house fighting, until around 6:45 PM on the 17th, when they ran out of ammunition. Many, including the Regimental Commander, Colonel Fuller, tried to escape on foot through the forest, but were captured. By that time most of the 422nd and 423rd regiments of the 106th had also been surrounded and forced to surrender, but they had bought valuable time for the US, because the German attack was now two days behind schedule, giving the American command time to realize what was happening, and respond.
Saturday morning, December 16th 1944, General Bradley, the 12th Army Group commander and Lieutenant General (LTG) Hodges, the First Army commander, visited a Belgian maker of custom shotguns, then General Bradley got in his armored Cadillac staff car for the trip to Versailles to confer with General Eisenhower about replacements, arriving around mid-afternoon. About dusk, a message arrived that the enemy had counter attacked at five separate points across the First Army sector. General Bradley said, “Let them come”, thinking that it was just a spoiling local attack. General Eisenhower was among the first to realize that this was no local “spoiling” attack, he surmised that five points in our weakest sector meant a major attack. He suggested that Bradley divert two armored divisions to that area. General Bradley called his own headquarters and ordered that the 7th Armored Division be diverted from LTG Simpson’s Ninth Army, and the 10th Armored be diverted from LTG Patton’s Third Army. General Bradley also asked General Eisenhower to release the reserves consisting of the XVIII Airborne Corps’ 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, resting in France. General Eisenhower was reluctant to release the airborne divisions, but did so the following day.
General Bradley dreaded telling Patton, who had once been his superior, to give up a division, that Patton was planning to use in a major offensive operation. General Eisenhower said; “Tell him Ike is running this damned war.” Patton did protest, but the tone of General Bradley’s conversation caused him to believe that something serious was happening up north. Shortly later, when Patton learned that the German 7th Army was moving into his own XX Corps area, he said; “One of these is a feint, one is the real thing. The more I think of it though, the more I become convinced that the thing in the north is the real McCoy.” Patton then directed his staff to start working up plans for the Third Army to swing north. The next morning, Monday December 18th, General Bradley personally called Patton to meet him in Luxembourg, as soon as he could get there. After laying out the situation, Bradley asked Patton, “What can you do to help Hodges?” (LTG Hodges First Army) Patton answered that one division could be on the move immediately, one in the morning, and one on standby. Bradley was expecting an argument, instead he got help. Just after 11:00 PM that evening, Bradley called Patton again. He said, “Georgie, Ike is coming to Eagle Main tomorrow morning for a special confab. Be there at 1100 sharp”. By the next morning, having worked through the night, the Third Army staff had completed plans, and operations orders for three different movements, one of which Patton believed he would be asked to do. Each with a code word that Patton would call back with to initiate the chosen operation. The meeting was filled with brass and intelligence people. There was a brief presentation, then General Eisenhower took over, he knew what he wanted and needed only a few words to outline his plan. He then turned straight to Patton, he said, “George, I want you to go to Luxembourg and take charge of the battle, making a strong counter attack with six divisions.” Patton answered “Yes sir”. “When can you start? Ike asked. “As soon as you’ve finished with us here”, Patton answered. Bradley asked, “How soon will you be able to attack, George?” “In forty eight hours, but with only three divisions, they are ready and if we wait for six, we will lose surprise”. There was a shuffling of chairs, and Eisenhower frowned and said, “Don’t be fatuous, George”. Patton would have to turn the entire Third Army 90 degrees. Patton then explained that his staff had already prepared plans for just this eventuality, and he had only to call and give them a code word to start the operation. Patton then lit a cigar and pointed to the bulge on the map of the Ardennes, and said, “Brad, this time the Kraut has stuck his head in a meat grinder, and this time I’ve got hold of the handle”, holding up his fist. Even Eisenhower grinned and said, “All right George, start your attack”.
As previously mentioned, when the German Army counter attacked through the Ardennes Forest on December 16th 1944, the XVIII Airborne Corps commander, Major General (MG) Ridgeway, was in England observing training, MG Taylor, the 101st commander was in Washington, DC, the Assistant Division Commander (ADC) of the 101st, Brigadier General (BG) Higgins, along with five senior commanders from the division were in England.
Early on Sunday evening, December 17th, MG James M. (Jim) Gavin, the 82nd Airborne Division commander had just sat down to dinner, with his staff at their house in Sissonne, France when he received a call from BG Eaton, the XVIII Corps Chief of Staff. He was informed that he was now the Acting Corps Commander, and that both divisions were to be ready to move to the front, within 24 hours of daylight in the morning. He told the Corps Chief to tell BG Anthony (Tony) McAuliffe, the 101st Artillery Commander, that he was now the Acting Division Commander of the 101st, and to immediately start preparing the division to move. Two hours later MG Gavin received another call directing that the divisions move as quickly as humanly possible.
Ross Carter wrote in “Those Devils in Baggy Pants”, on that very evening, a group was sitting around in their barracks planning a big Christmas party. “Suddenly, the new company commander dropped in our midst like a shell.” “Men, we’re hot! An urgent mission is coming up. There’s been a break-through. We’ve got to be ready to leave eight o’clock in the morning with complete combat equipment. I want to see all non-coms. (sergeants).” “There would be no Christmas!”
John Toland wrote in “Battle”, “That evening, the men of these two airborne divisions were enjoying the wine and women of Reims, France. Pfc. Edward Peniche, a native of Yucatan, Mexico, was sitting at a bar with a group of 101st men. “Throw a beer at that table, Peniche,” a buddy suggested, nodding at a group wearing the “AA” patch of the 82nd. “AA—All-American crumbs!” Peniche obliged, the can hit a big 82nd man. He picked it up and walked over to Peniche. “Well, who threw it?” A French girl pointed at Peniche. “It just fell out of his hand,” Peniche’s buddy explained. The 82nd man hit Peniche, and the riot began. Soon the whistles were blowing, but not primarily to stop this latest skirmish between the two rival divisions. “Okay, 101, back to Mourmelon!” shouted an MP. “Trucks are outside!” The men of the 82nd were also ordered to their camp at Suippes. All over Reims men were being dragged from boites, bistros, and bordellos. Some dead drunk, some still fighting, others not quite dressed, they were thrown into trucks and hustled home to camp. What was up? Where were they going? Everyone had a different idea: a new jump; rest camp in the south of France; back to England. But they were going somewhere, and the brass was in a terrific heat to get them there”.
Having set movement plans, for the two airborne divisions, in motion, about 11:30 PM MG Gavin with his G1, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Al Ireland, and Aide Captain Hugo Olson, got in an open jeep and drove through light rain and fog to Spa, Belgium, to meet with LTG Hodges, at First Army Headquarters, arriving around 9:00 AM the next morning. LTG Hodges directed that one division be sent to Bastogne. Seven major roads converge on Bastogne, making it essential for the Germans to control in their march to Antwerp. The other division to be deployed along a dominating hill mass centered on the small town of Werbomont. The 82nd, having been on stand down longer than the 101st, was the first to move. MG Gavin decided to put the 82nd in the blocking position at Werbomont, and when the 101st arrived a few hours later it moved into Bastogne. The 82nd Airborne Division was being placed directly in the path of Peiper and the 6th Panzer Army, with the mission of stopping the Germans.
Ross S. Carter was an infantryman in Company C, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 82nd Airborne Division. He wrote in “Those Devils in Baggy Pants’; “we rode in rain-soaked trucks all day and all night, piled off in the cold of a rain-fog morning on December 19 and slogged along for miles through squashy piles of watery snow. We spent the day in a drippy pine forest and then at nightfall resumed our march, which lasted until our muscles became numb and the bone in our feet dissolved into formless, motileless paste. At dawn (December 20) we finally halted on a road that circled the top of a high hill and began to dig into the hard clay.
War is hell. Plato said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” When evil arises, as did Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, and deny other nations and peoples their freedom, war is inevitable. Generals run the wars. They move armies and make decisions to defeat the enemy and end the war. Soldiers fight and die.
The Battle of the Bulge or officially the Ardennes Counteroffensive, was the largest, most fiercely fought battle of World War II. It lasted from December 16th 1944 to January 25th 1945, when the German Armies were pushed back into Germany and lines were restored to where they were on December 15th. Germany committed about 450,000 troops and 1500 tanks. The German high command reported 81,834 casualties, of which 12,652 were killed, 38,600 were wounded, and 30,582 missing or captured. Others estimate the German casualties at around 100,000. The Allies committed around 610,000 men. The US Army reported 108,347 casualties, of which 19,246 were killed, 62,489 were wounded, and 26,612 captured or missing. There were hundreds of stories of exceptional, gutsy actions by soldiers. Heroism. After the battle, someone suggested that General Patton was the hero of the Battle of the Bulge. His response was; “The only hero of the Battle of the Bulge was the individual soldier – on both sides.” Here are a couple of those stories.
The 82nd Airborne Division was in a blocking position, spread out over a twenty five mile wide area of high ground centered on Werbomont. In some places there was 200 yards between individual positions. By their nature, paratroopers are not static, and Major General (MG) Gavin, the 82nd commander, was of the same military mindset as General Patton, in that the best defense is often a good offense.
The afternoon of December 20th it was learned that Joachim Peiper’s command in the 1st SS Panzer Division was in Cheneux, a few miles northeast. A bridge over the Ambleve led to Cheneux, if left in German control, it gave Peiper a route west to Werbomont. MG Gavin ordered Colonel Tucker, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) commander to attack Cheneux, destroy the German forces and capture the bridge. Col Tucker committed his 1st and 3rd battalions. Having survived serious combat in Sicily, Italy, and Holland, Ross Carter was then a squad leader in the first platoon of Company C of the 1st battalion, he wrote;
82nd’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment December 21st 1944.
“In the early twilight the company moved to the left and stopped in a dense forest to await orders. They came. Orders always came. Lieutenant Freisinger (the new Platoon Leader) called his noncoms together: “Men, there is a strong Krauthead roadblock a few hundreds away on the edge of an open field opposite the woods. Just behind the roadblock is a town called Cheneux. At seven thirty we are going to shove off with our platoon in a skirmish line in the lead for C Company. B Company will push off at the same time on the other side of the road. Headquarters’ 1st Battalion is going to back us up with 81’s (mortars) and machine guns. Be sure to keep the line dressed. Make as little noise as possible. The enemy will be shelled for fifteen minutes before we take off. We’re going to break through that roadblock, take that town and hold it. That is all, men.” Just that and nothing more …” “..had nearly reached mid-field and were beginning to climb another fence when it happened.. The air was filled with the yellow glow of hissing 20 mm cannon shells, the sputter of machine guns and the roar of exploding mortar shells dumped on our comrades just behind us. I was half way over a fence when little Finkelstein, already across and a few feet in front of it, was struck by a 20mm shell which exploded his hand grenades and set him afire. He ran back a few feet and collapsed in the barbedwires. … I continued forward in a daze. About five feet to my left a steady stream of tracers felt for me. A field piece methodically shelled the center of our advance. Mortar shells kept chewing up the second and third platoons behind us. Machine guns warped and woofed their straight stitches across and through the zone ahead. It was worse than a Dantesque nightmare; it was man made mechanized hell. . . . Ahead three forms skulked in the darkness by a machine gun. I reloaded and charged. A burst of slugs smoked past me. When I was withing a few feet of them, they started to run. I put one knee on the ground and leveled off eight slugs. Then I hit the ground and rolled to escape a machine pistol blast. I found Casey, riddled by MG 42’s, lying a few yards in front of a machine gun nest. In it were four dead SS troopers. I roared in rage and hate and started toward the right where B Company seemed to be having rough going. At that moment, Berkely (the platoon sergeant) surged out of the night, his little finger bleeding from a machine gun slug, his hand paralyzed. Casey is over there, I said. The Arab is gone too. Dusquesne got it in the head and Gruening in the belly. Both bad! . . . something hit and numbed my back . . . . the hatch cover opened and three men hurtled out. I leveled my gun and fired until they fell either because they were hit or in order to take cover. Behind me erupted the horrible thudding growl of a machine cannon. As I bounded I felt a red-hot rip tear through my right arm.”
Ross Carter survived the war to write “Those Devils in Baggy Pants”, he died of cancer in 1947. He was 28.
The 504 did take the town of Cheneux, destroying the German command there. It was costly. Out of the 33 men in Carters’ platoon, that started the attack that night, only nine were able to walk the next morning. The 504 lost 225 men, mostly from B and C companies. C Company finished with 38 men and three officers. B Company had eighteen men and no officers, but Peiper’s command, leading the 1st SS Panzer Division of the German 6th Panzer Army had been stopped.
South, the 101st Airborne Division had barely beat the Germans to Bastogne, which was a major road junction town of about 4,000 people with several small villages surrounding it. LTG Troy Middleton had moved his VIII Corps command post to Neufchateau and left the 101st, with Brigadier General (BG) Tony McAuliffe in command, in Bastogne. The 101st moved into positions in the villages surrounding Bastogne literally on the run. The Germans were three kilometers from them. There were four divisions of German Armor surrounding them, about half of the German forces moved on while the rest remained to try to destroy the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne. When German tanks attacked small units around Bastogne, the 101st lowered their artillery cannons level and destroyed the tanks.
On the morning of the 21st, the Third Army was moving north on a twenty mile wide front. General George Patton was running by jeep from unit to unit, bantering and joking with enlisted men and telling commanders to be aggressive or be relieved.
At 6 AM on the 22nd, after having moved one hundred miles over icy, strange roads, in less than 48 hours, the Third Army attack started. That morning BG McAuliffe received a message, “Hugh is coming”. MG Hugh Gaffey’s 4th Armored Division was driving toward Bastogne up the left flank Patton’s attack.
About 11:30 that morning, Sergeant Oswald Butler of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 101st, saw four German soldiers walking toward him carrying a pole with a bed sheet attached. They requested to see the Commanding General. They had two letters, one in German and one in English, from the German Commander to the American Commander requesting that the Americans surrender. They were blind folded and escorted to the 327th Command Post (CP), where the 327th commander, Colonel Joseph Harper called, then escorted them to the Division CP. BG McAuliffe was asleep. Colonel Ned Moore, the 101st Chief of Staff shook the General awake and told him that Harper was on the way with German officers and a letter. When BG McAuliffe came out of the room yawning, he asked; “What’s on the paper Ned?” “They want us to surrender.” McAuliffe glanced at the papers, laughed and said “Aw, nuts.” He dropped the papers, walked out, got in his jeep and went to visit troops who had just wiped out a German roadblock. When he returned, the German officers were demanding an answer to their letter. BG McAuliffe sat down with a pencil and said; “What the hell should I tell them?” The Division Operations officer, Colonel Kinnard said; “That first remark of yours would be hard to beat, General.” “What did I say?” “You said, ‘Nuts’.” BG McAuliffe’s letter read; “To the German Commander: Nuts! — The American Commander. Colonel Harper delivered the letter and escorted the German officers back to their lines. They didn’t know what it meant. Colonel Harper replied; “If you don’t know what ‘Nuts’ means, in plain English it’s the same as ‘Go to Hell’.” Word of the answer spread quickly throughout the division, and morale shot up among the surrounded 101st, who came to be known as “The Battered Bastards of Bastogne.”
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Creighton W. Abrams was commander of the 37th Tank Battalion, the spearhead of the 4th Armored Division’s drive toward Bastogne. About 1:30 PM on the day after Christmas he was five miles south of Bastogne, scheduled to attack a village several miles to the northwest. He was down to twenty tanks, only enough for one good assault. He radioed MG Hugh Gaffey, the 4th Division commander and asked permission to make a drive straight for Bastogne. MG Gaffey called General Patton, who said GO! Lieutenant Charles Boggess was commanding the lead element of nine Sherman tanks, which jumped off with all guns firing. Lt Boggess said that his gunner, Dickerson, fired that big gun like a machine gun, putting out 21 rounds in just a few minutes. Infantrymen jumped off the tanks and attacked the German positions, by 4:30 they arrived at the 101st Airborne’s 326th Engineer Battalion positions. Bastogne would be secured.