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The Ardennes Battle of the Bulge

The Ardennes Battle of the Bulge

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Published by Bob Andrepont
United States Army history of the Battle of the Bulge.
United States Army history of the Battle of the Bulge.

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 07, 2011
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On the night of 24 December the 84th
Infantry Division was deployed along an
arc of some twelve miles reaching from
Hogne, northwest of Marche, through
Waha, south of Marche, thence bowing
back to the northeast in front of the
Marche-Hotton road. 15 On the right, the
4th Cavalry Group formed a screen mask-
ing the infantry line. The center at the
moment was quiet, but on the left the
116th Panzer Division had broken
through the outpost line and despite the
successful American counterattack made
late in the afternoon still held an en-
trant position at Verdenne.
The 116th Panzer faced a lone battle
as it prepared to carry out the Fifth
Panzer
Army orders for attack westward.
Thus far the fighting on its right in the
sector east of the Ourthe River had not
gone too well; neither the 2d SS Panzer
nor the 560th Volks Grenadier Division
managing to gain ground on the 24th.
To the left the attention of the 2d Pan-
zer
was centered on Foy–Notre Dame
and Celles far to the west. Nonetheless
so long as Luettwitz’ armor had any
chance of breaking through to the Meuse
the 116th had to continue its attack to
breach the American defenses north of
Marche and press forward as a covering
shell for the drive to Dinant.
General Bolling knew that some Ger-
mans still were around Verdenne on the
night of 24 December, but the 84th Di-
vision was unaware that the enemy had
slipped on into the woods between
Verdenne and Bourdon until a lucky
fluke revealed the new threat. About

15 Sources used in this section are the same as
those cited in Chapter XVIII.

THE BATTLE BEFORE THE MEUSE

575

midnight Companies A and K of the
334th Infantry and Company L, 333d
Infantry, started along the woods trails
and byroads to converge in a night as-
sault against Verdenne. Moving in from
the west, Company K took a wrong turn
and suddenly bumped into a column of
six or eight tanks. Sgt. Donald Phelps,
marching at the point, went forward to
check the lead tank. Suddenly a figure
leaning out of the tank shouted, “Halt!”
Phelps, recognizing the German accent,
took a snap shot at the figure who
screamed as the bullet struck. The
German tanks opened fire with not only
their machine guns but their main arma-
ment, and the American infantry file hit
the dirt. Severely lacerated before it
could break away, the remaining forty
men of Company K joined the main as-
sault against Verdenne an hour later.
The Germans inside Verdenne had
been softened by an intense preparatory
shelling and the American infantry suc-
ceeded in getting clear through the
village–although fighting resumed in
daylight with the dangerous task of house
clearing. One enemy tank showed up
during the night, but Sgt. E. T. Rein-
eke killed the tank commander with
a rifle ball, then tossed a grenade into the
open turret. More American infantry
arrived in the morning, and by the end
of Christmas Day 289 Germans had
surrendered.
The seizure of Verdenne cast a loop
around the German tanks and infantry
in the woods north of the village. At
noon on Christmas Day a tank company
from the 16th Panzer Regiment tried an
assault in staggered formation against
Verdenne but found Company B of the
771st Tank Battalion waiting and lost
nine tanks–its entire complement.

Waldenburg still had hopes that the de-
tachment in the woods could be saved,
for during the day the Fuehrer Begleit
Brigade
came in on his right, freeing
the troops he had deployed to watch
Hampteau and the Hotton approaches.
More than this, Waldenburg apparently
expected to use the wedge which would
be created in reaching the pocket as a
means of splitting the Marche-Hotton
line and starting the major advance west-
ward.

The area in which the Germans were
hemmed posed a very neat problem in
minor tactics. It was about 800 yards by
300, densely wooded, and shaped with
an inner declivity somewhat like a serv-
ing platter. Guns beyond the rim could
not bring direct fire on the targets inside,
and tanks rolling down into the pocket
would be exposed before they could
train their weapons. Tanks inside the
pocket would be in the same position if
they moved up and over the edge. As-
sault by infantry could be met with tank
fire whether the assault went into or
came out of the pocket.
Just such an assault was the first tried
by the 333d Infantry, which put Com-
panies A and B into a predawn attack
on 26 December. The American skir-
mish line, its movements given away by
the snow crackling under foot, took a
number of casualties and was beaten
back, but it gave some test of the enemy
strength, now estimated to be two rifle
companies and five tanks. Actually most
of the Germans in the 1st Battalion, 60th
Panzer Grenadier Regiment,
took part in
the fighting at the pocket or in attempted
infiltration through the woods to join
their comrades there. One such relief
party, led by a tank platoon, did cut its
way in on the morning of the 26th. Now

576

THE ARDENNES: BATTLE OF THE BULGE

that the enemy had been reinforced the
333d Infantry decided to try the artillery,
although not before Colonel Pedley had
been given brass-bound assurance that
the gunners would lay their pieces with
such minute precision as to miss the
friendly infantry edging the pocket.
Through the rest of the day an 8-inch
howitzer battalion and a battalion of
155’s hammered the target area, intent
on jarring the panzers loose, while a
chemical mortar company tried to burn
them out.

On 27 December patrols edged their
way into the pocket, to find nothing but
abandoned tanks. The previous evening
General Waldenburg heard that the
Fuehrer Begleit Brigade was being taken
away from his right flank and that he
must go over to the defensive at once.
Still in radio contact with the pocket,
Waldenburg ordered the troops there to
come out, synchronizing their move with
an attack at dusk which would be made
toward Ménil, northeast of Verdenne.
Perhaps the feint at Ménil served its
purpose-in any event most of the gren-
adiers made their escape, riding out on
the tanks still capable of movement.
Although this last sortie against Ménil
was only a ruse, Ménil and the surround-
ing area had been the scene of bitter
fighting and stubborn German attacks
on 26 December. Krueger, the LVIII
Panzer Corps
commander, saw in the
newly arrived Fuehrer Begleit an oppor-
tunity to carve the Hotton garrison,
which had been so effectively barring
his advance over the Ourthe, down to
size. The villages of Hotton, Hampteau,
and Ménil form a triangle, Hampteau
being the apex of the triangle, if this is
pictured as projecting toward the
German lines. Krueger’s plan was to

smash through Hampteau, grab the
ridge running back to the west where it
overlooked Hotton and Ménil, and take
Hotton by attack from the rear, that is,
the west bank of the river. Success at
Hotton would permit the 116th Panzer
to peel the American flank back from the
Marche road.
The first contingent from the Fuehrer
Begleit
came into the line opposite
Hampteau at noon, deployed, and at
1400 hit Company G of the 334th Infan-
try, which was guarding the Hampteau
bridge site. This attack seems to have
been poorly organized (prisoners said
that the attack formation had been
wrecked in the assembly area by artillery
fire). In any event it crumbled under
the shells of tank destroyers and the 84th
Division artillery. This proved to be the
single pinch-hit performance of the
Fuehrer Begleit, for later in the after-
noon it was ordered out of the line and
sent marching for Bastogne.
At 1830 the German attack shifted
toward Ménil, conducted as an envelop-
ment on the east and west by infantry
and tanks of the 116th Panzer. The
western blade of the scissors ran into
trouble when the tanks leading the at-
tacking column were forced off the road
by a daisy-chain of antitank mines. While
attempting to re-form, the tanks were
suddenly assailed by salvo fire from three
field artillery battalions. Six tanks fell
prey to the American cannoneers and the
attack collapsed. Later the enemy made
a demonstration here as part of Walden-
burg’s feint. On the east side of the town
the assault had to be made across 500
yards of bare ground. The enemy fusil-
iers bravely attempted the passage, at-
tempted it several times during the
course of two hours, but unprotected

THE BATTLE BEFORE THE MEUSE

577

flesh and blood were no match for the
2,000 rounds of high explosive which
the 326th Field Artillery Battalion
poured down on this killing ground.
By the morning of 27 December the
whole Marche-Hotton front had quieted.
In the enemy lines the crippled and
demoralized 116th Panzer licked its
wounds and dug defensive works while
its neighbor on the left, the XLVII Pan-
zer Corps,
retired to a shortened position
in order to free men and tanks for the

new fight brewing at Bastogne. The
84th Infantry Division sent out patrols
and counted its prisoners—592 for the
Verdenne engagement. The entire oper-
ation as part of the VII Corps cost the
84th Division 112 killed, 122 missing,
and 348 wounded. On New Year’s Day
the 84th was relieved by the British 53d
Division and moved north, prepared to
team once again with the 2d Armored
Division–but this time for the offensive.

CHAPTER XXIII

The Battle Between the Salm
and the Ourthe
24 December - 2 January

The Sixth Panzer Army had begun the
Ardennes counteroffensive with two dis-
tinct missions in hand: the first, to cross
the Meuse River between Liège and
Huy as a prelude to the seizure of Ant-
werp; the second, to wheel a cordon of
divisions onto a blocking line extending
due east of Liège to cover the depth of
the advancing army and to deny incom-
ing Allied reinforcements the use of the
highway complex southeast of Liège.
Constricted by the American grip on the
Elsenborn Ridge “door post” (as the
German High Command called this PO-
sition), the Sixth Panzer Army had
bumped and jostled some of its divisions
past Elsenborn and on toward the west,
but had failed to achieve the momentum
and maneuver room requisite to the as-
signed missions. The armored gallop for
the Meuse had foundered on the north
bank of the Amblève River when Pei-
per’s mobile task force from the 1st SS
Panzer Division
had run squarely against
the 30th Infantry Division. The 12th SS
Panzer Division,
supposed originally to
be running mate with the 1st SS Panzer,
had become involved in a costly and
time-consuming fight to budge the Amer-
ican “door post,” failing thereby to keep

its place in the German scheme of ma-
neuver. Therefore, the task-and glory
–of leading the drive across the Meuse
had passed to the Fifth Panzer Army.
But General Sepp Dietrich’s SS forma-
tions had failed quite as signally to
achieve the second mission-to create the
blocking line east of Liège. Left free to
deploy along the proliferating highway
system southeast of Liège, the Americans
had been able to throw two fresh corps
into defensive array along the Salm, the
Ourthe, the Lesse, and L’Homme Riv-
ers, thus still further obstructing the ad-
vance of the Sixth Panzer and, more im-
portant, endangering the exposed right
flank of the Fifth Panzer as it maneu-
vered before the Meuse. (See Map
VIII.)

By 24 December the westernmost
armored columns of the Fifth Panzer
Army
had been slowed to a walk quite
literally, for the OB WEST orders on
that date called for the advance toward
the Meuse “to proceed on foot.” In part
the loss of momentum arose from sup-
ply failure, but basically the slowing
process stemmed from the failure of the
Sixth Panzer Army to form a protected
corridor for its neighbor to the south

THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE SALM AND THE OURTHE

579

and so to cover the flank, the rear, and
the line of communications for Man-
teuffel’s salient.
It was apparent by the 24th to all of
the higher German commanders that the
advance must be strengthened in depth
and-if possible-enlarged by pushing
out the northern flank on the Marche
plateau. German intelligence sources
now estimated that the Allies were in
the process of bringing a total of four
armored and seven infantry divisions
against the northern flank between the
Salm and Meuse Rivers. The Sixth Pan-
zer Army
had to transfer its weight to
the west. Hitler, who had been adamant
that Sepp Dietrich should drive the
Americans back from the Elsenborn posi-
tion, finally granted permission on 24
December to give over the battle there
and move in second-line divisions ca-
pable only of defensive action. Rund-
stedt already had gone on record that it
was “useless” to keep five divisions in the
Elsenborn sector. Neither Rundstedt nor
Model had completely given up hope
that the point of the Sixth Panzer Army
might shake free and start moving again,
for the German successes in the Vielsalm
area at the expense of the American
XVIII Airborne Corps promised much
if Dietrich could reinforce his troops on
this western flank. Nonetheless, the main
play still would be given the Fifth Pan-
zer Army.

The orders passed to Dietrich for 24
December were that his attack forces in
the Salm River sector should push hard
toward the northwest to seize the high
ground extending from the swampy
plateau of the Hohes Venn southwest
across the Ourthe River. In the opinion
of Rundstedt’s staff the Fifth Panzer
Army
was at tactical disadvantage be-

cause its westernmost divisions, which
had followed the level path of the Fam-
enne Depression at Marche and Roche-
fort, were under attack from American
forces holding command of the high
ground on the Marche plateau to the
north. It therefore seemed essential for
the Sixth Panzer to establish itself on the
same high ground if it was to relieve the
pressure on Manteuffel’s open and en-
dangered north flank. In theory the
strategic objectives of the Sixth Panzer
were Liège and Eupen, but the German
war diaries show clearly that Rundstedt
(and probably Model) hoped only that
Dietrich could wheel his forward divi-
sions into a good position on defensible
ground from which the Fifth Panzer
Army
could be covered and supported. 1
On the morning of 24 December the
Sixth Panzer Army was deployed in an
uneven stairstep line descending south-
west from the boundary with the Fif-
teenth Army
(near Monschau) to the
Ourthe River, newly designated as the
dividing line between the Fifth and
Sixth. In the Monschau-Höfen sector the
LXVII Corps held a north-south line,
the corps’ front then bending at a right

1 Model’s suicide, later in the war, permits in-
terpretations by his superiors and subordinates
which may or may not be in accord with the
facts. Even so, the OB WEST KTB does provide
a reasonable guide to Model’s conduct of the
Ardennes operation in these last days of the
offensive. Also, the OB WEST/IC-Tagesmeldungen

reveal what information on the Allied dispositions
and intentions was available to Model. A further
check is provided by a series of postwar interro-
gations involving Rundstedt and Jodl. For the
former see CSDIC (U.K.) #GRGG330, SRGG
1332 and SRGG 1334 (these interrogations date
from July and August 1945). Jodl was interro-
gated by the USFET Historical Division before
his execution: MS ETHINT–51 (Jodl). See also
the testimony of Jodl’s aide in MS ETHINT–34
(Buecks) .

580

THE ARDENNES: BATTLE OF THE BULGE

angle past the Elsenborn ridge line. This
corps front coincided almost exactly with
that of the American V Corps. The I SS
Panzer Corps
continued the German line
west along the Amblève River where
it faced the reinforced 30th Infantry
Division, but at the juncture of the
Amblève and the Salm the line bent
south at a sharp angle, following the east
bank of the latter river as far as Vielsalm.
This section of the German line opposite
the 82d Airborne Division was poorly
manned. The 1st SS Panzer Division
(the only division available to the
corps) had put troops across both the
Amblève and Salm, but by the 24th the
1st SS, already badly beaten, was able to
do little more than patrol its corner
position.

The fall of St. Vith had opened the
way for the westernmost corps of the
Sixth Panzer Army to form a base of
attack running generally west from Viel-
salm and the Salm River to the cross-
roads at Baraque de Fraiture (Parker’s
Crossroads). This corps, the II SS Pan-
zer,
had relieved the 560th Volks Gren-
adier Division
of its attack against the
south front of the 82d Airborne and 3d
Armored Divisions, the 560th sideslip-
ping further west to take over the front,
facing elements of the 3d Armored Divi-
sion between the Aisne and Ourthe
Rivers. The diagonal course of the Our-
the valley and the broken nature of the
ground lying east of it posed an organ-
ization and command problem for both
Germans and Americans. Those ele-
ments of the 3d Armored east of the
Ourthe, though belonging to Collins’
VII Corps, were actors in the story of
the XVIII Airborne Corps. The same
lack of neat accord between battle roles
and order of battle listings was reflected

on the German side of the line. There
the LVIII Panzer Corps, forming the
right wing tip of the Fifth Panzer Army,
lay astride the Ourthe with its armor
(the 116th Panzer) on the west bank
and the bulk of its infantry (the 560th
Yolks Grenadier Division)
on the east
bank, echeloned in front of the incoming

II SS Panzer Corps.

When, on the night of 22 December,
the advance guard of Bittrich’s II SS
Panzer Corps
first descended on the
American-held crossroads at Baraque de
Fraiture, General Bittrich had only one
regiment of the 2d SS Panzer Division
available for mounting this new Sixth
Panzer Army
attack. On 23 December,
when the Americans at the crossroads
finally succumbed to superior numbers,
Bittrich had nearly all of the 2d SS at his
disposal and the advance guard of his
9th SS Panzer Division was nearing the
east bank of the Salm. Field Marshal
Model had just wheeled the two infantry
divisions of the LXVI Corps northward
with orders to attack astride the Salm
valley, thus bolstering Bittrich’s right
flank, now insecurely held by the deci-
mated 1st SS Panzer Division.
General Bittrich had been promised
still more forces for his attack to the
northwest. The Fuehrer Begleit Brigade,
re-forming after its battles in the St. Vith
sector, was en route to join the 2d SS
Panzer
at the Baraque de Fraiture cross-
roads. The 12th SS Panzer Division, so
Bittrich was told, would be relieved in
the Elsenborn sector and hurried to the
new Sixth Panzer front. Finally, Hitler
himself would order the 3d Panzer Gren-
adier Division
moved from the Elsen-
born battle to the fight looming between
the Salm and the Ourthe. Bittrich has
not recorded any gloomy suspicion of

THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE SALM AND THE OURTHE

581

this potential plethora of riches, but as
a veteran commander he no doubt rec-
ognized the many slips possible between
cup and lip: the increasing poverty of
POL, Allied air strikes against any and
all moving columns, the poor state of
the few roads leading back through the
narrow Sixth Panzer zone of communi-
cations, and, finally, the pressing and
probably overriding demands of the
Fifth Panzer Army with one foot en-
tangled at Bastogne and the other poised
only a few miles from the Meuse.
The German attack plans, formulated
during the night of 23 December as the
2d SS Panzer mopped up the last of the
defenders around the Baraque de Frait-
ure crossroads, called for a continuation
of the 2d SS Panzer attack northwest,
astride the Liège highway on the 24th.
The immediate objective was the Man-
hay crossroads five miles away. Once at
Manhay the attack could either peel off
along the road west to Hotton, there
freeing the Fifth Panzer Army forma-
tions hung up at the Hotton-Marche
road, or swing northwest to gain the
main Ourthe bridge site at Durbuy. The
II SS Panzer Corps attack base on the
Salmchâteau-La Roche road seemed se-
cure enough. On the left the 560th had
driven a salient clear to Soy, a distance
of eleven miles. On the right American
stragglers from St. Vith were fighting to
escape northward through or around
Salmchâteau. The 82d Airborne Divi-
sion still had an outpost line covering
much of the road west of Salmchâteau,
but the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade was in
position to roll back the Americans in
this sector. In any case the 9th SS Panzer
Division
would, in a matter of hours,
cross the Salm River in the Vielsalm-
Salmchâteau area and swing northwest

to march forward at the right shoulder
of the 2d SS Panzer. This was the out-
line plan for 24 December.

On the morning of 24 December the
American troops between the Salm and
Ourthe Rivers were deployed on a front,
if so it can be called, of over thirty miles.
This, of course, was no flankless and
integrated position. On the west wing in
particular the American line consisted of
small task forces from the 3d Armored,
each defending or attacking a hill or
hamlet in what were almost independent
operations. In the Salm sector the 82d
Airborne Division faced north, east, and
south, this disposition reflecting the
topsy-turvy condition encountered when
the division first came in to cover the
deployment of the XVIII Airborne
Corps. The 504th Parachute Infantry
(Cor. Reuben H. Tucker), on the divi-
sion north flank, was bent at an angle
reaching west and south from the con-
fluence of the Amblève and Salm Rivers,
a position assumed while Kampfgruppe
Peiper
was on the rampage west of
Stavelot. The 505th Parachute Infantry
(Col. William E. Ekman) over-watched
the Salm from positions on the west
bank extending from Trois Ponts south
past Grand Halleux. The 508th Para-
chute Infantry (Col. Roy E. Lindquist)
held a series of bluffs and ridges which
faced the bridge sites at Vielsalm and
Salmchâteau, then extended westward
overlooking the La Roche highway. The
325th Glider Infantry (Col. Charles
Billingslea) held the division right flank
and continued the westward line along
the ridges looking down on the La Roche
road; its wing was affixed to the village
of Fraiture just northeast of the cross-
roads where the 2d SS Panzer had begun

582

THE ARDENNES: BATTLE OF THE BULGE

its penetration.
From Fraiture west to the Ourthe the
American “line” was difficult to trace.
Here elements of the 3d Armored Divi-
sion and two parachute infantry battal-
ions were attempting to hold an exten-
sion of the American line west of
Baraque de Fraiture, none too solidly
anchored at Lamorménil and Freyneux. 2
At the same time the Americans’ exposed
right wing was counterattacking to erase

2 The term “elements of the 3d Armored Divi-
sion” is used advisedly for CCB was operating
with the 30th Division in the La Gleize sector,
while Task Force Doan (Lt. Col. Leander L. Doan)
was with the 84th Division west of the Ourthe.
For the preceding action of these elements, see
Chapter XXII.

the German penetration which had
driven as far north as the Soy-Hotton
road and threatened to engulf Task
Force Orr, standing alone and vulner-
able at Amonines on the west bank of
the Aisne River. Two regimental com-
bat teams from the as yet untried 75th
Infantry Division were en route to help
shore up the ragged 3d Armored (–)
front but probably would not reach Gen-
eral Rose until the evening of the 24th.
There were some additional troops
immediately at hand to throw in against
the II SS Panzer Corps. All through the
afternoon and evening of the 23d the
St. Vith defenders poured through the
American lines. When the last column,

PRIME MOVER TOWING AN 8-INCH HOWITZER ALONG A ROAD NEAR MANHAY

THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE SALM AND THE OURTHE

583

led by Colonel Nelson of the 112th In-
fantry, reached the paratroopers, some
15,000 men and about a hundred usable
tanks had been added to Ridgway’s force
west of the Salm. Aware of the increasing
enemy strength south of Manhay, Gen-
eral Ridgway sent troops of the 7th
Armored and the remnants of the 106th
Division to extend and reinforce the
right flank of the 82d Airborne. At the
same time, he ordered CCB, 9th Ar-
mored, to assemble as a mobile reserve
around Malempré, east of the Manhay
road, and to back up the American
blocking position just north of the Bara-
que de Fraiture. Ridgway, however,
recognized that the 7th Armored was
much below strength and that the
rugged, forested terrain on his front was
poor for armor; so, on 24 December, he
asked Hodges to give him an infantry
division.

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