FOR SIX DAYS the enemy had made only a few swift passes at General McAuliffe's line facing toward the west. That was the way the command and staff had figured the battle was most likely to develop. Colonel Kinnard, who had worked out the tactical plan for the defense of Bastogne, felt that the forces could be spread thinnest toward the southwest.1
Between Colonel Harper, commanding the 327th, and Lieutenant Colonel Ray C. Allen, commanding the 3d Battalion which held the attenuated lines covering toward Neufchâteau, there passed a jest typifying the situation. "How are you doing on your left?" "Good! We have two jeeps out there."2
In the northwest sector, the Germans accommodated General McAuliffe's plan of saving the 502d Parachute Infantry for his Sunday punch and that regiment had relatively little fighting though it went through a great many motions.3
In the beginning Colonel Allen's 3d Battalion, 327th, became engaged because of the enemy penetration which on the night of December 19-20 reached the Bois de Herbaimont from the direction of Houffalize and overran and captured the 326th Medical Company near crossroads "X." Nine men from the 28th Division—remnant of a group of more than 100 men—got back to Colonel Allen's command post at 2030 and told him how this same German force had ambushed and destroyed their company. It was the first information that the Bastogne-St. Hubert road had been cut and it meant the probable end of any possibility that supplies could be brought in from the northwest. The 101st Division Headquarters became alarmed. At 2200 Colonel Allen was told to move a company out against the roadblock which the enemy had established and destroy it.
Company B under Captain Robert J. McDonald was two hours in preparing for the attack, but it moved out at midnight, December 20-21, and was approaching the roadblock after about a 90-minute march. The men moved down the ditches on either
side of the St. Hubert road with two guides walking on the road to keep contact in the darkness. Ahead, they could see a number of vehicles burning and they could hear the enemy laughing and talking. The horns on several of the vehicles had become stuck, adding volume to the sounds which guided them toward their target. The company moved to a ridge within 75 yards of the roadblock, and there deployed. The din from the German position was such that they accomplished this movement without being detected. They formed up with the 2d Platoon on the left, the 3d Platoon on the right, and the 1st Platoon in the center, supported by the heavier weapons. One squad of the 2d Platoon moved to the Sprimont road and formed a block across it about 100 yards from crossroads "X" On the other flank a squad from the 3d Platoon established a block for the same purpose about 100 yards outside the enemy outposts.
Captain McDonald had figured that the roadblock on the right would take longest to establish, so he directed the squad leader to fire two quick rifle shots when his men were in position. The plan worked perfectly. When the two shots were fired, the center moved forward, the men shooting from the hip as they advanced. The Germans were taken wholly by surprise and most of them fled toward the Bois de Herbaimont just to the north whence they had come originally. So doing, they crossed the killing ground which was covered by the squad on the right under Technical Sergeant Mike Campano. They were in such numbers that Campano's men could hardly shoot fast enough. More than 50 Germans were killed. None was taken prisoner. Company B didn't lose a man.
When the last German had been cleared from the area roadblocks were organized in all directions, with an especially strong block being set up on the highway to Salle (31 miles southwest of Bertogne). In this general position, Company B became the farthest outpost of the division. In their search of the area the company found three Americans who had been prisoners of the Germans. One was a Negro truck driver and the other two were from the Finance Department of the 28th Division. They also found two dead paratroopers whose throats had been slashed;
they guessed that these men had been patients when the hospital was overrun. A number of American trucks were recovered, some containing medical supplies, one carrying a load of mail and another loaded with explosives.
On finding an American light tank among the enemy booty, Company B incorporated it into their defenses along with several caliber .50 machine guns from the recaptured trucks. The noise of the skirmish had drawn an artillery observer from the 333d Field Artillery Group and he attached himself to Company B and stood ready to deliver supporting fire from the 155mm. howitzers when it would be needed.
At 0700 on December 21 an enemy column was seen approaching from the direction of Salle. The men at the roadblock guessed it was an artillery battery for it contained nine half-tracks, seven 75mm. guns and seven light vehicles. Captain McDonald's men were in a cut above the highway and their position was so well screened that the German column came to within 25 yards before the defenders opened fire. Then they let them have it with all weapons-their rifles, machine guns, a 57mm. gun and the guns of the light tank. Only one light vehicle from the column managed to turn and get away. All of the enemy guns were captured intact but they could not be moved to town and they were therefore destroyed with the aid of the recaptured explosives.
Shortly thereafter, two tanks supported by a group of German infantry tried to flank the position from the northwest. Company B crippled one tank with a rocket and the other tank withdrew. The infantry group was driven back by small-arms fire from Company B's position, supported by artillery fire.
At noon the roadblock positions were put under fire by enemy tanks operating to the southward of Salle. The tank fire was silenced by two tank destroyers from the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion which had just come forward to help Captain McDonald's company. However, by this time it had become clear that the roadblock had little importance. Patrols had been sent out to the northwest and southwest and they returned with information that the highway bridges in both directions had been blown. Since the highway was of no further service as a supply route for
the Division, Company B was ordered to return to the battalion sector. It did so in the early evening.4
At 0900 on December 22, one German group cut the road to Mont southeast of Flamizoulle. (Near Mande-St.-Étienne.) The outpost which sighted it said that it had set up a roadblock with "two half-tracks, one jeep and a trailer." Just before noon, Colonel Allen put on an attack directly south to clear the road. He took twenty-five prisoners and drove the rest off. The motor vehicles turned out to be ordinary farm carts which the Germans had hooked together for use as a block. A platoon of Colonel Templeton's tank destroyers then reconnoitered the road, the sections covering one another alternately from one terrain feature to the next. They reported to Colonel Allen that the road was open.5
In the northwest sector, the 502d Parachute Infantry engaged directly without any long-range sparring with the enemy. That came of the order which initially took Colonel Stopka's 3d Battalion, 502d, to Recogne to help extricate the Noville force (See Chapter 7).6 Four tank destroyers accompanied the battalion to Recogne and stayed there, backing up the line. They got no action the first day though two men and a jeep from the 705th's Reconnaissance Company set up as an evacuation team and shuttled the wounded out of the 502d area after a heavy shelling by the German tank artillery.7
At 0730 on December 21, the 1st Battalion, 502d, moved to the area just east of Grosse-Hez (two miles east of Champs) on Division order, and with this shifting of the line, Company A was ordered back to its own battalion. (It had been attached to the 2d Battalion to fill out the 2d's long front.) One hour later, the 1st Battalion started up the road toward Recogne. Company G of the 506th Parachute Infantry bad been hit at Foy and had pulled back its left flank to high ground. This maneuver exposed Colonel Stopka's (2d Battalion) right flank which was anchored in the first few buildings at the north end of Recogne. Stopka had already swung his reserve, Company G, around to his right and faced it south so as to cover the open flank. He bad been helped a little by one of the tank destroyers.8 The morning was intensely foggy and enemy armor could be beard roaming around
just beyond the murk. Sergeant Lazar Hovland got a clear sight of one enemy tank and set it afire in four rounds. A second German tank fired on Hovland and missed; Hovland crippled it with a quick shot but it pulled back into the fog.9
By the new order from 101st Division, the 1st Battalion was to clean out Recogne finally and then fill the gap between the 502d and 506th regiments. The order was changed a few minutes later when Colonel Sink (506th commander) reported to General McAuliffe that despite Company G's difficulty the 506th's position was pretty sound.10 General McAuliffe decided that it made little difference whether he held Recogne.11 The 1st Battalion, 502d, which had been sweeping forward with two companies abreast, was told to keep on moving but in column of companies. General McAuliffe asked Colonel Stopka if he could disengage, pull back of Recogne and stand on a line running southeastward to where he could join Colonel Sink's flank. Inasmuch as Company G was already standing on this line which curved crescent-fashion around a reverse slope, Stopka said he would be glad to make the move. At noontime the 1st Battalion was moved back to Grosse-Hez and Company A was moved to the south of Longchamps to stop anything that might come that way. The 377th Field Artillery Battalion had given support to the 502d during the latter stage of this operation and had fired 60 rounds on the highway from Salle to Bertogne. The fire knocked out six vehicles of a German column which was turned back by these losses.12
On December 22 the enemy build-up along the Salle-Bertogne road continued at such a pace that at noontime Colonel Chappuis, the 502d's commander, moved Company A to Champs and the rest of the 1st Battalion to Hemroulle (two miles west of Bastogne), which faced them to the westward. A platoon from Company B was set up as a roadblock, where Company A had been, along the Longchamps-Bastogne road.
The 3d Battalion received German probing attacks all day long, but on a limited scale. Two of the tank destroyers which had been with Colonel Stopka's 3d Battalion were switched over to support Company A in Champs. A patrol was sent to Rouette, a mile north of Champs, to check on enemy activities. It encoun-
tered a small detachment of Germans in the village, engaged 14 of them in a 20-minute fight, drove them off with machine-gun and rifle fire and withdrew under cover of fire from the 377th Parachute FA Battalion.13
On December 23, the positions were unchanged. Another patrol went into Rouette under the leadership of First Lieutenant David E. White. They got close enough to see that the enemy was occupying a line of outposts on high ground which overlooked the roads to Champs and Givry (two miles northwest of Champs). The enemy was feverishly at work setting up roadblocks of farm carts bound together. There was a great deal of digging going on next to the positions.14
Farther to the southward the signs were becoming equally ominous. Colonel Allen's 3d Battalion of the 327th Glider Infantry was situated in defense of the area of Flamierge, Flamizoulle and the St. Hubert highway west of Mande-St.-Étienne. This put it well to the west of any other unit, without friendly contact on either its right or left. Feeling that his battalion was overextended, Colonel Allen issued a withdrawal plan to his units on December 21 which was known as Plan A. By this plan, Company C would move through Company B in Flamizoulle and Company B would then follow and go through Company A. It was the responsibility of Company A to hold off the enemy until the two other companies were situated on the high ground west of Champs and Grandes-Fanges (a mile to the south). Company A would then withdraw through Company B and Company C would go into a reserve position.
At noon on December 23, patrols reported enemy tanks approaching from the woods to the south of the St. Hubert road. On drawing nearer, this force revealed itself as twelve tanks accompanied by infantry in snow suits. About 1330 Colonel Allen's outposts began their withdrawal without trying to engage the German armor. Allen was fearful that the Germans would move to his right and cut him off from Bastogne. Instead, they moved to the left and halted on the ridge just south of the main road near Cochleval. From this ground they fired upon Company Cs position, but upon trying to advance, were turned back by the
American artillery. In one sortie they lost two tanks to artillery fire and the rest of the German armor then withdrew to turret defilade and continued to fire into Company C for the rest of the afternoon. Six of Colonel Templeton's tank destroyers (of the 705th), along with the reconnaissance platoon, had been in position where with good fortune they might have supported Company C in the first stage of this action. But as they pulled out of the cut just beyond Mande-St.-Étienne, enemy tanks shelled them from the woods off their flank and two tank destroyers were lost immediately. This caused a more cautious attitude on the part of the other tank destroyers and they withdrew slightly while the reconnaissance platoon went forward to screen them on the left flank. The other tank destroyers distributed themselves so as to block the roads leading into Mont and the reconnaissance Platoon dug in along the same line.
As darkness came on, Colonel Allen got word that his roadblock at Flamierge had been overrun by an enemy infantry force wearing snow suits. This German column had come down the St. Hubert highway from out of the northwest. Allen's men had been under the mistaken impression that a friendly force—the 4th Armored Division—would arrive by this same route. They mistook the identity of the group and let it come on until the time had passed for successful resistance.
Four tanks moving along with the road column suddenly opened fire on Company C, hitting a number of men and destroying the company aid station, an antitank gun and a pile of mortar ammunition with the first few rounds. The four tanks pressed on against the company position. At the same time the ten tanks to the southward began coming over the ridge. Company C withdrew as best it could.
Colonel Allen figured that by now his whole battalion position was in jeopardy and he ordered Plan A put into effect, But Company C was in such confusion that it couldn't carry out the withdrawal exactly as planned. One platoon got out to the southeastward by way of the main road to escape being cut off. The other platoons pulled back along the predetermined route. Company B came through Company A as planned and took position on the
left flank of the high ground where Colonel Allen had determined to make his stand. Company A moved to the rear in reserve. However, Company C's losses were such that Company A had to come back forward again and take Company C's place in the line. Fortunately, the enemy did not press the attack.
Allen told his men, "This is our last withdrawal. Live or die—this is it."
He had spoken correctly; the battalion was never pushed from that ground though it was still to face its worst ordeal.15
The next day was quiet. The men cleaned their weapons and waited for Christmas Eve.