YET ON THE WHOLE, that first night in Bastogne, the situation was good, and it was largely the intuition and hunch and driving energy of the leaders that had made it so. The day of the 19th had proved that in the few minutes allowed him the night before, General McAuliffe had sized up the position properly.1 He had been tossed into a battle in which nearly all the major facts about the movement of forces were either unknown or obscure. He had rejected Corps' idea that the 101st Airborne Division be assembled to the southwest of Bastogne.2 It was a point that didn't give particular concern to General Middleton so long as General McAuliffe got his troops in where they were best placed to defend the town. However, VIII Corps Headquarters' reasoning was based on the long-range thought that after the enemy found he could not get through Bastogne, his next important move would be to the southwest. In his hasty reconnaissance out to the westward with Colonel Kinnard, his G-3, late in the day on the 18th, General McAuliffe had selected the ground for his camp from the short-range point of view. He wanted an assembly area which would place him at maximum advantage with respect to his own immediate deployments and the movements of the enemy in the immediate future.3 Though he had no way of knowing it at the time, his center of equilibrium was on the ground farthest removed from the early dangers of the encirclement although his two eastward-facing regiments were pointed directly toward the avenues along which the Germans would make their first approaches. The first day's results proved that the angels had been with him as he made his first decisions.
In the opening arrangements one decision was taken which worked out adversely. Lieutenant Colonel David Gold, the surgeon of the 101st Division, and Lieutenant Colonel Carl W. Kohls, the Division supply officer, had picked out a conveniently located crossroads to the westward of the Division assembly area
and decided that this must be the rear, if there were such a thing.4 The Division hospital was set up on the crossroads. Near midnight of December 19 the 327th Glider Infantry was told to send a motorized patrol to crossroads X—the site of this evacuation center.5 The patrol was to investigate and clear up reports of machine-gun fire in that vicinity. They encountered no fire but the hospital was gone—Colonel Gold and all his officers and the men of the clearing company had been captured by the enemy. The 327th patrol decided that there must have been a fight, for dead Germans dressed in civilian clothes were found strewn over the ground, though there were no bodies of American soldiers.6 The bulk of the Division medical supplies had been captured or destroyed.7
Division then called on VIII Corps for medical help, and all 101st Division units were notified that casualties would be evacuated to the aid station of the 501st Parachute Infantry in Bastogne itself. One platoon of the 429th Medical Collecting Company, then located at Jodenville (about one mile west of Sibret), was made available to the 101st.8 Until the night of December 21 the platoon used its five ambulances and two weapons carriers to carry some of the wounded back to the 635th Medical Clearing Company. Then the Germans cut across the road and contact was lost with the clearing unit. An abandoned medical supply dump and the chance discovery of another depot in Bastogne containing blankets, litters, splint baskets and other hospital items helped the situation. Yet there continued to be a critical shortage (plates 23, 24) of bed clothing, litters, penicillin, surgical instruments and surgeons.9
The losses of the first day of battle had not, however, put any unusual stress on the medical facilities.10 But later in the fight when Bastogne became encircled, many of the wounded would have to lie on concrete floors with little or no cover. The blankets of the dead were collected so that there would be a chance for the living, and the shattered homes of Bastogne were searched for any kind of quilting.11
Colonel W. L. Roberts, commanding Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division, had been at Château-Thierry in 1918
and he well remembered the things that happen during the rout of an army.12 In his first conversation with General Middleton in which the VIII Corps commander had outlined the missions that sent the three combat teams of Combat Command B to Wardin, Longvilly and Noville on the night of December 18, Colonel Roberts had foreseen one of the main problems.
General Middleton said to him, "The 28th Infantry Division and the 9th Armored are ahead of us. They are badly cut up. The situation is fluid."
Colonel Roberts replied, "Sir, there will be stragglers. I want authority to use these men."13
Middleton agreed orally and later confirmed it with a written message: "Major General Middleton directs that you have authority to take over all or any part of Reserve Command, 9th Armored Division, in case they show the slightest inclination to retire. Anything you do to prevent falling back in that area will be given fullest backing."14
Colonel Roberts set his net to catch those drifting back. His Headquarters Company was instructed to keep hot food ready all day at a central point in Bastogne. A detail stood by to get these men from other units into billets around the town square. MPs were stationed at the road crossings in the south of Bastogne with instructions to stop every soldier who was trying to get away from the battle and turn him back to the Combat Command B area. About 250 stragglers were thus reorganized in Bastogne on December 19. Some were men from the 9th Armored; most were from the 28th Division. In this way Team Snafu was born, and within the next week it came to include 600 men, led by casual officers; but this outfit was severely handicapped by the fact that they were short of equipment and transportation as long as the siege lasted.15 Team Snafu was mainly a reservoir for the defending force. The stragglers went into it, the regular units drew from it as they had need.
Any organized units heading south were also commandeered. At 1400 on December 19 the 73d Armored Field Artillery Battalion of Combat Command Reserve, 9th Armored, moved through Bastogne. Colonel Roberts watched it go by before sud-
denly realizing that it was his for the taking.16 He sent a staff officer to bring the battalion back and within a few minutes the battalion commander reported at his command post. Roberts told him to put the battalion in position with the 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. The commander returned to his battalion but found that there was insufficient fuel for his vehicles and could not make the return trip.17 The 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion was stopped and put into position with the 420th, where its twelve guns fired during the next day. Just before the Germans closed the roads to the southward, this unit heard that it had been cut off from Bastogne so it moved to the west.18 The 771st Field Artillery Battalion—a Negro unit—was commandeered on December 21 and their 155mm. howitzers gave body to the artillery throughout the siege.19 Colonel Roberts also found in Bastogne eight new undelivered tanks, complete with their Ordnance crews, and he inducted them forthwith into his organization.20
Colonel Roberts had worried a lot about the security of the town itself for he had only part of his Engineer battalion and the Antiaircraft Artillery battalion as reserve.21 General McAuliffe wanted to keep his own reserve as mobile as possible and couldn't see assigning one of his battalions to garrison the town.22 A task force from Combat Command B, 9th Armored Division, entered Bastogne to learn the situation but was ordered by higher authority to withdraw to Leglise, six miles southeast of Neufchâteau.23 A request to 10th Armored for the use of the Reserve Command was turned down.24 So finally Colonel Roberts committed Team Snafu, under command of Captain Charles Brown of 110th Infantry, to the close-in defense of Bastogne.25 Team Snafu's complexion was somewhat changed on e following morning, December 20, when Brigadier General George A. Davis of the 28th Division arrived in Bastogne with a request that Combat Command B attack toward Wiltz. It couldn't be done, for by that hour all of Colonel Roberts' forces were fully committed. Not long after General Davis departed, Combat Command B was ordered by Corps to release all 28th Division stragglers to their own command.26
Throughout the first day of battle there had been losses and a few minor gains in the 101st Division's already strained supply situation. In the 907th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Nelson, worried because his ammunition supply was rapidly reaching the vanishing point, dispatched searching convoys toward what he thought was the Division rear. They moved westward and had been gone about six hours before Colonel Nelson grew aware that he had actually sent his trucks into enemy ground and that they were cut off. A second convoy of five trucks and trailers was sent toward Neufchâteau under Staff Sergeant Vincent Morgan, a supply sergeant. Sergeant Morgan was told that if he could not get M3 ammunition (standard for the 105mm. M3, a gun especially adapted for glider use) he was to bring back some M2 ammunition which the manual said could be used in an emergency.27 The fortitude with which this young noncom carried out his assignment was one of the finest things of the siege. He returned late that night through heavy shelling and small-arms fire about one hour before the Germans cut the road of his inbound journey. He bad first gone to Neufchâteau and on being disappointed there he had driven far to the northwestward, covering in all about 75 miles. On his trucks were 1,500 rounds of M2. It was the only resupply of ammunition received by the 101st Airborne Division before the air resupply came in.28
That partly compensated for a stroke of bad luck. The two convoys of the Division Quartermaster and Ordnance companies reached the Division rear area late at night and were told to remain at a crossroads in the woods (P448630). Lacking time in which to reconnoiter the area, the two companies left all trucks parked on highway N4 facing west.29 Shortly after midnight on December 20, Division headquarters was notified that the service area was receiving machine-gun fire, and a few minutes later came the message "Evidence indicates service troops have disappeared."30
That alarm was enough; within five minutes a message was on its way to Corps headquarters asking for Quartermaster and Ordnance help.31
After being flushed by the fire the two companies had headed west and then south. Most of the trucks got through to the Corps rear and on the next day Captain John L. Patterson of one of the units, the 801st Ordnance Maintenance Company, taking a different route, got into Bastogne with two trucks bringing 500 gallons of gasoline. He then turned south again to bring the rest of the convoy forward. But by that time the Germans had already closed the road.32
Such was the shortage of gasoline in Bastogne through most of the siege that vehicles were fueled only just before they went out on a run so that there would be no loss of gasoline if any standing vehicle was hit.33