ON DECEMBER 21 and 22 the opposing forces around the northeast sector simply sparred with one another.1 The enemy had been stopped cold at Neffe and Mont by Colonel Ewell's 501st Parachute Infantry and supporting units. The effort to slip through the ground held by the forces of Colonels O'Hara and Harper had been equally unsuccessful though less costly. After these futile passes, and following the shock action at Noville, the enemy seemed almost to abandon the effort to break through Bastogne and concerned himself with extending the westward flow of his forces on both sides of it so as to complete the encirclement.2
The road to Neufchâteau was cut by the Germans on the night of December 20, isolating Bastogne. General McAuliffe had gone that way just a few hours before to talk to the Corps commander.3
It was a pregnant conversation. General McAuliffe said that he was certain he could hold on for at least 48 hours and maybe longer. General Middleton replied that in view of the fact that the hour would probably come when communications could not be maintained, General McAuliffe would have to be prepared to act on his own. He pointed out that the 116th Panzer Division was coming in on General McAuliffe's flank—in addition to the three German divisions already fighting him. McAuliffe said, "I think we can take care of them." Middleton said that he certainly wanted to hold Bastogne but was not sure that it could be done in view of recent developments. It was important, General Middleton added, that the road to the southwestward be kept open as long as possible.
As General McAuliffe walked out the door, Middleton's last comment was: "Now, don't get yourself surrounded." McAuliffe noticed that he said it very lightly and felt that the Corps commander was simply having a little joke in a tense moment.4
General McAuliffe went on out, jumped in his car and told
the driver to make for Bastogne as fast as he could get there.5 He figured he was already surrounded—or just about so. A half hour after he did come over the road, it was cut by the German armor.6
That was not, however, an unmixed evil, for it brought an important change in the relationship of the forces in the defense. During its first two days the infantry and the armor had collaborated well but they had not been a team. On the first night, General McAuliffe had asked that the armor (Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division) be attached to him and its commander Colonel Roberts had said, "What do you know about armor?"
General McAuliffe had replied, "Maybe you want the 101st Division attached to your Combat Command."7
It was partly because of this division in the command authority, and partly because the armor and the infantry were units strange and new to each other, that during the first stage there was a lack of cohesion." That lack was felt more as a moral than as a tactical thing. To one staff officer of the Division the armor along the front seemed "like a will o' the wisp."9
The armor felt the same way about the infantry. Each force had the feeling those first few days that it was propping up the front pretty much unhelped. In general, neither force was feeling the presence of the other strongly nor having a clear idea bow much support was being received from it. Liaison was fragmentary. Both tankers and infantrymen had bad to come out of their comers fighting and during the first crucial hours they had no choice but to look straight ahead and slug.
But with the cutting of the Neufchâteau road and the isolating of the Bastogne garrison, General Middleton called General McAuliffe and told him that the armor (Combat Command B) and all other troops within the circle were now under his command.10
General Middleton also called Colonel Roberts and told him, "Your work has been quite satisfactory but I have so many divisions that I can't take the time to study two sets of reports from the same area." Colonel Roberts reported in person to General McAuliffe to do command liaison and from that time on until the siege was lifted his post was almost exclusively at the 101st Division command post. The result was that the coordination was
complete. Roberts, a veteran tank commander, was particularly concerned that the armor be used properly, used to the maximum effect and not wasted. He strongly resisted the attempts of infantry commanders to use tanks as roadblocks. He worked specifically to get his armor quickly released after each engagement so that there would always be a maximum strength in General McAuliffe's mobile reserve for the next emergency. In the middle of the siege he published a mimeographed memorandum to the infantry officers on the right ways to use tanks.11
The order to Combat Command B on December 21 from VIII Corps to "hold the Bastogne line at all costs" gives a key to General Middleton's view of the situation during this period. On the evening before, he had talked with McAuliffe and bad expressed a doubt whether the strength at Bastogne was sufficient for the task.12 All along he bad been willing to make the gamble of an encircled force at Bastogne, and for a few hours he may have felt that the gamble was dubious. Now be had come to believe the gamble would succeed and that the battle must be fought out on that line. There was no longer any doubt or question anywhere in the camp. From this hour the action of all concerned, the VIII Corps commander, the 101st Division commander, and the armored force commander of Combat Command B-Middleton, McAuliffe, and Roberts-became wholly consistent with the resolve that Bastogne could and would be held.13
General McAuliffe now had the answer to all of his questions. No situation could have been more clearly defined. During the first two days he had entertained many doubts and bad continued to wonder just what the situation was. He had heard about various groups from the 28th and 106th Divisions which were still out fighting somewhere and might fall back upon him. The 7tb Armored Division was supposed to be somewhere up around St. Vith. He had also had to worry about the organization of stragglers. At the first, part of the 28th Division had been screening him on the south flank. Its commander, Major General Norman D. Cota, had called him on the morning of December 20 and said, "Id like to see you," and McAuliffe had replied, "I'm too damned busy." Cota then said, "I'll come up to see you."14
Now, on the 21st, McAuliffe knew that General Cota would not be coming to see him, and that the only situation involving American troops about which he would have to worry for a while was the situation right within the two-and-one-half mile circle of German forces closed around Bastogne. The only support he could expect for the time being was just what he had—all within ranging distance of his own105mm. Batteries. It was a nice, clear-cut position and it had materialized in just about the way that he had expected upon first reaching Bastogne.15
But what he had not foreseen, something that came like a gift form the gods, was that after the first hard collision, the enemy would give him a comparative respite in which to reflect on his situation and knit his armor and infantry close together, now that both were his to work with as he saw fit. The Germans had spent two days trying to break on through Bastogne. They had failed to crush it; they would try to choke it. But while they were building up around the west and south, the pressure against the city relaxed.16
The flow of bubbles on the G-2 overlays, showing the extension of the enemy to the south and westward, was moving along. Panzer Lehr Division had been the first to break upon the Bastogne rock. But the 26th Volksgrenadier Division had also come in from the east. A captured map showed that it had failed in one of its appointments, for the 26th Volksgrenadier was to have had the honor of capturing Bastogne.17
The Germans were traveling light. Their commanders had told them that Bastogne was bursting with American food and that they could eat when they got there.18 Some had gone hungry for three days while trying to reach the American rations. Too, the enemy fire power manifested a certain weakness. While his heavy mortars and nebelwerfers were shaking down the store fronts in Bastogne and wounding a few soldiers and civilians, his artillery effort was largely limited to the covering fire given by the tanks and the fire of a relatively few self-propelled guns when his infantry charged forward. This, G-2 attributed to a critical shortage of ammunition.19
The cutting of the Neufchâteau road, closing the German
circle, appears in the 101st Division records as hardly more than an interesting incident.20 Up till then, the Division's intelligence of the enemy strength and movements was more notable for its blanks than for its specific detailed entries.21 The G-2 section had, of course, moved cold into an unknown situation and was having to build up its picture of the enemy and friendly forces piece by piece. There had been no pretty "estimates of the situation" to take over and build upon.22 All that Division could know for certain was what it learned from examining the enemy dead or questioning prisoners. That was enough for Lieutenant Colonel Paul A. Danahy's (Division G-2—plate 29) main purpose and enough also to satisfy his taste for melodramatic utterance.
Eleven dead men had been found on the ground where the hospital was captured. The corpses had civilian clothes—and German military dogtags. Colonel Danahy went out to make the identifications.23 A few hours after this find, a message from 10th Armored Division came through Combat Command B to 101st Division Headquarters saying, "You can expect attacks from Sherman tanks, civilians and almost anything now."24
Reports came into the G-2 office through the first day of Germans killed while wearing American uniforms and of Sherman tanks pouring fire on our lines. Danahy checked up. He found that invariably, where the enemy used American dress, it was mixed with some of their own clothing, so that they could maintain they were in uniform.25 What be had seen gave him fresh inspiration for prophecy.
"Their equipment is augmented by captured U. S. equipment which they do not hesitate to use," he wrote to the commander.26 "Their morale is excellent but will disintegrate as they come in contact with American airborne troops. It is well known that the Germans dislike fighting. The false courage acquired during their recent successes has so far proved insufficient to prevent their becoming road-bound."27
While this message was going out to the regiments of the 101st, the enemy was crossing the Neufchâteau road and cutting the last line to the south, closing the circle around Bastogne. Recon-
naissance and combat patrols reported strong enemy infiltrations in the areas west and southwest of the town.28
In the morning of December 21, a patrol from Troop D of the 90th Reconnaissance Squadron went down the road to see what the Germans had there. The patrol, under First Lieutenant Arthur B. Arnsdorf, consisted of one tank destroyer and two squads of infantry. They met a group of 101st Division men near Isle-le-Pré (a mile and a half southwest of Bastogne), then moved on some distance farther until they encountered a well emplaced enemy force which made them turn about. 29
Another armored patrol under Captain Keith J. Anderson went to Clochimont where it observed a large enemy force-riding in American vehicles and dressed in American uniforms.30
Later in the morning of December 21 Team Pyle—14 medium tanks and 200 infantry, mostly from the 9th Armored—moved to the vicinity of Senonchamps to assist the 420th Armored Field Artillery. Lieutenant Colonel Barry D. Browne, in command of the 420th, had received reports that Sibret and Morhet (map 13, page 112) had fallen into enemy hands. He figured that he was out on a limb and that the enemy might come upon him from either flank. So he turned one of his batteries to fire on Sibret and rushed a forward observer out to adjust on the village. At that moment, he saw the motorized column of the 333d Field Artillery Group as it came speeding up the road out of Sibret. Another column came driving hard behind the 333d—men in American clothes and riding American vehicles. They got fairly close to Senonchamps, then stopped, deployed and opened fire with an M8 assault gun.
Even as Colonel Browne realized they were Germans, they started side-slipping off into the Bois de Fragotte which lies just south of Senonchamps. Team Pyle got there in time to help Browne fill those woods with fire; one battery from the 420th Field Artillery Battalion and one from the 755th Field Artillery Battalion (155mms.) also engaged in this action. The infantry and tanks moved west into the woods. Almost immediately, one of the tanks knocked out an enemy 75mm. self-propelled gun. The force then advanced into a large clearing in the center of the forest. While crossing the clearing, one of the tanks was disabled by a shell from a high-velocity gun somewhere in the woods. The tank lost a track. A smoke screen was laid in an attempt to cover its withdrawal, but the tank wouldn't budge and bad to be destroyed.
The force then withdrew to a line farther to the east, but within the forest. Additional support kept coming to it until by night Colonel Browne was commanding 300 infantry and 19 tanks, in addition to running two battalions of artillery.31 His troops were covering a sector more than 4,000 yards long (map 14, page 114) and running from south of Senonchamps to the Bastogne-Neufchâteau road. All of this had been built up dur-
ing the day of December 21 as forces were shifted to meet the attack from the new direction.32
But the heavy increase of fire on the left found Danahy ready to meet the emergency. "The cutting of the roads," he wrote in his periodic report to the commanders that evening, "had had no effect upon our present situation except to make travel hazardous."33