THERE WERE TWO RELATIVELY quiet days on the Marvie part of the circular Bastogne front after the snows came—December 21 and 22. Bastogne was searched for enough bedsheets to camouflage the patrols. Early in the afternoon of December 21 the Germans came across the main highway directly south of Bastogne and then began working north toward the battalion lines on the hill.
Colonel Harper shifted the 2d Platoon of Company G, 327th Glider Infantry, from the ground immediately west of Marvie to a place west of the highway. Three of Team O'Hara's tanks were already on the hill where Harper had placed them the day before.1
The armor and infantry together were able to turn this thrust back before it became any real threat.2 The 1st Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry, was relieved from attachment to the 501st Airborne Infantry, reverting to direct Division control.3 It was moved to the southwest of Bastogne in the vicinity of the woods there and ordered to establish a roadblock along the main highway, and from this point to patrol westward to make contact with the 326th Engineer Battalion.4 They were also instructed to patrol to Villeroux and Chenogne and make contact with "friendly troops" but before they could do it the enemy had moved through these positions and driven back the 333d Field Artillery Group.5 The Engineers then set up as small combat groups and covered the ground between Colonel Hartford F. Salee's 1st Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry, which was over the Neufchâteau road and the platoon from Company G, 327th, which was west of the highway leading south from Bastogne.6
In Team O'Hara's part of the sector, too, there was a lull. Some time during the night of December 20 the Germans removed the trees from Team O'Hara's roadblock. At 1100 on the next day a combat patrol went forward to investigate. But on approaching the point where the block had been they found that
the enemy now had it covered with crossing bands of machinegun fire. They were able to withdraw without casualty and mortar fire was then put all around the road junction.
In the early hours of December 22 one of Team O'Hara's patrols going forward saw an eleven-man patrol enter their own lines. The night was clear and crisp. The small group from the 54th Armored Infantry first heard the crunching of the snow as the other patrol came toward them. They lay quiet, not firing because they were outnumbered. Too, the strangers were moving as if they were wholly familiar with the ground. They had no visible weapons and they did not carry themselves stealthily. They went boldly over the fences and entered the American lines along the ground that lay between the 327th and the 54th. They walked right by the sentries, moved to within 100 yards of the command post of the 327th Glider Infantry and within 200 yards of the command post of the 54th Armored Infantry.
Four different groups reported the patrol later and all four said they had seen eleven men. Yet the patrol was not challenged anywhere simply because it had moved so confidently. They got in and out without provoking any fire or interest. When Headquarters heard casually how this group had been drifting about, they checked to see whether any nearby unit had put out such a patrol and found that none bad done so. Whether the eleven were friend or enemy was never learned. The visitation and its mystery became one of the legends of Bastogne.7
At 1725 on December 23, the 2d Battalion, 327th, in Marvie (plate 27) was heavily shelled by enemy tanks concealed in a small plantation of firs within the hollow just above the village of Martaimont.8 From their position the tanks could shoot directly into Marvie. It was a characteristic enemy action for throughout the siege it was the German practice to use tanks as artillery, perhaps from fear of hitting their own troops if they used field guns from far back.9
At about 1735 the 2d Battalion, 327th, was attacked by tanks and infantry coming from the same general direction (map 15, page 120), though they had debouched from a larger wood lying a little farther away from Marvie.10 The attack developed very
slowly. The German infantry was clad in snow suits and a light snow was falling. They seemed to be waiting until the gloom deepened so they could make the most of their camouflage.11 The enemy barrage had ignored Team O'Hara's part of the sector but the outposts of the 54th Armored Infantry spotted two enemy machine guns that were firing into Marvie. Flanking fire was placed on them and they were silenced. Heavy automatic fire then searched the position of the 54th. No enemy could be seen and the men of the 54th held their fire except for one heavy machine gun on the left. The enemy spotted that gun. A few minutes later a hand grenade dropped next to the gun killing the gunner and wounding one other man. The rest of the crew quit the position. Next morning a patrol returned to the gun and found the second man still alive but so nearly frozen that he could only nod his head to them. Both he and the dead man had been searched and stripped of their possessions by Germans who had come in fast upon the position after the grenade fire.12
Within half an hour the attack was fully developed and soon after 1840, December 23, one platoon of Company G, 327th became surrounded on Hill 500 to the south of Marvie.13 The enemy had begun a gradual envelopment of the platoon's position by moving into and through houses and yards that were around the base of the hill on all sides. A few members of the platoon were able to withdraw along the flanks of the hill as the encirclement began. The others stayed in their positions and the time quickly came when they could not get out.14
Four tanks, which had accompanied the German infantry advance to Hill 500, turned their fire against Marvie, adding to the bombardment that was still coming in from the armored guns in the big wood.15
Colonel Harper had worried about this part of the perimeter. Earlier in the day he had asked Colonel O'Hara to put a tank on the hill.16 O'Hara agreed to station a 57mm. gun on the lower slope of the hill where a 37mm. gun had previously defended it. The half-track carrying the 57mm. gun was just going into position when the German tanks and infantry closed in on Hill 500. The first few German rounds that came his way were enough for
the driver; he turned the half-track around and sped north toward Marvie. The troops in the village saw the half-track coming toward them from out of the body of the German attack. They thought it was a German vehicle and they fired at it with everything they had, demolishing the vehicle and killing the crew. Two German tanks that had followed along the same road crossed the stream south of Marvie and got into the village as far as the church. They saw then that the destroyed half-track blocked the road and that they could not advance any farther. So they turned around and withdrew.17
Having begun the attack in stealth, the German infantry now came on toward the houses in a frenzy, yelling and firing as they advanced and shooting many flares.18 To the men in Colonel O'Hara's position it looked as if the tracers were flying in all directions. Bullet fire began to envelop them from the southern edge of the village. A self-propelled gun came charging toward them up the Wiltz road. As it rounded the bend and came abreast the farmhouse there, one of our medium tanks fired and the gun went up in flames. The fire lighted the entire area. The enemy turned their artillery loose on the farmhouse. A loft filled with hay soon blazed like a torch. Because of the intense illumination from these fires, the tanks and infantry of Team O'Hara's line withdrew 100 yards to the west.19
Counting an Engineer platoon on the right of Colonel Harper's 327th Glider Infantry, there were 98 men defending Hill 500.20 Already, a few had been killed or wounded. At the same time that a part of the German force pressed against Marvie from the south, twelve German tanks supported by infantry advanced north along the main road toward the position occupied by Company F, 327th. This body had debouched from the same woods from which the German tanks were firing. Instead of continuing along the Bastogne road, part of the German armor moved rightward toward Hill 500. The infantry were clad in white and were almost imperceptible.21
On the slopes of Hill 500 Lieutenant Stanley Morrison and his men of Company G, 327th Glider Infantry, had dug in around the base of the houses. Colonel Harper in his command
post got word that the enemy was attacking. He called Lieutenant Morrison and asked, 'What is your situation?"
"Now they are all around me," Morrison replied. "I see tanks just outside my window. We are continuing to fight them back but it looks like they have us." To Colonel Harper's listening ear he seemed perfectly calm and he spoke in a level tone.
Harper called him back in about three minutes. Morrison replied but he said only these words, "We're still holding on." Then the line went dead.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas J. Rouzie, the executive officer of the 327th Glider Infantry, said to Harper, "I guess that's the end of Morrison."
The men of Hill 500 were never heard from again in the battle. They had been overwhelmed by troops of the 901st Panzergrenadier Regiment of the Panzer Lehr Division. The end came for Lieutenant Morrison's detachment some time after 1900, December 23.22
There had been no tanks or tank destroyers in support of Morrison. Force O'Hara had not fired either in defense of the hill positions or against the German front moving into Marvie from the south. Colonel Harper couldn't understand it.23 He called Colonel O'Hara who said, "They are attacking me also and are trying to come around my north flank."24
This flank had a patch of woods lying just north of the bend of the road but not within the American position and the enemy was striking from out of those woods. Now the snow suits no longer helped them for they reflected the light of the blazing house. From 100 yards away O'Hara's men fired. Some of the figures pitched forward in the snow and others sought its concealment.25
One of Colonel O'Hara's men had failed to withdraw in time. He played dead when the Germans came to his foxhole. They said, "Hello, Hello," then kicked him, sat on him, took his BAR and rifled his pockets. But he kept absolutely still. Some time later be heard them bring up two guns on the left, a large one and a small one. They fired the small gun indiscriminately, apparently with the expectation of getting return fire which would
provide a target for the large gun. Yet during the night the large gun never did fire. The man in the foxhole also heard the German ambulances make numerous trips into the area for the purpose of taking out their dead and wounded.26
Major Galbreaith (executive officer of the 2d Battalion, 327th), reported to Colonel Harper at 2000, December 23, that the German infantry were in the south end of Marvie and were working through the houses.27 (Map 16, page 125.) The tanks which had been on Hill 500 and had shelled Marvie from there were now moving toward the houses. Galbreaith asked Harper, "Can't I get tanks?" Harper replied, "I'll try." But the line to Team O'Hara had gone out. Colonel Harper tried the radio but could only hear Team O'Hara headquarters faintly.
Major Galbreaith called Colonel Harper again, and said, "They are all around us now and I must have tanks."28 "You call O'Hara on your radio," replied Harper, "and say 'It is the commanding general's order that two Sherman tanks move into Marvie at once and take up a defensive position.'"
Colonel Harper had no authority for his action but be figured this wasn't the time to stand on ceremony.29 A few minutes later the two Sherman tanks moved into Marvie on Colonel O'Hara's orders.30 The infantry of both sides were already locked in a fight for possession of the houses but the destroyed half-track kept the enemy armor from entering the south of the village.31
Colonel Harper's force was now totally stripped of reserve.32 His line was buckled in and from Hill 500 the Germans were in good position to exploit the break in his center, roll back the flanks of his position, and through this breach enter the heart of Bastogne. But once again in renewing their direct assault on the city the Germans had made the same error of engaging heavily only along one part of the front. The front at Foy bad cooled off and Colonel Ewell's forces along the Longvilly road could even doze a little.33
At 2145 a platoon of paratroopers from Company A of the 501st Parachute Infantry under Captain Stanfield A. Stach was sent to reinforce Company F of the 327th Glider Infantry.34 That company was already in a pretty bad way. One of its squads had
been in the small patch of woods just to the southwest of Hill 500 and part of a platoon had been on higher ground to the squad's right rear. These positions had been overrun by the German armored advance from out of the woods around Martaimont.35
A few of the men got away. Others had been killed or taken prisoner defending their ground. The bulk of the company, in position along the crest of the hill commanding the main highway into Bastogne from the south, had held like a rock. The German assault had come on with its right closing around Marvie, its center enveloping Hill 500 and its left lunging forward along the main highway. The armor that supported the advance of the German left could be stopped only by bazooka fire from Lieutenant Smith's platoon,36 for this was no place for tank destroyers. Anything that came over the skyline of the hill moving southward from Bastogne was immediately put under fire by German tanks or self-propelled guns firing from defilade. No tank destroyers could be risked at the position.37 Three of Colonel O'Hara's tanks, known as Force Charley 16, were in support of our infantry line, but the night attack closed in in such manner that the fate of the line depended on the infantry weapons. There was a respite after Smith's fire beat back the first attack but the enemy tanks withdrew only a short distance.38
The ruptured line north of Hill 500 was quickly patched and strengthened before the enemy could exploit his opening success. One platoon of Company F, which had been astride the Bastogne road, was put in position to east of it (Map 17, page 128). The 327th Glider Infantry was also given Batteries D and E of the 81st Antiaircraft Battalion and Major Hustead's part of Team Cherry. Twelve guns were put in an arc along the high ground in the road triangle just above Marvie.39
Colonel Rouzie picked up twenty-four men of Company F and with the forty men under Captain Stach proceeded through Lieutenant Smith's position and took up a defense line corresponding with the distribution of the 81st's antiaircraft guns. These moves—made between 2400 and 0100 (December 24)—temporarily closed the breach.40 Colonel Rouzie took personal
charge of the defense of the threatened area. Upon reaching the ground he had decided he was in no position to attack. He felt that he would simply waste his strength if he tried to drive the Germans away from Hill 500. The best course open was to establish a defensive line on the "inner part of the cup."41 Captain Adams reorganized the position of Company F so that the line bent back northeastward to join with the position covering the 81st's guns.42
Twice again that night the German armor lashed at the left flank and always the fire fell heaviest, not on Colonel Rouzie's scratch force, but on the position held by the platoons of Lieutenant Smith and Technical Sergeant Butler. The regimental officers of the 327th Glider Infantry said later that Sergeant
Butler's courage and energy were the mainstay of the defense.43 In one of the assaults a pair of German tanks got to within fifty yards of the foxholes held by Lieutenant Smith's men before they were turned back by bazooka fire. By then Smith's command post was blazing, for the tanks had fired fifteen rounds into the house as they came on. Smith and his assistants had set up in the basement and they stayed there while the upper structure burned.44
Rouzie's force patrolled southward to the small woods from where part of Company F had been driven and found that it was now held by an enemy outpost. A few Company F stragglers were trying to work their way out of the woods. The patrol mistook them for Germans and fired on them. They hit the ground. One member of the patrol, suspecting that they were Americans, crawled forward, identified them and brought them out.45 The enemy had captured a number of American mortars around Marvie and through the rest of the night American mortar shells dropped on the ground which Smith and Butler were defending. In the early morning the Germans asked and received permission to remove their dead and wounded from in front of Smith's platoon. It was only when the Germans came forward to collect their dead that the pressure slackened and the mortar fire ceased.46
Elsewhere along the sector the issue of the fight was still in balance. Two tanks which had ripped through Harper's forward line had gone right into Bastogne and shot up the houses around his command post, without doing any vital damage. In Marvie the arrival of the two Sherman tanks had stabilized the fighting.47
Near midnight, December 23, as the Shermans rolled south into the village, they could hear German armor coming north. They could not see the force nor tell its numbers but the muzzle flashes told them they were engaged at very short range. Again the dead half-track helped save the situation. The leading German tank got up to this accidental roadblock and then tried to turn around, but was knocked out by the two Shermans before it could do so. This loss checked the rest of the enemy armor.48
Colonel Harper's infantry in Marvie bad dug themselves in very deep right next to the foundations of the houses and they
stayed in their holes without flinching. They now had all the best of it because the village was blazing from many fires set by the artillery. Their foxholes were in heavy shadow while the snow-suited German infantry were highlighted as they came across the open spaces. The general assault was quickly checked by bullet fire but enemy parties got a lodgment in the houses at the lower end of the village and pushed slowly northward.49
Along Team O'Hara's front things had quieted well before midnight. The enemy advance into the fire-lighted area was checked and then driven back by machine-gun and rifle fire. Later, after the scene bad again darkened, an enemy tank was heard advancing along the road.50 The artillery forward observer fired the 75mm. gun from his tank and a 105mm. assault gun fired in the direction of the rumble. Second Lieutenant Sherwood D. Wishart, tank platoon leader, reported that night that he was certain his shells had bounced off and the tank bad backed away. But he had scored a bull's-eye in the darkness and in the morning the tank—a Mark IV—was found sitting to the left of the road with a 75mm. hole clear through it.51 Not a single body was found on the ground which had been held by the enemy infantry, though the snow bore many other marks of death and confusion. The German medical units had done their tasks well.52
Soon after dawn of December 24 Colonel Harper went down to look at his lines. He sent a patrol to the hill where Lieutenant Morrison had been and found it was still in enemy bands. His own men still held most of Marvie though the Germans were in some houses in the south of the village. Five men had been killed and seven wounded in the fighting there and one and one-half platoons had been wiped out on the hill. There were no further developments in the situation during the morning.53
At 0900 a patrol from Colonel O'Hara's force went to the old roadblock position and found that the enemy bad withdrawn except for two Germans who were sitting fully exposed on a nearby pile of beets. They shot the two beet sitters and this drew machine-gun fire on themselves. So they pulled back.54
At 1340 six P-47s bombed Marvie, dropping six 500-pound bombs among the American positions. Then they came in over
the housetops and strafed the streets with caliber .50 fire. Colonel Harper was walking through the streets when the first bomb fell. Even as he jumped for a foxhole he saw that there were two cerise-colored panels clearly showing where the front of the position was.55 He thought he saw one of the bombs bit among a patrol that was working through the south of the village toward Hill 500 and he sent two runners after the patrol to see if any damage had been done. Then he walked in the same direction. A German wearing a dirty snow suit dodged out of one house and into another so that he could get into a position from which he could fire on the patrol. Harper fired his M1 at the house in order to warn the patrol. The patrol, which seemed OK from the bombing, went to work on the house too, but on receiving rifle fire from the south of the village, they came on back.56
During their brief reconnaissance they bad seen a German tank completely camouflaged as a haystack except that the Germans had made the error of leaving the gun muzzle sticking out of the hay. Colonel Harper went to the one Sherman tank remaining in the village and gave the gunner the target—just beyond the last houses.57 He continued on to the tanks of Team O'Hara along the Wiltz road and told them to start pounding the tank and the houses in the lower part of Marvie which concealed the German infantry. With their first fire the Shermans got direct hits on the tank and blew the hay away.58 They kept on blasting it and the crews thought they knocked it out. Major Galbreaith (2d Battalion Exec, 327th) said, however, that he saw the tank get away under its own power.
At 1645 the P-47 planes returned again and attacked Marvie with bombs and bullets.59 At 1945 Bastogne was bombed and strafed by several enemy planes.60
At 1800, December 24, Colonel Harper was told that he was in command of the perimeter all the way from Marvie to northwest of Hemroulle.
Colonel Harper said to General Higgins, "Look at it! This is half of the Division perimeter."
General Higgins replied, "It's all yours. Do what you can with it. There isn't any other solution."61
Higgins reasoned that it was a fairly safe gamble. He had studied the map carefully and had gleaned all that he could from firsthand study of the country just outside the Bastogne perimeter. The landscape to the south was heavily wooded and therefore not suitable for armor. He considered that the only place where the enemy was likely to strike Harper's sector in force was at the Wiltz road. But the opening there was a pretty narrow corridor and he felt that Harper had enough strength across the Wiltz road to deal with any fresh threat at that point. What concerned General Higgins most was the position in the northwest sector, a gently rolling hill country, with no natural obstacles and very little tree growth. Thus far it had been the quietest portion of the perimeter but that fact did not lessen Higgins' apprehension; he felt sure that if a real tank stroke was coming, this would be the point of danger. He remarked to General McAuliffe that they could expect to be entertained out there on Christmas Day.
"The Germans are a sentimental people," he said, "and they are probably thinking about giving a present to Hitler."62