ON THE MORNING of December 17 at SHAEF two members of the Supreme General Staff looked at the map and pondered the question of where best to employ SHAEF Reserve, which at that moment consisted of the two American divisions, the 82d Airborne and the 101st Airborne, recently withdrawn from the lines in Holland.
"I think I should put them there," said Major General J. F. M. Whiteley, the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, "the place has the best road net in the area."
Lieutenant General W. B. Smith, General Eisenhower's Chief of Staff nodded and said to go ahead and do it. He based his decision purely on the thought of how advantageous Bastogne's radial highway net appeared on the map. It was his idea at the time that both 101st and 82d Airborne Divisions should be employed in the Bastogne area. It was in this way that the Airborne Corps happened to make its start toward Bastogne.
SHAEF's general concept was subsequently modified by decisions made at lower headquarters although the initial impetus had been given in the required direction. The change in direction for the 82d Division, which was to have some of its greatest days in the fighting around Werbomont on the northern flank of the Bulge, came after the XVIII Airborne Corps (82d and 101st Divisions) had passed from SHAEF Reserve into the command of 12th Army Group, which was already forming other plans both for the defense of Bastogne and the employment of the airborne strength. But out of the difference in the SHAEF concept of how to employ the airborne force and the ideas which were already forming at 12th Army Group there came some early confusion to the two Corps commanders directly concerned and to their forces. However (as later reported in this chapter) the situation was clarified before any real harm was done.1A
On December 17 and 18, three battle-tested organizations, by different routes and under separate authority, began their moves
toward the town in the Belgian Ardennes with whose name their own fame was to be thereafter inseparably linked. Orders from 12th Army Group were received on the 16th directing the 10th Armored Division to be temporarily attached to VIII Corps, First Army, to counter the serious German attempt at a breakthrough.1B At 1320 on December 17, in compliance with the order, Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division, took its first step toward Bastogne when it moved from a rest area at Remeling, France, to the vicinity of Merl in Luxembourg.2
That evening at 2030 the 101st Airborne Division, which was then re-outfitting in a training area at Camp Mourmelon (near Reims, France, and roughly 100 miles from Bastogne) received telephone orders from Headquarters XVIII Airborne Corps that it was to move north though at that time Bastogne was not the destination given.3 On the following night, December 18 at 1800, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, then in position at Kohlscheid, Germany (about 60 miles north of Bastogne) was ordered by the Ninth Army to march to Bastogne and report to VIII Corps.4
Bastogne, then the Headquarters of VIII Corps, was the natural place for rendezvous and for stabilizing the defense. The town is the hub of the highway net covering the eastern Ardennes—a countryside that is forbidding to the movement of mechanized forces except when the roads are available. By holding at Bastogne the VIII Corps could unhinge the communications of the Germans who were striking west toward the line of the River Meuse.5
Combat Command B closed into the vicinity of Merl at 2155 on the 17th. On the following morning it was ordered to move independently of the 10th Armored Division to join VIII Corps. It took the road through Arlon to Bastogne. On the way Colonel William L. Roberts, the commander (plate 2), received a request from Major General Norman D. Cota, commanding the 28th Infantry Division, to support his force at Wiltz by putting Combat Command B into position south and southeast of the town. But this Colonel Roberts could not do and comply with his Corps orders, so he took his column on into Bastogne and reported there to Major General Middleton at 1600 on the 18th.6
At Camp Mourmelon, the 101st Division was short many of its soldiers who were on leave in Paris. The commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, Major General Matthew B. Ridgway, was at the rear headquarters of the Corps in England. The 101st Division commander, Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, was in the United States (plates 3, 4, 5). Upon hearing of the attack and of the fact that the 101st had been committed to battle, he immediately took a plane for Europe. The assistant division commander, Brigadier General Gerald J. Higgins, was giving a lecture in England on the earlier airborne operation in Holland. With him were five of the senior commanders of divisional units and sixteen junior officers. The night would pass before these men were to hear that the division had been alerted for movement to the front and it would be noon of the next day before they were all rounded up and ready to emplane for Mourmelon. So the senior division officer present in France, the artillery commander, Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe, got the division staff together at 2100 on December 17 and outlined the prospect in these words:
"All I know of the situation is that there has been a breakthrough and we have got to get up there."
General McAuliffe directed the Division to move out in combat teams without waiting for the men on pass in Paris or elsewhere to get back. However, the destination of the 101st as given at this time was not Bastogne but Werbomont to the northwest of Bastogne.7A
At 2030 on the 17th, Lieutenant Colonel Ned D. Moore, Chief of Staff of the 101st, had been called on the telephone by Colonel Ralph D. Eaton, Chief of Staff of the XVIII Corps, and the mission had been outlined in that manner. In moving to Werbomont, the 101st would pass within a short distance of Bastogne and to the westward of it. There was no later modification of this order while 101st remained at Camp Mourmelon.
On the following morning, December 18, the Acting Commander of the XVIII Corps, Major General James M. Gavin, attended a meeting at First Army at which it was decided to attach the 82d Division to the V Corps (since the XVIII Air-
borne Corps could not move in and become operational until the morning of December 19), and the 101st Division to the VIII Corps. However, no word of this change got down to the 101st Division; throughout that day its staff was unaware either that Bastogne was the destination or that VIII Corps was now their next higher headquarters.7B
An advance party was then set up to precede the 101st Division to Bastogne. In the party were a representative from each major unit and a company of Engineers who were to be used as guides to lead the combat teams into their Bastogne assembly areas.8 During the morning of December 18, there had been no time to brief the advance party. Just as the party was pulling away from Camp Mourmelon (plate 30) during the noon hour Colonel Moore ran out of the division command post and advised them that XVIII Corps was to handle the operation and that they should go to a rendezvous with a part of the XVIII Corps staff. They were to meet them at the crossroads in Werbomont. This they did.9A
General Ridgway arrived at Mourmelon about an hour later, having flown from England. He went to the command post of the 101st and Colonel Moore gave him the situation as he had given it to the advance party. Then occurred an odd sequence of events in which Fate might have played a stronger hand against 101st Division had it not been for several providential circumstances. Ridgway went into General Taylor's empty office and called a higher headquarters—presumably his own Corps. In this conversation he learned that 101st's destination was Bastogne, not Werbomont. On the heels of this conversation, General Higgins entered the room, having just reported from England. Ridgway told him that 101st Division was to go to Bastogne. Ridgway then left Mourmelon for the front. Higgins soon followed. McAuliffe had left an instruction that Higgins was to get forward as rapidly as possible, so he picked a route via Sedan, figuring that it would be less encumbered with traffic. But the word that Bastogne was the Division's destination was not passed to Colonel Moore and the units remained alerted for movement to Werbomont.9B
On reaching Werbomont on the night of December 18 the advance party were told that the operation was being handled by VIII Corps and that they were even then due in Bastogne. In this way the advance party failed in its mission and did not reach the objective until 0300 on the morning of December 19. But others were doing their work for them.10
Some few minutes before the advance party had left Mourmelon, General McAuliffe had started for Werbomont taking with him his G-3, Lieutenant Colonel H. W. O. Kinnard (plate 7) and his aide, First Lieutenant Frederic D. Starrett.11 They drove as fast as they could, passing many elements of the 82d Airborne Division along the route. The 82d had been out of the lines in Holland longer than the 101st and was more fully equipped. The 82d was therefore ordered to move out ahead of the 101st. Come to the road juncture south of the Bois de Herbaimont (nine miles northwest of Bastogne) General McAuliffe turned southeast to Bastogne instead of continuing north along the road leading to Werbomont, which is some 25 miles north of Bastogne. He had decided to go to the VIII Corps headquarters and get briefed on the general situation. It was some time following his arrival at General Middleton's VIII Corps command post that he heard definitely for the first time that the 101st was to fight at Bastogne. General Gavin, who had left Werbomont late in the afternoon of the 18th to hand-carry the message to VIII Corps did not arrive until after dark. The delay caused General Middleton a considerable doubt; be had learned from higher authority that the 101st Division would fight at Bastogne but he did not know that the Division was his to use as he saw fit. General McAuliffe's party arrived at the VIII Corps command post, which was located in a former German barracks at the northwestern edge of Bastogne, at 1600 and from that time forward its members concerned themselves with getting ready to receive the Division.12 At that same moment Colonel Roberts, who had arrived ahead of his column, presented himself to General Middleton and reported that Combat Command B was on the road and would soon be in Bastogne.13
Middleton asked Roberts, "How many teams can you make up?"
Roberts replied, "Three."
The General then said, "You will move without delay in three teams to these positions and counter enemy threats. One team will go to the southeast of Wardin, one team to the vicinity of Longvilly and one team to the vicinity of Noville (Map 2, above). Move with the utmost speed. Hold these positions at all costs."14
Roberts accepted the order without demur though at that moment he believed that the distribution of his force over so great an area would make it ineffective. But he made the mental reservation that the Corps commander must know the situation much better than he did himself.15 Middleton's decision was the initial tactical step which led finally to the saving of Bastogne." Com-
bat Command B continued on its way moving north and east to carry out its orders.17A
The first two teams got through the town during daylight. The lead team, Team Cherry, under Lieutenant Colonel Henry T. Cherry, proceeded toward Longvilly, which was considered to be in the direction of the most immediate danger. The second team under Lieutenant Colonel James O'Hara headed toward the village of Wardin in the southeast. It was dark when the last team began moving through Bastogne. Its youthful commander, Major William R. Desobry, went to see Colonel Roberts with whom he had an especially close relationship. For a number of years Desobry had known the older man well; he was talking now to a man who was not only his commander but whom he regarded as a second father. Roberts pointed northward on the map to the village of Noville and told Desobry that he was to proceed there and hold the village. "It will be a close race to get there before the enemy," Roberts said. "You are young, and by tomorrow morning you will probably be nervous. By midmorning the idea will probably come to you that it would be better to withdraw from Noville. When you begin thinking that, remember that I told you that it would be best not to withdraw until I order you to do so."
There were no maps at hand; one of Colonel Roberts' staff officers grabbed a Corps MP and sent him along with Desobry to put the team on the Noville road. A cavalry platoon leader from Desobry's column was sent on ahead to reconnoiter Noville, clear it if there were any enemy present, and then outpost it until the arrival of the main battle group. Desobry then dismounted one platoon of armored infantry, placed them on the backs of the three lead tanks and gave the word for the column to move north. Small groups of stragglers were already passing them, drifting southward. The column paid them no heed. The dark had already slowed the armor to a five-mile-per-hour pace and Desobry figured that he had no time to waste.17B
While McAuliffe and his party were on the road, at Mourmelon the Division was working on the problems of the move. The few hours before the Division began its march were utilized
in preparations for departure and in partly providing those combat supplies which had been lost in Holland. Such things as mortars, rifle ammunition, entrenching tools, arctic overshoes, blankets and gas masks had fallen far below the normal and needed amounts in the tables of basic allowances.18 In the great emergency, Transportation Corps and Oise Base Section acted with utmost dispatch and rallied truck groups from Rouen and Paris. Many of the truckers had already been long on the road when they were ordered to Camp Mourmelon. They were intercepted, the trucks unloaded on the spot, and the drivers directed to their new destination. The first trucks arrived at 0900, December 18. The last of the 380 trucks needed for the movement of 11,000 men arrived at the camp at 1720 the same day.19 At 2000, eleven hours after the arrival of the first vehicles, the last man was out-loaded. As far as Bouillon, Belgium, the column ran with lights blazing. It was a calculated risk, taken by 101st for the sake of speed. The night was clear and the stars shone brightly. Had the Luftwaffe come on then, the story of Bastogne might have taken a different turn.20
In Bastogne, General Middleton sketched the situation to General McAuliffe and Colonel Kinnard very roughly, telling them, "There has been a major penetration and certain of my units, especially the 106th and 28th Divisions, are broken." In the absence of the advance staff party Kinnard tried to function as a whole division staff during the conference. But after discussing matters with both the G-2 and G-3 sections at VIII Corps, he had only the vaguest picture of what was happening and felt altogether uncertain about both the friendly and enemy situations.21 He gathered that some of our armored elements—the 9th Armored Division and 10th Armored Division were mentioned—were out in front of Bastogne, but he could not pinpoint the spots where their roadblocks were. Because of their own uncertainty, both he and General McAuliffe became acutely concerned over plans for the night bivouac. Further than that, they worried that the column might be hit while it was still on the road or that it might even be caught by the German air while still a long way back.22
While there was still light, they took a quick swing out over the area west of town and McAuliffe pointed out to Kinnard where he wanted the Division placed. It was a snap decision, yet it influenced the campaign importantly because it placed the Division in a sheltered forward assembly area until it was ready to strike. In the emergency Kinnard grabbed an MP private from the Corps and sent him to the crossroads at Sprimont to meet the division as it came on. He and General McAuliffe then went to the junction of the Arlon and Neufchateau roads in Bastogne to make another attempt to find the advance party. Colonel Kinnard had with him nine 1:100,000 and six 1:50,000 maps of the area. This was all that the Corps staff could give him with which to fight the operation ahead. When he returned from the reconnaissance, Kinnard searched at Corps headquarters for more maps but found that the map section was already moving out. From Corps he obtained an administrative order giving him the location of ammunition dumps, water points, evacuation hospitals and other installations.23A
However, despite Colonel Kinnard's best efforts, in the speed of the preparations to receive the Division, a good many points had not been securely pinned down. Trailing the last of the 82d Division's column through Sprimont, Colonel T. L. Sherburne, acting commander of the 101st Division's artillery, and an assistant, Captain Cecil T. Wilson, arrived at the vital crossroads where one road leads off toward Bastogne and the other toward Bertogne at about 2000, December 18. Along the way leading north the rear elements of the 82d Division were blocking and stopping. Colonel Sherburne then wondered whether he couldn't get north and on to Werbomont more rapidly by veering from the Bertogne road and taking the long way through Bastogne. He asked an MP at the intersection whether any units of the 101st had gone that way; the MP wasn't certain about anything but referred him to an MP sergeant in a near-by house. The sergeant told him that General McAuliffe and his party had come along some hours before and had gone into Bastogne. So Colonel Sherburne returned to the man who was directing traffic and told him to turn all 101st Division parties toward Bastogne
when they came to the intersection. He then continued on.23B
It appears likely that this small incident smoothed the whole path for the 101st Division. Two officers from the 502d Regiment, who were supposed to have gone with the advance party to Werbamont but had missed it, were re-routed by the MP a few minutes behind Sherburne to VIII Corps Headquarters.
They joined Kinnard and Starrett and drove west to Mande-St.-Étienne. Here they met a jeepload of 327th Infantry officers who had also missed the advance party. Kinnard now had enough personnel to set up the assembly area. An officer guide was posted on the Mande-St.Étienne road to direct the incoming column and Starrett went to work setting up a Division command post in a near-by farm house. The other officers reconnoitered their regimental areas and made their plans for the night dispositions. The hour was a little after 1800 on the 18th and there was not yet any sound of combat in the vicinity. A heavy maintenance company from 28th Division was already in Mande-St.Étienne. The company commander told Kinnard this was his area and he could not leave. Kinnard had to return to Bastogne to get an order from the corps commander to clear the area. Around General Middleton in the Corps command post there were now only six or eight officers.24A
From First Army, General Courtney Hodges, its commander, had called General Middleton and advised moving VIII Corps Headquarters to the rear. This had been done but General Middleton had stayed on in Bastogne with Colonel Stanton, his Deputy Chief of Staff, and several other members of his staff for the purpose, as he thought, of acquainting Major General Matthew B. Ridgway, the commander of XVIII Airborne Corps, with the situation, and of helping General McAuliffe get his situation in hand.
General Ridgway arrived at General Middleton's command post in Bastogne about 2030. He was still acting on the not wholly complete information which he had received from his several sources while at Camp Mourmelon. He understood that the 101st Division was to fight at Bastogne, but be thought that it was to operate under his Corps (the XVIII Airborne) though
some 25 miles of distance intervened between the two airborne divisions. His acting corps commander, General Gavin, who had come and gone by this time, had brought the word to the 101st that it was to fight in the VIII Corps under General Middleton. But the situation still had not been clarified by higher authority. From Bastogne, General Ridgway called Headquarters First Army. It was at this time that the two Corps commanders got the new instructions which changed the problem of each and which at last set the lines along which the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, late of the SHAEF reserve, would operate in the Ardennes. Bastogne was to remain an VIII Corps problem and the 101st Division would operate under that Corps in that town. General Ridgway's XVIII Airborne Corps, less the 101st Division—so General Ridgway now learned for the first time—was to operate on the other side of the Bulge. On the strength of this new assignment, General Middleton subsequently called General Omar Bradley, Commanding General, 12th Army Group, and gave it as his estimate that the 101st Division and other troops assigned to defend Bastogne would probably be surrounded, since he had no reserve. General Bradley said that would be all right with him—to stand and defend even though it appeared probable that Bastogne would become encircled.24B
General McAuliffe decided to stay at Corps headquarters to get his mission for the next day. During the conference of the two corps commanders, Brigadier General Gerald J. Higgins, assistant division commander of the 101st, who had been called from England by General McAuliffe, arrived.25
General Higgins and Colonel Kinnard went out to the Division assembly area. Lieutenant Starrett had found that the local schoolhouse was a better command post than the dwelling which Kinnard had designated and on his own initiative had made the change. He already had telephone lines strung to VIII Corps Headquarters and to the 501st Parachute Infantry area. An officer from the 506th Parachute Infantry who had missed the advance party reported at the command post and was given his sector.
In general, things were now looking a little more snug although one point of irritation had not been entirely eliminated. That was the captain commanding the heavy maintenance company who had refused to move his people out at Colonel Kinnard's request until Kinnard brought an order direct from General Middleton. General Higgins found him now completely blocking the highway over which 101st Division was coming in. His vehicles were parked three abreast and six or seven rows deep. It was an absolute impasse. General Higgins sought out the captain and made his protest. "I can't do anything about that," said the captain. "I have received an order from the General to move my vehicles out. I've made this block to make sure that none of my vehicles get by and get lost; it's the best way to collect them." Even after the situation was explained to him, he said he'd stay where be was. General Higgins then gave him a direct order to get his vehicles in single file along the road at once and himself set about urging the drivers over to the side of the highway.
This was but one incident in a night-long fight with the outgoing traffic. Every time the column of retreating vehicles came to a halt for a few minutes, some of the drivers fell asleep from exhaustion. When the road was again free for a few minutes and the forward vehicles got in motion, these sleeping drivers formed new traffic blocks back along the column. To keep things moving at all, it was necessary for officers and MPs to continue patrolling up and down the column, ready to rouse any slumberer who had tied things up.26
That night in Bastogne was quiet, largely because the 28th Division was holding in place on commanding ground around Wiltz and fighting the enemy off for a few vital hours. Many stragglers were falling back through the town and the roads were jammed to the south and west but no attempt was made to hold any of these men at the time. VIII Corps was busy with its evacuation and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division and the 101st Division were engrossed in their own problems. Colonel Roberts, who had set up his command post in Hôtel Lebrun at 1800, December 18, found that it was difficult to per-
suade other units that were about to withdraw out of the Bastogne area even to give up their motor parks so that he could get his own vehicles off the streets.27
The third major part of the Bastogne garrison, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Clifford D. Templeton, got its marching orders at 1800 on December 18. It left Kohlscheid, Germany, at 2240, but could not proceed by the shortest route—Liège, Houffalize, Bastogne—because the enemy was already around Houffalize. The column of the 705th therefore moved by way of Laroche where it went into a defensive position along the heights six miles south of the town at 0915 on December 19. Colonel Templeton looked Laroche over and was thoroughly alarmed at what he found. American units were in confusion along the road. They were making little or no effort to adjust themselves to the situation or to set up a local defense. So in mid-morning Templeton sent two platoons with four tank destroyers to set up a roadblock to the north of the town. Leaving the battalion at Laroche, he then went on to Neufchâteau, where VIII Corps Headquarters was newly established. There General Middleton told him to get on into Bastogne and attach his outfit to the 101st Division. An officer was sent back to Laroche to bring the battalion on but to leave the roadblock force in place.28
Colonel Templeton and his command section, after reporting to General McAuliffe, started northwest to meet the oncoming column. At Bertogne the section was ambushed by a German party armed with two machine guns, one self-propelled gun and several small antiaircraft guns. The opening fire wounded three men, destroyed a jeep and forced the abandonment of the armored command vehicle. Templeton's men withdrew along the road for about half a mile with all their weapons engaging the enemy. This action took place about 1500 on the 19th and was over in twenty minutes.29
Templeton radioed to his battalion to expect the German roadblock at Bertogne. He then told them, however, that the roadblock could be overwhelmed and the battalion was to "come any way possible to Bastogne, but get there." He did not know that the Bastogne road was impassable because the bridge above
the town was out. In the late afternoon the command section returned to Bastogne to establish its command post. Templeton then radioed the commander of the supply train to "find a haven in the west and hook up with some big friends." He felt quite certain that his train would get through safely because the one M18 accompanying it was capable of dealing with any roving enemy tank or infantry group along the way. Colonel Templeton's 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion reached Bastogne at 2030, December 19, by the route Laroche-Champlon-Bastogne.30
With the arrival of the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, all the major elements which would be present in Bastogne during the siege (the first phase of the defense of the town) were gathered. The 101st Division and Combat Command B had begun the fight that morning and the tank destroyers were now ready to link their power with that of the armor and the infantry. Men of every unit had morale of the highest quality and with their weapons each was capable of stiffening the other. It was a matter of finding the way through courage, resource, and good will.