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The 526th Armored Infantry Battalion in the Bulge

 

The 526th Armored Infantry Battalion in the Bulge
 
On October 26, 1944, the 526th Armored Infantry Battalion, assigned to the 10th Armored Group, was located in the vicinity of Granville, Normandy, France.  This battalion claimed the distinction at that time, and still does, of being the only separate armored infantry battalion in the Army.  On that day orders came in for the battalion to move to Verdun and become a part of Special Troops of 12th Army Group.  From Verdun the battalion departed for destination in Belgium and Luxembourg.
 
From October 30 to December 17, 1944, the battalion was “permanently” stationed with the headquarters at Harze, Belgium.
 
It was here that the battalion received its first taste of Buzz bombs and V-2’s.  In one incident a bomb landed 500 yards away from the battalion C.P. and broke windows and damaged the building.
 
At 1600 hours, Sunday December 17, the battalion was ordered by First U.S. Army to move to Malmedy, Belgium, with Company “A” 825th Tank Destroyer Battalion attached, and to join the 99th Infantry Battalion (Norwegian) at Remouchamps en route.  At 1900 hours the battalion was formed on the Aywaille-Remouchamps road and waiting to fall in with the 99th Infantry Battalion at Remouchamps.  The 99th Infantry Battalion failed to show up by 2100 so this battalion was ordered to move alone at once, picking up Company “A” 825th en route at La Reid, Belgium.  It was during this period that the Luftwaffe suddenly came to life, strafed and bombed roads between Spa and Malmedy.
 
The battalion plus Company “A”, 825th Tank Destroyer Battalion, then proceeded on to Malmedy.  Road conditions were bad and it was exceedingly difficult to maintain control in the blackout.  En route one rifle squad half-track and one half-track with a towed 57mm AT gun dropped out of the column as a result of accidents.  The 57mm AT gun and half-track, in following, took position at Trois-Ponts and engaged an enemy column of 18 tanks (Kampfgruppe Peiper), knocking out the lead tank which blocked the advance.  However, the 57mm was, in turn, knocked out and four men killed and one wounded.
 
Shortly after midnight December 17-18, a message was received from First U.S. Army that enemy tanks were approaching Stavelot and ordered one rifle company and one platoon of tank destroyers dispatched there to form road blocks and hold the enemy.  Company “A” with 1st Platoon, Company “A”, 825th Tank Destroyer Battalion attached was selected for this assignment, and the executive officer was placed in command of the task force.
 

3rd Squad: AT 57mm gun “B” Company, 526th AIB

First row – left to right: Edward R. Berdine, Doyle Isaacs, Donald D. Hollenbeck (KIA), John H. Surdo, and Albert Smith.

Second row: Dallas N. Buchannan (KIA), Ralf J. Bieker, Donald J. Devoto (transferred to another Company few days before the battle), Lillard B. McCollum (KIA) and James L. Higgins (KIA).  (Document: The Pekan)
 
The balance of the force continued on to Malmedy.  On arrival, it immediately began to set up road blocks and defensive positions.  This battalion, plus the tank destroyers, were the first combat unit to take up positions for the defense of Malmedy.  The 99th Infantry Battalion arrived immediately following the arrival of the 526th and took positions in and around the town.  The 117th Infantry began to arrive about daylight on the morning of December 18.
 
Company “A” plus the platoon of tank destroyers, reached Stavelot at 0400 hours, and two rifle platoons with one section of tank destroyers were sent across the river (L’Ambleve) to set up road blocks.  At 0500 contact was made with the enemy, and, in the ensuing fight, the town of Stavelot changed hands several times.  As a result of this engagement, the enemy was prevented from going on into Spa or accomplishing his mission.
 
At Stavelot was a gasoline dump with an estimated three million gallons, and in his drive to the west, Rundstedt had relied heavily on capturing gasoline and other supplies for his forces.  Some of this gasoline was destroyed by the task force to prevent it from falling in the hands of the enemy and to form a road block, and the Germans never got beyond this block which was covered by fire of Company “A” weapons.  Spa was only about 11 miles away and with no other combat troops to stop the enemy, this one company with the attached platoon was possibly the only force that saved First U.S. Army Headquarters from capture by the Germans.  The casualties for this small force were heavy, but the mission was accomplished.
 
Meanwhile, the situation in Malmedy consisted of strong enemy reconnaissance in force and by fire, but all attacks were repulsed with heavy losses.  The Germans were attempting to take Malmedy in order to complete a road net for their spearheads into Liege, but never succeeded in getting more than a few patrols into the city, and they were either captured or annihilated.  The assault gun, machine gun and mortar platoons of Headquarters Company were on the lines continuously and fired thousands of rounds.
 
On January 3, 1945, the battalion was ordered to make a limited objective attack on the high ground (Houyire's hill) a few thousand yards to the front.  This attack was to be made by one rifle company supported by a platoon of tanks and artillery with a rifle platoon protecting the flank at Baugnez.  It was to be made in conjunction with a general attack by the forces on the northern side of the Bulge.  Since the battalion was near the hinge of the Bulge, it was a diversionary attack to draw the attention of the enemy from the main attack farther west.  The attack was successful in that the enemy drew his reserves away from the main effort in order to meet the push of this point.  However, the cost of the attacks was high, and out of approximately 250 men who participated, 65 were casualties.  Nineteen were killed and eighteen were missing.
 
On January 17, 1945, the battalion was relieved from First U.S. Army.  The battalion had been in the line for 31 days.
 
During the period of combat at Malmedy and Stavelot, casualties were: 33 killed, 58 wounded, and 24 missing.  The orders were to hold Malmedy and Stavelot at all costs.  The two towns were held and the enemy did not gain use of the road nets offered by them.  Losses in vehicles were as follows: for the 526th, 2 half-tracks, one ¼ ton truck and three 3-inch towed tank destroyer guns.
 
Source: Article written by George L. WENDT on December 27, 1989.

By George L. WENDT

HQ Company

526th Armored Infantry Bn

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium