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Von Rundstedt's Breakthrough


Von Rundstedt's Breakthrough

(The following article was taken from Colonel Kenneth Rubel's book Daredevil Tankers.)

 
December 18: At 1245 hours, we received a telephone call from Lieutenant Colonel Cox, Assistant Armored Officer, First U.S. Army, to the effect things were bad in the breakthrough area and were rapidly becoming worse.  He said a good many outfits had been completely overrun and von Rundstedt was gaining momentum rapidly.  It wasn't definitely known how wide the breakthrough was because communications had been out in a good many places.  Part of this communication tangle was caused by the overrunning of unit CPs.  The rest had been caused by German paratroopers who had been dropped in the rear.  Colonel Cox stated the general wanted us to send a reinforced company to protect ordinance installations in the vicinity of Aywaille, Belgium, which was located on the Ambleve River eight or ten miles southwest of Spa.  This company was to more as quickly as possible to Sprimont, Belgium, an ordnance vehicle depot, draw any kind of combat vehicles we thought it could use-- then take up stations where it could delay the enemy.
 

I had alerted the battalion the night before of the suspicion.  I had felt sure that we would be used somewhere and we would have very little time to prepare for a move.  Company "C" was to be the first company to move out, followed by "A", "B", and "D".  Service Company was to move later when a suitable point had been located.  I told Captain Berry, who commanded Company "C", to get on the road as soon as he possibly could, and had trucks sent down from Service Company to haul the men without vehicles to Sprimont.  The company was on the road at 1510 hours and was led by Major Grady H. Floyd, Battalion Executive.  Major Otto, S-3, stayed with the remainder of the battalion at Neufchateau with instructions to be prepared to move the balance of the battalion instantly upon orders.  I left at 1400 hours with Lieutenant William S Wright, Liaison Officer, and two "recon" peeps.  The battalion command section was to follow the trail of Company "C".

 

Upon arrival at Aywaille, I reported to Colonel Lynde, First Army ordnance Officer, who had been charged with the defense of the ordnance depot.  An enemy armored task force was advancing west along the Ambleve River and was less than 12 miles away, so it was decided that as soon as "C" Company could be equipped with combat vehicles it would take up a defensive position east of Aywaille in the vicinity of Remouchamps.

 

I made a quick reconnaissance of the area we were ordered to defend, and then went over to Sprimont to arrange to draw tanks.  I was shocked to find only three Sherman tanks were on the "ready for issue" line, and that these three were short several essential items of equipment.  The job of this ordnance unit had been to recondition and repair tanks that had become unserviceable in combat.  Of about 25 tanks in the park, only 15 could be made operable.Even these had been cannibalized to some extent.  Generators and starters had been removed from engines, breech parts had been removed from the guns, radio transmitters and receivers were absent, not to mention tools, rammer staffs and other items.  None of them had their combat loads of ammo.  We had blanket orders from army to take anything and everything we thought we could use.  We picked out 15 tanks that appeared to be repairable and worked all night and up until noon the next day robbing pieces from other tanks to put the ones we had selected in running condition.

 
December 19:The tactical situation was going from bad to worse and at about 1800 hours on the 18th I decided to order the balance of the battalion to move to Sprimont on my own initiative.  They moved out at 1020 hours on the 19th of December. Service Company took over the ordnance plant at Sprimont and the battalion CP was established there.  We assigned a tank crew to any vehicle they thought they could put into operation.  Sergeant Loopey and his crew found an M36 tank destroyer and other tank crews took over M10 assault guns.  When the supply of M10s ran out the remaining crews took M7 assault guns.  The light tank company found two brand new M24 light tanks which had arrived in the area through error, and seven M5 light tanks, but had to fill up the rest of the company with M8 assault guns with 75mm pack howitzers.  The assault gun platoon drew M7 105mm assault guns--very few of these vehicles had radios and the platoon leaders found it necessary to use arm signals for control.  By noon of the 19th December Captain Berry had two 50 tank platoons in position at Remouchamps.
 

About this time Captain Stonecipher, S-2 of the 119th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division, came by enroute to his Regimental CP Stoumont.  He asked Captain Berry what outfit it was and what they were doing there, and outlined the desperate plight of the 119th Infantry Regiment.  They had had one of their battalions overrun and destroyed.  The other two had less than 50% effective strength remaining.  Jerry was pushing them back slowly but relentlessly.  Captain Stonecipher asked Captain Berry if he could come down with his tank company and help them out.  I came by a few minutes later and Captain Berry told me of his conversation with Captain Stonecipher.  While I was talking to Captain Berry, Captain Stonecipher returned and pleaded for the use of the company.  I told him that our orders were to remain where we were and that if any changes were to be made it would have to be done by higher authority.

 

At 2 o'clock he returned, bringing General Hobbs, who commanded the 30th Infantry Division, with him.General Hobbs stated that he had talked to Genral Hodges and had secured authority to attach the battalion to the 30th Division, and that he had in turn attached it to the 119th Infantry Regiment..  He ordered us to move at once with everything we could muster to help the situation out.  I instructed Captain Berry to get on the road immediately, and followed Captain Stonecipher down to the Regimental CP.  There I reported to Colonel Sutherland, who commanded the 119th Infantry Regiment.

 

We encountered sniper fire from the ridges paralleling the Ambleve River two miles before we reached the Regimental CP.  Upon arrival we found that the enemy was less than 500 yards away.  As I arrived, a tank company which had been supporting the 119th was withdrawing from the fight, stating that they were low on fuel and ammo.  They also stated that at least five panther tanks were coming this way and were only about 1,000 yards down the river.

 

The tankers stated that the infantry men were beginning to move back.

 

Captain Berry, leading his tanks in a peep, arrived at 1530 hours and we outlined the situation.  He was ordered to attack at once before the infantry was overrun completely.Lieutenant Powers was to spearhead the attack with his platoon, and Lieutenant Oglensky with his platoon was to follow.  We advised Lieutenant Colonel Hurlong, Battalion Commander of the First Battalion of the 119th Infantry that we were coming in to help, that we would commence our attack at 1600 hours, and asked him to attack abreast of us as we came into his position.

 

Lieutenant Powers spearheaded the attack.  He had gone scarcely 800 yards when he saw a panther tank about 150 yards ahead at a curve in the road.  His first shot hit the gun mantlet, ricocheted downward, killed the enemy driver and bow-gunner and set the tank on fire.  Powers kept on moving and about 100 yards further on came upon a second tank.  He fired one round which hit the panther's front slope plate and ricocheted off.  His gun jammed and he signaled Lieutenant Loopey (then Sergeant) to move in quickly with his TD.  Loopey's first round with his 90mm gun set the tank on fire, but he put in two or three more shots for good measure.  By this time, Lieutenant Powers had cleared his gun and had resumed his advance.  About 150 yards further on he came upon the third panther.His first shot blew the muzzle brake off the panther's gun, and two more shots set the tank on fire.

 

All during this action, which occurred within 30 minutes after the attack had started, a slow drizzling rain was falling, and a blanket-like fog covered the whole area.  It was difficult to see an object 400 yards away.  Lieutenant Power's had not only knocked out three tanks that had been raising hell with the infantry, but his machine guns had sprayed the roadsides as well as the sides of the hills and quite a number of enemy soldiers were killed.  Our success in 30 minutes of combat had greatly heartened the doughboys of the 119th.  The not only stopped giving ground but joined in the attack and recovered better than a thousand yards of terrain that they had lost during the day.  Von Rundstedt's thrust had been definitely stopped and hurled back in these 30 minutes, and it was the first good news that had come out of the entire Battle of the Ardennes up to this time.

 

Source:Bulge Bugle, November 2002

John R BRETH

Company "B"

740th Tank Battalion

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium