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At Bastogne: The First Tank Battle


At Bastogne: The First Tank Battle
 
Company “C”, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion, Combat Command “B” (CCB) 10th Armored Division was part of General Patton’s 3rd Army advancing in the vicinity of the Saar-Moselle Triangle, prior to the 16th of December 1944.  As the divisional engineers, it was our job, with the help of infantry and/or recon units, to see that our armored columns could bypass or breech obstacles in the armored attack; at least that is what I had been trained and taught at the Engineer School at Ft Belvoir, Virginia, and at the 10th Armored Division training at Camp Gordon, Georgia.We held pretty much to that type of action.
 
During the early afternoon of the 16th of December 1944, while our tank column was advancing in the Ardennes we were suddenly pulled out of an attack and started moving north toward Luxembourg.  That morning we had heard that something big was happening north of our position so sudden changes like this were normal.  I asked the lieutenant, tank commander, what was happening; he replied, “Don’t know, we were just ordered to move north; it looks like we are hearing to Luxembourg.”  He suggested I go back to the half-track and take it easy for a while.  Generally, one or two of us engineers rode with the lead tanks during an advance, besides I felt a hell’ VA lot safer up there than in the half track.  We traveled the rest of the day and all night with an occasional stop along the way, and to add to the problem it was a bitter, cold and snowy day.
 
We arrived in the Bastogne area on December 17th, about 36 hours before the main elements of the 101st Airborne began to arrive on December 19th.  Combat Command “B”, commanded by Colonel Roberts, consisted of three tanks columns (totaling about 70 tanks, 3,500 men with about 18 units of the 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion, our own mobile artillery, armored infantry, AAA and other supporting units).  As I understand, when the 101st Airborne arrived on December 19th, CCB was then attached to General McAuliffe’s command of the 101st Airborne.
 
Our armored column, known as Desobry’s column, took up positions and prepared to defend the approaches to Noville which was about 3 miles (or more) north of Bastogne.  The other two columns, Known as Cherry and O’Hara, took up offensive positions to the east of Longvilly and Wardin.This way we established an MDL for the area, and about this same time, enemy tank fire started falling near our positions.  You could see the German tanks moving over the ridge through the fog or blowing snow.  Fortunately, they were either Mark IV’s or Panthers, but you had to keep your head down and on that frozen ground it was difficult.
 
Our TD’s with their ‘76mm’ rifle did a very accurate job that first day.  As I remember with high German initial losses it forced them to withdraw back over the ridge.  I did not see many enemy ground troops with their armor in that attack; however, the Krauts were laying down a lot of machine gun and small arms fire which made preparing the MLD almost impossible.  Most of our work was done after dark on the night of the 17th of December.  I was a demolition man, so at night we kept busy with preparing obstacles and, mostly, laying mines all of which made life a little exciting.  Our 6 lb mines were so ineffective they couldn’t blow dirt off of the enemy tank tracks, so we, engineers and few armored infantry, would generally try to stack the mines or add 6 lbs. or more of additional TNT to the mine to make them as effective as the Krauts telemines, that is if we had time to dig the holes or rig them with prima cord.
 

The Village of Noville (Belgium) 1945

 
On December 19th, our (Desobry’s) tank column pulled back west of Noville to form part of the Bastogne circle on the north and east side of Bastogne.  In the process of withdrawing to the MLD, Lieutenant Colonel Desobry with most of the command post were wounded and taken prisoner.  About this same time the men of the 101st Airborne were moving in with our tank teams to help secure the circle around Bastogne.  It was years later that I learned that at the same time, CCB of the 9th Armored Division was providing armor on the west and south sides of the Bastogne circle.  To me, it was just another battle in another area.  I did not know I was in Belgium let along the town name which meant nothing to me; of course, later on, while in the hospital, I heard about this big battle of the war and I didn’t know I was even involved.
 

I had been wounded by machine gun fire in early November during the Metz offensive; and after escaping from the convalescent hospital, I managed to return to my unit just two weeks prior to the Bulge.  Then on the night of December 20th, I was wounded with shrapnel, so I remember very little of the battle conditions after that night; but I do remember that first clear day when all of our planes were overhead making us feel good.

 

Under enemy machine gun fire while removing mines and obstacles.

 

General McAuliffe later paid us a great compliment when he said:

 

“It always seems regrettable to me that CCB of the 10th Armored Division didn’t get the credit it deserved in the Battle of Bastogne.T  he 10th Armored Division was in there the day before we were and had some very hard fighting.  We would never have been able to get into Bastogne if it had not been for the defensive fighting… of the 10th Armored Division.”

 

Source:Bulge Bugle, August 1998

Dustin M. AUGHENBAUGH

"C" Company

55th Armored Engineer Battalion

10th Armored Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium