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US Army

Battle in Hotton on that Critical Morning of 21st December 1944

 

 Battle in Hotton on that Critical Morning of 21st December 1944
 
The weather was cold and damp on the 19th of December 1944, at Stolberg, Germany.  Our unit, Company "B", 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion, received orders to pull back, as did most every other unit within the 3rd Armored Division.  We were to pull back to about Liege, Belgium, then to turn and hit the German thrust head on, and split their forces.  We departed from Stolberg under cover of darkness, and traveled all night and most of the next day, arriving in Hotton, Belgium on the afternoon of the 20th.  The march was uneventful, having no contact with the enemy.  Most units of the task force crossed the river at Hotton, and proceeded on to meet the enemy.
 
I was ordered to remain in Hotton with Headquarters Platoon for the night, along with Major Jack W. Fickessen, who was in charge of the trains.  We were to rejoin the others of my company the next day.  Headquarters Platoon of Company "B", 23rd Engineers stayed on the south side of the river.  All company officers had been ordered on to the front.  Early the next morning we were awakened by German small-arm fire out in the street.Sergeants Salvatore Pasquale and Louis Brantley roused the men of my company and the villagers.  The villagers headed for a cave at the edge of town, which they used as a shelter.  The men of Company "B" took up their positions, ready to fight.
 
Company "B" had a 57mm anti-tank gun which we set up at the south end of the bridge.  We could see the German column, supported by several tanks, approaching from the other side of the river, preparing to cross the bridge.  The road along the river was very narrow, with houses on the side opposite the river.  Pfc Kenneth Walk was able to fire one round, hitting the lead tank, and it went up in flames, causing the crew to abandon it.  I understand they were disposed of by the men of Headquarters Company, 23rd Engineers, as they abandoned their vehicle.
 
The narrow road made it impossible for the other tanks to pass the disabled one, so they had to back up and come around the town from another direction.  While this was happening, a late model tank destroyer, equipped with the most up-to-date fire power, lumbered down the street on the south side of the bridge where we were.  This tank destroyer was lost, and trying to find the way back to the unit. (I have since forgotten which unit they were assigned to, but it was not the 3rd Armored Division.)I   halted the Sergeant and explained the situation.
 
At the moment, the lead tank of the German column was again approaching the bridge coming between two houses on the north side.  Our "New found friend" made short order out of him, halting him in his tracks.  By this time, the troops on the north bank was working the attacking Germans over pretty good.  They were forced to retreat to the edge of the town, due to their losses, plus the loss of two of their supporting tanks.Sergeant Brantley and I were able to locate a road up the hill on the south side, enabling us to view the location to which the Germans had retreated on the north bank.
 
The tank destroyer was brought up on top of this hill, and our newly acquired friend was able to knock out three more German tanks before we had to abandon the hill due to the heat from the German guns.  By this time, it was getting late in the day, and the odds had become much more even.  Our new friend said he'd best be on his way.  I tried to persuade him to stick around for a while, but he felt it time he go again in search of his unit.
 
From their position the Germans were able to re-group, and under the cover of darkness would attack nightly.  But the loss of the tanks had greatly reduced their firepower, and their punch was restricted to foot soldiers.  The status quo remained, with each side holding its position until Christmas Day, 1944, when a group of infantry from the 75th Division came through the town on their way to the front.  The Germans had withdrawn, and we loaded up and rejoined our respective units.
German tank destroyed at Hotton, December 1944. (Photo NARA)
 

Though most of the men under Major Fickessen's command at the time were support troops – cooks, clerks, mechanics, etc.., they rose to the occasion, and became "front line" soldiers when the need to do so arose.  Another memorable thing about Hotton, Belgium – it was the first time in the war that we encountered German soldiers dressed in American uniforms.

 
The reason I'm so sure of these dates, December 20th, is my birthday.  I had received a package from my wife just before we departed from Stolberg.  I had been too occupied with my duties in preparation for our departure to open it.  I finally found the time to do so on the night of the 20th, I was settled in with a very nice family, which included several children, one being a small baby about the age of my first-born son who I had never seen.  The box consisted of fruit cake, cookies, nuts, sausage, oranges, apples, etc.. I became so absorbed in playing with the baby and through him feeling a bit closer to my own child, the contents of my birthday box soon disappeared, thanks to this family who had not seen so many "goodies" in years.  I spent a peaceful evening on my birthday, but the next day was one never to be forgotten.
 
Source: Haynes Dugan, letter to the webmaster, April 4, 1989

By 1st/Sgt Maynard DILTHEY

Company "B"

23rd Armored Engineer

Battalion

3rd Armored Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium