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US Army

The Story of the 82nd Airborne Division

 

 The Story of the 82nd Airborne Division
 
 In the Battle of the Bulge, in the Siegfried line and on the Roer River (extract)
 

Signed by Colonel Robert H. Wienecke

 

G-4 Chef of Staff

 

82nd Airborne Division

 

N.A.R.A.'s documents (February 1945)

SECTION I – PREFACE

 

By Major General James M. Gavin, commanding

 
Presented herewith is a written and graphic report of operations carried out by the 82nd Airborne Division in the celebrated battles of "The Belgian Bulge" in Belgium and Germany during December 1944, and January and February 1945.
 
This record, written as it is in the terse, military language employed in such reports, can merely hint at the almost indescribable difficulties faced – and mastered – by both the combat and service echelons of the Division.
 
In brief, the 82nd Airborne Division, still awaiting reinforcements and much re-supply at its base camps in the general area of Reims, France, moved 150 miles with its first combat elements going into position in less than 24 hours and the entire Division closing in a new combat area in less than 40 hours from the time of the initial alert.  It fought, stopped, and held against the best divisions the German leader, Field Marshal Von Rundstedt, could pit against it, protecting the North shoulder of the Allied line, preventing the German break-through from turning North to Liege, Belgium, and providing a safe area through which trapped Allied units could withdraw from the break-through area.  This it did despite the fact that its lines at times stretched more than 25,000 yards.  Then, turning to the offense, the Division set the pace for other units, forcing the enemy back through his famed Siegfried Line.
 
Men fought, at times, with only rifles, grenades and knives against German armor.  They fought with only light weapons in waist-deep snow, in blizzards, in near zero temperatures and in areas where heavy forestation and the almost total lack of roads presented problems that only men of stout hearts and iron determination could overcome.
 
The battles of "THE BULGE", ranking on a par with the brightest victories in the Division's history, also proved again that plans and material are important but the most important essential of all is a fighting heart, a will-to-win.  To the officers and men of the line goes full credit for the brilliant record they made in the name of the 82nd Airborne Division.
 

SECTION II – DIVISIONS COMMANDER'S REPORT

 

The 82nd Airborne Division was located at Camps Suippes and Sissonne, France undertaking normal ground divisional training when, on December 17, 1944, first orders were received to move to the east.  At about 1930 hours, while at dinner with the Staff, I received a phone's call from Colonel Eaton, Chief of Staff, XVIII Corps (Airborne).  He stated that he had just received a call from SHAEF to the effect that the situation on the front to the east appeared to be critical; that the airborne divisions were to be prepared to move 24 hours after daylight the following day; that the Corps Commander, General Ridgway, was in England and could not be contacted immediately.  I instructed Colonel Eaton to issue orders to the Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, Brigadier General McAuliffe, to prepare immediately for movement in accordance with the SHAEF estimate, 24 hours after daylight.  I assembled my Staff in the Division War Room at 2000 hours.  I had listened to a radio news broadcast at 1800 hours and was aware of the fact that a German penetration was being made in the direction of St Vith.

 
The division was ready for a quick move, since, because of our past and usual quick commitments, we have maintained a high degree of readiness as a standard operating procedure.  A basic lot of ammunition was in the hands of each regiment complete in all respects.Two "E" and two "D" rations for the division were at hand and could be distributed in quarter of hours.  All weapons, uniform and equipment were up to an operating standard.The Staff assembled at 2000 hours when the initial directive was issued that started their planning.
 
I called General March at Camp Suippes at about 1945 hours, giving him the situation and alerting him for the move.  Unit Commanders at Camp Sissonne were assembled with the Staff in the War Room at 2100 hours when the situation was outlined to them and a tentative plan for the movement to Bastogne issued.  At about 2130 hours I received a call from the Chief of Staff, XVIII Corps (Airborne) who said that Corps had orders to move without delay in the direction of Bastogne where further orders would be received.  He also said that Corps was to be attached to the First United States Army.  After further discussion I decided that the 82nd Airborne Division would move approximately one hour after daylight and move in the direction of Bastogne.  At that time Oise Base Section was devoting all its efforts to pulling in all transportation off the roads to provide the necessary lift for both divisions.
 
At 2330 I left with my G-1, Lieutenant Colonel Alfred W. Ireland, and my Aide, Captain Hugo V. Olson, for the command post of the First United States Army at Spa.  The drive was very difficult due to the general condition of the roads, rain and fog, and the absence of bridges on a number of important highways.  I reported to General Hodges in person at about 0900 hours, 18 December.  At that time the situation appeared rather vague.  The first reports of enemy contact at Stavelot were just coming in.  It was reported that an enemy force at Stavelot had driven our troops across the river and had succeeded in capturing and destroying a large map supply.  They apparently blew the bridge upon driving out our forces.  The situation south and west of Stavelot was unknown except that the enemy had evidently overrun our front positions.  There appeared to be a large force of U.S. troops centered on St Vith.  There also appeared to be a large pocket of the 106th Division surrounded in the Eifel.
 

After some staff discussion, the Commanding General, First U.S. Army decided to attach the 82nd Airborne Division to V Corps.  It was to close in an area in the vicinity of Werbomont.  The 101st Airborne Division was to be attached to VIII Corps and would assemble in the vicinity of Bastogne.  I placed a request with the First U.S. Army for tanks, TD's, 4.2's and medium artillery, and left the OP for Werbomont.  At this time there was considerable movement west of service and command installations in and around Spa.  It was apparently being evacuated.

 

I arrived at Werbomont at approximately mid-afternoon and immediately made a reconnaissance of the entire area.  It offered excellent defensive possibilities, being dominant terrain for many miles from the crossroads at Werbomont.  At about 1600 hours I contacted an engineer platoon at the bridge at Habiemont.  The bridge was prepared for demolition and they reported the Germans were in the immediate vicinity, coming over the main highway from Trois-Ponts.  At that time a number of civilians were very excitedly moving west on the Trois Ponts – Werbomont road.T  hey all stated that the Germans had passed Trois-Ponts and, were "coming this way".  I made a reconnaissance down the valley from Habiemont to the Ambleve River but encountered no enemy or any indication of his whereabouts.  One bridge was still intact at Forge and was to be prepared for demolition.  Upon returning to Habiemont I asked the Lieutenant at that bridge about it, and he appeared to be fully occupied with the means at his disposal of blowing the bridge at Habiemont.  At 1630 hours I left for Bastogne to meet General McAuliffe.

 

I reported to the VIII Corps CP in Bastogne and had a short conversation with General Middleton and talked to his G-2 and G-3.  At that time the Corps CP was preparing to move.  The situation was very vague.  The 28th Division officers present seemed to feel that their division had been overrun, although they were uncertain of its whereabouts.  I meet General McAuliffe, gave him his orders that he was to assemble in Bastogne, reporting to the Corps Commander of the VIII Corps, and I left, moving north and passing through Houffalize shortly after dark.  I arrived in Werbomont, at approximately 2000 hours and about that time the first large group of 82nd vehicles started arriving.

 

A command post was established and troops disposed as rapidly as they arrived.  Drivers and troops were very tired, having by this time been up for two nights.  All during the night the staff worked on closing the vehicles into the Werbomont all area.  About two hours after daylight December 19th the division closed in that area.

 

In the meantime the first enemy contact was made at Habiemont.  A road block of the 30th Division was contacted by a German armored reconnaissance party at about 1900 hours the 18th December.  I visited the locality at daylight December 19th and found about five armored vehicles, armored cars and SP's knocked out, with several German dead lying about the road.  About a platoon of 2nd Battalion, 119th Infantry was present.  They reported that all of their road block party proper, despite having knocked out the German reconnaissance party had either been killed or captured or had moved east.

 
It appeared quite clear that this was a reconnaissance party of a German armored column that had been endeavoring to move from Trois-Ponts to Werbomont and had succeeded in crossing the river at Forge.  The Habiemont bridge was blown.  At daylight, December 19, it was learned that the north-south road from Bastogne to Werbomont had been cut by the Germans in the vicinity of Houffalize.  The depth of this penetration was unknown, but there were rumors from truck drivers that the Germans were on the road in the vicinity of Hotton.
 

At 1100 hours, December 19, orders were received to dispatch one infantry battalion and one platoon of TD's to the area north of Hotton to block and clear all approaches from Hotton to the north , northwest and northeast.  Permission was later obtained from the Corps Commander to send this battalion to Barvaux.

 

During the afternoon of December 19 information and orders were received from Headquarters XVIII Corps (Airborne), which had been established about one mile north of Werbomont, that First Army was to hold along the general line Stoumont – Stavelot – Malmedy and counterattack in the direction of Trois-Ponts to halt the enemy's advance to the northwest.  The XVIII Corps (Airborne) assumed command of the sector generally south of the Ambleve River to include Houffalize.

 

In compliance with instructions received from Corps Headquarters, the 504th Parachute Infantry advanced and seized the high ground northwest of Rahier and the 505th Parachute Infantry advanced and seized the high ground in the vicinity of Haute-Bodeux.  The 508th Parachute Infantry sent one company to the crossroads one mile east of Bra.  The regiment, less one company, occupied the high ground in the vicinity of Chevron.  The 325th Glider Infantry remained at Werbomont, having sent the third battalion to the vicinity of Barvaux and one company to the crossroads at Manhay.  These dispositions were consolidated during the night of December 19-20 and patrols pushed to the front to gain contact with the enemy.

 

Shortly after daylight, December 20, I met Colonel Reuben Tucker, 504th Commanding officer, in the town of Rahier at which time he had just received intelligence from civilians to the effect and approximately 125 vehicles, including approximately 30 tanks, had moved through the town the afternoon before, moving in the direction of Cheneux.

 

The information appeared to be realizable.  It posed some interesting problems.It appeared that the Germans had given up hope of crossing the creak obstacle at Habiemont with their heavy armor and had turned to the main road through Stoumont – La Gleize.  If this were the case, the seizure of the bridge over the Ambleve River at Cheneux was imperative if their further movement was to be blocked.

 

I ordered Colonel Tucker to move into the town of Cheneux without delay and, conditions permitting, to seize the bridge.  It was imperative that the bridge be seized.  If 125 armored vehicles engaged the 504th in the country around Rahier we were in for some anxious moments, but we had come a long way to find the German and we had beaten in the past better units than these appeared to be, even with our limited means, so there was but one thing to do and that was to close with the enemy as rapidly as possible and destroy him by any means possible.  But the seizure of the bridge was imperative.

 

Initial contact was made at the western exit of Cheneux by a patrol which had been sent from Rahier by the 1st Battalion of the 504th Regiment.  They fired on a German motorcyclist who was accompanied by a small patrol.  Contact was first made on the ridge one-half mile west of Cheneux.  This small patrol was followed by approximately a company of Germans moving along the ridge.  They were engaged at once and a heavy fight took place, lasting all day long.  This German force, we know now, was the advance guard of a reinforcement battalion of the first SS Panzer Division.  The 1st Battalion of the 504th Regiment drove them back into Cheneux, the battalion commander acting up his command post in a building in the western limits of Cheneux on the main road during the hours of darkness of the first night.  During the day firing could be heard and some vehicular movement could be observed in the direction of La Gleize.

 

I went to the 505th Parachute Infantry where I found that they had contacted some engineers who remained in Trois-Ponts.  They had occasionally been under fire but no German force had moved through the town.  All civilians in those northern regimental areas reported that many Germans and much armor had passed through.  The situation south of the 505th in the direction of Vielsalm was vague.  Reconnaissance was pushed in that direction.

 

On the afternoon of December 20 at about 1600 hours I was called to headquarters XVIII Corps (Airborne) to receive orders for and advance to the Vielsalm – Hebronval line.  In the meantime contact had been established with a German SS force later identified as the 1st SS Panzer Division Cheneux.  First contacts indicated that they were well equipped and reasonably trained troops who would give us a good fight.  It was with some difficulty that our first prisoners were taken.  At about 1630 hours, prior to leaving the division advance CP, which was now established at Habiemont, I had all unit commanders assembled, including the battalion commanders of the 508th Regiment.  It was felt that speed was vital and if we were to move to Vielsalm with the mission to be assigned us by XVIII Corps (Airborne), we had to move without delay, regardless of conditions of light or darkness.

 

At Corps Headquarters I received information that they were advancing to the southeast and establishing an active defense along the line Vielsalm – Hebronval – La Roche: that this division, 82nd Airborne, would establish a defensive line from contact with the 30th Division, in the vicinity of La Gleize, to Cheneux – Trois-Ponts – Grand-Halleux – Vielsalm – Salmchateau – Hebronval.  Contact was to be immediately established with units reportedly cut off in the area of Vielsalm – St. Vith.  The 3rd Armored Division was on our right and was to hold the sector from Hebronval west.

 

Orders to accomplish this were issued at the divisions CP at Habiemont shortly before dark, December 20.  Units moved promptly and by daylight were on their objectives, well organized and prepared to defend.  Regiments were in the line in the order, left to right: 504, 505, 508, 325.  One battalion of the 325th Glider was held in division reserve in the vicinity of La Vaulx.  The division forward CP was established in the town of Lierneux at the railroad crossing on the northern edge of the town.

 

In Vielsalm contact was made with General Hasbrouck who had established the CP of the 7th Armored Division in the town.  The Division was then fighting around St Vith West of Vielsalm, General Jones had established the CP of the 106th Division at Rencheux.  From a visit to both of these officers I learned the 7th Armored Division, except for battle losses, was intact and fighting with unit integrity.  The 106th Division appeared to be rather badly chewed up and had but one regiment, the 424th Infantry, remaining, with some division artillery and divisional units.  There were also present a regiment of the 28th Division, the 112th Infantry, in addition to a number of Corps and larger units such as medium artillery.

 

On the left of the division very heavy fighting was taking place in the vicinity of Cheneux where the German 1st SS Panzer Division was making a desperate and all-out effort to drive out the first battalion of the 504th Regiment.  Further south at Trois-Ponts, and extending down to Grand-Halleux, determined, apparently well planned and executed attacks were being made with increasing strength against the very thinly held front of the 505th Regiment.  On the south, the 508th Regiment and 325th Glider had no contact with the enemy.  The Division Reconnaissance Platoon was pushed south.Information available indicated that the Germans were moving in great strength to the west, having passed Houffalize, and were moving towards the Meuse River.  The Third Armored Division, which was supposed to be on the division's right, could not be contacted.  I believe that on this date a reconnaissance party may have established contact.

 
On December 21, I visited the CP's of the 7th Armored and 106th Divisions with the Corps Commander of XVIII Corps (Airborne), General Ridgway.  The situation in the vicinity of St Vith appeared to be critical.  The town was being overwhelmingly attacked in several directions and there appeared to be little prospect of preventing its being cut off.  The Corps Commander informed me that his original plan was for the 30th Division to attack south from Stavelot to relieve the situation at St Vith and for the Third Armored to attack on the right on the 82nd so as to drive in the Germans moving to the west.  On this date, December 21, however, only the narrow neck of land from Vielsalm to Salmchateau held by the 82nd Airborne Division, connected the St Vith forces with remaining of the First Army.  Its retention would be decisive.
 

The fighting at Cheneux was increasing in bitterness.  On this date the 1st Battalion of the 504th Regiment, assisted by a company of the 3rd Battalion of that regiment, made a final, all-out assault on the Germans in that town and in close hand-to-hand fighting, many of the parachute troops jumping aboard the German half-tracks and knifing the Germans at their posts, the Germans were driven back across the Ambleve River and our troops seized the bridge.  In this attack we destroyed a considerable amount of armor and killed and captured many Germans from the 1st SS Panzer Division.

 

Farther to the south and east, the 505th Parachute Infantry was having very hard fighting with the remainder of the 1st SS Panzer Division.  The 505th Regiment had initially sent a covering force east of the Salm River in the vicinity of Trois-Ponts.  Through sheer weight of numbers this small force was finally driven to the river line where it held.  Being very much overextended, the regiment managed to hold by diagnosing or estimating the point of German main effort from time to time and then marshaling all available infantry as quickly as possible, beating off the attack at that point.  This process was repeated, where necessary, day and night until finally the German attacks waned in their intensity about December 23.

 
The 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment on the Vielsalm – Salmchateau front was without enemy contact except for patrols.  The 325th Glider Infantry, aided by the Division Reconnaissance Platoon, had established contact with enemy forces several miles south of their front lines.
 
On December 21, I was instructed by the Corps Commander to make a reconnaissance of the divisional area with a view to withdrawing after the extrication of the St Vith forces to a suitable defensive position that would be in with the divisions on my right and left.  To date no firm contact had been established with the 3rd Armored Division.  The merits of the presents defensive positions were discussed and it was agreed that the Thier-du-Mont line offered splendid defensive possibilities, provided it could be continued on our right.  As well as I could determine, however, there were no friendly troops except light reconnaissance elements west of Hebronval.
 

I objected to the withdrawal but the Corps Commander explained that regardless of my wishes in the matter it might be necessary to require the division to withdraw.  It was quite evident at this time that if a major German attack developed from the south, threatening the right of the division, its continued occupation of the salient extending out to Vielsalm would be costly in life and to no advantage after the extrication of the St Vith forces.  It was emphasized by the Corps Commander that it was absolutely necessary to secure properly the withdrawal of the St Vith forces by holding and defending our present positions.

 

A reconnaissance was undertaken and at its completion it was quite clear that there was but and reasonably good defensive position and that was the Trois-Ponts – Basse-Bodeux – Bra – Manhay line.  At the direction of the Corps Commander a reconnaissance was also made of a position farther to the rear, generally along the Cheneux – Rahier – Chevron – Werbomont line.  On December 22, I went to Manhay where I met General Rose, commanding the 3rd Armored Division.  He stated that he was covering a concentration of other forces and that his front was so extended that he could not occupy and hold in strength the terrain west of Hebronval.

 
From my viewpoint, it was obvious that the loss of Regne – Lierneux ridge would result in the complete neutralization of the defensive capabilities of the right position of the division sector.  This ridge dominated the entire road not from Vielsalm to Bra.T  his was the only road not south of the Trois-Ponts – Werbomont road.  In addition, all of the division's installations and division artillery were located in the Lierneux – Goronne – Vielsalm valley.  Accordingly, orders were issued to the 325th Glider Infantry to extend its right flank and seize and hold Regne and the ridge extending north there from.T  his ridge had to be held at any cost.
 
On the afternoon of December 22 an enemy force of approximately 100 vehicles of all types preceded by about 25 tanks advanced north through Ottre.  The tanks entered Joubieval.  They were permitted to close up, then brought under devastating artillery fire.  Artillery observers who remained on the outpost line on the ridge immediately north of Ottre kept the column under close observation and put very effective fire on it.  This unit was later identified as a portion of the 2nd SS Panzer Division.  At 1700 hours, December 22, the outpost of the 325th Glider was forced to withdraw.  The enemy build-up was increasing in intensity on our southern front.
 
At the direction of the Division Commander, the Division Engineer conducted a thorough study and reconnaissance of the southern portion of the division sector.  It became clearly evident that the German could not bring armor to bear against the sector anywhere between Salmchateau and the Fraiture crossroads except by bringing it up the Petite-Langlir road, and if the Petite-Langlir bridge could be blown he would be incapable of bringing armor to bear anywhere within this 10,000 yards without approaching up the main road towards Salmchateau, which was well covered.
 
The possibility of canalizing his armored attack was obvious and stops were taken to take advantage of this.  Early on December 22 orders were issued to the Engineer Battalion to move without delay and prepare the Petite-Langlir bridge for demolition and to destroy it upon hostile threat.  Thorough and detailed preparations were made, possibly too thorough, because as the demolition party moved south from Ottre it encountered a large group of German vehicles coming northward.  The Germans had the bridge.  This was at about 1400 hours.  Evidently thoroughness in preparation had cost us the bridge.
 

During the night of December 22-23 an engineer patrol, lead by Major J. C. H. Lee Jr made its way behind the enemy lines to the bridge over the creek south of Petite-Langlir and destroyed the bridge while it was actually being used by Germans vehicles.  They displayed unusual gallantry and perseverance in the performance of their task.

 

In the following 24 hours enemy pressure built up in intensity all along the southern front.It was easily handled south of Thier-du-Mont. The enemy, however showed promise of getting entirely out of hand on the right, apparently wide open beyond Regne.  Returning to the left flank, the German forces appeared to be out off in the vicinity of La Gleize but were fighting a very intense engagement with the 30th Division on our left.  Their occasional isolated efforts to cross the Ambleve River were easily dealt with by small patrols from the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

 

I therefore ordered the release of the Division reserve battalion of the 325th Glider to the Regimental Commander of that regiment and ordered one battalion of the 504th Regiment, the 2nd Battalion, to move at once to the ridge 5,000 yards southwest of Lierneux.  These troops went into position during daylight of December 23.  On this date the enemy attacked in considerable strength and overran the town of Regne.  The 325th Glider was ordered to counterattack and retake the town.  The retention of this ridge was most vital if the division was to accomplish its mission of extricating the St Vith forces.  Supported by attached armor and with unusual gallantry and élan, the 325th Glider attacked and retook the town and held it until later ordered to withdraw.

 
It was on this occasion that the Regimental Adjutant of a regiment of the 2nd SS Panzer Division was captured with the orders for the advance of the following day.  In the confusion incident to the retaking of the town by the 325th Glider, he had been sent forward by his Regimental Commander to learn the true situation.  During this reconnaissance he found himself aboard a motorcycle side car in the outskirts of Regne when our troops were retaking the town.  He was captured with the town and had the orders on his person.  They proved to be of great value, since they gave us definite information of the enemy's intention for the following several days.
 

It was becoming increasingly evident that the German was determined to ultimately reach Werbomont and move north towards Aywaille and Liege.  Colonel Billingslea, Commanding Officer of the 325th Glider Infantry, was ordered to extent the right flank to include the Fraiture ridge.  No firm contact with the 3rd Armored Division on our right appeared possible.

 
The Fraiture crossroads began to assume increasing importance.  Inquiry was made on several occasions of the Commanding General of XVIII Corps (Airborne) as to what was being done to insure its retention.  On December 22 I made a personal reconnaissance from Jevigne to Fond de la Justice to Manhay.  Quite a number of armored vehicles were in the vicinity of Manhay and some were on the ridge one and half miles south there of.  The 3rd Armored Division CP was in Manhay.  A conversation with the Division Commander made it apparent that they were incapable of committing sufficient strength to the crossroads to guarantee its retention by our troops.
 
From my view point, its lost would mean that German armor which we had successfully turned back from Trois-Ponts to Regne, with the aid of both terrain and a very active defense, would bypass the Division and occupy the Lierneux – Regne ridge mass, thus preventing us from accomplishing our present mission of covering the withdrawal of the St Vith troops.  I accordingly ordered Colonel Billingslea to again extend his right flank and to include in his defensive organization the crossroads southwest of Fraiture.  This he did by sending Company "F", under the command of Captain Woodruff to the area.  The situation all along the southern front was becoming critical when I visited the battalion commanders of the 325th Glider several times during the period December 22-24.  On the afternoon of December 23, at about 1700 hours, I checked the dispositions along the Fraiture ridge.  At this time riflemen were scattered 100 to 200 yards apart.  There was a little antitank defense, and the possibility of defending the ridge against a major German attack appeared nothing less than fantastic.  On the other hand, nothing could be spared from the other fronts, since the situation was much the same in other sectors, although the threat was not as great.  The attacks of the 1st SS Panzer Division on our left began to wane.
 
On the afternoon of December 23, at about 1730 hours, I arrived at the CP of Captain Gibson in the town of Fraiture.  It was then under heavy mortar fire.  A considerable volume of small arms fire could be heard to the south and west.SCR-300 contact was made with Captain Woodruff at the crossroads.  He stated that he was under terrific attack which was completely engulfing his small unit.  I moved on foot from Fraiture towards the crossroads and managed to reach the edge of the woods several hundred yards beyond the town.
 
It was clearly evident that the attack at the crossroads was an all-out affair of great magnitude.  As it developed, it was the attack of a regiment of the 2nd SS Panzer Division supported by attached armor, attacking with the mission of driving up the main highway to Werbomont.  The one company was soon completely overrun.  During the hours of darkness, in desperate, close-quarters fighting, Captain Woodruff managed to extricate about 40 men.  They accounted for many Germans in fighting their way out, and rejoined their battalion commander in the vicinity of Fraiture.
 
At this point it was evident that there was nothing to prevent the German forces from entering the rear of the Division area, which was now closely engaged along its entire 25,000-yard front.
 
I moved to the CP of the reserve battalion in the region southwest of Lierneux, arriving there at about dark.  I issued verbal orders to the battalion commander, Major Wellems, outlining the situation to him and directing him to secure the right flank as far west as Malempre.  I then moved without delay via Tri le Cheslaing to Manhay, the CP of the 3rd Armored Division.  Here I found one MP on duty at the crossroads and the town completely abandoned.  I then moved without delay to Corps Headquarters to explain the situation to them and obtain further assistance in holding the main highway which was out of my sector, but the retention of which was necessary to the accomplishment of my mission.
 
By telephone Colonel Tucker was told to be prepared to move the 504th Regimental Headquarters and one battalion to the vicinity of Lansival where he would take over the sector on the right to the division.  Two tank destroyers were moved southwest of the division command post at Bra to give it some protection from the direction of Manhay.  I returned to the Division CP at Bra at approximately 200 hours.  Upon my arrival there I learned by telephone from Corps that Manhay had fallen to the German attacking forces.  There seemed to be some doubt about this, however, and due to the darkness and confusion it was impossible to determine exactly where anyone was.  All units was informed of the situation and efforts made to get units under control and have the situation in hand so as to be able to engage the German forces on reasonably favorable terms at daylight.
 
At about daylight XVIII Corps (Airborne) made available to me Combat Command "B" of the 9th Armored Division under the command of General Hoge, which had been withdrawn from the St Vith area.  General Hoge reported to my CP at about 0700 hours.  At about 0545 hours, December 24, Colonel Tucker was ordered to leave the smallest possible force in the northern sector and to move south to Bra by motor without delay.  He had been given a warning order about 24 hours earlier.  At 0645 the 505th Regiment was ordered to regroup one battalion, the 2nd, and have it prepared to move in Division reserve without delay, warning orders having been given them to prepare for this prior to this time.
 
At 0820 hours verbal orders were issued to General Hoge to hold Malempre until further orders to contact the 504th Regiment on his left and the 7th Armored on his right.  The 7th Armored had been recommitted by XVIII Corps (Airborne) down the main road toward Manhay.  Combat Command "B", 9th Armored Division, and the 7th Armored Division were practically exhausted from the past week's fighting.  They were very short of infantry, and in the opinion of General Hoge, Combat Command "B" was incapable of a sustained defense or offense.  However, Malempre had to be held and appropriate orders were issued.
 
At 1315 hours General Hoge reported to me that he was holding Malempre.  The situation in that sector, however, still appeared confused.  This was further added to by the presence in the area of German troops wearing American uniforms and using American armor.  It would appear certain that the Germans were fighting in Manhay, that they held the ridge south and east of Manhay, that we held Malempre and that we held Fraiture.  Between Malempre and Fraiture the 2nd Battalion, a veteran, experienced outfit, had as clear a picture as could be expected of the situation.  Numerous Germans were endeavoring to attack through the woods to the northeast between Malempre and Fraiture.  There was much close, bitter fighting and the Germans were very roughly handled by Major Wellem's battalion.  He finally succeeded in establishing his position and containing the Germans, although his frontage was very great, particularly for the wooded sector in which he was fighting.  The Germans were well equipped and armed and were fighting with unusual spirit.  They were from the 2nd SS Panzer Division.
 
During the day of December 24 Colonel Tucker brought up his full regiment less one battalion which he had left at Cheneux to contain the forces north of the river.  The battalion was charged with holding the Ambleve River line from immediately north of Trois-Ponts to where contact was established with the 30th Infantry Division in the vicinity of La Gleize, a frontage of approximately 12,000 – 15,000 yards, much of it closely wooded country and broken up terrain.  However, since the situation was so critical on the right, and the German attack had apparently been beaten off on the left, no other course of action appeared practicable at the moment.  The 505th Regiment appeared to have all it could do to continue to hold the Trois-Ponts – Grand-Halleux line and the 508th Regiment was becoming heavily engaged on the Vielsalm – Salmchateau – Joubieval line.
 
In accordance with the warning order given me by the Corps Commander, similar warning orders were given to unit commanders to be prepared to withdraw if necessary to the Trois-Ponts – Erria – Manhay line.  Early on December 24, therefore, they were directed to make small unit reconnaissance of the defensive positions and sectors were allotted and missions assigned.  A conference was held at Headquarters XVIII Corps (Airborne) at about 1330 hours, December 24, at which time orders were issued for the voluntary withdrawal to the Corps defensive position.  Division plans were completed and orders issued during the afternoon to effect the withdrawal starting after darkness.
 
I was greatly concerned with the attitude of the troops toward the withdrawal, the Division having never made a withdrawal in its combat history.  The German was using every artifice conceivable to create doubt and confusion in the minds of American fighting units.  He was using our arms, equipment and vehicles, frequently leaving their own abandoned and disabled at bottlenecks on the roads.  False messages were being used and Germans in American officers' uniforms were known to be in the rear areas.  One trooper, who later was recaptured, was captured by Germans in American uniforms in the vicinity of Tri le Cheslaing.  All of these factors made the prospects of a withdrawal most unpleasant.  On the 24th I published a memorandum to be read to the troops, emphasizing the dangers in the operation with which we were confronted, and I spent from early evening until after midnight visiting the troops of all battalions.
 
In all of the operations in which we have participated in our two years of combat and they have been many of multitudinous types, I have never seen a better executed operation than the withdrawal on Christmas Eve.  The troops willingly and promptly carried into execution all the withdrawal plans, although they openly and frankly criticized it and failed to understand the necessity for it.  But everybody pitched in and the withdrawal went smoothly.
 
Christmas Eve was a very cold, bright moonlight night.  The enemy was closely engaged with us on he entire front from Trois-Ponts to Malempre, but there was in no locality any feeling of unusual pressure being exerted against us.  All unit Commanders, down to Platoon Leaders I believe, felt that they had the situation well under control.  The rear area, except for some medium artillery which had been abandoned in fields off the main roads, was completely cleared of the St Vith pocket forces.
 
The withdrawal started shortly after dark.  Covering shells were to be withdrawn at four A.M.  The 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion supported the withdrawal by blowing bridge over the Salm River, laying minefields and the establishing roadblocks.  This worked very well on the right with the 504th and the 325th Glider.  The 508th Regiment was attacked in great force and had some close and intense fighting at the bridges over the Salm River before it finally withdrew.  Its shell on Their-du-Mont was apparently cut off, but finally made it way back under the command of Major Taylor without the loss of a single man.  All the troops, except for the shell, were in the valley in the vicinity of Goronne where I saw them about 2200 hours, and everything was going smoothly.
 
At about 2300 hours I passed through St Jacques on the way to the 505th Parachute Infantry Command Post, which was at Dairomont.  At St Jacques I met a platoon in a deployed formation moving north.  They said they believed that there was a large force of Germans in the area and that they were looking for them.  I went to the Regimental CP.  Here an unusual situation was becoming apparent.  Earlier in the night a report was received from vehicle drivers that while driving their jeeps on a road in the vicinity of Basse-Bodeux they observed troops wearing full field equipment walking in the woods toward the east.  These troops hit the ground and took cover, generally acting very evasive.  Later in the night a lineman, checking his lines, had his jeep shot up by what he guessed were German troops in the rear area.  This accounted for the platoon that I had met at St Jacques being on its mission of clearing Germans from the rear area.
 
I talked to the regimental commander about the situation and he believed that at this time a force of approximately 500 Germans were somewhere in the regimental rear area moving to the east.  Their presence could hardly be accounted for unless they had escaped from the La Gleize-Stoumont pocked.  At first we did not believe that their were German troops in the area, but piecing together all available intelligence seemed to establish the fact unmistakable.  At this time the regiment was under some pressure along the river line and had left a company in three platoon positions at the most likely crossing sites as a shell to cover the withdrawal would continue as planned; that by daylight the 505th Regiment would be on its defensive position with the area to its front wired and mined, and that if would be prepared to defend that position at all costs in coordination with the units on its right and left.  This made it impractical for the regimental commander to divert any of his forces to a task of searching for the Germans.  Orders were issued to proceed to new positions as previously planned and to be on the alert for loose German forces.
 

Several hours before daylight one platoon positioned north of Grand-Halleux was attacked by a German force of great strength.  A heavy fight ensued.A   number of Germans were killed and wounded, as well as troopers of the Division.  Among those captured was an American major of the U.S. 30th Infantry Division.  He had been captured in earlier fighting at La Gleize and the force that was accompanying him when captured was a force of approximately 500-800 Germans endeavoring to withdraw to their own lines east of the Salm River.  During their withdrawal they were rather well chewed up but they nevertheless succeeded in reaching their lines except for several killed and captured.  On December 25th we realized that we had just succeeded in withdrawing through a hostile withdrawing force, which was a rather novel maneuver.

 

At daylight, December 25th, all regiments were on their positions, mining and wiring were under way and all troops were dig in.  Communications were being laid under great difficulty because of the mountainous terrain, particularly in the 504th and 508th sectors.  At daylight I joined Major Gerard, commanding a battalion of the 325th Glider, in the town of Tri le Cheslaing on our right flank.  Its occupation, in which contact was established with infantry of the 7th Armored Division on our right, finally buttoned up our defense.  Contact was already established with the 30th Division on our flank.

 

After two days after occupying this position an attack was made by the 62nd Volksgrenadier Division on our left and the 9th SS Panzer Division on our center.  The 62nd Volksgrenadier Division in all of its operations proved to be a very poor quality and not well trained.  They consistently lost patrols by having them destroyed by our outposts and they appeared to be vulnerable to our own patrols.

 

The 9th SS Panzer Division appeared to be much better equipped and better trained.  They launched an attack up the main axis from Lierneux to Habiemont, hitting the 508th and 504th in a coordinated effort that was characterized by great dash and courage.  The 3rd Battalion of the 508th Regiment was completely overrun.  The men remained, however, manning their positions in the houses and foxholes.  The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Mendez, obtained the use of the reserve company of the 2nd Battalion of the 508th Regiment on his left, counter-attacked with great gallantry and determination, and drove the 9th SS Panzer from his positions, restoring his MLR.  The Storm Troopers' losses were extremely heavy.  From one field alone 62 bodies were later removed.

 
On interrogation some of the Storm Troopers stated that they had been accustomed to attacking with such dash and elan, yelling and firing their weapons, and the usual reaction at the enemy was to break and run as the Storm Troopers closed with them.  They were frankly surprised to find troops who would man their positions after being overrun.  The unit of the 9th SS attacking the 504th after overrunning the outpost of the 2nd Battalion of that regiment, were stopped and driven back.  They told an identical story of their attack technique.
 
This ended all offensive efforts of the German forces in the Battle of the Bulge.  About a week later the division attacked, completely overrunning the 62nd Volksgrenadier Division and the 9th SS Panzer Division, and capturing 2,500 prisoners, including 5 battalion commanders.  It regained its former position on the Their-du-Mont heights.
 
From here the Division withdrew to a rest area from which it was later committed to the attack east of St Vith, attacking through deep snow over thickly wooded mountains and overrunning a considerable group of German defensive forces in a constant day and night attack lasting for six days.  Ultimately they drove into the Siegfried Line to seize Udenbreth and the ridge extending south.
 
This attack was the most arduous in the division's history and, at its and, probably the most bitterly fought, but the Division once again entered Germany and the seizure of Udenbreth placed the First U. S. Army in a position to attack down ridge lines all the way to Bonn.
 
From here the Division moved to the Hurtgen sector where, as a member of XVIII Corps (Airborne) and later III Corps, it participated in the advance to the Roer River.  Except for extensive minefields, extremely difficult road conditions and hostile artillery fire, the operation was not too difficult.  The Division arrived on the Roer River and had completed detailed plans for a river dressing and the seizure of Nideggen east of the river when it was withdrawn on February 17th and returned to the Sissonne-Suippes, France, area.
 
Source: Documents N.A.R.A. (February 1945)

Signed by Colonel Robert H. WIENECKE

Photo Dominic Biello

Major- General James M. GAVIN

Commanding

82nd Airborne Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium