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Stories

Defense at Trois-Ponts, Company "C" 51st Engineer Combat Bn

 

 Defense at Trois-Ponts
 Company "C" 51st Engineer Combat Battalion
 17-21 December 1944
 
Interview with Major Robert B. Yates, Executive Officer, 51st Engineer Combat Bn.

By Captain K.W. Hechler, 2nd Info & History Service.

Zweifall, Germany

17 February1945.

NARA documents

 
The 51st Engineer Combat Battalion had been attached to the 1111th Engineer Group at the start of the breakthrough.I  t was alerted on 17 December 1944, at which time "C" Company was ordered to Trois-Ponts to prepare two bridges for demolition at that point.  Company "C" was moved from its position four miles northwest of Hotton (Belgium); the other two companies were given similar missions, along with the defense of roadblocks, in the Marche-en-Famenne area.  "C" Company went into position on the night of 17 December, and Major Robert Yates arrived the next day and supervised the operations.
 
 
With strength of approximately 135 men, the defense of Trois-Ponts was organized.  "C" Company had 120 men at Trois-Ponts; the entire company strength had not been taken to the area, inasmuch as elements of the company had been working at sawmills.  There were about 12-15 men from other units who assisted in the defense, including one British soldier who wandered in during the breakthrough.
 
For weapons there were available 8 bazookas, 4 x .50 caliber machine guns, and 4x .30 caliber guns.  All the men had M1 rifles.  There was also a 57mm anti-tank gun in the area. (Captain Franklin Ferriss, credits this 57mm AT gun to Company "B", 526th Armored Infantry Battalion).  Major Robert Yates states that on 18 December, an enemy armored column approached along highway N33 from Stavelot.  A shot from the 57mm gun broke the tread on the lead tank of the column, halting the other vehicles, but in the ensuing fire fight four of the gun crew were killed.  Thereafter, Major Yates withdrew his outposts to the west bank of the river.  He placed the men in buildings where they had good observation of developments along the high east bank.  He directed the blowing of two bridges over the AmblèveRiver on 18 December, thus making it impossible for the enemy to bring armor over into the village of Trois-Ponts.  However, this did not prevent the enemy from using the tunnel under the railroad north of Trois-Ponts and swinging his armor north on the west side of the river up toward Stoumont.
 
On 19 December, one enemy tank nosed around one of the blown bridges in Stoumont, and its crew dismounted to make a reconnaissance.  Several bursts from one of the engineers' .50 caliber guns killed all but one of the tank crew.  The remaining tanker swung his turret around toward the .50 caliber machine gun, and the gun crew took off to fight another day.
 
During the night, Major Robert Yates pulled his outposts in close for a tight defense.  Enemy patrols made several futile attempts to swim the river and discover what kind of defense was being maintained at Trois-Ponts, but all of these patrols were cut down and eliminated before they reached the west bank.
 

"They probably thought we were getting armored reinforcements every night," explained Major Yates, "because I put chains on a four-ton truck I had, and ran it up and down through town and west on the Basse-Bodeux road all night.  The noise it made really sounded like armor.  Then, too, we took our bazookas out into the woods and fired them at night in an effort to simulate artillery.  I guess the Germans never realized how little we actually had there."

 
On 20 December, the 2nd Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment arrived at Trois-Ponts.  Colonel William Ekman, regimental commander of the 505th, said that he approached Major Yates and his sleepy men and Major Yates uttered a classic sentence: "I bet you guys are glad to see us here."  Colonel Ekman and the assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division explained that they did not come to relieve the 51st of the defense of the village of Trois-Ponts, but had come to establish a bridgehead across the river.  Major Yates then repaired one of the Trois-Ponts bridges to enable jeeps from the 505th Parachute Infantry to get across.
 
Salm River Bridge, Trois-Ponts. Built by Company "C" 51st Engineer in late summer 1944.  Blown after passage of the 7th Armored Division toward St Vith in December 1944. (NARA's photo)
 
One the night of 23 December 1944, two companies of the 505th across the river were counterattacked and driven back to the west (Trois-Ponts side) of the river.  The last contribution of Company "C" of the 51st Engineer Combat Battalion was to re-destroy the bridge at Trois-Ponts which they repaired to enable the 505th's jeeps to get across.  Becauser of the large amount of rubble already in the vicinity, this was even more difficult than destroying the bridge the first time, but it was done successfully, and then the company of engineers was relieved from Trois-Ponts.
 

During the days when Company "C" was in Trois-Ponts, casualties were very light, and almost all were caused by the artillery fire which the enemy poured on the village.  The company lost 4 killed and 3 wounded.

 

Source: Combat Interview from NARA: National Archives = 17 February 1945

 

Maj Robert B. YATES

Commander of the

"C" Company

 

51st Engineer Combat Battalion

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium