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US Army

Bastogne Besieged and Liberated

Bastogne Besieged and Liberated
 
The Allies were shocked 16 December 1944 when the Sixth SS Panzer Army and the Fifth Panzer Army began overwhelming surprise attacks in the Ardennes launching what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.  The Sixth SS Panzer Army made its attack in the north sector of the Bulge striking hard at the 99th and the 2nd Infantry Divisions.  The 1st Infantry Division soon joined that battle.  Simultaneously the Fifth Panzer Army, in the Bulge’s southern sector, broke through the 106th and 28th Divisions and began a dash west toward the Meuse River.  Elements of the Fifth Army’s 2nd Panzer Division, the Panzer Lehr Division, and the 26th Volksgrenadier, on 19 December, reached the outskirts of Bastogne that sat astride a key road junction.
 
Eisenhower sensing a major problem quickly moved the 101st Airborne to Bastogne from Reims where it had been held in Army Reserve after the Market Garden fiasco.  The 10th Armored Division was sent to support the 101st.  At the same time he also dispatched the 82nd Airborne from Army Reserve to the northern sector where it took up defensive positions along the Salm River.  It was joined there by the 30th, 75th, 84th, 83rd, and the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions plus elements of the 7th Armored. 
 
The war diary of the 327th Glider Infantry, 101st Airborne, noted the following: “It was on this day, 20 December that all roads were cut by the enemy… and we were completely surrounded.”  A Combat Command “B” Armored patrol, that afternoon, discovered the way south was closed.  All roads were now blocked; the 101st was surrounded.  The 101st was an elite airborne division trained to fight in isolation, thus it had four regiments rather than three.  It also had only three battalions of light artillery pieces, plus one battalion of 105 mm howitzers. 
 
The 10th Armored Division and parts of the 9th Armored Division joined the 101st with their forty medium tanks, light tanks, cavalry assault guns, anti-aircraft artillery, and automatic weapons carriers.  The 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion gave anti-tank protection.  The defensive perimeter was well covered by arriving artillery battalions including the 969th and 755th Field Artillery Battalions armed with 155 mm howitzers. 
 
The defensive perimeter evolved over several days.  It was shaped like a fat egg with its longest dimension about sixteen miles.  As the siege raged the perimeter contracted to shorten internal lines.  The 101st units manned all sides of the perimeter.  They included the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment on the northwest corner, and the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment on its right flank, facing north; it 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment faced east.   
 
The 327th Glider Infantry manned the southeast corner; its 1st Battalion defended the south and west sections.  On the 23rd December a cold weather front moved in over Western Europe bringing a hard freeze and clearing skies, enabling the Allied Air Force to provide the largest tactical air support of the war.  Before the day was out 241 planes made their appearance carrying supplies, this continued the next day.  Eleven gliders with four badly needed surgeons arrived.
 
A furious battle developed on 25 December involving both the 502nd Paratroopers and 327th Glider Infantry, supported by the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion.  They received help from the 10th Armored Division, and the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery.  By dark all units had suffered heavy casualties; they rested in the night and waited dawn.  Meanwhile Eisenhower and his key generals had met at Verdun on the 19th December to plan their counter-attack.   
 
It was decided several divisions south of the bulge would turn ninety degrees northward and drive into the enemy flank south of Bastogne.  A new III Corps led the counter-attack that included the 26th Infantry Division, the 80th Infantry Division, and the 4th Armored Division.  The 4th, 5th and 80th Infantry Divisions and elements of the 9th Armored would hold the Bulge’s south shoulder, east of Bastogne.  The III Corps faced the 5th Parachute, 212th, 276th, and 352nd Volksgrenadier Divisions, currently holding the sector to be attacked.  The Corps issued simple orders: the 80th Infantry Division would attack on the Corps right (east) flank; the 26th Division would hit the center.  The 4th Armored Division would advance on the left and take Bastogne.
 
The 4th Armored Division’s Combat Command “R”, on 26 December, after days of bitter fighting, had fought its way close to Bastogne’s southern perimeter.  Colonel Abram’s Combat Command “R” group was deployed near Clochimont standing by waiting for instructions. 
 
During the day, Lieutenant-Colonel Creighton Abrams watched hundreds of cargo planes dropping supplies to the 101st Airborne Division.  He decided a dash through Assenois straight into Bastogne might work.  At 1520 he radioed Captain William Dwight’s, “C” Company of the 37th Tank Battalion and Company “C” of the 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion to stand by.  At 1620 Abrams radioed Dwight; “It’s the push!”.  The team moved out with the Sherman tanks in the lead and the halftracks behind.  Abrams stayed glued his radio.  At 1634 he called the 94th Field Artillery Battalion and asked for a concentration on Assenois at a minute's notice.  Exactly one minute later his tank company commander, 1st Lieutenant Charles Boggess, called in his position from the lead tank.
 
Colonel Abrams passed the word to the artillery, “Concentration Number Nine, play it soft and sweet.”  Thirteen batteries sent ten volleys crashing onto Assenois.  When Lieutenant Charles Boggess reached the village edge, he called for the artillery to lift its fire.  He then plunged ahead without waiting to see if the 94th Field Artillery Battalion had his message.  He followed the artillery attack so closely that not a hostile shot was fired as the tanks raced through the streets.  The center of the village was dark as night from the smoke and dust of the artillery blast.  The German garrison, from the 5th Parachute Division and 26th Volksgrenadier Division, poured out of the cellars.  The American armored infantry riding the tanks dealt with the shooting, clubbing, stabbing melee.
 
The “C” Team tanks, rolling on to their glory, were now alone.  The “relief column” included three Sherman tanks commanded by Lieutenant Charles Boggess, one halftrack that had blundered into the tank column, and two more Shermans bringing up the rear.
 
Lieutenant Boggess kept moving, spraying the tree line beside the highway with machine gun fire.  At 1650, Boggess saw some engineers in friendly uniform preparing to assault a pillbox near the highway.  They were men from the 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion.  Contact with the Bastogne garrison had been made!  Twenty minutes later Colonel Abrams shook hands with General Mc Auliffe, the 101st acting commander, who came to the outpost line to welcome the relieving force.  Enough of the enemy had been killed or captured by midnight so that 200 vehicles, waiting for the road to open, moved into Bastogne.  Later that night, the 37th Tank Battalion escorted forty trucks and seventy ambulances into Bastogne.
 
The 4th Armored Division paid a heavy price to lift the siege.  In the seven-day fight it suffered 1.000 casualties.  The Bulge battle continued; on 2 January 1945 the Americans launched a massive counterattack that forced the Germans back within the Siegfried Line by 25 January.  This brought to a close the largest battle fought by Americans in World War II.  Both armies suffered huge losses, the Americans had 89.000 casualties, the German’s 85.000.  This battle marked the beginning of the end for Germany.
 
Source: Bulge Bugle, August 2012
By John P. MALLOY

"HQ" Co

291st Infantry Division

75th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium