BREAKTHROUGH TOWARDS BASTOGNE II

For many of the survivors it would take up to six days of careful walking before they finally reached the safety of the Bastogne perimeter. Major Watts broke his group into small units and told them to only travel at night and make their way back to friendly positions. Two days later Watts and his group made contact with the 101st Airborne’s out-posts near Foy and was led into Bastogne. These men were fed and Watts went on to brief McAuliffe on the situation regarding the enemy and Task Force Booth. He was then given command of Team SNAFU (Snafu is an American term which stands for Situation Normal All F—d Up) which comprised of personnel from all the different units that had also managed to reach Bastogne.

With 2nd Panzer Division heading north-west towards the Meuse, Panzer Lehr and 26th VGD were to carry on and seize Bastogne. General Bayerlein’s Panzer Lehr had broken free of the terrific traffic jam leading from the Clerf valley. Bayerlein, who was up front with his tanks, decided to split his forces at the village of Eschweiler and utilize the two roads leading to Bastogne. He led his column comprising of a Panzergrenadier Regiment and about fifteen Mk IV tanks up the right-hand road and headed towards the road junction at Fe’itsch. A mile short of it he turned left onto a minor road that leads directly to Bastogne. He could hear and see the fighting going on at the junction, but continued on. At about 1800 the column drew up at the village of Niederwampach only six miles from its goal.

Surely now, he thought, he would win the race for Bastogne. From Niederwampach he had two choices, there was a road leading south which would bring the Germans onto a hard surfaced road that led to their prize, or he could continue on a secondary road which would eventually bring him into the village of Mageret. He decided to take the most direct route, the side road. Belgians in the area (who obviously were none too pleased at having the Germans back again) had told him that the road was excellent. The road soon petered out into little more than a muddy farm track and Bayerlein started having serious reservations. Even so, the force managed to proceed, slipping and sliding until it came into Mageret. Defenders of Mageret, a small detachment belonging to the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion, were no match and Bayerlein soon had control of the village.

Late in the evening gunfire was heard behind CCR positions, this was when the Germans entered Mageret. Colonel Gilbreth decided to get his men out. At about midnight he ordered what was left of CCR and some attached troops from the 28th Division’s 110th Regt which had drifted in, to begin a withdrawal via Mageret. The column got so disorganized leaving Longvilly that it blocked the exit to the village. Gilbreth saw what was happening and did not dare order any further movement until daylight. The 73rd AFAB was told to disperse westward, which it did, each battery covering the other. Once in its assigned position it took up firing again at any enemy targets north, south or east of it.

At about the same time as men of the CCR were contemplating their chances of survival, Combat Command B from the 10th Armored Division arrived in Bastogne. It was just before 1600, 18 December. Middleton asked Colonel Roberts, commander of Combat Command B (CCB), how many teams he could make available to man the defensive perimeter that was forming around Bastogne. Roberts replied that he only had sufficient personnel for three effective groups, and promptly split them as follows: Team ‘O’Hara’ (Lieutenant-Colonel James O’Hara) moved out south-east to occupy an area around Wardin on the Luxembourg road. Team ‘Cherry’ (Lieutenant Colonel Henry T Cherry) moved out onto the Longvilly road, and finally, Team ‘Desobry’ (Major William R Desobry) went out onto the Noville road north of Bastogne.

Team Cherry’s advance patrols had reached the outskirts of Longvilly during the evening of the 18th and made contact with CCR’s command post. CCR had no orders other than to ‘hold at all cost’, but they were finding it increasingly difficult to do. At this time their southern road-block was still holding.

The advance guard of Team Cherry was commanded by 1st Lieutenant Edward P Hyduke. He had the area reconnoitred and discerned that the main weakness in the eastern defences was just south of Longvilly. Here he stationed his cavalry platoon of four Shermans and seven light Stuart tanks.

At about midnight 18/19th December, Hyduke heard that CCR was going to pull out. He was to be the rear guard in Longvilly, at the same time he also learnt that Mageret had been taken from the scratch force of the 158th Combat Engineers defending it. He surmised that the only way not to get cut-off himself, was to forcibly smash his team through Mageret. Hyduke’s force was leaving Mageret for Longvilly using the front door. The Germans, at the same time, entered the village through the back door. Colonel Cherry, knowing that Mageret was now in German hands, sent an armoured infantry company under Captain William F. Ryerson to try and open the road through the village.

During the night of 18 December, the German 77th and 78th Infantry Regiments from the 26th VGD had been trying to take Longvilly. Their orders were to pass through that village and head for Bizory, where they were to attack Bastogne from the north and north-east. Fires from the burning houses illuminated numerous targets for the guns of the attackers, but the Americans stubbornly held on until daybreak.

At 08.30,19 December, during a lull in the fighting, the main body of CCR began to withdraw from Longvilly. As the column of vehicles approached Mageret they found the road blocked by Team Ryerson from CCB, 10th Armored Division. Tanks and lorries piled up behind each other completely trapped. With Lieutenant Hyduke and the rearguard of the CCR fighting a delaying action in Longvilly, and Captain Ryerson’s unit trying to recapture Mageret, all was chaos.

An eye-witness account from the 482d AAA (AW) Battalion (SP):

As we waited for an opening into Bastogne, it became very evident that the enemy was gaining fast in his drive, for their artillery began to fall closer and closer to our column, until finally it was hitting in our immediate area. Vehicles and men were hit by flying shrapnel and the screams for medics were drowned by the crack of the bursting artillery shells. Split second decisions had to be made and it was decided to take as much of our equipment across country as we could. Tec 5 E Humphrey and Tec 5 Frank Walsh were injured before we could move, by flames from a gasoline truck which had been set afire by the bursting artillery. Meantime, the crew of an M-16 halftrack distinguished themselves by winning a battle with a Tiger Royal tank. Tec 5 Davidson was the only gunner on the track and he was wounded in the leg. When he saw the approaching tank he asked to be lifted into the machine gun turret. Davidson opened fire with his four guns but not before his two cannoneers had been wounded by the machine guns on the tank. PVT Stewts was hit on the hand and Reinhardt in the leg. As the tank met the fire of the machine guns, the commander evidently thought he d found the whole American army for the tank could not run fast enough to get away from the continuous rain of slugs. The M-16 had been put out of action in the engagement so the three wounded men abandoned it and made their way to an aid station.

When a count was taken in the encircled city, it was found that we had suffered heavily at the hands of the enemy. Most all of our personal equipment was lost, over half of our vehicles and only about fifty able bodied men were left in the entire battery. We were organized in such a manner that we could do the most to help in the defence of the city. We had our first hot meal in days then snatched a few hours of sleep in a hotel before 0400 the next morning when we were awakened and informed that regardless of what happened, we were going to hold this vital road junction.’

One regiment from the 26th VGD started to advance, within minutes it came under direct fire from Lieutenant Hyduke’s men occupying the high ground around St Michael’s Grotto. It took several hours before Kokott could get his men organized for another attack. When they finally did attack they were aided by a large force loaned from Panzer Lehr.

Bayerlein with his Panzer Lehr Division needed to reduce Longvilly to open the road. He got together a Panzer Grenadier Regiment, a tank destroyer battalion and an artillery battalion for the purpose. When this battle group reached a vantage point overlooking the road from the south-west, they were amazed to see, only about a mile away, the whole road jammed with American vehicles.

About the same time, von Lauchert’s 2nd Panzer Division had been shelled by the 73rd AFAB on the Bourcy road. A battery of 88s were brought up to return fire from the southwest of the same road. If this was not enough, the 26th VGD also brought up a large number of anti-tank guns and artillery from their positions southeast of Longvilly.

The road south of Longvilly then received perhaps the greatest barrage put down during the battle. It was a fearful Werfer and artillery attack and the air became thick with red hot shards of shrapnel. Men in the St Michael’s Grotto area dismounted their vehicular weapons and carried them to the high ground either side of the road setting them up in ground positions. The column had nowhere to go, tanks and half-tracks exploded everywhere.

However, the American tankers had conducted themselves so well that at one point von Lauchert thought that he was being counter-attacked by a large force. At least eight of his Panzers had been reduced to flaming wrecks. The encounter had also taken its toll on the American tankers and by early afternoon all that remained of Lieutenant Hyduke’s tank force were a couple of light Stuart tanks. These could not manoeuvre without bringing down a hail of fire and eventually the crews had little choice but to render them useless and abandon them.

The armoured infantry left their half-tracks and, along with the tankers, headed west for what they thought would be safety. The main bulk of Team Cherry under Captain William F Ryerson had been ordered by Lieutenant-Colonel Cherry to withdraw westwards. This was no easy matter with all the clutter lining the road to Mageret. The leading Sherman was only a few hundred yards outside the village when it received a direct hit and brewed up. The road was now completely blocked and any thought of a headlong drive through the village of Mageret was now out of the question. They could not move anywhere without drawing fire from Panzer Lehr’s guns or the guns of 26th VGD Reconnaissance Battalion, which now held Mageret. All Ryerson could do was to cling on to what little bit of the village they had. He sent a message to Cherry:

‘Having tough time, Enemy shooting flares and knocking out our vehicles with direct fire.’

As the main part of Team Cherry was fighting between Longvilly and Mageret, Colonel Cherry and his headquarters troops were having a tough time of their own. He had made his headquarters in a large stone chateau a few hundred yards south of the crossroads at Neffe. The American outposts were hit by a detachment of panzers and supporting infantry. The GIs managed to hit one tank with a bazooka but were in danger of being overwhelmed and fell back to the chateau.

The men of the US 3rd Tank Battalion’s command post (Team Cherry) held the Germans at bay for four hours, meeting every rush with a hail of bullets from automatic weapons taken from their vehicles and emplaced behind the thick stone walls. In the end a few Germans managed to get close enough to throw incendiary grenades through the windows of the chateau. In no time the place was ablaze. Fortunately for them reinforcements came out from Bastogne to help them withdraw. Under covering fire, Cherry and his men pulled out and headed for the next village west, Mont. At the same time he sent a message to CCB Commander,

‘We are pulling out. We’re not driven out but burned out.’

Through the rest of that day the force fighting at Mageret waited for reinforcements to arrive to help them break out, but nothing happened. As midnight came around a radio message came through from CCB telling Ryerson to withdraw north-west to Bizory. At daybreak Ryerson took what was left of his men and vehicles, and forty minutes later slowly and painfully entered the American lines at Bizory.

General Heinrich von Lüttwitz:

During the night, Panzer Lehr Division got on a country road to Mageret. The point of the Division got to Neffe early in the morning and reduced the road block. When Panzer Lehr Division came to a halt in front of the Chateau Neffe, a regiment was ordered to go immediately from Bizory to Bastogne. It thus was deployed in a manner which put its line directly against the deployed American infantry lines. When this combat team was stopped in the north, another combat team from Panzer Lehr Division was sent southward against Wardin and Marvie with the mission of getting to Bastogne. This combat team was brought to a stop about one-half Kilometre southeast of Marvie. From this time on we were stopped on this line.’

Over a quarter of the CCB had been lost during 19 December, which totalled 175 Officers and men. Not to mention vehicle losses, which came to seventeen half-tracks, and about the same number of tanks. Casualties in CCR were even greater, in-fact, it almost ceased to exist anymore. There seems no doubt that these two forces, CCR and Task Force Cherry had been sacrificed in order to slow the Germans up. But slow them up they certainly did.

Colonel Eugene A.Watts said:

‘As a Major I took over command of the 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion (part of CCR of 9th Armd Division) on 17 December 1944, and remained commander until the following February 1945. CCR was located directly to the rear of the 106th Infantry Division and the 28th Infantry Division as part of General Middleton’s Corps. After the German breakthrough on 16 December, the Corps Commander (in essence) sacrificed CCR in order to save time to get the 101st Airborne Division and part of 10th Armored Division into Bastogne. We were ordered to set up road-blocks at several places to slow down its panzers and other leading German units. These road blocks were doomed to failure because we were ordered to use only one company of Armored Infantry and one company of tanks at each road block. We fought hard but could not stop a German Panzer Division, although we did slow them down. The commanders of our Tank Battalions, and several Company Commanders and about ten platoon leaders were killed or wounded at these road blocks. We retreated towards Bastogne and by 20 December about 210 men and officers of my 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion finally arrived in the vicinity of Bastogne. We lost more than 700 killed wounded or captured in about three or four days. We were first placed under the command of 325th Glider Infantry Regiment (of 101st Airborne) for four days, then later under command of a Combat Command of the 10th Armored Division. They supplemented my 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion with about 250 SNAFU [men without an assigned unit] soldiers with our primary mission to protect the artillery battalions near the Senonchamps area.

Although General Middleton was commended by General Eisenhower and General Bradley for successfully slowing down the Germans to get 101st Airborne Division into Bastogne, CCR did not appreciate being sacrificed to accomplish this. I lost my jeep with all of my clothes, camera etc, and walked into Bastogne.’

General Heinrich von Lüttwitz:

‘The point of 2 Panzer Division was at Noville, with the remaining elements of the Division strung out along the road through Bourcy and back to the northwest of Allerborn. At this time, the Corps Commander got word that strong American armoured forces were moving from Bourcy to Longvilly and, therefore, were threatening his flank. The forward elements of 26 Volks Gren Div were at this moment on Hill 499 southwest of Longvilly. The 2 Panzer Division brought up its anti tank battalion and stationed it so as to block the road. At the same time, the anti tank battalion of Pz Lehr Div was pushed through 26 Volks Gren Div, which took up positions on Hill 499. Also, at the same time, all of the artillery of 26 Volks Gren Div was ordered to fire on the area west of Longvilly, where the American armor had become entangled.’

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