Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers The Battle of The Bulge - Dec. 16th, 2002
Posted on 12/16/2002 5:38:35 AM PST by SAMWolf
are acknowledged, affirmed and commemorated.
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Dec. 16, 1944 - Jan. 25, 1945
Note: Since all the mentions of this army and that army can become confusing, German units are given in italics, and American units are in normal type.
The Battle of the Bulge began with the German attack (Operation Wacht am Rhein and the Herbstnebel plan) on the morning of December 16, 1944. Two later attacks on New Year's Day 1945 attempted to create second fronts in Holland (Operation Schneeman) and in northern France (Operation Nordwind).
The overall German plan is laid out in the map above (from Hugh Cole's official history "The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge", Map IX). In the original plan, three Armies (the Sixth Panzer Army [referred to by Hitler as Sixth SS Panzer Army but not formally designated as SS at the time - Cole, p. 76], Fifth Panzer Army, and Seventh Army) would attack.
In a revised plan on November 1, 1944, the Sixth Panzer Army, for political reasons [Cole, p. 34], was given the official role of making the main effort and capturing Antwerp.
The Fifth Panzer Army was not designated as the main force in name, but it actually had the responsibility of hitting the center of the American lines, promptly capturing the highly strategic rail and road center of St. Vith, and driving on to capture Brussels.
The Seventh Army in the south was to peel off as it moved west and then turn and form a defensive line, in order to form a buffer area to prevent U.S. reinforcements from hitting the Fifth Panzer Army.
In the offical order signed by Hitler on November 10, 1944, the Fifteenth Army was added [Cole, pp. 34-36]:
The Fifteenth Army "was not to be employed until the Allies had reacted in force to the German attack, and in any case could not be expected to launch a large-scale attack until the Allied front east of Aachen had been drastically denuded of troops."
In fact, on December 13, 1944, the US 2nd Infantry Division began an attack in the Fifteenth Army area that further nullified any effect the Fifteenth Army might have in the attack.
With the exception of the critical road and rail center at St. Vith, the main towns were to be bypassed by the attacking panzer (armored) forces, so that the speed of the attack would not be slowed. Rear echelon infantry would clean out the bypassed towns. The military goal was to capture Antwerp and cut off the Allied troops to the north. The political goal was to cause division among the Allies and destroy the Allied coalition.
The terrain was the dense Ardennes Forest. The weather was chilly mist and fog, so that Allied air support was nullified until December 23. (In fact, one of the German plans was named Herbstnebel or Autumn Mist.) In addition, ground visibility for the troops was often very low, due to the trees and fog. The dense forest had very few roads, none of which were large. Traffic jams on both sides of the front were a major problem for both Armies.
The only railroad on the entire front to cross from Germany into Belgium came to St. Vith, Belgium, making St. Vith, which was also a major road junction the most vital initial prize the Germans sought, in order to allow supplies to flow to support the remainder of the attack. It was no accident that St. Vith was right in the very center of the Fifth and Sixth Panzer Armies: St. Vith had to be the main line of supply for both Armies. The German plan called for capture of St. Vith by 1800 on December 17 by Fifth Panzer Army, but the defenders held at St. Vith until late on December 21. This led the German Fifth Panzer Army Commander, Gen. Hasso von Manteuffel, to recommend to Hitler's adjutant on December 24 that "the German Army give up the attack and return to the West Wall." Manteuffel's reason for this recommendation was "due to the time lost by his Fifth Panzer Army in the St. Vith area." [Manteuffel press conference of 22 December 1964 in Watertown, NY]
Hitler did not accept Manteuffel's recommendation, and the German supplies began to run out. German columns ran low on gas and ammunition well before reaching even their first major goal: the Meuse River. On December 23, the weather cleared, and Allied planes finally filled the skies in support of the besieged American troops. (Some of the GI's had wondered why they saw German planes before that, despite the conditions, but saw no American planes.)
Slowly but surely the Allies -- from the North, the West, and the South -- closed the salient, the Bulge. The First US Army troops from the north met the Third US Army troops from the south at Houffalize, Belgium on January 16, 1945. St. Vith was recaptured on January 23, 1945. The ending date of the Bulge is considered as January 25, 1945, since this was the date on which the lost positions were officially thought to have been completely regained. In fact, as a series of letters in the VBOB "Bulge Bugle" have noted, some positions were not regained until after January 25, 1945.
In the largest battle ever fought by the U. S. Army, with 600,000 GI's involved, it is difficult to place one unit or location ahead of another in importance. But the reality is that two crucial stands at the front lines are what really doomed the German attack to certain failure:
Holding the Northern Shoulder:
The 99th Infantry Divsion and the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion bore the brunt of the Sixth Panzer Army attack on Day 1, and they held most of their ground, creating what would become the northern shoulder. (Keep in mind that the southern shoulder was one that the Germans themselves intended to form with their Seventh Army -- which they pretty much succeeded in doing.)
Holding St. Vith:
The 7th Armored Division and the 106th Infantry Division, with elements of the 9th Armored Division and 28th Infantry Division, held St. Vith four days beyond the German timetable. Even the German Fifth Panzer Army commander recognized that the attack was doomed as a result.
It is significant to note that the 7th Armored Division was near Aachen, Germany when the German attack began. The 7th Armored Division had to move 60-70 miles to the south on Day 2. If the 99th Infantry Division and 291st Engineer Combat Battalion had not held on the northern shoulder, the 7th Armored Division never would have reached St. Vith. Even when the 7th Armored Division had reached St. Vith, it was the troops on the northern shoulder and the newly arrived 82nd Airborne Division that kept a very narrow escape route open for the virtually surrounded defenders of St. Vith. But once the defense of St. Vith was set up, that defense also bolstered the defense of the northern shoulder, as both defenses forced the German columns off of their planned routes and led to considerable congestion as the Gemran columns were then funneled in between the northern shoulder and the St. Vith salient.
But what about Bastogne?
In popular thinking, the Battle of the Bulge is synonymous with the Battle of Bastogne. This is very unfortunate, since it ignores the real military keys (holding the northern shoulder and holding St. Vith) to the defeat of the Germans. Journalists hungry for some sign of American success at stopping the German onslaught played up the defense of Bastogne, where Gen. Anthony McAuliffe (101st Airborne Division) said "Nuts" to a German surrender demand and where the Third US Army (10th Armored Division) broke through the German Seventh Army's buffer to reach the surrounded town on Day 3 of the Battle of the Bulge. This was truly heroic stuff.
But from a military strategy point of view (and this can easily be seen on the map above), while Bastogne was a strategically important major road junction for sustaining the attack, it was on the periphery of the attack and well behind the initial front lines. The German plan was to have the panzers bypass Bastogne and let the later echelons of infantry and artillery units clean it out. And the panzers did succeed in bypassing Bastogne, so that their plan in that sector was on schedule. As a source for rallying U. S. spirits, the defense of Bastogne and McAuliffe's "Nuts" were a success.
But from a strategic perspective, the German fate had already been sealed at St. Vith, when they could not take that critical supply center on Day 2 - nor on Days 3, 4, 5, and most of 6. Bastogne did not become surrounded by forces intent on taking it until the night of December 21, Day 6 of the Battle of the Bulge. And the famous "Nuts" did not come until December 22, Day 7. Heroic as the deeds of the defenders of Bastogne were, the defense of Bastogne is a very important secondary element but not one of the true strategic keys to the German failure.
It was the closet the Germans made it to the Meuse River.
One hell of a beating.
On Feb. 17, 1941 , the 28th Division was ordered into federal service for one year of active duty. TheJapanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 led soldiers of the 28th to remain on active for the duration of the war. Having conducted specialized combat training ineverything from offensive maneuvers in mountainous terrain to amphibious warfare, the Division's intensive training agenda culminated in its deployment to England on Oct. 8,1943.
After another 10 months of training in England and Wales, the first elements of the Division entered combat on July 22, 1944, landing on the beaches of Normandy. From Normandy, the 28th advanced across western France, finding itself in the thick of hedgerow fighting through towns such as Percy, Montbray, Montguoray, Gathemo and St. Sever de Calvados by the end of July 1944. The fury of assaults launched by the 28th Infantry Division led the German Army to bestow the Keystone soldiers with the title "Bloody Bucket" Division.
In a movement north toward the Seine in late August, the Division succeeded in trapping the remnant of the German 7th Army through Vorneuil, Breteuil, Damville, Conches, Le Neubourg and Elbeuf before entering Paris to join in its liberation. The famous photograph of American troops before the Arc de Triomphe, marching in battle parade down the Champs Elysees, shows the men of 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division. With no time to rest, the Division moved on to fight some of the most bloody battles of the War the day following the parade.
The advance continued through the Forest of Compeigne, La Fere, St. Quentin, Laon, Rethel, Sedan, Mezieres, Bouillon and eventually across the Meuse River into Belgium. The Keystone soldiers averaged 17 miles a day against the resistance of German "battle groups." The city of Arlon, Belgium, fell to a task force as the Division fanned out into Luxembourg in early September.On September 11, 1944, the 28th claimed the distinction of being the first American unit to enter Germany.
After hammering away in assaults which destroyed or captured 153 pillboxes and bunkers, the Division moved north toward the Siegfried Line, clearing the Monschau Forest of German forces. After a brief respite, the Keystone soldiers made another move northward to the Huertgen Forest in late September. Attacks in the forest began November 2, 1944. The 28th Infantry Division stormed into Vossenack, Kommerscheidt and Schmidt amid savage fighting and heavy losses.
By November 10, the 28th began to move south, where it held a 25-mile sector of the front line along the Our River. It was against this thinly fortified division line that the Germans unleashed the full force of their winter Ardennes "blitzkreig" offensive. Five Axis divisions stormed across the Our River the first day, followed by four more in the next few day. Overwhelmed by the weight of enemy armor and personnel, the Division maintained its defense of this sector long enough to throw Von Runstedt's assault off schedule. With allied forces able to a move in to counterattack, the "Battle of the Bulge" ensued, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy forces.
Having sustained a devastating 15,000 casualties, the 28th withdrew to refortify. But within three weeks, the Division was back in action. By January 1945, Division soldiers had moved south where they served with the French First Army in the reduction of the "Colmar Pocket." The 109th Infantry Regiment was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for its action which helped lead to the liberation of Colmar, the last major French city in German hands. By February 23, 1945, the Division returned north to the American First Army. The 28th was in position along the Olef River when an attack was launched on March 6, 1945, carrying the Division to the Ahr River. Schleiden, Germund, Kall, Sotenich, Sistig and Blankenheim all fell in a raid advance. By early April, the Division moved west of the Rhine and took up occupation duties in the area north of Aachen along the Holland-German border. Permanent occupation came two weeks later at the Saurland and Rhonish areas. In early July 1945, the 28th began its redeployment to the U.S.
The Division was deactivated on December 13, 1945. Five campaign streamers - Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland, and Central Europe - were earned during World War II, in addition to the Croix de Guerre.
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My unit was part of a newly arrived rookie infantry task force. Our full Division had not yet arrived. In early December we were briefly attached to Patton's Third Army before being assigned to the Seventh to defend Stassbourg. We were the last American unit on the line, next to the French. The French unit had a lot of Algerian soldiers of which we were leery.
The Alcase people welcomed us at first but as the tide of battle turned against us, support vanished, white flags appeared in the windows of a confused people. In was a very cold and snowy winter. The Nazi preparation included white painted tanks which were less observable from the air. Anyway, we regrouped and started back into Germany. The Bulge was closed and the Nazis were finished.
Thanks to your uncles for their service.
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