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Christmas 1944: The Battle of the Bulge

Christmas 1944: The Battle of the Bulge

Christmas Eve in the Ardennes.

The Battle of the Bulge was a turning point in World War II, when American troops turned back the final Nazi counter-offensive on the Western front. Over 100,000 Americans would be killed or wounded before it was over.

The battle lasted for weeks, but came to a head over Christmas, 1944, 70 years ago.

Christopher Miskimon at Warfare History Network has this account of one Christmas Eve battle.

A Christmas Eve Tank Battle During the Battle of the Bulge: A few American tank crews held off attacking SS troops in a costly fight during the Battle of the Bulge.

The German Ardennes Offensive was in full swing during Christmas 1944. The 2nd SS Panzer Division was pressing its assault around the Belgian town of Manhay. Opposing them were the soldiers of the US 3rd Armored Division. The unit had sent Task Force Kane, a mixed force comprising Stuart and Sherman tanks along with artillery and engineer support, reinforced by paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne. This group took positions in the villages of Lamormenil and Freynaux. They spent December 23rd beating off attacks by German Volksgrenadiers. By the next day, the east side of Freynaux was protected by three Shermans and a pair of Stuart tanks along with 45 dug-in reconnaissance troops from the 83rd Recon Battalion. They sat on the west side of a stream meandering east of the village….

The short duel ended with a German retreat. Four Panthers and one Sherman littered the battlefield. While the Sherman was generally considered inferior to the Panther, the GIs had held through good tactics and solid defensive positions. Though it was not the last attack of the day, at dusk the Americans still held Freynaux. They stood up to the best the Nazis could throw at them; their duel on Christmas Eve was one step toward throwing the enemy back.

On Christmas Eve, General Anthony McAuliffe sent a message to his soldiers, including news of the refusal of American troops to surrender in the surrounded town of Bastogne, better known as “NUTS!“:

Battle of the Bulge Christmas Message 1944 Gen McAuliffe

Troops in Bastogne would received relief the day after Christmas 1944.

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Comments

When I was growing up there was a deacon at my church who was captured at the Battle of the Bulge and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. He told us the story once, about what he experienced and how his faith helped him through it.

Had these guys had a glimpse into the future and seen what has become of our government, school system, entertainment and news media and our society, they might have considered Hitler a better alternative to the likes of ‘Barack Obama’ and Al Sharpton and walked off to the other side.

RE: The battle lasted for weeks…

The German offensive lasted weeks but the battle lasted months.

After the Germans were stopped, Patton wanted to launch a counter attack across the base of the Bulge, cutting off men and material. Unfortunately, Monty was in charge and decided to push the Germans back starting at the “top” of the Bulge. Instead of isolating the German divisions, Monty took months to push them back to their starting line, months in which the Germans occupied strong points, warm houses and villages, which the Allies were forced to attack from the cold, snow covered forest.

IMHO, best book on the subject was Charles B. MacDonald’s “A Time For Trumpets, The Untold Story Of The Battle Of The Bulge”. Mac was not only an infantry company commander in the Bulge, but by virtue of his later role at Center for Military History, writing some of the official histories, he had the respect of surviving veterans when he wrote ATFT in 1985. Here’s an excerpt, pages 276-277.

Not long after dark, around 6:30 PM, Colonel Hughes radioed [Colonel Hurley] Fuller [commanding 110th Infantry in Clervaux] from his encircled position on the ridge north of Clervaux that six German tanks had bypassed him and were heading for Clervaux along the road leading into town from the rear. Again Fuller got Colonel Gibney on the telephone, but again Gibney refused permission to withdraw. Even as the two were talking, a staff officer ran into the room to tell Fuller that six German tanks were approaching the [headquarters] hotel. Fuller told that to Gibney. He would obey the order to hold, said Fuller, but as a Texan, he wanted Gibney to know that he was assigning him the same fate as befell the defenders of the Alamo.

At that moment three shells from German tanks exploded one after the other inside the ground floor of the hotel beneath the room from which Fuller was talking. What was that? asked Gibney. Fuller told him. When Gibney began to say something more, Fuller interrupted; he had “no more time to talk,” he said brusquely, and rang off.

Fuller had just turned from the telephone when a blast of machine-gun fire tore into the ceiling of the room he was in, and tank fire continued to blast the ground floor. All the lights went out. Going into the corridor, Fuller felt his way to his own room, No. 10, to get his carbine and overcoat. He was determined to get out some way and reconstitute as much of his regiment as he could put together on the other side of the Clerve [River].

As Fuller entered No. 10, he found ten men taking refuge there. Just at that moment a rocket from a Panzerfaust exploded in the room, wounding five of the men, including one who was blinded. By the light of German flares outside, Fuller hurriedly bandaged the man’s eyes.

    Another great Battle of the Bulge book, IMO, is “Battle” by John Toland and it contains a rather humorous story involving Hurley Fuller.

    After Col Fuller was captured he was being marched with a column of other prisoners towards Germany. None of the prisoners had eaten in days. Fuller noticed that a German Officer had given a rather heavy suitcase to the first prisoner to carry. Fuller noticed that the case was being passed back from prisoner to prisoner towards the end of the column. At the next rest, a German guard dragged a prisoner from the rear of the column forward and was carrying the suitcase, which was now empty.

    When the German officer saw the empty case he flew into a rage and struck the prisoner and threatened to shoot him. Being the senior officer present, Fuller intervened and demanded to know what the problem was. Through an interpreter, the German Officer stated that the prisoner had stolen the contents of the suitcase. Fuller asked what had been in the case and the Officer replied “Butter and cheese”. Fuller began to laugh uncontrollably and the officer started to strike Fuller with crop, then caught himself and also began laughing hysterically. The Officer then pitched the empty case into a snow drift and walked away, still laughing.

      FrankNatoli in reply to CalFed. | December 26, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Have read Toland’s book. Agree it’s 1st class. Toland was Mac’s professional godfather, strongly encouraging Mac to write ATFT. I have no doubt that Toland’s title “Battle, the Story of the Bulge” inspired Mac’s title “A Time For Trumpets, the Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge”. I’m sure Mac wasn’t being critical of Toland. More than anything else, I believe Mac wanted to thoroughly document and lay to rest suggestions that many Americans panicked and ran when the Germans first attacked. Certainly, “some” did. But the vast majority didn’t, and Mac thoroughly documents how what happened in the north in front of the Elsenborn Ridge, in the center at St. Vith, and in the south where the 110th gave time for the defense of Bastogne to be formed, positively proves our fathers and grandfathers were GIANTS in their day.

        There were many unheralded actions heroically fought by American troops in the opening days of the Battle of the Bulge. One of my favorites is the Battle of Lanzerath where a small reconnaissance platoon of the 394th Regiment stopped a battalion of German paratroopers spearheading the way for Kampfgruppe Peiper for many hours, completely upsetting Peiper’s time table.

    DDsModernLife in reply to FrankNatoli. | December 26, 2014 at 12:38 am

    “A Time For Trumpets” is a must-read. MacDonald points out something that sticks in my mind and I’ve opened my volume in order to quote it:

    “A belief would log persist that when the Germans first struck, some American troops fled in disarray. In a book published as late as the fortieth anniversary of the battle, one historian noted that ‘during the early stages…hundreds of American troops fled to the safety of the rear in sheer panic’.”

    “That was patently false…no front-line American unit fled without a fight.”

    I’ll add that Stephen Ambrose, in describing the 101st Airborne’s advance on Bastogne (in “Band of Brothers”) did nothing to dispel that myth.

    God has so blessed our country with brave men and women. May they never be forgotten!

      FrankNatoli in reply to DDsModernLife. | December 26, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      Apologies for reading your reply after replying to the above. You are of course absolutely correct [as was MacDonald]. Another book suggestion is Peter Elstob’s “Hitler’s Last Offensive”. It’s mentioned in Mac’s bibliography and IMHO is very, very good.

      WSJ recently reviewed two new books on the subject “Snow and Steel” and “Those Who Hold Bastogne”. Judging by the reviews, both look excellent and I will get copies shortly.

      FrankNatoli in reply to DDsModernLife. | December 26, 2014 at 6:22 pm

      “May they never be forgotten”.
      Richard Frank’s book “Guadalcanal” is excellent, and ends with a quote from James Michener which addresses your concerns:
      “They will live a long time, these men of the South Pacific. They had an American quality. They, like their victories, will be remembered as long as our generation lives. After that, like the men of the Confederacy, they will become strangers. Longer and longer shadows will obscure them, until their Guadalcanal sounds distant on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge”.
      Then Frank says:
      “Guadalcanal may already ‘sound distant on the ear’; but while distance is inevitable, immortality is not”.
      My father fought in the Bulge, and a consequence of a time he tangled with a civilian sniper caused nightmares for him for the rest of his life. I will NEVER forget him!

        DDsModernLife in reply to FrankNatoli. | December 27, 2014 at 12:01 am

        I’m a big fan of the late Bruce Catton’s writings on the Civil War. (If you’ve never read his Army of the Potomac trilogy–“Mr. Lincoln’s Army,” “Glory Road,” and “A Stillness at Appomattox”–please seek them out!) As a young man growing up in Michigan, he was blessed to have heard the old veterans speaking of their experiences and I’ve often thought how lucky he was.

        Similarly, we’re blessed to have known a generation of veterans who not only faced the dangers and hardship of battle, but traveled to far corners of the world to risk their lives for the cause of freedom–not only for us but for others. How lucky we are(!) and what a great responsibility we have to pass the torch to the next generation.

        Thank you for your kind words, Frank.

9thDistrictNeighbor | December 24, 2014 at 9:56 pm

My uncle, Captain Henry Radecki, 84th Infantry Division Railsplitters, was later President of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. He came back so hearing impaired we always knew when Dad had been with him because Dad was Yelling Really Loud. One time, someone came up to Uncle Hank and told him… “you were a real son of a b****, but you saved our lives.” There are photos of him playing in the snow…he was 22 at the time.

    My USGI father also had his hearing affected by his war time service. They did not, of course, use hearing protection! The first time he took me to a pistol range, he didn’t use hearing protection because he “didn’t need it”. He didn’t bring any for me either! Every time someone fired a round, I got a new note humming in my ears. Took a couple of days for the humming to go away! And they did that for years!

My father, John W. Edwards, was a sergeant in the 110th, who convoyed into France in August, fought the Battle of the Huertgen Forest, and was rotated with his unit into the Ardennes for “rest.” His unit advised the higher ups that the Germans were massing, but the intelligence was ignored.

The 110th faced the brunt of the German onslaught as the battle started. Their position was overrun on the first day of the battle, and he and a small group of men were stranded behind the enemy line. They attempted to fight their way back to the Allied line, but were captured on the morning of the 4th day of the battle.

My father escaped briefly, and hid for a day in the barn of a farm, but was recaptured. He spent the rest of the war (about 6 months) in a German POW camp, where he lost half his body weight.

He went to school, met my mother, married her, and worked as an insurance underwriter. But, for the rest of his life, if a loud noise woke him from his sleep, he woke thinking it was artillery. He died in October of 2004 at the age of 84.

Bitterlyclinging | December 24, 2014 at 11:23 pm

It was shortly after midnight the night of December 17/18,1944 when the Fourth Armored Division resting and refitting somewhere in Northern France, expecting to shortly jump off moving east into Germany, received their orders to instead move out to anwser a fire call up north. They marched, without stopping for 22 straight hours, without maps or lights, sending jeeps out in advance to reconnoiter the roads north.
Along their way north they encountered the tracks of an armored vehicle in the snow moving perpendicular to their line of advance. Based on the track width and gauge the Fourth concluded it was not an allied vehicle. They also encountered abandoned American field artillery pieces by the roadside, with no signs of the guncrews or the tow vehicles which the Fourth proceeded to take under tow. The Fourth also came upon an American deuce and a half ton truck by the roadside, motor still running, driver still behind the wheel. The only problem was the drivers head above the eyebrows was missing.

amazing, today we soil our collective britches over 5,000 casualties in a 10 year war. as a nation we don’t have the stones to win any more. thanks again progs.

TrooperJohnSmith | December 25, 2014 at 2:39 am

What the 101st did at Bastogne was an incredible feat of fighting. If not for their spirit, elan and superb training, they likely would have been overcome.

One thing history has forgotten was the incredible sacrifice of the understrength, outnumbered and outgunned units upon which the initial attack was made. The Wehrmacht struck with a sudden and overwhelming hammer blow. The American units in this “quiet” sector, many recovering from months of fighting, did not go quietly according to plan.

No, they fought, died and did not go quietly, as the Germans had intended. These men bought precious time and completely disrupted the precise timetable set up for the drive to Antwerp. They blocked roads, held bridges and defended towns and crossroads against massive attacks by Panzergrenadiers and armor, including the King Tiger.

The time they bought with their blood gave the Allied High Command, many of whom were off on Christmas leave, time to rush the 101st and units of the 82nd Airborne Divisions into the critical zone around the road junctions at Bastogne.

Why don’t the history books teach this? Simple. Most of these units were annihilated. The survivors went into captivity, and by the time they were repatriated, no one really cared to hear their stories. Simply put, the 101st – the Battling Bastards of Bastogne – and General McAuliffe’s “Nuts” reply to the surrender demand, all made better, sexier copy. It helped hide the fact that the Allies, Ike in particular, and the whole SHAEF command were caught with their pants down. Hell, Matthew Ridgeway was away in Paris and McAuliffe, the ADC, commanded the division at Bastogne.

Nobody cared about anything except saving face, restoring the front and reducing the Bulge. And saving their jobs. Conveniently for them, the men who paid the butcher’s bill were either dead or in POW camps.

The story of the men who effectively blunted Hitler’s last spear in the side of the western Allies is coming out. It began with the excellent and scholarly book, “Alamo in the Ardennes,” written by one of the survivors’ son, John C, McManus.

It’s a great read, if you so desire: http://www.amazon.com/Alamo-In-The-Ardennes-American/dp/0451225589

An Uncle from each side of my family and my Father in Law from my first marriage were all there. Uncle Joe, Dad’s brother, was a Captain with the Engineers cut off at St. Vith. Uncle L.M., a younger brother of Mom, was wounded by an artillery round that killed his two closest buddies in the snow. My father-in-law, Bill Davidson, was a writer for YANK and wrote a wonderful memoir of his true Battle of the Bulge adventures: “CUT OFF:Behind Enemy Lines With Two War Orphans, Ernest Hemmingway and Assorted Misanthropes”.

70-Years ago right now. I was 7-months old. Thank God for such men.

I met my mother’s cousin for the first time when she came to my mother’s memorial.

Her father was my mother’s favorite uncle, her Uncle Art.

I remember as a young boy the day he came out to Santa Monica to visit us. Together Uncle Art and I took our dog for a long walk. He had a very bad limp.

He was critically wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. My mother’s cousin told me he met her mother, a nurse treating him, when he was in the hospital with the injuries from this battle. She pleaded with the doctor not to amputate his leg, and to keep trying to save it. I remember my mother telling me that after an explosion, his comrades had to dig him out of the snow, and at first they thought he was dead.

He never fully recovered from his injuries and passed away just a year after visiting us, in his early fifties.

On a long road-trip vacation around the Southwest last year, we visited his grave. Arthur Musil, RIP.

Thanks for this post! “My” war was 20-something years after this and our welcome home left something to be desired. These guys deserved the accolades they received on returning and still deserve our utmost honor and respect for the sacrifices they made bringing the lightning advance of Kampfgruppe Peiper to a halt well short of Antwerp. If Peiper had been able to reach and take Antwerp the war could well have lasted another two of three years, with the loss of uncountable numbers of troops … on both sides.

Richard Aubrey | December 25, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Concur wrt Battle and Alamo.

Growing up, part of the Christmas tradition was my father telling us about the best Christmas dinner he ever remembered – turkey dinner cooked with immersion heaters in metal barrels on December 25, 1944 in Seraing-Boncelles in Belgium, twenty miles northwest of Stoumont. He was a radar operator in a radar controlled 90mm M2 AAA gun unit, the 126th AAA Gun Battalion (Mobile), positioned to protect approaches to an intact bridge over the Meuse River south of Liege capable of allowing a tank to cross the river. They occupied the site of a former German 88mm gun battery on heights overlooking the river on December 17th. Like the German 88mm gun, the U.S. 90mm M2 AAA gun was also effective in an anti-armor role. Until German armor approached, my father’s unit’s mission was to shoot down everything that did not have a recognizable IFF transponder, including V-1 missiles, as part of the Antwerp air defense network. His unit had also done similar duty at Dover Castle in England earlier in 1944. VT radar proximity fuses were efficient at destroying the aircraft. At Dover, some estimates claim that 79% of incoming V-1s were shot down, with the percentage increasing to 94% in the defense of Antwerp. At Dover, my father’s unit was shelled by German artillery from the French coast.

My father also told the story of a very anxious lone road sentry in the snow and cold at Seraing-Boncelles armed with only a M1 Garand rifle halting an armor column of unfamiliar looking non-Sherman tanks that turned out to be British, passing through the battery’s position on their way to the front during the early days of the Battle of the Bulge.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Bulge
http://www.lonesentry.com/blog/employment-of-aaa-in-anti-tank-role.html
http://www.skylighters.org/buzzbombs/index2.html
http://www.skylighters.org/buzzbombs/antwerpx7.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhIb4uvsuuU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjD7DAGR3Do
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/90_mm_Gun_M1/M2/M3
http://weaponsandwarfare.com/?p=5258
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proximity_fuze
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/90.htm

    FrankNatoli in reply to Another Ed. | December 26, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Kampfgruppe Peiper was stopped at Stoumont Station, just west of Stoumont, in part by two 90mm guns that were setup on the road that everyone knew the KG’s tanks would come down. Highly recommend Michael Reynolds’ “The Devil’s Adjutant”, which IMHO is the best history of KG Peiper. Reynolds was in a rather unique position, given his role before retirement and becoming a historian as a two star British general in NATO, to have very good contacts inside the Bundeswehr, who in turn provided him with very good contacts with surviving members of KG Peiper.

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