World War II: The Bulge--Bastogne


Figure 1.--Taking two crossroad towns was vital to the success of the German Bulge offensive: St. Vith and Bastogne. The American defense of St. Vith slowed the Germans down and helped narrow the Bulge, although the Germans managed to take the town (December 21). Eisenhower was able to insert reenforcements into Bastogne on the southern shoulder before the Germans arrived. The Germans did not just suround the 101st Airborn and other and other American units in Bastogne. There were also many residents of the crossroads town who sheltered in basemnts while the Germans shelled the town. This little girl is one of the residents, pictured after the German seige was lifted. The press caption read, "Bundled Belgian Child: This little native of Bastogne, Belgium, town successfully defended by Americans in the German break-through, may not be dressed in the height of fashion, but his clothes seem as warm as his smile." The photograph is dated Janury 9, 1945. .

As the German offensive unfolded, it became clear that the small crossroad town of Bastogne would prove to be the key to the engagement. The Germans with limited fuel for the Panzers could not afford any delay, and Batogne began to create a major delay on the southern shoulder of the German drive. The town was the crossroads of seven paved roads. Early in the battle both the Germans and Americans thus recognized the importance of the town. This lead to a race between the Americans and Germans to occupy the town. Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne and the 10th armored Division. Division to defend the town. The 101st had participated in the D-Day landings and in drops which helped liberated the Netherlands south of the Rhine. The 101st arrived in Bastogne just hours before the Germans. The 10st had to move with such speed to get to Bastonge that some arrived without weapons. Only part of the 10th Armored made it to Bastogne before the Germans surrounded the town. Amunition was also in short supply. Some men got weapons from the retreating soldiers moving through Bastogne. The advancing Germans surrounded the town and subjected it to a whitering attack from all sides. In the end this proved a mistake. The Americans taking advantage of interior lines moved artillery back and forth to meet each German attacks. The tank destroyers of 10th Armor played a key role in stopping the German armor. Amunition and food quickly ran short for the American defenders. After battering the town for several days, the Germans were sure the Americans were desperate. General der Panzertruppe von Luttwitz Commander of XLVII Panzerhops dispatched officers under a truce flag demanding the Americans surrender (December 22). Brigadier General Mcauliffe who commanded the 101st Airbrn in Bastagone exclaimed "Aw, nuts" when he received the German message. McCauliffe was the deputy commande, but the Division's commande Maxwell Taylor was at a meeting in Washington when Hitler struck in the Ardennes.) McCauliffe was unsure how to reply formally, but his staff assured him hat his initial response would do fine. This message was then given to the Germans by Joseph Harper. The Germans had no idea what Mcauliffe meant. Harper explained that the jest was that they could all go to Hell. The German renewed their assailt on Bastogne. Supplies became critical for the surrounded Americans. For several days the bad weather prevented supply drops. The defenders were soon reduced to a handful of rounds each. The Germans launched an all out attack (December 25). Powerful armor units and an aerial bombardment hit Bastagone. [Barron and Cygan] Pamnzers reached within a mile of McCaluiff's comand post, but were stopped by well placed American tank destroyers. A lead force of Patton's Third Army commanded by Genersal Abrams finally reached Bastogne the next day. (Decenber 26). When the weather cleared, supply drops were organized and fighters and bompers attacked the German forces surrounding the city as well as vehicles moving supplies forward (December 29?).

Location

As the German offensive unfolded, it became clear that the small crossroad town of Bastogne would prove to be the key to the engagement. The town was the crossroads of seven paved roads. Early in the battle both the Germans and Americans thus recognized the importance of the town.

German Time Line

The Germans with limited fuel for the Panzers could not afford any delay, and Batogne began to create a major delay on the southern shoulder of the German drive.

Principal American Units


9th Armored Division

The The United Stares 9th Armored Division had been a part of FUSAG, tasked with convincing the Germans that the Allied cross-Channel invasion would come as the Pas-de Calais, After the Normandy breakout the Division was landed in France after which most of France had been liberated (September 25, 1944). The Division became part of the VIII Corps of the First U.S. Army, assigned to the Ardennes (Belgium and Luxembourg). This was the rugged heavily forested and mountainous region where the Germans achieved their great victory leading to the fall of France (1940). As winter settled in with out aesolution, the Ameeicans saw the Ardennes as auiet part of the front. The Twelfth U.S. Army Group used it go to refit and rest divisions that had suceeded in liberating France. And new units arriving at the front like the 9th Armored were able to experienc some light combat experience. The 482nd Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion (Self-Propelled) and 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached (November 1944). The 9th Armored Divisionís three combat commands (A, B, and C) were divided used to augment infantry divisions in the area. [U.S. Army] This was the situation when the Germans struck, launching the Bulge Offenoce (December 16). The Division's Combat Command C played a key role in delaying the Germans at St. Vith. Reserve Command then delayed the German drive on Bastogne, giving time for the 101st Airborn to reach Bastaogne. They then fought with the 101st Airborne in defending the vital Belgian town where several important roads crossed. The 9th Combat Command A fought on the southern shoulder of the Bulge, attempting to enlarge and defend the Bastogne Corridor. During this fighting Combat Command A was temporarily attached to the 4th Armored Division as Combat Command X. [Reichelt] After the Bulge, the reformed 9th Armored Division would seize the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine (March 1945), help reduce the Ruhr pocket, and then cut across central Germany to Czechoslovakia.

101st Airborn

The Germans introduced airborn division in its great Westetn Offensive (May 1940). The U.S, Army noting this innovation also began forming its owm paratroo units. One of the most storied was the 101st. Dropped in Normandy, the 82nd and 101st Airborn Divisions played a key role in the succss of the D-Day landings (June 1944). General Eisenhower later said that it was his most difficult decusion of the War. With only light weapons, the badky satteredair birn units managed to gight off off heavily armed German units trying to attack the landing foces and still vulnerable beachhead. The Divison suceeded, but took heavy losses. They were dropped again to support Market Garden (September 1944). The 101st Airborn was thus as expeienced as the 9th Armored Division was green. The 101st was being rested and refitted when the Germans struck in the Ardennes. Eisenhower as the German offensive developed turned to the 101st for another perilous assignent. Keep the crossroad town of Batogne out of German hands.

10th Armored Division


Race

This lead to a race between the Americans and Germans to occupy the town. Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne and the 10th armored Division. Division to defend the town. The 101st had participated in the D-Day landings and in drops which helped liberated the Netherlands south of the Rhine. The 101st arrived in Bastogne just hours before the Germans. The 101st had to move with such speed to get to Bastonge that some arrived without weapons. Only part of the 10th Armored made it to Bastogne before the Germans surrounded the town. The 10th armored as well as part of the 9th armored provided artillery support that would prove key to the American defense.

Supplies

Amunition was also in short supply. Some men got weapons from the retreating soldiers moving through Bastogne.

Seige

Taking the town was essential to Hitler's lastbdesperate plan. The advancing Germans surrounded the town and subjected it to a whitering attack from all sides. In the end this proved a mistake. The Americans taking advantage of interior lines moved artillery back and forth to meet each German attacks. The tank destroyers of 10th Armor played a key role in stopping the German armor. Amunition and food quickly ran short for the American defenders. After battering the town for several days, the Germans were sure the Americans were desperate. The fighting was intense. One author describes the fighting, "Hank DiCarlo, who was still on the other side of the property, began to shout fire cntro ordersto his men who were dug in below. 'Iwas more concrned about the enemy troops now appearing through the mist along th main road and northrn edgeof the oerimiter in front of me. . Although I still coudn't see any tanks, I shouted diwn to my squad: "Watch my tracers" and began firing an M1 rifle at the advancing troops over on my right. PvtHargettand his Number Two landed severl bazooka rounds into the lead group, and momnts later Jack Grace's machine gunburst into life followed by the rifleman. I ws continuing to fire at everytarget that presented itself until a German tabk entered theperimeter with its gun aimed diewctly at me!" [Gardner]

Surrender Demand

General der Panzertruppe von Luttwitz Commander of XLVII Panzerhops dispatched officers under a truce flag demanding the Americans surrender (December 22). Brigadier General Mcauliffe who commanded the 101st Airbrn in Bastagone exclaimed "Aw, nuts" when he received the German message. McCauliffe was the deputy commande, but the Division's commande Maxwell Taylor was at a meeting in Washington when Hitler struck in the Ardennes.) McCauliffe was unsure how to reply formally, but his staff assured him hat his initial response would do fine. This message was then given to the Germans by Joseph Harper. The Germans had no idea what Mcauliffe meant. Harper explained that the jest was that they could all go to Hell. The German renewed their assailt on Bastogne. Supplies became critical for the surrounded Americans.

Weather

For several days the bad weather prevented supply drops or air support for the beseigned Bastogne pocket..

Christmas Assault (December 25)

The defenders were eventually reduced to a handful of rounds each, but they did have artillery . There was little room for retreat. Scattered American units stood and fought with what they had. Powerful armor units and an aerial bombardment hit Bastagone. The Germans launched an all-out attack (December 25). It came down to one final engagement on Christmas Day just before dawn. The Germans launched all they hd at Bastogne. One author writes, "Suddenly the panzergrenadiers heard a loud thump. Several of the older veterans of Italy knew that sound. It was the sound of a mortar round leaving the tube. With keen foresight, Bowles his lone 81 mm mortar to bear on the clumps of German foot soldiers, whob had made the fatal mistakeof presenting the enemy with large, slow-moving targets. Before the panzergrenadiers could react to the incoming rounds, Able Company's machine guns opened up. From theiroccupied trenches and foxholes, the glider fighters poured .50 caliber and .30 caliber rounds into the soldiers. Red tracers ripped through the fogas if from nowhere, and the Germans dropped in droves, pools of crimson appearing in the snowdrifts. Caught out in the open with no cover, and in a deadly crossfgire, the soldiers could do nothing but fall, screaming, as belt after belt of ammo lanced into their lines. The slaughter had only justv begun." [Barron and Cygan] The Panzers reached within a mile of McCaluiff's comand post, but were stopped by well-placed American tank destroyers.

Relief Force (December 26)

A lead force of Patton's Third Army commanded by Genersal Abrams finally reached Bastogne the next day (Decenber 26).

Air Support

When the weather cleared, supply drops were organized and fighters and bompers attacked the German forces surrounding the city as well as vehicles moving supplies forward (December 29?).

Sources

Barron, Leo and Don Cygan. No Silent Night: The Christmas Battle for Bastogne (2012), 432p.

Gardner, Ian. No Victory in Valhalla (2014), 344p.

Reichelt, Walter E. Phantom Nine (Austin: Presidal Press, 1987).

U.S. Army. Office of the Theater Historian. U.S. Army European Theater of Operations: Order of Battle of the United States Army World War II (Paris, France: December 1945.)







CIH -- WW II







Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main Battle of the Bulge page]
[Return to Main World War II campaign page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]





Created: 7:27 PM 3/25/2013
Last updated: 12:57 AM 3/8/2018