Ardennes – Alsace
Battle of the Bulge
While At the end of 1944 the allies were trying to break the resistance at the Western border of Germany, the Germans lanched their last major offensive in order to change the outcome of the war. On 16 December 1944, at 5:30 A.M., the germans launched their offensive by a barrage of all types of artillery and self propelled rockets. The heavy shelling took approximately 90 minutes and the the american troops thought that this was a counterattack as response to the recent attack at the Wahlerscheid sector in the north, where the 2nd Infantry Division had broken through the Siegfried Line.
Hundreds of German tanks and several hundred thousand German troops attacked the thinly occupied American lines advancing in some occasions up to 50 miles, The US troops caused a huge delay for the Germans and it gave them time to get reinforcements transported into strategic positions in order to halt the German offensive.
(99th Division vehicles at Wirtzfelden route to Elsenborn.)
The 99th Infantry Division entered combat in Europe November 9, 1944, in widely spaced 1st U.S. Army defensive positions in the Ardennes at the Belgian-German border. There at the North Shoulder of the Battle at Elsenborn Ridge, the division, along with the veteran 2nd and 1st Infantry Divisions, resisted attacks by divisions of the 6th SS Panzer Army, completely messing up Hitler’s plan, so that the main German attacks moved south to the area around Bastogne.
(German Infantry during the attack note the weapon of the first soldier an MP44. – Source: Internet)
(source: After Action Reports – Nov/Dec )
The 99th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army went into action during the period Nov. 8-19, 1944. The sector in which they made their first contact with the enemy stretched over 30 kilometers through the hills and forests between the towns of Hofen, Germany, and Honningen, Belgium, along the national boundary in the Province of Malmedy.
In addition to enemy units directly in contact with the 99th Infantry Division, it was known that the entire German Sixth Panzer Army lay in strategic reserve with no element more than 48 hours distant. This knowledge prompted the division meticulously to organize secondary positions, calculating the effects of a broad front under extreme winter conditions.
Day after day of repeated patrolling and artillery harassing gave the enemy no rest and no chance of secrecy. It is typical of the division’s burning desire to know the enemy and his plans, that the 99th was the first unit of any army to capture the important document which tipped off the Ardennes offensive later in December. During the period 10 Nov. to 13 Dec., the division developed its intelligence and reconnaissance techniques. Significantly, their plans proved powerful in mid-December.
The 99th knew it was being watched. It dug deeper, and patrolled its lines with greater vigor. It knew it had to stand in the event of an attack. There was nothing behind it but supply dumps of every description and a perfect road net to Eupen, Verviers, Liege and all Belgium and northern France. American reserves were being concentrated northward in preparation for an attack in conjunction with the Ninth Army. In the event of an overwhelming attack it faced the ancient and honorable order to “hold at all costs.”
On the 13th of December, when American reserves were further distant than the German Panzer reserves, the 99th Division attacked on its left flank in conjunction with the 2nd Infantry Division. Skillfully and suddenly it captured six concrete pillboxes in a surprise advance. Deep, heavy snow and rough terrain hindered rapid movement and consolidation of position gained, and operational difficulties halted the attack on the 16th of December.
“Operational difficulties” turned into a full-scale campaign in which the world presses labeled Butgenbach, seat of the divisional CP, the “hot corner.” Appropriately, on the first day of the Ardennes offensive the 99th Infantry Division captured and gave to the world the order of the day from the German Commander in Chief for the West Wall. On the day it was read to the German troops, it was read to the American troops. This was Germany’s last brilliant bid for world domination. It is translated as follows:
12th VG Div
16 Dec 44
Soldiers of the West Front: your great hour has struck. Strong attacking Armies are advancing today against the Anglo-Americans. I don’t need to say more to you. You all feel it, everything is at stake. You bear in yourselves a holy duty to give everything and achieve the superhuman for OUR FATHERLAND AND OUR FUHRER!
Commander in Chief West
This call to arms is to be made to all soldiers without exception immediately before the beginning of the attack.
For the Div Commander
Thus began the Battle of the Bulge – known in American military history as the Ardennes Campaign. For the 99th Division, this epic action began early on the morning of Dec. 16, when elements of six German divisions, an estimated strength of 37,000 men with machines, slugged mightily at the southern, central and northern sectors of the line. In the north on the Hofen-Alzen front, the enemy attacks were stopped. And his forces were thrown back with severe losses. In the south and central sectors, after murderous barrages of artily, the numerically superior German forces smashed through thinly held lines stretched through thick pine forests. Throughout the day the soldiers of the 99th fought fiercely to stem the onslaught of enemy tanks and infantry.
Control of the vital network of roads within the division sector and in the rear areas was essential to the success of the overall strategy. The 99th Infantry Division stood between the Germans and their objective – “Liege by Christmas, Antwerp by New Year’s,” was the way their radio put it. The heaviest fighting occurred in the south where an estimated four German divisions (two Panzer and two infantry) plunged around the division’s right flank through thinly held positions and periled the road nets in the rear. Furious battles raged throughout the day as hordes of Germans swarmed over and around positions held by the forces of the 99th. Many times the enemy was fought from all sides, and in most instances encircled troops hacked their way out in the fact of terrific odds. The enemy suffered severe and damaging casualties for the small gains exacted on Dec. 16.
This main German attack from the south swept on to the northwest against increasing resistance until it reached the town of Bullingen. The enemy overran the town but was not able to exploit this gain because of all the heroic resistance of its defenders. This it was that the Germans instead of projecting their drive northwestward, bounced off Bullingen to the southwest. The 99th Division successfully diverted this initial drive toward Bugtenbach, Eupen and Liege. The vital network of roads remained in its hands. Von Runstedt’s strategy was thwarted in his dash to Antwerp to sever the Allied front.
Meanwhile, on the north flank just south of Monschau, the Germans lashed out with the strength of a Volksgrenadier division supported by tanks. At 0550 on Dec. 16, 1944, in the vicinity of Hofen-Monschau, enemy infantry attacked the 3rd Battalion, 395th regiment, iin strength at five different points while another force tried to penetrate the Monschau area on the extreme left flank. At this time, only radio communications existed between battalion headquarters and front line and heavy weapons companies because their positions had received a very heavy barrage of artily and rockets at 0545. The front line units withheld their fire until the enemy was completely exposed, and then opened fire with such devastation that the Germans were completely repulsed.
By 0745, the enemy had withdrawn with the exception of one penetration in the center of the battalion positions. The enemy making this penetration, although employing automatic weapons, rocket launchers and rifle grenades, were liquidated by 0845.
Again on Dec. 18, 1944, the enemy attacked these positions of the 3rd Battalion, 395th Regiment, in the vicinity of the battalion CP. Despite concentrations of artily and mortar, the enemy infiltrated the position and entirely surrounded the battalion CP. In bitter pre-dawn fighting the area could only be cleared of the Germans by hand-to-hand fighting. By 0818, the area had been cleared. At 0900 the enemy attacked 3rd Battalion positions at three points, with a force including two new regiments (752nd and 753rd), what was left of the 751st Regiment, plus 12 tanks and seven armored cars. Artillery and mortar fire and small arms fire was placed upon the enemy, who by sheer weight of numbers continued the advance, which penetrated the front lines. After the battalion commander had called a five-minute concentration of artily on his own front lines, the artillery fire was lifted and the battalion front line units came out of their foxholes to fight the opposing forces hand-to-hand, forcing the enemy to withdraw. While this attack was in progress, front line OP’s reported infantry and armor in large numbers, concentrating in areas to the front. The attack against the center of the battalion position followed the same pattern as the attack against the right front. Again the battalion commander had to place two five-minute concentrations on his own front lines to repulse the enemy.
At 1010, the enemy moved up reinforcements and succeeded in penetrating the main line of resistance (MLR). The penetration was approximately 400 yards in width and the battalion OP was completely surrounded. The positions were cleared and the penetration was liquidated only after the battalion commander ordered three five-minute battalion concentrations of artillery on his own front lines and committed his battalion reserve. Then, and only then, did the enemy withdraw, after fierce hand-to-hand fighting and 57mm guns firing at the enemy at a range of only 20 yards. The MLR was restored at 1230. Heavy concentrations of artily fell on these positions throughout the day.
Thus in the north, too, the 99th Division blocked the Germans’ way to the supplies and roads they needed so badly.
Following this initial action, the five battalions which had necessarily been fighting semi-independently in the woods by extensive fire and movement, fought their way back to Krinkelt and Wirtzfeld where they passed through delaying positions and gained the Elsenborn Ridge. From here they prepared defensive positions and by midnight of the 19th had prepared themselves to meet the advancing enemy.
Thus the defensive arc which constituted the North Shoulder of the Ardennes salient was formed around the east and southeast perimeter of Elsenborn. On this commanding ground the 99th Division held the nose of the “Hot Corner” of the Bulge, a keystone in the allied strategy, from Dec. 19 to Jan. 27 when the Ardennes salient was completely crushed. During this period continuous enemy shelling and bitter winter weather made fighting from foxholes an icy ordeal as the entire line remained constantly alert against attacks.
The first of these came on Dec. 20 when the Germans attacked in force with infantry and tanks and were again repulsed with heavy losses. On the night of Dec. 20, three and a half kilometers southeast of Elsenborn, after hearing a large undetermined number of enemy tanks move within the woods to their front, the 324th Engineer Combat Battalion of the 99th Division noted a strong enemy armored attack emerge in its vicinity. On calling for artillery support, 420 rounds per minute for 10 minutes and 200 rounds per minute for an additional 10 minutes, approximately 7,000 rounds in 20 minutes, poured into a target area 300×400 yards. Simultaneously, two engineer companies directed the fire of 15,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition. In the morning, more than 400 enemy dead and 18 self-propelled guns and tanks were seen destroyed in front of the 324th Engineer Battalion lines.