But what was happening didn't make sense to the Germans. They slugged this green division unmercifully, yet it still jabbed back. Cut off and surrounded in part, these newcomers to battle were fighting like veterans. The going was bitter, but the division began regaining ground. By Sunday night, Dec. 17, Germans were using every trick in the book to make their last-stand offensive click. English-speaking enemy donned U.S. uniforms, rode in captured vehicles. Division doughs couldn't be sure who was in the next foxhole.
At the extreme northern tip of the line, 3rd Bn., 395th, gave such an account of itself between Saturday and Monday that it was awarded the Distinguished Unit Badge. The citation read:
During the German offensive in the Ardennes, the Third Battalion, 395th Infantry, was assigned the mission of holding the Monschau-Eupin-Liege Road. For four successive days the battalion held this sector against combined German tank and infantry attacks, launched with fanatical determination and supported by heavy artillery. No reserves were available... and the situation was desperate. On at least six different occasions the battalion was forced to place artillery concentrations dangerously close to its own positions in order to repulse penetrations and restore its lines...
The enemy artillery was so intense that communications were generally out. The men carried out missions without orders when their positions were penetrated or infiltrated. They killed Germans coming at them from the front, flanks and rear. Outnumbered five to one, they inflicted casualties in the ratio of 18 to one. With ammunition supplies dwindling rapidly, the men obtained German weapons and utilized ammunition obtained from casualties to drive off the persistent foe. Despite fatigue, constant enemy shelling, and ever-increasing enemy pressure, the Third Battalion guarded a 6000-yard front and destroyed 75 percent of three German infantry regiments.
Throughout the division, this extraordinary record was duplicated in spirit and to a degree in fact. South of the 395th, two companies of the 324th Engrs., under Lt. Col. Justice R. Neal, Oberlin, Kan., were cut off. Sunday night alone, these companies knocked out 16 self-propelled guns and killed 400 Germans. Then they built a road back to Elsenborn and pulled marooned 99th vehicles out of the snow with their "cats."
The 394th fought on the south flank where it battled strong Nazi patrols and tanks. When his unit was pinned down by machine gun fire from a roundhouse, T/Sgt. Savino Travellini, Mt. Shasta, Calif., picked up a bazooka and crawled towards the German gun. His first bazooka shell silenced the enemy fire. When some of the roundhouse occupants fled, the sergeant dropped them with his M-1. Travellini duplicated the procedure four times, neutralizing the strong-point.
First Bn., 394th, commanded by Lt. Col. Robert H. Douglas, Swarthmore, Pa., also received the Distinguished Unit Badge. The citation read:
The Germans' Ardennes offensive was spearheaded directly at First Battalion, 394th Infantry Regiment, which was defending a front of 3500 yards... The enemy launched its initial attack against the First Battalion with an unprecedented artillery concentration lasting approximately two hours, followed by an attack of six battalions of infantry, supported by tanks, dive bombers, flame throwers and rockets. For two days and nights the battalion was under intense small arms fire and continuous artillery concentration, with little food and water... this battalion... repeatedly beat back the superior numbers of the enemy forces... Many times the men rose out of their foxholes to meet the enemy in fierce hand to hand combat... By its tenacious stand, First Battalion prevented the enemy from penetrating the right flank of an adjacent division, and permitted other friendly forces to reinforce the sector..
When the panzers hit Krinkelt, the 393rd's communications were cut off. Lt. Col. Thomas E. Griffin, Brooklyn, regimental executive officer (now 395th CO), drove his C&R to a high terrain point as shells fell on all sides and relayed messages with his radio until an enemy tank drove him away.
The 99th QM Co. entered the battle at Krinkelt when it sent a convoy of trucks into the town to evacuate the wounded. At Elsenborn, the company suddenly found itself in a hot spot during an air raid. While some members of the unit issued clothing over truck tailgates, others manned the ring-mounted machine guns on the front of the 6-x-6s and poured a steady stream of lead into German planes.
Fresh infantry from rest camps and A/T outfits arrived Sunday evening, Dec. 17. Artillery reinforcements pulled in to back up the division's 370th, 371st, 372nd and 924th FA Bns. Time was running out for the Germans as panzers were shoved from Krinkelt and Bullingen.
The 99th drew back to form a defense line east of Elsenborn the next few days as the enemy kept up his terrific artillery spree. But the new line held fast and every German infantry attack was repulsed. All around the Elsenborn corner, Nazis could count the cost of the futile effort.
More than 4000 dead; some 60 tanks and self-propelled guns knocked out. Checkerboard doughs, even when their lines were pierced, had kept on slugging, died on their guns, had neither given way nor given up. After five days and nights of hell, the Germans, tired of beating their heads against the 99ths stone wall, turned south.
Two months later, when the division transferred to VII Corps, Maj. Gen. C.R. Huebner, V Corps Commander wrote Gen. Lauer:
The 99th Infantry Division Arrived in this theater without previous combat experience early in November, 1944. It... was committed to the attack on Dec. 12... Early on the morning of Dec. 16, the German Sixth Panzer Army launched its now historic counter-offensive which struck your command in the direction of Losheim and Honsfeld. This armored spearhead cut across the rear of your division zone with full momentum. During the next several days, notwithstanding extremely heavy losses in men and equipment, the 99th Infantry Division redisposed itself and... succeeded in establishing a line east of Elsenborn. Despite numerous hostile attempts to break through its lines, the 99th Infantry Division continued to hold this position until it was able to pass to the offensive. On Dec. 18, the 3rd Battalion of the 395th Infantry gave a magnificent account of itself in an extremely heavy action against the enemy in the Hofen area and was the main factor in stopping the hostile effort to penetrate the lines of the V Corps in the direction of Monschau...
The 99th Infantry Division received its baptism of fire in the most bitterly contested battle that has been fought since the current campaign on the European continent began... Your organization gave ample proof of the fact that it is a good hard fighting division and one in which you and each and every member of your command can be justly proud...
German prisoners volunteered praise of the 99th's effective work. A Nazi lieutenant colonel said the division was the best American outfit he ever had faced. At the 99th's PW cage in Linz, a German lieutenant asked his interrogator the name of the "elite" American unit that had defended Hofen during the Battle of the Bulge.
This regiment, the 395th, had allowed his company to come within nine feet of its lines before opening up with such terrific small arms and machine gun fire that the Germans couldn't even remove their dead and wounded in their rapid retreat.