By the morning of 17 December, the situation was becoming critical. Colonel Reid, commander of the 424th Infantry Regiment was fearful that his group would be encircled. His left flank was exposed and he had lost communications with his right flank. The 62”’ VG Division had brought up tanks in the night and were attacking in considerable force. The 424th Regiment had its back to the Our Rivers and if the 62nd VG Division were to capture the bridge at Steinebruck and move along the west bank, Colonel Reid knew that it would be hard to make a withdraw westward.
An hour before dawn, elements of the 62”’ VG Division made a big push in the area between the 424” Regiment and the 1 12th Regiment of the 28th Division, with Company G of the 424th Regiment taking the brunt of the attack.
The major attack however, came farther north at Winterspelt. During the night, units of the 62”’ VG Division had taken the eastern half of the town and with the addition of reinforcements, they would be able to drive the 1” Battalion from Winterspek at daybreak. However, shortly after noon, the German assault came to a stop when elements of the Combat Command B (CCB) 9th Armored Division, came across the Steinebruck bridge. The 27” Armored Infantry Battalion under command of Captain Glen L. Strange and the 14th Tank Battalion, both attached to CCB counterattacked and had success pushing the Germans back to Elcherath, which they 5 took around 1530. They were preparing to attack Winterspelt with elements of the 424th Infantry, when orders came for General Jones to pull back across the Our Rivers.
The right regiment of the 62”’ VG Division was able to move along unopposed north of Winterspelt. They pushed the left flank of the 424th Regiment out of the way which caused the units to fold back toward the south and west until First Lieutenant Jarrett Hudieson, Jr. was able to form a task force and hold this flank and extend it as the enemy moved. Colonel Reid, seeing the importance of this force, kept adding whatever troops he could find to hold this flank. Units of the 62”’ VG Division still appeared to be working their way around the left flank of this small task force.
Around 1530, orders came from General Jones to Colonel Reid and Brigadier General William Hoge, commander of the 9th Armored Division that they could proceed with their planned attack, however they were to pull back to more defensible position across the Our Rivers during the night. Hoge saw no reason to take back lost territory at the cost of lives only to relinquish the land later and so ordered the ~7t~1 AIB and the 14” Tank Battalion to prepare to pull back. Plans were hastily made and beginning in the evening of 17 December and continuing through the night, both the CCB and the 424th Regiment made successful withdrawals across the river. However, the 424th, its hurried fallback, had to leave much of its equipment behind.
With the withdrawal complete, CCB held the area from Weppelerand (northeast of Steinebruck) south to Auel, while the 424”’ held an area from Maspek in the north to a point midway between Burg Reuland and Beiler in the south.’5 Although the intervention of the CCB did not achieve the results for which it was originally sent, CCB was instrumental in helping contribute to the successful withdrawal of the 424th Regiment. Both were successful in one very important area; they further delayed the timetable of the 62”’ VG Division, which was now 24 hours behind schedule.
The northern sector of the 106”’ Infantry Division steadily deteriorated over the course of the day. By the morning of 17 December, the 14th Cavalry Group had been pushed back to new positions stretching five miles from Andler on the south to Hepscheid on the north. The 18th Reconnaissance Squadron, which was attached to the 14th Cavalry Group had only E Troop and F Company intact, its reconnaissance troops had been smashed during the 16 December. The 32”’ Squadron fared better, losing only Troop A at Honsfeld during the night.”
By dawn of 17 December, the enemy was moving down the Krinkek-BüllingenSt. Vith road, as well as westward from Honsfeld. All contact with the 99th Infantry Division on their northern flank had been lost. Troop B of the 32”’ Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron in a fight at Andler had lost contact with the 106” Division on their southern flank.
At about 0700, King Tiger tanks, the largest tanks to operate during the war, of the 506th Heavy Panzerbatallion had appeared outside Andler. The 506” was part of the 6. Panzerarinee but had traveled outside the army boundary in search of a road that could handle the big tanks and merely stumbled into the fight for Andler.
With the situation rapidly growing worse, Captain Franklin P. Lindsey, Jr., in command of Troop B asked permission from 14th Cavalry HQ to fall back and establish a roadblock on the road to Schönberg. While waiting for approval, fire from the approaching tanks drove part of his troop to the west. With this, Lindsey ordered the rest of his unit to head for Schonberg. While enroute to Schonberg, Lindsey learned that Bleialf had fallen, and so decided to keep tnoving through Schonberg to the village of Heum, two miles behind Schonberg along the road to St. Vith. The 18th VG Division following close behind, without the King Tiger tanks nevertheless took Schonberg and the bridge over the Our Rivers at 0845.”
Although the two regiments and supporting units to the east were unaware of this fact at the moment, they were now cut off from their main escape route. This would become evident to them shortly as the 106th Division artillery units positioned in the area tried to retreat across the Our Rivers. For the 422”’ and 423”’ infantry regiments and their supporting artillery battalions, the situation grew worse as 17 December progressed. Up to the north, the 18th VG Division was pushing towards Schonberg, in an attempt to capture a main road junction leading to St. Vith and also closing off one of the only withdrawal routes for the 42Td Regiment.
During the day of 16 December, elements of the 18” VG Division had put pressure on the three field artillery battalions, 589th, 590th and 592”’, which were located on either side of St. Vith — Diekirch highway, better known as “Skyline Drive” by Americans, near the hamlet of Laudesfeld. Colonel Descheneaux, concerned about his supporting artillery battalion, sent Company L along with portions of his Antitank and Cannon companies to retake Auw in an attempt to block access to “Skyline Drive”. However, at about 1400, as they were assembling, three German assault guns began moving south from Auw along the little “Skyline Drive”. The Assistant S-3 of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion, Captain Huxel, ordered a bazooka team to fire on the first gun. The bazooka round hit the track of the first vehicle immobilizing it. Huxel also ordered the howitzers from Battery A, 589th Field Artillery Battalion to fire on the lead vehicle. Two hits were scored and the vehicle burst into flames. He then adjusted his sights on the second assault gun and damaged it. The second and third assault guns were able to fall back to a point in the road were they were out of view.
Battery A, B and C were able to hold the Germans at bay during the day of 16 December. However, under cover of darkness German units were able to advance to a ridge overlooking the gun positions of Battery C, effectively blocking the exit from their position.
At about 1930, General Jones, also fearing the loss of the 589” and the 592”’ battalions, ordered half of his division reserve, the 2d Battalion, 423”’ Infantry Regiment, commanded by Lt. Colonel Joseph P. Puett, to move from their waiting position in Schonberg up to “Skyline Drive” to help the 589th and 592nd battalions displace. By midnight on 17 December, Puett’s battalion had reached the artillery positions.~ After deploying the units and patrolling to determine the enemy’s positions, orders were given at 0400 by the division artillery commander, Brigadier General Leo T. McMahon to displace to positions near St. Vith. They were to be followed by the 590’” Battalion. The 592”’ Battalion ~as successful in moving through Schonberg during the night and setting up in their new positions before dawn, just north of St. Vith, near the division artillery airstrip. Of their twelve 155mm howitzers, they had lost only two, one to mud and another that missed the turn-off and was destroyed by enemy fire.
Batteries A and B, as well as a portion of Headquarters Battery succeeded in puffing out of their positions although they were shelled with white phosphorous shells during their move. They were able to move all of their 105mm howitzers except one that was lost when the prime mover ran off the road. Battery C was unable to get out of their positions and were forced to join units of the 422”’ and 423”’ regiments and the 590” Battalion.
Around 0715 on 17 December, Batteries A and B were almost in position about one mile east of Schonberg on the Schonberg-Bleialf Road. Although they were successful in pulling back to new positions, just before dawn, units of the 18th VG Division overran a small force in Bleialf. With this town in enemy hands, the Schoriberg-Bleialf Road was open to the 18th VG Division advance on Schonberg, the only exit for the 589’” Battalion.
Just before full daylight, a truck from the battalion’s service battery raced down the road from the direction of Bleialf warning the batteries that the Germans were right behind him. Communications had been lost with battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Kelly Jr., who was still trying to save Battery C, and so battalion executive officer, Major Arthur C. Parker III took command and ordered the remaining units of the 589” to evacuate once again to new positions west of St. Vith. Under the constant harassment of small arms fire, Battery A was able to get three of its howitzers on the road, however they lost one to the thick mud. They raced down through Schonberg and across the Our Rivers only minutes before elements of the 18” 5 VG Division entered the village from the direction of Andler.”
Meanwhile, the battery executive officer of Battery A, 1” Lieutenant Eric F. Wood stayed behind in an attempt to free the fourth howitzer. After about a half an hour, they freed the gun then raced down the road towards Schonberg. However, by this time, the Germans were in full possession of the town. Lt. Wood and his men tried to race through the town only to be stopped by a tank blocking the road out to St. Vith. Wood dashed for the woods, however his men had no other choice but to surrender.
Battery B had difficulties moving their howitzers from the mud and ended up destroying three of them when the advancing German units came in too close to the Battery B positions. Captain Arthur C. Brown, the battery commander, and his men got on their remaining trucks and followed Lt. Wood and Battery A’s last gun into Schonberg. Like Wood’s truck, Battery B were surrounded in Schonberg, and had little choice but to surrender.”
The surviving units of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion made their way into St. Vith around 1200 on the 17”. The Service Battery of the 590”‘, which had been cut off from its own outfit and was waiting in St. Vith, was attached to the 589th~ They were then ordered into firing position north of St. Vith, with an anti-tank position protecting the roads to St. Vith. There they bivouacked until about 2400 when orders came once again to move out into new position west of St. Vith in the vicinity of Poteau.
Unfortunately for the 5901h, they were unable to move out before the German column cut them off from their escape route. They were forced to move in closer to the 422”’ Regiment and deploy some of their men in defense of the perimeter for the encircled group.
For the 422”’ Regiment the second day was one more of anxiety rather than fighting. Colonel Descheneaux had reported to the division that morning that rations would last one more day and that they had lost contact with the motor pool. The only upside was that the regiment had a complete unit load of ammunition. With the elimination of the 5891b, he had no artillery support.
Although Jones had sent out a message to both regimental commanders at 0945 ordering them to: “withdraw from present positions if they became untenable” and that the division expected to clear out the area “west of you” with reinforcements during the afternoon, this message was delayed in transit so that Colonel Cavender received it around 1500 and passed a copy on to Colonel Descheneaux which he received just after midnight. Time delay was critical, for during the time between when the message was sent and when it was received, the 18th VG Division was able to S constrict their hold, by deploying along the Bleialf-Auw Road.
The seriousness of the situation was obvious to the regimental commanders and their staffs, however, the men in the line had little knowledge of what was happening around them. Word had begun to circulate among the troops that the armored divisions were coming to reinforce their positions. Although this was a comforting thought, the reality of the matter was that the 7~t~ Armored Division was still bogged down in traffic miles from the two regiments.
One bright spot for the commanders was the fact that a message from division headquarters had reached the two commanders informing them to expect an airdrop of supplies in the vicinity of Schlausenbach that night. The commanders thought that with these supplies, they could hold on to their positions long enough for the armored units to open an exit for the two regiments. They be~an making immediate preparations to receive the drop.
During the night of the 17 December the 422”’ and 423”’ regiments formed a perimeter defense in their respective areas. The 422””s defenses was centered south of Schlausenbach, while the 423”’ was assuming a similar stance on the high ground around Oberlasheid and Buchet. There was no shortage of rifle ammunition and there was a basic load for the mortars, but the 590th Battalion had only about 300 rounds for its 105mm howitzers. There was approximately one day’s worth of K rations left, but surgical supplies were very short. Luckily, casualties had been very low.
At 1610 Colonel Descheneaux had summed up his situation in a message received at divisional headquarters around 0840 the next day:
Third Battalion (less L Company) and composite companies in original positions. They report no activity except enemy cleaning artillery at 035835. Only contact with 423d Infantry is by patrols. 1” Battalion is in original positions except one platoon of C Company, withdrawn to close gap between 1” and 2”’ composition companies. 3d Battalion, attached to [1” Battalion] is astride the Ridge road vicinity of 035869. No activity reported. 2d Battalion is in position generally along Schlausenbach. L Company plus 30 engineers [3d Platoon of Company A, 81” Engineers] is at 1” Battalion command post.
This optimistic view was ended with Jones’s orders, sent at 0215 on the morning of the 18 December, which ordered the two trapped divisions to fight their way out and in the process destroy German units along the Schönberg-St. Vith road. When this mission was accomplished, the regiments were to move to the St.VithWallerode-Weppler area where they were to organize ~nd move west to St. Vith.’°° This message reached the 423”’ at about 0730 and the 422”’ one half hour later. Upon receiving this message, Colonel Descheneaux lowered his head and in almost a sobbing tone said, “my poor men—they’ll be cut to pieces.”
The message was ambiguous and furthermore, Jones had failed to designate an overall commander for the breakout attempt. Although Colonel Cavender had seniority to assume command, he choose not to assert this authority and instead the 5 two of them made every effort to coordinate their plans. This would be very difficult since the only avenue of communications between them was by patrols. However, they were still able to formulate plans for the breakout. These plans called for the 423”’, which was closest to the Bleialf-Schonberg road, to take the lead in a column of battalions. The hope was to bring out the regimental vehicles that remained. Although the 590th Field Artillery Battalion was running low of ammunition, it still retained enough to provide some artillery support for the 423””s attack. Meanwhile the 4~nd was to follow the 423”’ across the Bleialf-Schönberg road, and assemble a mile north of Oberlascheid and just short of “Skyline Drive”.’02 However, after this agreement, there seemed to have been no further collaboration of efforts.
A thick fog and rain covered the woods as the men of the 422”’ began to make the move from their positions. F Company of the 2”’ Battalion led this movement at around 0900. One by one, units made their way down the Schnee Eifel, with the last units clearing the original positions at around noon herding about 300 German prisoners of war before them. These units worked their way through draws and ravines until they were about one mile north of Oberlascheid where it was decided that the division would dig in for the night, in preparation for the attack towards Schonberg the following morning. The actual distance to the new position was only about three miles, however, those three miles required the tired and hungry men to splash, slip and slide in mud and slush, while loaded down with their weapons and ammunition. The trail was littered with discarded overcoats and other, at the time, non-essential items.’
The movement was an additional problem to some units that found themselves lost from the rest of the regiment at different times. The Cannon Company actually ran into the 423”~ column at Halenfeld but was able to re-link with the 422”’. Other units overshot the position and had to retrace their steps back to the bivouac area. By nightfall, the regiment was an intermixture of units that never got fully straightened out.’°4 Still the much awaited airdrop of supplies had not materialized.
That night, while Father Cavanaugh, the unit chaplain, made his rounds trying to uplift the spirits of the troops, Colonel Descheneaux called a meeting of the regimental officers. Descheneaux informed them that the regiment would advance to Hill 504 above Schonberg, with the 1” Battalion on th~ right, 2”’ Battalion on the left and the 3”’ Battalion in reserves. From there, they would capture Schonberg and Heuem and move west to meet the 7~I~ Armored Division that was coming to effect the breakout.
The 423d prepared for its move by destroying its kitchens and excess equipment and left the wounded with medical aid men in the regimental collection station. Once preparations were completed, the 423”’ moved from its positions at 1000, 18 December, with Lt. Col. Joseph P. Puett’s Td Battalion in the lead, followed 5 by the 3”’ Battalion and the 1” Battalion bringing up the rear.
At 1130, the 2”’ Battalion ran into a German unit near the Schonberg-Bleialf road. E and F Companies took heavy punishment, but were able to push the German units back and occupy the high ground, while G Company, committed about two hours later, was able to advance to the Bleialf-Schönberg road. By this time, the Germans were beginning to send in reinforcements and Puett had lost contact with the 590th Field Artillery Battalion, which had been providing what little support it could.
Puett radioed regimental headquarters requesting that a counter attack be made by the 3”’ Battalion against the enemy’s right flank to the west, towards Bleialf.
This message came in just minutes after Colonel Cavender received another from General Jones. The message from Jones came as a jolt to Cavender. It informed them that there was to be no counterattack by the 7” Armored Division from St. Vith to Schonberg. Instead, Cavender and Descheneaux were to shift the direction of their attack to take Schonberg, then drive to St. Vith on their own. The two regiments that had left the cover of their prepared positions to meet and assist a relieving force now found themselves open and exposed, without a relieving force to help them. Furthermore, they were to attack a town that the Germans viewed as strategically important and fight their way back to St. Vith. Unfortunately, with communications in the state that they were in, there was no chance to argue the command with Jones, and so the only recourse was to obey the orders. Colonel Cavender immediately sent a messenger to Descheneaux to inform him of the change in orders. 107 Cavender went on to order the 3”’ Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Earl F. Klinck, to move past the 2”’ Battalion on the right and proceed to Hill 504, overlooking Schonberg.
During the rest of the day, Puett’s 2”’ Battalion put up a tremendous fight holding off the increasing German pressure. Finally, at about dusk, Cavender responded by committing the 1” Battalion on Puett’s left towards Bleialf. However, the attack made little progress against a now thoroughly aroused and reinforced enemy.
By nightfall the 2”’ Battalion had consolidated its position and dug in after a day of desperate fighting. The battalion had suffered about three hundred casualties and almost all mortar rounds had been expended. Nine m~chine guns had been destroyed and of those remaining, only 375 rounds remained per gun.’°’ Colonel Cavender, late in the evening, pulled the 1” Battalion back to Oberlascheid to prepare to join the drive on Schonberg the next morning. Company A was unable to disengage and was forced to stay behind.
The 3”’ Battalion, as ordered, moved north across the “Skyline Drive” towards Schonberg. Shortly after crossing Skyline Drive and heading down the northwestern slopes of Hill 536, L Company made contact with German units in the area. They 5 were pinned down only a few hundred yards from the Bleialf-Schönberg road with anti-aircraft artillery and small arms fire. Upon hearing this, Klinck moved K Company to the right flank of L Company to help push back the enemy. It was not until part of M Company, a heavy weapons unit, joined in the fight that they were able to make any significant movement. The counterattack pushed the first enemy resistance aside, and they were able to work their way forward, under increasing pressure, until L Company was able to make its way across the Bleialf-Schonberg Road, and thus cut off communication between Schonberg and Bleialf. The 3”’ Battalion was able to consolidate its position only about a half a mile from Schönberg. It was here that a large portion of F Company, 422”’ Regiment, the unit that overshot 422”’ bivouac area, came moving in as did elements of Puett’s F Company. Klinck sent two runners back to regimental headquarters to report the situation. However, they never made it to their destination.
The 1” Battalion, under command of Lt. Col. William H. Craig, was the last to move towards Schonberg. Only a mile had been covered when the lead unit met German resistance between Holenfeld and Oberlascheid. With the column halted, it set up defensive positions and sat in until 1600 when orders came to support the 2”’ Battalion on their left flank. The Americans met stiff mortar and machine-gun fire as they made their way down into the valley. As the early evening wore on and with rifle ammunition almost exhausted, further advance became impossible, so by 2200 the 1~ Battalion withdrew towards Oberlascheid.
By the evening of the 18 December, Colonel Cavender had moved his command post twice, finally deciding on a site just north of Radscheid. The 590th Battalion had moved to new positions just northwest of the regimental headquarters. The situation was tense. Although the artillery was in good position, it was almost out of ammunition. Two battalions were engaged facing southwest, in the opposite direction of the objective and all battalions were extremely low on ammunition. Despite radio and patrol attempts to make contact with the 422”’ Regiment, no contact was made. At 2200, a message came from division headquarters ordering the regiment to “Attack Schonberg, do maximum damage to the enemy there, then attack towards St. Vith. This mission is of gravest importance to the nation. Good Luck. Brook.””° Soon afterwards, another message from division came’ in with another promise of an early morning airdrop of food and ammunition in a spot just south of the 3d Battalion.
Cavender, after surveying the situation decided on the following course of action. He would disengage his 2”’ and 1~ Battalions immediately and concentrate in the 3”’ Battalion area for an attack on Schonberg in the morning. So the exhausted men of the two battalions made their way in the dark to their new positions. The 1~ and 2”’ Battalions left behind hundreds of wounded and the overworked medical staff to help them. However, by dawn, they were in position for their attack on S Schonberg.
A Final Gasp
When the morning of 19 December came, division headquarters still hoped to resupply the two regiments by air. At 0610 division sent out a message instructing the 423”’ Regiment to “display 50-foot panel orange at (P962867). Make every attempt to establish contact with the 422”’ Regiment in regard to dropping supplies.”11’ This message was repeated every 15 minutes throughout the day and the following night, but no response ever came back.
Without word from the regiments and not hearing anything from Corps regarding the airdrop, division headquarters sent a message to the Vffl Corps at 1430 to “Please advise at once if supplies were dropped to units this division in vicinity Schonberg.” At 2200 the grim news came back: “Supplies have not been dropped. Will be dropped tomorrow, weather permitting.””2 By time this message came in, it was too late for the men of the two regiments and the accompanying units. For them, the war was over.
The morning of 19 December found the 423”’ Regiment huddled just east of Schönberg. The regimental strength was about half. The 3”’ Battalion, on the left was near full strength since they had not suffered many casualties in the previous days’ fighting. The 1” Battalion was on its right, which also had not suffered severe casualties, but had two companies lost in the Schnee Eifel from the night’s march. On the right of the 1” Battalion was the 2”’ Battalion, which had been in almost constant combat for three days and was now at about half strength. To complicate matters, the 1” and 2”’ Battalions were exhausted from their night march after fighting all day. Furthermore, all three battalions were about out of mortar and machine-gun ammunition, although they did have a decent amount of rifle ammunition. Just behind the 1~ and 2”’ Battalions was the 590th Battalion, which had less than 300 rounds left for the pending attack. The 422”’ Regiment was out there somewhere, but no one really knew where.
Colonel Cavender, with his plan for attack already pretty well thought out, convened his battalion commanders together at 0830 to relay the situation as he know it and to issue his orders. The battalions were to attack in column echeloned to the right rear with the 3”’ Battalion leading the attack that was to commence at 1000. The 2”’ Battalion, which was to bring up the rear as the reserve was to move in line with the other two regiments but was not to attack without orders.
Colonel Cavender had just coordinated the watches at 0900 when a German artillery battery in Schonberg dropped a volley on the regimental command post, killing Lieutenant Colonel Craig, the 1” Battalion’s commander and wounding several officers and men. The others ran for cover as the barrage continued for half an hour.
At the end of the barrage, German infantry of battalion size began an attack from the S direction of Bleialf and immediately overran the 590” Field Artillery Battalion. Cavender ordered the battalion commanders to move covering forces to their left rear, but to continue the main attack.
With the attacking Germans putting pressure from behind, Klinck’s 3”’ Battalion was still able to jump off at 1000. Company L, commanded by Captain J. S. Huyatt, moved out first. They did not make it to far up the Schonberg road when they ran into 88mm and 40mm antiaircraft artillery fire. The two lead platoons were blocked and pinned down, when the sound of gun fire came from the reserve platoon. The reserve platoon was in a fire fight with a company of German soldiers from the attacking units coming from the direction of Bleialf. They managed to repel the attack, but Company L only had 45 men left and were physically cut off from the rest of the battalion. They dug in. The Germans began ptishing this tiny pocket again, but this time the ammunition began to give out and at 1330, the 32 men that were left were catued.
I and K Companies were able to get to the outskirts of Schonberg, but without the support of artillery, they were at the mercy of enemy artillery fire and counterattacking units. Klinck moved his remaining companies up on the slop of Hill 504 off the Schonberg road and dug in.
With the death of Lieutenant Colonel Craig, Major Carl Cosby, the battalion’s executive, took command. Company D had been broken up with many of its officers and men killed or wounded in the morning barrage and was unable to regroup for the attack. Cosby moved the two remaining companies, B and C, to their starting positions. Word then came that Company C was to remain for regimental reserves. This left one rifle company (B) and the battalion command post group to carry out the attack.
Company B moved Out but the command post group was soon separated from the rest of the company in the thick woods. Company B got to a clearing and was able to fight its way to the Schonberg road when they ran into direct antiaircraft fire and were pinned down. They were then surrounded and overrun by 1200. Cosby and a small group of men were able to make their way out of this situation and join up with K Company of the 3”’ Battalion.
2”’ Battalion under Puett moved out on the right rear of the 1” Battalion. He could hear the fighting on his left and could see Schonberg from his position on top of Hill 504. Puett felt that he had a good line for an attack, but because he was in reserve, he could not move without permission. He sent word to regiment with his recommendations but communications were broken. At 1400, having not heard anything back from regimental headquarters, Puett decided to attack Schonberg by circling to the east.
The battalion moved its way down the ravine of Linne Creek which ran into S the Our Rivers about one thousand yards east of Schonberg. As they began to move towards Schonberg, they were bit with heavy fire from the east. Puett organized to counterattack when the battalion realized that the fire was coming from the 422d Infantry Regiment. In a few minutes, the situation was clarified, but not before both units had been badly disorganized.
By 1600 hours, Colonel Cavender assessed the situation as hopeless. His 1” Battalion was wiped out. The 2”’ Battalion’s location was unknown and communications with them were non-existent. The 3” Battalion, where Cavender was stationed, was under increasingly heavy German attack and the men were almost Out of ammunition. There was no water and the men had not eaten in over twenty-four hours. German units, pushing on all sides would probably overrun the 3”~ Battalion’s position within a half hour. With no hope for getting~ out of this situation, and not wanting to sacrifice his men for no conceivable reason, Colonel Cavender reluctantly ordered his men to destroy their weapons and prepare to surrender. Ironically, one of the men he surrendered was the division’s commander’s son, Alan W. Jones Jr.
The 422”’ Regiment, which was undoubtedly under observation by German patrols, began to make their own plans for the 19 December morning offensive against Schonberg. Colonel Descheneaux planned to have the 1” and 2”’ Battalions in line, echeloned to the right while the 3”’ Battalion would follow behind in reserve. He ordered the units to move out at 0730. The battalions crossed “Skyline Drive” only to come under enemy fire at about 0900.
The Battalion, under command of Major William Moon Jr., who had replaced Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Kent who had been killed earlier, was the first to run into this German opposition. Hit by both 88s and machine guns, units of Company C managed to push to the high ground north of Ihren Creek. However, its forward motion was broken up by the attack and became badly disorganized. Companies A and B never got out of the jump-off area. Before they could move, tanks from the Führer Begleit Brigade, moving from the direction of Auw towards St. Vith, drove into the right flank of A and B Companies. The two companies were destroyed although elements of Company A were able to escape to the 2”’ Battalion zone.”
The 2”’ Battalion, under command of Lieutenant Colonel William D. Scales, made their way from the assembly area even though they were receiving heavy fire from German units in the area. G and H Companies were abreast from right to left with E Company in close support. F Company, which had been separated from the battalion the night before, was now with the 3”’ Battalion of the 423”’ Regiment. The three companies made their way across “Skyline Drive” with little difficulty and continued on to the high ground occupied by the only surviving platoon of Company C. From there, they pushed on until they reached the open ground overlooking the Our Valley, east of the Linne ravine and a thousand yards east of Schonberg. Below, they saw the Schonberg-Andler road packed with vehicles, but they were mistaken for S friendly vehides. As Company G plunged northwestward toward the objective, small arms fire opened up on the far side of the ravine. As they paused on the hillside, the vehicles on the road began to spray the open hillside with fire. The supposed friendly vehicles were actually German anti-aircraft half-tracks. Up the slope, Company H, began to fire back at the German vehicles below with machine gun and mortar fire. The anti-aircraft guns at such close range had a devastating effect on the battalion. All of Companies H machine guns and two of its mortars were destroyed by direct hits. What was left of Company H moved back over the hill for shelter. They were followed shortly by the remnants of Company E. Reorganized on the other side of the hill, Lieutenant Lewis Walker, now in command, reviewed the situation. He had 199 men left from fifteen different units; he was cut off from the rest of the regiment and had German units pushing on all sides.
Three hundred yards across a ravine, on Hill 575, was the regimental motor pool under command of Lieutenant Hartley. Walker sent a patrol to verify that it was still in American hands. When word came back positively, he moved his group, under enemy fire, into its perimeter. Later they were joined by some 150 men of what was left of Company G, which had also fallen back from the debacle in the Linne ravine. Although they made it back, the situation was grim and it was only a matter of time before the German units pushing on the perimeter eventually overran the position.
The 3”~ Battalion, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Donald Thompson, made its way up to the high ground to the west of the 2”’ Battalion. From there, they moved down to the Linne Creek ravine where they saw men moving on the other side. Believing them to be the enemy, the unit open fire on them. This group on the other side was Puett’s 2”’ Battalion of the 423d Infantry Regiment. After this mishap was resolved, the two units joined forces. As this was taking place, Puett sent out patrols to look for a covered route to Schonberg. The patrols reported back at about 1430 that about 1500 yards to the right that some 30 or more German tanks and self-propelled guns were massed. Furthermore, there was strong armor to the front in the valley and the more artillery was moving in across the river.” Puett, believing that there was a way out, went out himself to survey the Situation.
Colonel Descheneaux, who bad been with the 3”' Battalion, decided to put his forces into a perimeter defense at about 1530. The Ge’rmans were closing in on all directions and Descheneaux’s force could neither go forward for back. The Germans were sweeping the hill with machine gun fire and the wounded were covering a large area beside the command post. The wounded were lying there with no food or water and neither dressings nor blankets.
Descheneaux began to sum up the situation now facing his troops. His men had not eaten in over 24 hours, they were out of machine gun ammunition, there was no food or water, small arms ammunition was almost depleted and the remainder of his regiment were being butchered before his eyes. Furthermore, the promise of the 7th 5 Armored Division and the airdrop of supplies had never materialized. Colonel Kelly, the commander of the 598” Field Artillery Battalion who had joined the regiment after failing to get out of the pocket with his battalion, described the situation facing Descheneaux.
The situation was hopeless, but some of us were in favor of holding out until dark and attempting to get out in small parties. I thought that had been decided upon and went to dig a slit trench when Descheneaux sent out the white flag. If his command post hadn’t been the regimental aid station he could have stood it a while longer - he had been right up with the leading elements in the attack that morning. It’s just as well, I guess, that he surrendered — it was just a question of time and we weren’t even a threat.
What seemed to change Colonel Descheneaux’s mind was when there was an appearance of tanks behind him on “Skyline Drive”. For a brief moment there was hope that these were tanks from the 7” Armored Division, which had been promised from division HQ before the ordeal began. However this hope died shortly when it was learned that these were German tanks. In fact these were tanks again from the Führer Begleit Brigade, who were again on their way to participate on the attack on St. Vith but were traveling by way of “Skyline Drive” to Andler in an attempt to avoid the bottleneck at Schonberg.
With this final glimmer of hope gone, Colonel Descheneaux had no other choice. He called his staff together at the command post, and upon hearing the moans of the wounded men said, “My God, we’re being slaughtered!” He went on to assert the he had no wish to die simply for glory, then he asked this commanders what they thought. All were reluctant to surrender but saw no other choice. Some did suggest that with darkness only a couple of hours away, maybe they should wait and try to escape in small groups back to American lines. Descheneaux rejected the suggestion stating that “as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to save the lives of as many men as I can, and I don’t care if I’m court-martialled.”
With this the word went out to begin preparing for surrender. As the men were smashing their weapons, Colonel Descheneaux broke down and cried. Several young officers gathered around the Colonel, and when he looked up, all he saw was the cold stares of their eyes. He asked himself, was it out of pity or hate?
When Puett came back from his reconnaissance of the situation, he learned of Colonel Descbeneaux’s decision. Puett, never one to give up, asked Descheneaux if he could take his battalion out in an attempt to make it back to American lines. Descheneaux, fearing that the Germans would make it harder on the rest of the group if they found out about this attempt after the surrender, refused to hear of the idea and ordered Puett to remain. Puett, knowing that he had to remain because of orders, still told his men that if any of them wanted to attempt to go it alone, they should do it now. Approximately 75 men vanished into the woods.
Lieutenant Colonel Nagle, the regimental executive officer, who had S volunteered to carry the white flag, went off to complete his mission. At 1600 with guarantees of food and medical aid from the Germans, the terms of surrender were complete.
By the evening of the 19 December, the 422”’ and 423”' Infantry Regiments, as well as their attached units: the 589th, 590th, 592”’ Field Artillery Battalions; Companies A and B of the 81” Engineering Combat Battalion; Battery D, 634”' Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion; Company C, 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion; Companies A and B, 331” Medical Battalion; the 106th Reconnaissance Troop; and Troop B, 18th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron had been lost since the opening days of the Battle of the Bulge.
None of the sources used can give a definitive number for troops that captured or killed. Charles MacDonald pinpoints the loss from the 106th Division alone at 6,879.’~~ However the official U.S. Army History on the Battle of the Bulge states that all told, at least seven thousand men were lost in the Schnee Eifel, although the figure was probably closer to eight or nine thousand, and the loss in equipment was no less significant. This was the worst loss by American arms during the European Theater of Operation.
Although the surrender had taken place, the fate of the two regiments was not immediately known to the General Jones, his staff and the VIII Corps. The last message they received from the regiments was dispatched by radio at 1535 on 18 December. It simply stated that the regiments had started to comply with the orders for an attack to the northwest. It was received at St. Vith on the morning of the 19th~ By the night of the 20 December, all hope for the two regiments must have been lost with German reinforcements massing in front of St. Vith from the east. However, one last attempt was made to contact the 423”’ Regiment two days later.
Although the majority of the troops on the Scbnee Eifel had surrendered by the evening of 19 December, there were still small groups, of various sizes, of American soldiers who opted to attempt to make their way back to the Allied lines. R. Ernest Dupuy split these roving units into three groups. First there were those very small groups or as individuals that fought and sneaked their way back to the American lines. The second was those who fought in larger groups and were able to keep up the fight for nearly another 48 hours before they too had to surrender. Finally there were those who, wandering through the woods, hopelessly cut off from regaining contact with the American lines, fought on in a guerrilla style for weeks until, “as far as is known, every last one of them was hunted down and killed.”
A Question of Air Supply
What happened to the air supplies promised to Jones and his two trapped regiments? This has been a question that many historians have attempted to answer over the years with little success. The issue has been determining where the failure to get these supplies to their destination took place in the chain of command. The problem in answering this question lies in the fact that most of these messages were handled by telephone communications and so records of these messages do not exist. However it is agreed upon by all written accounts that General Jones did attempt to get air supplies to his trapped units and the weather on 18 December did permit planes to fly over the Schnee Eifel. However, although the drop would possibly have resulted in a few more men making it back to St Vith, it would not have resulted in the two regiments’ long-term survival.
The request for air supplies to the two regiments came from General Jones early on 17 December. Although the 423”' Regiment had asked an airdrop for the morning of the 17 December, General Jones had already asked the Vifi Corps air office to arrange for a supply drop. The Vifi Corps air officer, Lt. Colonel Josiah T. Towne, relayed the request through the IX Fighter Command to the IX Tactical Air Command. From this point forward, the sequence of events become less clear, which makes it all but impossible to determine where the communication breakdown took place.
The IX Tactical Air Command would normally have transferred the request to the First Army for clearance. The report of the G-4 at First Army Headquarters simply states that the plight of the two of the regiments was made known by telephone on the afternoon of 17 December, and that preparations for re-supply by air “were promptly set in motion.”’1~ The carrier planes needed for such a mission were based in England and therefore required the involvement of the Combined Air Transport Operations Room (CATOR) at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). It has never been ascertained how many calls the First Army made before reaching CATOR.
The IX Troop Carrier Command received orders from CATOR in the early morning of 18 December, to prepare “forty plane loads of ammunition and medical supplies.” The 435th Troop Carrier Group, at Welford, England, was assigned the mission. In the first phase, they were to fly to Florenñes, Belgium where they were to receive a final briefing and meet up with its fighter cover. Of the forty C-47 transport planes, only 23 took off from Welford before low cloud cover closed the base in.
As the transports approached Florennes, they were redirected to an airfield near Li~ge because the airfield at Florennes was “too busy to take care of the 435th formation.” ‘2~ The wing commander and his wing man did land at Plo rennes with the purpose of receiving the final briefing, however to their surprise, they discovered that the was no information waiting on the map coordinates for the drop or the fighter S escort that was supposed to be waiting for the final leg of the mission. Furthermore, unknown to the wing commander, his squadron was once again redirected from Li~ge to an airfield in Dreux, France. At the airfield outside Dreux, the planes of the 435th Troop Carrier Group sat until 23 December, their original mission on-again then off again daily.
During this time, additional requests for supplies came from the 106” Division that swelled the original request of 40 to 138 planeloads of supplies. Because of this growth in size, the operation was delayed again in order to make this larger drop with more planes located back in England. The original mission was canceled on 22 December in order to support the 101” Airborne Division at Bastogne.
On the morning of 19 December, the 106” Division sent a message to the VIII Corps asking if the supplies had been dropped. A reply was not received until late that evening stating, “Supplies have not been dropped. Will be dropped tomorrow weather perrnitting.~’29 However, unknown to either the 106th Division Headquarters or the Vifi Corps Headquarters, the men of the 422”’ and the 423”’ regiments were already moving deep into Germany as POW’s, which made any future drop attempts futile.
When the question of blame is looked at, it appears that the responsibility rests mainly on the senior commanders. They had accepted the awkward defensive positions on the Schnee Eifel in the belief that nothing ever happened in the Ardennes, so they had failed to provide adequate air re-supply contingencies in the event of a sudden need for such action. In their minds, except in pre-planned airborne operations, nobody ever got surrounded. This was evident in the fact that the supplies for airdrops had to come from England, although Allied troops were at the German border. General Jones also seems to shoulder some responsibility. His orders for the two regiments to attempt a breakout only complicated the ability of DC Troop Carrier Command to re-supply by air. Had the regiments held their defensive positions originally, any drop attempts would have been easier and more effective. The next question is could the regiments have held their defensive positions long enough to receive these drops?
Although of little comfort to the men of the 422”’ and 42Y” regiments, attempts to prevent a similar debacle were initiated in a matter of days. On 22 December, Lt. General John C.H. Lee, commanding officer of the Cbmrnunications Zone, requested SHAEF to set up stocks of ready packed supplies, capable of air delivery, at airfields strategically located on the continent. The proposal was accepted.
St. Vith and the Fortified Goose Egg
As the men of the 422”’ and 423”’ regiments were fighting for their survival, German units were beginning to put pressure on the town of St. Vith. The 7th Armored Division, which had been originally sent to rescue the two encircled S regiments, now found itself the centerpiece of the defense of the small town.
The battle for St. Vith began on 17 December when German units began to test the perimeter defenses, little did they know that they could have overrun the town in one large concerted attack. At this time, the hastily created defenses consisted of engineers, artillerymen, cavalrymen, signalmen, the division defense platoon and numerous other men from various broken units. It was not until well after nightfall on the 17 December that the first units of the 7” Armored Division began to roll into town. Brigadier General Bruce Clarke, commander of CCB, 7” Armored Division requested command of the defense of St. Vith. Jones agreed and during the night, the defenses were strengthened into a horseshoe-shaped line that formed around St. Vith stretching approximately 15 miles.
By the morning of 18 December, the taking of St. Vith had become very important to the 5” and 6th Panzer Armies. Dietrich, commander of the Sixth SS Panzerarmee, was becoming extremely impatient because his Panzer divisions needed the road net in order to follow the 1” SS Panzer Division on its drive to towards the Meuse River. Dietrich communicated this frustration to Model, who passed it on to Manteuffel. This action forced Manteuffel to reluctantly divert his attention from the successful breakthrough achieved by his LVffl and LVII Panzer Corps in the 28th Infantry Division sector. Manteuffel ordered Lucht to expedite the seizure of St.Vith by his LXVI Corps.
While Lucht was preparing to carry out Manteuffel’s orders, General Jones, realizing that his division command post in St. Vith was now on the front line, ordered it moved to a safer position at Vielsalm. Meanwhile, the rest of 7th Armored Division, and the units attached to it, continued to strengthen the defenses in an attempt to stop or at least slow down the German advance.
Meanwhile, units of the 18th VG Division made half-hearted attacks against the American defenses, and although some of the fighting was heavy, they were never able to make a breakthrough. Generalmajor Hoffmann-Schönborn was still too concerned about the two large regiments, the 422”’ and 423”’, which, while encircled in his rear, were still a danger.
By 19 December, General Hasbrouck and General Jones were becoming increasingly worried about the “peninsula” that was developing with St. Vith at the tip. The concern was that if the German spearheads that were racing on either side of the St. Vith defenses decided to close on each other, the units in the peninsula would find themselves in the same predicament as the two trapped regiments of the 106th Infantry Division. Luckily for Hasbrouck and Jones, Generalmajor HoffmannSchönborn spent most of his day focusing on the situation on the Schnee Eifel and the last gasp efforts of the 422”’ and 423”’ infantry regiments. It was not until later when 5 the units finally surrendered that he focused on St. Vith.
The 424th Infantry Regiment, which was the last surviving one of the 106”' Division, had pulled back to a more defensible line on the high ground between Bracht and Burg Reuland. There, they were able to hold their position against the movement by the 62”’ VG Division. However, they had lost contact with the CCB/9 to the north and the 1 12th Infantry Regiment of the 28” Infantry Division to the south. They were also at about 50 percent effectiveness for a regiment.
Later, that night, a combat patrol of the 2”’ Battalion, 424”, made contact with the outposts of the 1” Battalion of the 112” Regiment near Beiler. The 112”‘ had itself been cut off from the rest of the 28th Infantry Division. When word get back to Jones of the contact, he issued an order assuming the command of the 112” Infantry Regiment and sent his assistant divisional commander; Brigadier General Herbert T. Perrin “to organize the southern flank”, and to establish a strong link with the 424th Regiment. At this time, B Company of the 1 12th, which had been fighting with the 424th for three days was returned to regimental control.
By the morning of 20 December, it had become obvious to the German High 5 Command that the Ardennes offensive would have no hope of succeeding unless the St. Vith salient was immediately eliminated so as to gain control of the vital road net it offered.
During the day, intensive fighting flared up along the southern perimeter of the salient, while the northern side was relatively quiet. The 62”’ VG Division continued to try to penetrate the gap between CCB, 9th Armored Division and the 424” Infantry Regiment but with little success. By the end of the day, little had changed along the salient. The only major development of the day was that the 112” Infantry Regiment had firmly established the southern section of the St. Vith defensive line between Beiler and Leithum and they were now firmly linked with the 424” Infantry Regiment.
By the morning of the 21 December the situation was as such: the total strength defending the St. Vith salient was approximately one armored division plus two-thirds of an infantry division — about 22,000 men holding a 33 mile perimeter. This defensive, dug-in position began to receive the name of “the fortified goose-egg”.
Opposing the American defenders was a German force totaling approximately two armored divisions and one and a half infantry divisions - about 54,000 men, all prepared to move against this annoying goose-egg. In addition to these units, there were another two panzer divisions and almost two infantry divisions within easy striking distance if needed. This put the total to 4 panzer divisions and three and a half infantry divisions, well over 100,000 men, available for the assault on St. Vith.
With the dawn of 21 December, activity increased along the eastern front of the salient. German artillery fire was heavy in and around St. Vith. German units also began to make probing moves against the CCA of the 7” Armored Division in the north and the 424th and 112th infantry regiments in the south, with all being easily repulsed.
At 1500, German artillery began an extremely heavy barrage in the Prumersberg area that continued until shortly after dark. At 2200, the 18” VG Division, with support of armor, began a powerful, carefully planned assault on the town. By midnight, the German units had taken most of the town, forcing General Clarke to withdraw his command post from St. Vith to Crombach.
With St. Vith falling into the Germans hands on 22 December, General Jones sent warning messages to General Hoge, commanding CCB 9hI~ Armored Division, Colonel Reid, commanding 424” Infantry Regiment, and Colonel Gustin M. Nelson commanding the 112th Infantry Regiment, informing them that they needed to prepare for a withdrawal to the predetermined positions or risk being encircled. The official withdrawal orders were issued at 0900 and during the course of the day, the units involved withdrew to their assigned positions. There was very little German interference’ with the march of the 424th and 112” Infantry divisions and by nightfall, S the units were in position and secured links with each other.
General Hasbrouck seeing the danger that faced the units in the salient appealed to General Courtney H. Hodges and General Matthew B. Ridgway to allow an orderly withdrawal to safer ground. General Ridgway responded with an order to form a complete defensive circle and to defend until relieved by the 82”’ Airborne Division. Even as the orders were received, Germans units continued to make penetrations in weak areas of the defensive line. This prompted General Hasbrouck to send another dramatic message to General Ridgway, with the words, “In my opinion, if we don’t get out of here and up north of the 82”’ before night, we will not have a 7th Armored Division left.”’
This was the situation on 22 December when Field Marshall Montgomery, who two days earlier had been given command of all forces’~to the north of the penetration by General Eisenhower, was briefed on the situation in the salient. Field Marshall Montgomery, not seeing the benefit of sacrificing the equivalent of two divisions to defend the salient, overruled General Ridgway and General Hodges, to their disgust, and ordered that all troops in the salient be withdrawn behind the 82”’ Airborne Division. Shortly after midnight on 22 December, General Ridgway passed on the orders to General Jones and General Hasbrouck.’45 General Ridgway later met with General Hasbrouck at his command post in Vielsaim and summoned General Jones and General Perrin and told them that the withdrawal was to be complete by noon on 23 December, just fourteen hours hence. General Ridgway also informed General Jones that he would become deputy commander of the XVffl Airborne Corps. At General Ridgway’s request, General Jones designated General Perrin as the commander of the 106” Infantry Division. This left General Hasbrouck as the single commander in the salient, which up until that time was not the case and was a point of command confusion. Near the end of the meeting, General Jones collapsed of a heart attack and was rushed to the field hospital in Liege where he later recovered.
Immediately after the meeting, General Hasbrouck and his staff prepared and issued orders to begin the withdrawal at 0600 on 23 December. Artillery, tank and heavy engineering units were the first to move, with the infantry units making their preparations to start their final dash for the rear at 1600.
CCA of the 7~h1 Armored Division held the northern flank against increasing German pressure while the CCB of the 7hi~ Armored Division began its withdrawal to the Saim River. The withdrawal was helped by a heavy freeze during the night that permitted the use of forest tracks that would otherwise have been impassable to vehicles. CCA and CCB of the 7hh1 Armored Division completed their withdrawal across the Saim River to the 82”’ Airborne Division sector in a series of leapfrog 5 movements.
CCB of the 9th Armored Division had received their orders at 0605 to move at 0600. This was further complicated by the fact that German units were beginning to attack. They mounted a counter attack that halted the enemy and then resumed their phased leapfrog withdrawal.
The 424th had very little interference with its withdrawal, running through the villages of Maldingen, Beho, Kogery and Cierreux to the bridge at Salmchâteau across the Salm River. Many of the men were able to hop a ride with the tanks of the 9th Armored Division, and by the time they reached their destination, “men were clustered on them like fljes.
The 112th had the toughest withdrawal of all because they were heavily engaged with German units of the 62”’ VG Division. Their oi~ders were tohold the last battalion in position as a covering force until Colonel Nelson received radio orders from General Hasbrouck personally to withdraw. At 1530, Colonel Nelson reported that all units had cleared out behind his covering force and that enemy tanks were closing in. He asked for permission to withdraw his 2”’ Battalion, unfortunately, communications were lost. At 1630, with no word from General Hasbrouck and German tanks within 200 yards of his command post, Colonel Nelson ordered the 2”’ Battalion to withdraw at once.
The daylight withdrawal of the units in the salient was also helped along by clearing skies, which allowed allied fighter aircraft to appear over the battlefield. Although they could not engage because of the close nature of American and German units in the salient, their mere presence made the Germans be more cautious in their moves.
As darkness fell, the roads to the two bridges were clogged while enemy was pressing from behind. Covering units to the south managed to keep the German units off until the last units were crossing. At this point, the 2”’ SS Panzer Division’s Reconnaissance Battalion, under command of Major Ernst Krag, struck the withdrawing Americans from the west. Although seriously damaged, units of Task Force Jones and the 112” Infantry Division were the last units to cross the bridge at Sa1xnch~teau and with that, engineers of the 82”’ Airborne Division demolished the bridge.
To the north in Vielsaim, General Hasbrouck and General Perrin were finishing checking off reports from withdrawing units to make sure that all units were getting out. As the final tally was made, they were informed that German tanks had entered the town. As they left, a German tank came around the corner and destroyed a half-track. The other jeeps and half-tracks dashed down side streets and Out of town for the bridge. The small detachment of airborne engineers, that had prepared both 5 the road and rail bridges for demolition, waited as long as they could for any last minute staggers. When they pulled the fuses, to their surprise, nothing happened. They reset the explosives and set a thirty-second fuse. This time the rail bridge went up but the road bridge remained intact. A third attempt was made with the same results. Finally, the fourth time the engineers fired a bazooka into the charges to make sure it went off. The charge did, but it blew only the deck off, leaving the supports intact. For almost and hour, paratroopers held the Germans away from the remains of the bridge until new explosives were in place. This time the engineers had so much explosives under the joists that when the explosives went off, “the earth shook and fragments went high into the sky.” With this, the bridge was blown up and the St. Vith Salient was eliminated.
Two days later on 26 December, the RAF carried out a 1,270 ton raid on St. Vith, nearly obliterating the town and destroying its road and rail value. Thereafter, German traffic was routed around the town.
Although losses were severe, especially if one includes the 422”’ and 423” Infantry regiments, this loss must be measured against their accomplishments. The units in the salient had met an overwhelmingly superior force expecting an easy victory and halted the force in its tracks. The defenders had blocked one of the Germans’ main communication and road lines and forced days of delays on the westward movement of troops, guns, tanks and supplies for two German armies. They gave the XVIII Airborne Corps badly needed time to gather for a coordinated and effective defense. And finally, they were able to carry out a successful withdrawal under the most difficult conditions only to return to battle at a later date.
The actions of the units in the St. Vith Salient led Field Marshal Montgomery to send a message after the withdrawal orders were issued saying: “They can come back with all honor. They come back to more secure positions. They put up a wonderful show.” Even the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, understanding the importance of what they had done, sent a letter of commendation to all the units. The simplest message was the four word solidarity message sent by the 30” British Corps, which said, ~A bas les Boches” (Down with the Germans).
|Page last revised 12/01/2005