Eliminating the Bulge
After the elimination of the St. Vith salient, the We/mnacht had limited success in their race towards the Meuse until finally the American forces were able to regroup and put a concerted stop to their forward movement. The 23~ of December saw a dramatic change in the weather. For almost the first time since the beginning of the German offensive the day broke with clear blue skies. Within two hours, the skies over the Ardennes were filled with Allied planes. Over 3,100 Allied fighters and bombers attacked the German salient attacking troops, roads, rails, and towns. During the day, many German soldiers hid in foxholes or cellars while tanks and artillery pieces hid in the woods. The effect of 1,200 Allied bombers on the German rail system was devastating, bringing to a stop most of the rail traffic west of the Rhine. Hitler’s luck had run out, the Allied air power was back and its superiority was undeniable.”
The German plan, both bold and daringly executed began to fall apart from the first days of the attack. The multitude of small, yet important events, including those at St. Vith, had taken its toll on the German offensive. The Sixth SS Panzerarmee in the north had all but stalled. They had finally shifted far to the west in an attempt to open a new hole beginning 23 December, after the fall of the St. Vith salient, only to 5 find the hole sealed by the g2~~d Airborne Division.”
The Fifth Panzerarmee’s northern panzer corps pushed along until it reached the Ourthe River on 21 December where it was blocked by the first of the new First Army divisions being rushed to the east to stop the German offensive. The southern panzer corps, headed by the 2!~’ Panzer Division had the most success of the campaign. The reason for the division’s success was simple: they avoided prolonged entanglement. They went for the gap between St. Vith and Bastogne and cleared the gap of Americans in a day of heavy fighting. When they realized that Bastogne would not fall easily, the 2~ Panzer Division skirted the town. On 23 December, they worked around the town of Marche and by the evening its lead elements were within 15 miles of the Meuse.
The success of the 2~ Panzer Division also exposed it to danger. It had outdistanced its flanking forces, the 1 16th Panzer Division on the north and the Panzer Lehr Division to the south. Manteuffel realizing the precarious situation, but also obsessed about reaching the Meuse, ordered the Panzer Lehr Division to break off its attack in the Bastogne area and move forward to join the 2°~’ Panzer Division. Although they made it up to about 15 miles of the Meuse, the 1 16th Panzer Division was still having difficulty moving forward. In an effort to spur the division forward, Manteuffel made a personal visit to the unit but it was to late. Before daylight on 24 December, the 2”’~ Armored Division, under command of Major General Ernest N. Harmon, attacked the 2”' Panzer Division with devastating results. With the help of rocket-firing allied fighters, the 2nd Armored Division almost destroyed the 2”” Panzer Division and crippled the 116” and Panzer Lehr divisions. By 25 December, the last major offensive threat for the Meuse had ended.
The reality of the situation had been realized by Christmas day. Generalfeldmarschall Model had foreseen the present situation when planning the offensive: the German army had been stopped short of the Meuse and no sizable Allied forces had been destroyed. However, for Hitler, he struggled to find optimism Out of the circumstance, even going as far as expressing the possibility of still annihilating the American force east of the Meuse if adequate supplies of fuel could be made available and if the weather situation was such as to prevent Allied aerial commitment.
Generalfeldmarschall Rundstedt, in his own sharply worded message, informed Hitler that German units in the offensive were defeated beyond recovery and that the army should pull back to a defensive position at the West Wall. Even Heinz Guderian, former Chief of Staff of the Army, pleaded with Hitler to suspend the attack and give the reserves to the Eastern Front. “We Prussians have had to fight the eastern people for 700 years” pleaded Guderian “For those of us from Prussia, it is a question of holding ground which was German since the time when America was peopled by the S red men.
Hitler refused all talk of switching to the defense and would instead commit 5 more panzer and volksgrenadier divisions into the bulge before it was finally over. He also continued to devise and execute plans for continuing his drive towards Antwerp. One such plan, called “The Great Blow,” had hundreds of fighters, most of the remaining Luftwaffe, attack Allied airbases in the west. The goal was to eliminate the air power that was so deadly in the Ardennes. The attack took place at 0800 on 1 January and lasted for over two hours. It was a success in that a number of bases and planes were destroyed, however the cost to the Luftwaffe was enormous. The Luftwaffe lost 300 planes and 253 trained fighter pilots. The damage was such that the Luftwaffe would never again take to the skies in any great numbers.
Another of Hitler’s plans, called Nordwind (Noith Wind), was a diversionary scheme to lure the American Third Army away from Bastogne by striking elsewhere far to the southeast. The attack that started on 1 January did not divert troops and petered out in less than three weeks.
On 3 January, the Allied armies began to take the offensive with units of the First Army striking a 35 mile front from the north and elements of the British 30th Corps attacking from the west. By 9 January, the Germans had given up taking Bastogne after almost two weeks of tenacious fighting in an attempt to take the town. Hitler was even denied this prize, which was the last objective Hitler had placed his hopes on.
On 8 January, Hitler seemed to come to the self-realization that his grand scheme of destroying the American and British forces in the west had failed and ordered the withdrawal of the tip of the salient to a line just west of the Bastogne — Houffalize road. Furthermore, he ordered the release of the Sixth SS Panzerarmee from the defensive line so that it could sent back for refitting and re-supply in preparation for the coming Allied attack.
12 January was to completely end any hope of a renewed offensive. The Russian Army left their winter quarters and initiated their long-awaited winter offensive to the east. As Soviet troops opened large holes in the German lines, Hitler ordered the release of the entire Sixth SS Panzerarmee for transfer to the Eastern Front. This was quickly followed up by an order to send the two Fürher brigades and at least three infantry divisions to the east. All that the German generals could hope for was an orderly and gradual retreat back to the West Wall.
On 16 January, units of the Third and First armies met in the town of Houffalize, completing the goal of eliminating the tip of the German penetration.
With this, both armies wheeled east and started operations towards the West Wall.
The bulge was being eliminated.
The 424” Infantry regiment and the attached 517” Parachute Infantry regiment, the remnants of the 106th Infantry Division, were part of the XVIII Airborne Corps reserve in the Stavelot-Trois Ponts area. The 424” had a new commander, Colonel John R. Jeter, who replaced Colonel Reid on 18 January. On the 20 January, the 106” was attached to the 7” Armored Division. They moved on the 23 January from their bivouac area and joined the 7” Armored Division north and east of St. Vith, where they set up bivouac in and around Diedenberg, just north of Born, and about eight kilometers north of St. Vith. The orders for the 106” was to prepare for a dawn attack on 25 January.
The orders called for the 424th to move into position on the extreme left of the 7th Armored Division covering an area just west of Amblieve in the north to just northwest of Wallerode. On its right was the 517th Parachute Infantry regiment, which was in the center of the 7” Armored Division line. To the north of the 424” was the 16th Infantry regiment.
The objective for the 7~1R Armored Division and its attached units was to seize the high ground of the St. Vith Forest so as to establish a point of departure for the major offensive into Germany scheduled to begin on 28 January. The 424”s immediate objective was to bypass the German strongpoint in Amblève and capture Meyerode and the high ground to the north and east of the village.
At 0715, on 25 January, the attack began and by the evening, after a day of bitter fighting, the 424th had seized its day’s objectives, occupied the village of Medell, reached the outskirts of Meyerode, and pushed into the western slope of the St. Vith Forest. The next day Meyerode was occupied and the objective area consolidated.
It is not known if the men of the 424” Infantry Regiment realized the importance of their position on the 26-27 of January to the events 6 weeks earlier that shattered their division. On the far side of the ridge they had just captured, approximately two and a half miles away, was the village of Schönberg, and the sites where the 422t~~1 and 423d infantry regiments bad surrendered on 19 December. They themselves were within six and a half miles of the area their regiment had defended so staunchly in mid-December.
The 424th Infantry regiment, which had played a major role in the opening battle of the Ardennes campaign, was also a major player in the last engagement of that campaign. The entire campaign, from the initial attack to the way back had been a long, grim and costly struggle. Now a new battle and campaign were about to commence. At dawn 28 February, the 82nd Airborne Division attacked eastward through the 424th and 517” regiments to begin the renewed Allied offensive into Germany. The Battle of the Bulge had ended.
|Page last revised 12/01/2005