ON THE EVENING of December 18, Roberts ordered Team Cherry of his Combat Command B to move out along the road leading east and go into position near Longvilly (Map 3, page 23). It thereby became the first of the Bastogne reinforcements to move out and engage the enemy. The force under command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry T. Cherry (Commanding Officer, 3d Tank Battalion, 10th Armored Division) included the 3d Tank Battalion, Company C of the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion, the 3d Platoon of Company C of the 55th Engineer Battalion and the 2d Platoon of Troop B of the 90th Cavalry Squadron.1
They went on into the darkness, knowing only this of their situation, that some parts of Combat Command Reserve of the 9th Armored Division were supposed to be in the vicinity of Longvilly and that the enemy was reported advancing toward that town from the east. Their march was uneventful. First Lieutenant Edward P. Hyduke (Commanding Officer, Company A, 3d Tank Battalion), who had the advance guard, came to a halt just short of Longvilly at 1920. The town is on low ground and its streets seemed to be already jammed with the vehicles of Combat Command Reserve. Leaving the main body, Colonel Cherry went forward to the command post of Combat Command Reserve to learn their intentions. But they had no plan and did not know whether they would stay or get out. So Cherry returned to his force, which was then refueling on the road, and told Hyduke to make a reconnaissance and occupy ground west of Longvilly before dawn came. The main body was to stay one thousand yards west of the town until there was a change in the situation of the Combat Command Reserve. At 2300 on the 18th Cherry returned to headquarters in Bastogne to tell Colonel Roberts how things were going. As he went through Magéret he noticed that Combat Command Reserves trains were headed for the rear. Roberts told him that he was to cover the main body of the
Combat Command Reserve if it withdrew, but in any case he was to hold at Longvilly.
The road was already plagued with stragglers, most of them moving in trucks and half-tracks back toward Bastogne. They knew nothing except they had last seen the enemy about six miles east of Longvilly along the main road. Men asked what the Germans had, they repeated: "Tanks, tanks, tanks," and then moved on to the rear.
Combat Command Reserve set up roadblocks to the north and east of Longvilly, with one battalion of infantry and another of tanks supporting the blocks, and two batteries of artillery helping to cover them from a position next to the town. But there was no close-in defense around the houses. Looking these disposi-
tions over, Lieutenant Hyduke decided there was danger that the enemy might come in from the south. So he sent his platoon of cavalry in that direction with instructions to withdraw quickly if the pressure became heavy. Seven light tanks were placed forward with four medium tanks to the right covering them. Infantry units formed an outpost north of the position. One of the field artillery batteries from Combat Command Reserve tied in with Lieutenant Hyduke's party and shortly thereafter opened fire to the eastward, though Hyduke never learned what they were firing at.
At 2340, Combat Command Reserve, 9th Armored Division, began its withdrawal from Longvilly, though it was not until two hours later, while Colonel Cherry was returning to his team, that he got word by radio from Hyduke that Team Cherry was now holding alone.
The next few minutes brought some more distressing news to the commander. In Neffe he met a wounded enlisted man who said that his vehicle had been shot up near Magéret. Then a sergeant told him that a strong German patrol had entered Magéret just after midnight. This meant that the Germans were across the road between Cherry and his Team. Cherry radioed Captain William F. Ryerson (Commanding Officer of Company C, 20th Armored Infantry Battalion, 10th Armored Division), who had been left in command at Longvilly, to get a patrol to Magéret and reopen the road. Two squads of infantry were sent in a half-track on this mission. They dismounted before reaching the village and approached it stealthily. Within a few minutes they had located three enemy tanks and an infantry force which they guessed to be about one company, in positions around the crossroads at Magéret. They had come in along the one side of the town that was not being covered by an enemy tank, and while they waited there they heard another armored vehicle coming up behind them. For a few seconds they were in a cold sweat, thinking they were about to be trapped by a fourth tank. Instead, it proved to be an American tank destroyer. The infantrymen and the tank destroyer crew discussed their chances and decided they weren't strong enough to attack Magéret. So they returned
to Ryerson. By then Captain Ryerson had heard from Colonel Roberts that he was to commandeer any American men or equipment which he could use. So he drafted the tank destroyer into his outfit.
The discovery that the enemy was across the Combat Team's rear, quickly followed by Ryerson's report of the enemy strength which his patrol had found at Magéret, convinced Colonels Roberts and Cherry that the situation was now such that Longvilly could not be held. Colonel Cherry ordered the advance guard under Lieutenant Hyduke to hold its ground at Longvilly while the main body tried to beat its way back through Magéret. These orders, which arrived at 0830, December 19, turned the advance guard into a rear guard. Colonel Cherry went back to his command post which was in a stoutly walled château three hundred yards south of Neffe, and stayed there awaiting developments. The command post force, the rear guard and the main body were each engaged during the entire day in widely separated actions.
By daybreak of the 19th Hyduke was set up on three sides of Longvilly and ready to defend the rear. However, the closing of the road at Magéret by the Germans had kept many of Combat Command Reserve's vehicles from withdrawing, and after taking to the road, they sat there, blocking all traffic. There was a heavy nebelwerfer shelling of Hyduke's lines in the early morning and the area then quieted until 1000. The position was reasonably safe from frontal assault for the ground to the north of the main road was marshy for ten yards and facing toward the marsh was an embankment much too steep for tanks to cross. On the right of the road the ground fell away too sharply for tanks. A large culvert a short distance ahead of the position was set for demolition.
The morning engagement opened with the sighting of two enemy tanks about 1500 yards southeast of Longvilly but the visibility was so poor because of fog that only the vague outlines of the tanks could be seen. A shot from the Germans hit a tank in the Combat Command Reserve group along the road, locking the turret. All of the American armor returned the fire and
both enemy tanks went up in flames. After this there was a prolonged shelling of Longvilly.
At 1400 the enemy armor put direct fire on Lieutenant Hyduke's position from front and left flank, disabling two half-tracks and one light tank at the tail of the column. Five minutes later the enemy knocked out two more medium tanks 150 yards in front of the burning half-track. An enemy antitank gun on the enemy's right hit a Combat Command Reserve tank which had remained in position with the lone artillery battery. The battery then promptly took off.
The groups on the road were now almost in a state of panic and when some of the vehicles tried to swing around the column, the road became more jammed than ever. One group of stragglers which had been organized to cover the left flank fled their position, leaving that part of the ground to only 23 infantrymen of Company C, 20th Armored Infantry Battalion.
Lieutenant Hyduke had been given authority to take over any portion of Combat Command Reserve which withdrew but he found that it was impossible to do so. However, despite the panicky state of the stragglers he was able to maintain close control of his own force and continued to engage the enemy until 1430 when Colonel Cherry ordered him to fall back on Captain Ryerson's force.
But that order couldn't be carried out. The road was absolutely blocked. Moreover, he couldn't order his men out of their vehicles because enemy foot troops were now moving in on his flanks and the whole area was under heavy bullet fire. Some of the tanks turned around on the road and tried to get back to the ground they had defended.
In this period of threshing around, five of his seven light tanks and one tankdozer and a tank recovery vehicle were destroyed. The half-tracks at the front of the column had to be abandoned and soon after the men got out of them, two more medium tanks were hit by artillery fire. One medium tank got cut off and when last seen was trying to fight off an attack by German infantry. The last medium tank received a direct hit on its track as it tried to get out. The three remaining light tanks, including one that
had belonged to an artillery forward observer, were destroyed by their crews to prevent capture. By 1500 most of the survivors had escaped the scene of all this wreckage and joined Captain Ryerson.
Ryerson had had a tough time carrying out his mission because of the traffic jam along the road, but by 0945, December 19, his column had reached a point 300 yards east of Magéret. As his lead tank came round the last bend in the road a shell from an enemy antitank gun in Magéret hit it frontally, burning up the tank and killing or injuring all members of the crew. The road ran through a cut at this point and the burning tank plugged it completely. The stalled column then became a general target for intense shelling and small-arms fire from the German armor and infantry force in the village.
Captain Ryerson's infantry then dismounted from their vehicles and moved forward to reconnoiter the enemy position. The high ground on both sides of the burning tank protected them for a little way but they could not go on past the ridge because the down-slope was getting heavy bullet and mortar fire. Two 105mm. assault guns maneuvered up to the ridge and shelled a tree line where they thought the German infantry was holding. The small-arms fire from the village soon slacked off a bit.
From the rear, two antiaircraft half-tracks from the 9th Armored Division came on past Captain Ryerson's force, moving toward Bastogne. Ryerson's men tried to stop them but they drove on heedlessly until they turned the curve and saw the burning tank. The crews then jumped for safety without trying to save their vehicles. The Germans shelled both vehicles and now they blocked the road doubly.
Next the gun crews along the ridge saw an American command car and a Sherman tank, complete with cerise panels, whip out of Magéret and move north. They were quite startled for a moment and held their fire. By the time they had decided these vehicles were being used by the enemy, it was too late to do anything; they had moved out of range.
Two batteries of the 73d Armored Field Artillery came up behind the column and on finding the road blocked moved out
north and west and going by way of Bizory got into the line of the main American position (the 501st's lines).
By about 1500 the fire from Magéret had subsided so appreciably that a force composed of 18 infantrymen, two medium tanks and a 105mm. assault gun were sent against the village, moving through the fields on the right flank. One of the Shermans got hung up on an embankment and drew a great deal of fire but was able to return to the column. The rest of the force worked its way into the northeast part of the village, receiving some shellfire from the southeast of the village as they went. At the main crossroads they could see a roadblock with one German tank and an American M4. This armor did not move or fire and the party concluded that it was already destroyed. In the southern part of the village they could see two more German tanks, an American half-track, a jeep and a German ambulance. The heavy guns with the party could not find a position from which to fire and the infantry could do nothing effective.
From the rear of his column Captain Ryerson was called by his antitank officer, 2d Lieutenant Early B. Gilligan, who told him that twenty half-tracks loaded with men forward dismounted and send along any tanks that he might see. The new men consisted of about 200 stragglers from different units who had retreated into the Bastogne area from other actions. They were mostly tankers. Lieutenant Gilligan got them out of the half-tracks, but only forty of them, with three captains and two lieutenants from Combat Command Reserve and a few officers from Hyduke's section, moved up toward the fire fight. The others fled across the fields to the north.
"The forty men who stuck were organized into four squads and at 1600, December 19, this force moved against the southeast part of the village, supported by a section of medium tanks. But the tanks could not get over the ground that lay south of the road and the men were not inclined to go far ahead of the tanks.
Within the village several of the German vehicles which had been to the south stated to move north toward the maw crossing. To the amazement of Ryerson's men, the German tank forming
the roadblock, which they had thought to be dead all the time, suddenly started up and moved out of the way. Captain Ryerson's force had been for hours within plain view of this tank at a range of 600 yards without receiving any attention from it. The American tank now put it under fire at once and set the German tank ablaze.
There was still so much shelling from the south of the village however, that the American guns had to stay immobile and the small force of infantry could not get forward. Prisoners they had taken said that the enemy infantry group comprised about 120 men. The 40-man force which had attacked toward the south of Magéret had no communication with Captain Ryerson's main force and later that evening somewhat less than half of them came back. They bad made no real progress.
Since noon Captain Ryerson had been aware that infantry forces were coming to his aid from Bastogne. He didn't know which units were coming but the expectation of relief encouraged his efforts to take Magéret.
Through its various misadventures, Team Cherry as a whole had come to a pass where it could no longer confront the oncoming enemy and where most of its energies would be directed to saving its remaining elements, and covering its own flanks and rear. Whether the German advance into Bastogne from the eastward could be checked and thrown into recoil now depended on the forces of the 101st Division itself.