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CHAPTER 6
HOLDING THE CHATEAU

 

COLONEL CHERRY had been sitting on the hot seat. Having failed to get to his forward elements the night of December 18, he went to his command post, which was set up in the château 300 yards south of Neffe. A signal company from VIII Corps which had hastily pulled out of this building bad scribbled signs on the walls saying, "We'll be backóThe Yanks." One of Cherry's men read it and snorted, "We'll be backóHell! We're here to stay."1

At 0600 on December 19ójust as Ewell's men were passing the initial pointóCherry's Reconnaissance Platoon, 3d Tank Battalion, which was outposting the road junction at Neffe, was hit by enemy tanks and infantry from the east. The platoon knocked out one tank with a bazooka but the enemy kept coming, and after taking some losses, the line broke back under a storm of German rifle, machine-gun and direct artillery fire. Most of the outpost fell back along the Bastogne road up which Major Bottomly's men (1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry) were coming. But three of them were able to get through to Cherry in the château and they carried the word that the enemy had come to Neffe with two tanks and two infantry platoons.2

At 1000, while Colonel Ewell was committing his 2d Battalion of the 501st, Colonel Cherry saw four more German tanks (one was a Tiger Royal), an armored car and 97 more infantrymen enter Neffe from the direction of Magéret. Right after that they hit his force, and they spent the rest of that day trying to crush him with their left while poking at Ewell's troops with their right. The château was stoutly built and this somewhat compensated for Team Cherry's depleted numbers. Cherry bad to see it through with his headquarters personnel who moved from one side of the building to another as the attack shifted. The automatic weapons had been taken from the vehicles and placed in the windows and at other points where they could cover the château yard and walls. From three sides, the enemy infantry

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pressed in against the building; the west side of the château was raked with 20mm. and machine-gun fire.3 But though some died within five yards of the walls, not one German got into the château.

There was only one somber note in the defense. A depleted platoon of engineers, which had arrived from the direction of Mont early in the morning, was ordered to the south of the château at the height of the action. The enemy was moving through woods toward the high ground in that direction. The engineers started on their mission but kept on over the hill and Team Cherry never saw them again.4

Some time around mid-afternoon on the 19th a platoon from Ewell's 3d Battalion of the 501st in Mont worked its way carefully forward, taking advantage of the cover afforded by the forest patches and the rise and fall of the ground, and entered the château.5 It had turned out this way, that whereas the fire of the German tanks had kept Colonel Griswold's 3d Battalion from closing on Neffe, his infantry fire had compelled the Germans to release their tight hold on the château. Too, the enemy must have felt mounting concern for what was occurring on their right. The platoon had come as reinforcements-to help Cherry hold the fort. But by that time the roof was blazing over his head and his men were being smoked out by another fire lighted by German HE shells.6 He waited until the approach of darkness and then led all hands out of Neffe and back to the infantry lines at Mont.

Before leaving, Colonel Cherry sent Combat Command B this message, "We're not driven out . . . we were burned out. We're not withdrawing . . we are moving."7

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