AT 0645 ON DECEMBER 20, the enemy shelled Team O'Hara's roadblock on the Wiltz-Bastogne road about 1,300 yards east of Marvie. (Map 12, pages 102-103, and plate 27.) The fog was thick and little could be seen of the enemy's movements out along the road. But as the light grew, the tankers could hear enemy armor moving somewhere in the fog up beyond the block. At around 0900 the fog lifted a little and they saw a dozen German soldiers trying to break up the block. A concentration from the 420th Field Artillery Battalion caught this group while they were, tugging away at the felled logs. Two were killed (they were later identified as part of an engineer working party) and the others fled the fire. The enemy then put smoke on the roadblock—enough to conceal the block and the terrain right around it. Figuring that an infantry attack might be coming, Team O'Hara covered the block with fire from mortars and assault guns. It is believed that this fire fended off the thrust toward Colonel O'Hara's front and deflected it toward Marvie, where five of O'Hara's light tanks had taken up position the night before.1
In the meantime Colonel Joseph H. Harper, commanding the 327th Glider Infantry, had been getting acquainted with Colonel O'Hara. The 327th had taken over the command post at Mande-St.-Étienne at 1500 on December 19, and at 1630 its 1st Battalion had been attached to Colonel Ewell's 501st Parachute Infantry to support his right flank. At 0400 on the 20th the 327th command post and the 2d Battalion of that regiment were ordered into Bastogne and at 0600 they marched on into the town.2 (Plate 28.) Without a pause, the 2d Battalion, 327th, moved straight on to Marvie and took over that village from the 326th Engineers. The 3d Battalion remained in Flamizoulle (some 2,000 yards east of Flamierge) and established its command post in the woods at (494610).
The 2d Battalion entered Marvie just about as the enemy first opened fire on Team O'Hara's roadblock.3 Colonel Harper had
been told by Division that the reconnaissance group of light tanks would be in support of his 2d Battalion.4 Going straight away to see Colonel O'Hara, he said to him, "I've been told to hold this sector. I understand from Division that you are in support of me and I would like to go on a reconnaissance."
O'Hara said, "Let's get started."5 With them when they went out was Lieutenant Colonel Roy L. Inman, commanding the 2d Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry. The officers discussed the relationship of their respective forces as they made the reconnaissance. Under the existing arrangement, Colonel O'Hara's force was not under Colonel Harper's command, for the armored force was still not attached to the 101st Division but was in support only. Colonel Inman had moved his 2d Battalion, 327th, in on the right flank of Colonel O'Hara's force with his line so extended as to secure the village and then bending southwestward to the main road just above Remoifosse. This was a distance of about 2,500 yards. The Engineers had three outposts distributed over this southeastern facing arc and none of them had as yet been engaged. It was agreed that Colonel O'Hara would be responsible for the defense of his immediate front and that Colonel Inman, who would take over from the Engineers immediately, would be responsible for the sector to right of O'Hara's.6 Harper then left Inman and drove down the main road toward Remoifosse. He established the southwestward extension of his line on the forward slope of the hill over which the main road passes a little more than half way from Bastogne to Remoifosse. The position thus chosen was a few hundred yards north of where the original Engineer outpost bad been.
After looking over the situation and making sure that his men were where he wanted them, Colonel Harper drove back to Marvie. The jeep reached the road intersection just west of Marvie. There Harper stopped for a moment and debated with himself whether to go on into the village or take the west-running road and have a quick look at the high ground above the village. He decided in favor of taking a look and the jeep moved on up the hill.7
At 1125, December 20, Colonel Inman's command post in Marvie (2d Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry) reported to Colonel O'Hara that they were receiving a great deal of shelling and that they could see enemy tanks coming toward them.8 This movement had already been observed from within O'Hara's sector. Yet Harper, driving up the hill at the very moment of the attack, was unaware that anything untoward was breaking until he got to the crest of the hill. There he turned about and saw the enemy guns blazing from the edge of the woods directly southeast of Marvie and their point-blank fire hitting among the houses of the village.
Harper could see that the fire came from tanks within the wood but he could not be certain how many. The barrage was followed immediately by an advance out of the woods by four enemy tanks and six half-tracks.9 They were well spread out and they advanced slowly, firing as they came, apparently drawn on by the prospect of an easy success over the light tanks. These tanks kept dodging in and out among the buildings and the enemy fire appeared to follow their movements closely. The light tanks replied futilely with their 37mm. guns and the enemy armor appeared to come on more boldly.10 Feeling that the presence of his unit, rather than helping Colonel Inman's men, was drawing more high-velocity fire into the town, the light tank commander asked Colonel O'Hara for permission to withdraw.11 It was granted. By then, one of the light tanks had been set afire by a shell burst; a second had been hit in the suspension system but could make its escape by backing up the hill.
Yet Colonel Harper did not know all of these things. He saw the tanks quit the village and concluded that they had been routed and were deserting his infantry.12
Up on the hill behind Marvie, Colonel O'Hara's larger guns kept silent. In front of the oncoming armor a German self-propelled 75mm. gun was pacing the advance. Its gunner spotted a half-track near O'Hara's command post and fired several quick rounds at it. The shells hit an Engineer jeep, demolished a one-ton trailer and blew through the lower portion of the
command post, killing a cow. The command post was in the first floor of the house and this fire was hitting into the basement right under the headquarters.13
The tanks were by now almost broadside to Team O'Hara at 700 yards range. Firing at right angles to their own front, two of Team O'Hara's medium tanks opened up on the line of Mark IVs and half-tracks. The Germans never saw what hit them for they were still shooting at the light tanks now pulling out through the end of the village.14 One Mark IV was blown up by a direct hit from one of the mediums. The other Sherman knocked out a second Mark IV and one of the half-tracks, the fire killing all of the tank crew and most of the men in the personnel carrier. One German tank fled to the rear. The fourth tank dashed for Marvie where the infantry destroyed it with bazooka fire.15 The self-propelled gun, having gotten almost into the village before the Sherman opened fire, tried to turn about. It was hit from all sides and it went up like a torch.16
In the last stage of the German advance, the half-tracks had sped forward and increased their interval so that they were almost closing on the first houses when the tank line was destroyed.17 They kept going. They got to the streets of the village and the infantry jumped down. With one small exception the glider troops stayed right where they were and met the German on-fall without flinching. The attack had come just as the relief of the Engineer units had been completed, and some of the Engineers were moving out of the north end of Marvie. Men from Inman's heavy mortar section, stationed in an apple orchard, saw the Engineer party leave as the fire began. They could not understand what the movement of troops was about and they thought that part of their own Battalion was withdrawing. And so they followed.18
Colonel Harper, watching all of these things from the hill, made the same mistake as his mortar section. He thought that his men had been stampeded and that the village was gone. He called General McAuliffe on the radio, told him what he bad seen and said that he was on his way to gather the men and that he would make a counterattack. His car sped back over the route
it had come and Harper started to rally his men. Then he learned that most of the party were Engineers and that only the mortar squad from among his command had displaced. He told that squad to get back into the battle and they moved at once.19 This error in judgment is the only instance during the siege of Bastogne when any American Infantryman is known to have left his position under fire and without orders.20
Colonel Harper, still outside the village, called Colonel Inman on his radio. The executive officer of the 2d Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry, Major R. B. Galbreaith, answered the call. He said that both Colonel Inman and Captain Hugh Evans, commanding officer of Company G, which was holding the village, had been hit by a tank shell while making a reconnaissance just as the German onslaught began. He did not know how badly they were wounded. Harper asked him, "Are you still in the village?"
"Yes," Galbreaith answered. "Yes, but the Germans are here also. We expect to drive them out."
The close-in fighting continued into the early afternoon. Inman's men stayed in their foxholes. Some died there, shot at ten yards' range by machine guns as they tried to stop the half-tracks with their rifle and tommy gun fire, their bodies almost cut in half where the machine guns had ripped them through. Their comrades found them later sitting stiffly at their weapons. Colonel Harper himself inspected these positions. He noted that every one of his dead was still facing forward as if trying to engage the enemy.21 The bazooka men bad likewise met the attack head-on. Some of the German infantry, clearing away from the half-tracks, had ducked into the houses. The glider men went in after them and cleaned them out house by house. Within two hours twenty Germans were prisoners and thirty were dead in Marvie. First Lieutenant Stanley A. Morrison of Company G, who had been captured when the Germans first came into the village, was recaptured by his own men. Colonel Inman bad lost five men killed, each of them killed in a foxhole while resisting the half-tracks. Fifteen men of Company G were wounded in the action.22
During all that time, Team O'Hara sat high and dry on the ridge, taking no part in the engagement except during the brief gun duel. On the right flank that force received some small-arms fire but the enemy made no attempt to close on that side and the armored infantry in Team O'Hara's position was too far away to lend any support to the men in Marvie. That village was again clear by about 1300. At 1400 some of Colonel O'Hara's tankers saw an enemy half-track stuck in the mud about 150 yards southeast of Marvie. It had been with the striking force during the morning and had become bogged. In the previous excitement all hands had overlooked it. The tankers quickly knocked it out.23
At 1420, December 20, the enemy put smoke on Marvie. Some of the tanks made another sally from the woods but changed their minds. The situation began to ease and Colonel Inman's men went about improving their positions, digging their foxholes narrow and very deep and right next to the foundations of the houses.24 The day ended fairly quietly but with a definite change in the weather. The Ardennes was cold and frozen. The ground had hardened enough for the tracked vehicles to get about over the hills in almost any direction. Still no snow bad fallen.
Now, as the first skirmish ended around Marvie, the first flurries fell. Soon the ridges were whitening and the snows thickened during the next few days. Increasing cold, light winds and deep drifts changed many of the characteristics of the battle. One of the problems that now pressed most heavily on the commanders was to get their men indoors and keep them from freezing. Villages became places of refuge not only from enemy fire but from the cold. The Belgian villagers, clinging stubbornly to their homes even in the face of the German attack, had to be evacuated to provide shelter and cover for the infantry. In a world of white, the forest plantations were the only other areas of easy concealment for troops. The local actions swirled more and more around these two objectives—to capture a few houses or to take a line of fir trees.25