CHRISTMAS EVE WAS QUIET. The commanders and staffs took official notice of the occasion. To all of the command posts within Bastogne went a G-2 reminder from the 101st's chief joker, Colonel Danahy. It was a sitrep overlay in red, white and green, the red outlining the enemy positions completely encircling the town and the green showing only in the words "Merry Christmas" across the position held by the defenders.1 (Map 18, page 156.)
General McAuliffe also rose to the occasion with an inspired communiqué in which he told his men about the German demand for surrender and his answer to them. The rest of his Christmas message read as follows:
What's merry about all this, you ask? We're fighting—it's cold—we aren't home. All true, but what has the proud Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades of the 10th Armored Division, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the rest? Just this: We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the north, east, south and west. We have identifications from four German panzer divisions, two German infantry divisions and one German parachute division. These units, spearheading the last desperate German lunge, were heading straight west for key points when the Eagle Division was hurriedly ordered to stem the advance. How effectively this was done will be written in history; not alone in our Division's glorious history but in world history. The Germans actually did surround us, their radios blared our doom. Allied troops are counterattacking in force. We continue to hold Bastogne. By holding Bastogne we assure the success of the Allied armies. We know that our Division commander, General Taylor, will say: "Well done!" We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for ourselves a merry Christmas.2
Privately, on the phone that night to General Middleton, McAuliffe expressed his true feeling about Christmas in these words:
"The finest Christmas present the 101st could get would be a relief tomorrow."
But General McAuliffe's greeting to his troops proved to be in every part a prophetic utterance though the quiet of Christmas Eve did not last for long.
That night the town was bombed twice. During the first raid, in the late evening, a bomb landed on the hospital of the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion near the intersection of the main roads from Arlon and Neufchâteau. It caved in the roof, burying 20 patients and killing a Belgian woman who was serving as a nurse. Another bomb landed on the headquarters of Combat Command B, doing heavy damage and knocking down the Christmas tree in the message center. The men set up the tree again, and in an elaborate ceremony, one of the sergeants pinned the Purple Heart on a mangled doll.2A
Except for those bombings Christmas Eve passed without un-
usual pressure from the enemy. (Plate 35 A and B.) The journal entries of the different regiments all use the word "quiet" in describing the period. But that is a word that simply does not record the tumult in the thoughts and emotions of the men of Bastogne. Such was their reaction to the Christmas and to the memories surrounding it, that for the first time all around the perimeter men felt fearful. It seemed to them that the end was at hand. That night many of them shook hands with their comrades. They said to one another that it would probably be their last night together. Many of the commanders saw this happening, though they knew it had little relation to the still strong tactical situation.2B (Map 19, page 158, shows the situation.)
In the 502d Parachute Infantry the officers heard Christmas Eve Mass in the tenth-century chapel of the beautiful Rolle Château (plate 34) which they were using for a command post." It was a happy occasion, well attended by the neighboring Belgians who had rounded out the regimental messes with contributions of flour and sides of beef from their own stores.4
The regimental officers turned in about 0130 on Christmas morning.5
At 0245 there was an intense shelling of the forward area by the German artillery.6 Lieut. Colonel Patrick J. Cassidy, the 502d's executive officer, called Captain Wallace A. Swanson of Company A who reported that his front had suddenly become active (Map 20, page 159). But he added that the situation was obscure; he could not figure out yet what the Germans intended.7
At 0330 Colonel Cassidy called Captain Swanson again. Swanson said that the enemy was on top of him.8 While they were talking, the line went out. Colonel Cassidy awakened Colonel Chappuis, the regimental commander.9 Then all lines went out. Chappuis called his 1st Battalion by radio and told them to get ready to move, adding that the commander, Major John D. Hanlon, was to come to Rolle as quickly as possible.10 By radio Chappuis heard from Swanson that Germans in large numbers were in Champs and that his men were locked in a hand-to-hand and house-to-house fight with them. Major Hanlon reported at the command post and was told by Colonel Chappuis to move Com-
pany B to the Champs road just west of Rolle and then get forward into Champs and help Captain Swanson's Company A.11
While Swanson was becoming engaged, other German forces had filtered through the woods to the east of Champs on the 2d Battalion's left flank. After reporting this to regiment, Lieut. Colonel Thomas H. Sutliffe, the 2d Battalion commander, shifted part of his force leftward against this threat. Colonel Chappuis supported his move by instructing Major Hanlon to send one platoon of Company B to the right to join hands with Company E. Hanlon called in at 054512 and said the Germans were still fighting in Champs. He did not want to put the rest of his battalion into the village until it became light because the darkness and confusion were so bad that it was almost impossible to dis-
tinguish friend from enemy. Colonel Chappuis told him to hold steady.
As Chappuis and Cassidy estimated the situation at 502d Headquarters, Company B was already backing up Company A and would still be effective if Champs were lost, whereas it might lose its reserve value if it pushed on into the village and the Germans came around it.13 So they waited. They knew that somewhere a real blow was coming but they could not figure where.14 So far the German pressure had jarred them only at the right and center of the 502d and was coming at them from the north. They looked anxiously to the westward where their sector joined that of the 327th Glider Infantry. Their command post was under
heavy artillery fire and was no longer in either telephone or radio communication with Headquarters, 101st Division.15
Just as the first light of Christmas morning broke, the S-2 of the 1st Battalion, First Lieutenant Samuel B. Nickels, Jr., came at a dead run into the château where the Headquarters, 502d, was. "There are seven enemy tanks and lots of infantry coming over the hill on your left," he said.16 He had first sighted them moving along parallel to the ridge southwest of Hemroulle. (Plate 36.) They were striking toward the ground where the 502d and 327th joined hands.17
The Rolle Château was emptied almost before Lieutenant Nickels had finished speaking. Cooks, clerks, radio men and the chaplains collected under Captain James C. Stone, the 502d headquarters commandant, and rushed west to the next hill.18 From the château gate at Rolle, the road dips down through a deep swale then rises onto the ridge where it joins the main road into Hemroulle, about two miles northwest of Bastogne. The road line is on high ground all the way until just before it reaches Hemroulle where it drops down again to the village.19 Captain Stone's scratch headquarters force ran across the swale and took up firing positions close to the road and facing westward.20 Within a few minutes they were joined by the men of the regiment's wounded who were able to walk. Major Douglas T. Davidson, the regimental surgeon of the 502d, had run to the chateau stable that was serving as a temporary hospital, rallied his patients, handed them rifles and then led them out against the tanks.21
They could see the tanks coming on toward them now. From the archway of Rolle Château it was about 600 yards to the first line of German armor. (Plate 38.) Colonels Chappuis and Cassidy and the radio operator looked westward from the archway and could see just the outline of the enemy movement in the dim light. They were now the only men at the headquarters.22
Colonel Cassidy called Major Hanlon and told him to leave Company B where it was but to get the company ready to protect its own rear and then try to get Company C faced to the west to meet the German tanks as they came on.23
The 327th Glider Infantry was already engaged. At 0500
Colonel Harper had heard by phone from Company A of his 3d Battalion that 18 enemy tanks were formed for attack just east of Mande-St.-Étienne.24 At 0710 the German armor supported by infantry of the 77th Grenadier Regiment smashed through the positions held by Companies A and B.25 In coming through the companies, the tanks fired all their guns and the German infantrymen riding the tanks blazed away with their rifles. The spearpoint of the German armor had already broken clear through to the battalion command post.26 At the 327th regimental headquarters Colonel Harper heard by telephone of the breakthrough, and on the heels of that message came word from Lieut. Colonel Cooper that his 463d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion already had the German tanks under fire.27 At 0715 Colonel Allen, the 3d Battalion (327th) commander, called and said that the tanks were right on him.
Harper asked, "How close?"
"Right here!" answered Allen. "They are firing point-blank at me from 150 yards range. My units are still in position but I've got to run." But Colonel Allen's battalion had not been wholly taken by surprise. "Tanks are coming toward you!" Captain Preston E. Towns, commanding Company C, had telephoned to Allen.
"Where?" Allen had asked.
"If you look out your window now," said Captain Towns, "you'll be looking right down the muzzle of an 88."28
Christmas Day was just then breaking. Colonel Allen stayed at his 3d Battalion, 327th, command post only long enough to look out of his window, and prove what Towns had told him, and to call Colonel Harper and tell him he was getting out. Then he ran as fast as he could go and the German tanker fired at him as he sprinted toward the woods. He could see the muzzle blasts over his shoulder in the semidarkness. But all of the shots were leading him. The Germans were giving him credit for more speed than his legs possessed.
Two members of Allen's staff followed him. As they all came out of the other end of the woods, men of Colonel Chappuis' 502d Parachute Infantry along the ridge road saw them and promptly
pinned them down with heavy rifle fire. The three then crawled back to the woods, circled south through a little valley and returned to Hemroulle.
As they came out of the woods the second time, they were fired on by artillerymen of Colonel Cooper's 463d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion who had formed a skirmish line in case the enemy broke through the infantry. But Colonel Allen was getting tired of all this and he waved his handkerchief vigorously until finally the gunners lowered their rifles and let the party come in.
Colonel Harper, on getting the phone call made by Allen just before Allen had to dash from his headquarters, realized that there was now no control over the 3d Battalion, 327th. So he sent his own S-3, Major Jones, with his radio to Colonel Cooper's artillery command post and Jones got there just as Allen did, and he got through at once to the companies with the radio.29
In the meantime the forward line had held (Map 21, page 163), partly because of the quick thinking of Captain McDonald of Company B. He had heard Colonel Allen's urgent report to Colonel Harper over his own telephone and he at once called Companies A and C by radio. "The battalion commander has had to get out," he said to them. "I can see you from where I am. Your best bet is to stay where you are. Hold tight to your positions and fight back at them."30
That was what they did. The main body of the German armor rolled straight through Company A's lines—18 white-camouflaged tanks moving in column. The men of Company A, 327th (First Lieutenant Howard G. Bowles was the acting commanding officer), stayed in their foxholes and took it, replying with their rifles and whatever other weapons were at hand. After the tide of German steel had passed over and through them, 4 men of the company were dead and 5 lay wounded. But the 68 survivors were up and fighting, and in the next round of the battle they captured 92 German prisoners.31
Having crashed through Colonel Harper's 327th front, the German armor split as it came on toward the ridge and half of it swung north toward Rolle where Lieutenant Nickels saw it and
warned Colonel Chappuis, commander of the 502d Parachute Infantry, in time for him to make his last-minute preparation. Companies B and C, 502d, were even then in column of twos moving up the road toward Champs.32
Thus far Colonel Templeton's 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion had played only a minor part in the defense of the sector, but their best moments were approaching. Two of the tank destroyers had been of some assistance to Captain Swanson (Company A, 502d) in his fight for Champs. They were already in position there when the German attack got under way, one destroyer in the center of Champs and another slightly to the west of it so placed that it could cover the road to the southwest and the ridge to the
north and northwest. Upon setting up, the tank destroyer crews manned four machine guns on the ground around their centrally located guns. This position held when the German infantry closed on Champs and the tank destroyer force even spared a few of its men to go forward and help the paratroopers root the enemy out of the houses.33
Too, the heavy guns were used for close-up interdiction fire to keep the enemy from moving any deeper into the village. In this work, the 37mm. guns, firing canister, were especially effective. Captain Swanson got one of the tank destroyers, under Sergeant Lawrence Valletta, to go forward and blast a house where about thirty Germans had taken cover. Sergeant Valletta moved right in next to the building, trained his big gun on the doors and windows and blew the place apart. He then shelled two more houses and returned to his original position. Just about dawn, he made a second sortie of the same kind.34
To the southward of Champs where the crisis of the Christmas action was swiftly maturing, the tank destroyers got away to a bad start but then staged a swift recovery.35 Two of them from Company B, 705th Battalion, had been in the 327th Glider Infantry area and were out along the road which runs from Rolle toward Grandes-Fanges, a mile to the southwest (this put them to the southward of Company C, 502d Parachute Infantry), when the German attack came over the hill.36 The crews had at first put their tank destroyers into concealment behind a haystack and from there had engaged the enemy armor at a distance, knocking out two or three tanks.37 Yet as the power of the German armor became more obvious, they decided to withdraw.38 That was how it happened that they were moving back toward Rolle and were directly in line with the German tank fire when Company C of the 502d Parachute Infantry faced toward the enemy.39
Both tank destroyers were knocked out almost instantly.40 The men of Company C saw them reel and stop from the enemy fire and realized that the loss of the tank destroyers had helped spare them the worst part of the blow.41
The encounter had had one other powerful effect—two tank destroyers from Company C, 705th, were waiting in the woods
behind Colonel Chappuis' 502d infantrymen. The German armor, confident that it was now in full command of the field, came on boldly against the infantry line.42 Colonel Cassidy (executive of the 502d) had sent a runner sprinting toward the woods to alert the two concealed tank destroyers. The runner had been told to run from the guns on to Captain George R. Cody's Company C, 502d, position and tell him that the tank destroyers would be backing him up. But he didn't get there in time.43
The guns of the seven Mark IVs were already firing into Company C. About 15 to 20 German infantrymen were riding on the outside of each tank, some firing their rifles. But the ground fog was bad and their fire was erratic. Captain Cody turned his men about and told them to fall back to the edge of the forest. Without any part of its line breaking into a general dash for the rear, Company C fell back to the shelter of the trees and there took up positions and opened fire on the tanks with machine guns, bazookas, and rifles. Despite the surprise of the German assault, this movement was carried out with little loss and no disorder.44
Then swiftly, there was a complete turning of the situation as Company C's first volleys from its new position took toll of the German infantry clinging to the tanks. Dead and wounded pitched from the vehicles into the snow. As if with the purpose of saving their infantry, the tanks veered left toward Champs and the position held by Company B, 502d.45
Until this moment the two tank destroyers in the woods behind Company C had not fired a round.46 But as the tank line pivoted and began to move northward along the top of the ridge, the flank the German armor became completely exposed and the two tank destroyers went into action.47 So did Company B, which was now firing at the enemy front. Three of the Mark IVs were hit and knocked out by the tank destroyer fire before they completed their turning movement. One was stopped by a bazooka round from Company C. A fifth tank was hit and stopped by a rocket from Captain Stone's scratch group from Headquarters, 502d.48 The infantry riding on the tanks were cut to pieces by bullet fire. As Company C s part of the battle ended there were
67 German dead and 35 prisoners, many of them wounded, in the area around the ruined tanks.49
One tank did break through Company B and charge on into Champs. Company A, 502d, fired bazookas at it and it was also shelled by a 57mm. gun which had taken position in the village. The tank was hit by both types of fire but which weapon made the kill is uncertain.50
Captain James J. Hatch, S-3 of the 502d, had gone forward to reconnoiter Company A's situation and was in the Company A command post at the time. He heard the fight going on outside, grabbed his pistol and opened the door. He was looking straight into the mouth of the tank's 75mm. gun at a range of 15 yards.
Hatch closed the door and said to the others, "This is no place for my pistol."51
The seventh tank in the German group—it was later determined that this was the same tank that had knocked out the two tank destroyers—was captured intact at Hemroulle.52 By 0900, December 25, the action was cleared up around Rolle. Headquarters of the 502d Parachute Infantry had called 101st Division Headquarters and asked about the situation of 327th Glider Infantry over on its left. Colonel Kinnard (101st Airborne Division G-3) reported that the 327th's lines were generally intact and the situation there well in hand.53
In the 327th's sector there had been four tank destroyers behind Captain McDonald's Company B and four behind Lieutenant Bowles' Company A. Captain Towns' Company C was unsupported by tank destroyers but Colonel Harper had sent him two Sherman tanks on hearing that the German attack was coming.54
These guns, the bazooka fire of the 327th Glider Infantry outfits and the barrage fire of Colonel Cooper's 463d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion had dealt in detail with that part of the German armor that tried to ride on through toward Hemroulle after breaking Harper's front.55 The German tanks were fired at from so many directions and with such a mixture of fire that it was not possible to see or say how each tank met its doom.56 One battery from the 463d stopped two tanks at a range of 600
yards and then some men ran out from the battery position and captured the crews. Eighteen German tanks had been seen on that part of the 327th Glider Infantry's front that morning. Eighteen tanks had driven on through the infantry. But not one got away. When the fighting died at last there were eighteen disabled German tanks, many of them with fire-blackened hulls, scattered out through the American positions along the ridges running from Hemroulle to Champs.57
In the 502d Parachute Infantry area, the wire maintenance men had kept on working right through the fire fight and by 0900 the lines were again in solid.58 None of the German infantry had managed an escape.59
The few survivors, upon recoiling, were rounded up by the members of Colonel Allen's overrun 3d Battalion, 327th. The German tankers died inside their tanks.
Although Company C, 502d, had been compelled to engage without artillery support because of the closeness of the action, its losses were negligible. It was put in position along the high ground west of the scene of the skirmish. At about the same time the Company C fight ended, Company A, 502d, was getting Champs under control and was doing the last of its rat hunting through the village houses. Company B was put over to the eastward of Company A to fill out the line as far as the 3d Battalion. In getting to this position, Company B, 502d, took heavy losses from enemy artillery while moving across the high ground north
of Champs, but by 1500 the position was complete (Map 22, rage 167). Company A counted 98 Germans killed and 79 enlisted men and 2 officers captured in the Champs action.60
About 0800 on Christmas, 101st Division moved Force Cherry out through Hemroulle to a position on the high ground along the edge of the woods to the southward of the 502d Parachute Infantry. Colonel Cherry stayed there until after dark to cover the restoration of the 1st Battalion, 327th, position. He then pulled back to Hemroulle.61 A German field order captured during the morning fight showed that the German tank and infantry mission that came to grief along the ridge south and west of Rolle had been attempted by the 115th Panzergrenadier Regiment of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division (Map 23, page 168). Two battalions of the 77th Panzergrenadier Regiment, supported by the division artillery of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division, had implemented the assault against Champs and to the southward which preceded the Panzer advance.62
Christmas day closed with Colonel Chappuis and Colonel Cassidy of the 502d sitting down to a table spread with a can of sardines and a box of crackers.63
General McAuliffe, disappointed that no relief force had come, called General Middleton and said, "We have been let down."