ON THE MORNING of December 26, the German forces renewed their pressure against the western side of the Bastogne perimeter (Map 24, page 171). But they did not press their attack in real strength and the American lines held solid. Around the other parts of the defending circle, the day was relatively quiet though both sides intensified their air activity.
The intervention of the air directly hastened the hour when the enemy encirclement of Bastogne was broken through by the arrival of the armored column from the south. Since 0600 on December 22, the three Combat Commands of the 4th Armored Division had been fighting their way steadily toward Bastogne by three separate routes from their assembly areas north of Arlon. They had met intense resistance all the way along the line and had taken heavy losses in men and tanks. By 1500 on December 26, Combat Command Reserve of the 4th had arrived at the high ground overlooking Clochimont and was preparing to attack toward the village of Sibret. This put the command about four miles to the southwestward of Bastogne with their local objective about one mile to their own northwestward. As the attack was about to get under way, the men saw and heard what seemed to be "hundreds" of C-47 planes coming directly over them and bound for Bastogne. The spectacle encouraged Lieutenant Colonel Creighton W. Abrams, Jr., commanding the 37th Tank Battalion, and Lieutenant Colonel George L. Jaques, commanding the 53d Armored Infantry Battalion, to make a break for Bastogne, disregarding their original mission. They believed that Sibret was strongly held. Colonel Abrams' force had been cut down to twenty medium tanks and Colonel Jaques' force was short 230 men. They figured that it might cost less to ignore Sibret and attack straight toward Bastogne.
At 1520, December 26, Colonel Abrams ordered his S-3, Captain William A. Dwight, to take a light team composed of tanks and infantry, break northeast to the village of Assenois and keep
moving until he reached the Bastogne lines. The artillery with Combat Command Reserve, 4th Armored Division—three battalions of 105mm. and one battery of 155mm. howitzers—was directed to stand ready to place a concentration on Assenois as the team moved up to it. Such was the plan.
In the execution of it, the commander of the leading tank called for artillery support as soon as he came within sight of the village. The guns poured ten rounds apiece against the target, concentrating their fire against the woods north of town and into an area in the southern edge of town where the enemy was supposed to be strongly fixed with antitank guns. Combat Command Reserve's shells were still dropping on Assenois when the first
tanks moved in among the houses. There were some infantry losses from our own fire. In the smoke and confusion, the infantry company of Captain Dwight's team dismounted and engaged the enemy in a fight for the village.
But five tanks and one infantry half-track stuck to the letter of their assignment and kept moving toward Bastogne. Three of the tanks had forged several hundred yards to the fore and the enemy strewed Teller mines between them and the rest of the tank force as they were pulling out of Assenois. The half-track hit a mine and was destroyed. Captain Dwight jumped down from his tank to clear the other mines away, so that he could get forward with his two tanks. Meanwhile, the three lead tanks kept going and at 1650 First Lieutenant Charles P. Boggess, commanding officer of Company C, 37th Tank Battalion, drove the first vehicle from the 4th Armored Division to within the lines of the 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 101st Division, of the Bastogne forces.
This was the beginning. The German encirclement was now finally broken, though some days would pass before the American lines to the south were again firm and several weeks of fighting would ensue before the siege of Bastogne was finally lifted. Captain Dwight, having followed Lieutenant Boggess on into Bastogne, radioed Colonel Abrams to come up with the rest of the breakthrough team.
With them came Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, commander of the 101st Division, who had flown back from the United States to join his Division. General Taylor had arrived in time to lead his men through their bitterest days of fighting on the Bastogne ground, the days yet to come.
Captain Dwight then continued on to report to General McAuliffe and arrange for the convoys to enter the town that night. Assenois was cleared by 2000, December 26, with the capture of 428 prisoners. Before morning, the woods on both sides of the road running north from Assenois were cleared sufficiently to assure relatively free use of this line of communication.1
Much hard fighting still remained for the other two combat commands of 4th Armored Division before they, too, closed to
within the Bastogne perimeter. By their drive north, they had opened an avenue to the south which would insure that the victory won by the Bastogne defenders could be fully exploited by the United States Army and the forces of its Allies.
The relief of Bastogne signaled the defeat of the German Army in the Ardennes offensive. But it had cost the 4th Armored Division a price comparable to that exacted from the defenders of Bastogne themselves.2 In the seven days during which its forces were moving to the relief of Bastogne the Division lost about 1,000 men. Its total medium tank strength at the end of the period was equal to the full tank strength of a single battalion.3 As for what this victory—won by the defenders of Bastogne and confirmed by the force that relieved them—availed the Allied cause, and as to how it influenced the emergency of December 1944, there is an official estimate from the command of 12th Army Group.
The After Action Report for December 1944 says: