THE ENEMY STORY
IN ONE RESPECT, the Bastogne story is complete as told in the preceding chapters. There is the battle as it was seen by the defending forces from within the Bastogne perimeter and as it could be clarified for them by all of the normal and accessible sources of information such as our own official documents, captured enemy documents, interviews with our key personnel at all levels, and interrogation of such of the enemy as fell into our hands in the course of operations. To preserve the integrity of the narrative from the viewpoint of the defenders, it seemed essential that the material be presented in that form. Moreover, since it will be noted in reading this added chapter that the errors caused by so doing were minor indeed, the Bastogne story becomes tangible proof of the competence of our own methods of acquiring intelligence of the enemy and of estimating his capabilities.
There remains, however, the question of exactly what was occurring among the enemy forces while our own forces were defending Bastogne so stoutly. What was their design? How did they view the American action? How did their estimate and judgment of the tactical events modify their own plan and movement?
It has been said in high places that the enemy was not really trying to capture Bastogne. This judgment was taken after a cursory examination of his plan which fell into our hands in the course of the war. But that is not a final truth and if the full importance of all that happened in the first days of the Bastogne defense is to be accurately measured by history, the witnesses must speak from the opposing camp.
In November and December 1945 there took place a series of conferences between the three chief actors in the attack on Bastogne and the author of the Bastogne story. Present were Lieutenant General Heinrich von Lüttwitz, Commanding General of the XXXXVII Panzer Corps, Lieutenant General Fritz Her-
mann Bayerlein, Commanding General of the Panzer Lehr Division, and Major General Heinz Kokott, Commanding General of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division. Colonel Meinhard von Lauchert, the commander of the 2d Panzer Division, was not present nor was his presence deemed necessary. Of the three divisions, the 2d Panzer had had least to do with the direct attack on Bastogne; and further, the Corps commander, having formerly commanded that division and having a sentimental feeling for it and not too much faith in Von Lauchert, had directly supervised its operation during the German advance. With what at least appeared to be utmost candor, the three enemy commanders proceeded to discuss all that had happened to them.
There were in all ten conferences on these matters, during which the commanders worked with all of the necessary maps and such staff notes as were available to them. Inasmuch as the data on the American operation were already complete, it was easy to provide the check points which would establish the accuracy of their story in all particulars. Colonel H. W. O. Kinnard, who had been G-3 of the 101st Airborne Division during the Bastogne operation, also attended these interrogations. The meeting with Kinnard was a visible shock to the German commanders. It seemed incredible to them that this boyish-faced soldier had been one of their principal antagonists. They asked several times for reassurance on this score. Lüttwitz said, "Are you certain he was chief of operations? Isn't it possible that he was only the chief for one regiment?"
Lüttwitz is an old-time cavalryman. Now past fifty-eight, he is large, gross and paunchy. His monocle and his semi-belligerent manner of speech would suggest that he is the typically arrogant Prussian, but among other German commanders he had the reputation of being especially kind to troops. He would talk only when he had a map before him; then he liked to lay pencils on the map to represent the movements of his regiments. What was most remarkable about him was that in battle he seemed to have concerned himself more with the movements of squads and companies than with the employment of divisions. He was frequently hazy about how his regiments had been disposed
but he could invariably say what had been done by a particular patrol or outpost. Once he starts talking, he is extremely windy. He appeared to be chagrined over the fact that he authored the request to Bastogne to surrender; the other commanders concerned all regard that request as a military faux pas. But they believe that Lüttwitz has the "Nuts!" message and that he has hidden it away somewhere as a valuable historical document.
Bayerlein is a short, solidly built man of fifty, sharp-featured and keen of eye. All of his actions are vigorous and his aggressiveness in and out of conversation reminds one of a terrier. This outward seeming hides the fact that he is suffering from a fatal kidney ailment. He prides himself on the fact that in the past ten years he has taught himself to speak English. While working with the American Historical Section, he sat down one evening and wrote as a diversion a fifty-page history of the United States which was quite accurate. His contempt for Lüttwitz is obvious. When Lüttwitz rambles in his conversation, Bayerlein waves a hand in his face and snarls, "Not important! Not important!" He believes that Lüttwitz made the worst fumbles at Bastogne though the record indicates that Bayerlein's individual actions and estimates cost the Corps some of its finest opportunities. About those mistakes and the mistakes of all others, he is brutally frank. They become almost a mania with him. When confronted with his own gross blunders, he puts his head back and laughs with abandon; it seems to be about the one thing that thoroughly amuses him.
Kokott is a shy, scholarly and dignified commander who never raises his voice and appears to be temperate in his actions and judgments. Now past fifty-two, he is doubtless the steadiest man of the three. In his account of battle, he is strictly objective. He shares Bayerlein's opinion of Lüttwitz but is more amused than resentful. Better than any other commander, he saw the true situation at Bastogne though he also made his share of mistakes, as the record shows. He felt, even more strongly than the others, that adherence to the original plan at Bastogne became unwise on December 19 but he is a natural optimist and he expected to win the battle.
The onfall of XXXXVII Panzer Corps against the front held by the American 28th Infantry Division and the general consequences of that onfall have been briefly told in Chapter I of this book. Having made its penetration, the further movements of XXXXVII Corps were intended to be consistent with the overall policy of the Fifth Panzer Army throughout the German Ardennes offensive: The mobile divisions would by-pass points of resistance and remain free to continue the movement; the clearing out of islands of resistance would be done by the slower-moving infantry bodies. The policy of the Army was duly transmitted from Corps down to the divisions. It was believed that the two armored divisions could quickly overrun Bastogne before resistance there could solidify. In their sweep directly westward, the boundary between the 2d Panzer Division on the right and the Panzer Lehr Division on the left, for the attack on Bastogne, was an east-west line about halfway between Bastogne and Noville. The objective of the 2d Panzer Division was the same crossroads X south of the Bois de Herbaimont which figured so prominently in the American story. The purpose of the Panzer Lehr Division was to take Bastogne by attack from the south. This was the original order as established by the initial plan. It was not changed before the battle opened although it was in a degree modified.
On December 12, Lüttwitz called his division commanders together, and addressing his remarks especially to Bayerlein, the commander of Panzer Lehr, he said to all of them: "Bastogne must be taken. Otherwise it will remain an abscess on our lines of communication. We must clear out the whole of Bastogne and then march on." He added the instruction that if Bastogne was found to be relatively open, it should be attacked directly by the most feasible route, but that if it were defended in strength frontally, the two armored divisions should attempt to envelop and attack the rear or west. These two expedients failing and quick capture of the town appearing impossible, the two armored divisions were to continue their general advance and the 26th Volksgrenadier Division was to undertake the investment and capture of Bastogne. The effect which this con-
ference produced on the minds of the subordinate commanders is to be measured in the story of their separate actions and decisions.
In the attack of December 16 against the general American front, the Corps attacked with 2d Panzer Division on the right flank and 26th Volksgrenadier Division on the left, and Panzer Lehr Division in reserve. Penetrations into our lines having been made, during December 17 the Panzer Lehr Division moved ahead of the 26th Volksgrenadier (Map 25, page 178). On the right, the northern bridgeheads across the Clerf and Our rivers had been built by the 2d Panzer Division; these were the bridgeheads enabling the movement of enemy forces along the road to Longvilly. On the left the engineering units of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division had done the necessary bridging to enable Panzer Lehr to cross the Clerf and Our and push on for Bastogne. The two southern bridgeheads opened onto secondary roads by way of which Panzer Lehr could cut the lines of communication South of Bastogne and attack the town initially from that direction.
The 2d Panzer Division advanced rapidly throughout that day and the next day. Heavy resistance from our 28th Division units in Clervaux slowed its pace on December 17; but after that there was no check to the progress of the 2d Panzer Division until it came almost to the road intersection to the east of Longvilly, where it intended to veer north and proceed toward Noville.
In mid-afternoon of December 17, Lüttwitz, the XXXXVII Corps commander, visited his front lines where his armor was pushing westward from the bridgeheads. He returned late in the day to his CP near Karlshausen on the east bank of the Our River to find a message from his communications officer lying on his desk. It read that he had intercepted an American radio message saying that the American airborne divisions, then near Reims, had been alerted for a fast movement to the battle area. Lüttwitz looked once more at the map and reasoned that they would be sent to Bastogne.
To Lüttwitz, this spoke volumes. In his own words: "Ever since the Arnhem operation our command had feared another at-
tack by airborne forces. When the message came in, we knew not only that there would be no such attack but that the American Army must be extremely short of reserves in the immediate vicinity. Otherwise, it would not commit airborne divisions of such high standing to the battle." But the knowledge that those forces were bound by ground movement for the same objective as his own forces did not change his plan or his instructions. He was already proceeding toward Bastogne with all possible speed and he calculated that he could get there before our airborne units arrived, and he would be opposed by negligible forces in so doing.
During December 18, the advance continued, with both German armored divisions adhering to the boundaries established in the original plan. Through the day there had been no interruption of progress in either lane that dimmed Lüttwitz's hope of beating the opposing forces into Bastogne. As the night drew on, his divisions were promisingly poised: The forward elements of the 2d Panzer were at the point east of Longwilly where the division was to turn north from the main road. The forward elements of Panzer Lehr were at Niederwampach, to the south (Map 26, page 180).
It is to be noted that the turning movement of the 2d Panzer Division was taking place at such a distance from the roadblock of our 9th Armored Division in Longvilly (which was in process of being supported and then replaced by the forces under Captain Ryerson of Team Cherry, Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division) that both of these armored bodies could have carried out their assignments without head-on collision. The German force was, of course, turning a shoulder and then exposing a flank toward the American armor in Longvilly; moreover, it was assumed by the German commander that the American armor was in march toward him. He therefore took steps to cover the avenues of approach leading toward his exposed flank. At the same time the Americans in Longvilly, knowing nothing of the turning movement, took it for granted that this German column was coming on down the main road. It was therefore almost inevitable that the two forces would engage but the
extent of engagement was limited by the mutually exclusive character of their separate missions.
Panzer Lehr, however, was under no such restriction, since Bastogne lay within its boundary. It was only a question of which was the most opportune road and hour, whether time was left to go directly at the town or whether it was the better part of wisdom to strike first at the lines of communication leading south. To do the former, Bayerlein, then at Niederwampach, would have to get his striking force moved northwest to the Longvilly-Bastogne road—the smoothest route into town.
It seems altogether probable that the soaring ambition of this commander was responsible for his decision. He wanted to take Bastogne in person and the quick thrust was the only way to do it. He talked to some Luxembourg civilians in Niederwampach; they told him that the side road through Benonchamps to Magéret was in good condition and perfectly feasible for the passage of armor. They said, "It looks bad but will get better and better." In this they misled him but the intelligence was enough to get him started. The road was narrow and deep in mud and became steadily worse. But no resistance was encountered and having started from Niederwampach at 2200, the force crossed the Luxembourg-Belgium border at midnight and reached Benonchamps one hour later. In the force was one battalion of infantry from the 902d Panzergrenadier Regiment, fifteen Mark V tanks and one battery of artillery, all under the command of the 902d Regiment's colonel, although Bayerlein went along in one of the lead tanks and appears to have personally directed the task force.
At 0200 the force reached Magéret on the main road. There a Belgian civilian told Bayerlein that two hours earlier an American force of fifty tanks and forty other armored vehicles under an American ma or general had passed through Magéret going east at about midnight. He was of course referring to Ryerson's scant force of tanks but the degree of exaggeration in the Belgian's statement was enough to offset all the damage that might have been caused by his disclosure. It shook Bayerlein badly and from that point on, the farther he moved forward the more
he was constrained to worry about the security of his rear. Because he now knew that there was American armor operating along the Longvilly road between him and the German main body, Bayerlein set up a road block in Magéret composed of three tanks, some supporting infantry and a minefield covering the road from the east—the same roadblock that split Team Cherry and contributed so much to Ryerson's subsequent difficulties. The Germans at Magéret were certain that they could hear American armor moving around in their immediate vicinity but so dark was the night and such the confusion made by the slow movement of the last of their own vehicles into Magéret that they could not be sure where the sounds were coming from and hesitated to open fire for fear of hitting their own. The passage of this armored striking force onto the Longvilly road with the object of capturing Bastogne was regarded by the Americans who partially observed it at the time as only a "strong patrol action." It was so reported to Colonel Cherry and by him to Colonel Roberts. The Americans were still expecting the main enemy thrust to come straight down the main road.
At about 0400 the German force in Magéret began to draw fire from the near-by terrain. Though not greatly harassed, it fought back for about an hour and a half. At 0530 Bayerlein started his tanks on down the road to Neffe. As they worked their way cautiously along toward that hamlet they drew considerable fire from the high ground to right of the road. It is probable that this resistance came from retreating elements of the 9th Armored Division which had taken to the hills at the approach of the German column. The German force kept moving. The lead tank hit a mine at Team Cherry's roadblock just cast of Neffe and blew up; the Germans did not receive any fire from the Americans who had been manning the block and saw no signs of these men. So far not a shot had been fired and they got the impression that Neffe was undefended.
While the remaining mines were being cleared away from the road, one infantry company moved south of the tracks and advanced toward the Neffe Château. The company had no close tank support for the ground was still much too wet for armor.
So in this double-pronged fashion, the advance got under way again at 0550, with the armor (eleven tanks) riding the main highway. At 0700 the head of the armor reached the Neffe station and there it paused for almost an hour-an interlude that cost Bayerlein his one chance to strike Bastogne before Colonel Ewell could get started. All of the dash had gone out of the man by this time. There was no good tactical reason for the pause. But his own doubt about the situation stayed him. When the order to proceed was at last given, the tanks advanced down the Bastogne road about 200 yards. Then they were struck by American fire. A machine gun in one of the leading German tanks had opened fire at about the same time. It was hard to say who had fired first. [Here note that what Colonel Ewell had considered to be an enemy roadblock was in fact a striking force in motion.] The German recoil was immediate. The loss to the German infantry from Colonel Ewell's opening fire was insignificant but the reaction among the foot forces was enough to deny the tanks the prospect of immediate support. The infantry wouldn't move and the tanks couldn't go forward alone. This deadlocked the advance for the necessary interlude. Then when Captain McGlone's battery went into action against the Neffe position an hour or so later, the impact was great. About eighty Germans were killed or wounded at Neffe within the first hour or so. Bayerlein, convinced by the sound (there was no observation because of fog and he was misled by the sound of the glider 105mm. gun M3) that he was being opposed by armor, retired to a cave near the Neffe station.
By noon, Bayerlein's mood was one of extreme pessimism. He had felt out the situation on his right and had found Colonel Ewell's left already advancing. Also, he had been impressed by fire that was coming at him from his left—the probable source of which was the small force of men under Colonel Cherry in the Neffe Château. He imagined that infantry battalions were advancing against both his flanks and that the battalion on the north was about ready to close in on Neffe. So he returned to Magéret, where the American tanks rolling back from Longvilly were continuing to hit against his armored roadblock. He
passed through the village during the noon hour, some time before Ryerson's force really went to work against the block. His men had captured an American hospital in Magéret and he asked one of the nurses to look after his wounded. His nerve was working better now. He noted that the nurse was "young, blonde and beautiful." He no longer had any thought of pushing forward with his initial task force and he had about concluded that the capture of Bastogne would require the utmost effort on the part of his entire division.
It is now necessary to follow the course of the 2d Panzer Division through these same hours. That division was under orders to capture Noville as soon as possible. Having made the northward turn to the east of Longvilly, the point of the division advanced rapidly toward Bourcy, meeting no resistance en route. The small action at the Bourcy roadblock (described on pages 53-54), although seemingly inconsequential, was sufficient to convince the division commander that he was blocked in that direction and that Noville was probably strongly held. He so advised the Corps commander and the course of the division was turned north so that Noville could be attacked from several sides. The men at the Bourcy block had mistaken this point for a "reconnaissance element" and concluded that they had made off after completing their mission. Instead, the block had changed the course of an entire division. There followed the heavy attacks against Noville on December 19 with the tactical results described earlier in the book. Its road temporarily blocked by this engagement, the 2d Panzer Division on the morning of December 19 was strung out along the road all the way from Noville back to the northwest of Allerborn.
By afternoon of December 19, Bayerlein, commander of the Panzer Lehr Division, had begun to feel himself harassed from every side and was thinking of extricating what he considered to be his "pocketed" forces. In his own words: "As to my own position, I felt that the resistance on my flanks would have to be annihilated before I could again attack. The movement of the infantry regiment which had come out of Bastogne to attack me had reacted decisively on my thinking. Their fire superiority
at Neffe was something I had witnessed with my own eyes. I thought and said that we should attack Bastogne with the whole XXXXVII Corps."
In these calculations, an overstrained imagination undoubtedly played a strong part. During the day, elements of Panzer Lehr (Bayerlein's reconnaissance battalion) covered on their south flank by the third regiment of Kokott's Division—the 39th Fusiliers of 26th Volksgrenadier—had pushed on toward Wardin. As we saw earlier, they had a limited success there and one of Colonel Ewell's companies of the 502d Parachute Infantry—Company I, on his extreme right—had been fragmented. But Bayerlein had eyes and ears only for the signs and sounds of enemy fire on his left, a state of mind aggravated no doubt by the activity of Team O'Hara's guns which had not supported Colonel Ewell's attack on Wardin but which were continuing to punish all enemy forces within sight or hearing.
Bayerlein, by his own account, gained the distinct impression that strong American forces had arrived in Wardin and were about to envelop his left; he could not conceive that the American infantry had been defeated there and that the American armor was preparing to withdraw to ground closer to Bastogne. The time had come, Bayerlein concluded, to direct every energy to the extrication of his force. But this was not easy to do. He felt that retirement by the narrow, winding road on which he had come—the road to Benonchamps—was now out of the question. If he were to make it at all, he would have to completely destroy and clear the American roadblock at Longvilly and move by the main highway. These were his thoughts after he had moved farther rearward from Magéret and he so reported them to his Corps commander, adding his personal urging that the plan be changed and that the entire Corps be thrown against Bastogne.
During these same hours, the XXXXVII Corps commander, Lieutenant General Lüttwitz, had received nothing but bad news from any part of his front. In sum, he had heard that Bayerlein had been stopped at Neffe, that parts of the 77th Regiment of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division had been stopped east of
Bizory (by the 501st Parachute Infantry), and that the 78th Regiment of the 26th Division had been stopped at Hill 540, southeast of Foy (by Colonel Sink's forces). General Kokott, too, had expressed the same gloomy views as Bayerlein. He realized that the 101st Airborne Division had beaten him to Bastogne. And feeling that his own division might not be equal to the task of dislodging them, he urged that the entire Corps be committed to the task.
Lüttwitz reported to Fifth Panzer Army that each of his division commanders had gathered the impression that the enemy was in extraordinary strength at Bastogne. He added his recommendation that the original plan be changed and that the XXXXVII Corps be solidly committed to the reduction of Bastogne. Army refused the request, but it added a strange amendment to the previous orders. The Corps as a whole was given permission to renew the attack on a limited scale, since the position of the Panzer Lehr Division had become seriously compromised and so had that of the two northern regiments of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division. This was how matters stood on the highest level at 1600 on December 19.
But on the tactical plane, Corps and all three divisions bad been harassed mainly by thoughts of what might happen unless they destroyed the Longvilly roadblock. They had gone to work on that problem in early afternoon with such results that they should have become convinced they had reduced it to a cipher. The consequences to the American armor of the German attack against the Longvilly position on the afternoon of December 19 have been described earlier in their bare detail. But neither Captain Ryerson nor Lieutenant Hyduke had any idea then what major forces had been arrayed against them. In the course of the forenoon, out of Panzer Lehr, the 901st Panzergrenadier Regiment, one tank destroyer battalion with about twenty TDs, and an artillery battalion, had collected in the area of Benonchamps. Bayerlein, worrying about the Neffe-Magéret forces and the probable involvement of his reconnaissance battalion—the Panzer Lehr Division's reconnaissance training battalion—which had been shaken out farther to the south, seized on
the Benonchamps forces to break the grip of the Longvilly block. Bayerlein did not realize at the time that a body of American armor was collected at the position which he was about to attack, for he had received principally mortar and small-arms fire from that direction. He bad already begun to discount the story told him by the Belgian the night before and was now swinging around to the idea that there was no American armor on his rear. This is the reason why he weighted his attack heavily with infantry. He ordered the force to attack from Benonchamps through the woods toward Longvilly, going east. Fifteen of the TDs were to give strong preliminary and supporting fires; the other five TDs were directed to accompany the two companies of infantry to the high ground. It was a trick, he said, that he had learned from opposing our 4th Armored Division in Normandy.
This assault force reached the top of Hill 490 a little time after 1400. From there, they saw the welter of American armor and motionless combat vehicles strung out along the Longvilly road, the tanks trying vainly to break away from their own trap. It was a target they had not expected at all, and it lay fully vulnerable at range of 1,500 to 2,000 yards. The other tank destroyers came forward. The twenty heavy guns of the TDs opened fire and so did all other weapons. (Map 27, page 188.)
Nor was that all. To support Bayerlein's Neffe position on the right, Lüttwitz had ordered one regiment from the 26th Volksgrenadier Division to move to Bizory via the most direct side road. The advance elements of that regiment, the 77th, had already taken the road from Oberwampach going through Niederwampach. The rear elements were still within convenient reach to the southeast of the Longvilly block. Lüttwitz, not knowing of Bayerlein's action, met the commander of the regiment on the road between Oberwampach and Niederwampach and directed him to collect all artillery and heavy weapons in the general area and attack Longvilly from the southeast. He did so, and the force which went forward was heavy in antitank guns. By accident rather than from design it arrived at the high ground south of Longvilly simultaneously with the opening of Bayer-
lein's attack and its gunpower was added to the impact of the TDs.
Colonel Meinhard von Lauchert, commanding the 2d Panzer Division, had talked with Lüttwitz about the Longvilly block, but since his own people were turning north some distance short of the American armor, it hadn't concerned him overly in the beginning. But when he drew fire from the Longvilly direction (the action taken by the batteries supporting Hyduke) during the morning of December 19 and the shells threatened to interdict his turning movement, he directed that five or six 88-mm. guns be set up at the road junction below Chilfontaine to counter the American fire. This battery had been in operation for perhaps two hours when the two attacks were launched against Longvilly from the southeast and southwest. Its guns continued to fire and do great execution upon the stalled American column during the hours when the guns along the southern line were raking the armor point-blank. Here was surely the strangest passage in the whole enemy attack on Bastogne—all three divisions engaged at one time, bringing together the greatest fire concentration produced during the first phase of the siege. And their luckless target was a force which already felt itself defeated and was simply looking for a way out!
The bombardment lasted for about two hours, but even after that the German infantry did not close in. After Hyduke and his group fell back on Ryerson, who was trying to break through Magéret and so open a road of escape for what remained of the American force, some few American riflemen remained hidden amid the wreckage of the American armor and kept the enemy at bay with rifle fire—or at least that is the explanation of the German commanders. Dark was almost at hand when the Germans moved out onto the road. Lüttwitz, fascinated by the spot, strolled among the riven hulls and noted that it was a strange place for a battle. This portion of the road was a kind of sacred way, lined on both sides with large stone crucifixes and a dozen or more heroic figures of saints. The burning armor was jammed in among these objects; the sacred images had served to block the way out. But Lüttwitz looked the tanks over carefully and
concluded that Von Lauchert's guns had done most of the damage.
It was a melancholy night for Lüttwitz. He was under the impression that a strong American force had arrived at Wardin. And if that were true, it was a serious impingement on any effort to attack Bastogne from the south. His immediate problem was a kind of tactical monstrosity. He could use his entire corps against Bastogne and yet he had to commit it in such a way that there would be no chance of an involvement that would militate against the accomplishment of his basic mission to keep on advancing. He was dropping infiltration for the moment but he was not undertaking siege: there was no time to coördinate a general plan.
In the morning he felt a little better. Word came that Bayerlein's reconnaissance battalion (Panzer Lehr Division) had taken Wardin. Lüttwitz felt that this eased his situation, though no one bothered to tell him that Wardin had fallen into his hands without struggle because there were no Americans there. On the right the 2d Panzer Division took Noville somewhere near the middle of the afternoon, and again the Corps commander grew confident that the Americans were yielding to his superior force. He thought that an outflanking movement directed at Noville by the 2d Panzer Division from the northwest had brought off the capture of the village. He didn't know that the pressure on the American right rear had anything to do with it—a pressure coming from one of Kokott's regiments. Kokott's men had come through the woods and were pressing on Foy. It was this pressure that persuaded Colonel Sink to ask for permission to withdraw. So during most of that day Lüttwitz entertained an illusion that his hit-and-run effort was succeeding.
His hopes were again dashed by what happened to his center. The 901st Regiment, Panzer Lehr Division, tried for Marvie in the hours of the late morning and was repulsed. However, to Lüttwitz that was no more than an incident in the battle; he hadn't expected much. But when Bayerlein hit again from Neffe just after dark fell, and his attack was stopped cold, the whole
command reacted gloomily. Again Bayerlein got a slightly exaggerated idea of the forces opposing him. "I was stopped by a tremendous artillery [true enough] and I also found myself opposing a great number of tanks [not accurate]. The effect was overpowering. We were stopped before we could begin." Again, to General Bayerlein the shock at Neffe was decisive. It also spelled failure for the Corps as a whole.
The Corps, meanwhile, had been extending westward to the south of Bastogne. When Lüttwitz heard that units of the Panzer Lehr Division had taken Wardin, he told General Kokott to take his reconnaissance battalion and the 39th Regiment, and swinging on a wide arc toward Sibret, make ready to attack Bastogne from the south. The advance followed the general line through Lutremange to Villera-la-Bonne-Eau to Hompré to Sibret but the roads on this line were so difficult for the armored cars that they had to advance well to the southward of the forest. Sibret was captured about 2000. The 39th Regiment reached high ground one kilometer north of Remoifosse and the wood one kilometer north of Assenois and there was brought in check, chiefly through the efforts of Colonel Harper's 327th Glider Infantry and the engineers. Having taken Sibret, Kokott's reconnaissance battalion went on to Chenogne, where it was brought in check temporarily.
Thus the Corps stood on the night of December 20, with Bastogne almost solidly in its embrace. On the south was Kokott's 39th Regiment (26th Volksgrenadier Division). To the southeast, near Marvie, was Bayerlein's 901st Regiment (Panzer Lehr Division). And next to it, confronting Neffe, was his 902d. The 77th and 78th Regiments of Kokott were on each side of the railway running northeast out of Bastogne. Across the north, blocking all roads, were the elements of the 2d Panzer Division. That division was advancing to the west, and the extension of the general line, in so far as it was concerned, consisted only of roadblock elements whose mission was to protect the flank of the marching column.
Yet despite this apparently excellent situation of the Corps, Lüttwitz felt that night that so far as Bastogne was concerned,
he was temporarily defeated. His chief subordinates, too, with the exception of Kokott, believed that the enforced continuation of the advance of the mechanized divisions to the westward, leaving the Bastogne assignment to Kokott's division, dimmed the prospect for a final victory. They had been impressed by the strength of the Bastogne forces and they felt that the task required unremitting pressure from the entire Corps.
In the course of December 21, Kokott's reconnaissance battalion got almost to the highway near Mande-St.-Étienne before being stopped by Colonel Harper's forces. The day was given over largely to the shifting of regiments as Kokott's division took over the general assignment which the day previous had been a Corps responsibility. Panzer Lehr was bound for Morhet. Bayerlein's 902d Regiment was replaced on the Bastogne line by Kokott's 77th, and his 78th Regiment took over the sector which had been held by the 2d Panzer Division. One regiment, the 901st, and some of the special elements of the Panzer Lehr Division were left behind, passing into Kokott's command.
On that day, also, the reconnaissance group of the 2d Panzer Division got only as far as Tenneville. Lüttwitz by now was devoting his entire attention to the progress of the 2d Panzer. He had wanted the reconnaissance group to move fast through the Bois de Bande and reach Bande by nightfall, but for some reason he couldn't get his lead forces rolling and the division strung out all the way from Tenneville to Bourcy. He found out later that the head of his column had been stopped by "strong enemy forces" maintaining a roadblock at a crossing southeast of Tenneville. This was, of course, the block maintained by Company B of Allen's battalion of the 327th Glider Infantry. It held up the progress of the 2d Panzer Division for one whole day, and of this delay much resulted subsequently. On December 22 and 23 the division pushed on only a little way; it was for the 2d Panzer Division a day of endless stopping, starting and turning, the sounds of which gave the defending forces within the Bastogne perimeter the impression that a tremendous enemy build-up was taking place to the north of them. [The patrols into Rouette led
by Lieutenant David E. White of 502d Parachute Infantry were in fact hitting against the outposts covering the flank of this withdrawing division.] Again word came to Lüttwitz that the 2d Panzer Division's road was blocked by a stoutly held enemy roadblock. The report came from the same regimental commander who had engaged Company B, 327th, on December 21.
On the night of December 23-24, Lüttwitz went forward in person to examine the block. He received no fire as he came within range of it, so be rode on to the block and began taking the logs down. The block had been undefended throughout the entire time and the division had lost two days because of the hesitancy of this regimental commander who was subsequently court-martialed for cowardice. It cost the division dear, and not alone in time, for its vehicles were still strung out over these roads when the skies lifted and the American air strike came. Haltingly, and with other similar bad experiences, the division continued on its way toward Marche, Lüttwitz accompanying them.
Kokott, on taking over the main burden of reducing Bastogne, was at first flushed with optimism. On the morning of December 20 he had been at Wardin, where an American shell hit his CP truck, killed the other occupants and propelled Kokott against the wall of the village church. He was badly stunned; it was his closest call of the war. But he had been encouraged by the taking over of the position. After briefing the 39th Regiment and the reconnaissance battalion for the move westward toward Sibret, he went with them, to make certain that they moved as he wanted. So doing, he gained a first-hand impression that Bastogne was wide open on the south and west. He saw certain of the American elements which, either in moral or physical dissolution, were attempting to move south away from Bastogne. But what he saw he mistakenly interpreted. He thought these retreating fractions signified that the Bastogne defense was now disintegrating. This suspicion became a conviction when at Sibret he talked to a Belgian who assured him that the Bastogne garrison was falling apart. Arriving at his CP at Bras at 0200 on the morning of December 21, he was further
cheered by the news that the 5th Parachute Division on his left flank (to the south) was making good progress. Kokott had found the roads very muddy, greatly choked by disabled vehicles left behind by both armies and frequently disturbed by artillery fire from within Bastogne.
The next two days were largely given over to maneuver, as Kokott's 26th Volksgrenadier Division extended westward in an attempt to complete the envelopment. The 77th Regiment was shifted to confront Bastogne from the northwest quarter; the 78th was to the 77th's left in the northeast sector; the 901st of Panzer Lehr Division still confronted the Marvie sector; the 39th Regiment was astride all roads leading into Bastogne from the southeast; the reconnaissance battalion had almost closed the circle on the west side and was moving toward the town from the southwest. On the west side between the reconnaissance battalion and the 77th Regiment, there was a small armored force from Panzer Lehr Division. But even so, where the road ran from Bastogne to Champlon, the line had not been rounded out. The American fire upon this artery was so intense that Kokott's forces could not gain the road, though they had it under such fair observation that they could interdict it effectively against American traffic.
For the time being, the 26th Volksgrenadier Division [misspelled in the original as "Divison"] was sufficiently supplied with gasoline, having taken over some American stores during the swing through to Sibret. Mortar and artillery shells, however, were running short and this had become a drag upon operations. General Kokott didn't have the slightest suspicion that the opposing camp was plagued by the same problem. He noted that whenever the American artillery spoke, it did so in heavy concentrations. It was seldom that a single gun fired for in the interest of conserving ammunition there was little use of harassing fires. To Kokott's mind this suggested that the American artillery was being used with confidence and he reasoned that it must be amply supplied with ammunition. Heavy concentrations equal heavy supply: that was how he reasoned it.
Matters worsened on December 23. To the southward there
was a near crisis when Kokott's rear began to feel pressure from the American thrusts northward to relieve Bastogne. Kokott's forces first became aware of the pressure when elements of the 5th Parachute Division fell back into their area. There were five newly arrived Tiger tanks near Kokott's CP. He didn't know where they had come from and he didn't stop to inquire. He sent them on down the Clochimont road in an effort to restore the situation. Soon after the German tanks departed, Kokott saw the first American troop-carrier planes come over on the Bastogne re-supply mission. He and his officers saw the parachutes dropping; they thought that additional paratroops were arriving to swell the ranks of the defenders. The effect was, as he expressed it, "to increase the disorder in the ranks of the attackers."
That night, on Corps order, he attacked Marvie, intending to smash through to Bastogne. The 901st Regiment was sent against Marvie, while the 39th Regiment, on its left, moved along the main road from Assenois. In an extension of this same line, forming roughly a half circle, the reconnaissance battalion, 26th Volksgrenadier Division, also moved to the attack and for the first time was able to close its grip on the Bastogne-Champlon road. The attack failed, as related earlier in the book. Kokott received early reports that his forces had "captured" Marvie [an exaggeration] but he never knew that the Panzer Lehr Division had broken the line at Hill 500 that night or that some of its tanks had entered Bastogne. [Kokott's comment on this was: "They took only the first few houses and then reported to me that they had captured the village. I acted on the assumption that they were telling the truth. This is a very common type of error in our operations."]
On the same night, while the Marvie attack was flickering, Kokott was visited at his CP by General Hasso-Eccard Manteuffel, Commanding General of the Fifth Panzer Army. An order had come down from XXXXVII Corps that Bastogne would be attacked again on Christmas Day and Manteuffel had come in person to give his instructions. By this time the German high command was thoroughly alarmed. The continued resistance at Bastogne and the southern action in support of it were holding
up the advance of their entire Seventh Army. Manteuffel said it was necessary to hurry the conquest of the town because resistance from the south against the 5th Parachute Division was increasing hour by hour. He added, "Bastogne must be taken at all costs."
Manteuffel asked Kokott what he proposed and Kokott said that inasmuch as he had tried from every other direction and had taken heavy losses, he would now attack from out of the northwest. The 77th, which was the freshest of his regiments and had taken the least losses, was holding this sector. He reasoned, too, that the Americans would be looking primarily to the east and south and that their strength would be deployed in these directions, with weakness in the northwest. [He was all wrong about this. The forces were strongest and freshest in the area he proposed to attack.] His final argument was that the terrain in the northwest was the most favorable for the employment of armor, being relatively open and firm, so that the tanks would not have to be bound by the roads.
Manteuffel then agreed to put the 15th Panzergrenadier Division at Kokott's disposal and directly under his command for this attack. The division was only then moving up, a veteran division with considerable experience on the Italian front, and it would arrive in good condition.
The forward elements of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division reached the sector confronting Champs and Hemroulle about 2200 on December 24. There were immediately available two artillery battalions, one tank battalion (with about thirty medium tanks and tank destroyers) and the spearheads (two battalions) of the first two infantry regiments. For the troops of that division, it was simply a question of how many could get forward to the assembly area before jump-off time. Kokott bad decided that he had to attack in the dark because of American air superiority and be had set the hour at 0300 on Christmas morning. He reasoned further that his troops would have to be in Bastogne by 0800, for he felt that he would not be able to continue the attack advantageously after daylight.
The greater part of the first two regiments of 15th Panzer-
grenadier Division got forward in time to be fed into the attack, along with the tank battalion. Some of these men rode the tanks; others followed in an infantry line that wavered from the beginning, because its members had had little chance to catch breath or get their bearings after arrival at the front. Kokott's 77th Regiment attacked on the left against Champs, and he had the impression that this was the only part of the attack that got off strongly. His reconnaissance battalion, to the southward of the sector where the elements of the 15th Panzer Division struck against Colonel Harper's position, was also supposed to have joined in the attack, although this demonstration made almost no impression on the defenders. The troops confronting the eastern and southern parts of the perimeter were ordered to support the attack with continuing fires to prevent reinforcement of the westward-facing positions.
Thus the plans and intentions of the enemy in the Christmas Day fight. The results were as described in an earlier chapter. By 1000 Kokott knew that his plan was irretrievably lost. At 1200 he asked XXXXVII Corps for permission to stop the attack and reorganize. Corps refused, saying that it had become absolutely necessary to capture Bastogne, since the pressure on the south was becoming uncontainable. But the fight [at the hinge of our 327th Glider Infantry-502d Parachute Infantry front] had run its own course and was already dying. Kokott reluctantly renewed the attack, knowing now that the only effect would be to increase his losses.