COLONEL LAPRADE and Major Desobry wanted the high ground and this was their plan-that three tanks would strike northward along the Houffalize road and four tanks would hit east toward the high ground west of Bourcy (Map 9, page 63). With this group of tanks would go one and one-half platoons of infantry for their close-in support. In between these two armored groups moving along the road, LaPrade's paratroopers would spread themselves over the middle ground. One company would advance south over the Bourcy road, another off to the left of it would extend to the Houffalize road and the third company would go toward the high ground at Vaux. In this way, armor and infantry would spread out fanwise as they left Noville and started for the commanding ridges.1

However, the preliminaries were not propitious. Noville was already taking a pounding from the enemy artillery. The Germans were firing by the clock and dropping twenty to thirty shells into the defensive position every ten minutes. The houses and several of the vehicles were afire. A proper reconnaissance became impossible; the assembly went off badly. Still, the attack got away at 1430, December 19, though somewhat unsteadily.2

The line had scarcely moved out from the houses when an artillery concentration landed in the middle of Company C of the 506th Parachute Infantry, which was on the right flank.3 A number of men were hit but the company kept moving. Bullet fire from enemy positions on the high ground bit into the infantry ranks and slowed their advance. The little groups worked their way along, dashing on to favorable ground, stopping there to fire, then making a rush on to the next point of cover.4

But elsewhere along the line, except on the far left where Company B kept moving, the attack was already flagging. The tanks and armored infantry decided the attack was impossible so moved back to their holes, not even realizing that the paratroopers were continuing to attack in any strength.5 Company

Map 9

A was blocked by heavy tank fire immediately and after a small advance was forced to return to the village. But on the flanks, B and C went on until they reached the lower slopes of the objective ridges and started to climb. At that moment the enemy tanks came against them, supported by some infantry. A few of the paratroopers kept going; their snow-covered bodies were found on the ridges weeks later.6 But the greater part of the two companies went to earth and sought whatever cover was at hand. Then they continued to slug it out with their small arms as best they could. They could hardly see the enemy at any time. The fog was closing down again and it was mixed with the smoke drifting over from the fires of Noville.

They held the ground until dark.7 Then Colonel LaPrade's men fell back on Noville. The fighting on the slopes had cost the battalion heavily but the men thought they had caused equal


losses to the enemy. From the town itself three tank destroyers had exchanged fire at about 1500 yards with the enemy tanks and had kept them from coming on. But whether they had done any real hurt to them could not be seen.8

For about an hour after the return to Noville the front was deathly quiet.9 LaPrade's men-had had no chance to dig in prior to the attack so they sought refuge in the houses.10 Colonel LaPrade improved his command post by moving a heavy clothes closet in front of the window.11 The Germans resumed their bombardment of the town and in the middle of the shelling a platoon of tank destroyers from the 706th Tank Destroyer Battalion reported for duty.12 Further tightening the defense, General Higgins, having arrived at Noville just as the American counterattack was fading, took the essential steps toward unifying the local command. Major Desobry and Colonel LaPrade were in agreement that one man should be in control, and LaPrade, being the senior, drew the assignment. LaPrade told General Higgins that he thought he could hold on until dark but that he was convinced that the enemy would attack in strength shortly thereafter. Soon after that, Colonel Sink got up to Noville for a personal reconnaissance. He talked to LaPrade and the latter shortly issued his orders for the combined defense.13 The plan was for Company B to defend to the northwest and Company A to the northeast and Company C was to cover the southern half of the perimeter while the armored group was held in the center of the town ready to strike out in any direction.14 A few minutes after LaPrade was placed in command, an 88 shell landed in the street outside the command post. The explosion shattered the clothes closet and both commanders were struck down by fragments.15 Colonel LaPrade was killed and Major Desobry wounded. Major Robert F. Harwick, LaPrade's executive, who had rushed back from a leave in Paris to join his battalion and had arrived in Noville just at the close of the afternoon fighting, took command of the combined force. The armor passed into the hands of Major Charles L. Hustead.16

For the men of Combat Command B who were within the town the rest of the night (December 19-20) was comparatively


quiet. Their peace was punctured at times by the dropping of a few artillery shells and out beyond the wall of fog they could hear the noise of an enemy build-up.17 There was little quiet, however, along the infantry perimeter. Enemy tanks in twos and threes, supported by infantry, probed toward them. When warned by small-arms or bazooka fire, they checked and blazed away at the positions from which they had seen the flashes. The accompanying Germany infantry tried to infiltrate through the lines. These small penetrations and the resulting fire were such that it was almost impossible to maintain wire communication with the outposts. For the paratroopers those hours were a nightmare of surprise fire, ominous noise and confusion. But when morning came the light revealed that two of the enemy tanks had been knocked out by bazooka fire.18

These opening blows in the first round at Noville had been enough to convince General McAuliffe that the enemy was full of fight.19 After that first day they would never seem as strong to him again and the impression would deepen that their attacks were coming on in diminishing volume.20 But on the first day he looked toward his northern sector with increasing concern. In the afternoon of December 19, the 3d Battalion of 506th had been ordered to move up to Foy between Bastogne and Noville and establish a line there, with the 2d Battalion moving to Luzery as a regimental reserve. When this move was made, Company H on the right made contact with the 501st Parachute Infantry by patrol and Company G on the left joined with the 502d Parachute Infantry, maintaining a strong point in Recogne. That night all platoons of Company C of the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached to the 506th Parachute Infantry and General McAuliffe got ready to employ as much of the strength of 502d along his northern flank as the morrow would prove necessary.21

This small, confused action had reverberated all the way back to Corps. On returning to Bastogne, Higgins had reported to McAuliffe as follows: "I think we're way out on a limb. There is too much distance between LaPrade in Noville and Strayer in Foy. It is my judgment that the Noville force had better get out."


Colonel Sink, having carried out his independent reconnaissance, had reached exactly the same conclusion. At around 1820 he called Division and said that it was getting very hot at Noville; he urged that his forward battalion be withdrawn to a point north of Foy.22 But in view of the fact that General Middleton had ordered that Noville be defended and that the armor which had gone forward in response to that direction was still acting under Roberts's orders, it looked like a matter for decision by the higher headquarters. General McAuliffe called General Middleton and relayed Higgins's and Sink's reports of the situation, adding his personal recommendation that the force be withdrawn. Middleton said, "No; if we are to hold on to Bastogne, you cannot keep falling back." Sink was called and told that the Noville force would have to stick.23 By then, Major Desobry had ceased to worry about the local problem. He was unconscious when they removed him from the CP to the nearest field hospital. He was still out, when, a few hours later, the Germans overran the hospital and took him prisoner.24

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