Sankt-Vith, Belgium, Tanks in Battle, December 17-23, 1944

General d. Panzertruppe Hasso-Eccard Freiherr von Manteuffel has agreed at several joint press conferences that for the German counter-offensive of the month of December 1944 in Belgium and Luxembourg, to be successful at least three things had to happen :

General-d.-Panzertruppe-Hasso-Eccard-Freiherr-von-Manteuffel(a) the German attack had to be a surprise (b) the weather to be such as to prevent strikes by allied aircraft on the German columns coming through the Ardennes (c) the progress of the German main effort through and beyond St Vith must be rapid and not delayed. Requirements a. and b. were met. Requirement c. was not met because of the defensive and delaying action of Brig Gen Robert W. Hasbrouck’s Luky Seventh, the 7th Armored Division and the attached troops in the St Vith area from December 17 to December 23 1944. His timetable called for the capture of St Vith by 1800 hours on December 17. He did not capture it until the night of December 21 and did not control the St Vith area until December 23 when CCB withdrew on order. On December 22 1964, at a press conference in Watertown, New York, Gen von Manteuffel stated : on the evening of December 24 1944 I recommended to Hitler’s Adjutant that the German Army give up the attack and return to the West Wall. The reason for this recommendation was due to the time lost by his 5. Panzer-Army in the St Vith area. Hitler did not accept von Manteuffel’s recommendation.

St-Vith-Aerial-Dec-26-1944


USA-E-Ardennes-VII

Suggested Bibliography for Further Study
(Original List from this Archives but Linked to Amazon)

1 – W. Wesley Johnston 1 – 7th Armored Division Presidential Unit Citation, St Vith, Belgium, December 1944 : Recommendation, Supporting Documents, Combat Command B Citation
2 – W. Wesley Johnson Combat Interviews of 7th Armored Division Headquarters : St Vith and Manhay, Belgium, including 14th Cavalry Group, December 16-26, 1944
3 – Gen Omar N. Bradley A Soldier’s Story (Modern Library War)
4 – Bryan Arthur Triumph in the west, 1943-1946
5 – Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower Crusade in Europe
6 – First United States Army, Report of Operations, 1 August 1944 – 22 February 1945
7 – Greenfield, Kent Roberts (ed.) Command Decisions
8 – Hart, Liddell B. H. The German Generals Talk
9 – Gen Manteuffel, Hasso von, Appraisal of the US Anny During The Ardennes; The Battle of the Bulge, Hugh M. Cole The Ardennes – Battle of the Bulge (World War II from Original Sources)
10 – Merriam, Robert E. Dark December : The Full Account of the Battle of the Bulge
11 – Field Marshal Montgomery, Sir Bernard L., Memoirs The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery
12 – Gen George S. Patton Jr War As I Knew It
13 – Pogue, Forrest C. The Supreme Command (United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations)
14 – Stamps, T. Dodson and Esposito, Vincent J. (eds.) A Short Military History of World War I with Atlas
15 – Lt Col Trahan E. A. Armor in the Bulge, Armor Cavalry Journal, Jan-Feb. 1948
16 – Toland, John Battle : The Story of the Bulge
17 – The Battle of St. Vith, Armor; Nov.-Dec. 1964
18 – John S. D. Eisenhower The Bitter Woods: The Battle of the Bulge
18 – Whiting Charles DECISION AT ST VITH (West Wall Series)

Gunter’s Selection, eucmh.com
1 – Charles B. MacDonald Company Commander : The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II
2 – Charles B. MacDonald United States Army in World War II, European Theater of Operations : The Last Offensive
3 – Charles B. MacDonald U.S. Army in World War II: The Siegfried Line Campaign (European Theater of Operations, Volume 7)
4 – Charles B. MacDonald A Time for Trumpets : The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge

Foreword – 1966
Nearly twenty-two years ago this battle was fought as the result of a surprise attack on the Western Front. Since then the details have gradually unfolded and the Battle of the Bulge is now held in better perspective. Twenty-two years later five United States divisions plus other NATO troops are along the Iron Curtain in Europe facing a Russian force that could launch another such surprise attack without build up. If such should occur, the pattern of the battle could well follow this one … surprise, cut off units, bad weather, short supply to some units, cut communications, loss of contact to the right and left and to the rear, and the other confusions of a modern fluid battle. For these reasons the study of this battle is of value to the officer student.

Bruce C. Clarke
General, United States Army (Retired)

7-AD-Map-1

Foreword
Two of the most important tactical localities on the eighty-eight mile front held by the VIII Corps in the Ardennes Forest, at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, December 16, 1944, were Bastogne and St Vith. Through these localities were the road nets which, if held, would disrupt the plan of any Aggressor. Bastogne was an important communications center and was worth the gamble made for its defense. Its garrison wrote a brilliant chapter in history by denying the locality to the enemy; therefore, much of the comment pertaining to the Battle of the Bulge has centered around this important terrain feature. This fact has caused many to lose sight of the importance of St Vith and the gallant stand made for its defense by elements of Corps troops, by remnants of the 106th Infantry Division, and by CCB of the 7th Armored Division. Realizing the importance of St Vith to the American Forces, the Corps Commander directed the Commanding General of CCB, 7th Armored Division, to march his command to that locality, report to the Commanding General of the 106th Infantry Division, whose headquarters was there, and to assist in the defense of that important road center. In my opinion it was CCB which influenced the subsequent action and caused the enemy so much delay and so many casualties in and near this important area. Though armor was not designed primarily for the role of the defensive, the operation of CCB was nevertheless a good example of how it can assume such role in an emergency. Its aggressive defense measures completely disrupted the enemy’s plan in the St Vith sector.

Troy H. Middleton
Lieutenant General, US Army (Retired)

US_Foxholes

Introduction
This is the narrative of one phase of the greatest pitched battle on the Western Front in World War II. The battle at St Vith (December 17-23, 1944) is an excellent example of how American troops held their ground in the midst of confusion, defeat, and uncertainty; and thereby threw the German timetable sufficiently off schedule to allow American forces to regroup, hold, and then counterattack. The stand at St Vith has been recognized by both German and Allied commanders as a turning point in the Battle of the Bulge. Gen Eisenhower fully appreciated the time given to him by the defenders of St Vith when on December 23 he addressed all commanders in the defensive horseshoe : The magnificent job you are doing is having a great beneficial effect on our whole situation. I am personally grateful to you and wish you would let all of your people know that if they continue to carry out their mission with the splendid spirit they have so far shown, they will have deserved well of their country.

The German plan for the Ardennes counter-offensive is supposed to have been conceived by Hitler himself during the summer of 1944. The plan was not well received by the German generals (they had also been lukewarm to the Ardennes offensive of 1940), who felt that it was far too ambitious. It was not to be the banzai charge of a hopeless foe, however, but a well planned and coordinated attack calculated to strike the American line in a relatively quiet sector with overwhelming force and to drive on to Anvers and Bruxelles before counter-measures could be taken. The success of this plan might well have changed the entire course of the war.

The academic questions as to the strategic soundness of this offensive, which were raised by German and Allied generals after the war, hold little interest to the men who were called upon to stand against overwhelming odds and turn back the onslaught. This story is concerned with the defense of the St Vith salient and will not deal with speculations as to the strategic expediency of the German plan. To be successful, it was necessary for the German counter-offensive to be carried out with surprise and speed. As the record indicates, surprise was attained. I told the Fuehrer on the first day of the attack that surprise had been completely achieved; the best indication was that no reinforcements were made in your sector before the attack, commented Generaloberst Alfred Jodl after the war.

Just a local diversion, one American intelligence officer remarked after the first day. How our intelligence could so mistake an attack of some 17 divisions representing probably a total of 200,000 men is not our problem here; it is enough to say surprise was gained by the enemy. The fact that speed was denied the enemy caused his defeat. The entire operation demanded that German spearheads be driven deep into the American rear installations, thus paralyzing the American ability and will to strike back. I expected the right corps to capture St Vith on the first day of the attack, and hoped that in the evening of the second day of the attack its advance detachments would be engaged west of the Salm River and the bulk of its forces at Vielsalm, Manteuffel, commander in chief of the 5. Panzer-Army. The Report of Operations, First US Army, points out : The elimination of the St Vith salient was of prime importance to the German Commander in Chief West. Because of the delay imposed here, the offensive was already three days behind schedule. In retrospect it can be said that almost from the second day of the offensive, von Rundstedt’s plan began to go wrong.

Late on December 16, Generalfeldmarschall Otto Moritz Walter Model, commander of Army Group B, ordered : Quick exploitation of the successes of the first day of the attack is decisive. The first objective is to achieve liberty of movement for the mobile units. The stubborn defense of St Vith contributed materially to delaying the enemy, and is credited as a major factor in the failure of the German main effort. The importance of the stand at St Vith is described in the 1A Report of Operations : Without the communications center of St Vith, focal point of five main highways and three rail lines, the enemy’s armored, infantry, and supply columns were all practically immobilized. The rugged, hilly terrain of the Ardennes, heavily forested, permitted no cross country movement. The few columns that were able to move, struggled along muddy, cratered, narrow secondary mads. Traffic was jammed bumper-to-bumper for miles from the original point of departure and provided excellent targets for our artillery and fighter bombers. Also, lacking St Vith and its high ground the enemy could not launch his ‘Operation Greif’ in accordance with plan.

The salient at St Vith not only threatened the whole of 5. Panzer-Army’s northern flank, but continued to prevent the movement of 6. SS-Panzer-Army. This afforded the US 1A sufficient time to bring up reinforcements to a new defensive line

December 16, 1944, the Front Line
On the eve of the German attack, the US 1A (Maj Gen Courtney Hodges) held a 165-mile front, roughly from Aachen to southern tip of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The US 3A (Lt Gen George S. Patton) was on the south flank and the new US 9A was on the north flank. The 1A had three corps in the line :

    VII Corps (Maj Gen Lawton J. Collins) in the north pushing toward the Roer River
    V Corps (Maj Gen Leonard T. Gerow) in the center probing towards the Roer Dams
    VIII Corps (Maj Gen Troy Middleton) holding approximately a 90-mile front in the relatively quiet Ardennes sector.

The 2-ID and 99-ID held the south flank of V Corps, nearest VIII Corps. The gap between V and VIII Corps was held by the 14-CG (Cavalry)(Mechanized) under VIII Corps control. The VIII Corps sector front was held :

    Northern Sector – by the 106-ID, which had just arrived in Europe and had not yet received its baptism of fire
    Center Sector – by the 28-ID, whose front extended for 27 miles, east of Bastogne
    Southern Sector – by units of the 9-AD and the 4-ID

Frontline-Map-1944-Dec

Although the sector was lightly held, it was considered improbable that a large-scale counter-attack would be attempted over this terrain under winter conditions. Gen Eisenhower and Gen Bradley accepted the calculated risk. It was not even rated as much of a gamble; the American front was offensive minded; the mental approach of all ranks was one of attack; no real action was anticipated here, hence the Allied portion of the line was not built up for attack. Intelligence reports of German troop concentrations were interpreted as an indication of a stiffer German defense. Our intelligence officers were optimists. Few seemed seriously to consider that the German had a Sunday punch left.

104

GIs-of-the-Timberwolf-Division-resting-December-1944

The German Strike
As finally ordered, the German plan earmarked elements of 17 divisions for the first day’s attack. To the north, Dietrich’s 6. SS-Panzer-Army sought to open a hole and to turn two SS panzer divisions of the I SS Panzer Corps loose for a dash to the Meuse River. The infantry of Dietrich’s army collided head on with Gen Gerow’s V Corps and the 99-ID finally, on December 19, fell back a couple thousand yards to the Elsenborn Ridge; and there, with the help of the 26-RTC (1-ID), withstood all enemy attacks and formed an anchor on the line. South of the 6. SS-Panzer-Army, the 5. Panzer-Army, under Manteuffel, planned to strike using tank and infantry teams with only light artillery preparations. The LXVI Corps, (Lucht), was to strike the 106-ID, isolate the Schnee Eifel, and drive rapidly into St Vith. Meanwhile, to the south the LVIII Corps and the XLVII Corps were to burst through the 28-ID, isolate Bastogne, and then drive on to the Meuse with the panzer divisions. The 7. Army (Brandenberger), was to push back the US 4-ID, furnish flank protection, and stem any attempt to reinforce the battle area from the south. With this picture, it can be seen that the mailed fist was pointed, poised, and ready to strike. Now, let us see how the blow was received by the troops in the St Vith area.


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Saint-Vith (Sankt-Vith) Town Center Belgium

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Saint-Vith (Sankt-Vith) Town Center Belgium 50.278849, 6.127365


On that bleak, cold morning of December 16 1944, Germans troops from Manteuffel’s 5. Panzer-Army sprang out of hiding in the dense forests of the Ardennes and began a gigantic pincers movement around the Schnee Eifel, the large ridge mass about 16 miles due east of St Vith. Astride this ridge line were the 422-IR and the 423-IR (106-ID), which had landed in France less than two weeks prior to this time; this unit had been sent to the Ardennes for a conditioning and seasoning program prior to heavy fighting. As the attack progressed, it became apparent that the Germans planned to by-pass the troops on the Schnee Eifel; cut them off; and converge upon St Vith. The American higher headquarters intended to counter by moving the 7-AD (Hasbrouck) into the area to assist in the restoration of the lines. Maj Gen A. W. Jones, CG 106-ID, moved CCB-9-AD south to assist the 424-IR, the regiment on the southern flank of the 106-ID, a regiment just between two main German axes of penetration.

South of Sepp Dietrich’s 6. SS-Panzer-Army, Manteuffel’s 5. Panzer-Army, planned to strike using tank and infantry teams with only light artillery preparations. The LXVI Corps, (Lucht), was to strike the 106-ID, isolate the Schnee Eifel, and drive rapidly into St Vith. To the south the LVIII and XLVII Corps were to burst through the 28-ID, capture and isolate Bastogne, and then drive on to the Meuse River with the panzer divisions. Brandenberger’s 7. Panzer-Army, was to push back the 4-ID, furnish a good flank protection, and stem any attempt to reinforce the battle area from the south. With this picture, it can be seen that the mailed fist was pointed, poised, and ready to strike.

Russland Erich von Manstein, Brandenberger

Invasion of Russia, 1941. General der Panzertruppe Erich Brandenberger (left) with Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein.

Let us see how the blow was received by the troops in the St Vith area. On that bleak, cold morning of December 16 1944, troops from Manteuffel’s 5. Panzer-Army sprang out of hiding in the dense forests of the Belgian Ardennes and began a gigantic pincers movement around the Schnee Eifel, the large ridge mass about 16 miles due east of St Vith (Schoenberg – Amelscheid). Astride this ridge line were the 422 and 423-IRs of the 106-ID. The division had landed in France less than two weeks prior to this time and the unit had been sent to the Schnee Eifel for a conditioning and seasoning program prior to heavy fighting. As the attack progressed, it became apparent that the Germans planned to by-pass the two regiments, cut them off, and converge upon St Vith. The American higher headquarters intended to counter by moving the 7-AD into the area to assist in the restoration of the lines. Maj Gen Allan W. Jones, CG 106-ID, moved CCB-9-AD south to assist the 424-IR, the regiment on the southern flank of the 106-ID.

On December 16 1944, the Hasbrouck’s 7-AD with its attached troops, located east and northeast of Heerlen in Holland as XIII Corps’ reserve. At 1730 it was alerted for early movement to VIII Corps in the vicinity of Bastogne, Belgium. The action taken is described by Brig Gen Bruce C. Clarke, CG CCB, 7-AD, who was to play a leading role in the defense of St Vith.

    At 2000, I received a telephone call from Gen Robert W. Hasbrouck, Commanding General, 7-AD, saying that the division had received orders to march immediately south to Bastogne and report there to the Commanding General VIII Corps. What we were to do when we got to Bastogne was unknown. He told me that the division would march as soon as road clearances could be obtained. Gen Hasbrouck directed that I proceed immediately to Bastogne, report to CG VIII Corps, to get information on the situation. He said that my combat command would lead the division on its march of some 60 to 70 miles south.

    At 0400, December 17, Maj Owen E. Woodruff, my S-3, and I, with two drivers, were in Bastogne where we reported to Gen Troy Houston Middleton that the 7-AD was marching south. I was told of the general situation and was told to go to St Vith at daylight and give the 106-ID help.

    At 1030 I was in St Vith where I learned the detailed situation. The Germans had attacked at daylight the day before. Two regiments (422-IR and 423-IR) of the Golden Lions division were surrounded 7 or 8 miles to the east of St Vith. The other regiment (424-IR) had been hard hit. The situation to the north and south was hazy. Vehicles were streaming to the rear. Rumors of ‘Tiger’ tanks were prevalent. Contact with elements of the division was sporadic. There was an air of impending disaster.

    A radio message was sent to my combat command, which was leading the division on its march south, to report to me at St Vith. I later learned that the division had not started to move before 0500, December 17, because it had been unable to obtain road clearance. I planned to counterattack and relieve the surrounded combat teams of the 106-ID, but traffic conditions prevented this action until it was too late.

Bruce C Clark

The weather conditions on December 16 1944, were typical of the weather which was to be, experienced for the next seven days. Overcast; cloudy; penetrating cold; snow flurries, turning to rain; poor aerial observation with no aerial activity; ground soft; roads muddy and slick, read the reports. The terrain between the Schnee Eifel and the Ardennes was rough, forested, and rocky. Frequent streams and numerous saddles added to the difficulties which channeled all vehicular traffic along the few narrow, tortuous roads which served the area. St Vith was one of the three key road junctions to the entire Ardennes, and from it roads radiated to Dinant and Liège in the west and northwest; to Malmedy and Stavelot in the north; to Houffalize and Bastogne in the south; and to Schoenberg and Prüm in the east. Through St Vith ran the only east-west railroad extending from the Rhine River through the Eifel and into the Ardennes.

st-vith

The March to St Vith
On the morning of December 17, when it had been thought that the 7-AD would arrive in the St Vith area, the division was fighting clogged roads to the west rather than Germans. To reach the St Vith area, the division moved in multiple columns over two routes, east and west. The weather was rainy and the roads were a sea of mud; movement cross-country or in the fields alongside the roads was impossible. The division was alerted to move at 0200, December 17. It received orders to cross the initial point on the west route at 0330. The column was on the road when further orders were received to delay the movement one hour.

On the west route, the 87-CRS led the way followed by CCB, CCA, 814-TDB, 7-AD (Main) HQs, 33-AEB, and Division Trains. Clearances on the east route were delayed until 0800 December 17 when Reserve Combat Command led off followed by Division (TAC) Headquarters, Division Artillery, and the 203-AAAB. Trouble was encountered from the beginning; German aircraft were active over the Heerlen area, more active than they had been for weeks. There had not been time for the proper dissemination of information and many staff officers and company commanders did not know their destination until their arrival in the St Vith area. Maps were not available, the mission was not known, and there had been little time to post the routes with guides.

The east route was cut by the enemy just south of Malmedy, between the Division (TAC) Headquarters and the Division Artillery, thus necessitating the artillery and the elements which followed to turn back and place themselves on the west route in the rear of the troops already moving on that road. This was successfully accomplished, but resulted in considerable delay in the arrival of the artillery. Traffic on the west route continued to roll fairly well until noon of December 17, when it was slowed by congestion resulting from the ever-thickening stream of friendly troops flowing west and northwest from the threatened Poteau – Vielsalm – Beho – St Vith area. Towards nightfall, the traffic congestion increased, and the 7-AD column stretching from Poteau through Vielsalm, Trois-Ponts and Stavelot to the north was brought to a complete standstill. The picture as described by Maj Donald P. Boyer, S-3, 38-AIB, gives some idea of the traffic conditions faced by the march columns as they tried to hasten to the defense of St Vith.

7AD-East&West

    My driver and I arrived at the road junction at Poteau at about 1230, December 17. We were about an hour ahead of the 38-AIB which was the lead unit in the Reserve Command’s march column. As we arrived at the road junction, we were hit by a sight that we could not comprehend, at first; a constant stream of traffic hurtling to the rear (to the west) and nothing going to the front (to the east). We realized that this was not a convoy moving to the rear; it was a case of ‘every dog for himself’; it was a retreat, a rout !

    Here would come a 2.5-ton, with only a driver, then another with several men in it (most of them bareheaded and in various stages of undress, next perhaps an engineer crane truck or an armored car, then several artillery prime movers – perhaps one of them towing a gun, command cars with officers in them. 1/4-tons-anything which would run and which would get the driver and a few others away from the front. It wasn’t orderly; it wasn’t military; it wasn’t a pretty sight – we were seeing American soldiers running away.

    About a mile farther up the road at the little town of Petit-Thier, all traffic had stopped. In fact, it was the most perfect traffic jam I have ever seen. We had run into this hopeless mass of vehicles fleeing to the rear on a narrow road which would barely support two-way traffic at slow speeds. Vehicles streaming to the rear had attempted to pass each other in the intervals between the tanks of the 31-TB, which was leading CCB, and now no one could move.

    It was already 1515 and from the looks of the road jam, neither the tanks nor anything else was going to reach St Vith for a long time. Lt Col Fuller, Cpl Cox, and I took over the job of clearing a path for the tanks, and we started getting vehicles to move over to the sides. Slowly a path was beginning to open and the tanks began to roll along at a snail’s pace with halts ever 50 to 100 feet. Several times we had to wave the lead tank forward at full speed when some vehicle refused to pull over. Usually the sight of 30-odd tons of steel roaring down on him was all we needed to get the driver to move over.

    Several times senior officers in command cars attempted to pull out into a space which I was opening up, and each time I told them to get back, that I didn’t care who they were, nothing was coming through except our tanks and anything else which was headed for the front, and to get out of the way. One company commander, Capt Dudley J. Britton, B Co, 23-AIB, said : ‘that day I saw the highest ranking traffic cops I have ever seen’. Finally, at 2015, A Co entered St Vith, followed closely by B Co and Headquarters Cos. It had taken two and one-half hours for a company to move three miles – all because of the vehicles fleeing to the rear with men who refused to pull aside and let troops through (troops who actually would save them if they could reach the town before the Germans did). There was one of the biggest tragedies of St Vith; that American soldiers fled, and by their fleeing crowded the roads over which reinforcements were coming; and thus prevented the arrival of these reinforcements in time to launch a counterattack to save the 422-IR and the 423-IR (106-ID), then cut off by the Germans east of St Vith.


The Battle of St Vith – The Big Picture – Part One
[youtube width=”600″ height=”400″]https://youtu.be/mxt_4dWmvpY[/youtube]


Gen Clarke commented on the traffic conditions as follows ;

    The panic of the afternoon of December 17 was so great at the road crossing just west of St Vith that an officer I stationed there to stop rearward movement was pushed aside by senior officers and I had to take charge personally to control the traffic.

7-AD-023-1

The Defense is Organized
At 1200, December 17, the situation in the St Vith area was critical. The 14-CG on the north of the 106-ID had been driven back to about a north-south line through St Vith. Their situation was one of confusion and was extremely hazy. To the east of St Vith, the 422 and 423-IRs of the 106-ID was cut off to the southeast of Schoenberg. Communication with them by radio was sporadic. To the south of St Vith, CCB-9AD, was attacking to try to retake Winterspelt (Germany). To its south, the 424/106-ID was holding the line. To their south, the situation was hazy. There was practically no tie-in of the units mentioned with units on their flanks.

St-Vit-17-12-1944

The 14th Cavalry Group had been driven back to positions shown here and were under heavy pressure from the enemy. To the east of St Vith the 422-IR and 423-IR (106-ID) were cut off. CCB-9-AD was attacking toward Winterspelt. The 424/106-ID was holding a line to the south.

The plan for an immediate attack east from St Vith, to take and hold Schoenberg and open escape corridors for the two surrounded regiments could not be carried out; it was impossible to bring the 7-AD up to the St Vith area over the traffic-congested roads in time to launch the attack that afternoon. CCB-7-AD (Clark) established its command post in a school building in the southeast corner of St Vith; the same building housed the command post of the 106-ID. Staff members of CCB tried to get a relatively accurate picture of the situation from officers of the 106-ID; but it was obvious that the shock of the initial German blow, together with their lack of combat experience, had partially disrupted the staff functioning of the 106. All kinds of rumors were being spread; men who had fled from the front, apparently seeking to justify their action, gave an exaggerated and inaccurate picture of what was taking place. The situation most certainly was bad, and the impression that officers of CCB got was that the 106-ID no longer existed as an effective division.

106Infantry_Division.svgAs staff sections of CCB began to arrive, carrying their equipment into the building, they met men from the 106-ID Headquarters leaving with their equipment. The defense of the St Vith sector was turned over to Gen Clarke, the CG of CCB-7-AD, by Gen Jones the CG of the 106-ID at about 1430, December 17, and was largely in his hands for the remainder of the action. At the time of the transfer, the enemy was only about three or four thousand yards from the town, and small-arms fire from the east was coming into the vicinity of the command post. The troops from the 106-ID, which came under Gen Clarke’s command, were :

    Headquarters Co, 81st Engr Bn, Lt Col T. J. Riggs
    Headquarters Co, 168th Engr Bn, Lt Col W. L. Nungesset
    1st Plat, F Co, 423rd Inf Regt, (106-ID CP guard)
    275th Armd Fld Arty Bn (Separate)(105-MM)

This artillery battalion, the 275-AFAB (Separate) assigned to VIII Corps and in position near Ober Emmels (Belgium). They had remained in place despite the fact that no friendly troops were between them and the enemy. They had shifted their batteries so as to form road blocks, and had sited their guns for direct fire. When the 7-AD began to arrive at St Vith, the commanding officer of the 275-AFAB, Lt Col Clay, offered his battalion’s services to Gen Clarke and this unit provided the entire artillery support for the initial defense until the organic artillery of the 7-AD could be brought up into position. The infantty platoon and the engineer elements were sent to the east of St Vith with instructions to proceed until they met Germans and then to dig in and hold. These troops furnished the only resistance to the German advance on St Vith until the arrival of 7-AD units.

The build-up of a defensive cordon around the town was a piecemeal procedute, units being placed in the line as they atrived. Troop B of the 87-CRS was the first unit to arrive. This troop was placed in position on the left of the road block established by the troops from the 106-ID. Other troops from CCB were added to the right and left as they arrived until a defensive line was formed east and notth of St Vith. On the 17, Troop B, dismounted, went into the center of the line with 6 officers and 136 men. On the 23, this troop had a strength of 47 enlisted men and no officers; casualties included the troop commander, Capt Robert J. Stewart, who was killed. The 87-CRS (minus Troop B) was sent to the northeast of St Vith in the Wallerode (Belgium) area to contact the 14-CG and to protect and screen the left flank. The next unit to arrive was the 38-AIB, less one company. It was put to the east of St Vith, and Lt Col William H. G. Fuller, 38-AIB, was given command of that sector, including elements of the 106-ID in place. He was also given Troop B of the 87-CRS, and later on that evening was reinforced with B Co of the 23-AIB and A Co of the 31-TB. The remainder of CCB (31-TB (-), 23-AIB (-), B Co 33-AEB) closed in the assembly area to the west of St Vith. Before midnight, on December 17, CCB was disposed as shown bellow.

7-AD-St Vith-0

The build-up of the defense was a piecemeal procedure. At about 1530, elements of Hqs Co, 81-ECB, under Lt Col T. J. Riggs; 168-ECB (-) under Lt Col Nungesser; and one platoon of infantry (1/F/423) established a road block east of St Vith. Troop B (Capt R. J. Stewart) (87-CRS) was placed to the north of this road block. About 1630 B Co (Capt D. J. Britton) of the 23-AIB was placed south of the road block. A Co (Capt R. C. Foster) of the 31-TB was placed south of the road block. A Co (Capt W. H. Antsey) (38-AIB) was placed north of Troop B, 87-CRS and all troops to the east of St Vith were attached to the 38-AIB under Lt Col W. H. G, Fuller. Troops of the 87-CRS were sent to the north to secure that flank. Other CCB units closed in assembly areas west of St Vith before midnight.

At 0200, the Germans launched the first of the bitter attacks which were to be hurled at the 7-AD during the next six days. The attack hit Reserve Command to the north of St Vith and seemed to be a drive to take Recht. Germans of the 1. SS-Panzer-Divisions (LSSAH) struck with such force in this night attack that withdrawal of Reserve Command Headquarters to Poteau was ordered. The Germans made effective use of flares shot from their tanks to silhouette out tanks and blind our gunners. The 17-TB (plus C Co, 38-AIB), commanded by Lt Col John P. Wemple, took up positions south of Recht where they could place commanding fire on the town and could assist in covering the north flank of CCB, which was now seriously threatened.

Stopped by Reserve Command, the Germans continued their squeeze play on the St Vith area during the cold, misty morning when at 0800 they hit CCB with a well-coordinated attack by infantry supported by heavy tanks. From the north the attack moved in on Hunningen and from the east against the line across the Schoenberg road. Hunningen was lost temporarily, but an aggressive counter-attack was mounted by CCB, using three medium tank companies and one tank destroyer company (B Co, 31-TB; plus two medium tank companies from the 14-TB; A Co, 811-TDB, borrowed from CCB-9-AD). The crossroad was recaptured at a cost to the Germans of seven tanks and one armored car destroyed, and over 100 infantry killed. On the east, CCB restored the line with a counter-attack by two medium tank companies (A and C Cos, 31-TB) after initial penetrations had been made. Such counter-attacks, carried out by CCB with aggressiveness and determination, were characteristic of the defense of St Vith and must have caused the Germans to think the defenders were in greater strength than was the case.

While the northern and eastern flanks had been heavily engaged, the northeastern sector (Troop A, 87-CRS; A Co, 38-AIB; Troop B, 87-CRS) had been had been rather quiet. The only excitement there had been when an M-8 armoted car from Troop B destroyed a Tiget tank. The armored car had been in a concealed position neal the boundaly of Troop B, 87-CRS and A Co, 38-AIB, when the Tiger approached the lines at right angles to move along a trail in ftont of the main line of resistance. As the tank passed the armored car, the latter slipped out of position and started up the trail behind the Tiger, accelerating in an attempt to close. At the same moment the German tank commandet saw the M-8, and started traversing his gun to beat on it. It was a race between the Ameticans, who were attempting to close so that their 37-MM gun would be effective on the Tiget’s thin rear armor, and the Germans, who were despetately striving to bring their 88 to beat. Rapidly the M-8 closed to 25 yards, and quickly pumped in thee rounds; the lumbeting Tiget stopped and shuddered; there was a muffled explosion, followed by flames which billowed out of the tutret and engine ports, after which the armored car returned to its position. This action was reported to Maj Donald P. Boyer, S-3, 38-AIB, by Capt W. H. Anstey (CO A Co, 38-AIB) who witnessed the engagement.

At about 1000, during the fighting on the notth and east flanks, the 31-TB received the disturbing news that its trains, togethet with those of the 23-AIB, were separated from the rest of the battalion, and fighting a despetate action against strong combat pattols pushing west from Poteau. The two service companies had spent the night near Petit-Thier and were preparing to move up and join their battalions when they were attacked. Using cooks, mechanics, clerks, and a few casuals as infantry, and three tanks, which had just been repaired, the trains successfully disengaged and moved to the rear, then south, and finally into position at Krombach (Belgium), about four miles southwest of St Vith.

M8 Bulge

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