Document Source: The German Winter Offensive, often called the Battle of the Bulge, which started on Dec 16 1944 at 0530, was terminated on Jan 16 1945 when the US 1-A and the US 3-A met at Houffalize, Belgium. This is an account of the initial contact established between the two armies. Maj Michael J. L. Greene
Thus, did Gen George S. Patton in his notes on the Bastogne Operation refer to the accomplishment of the mission which had been assigned to a Task Force composed of troops of the 41-CRS (Mecz). Although it would be difficult for one of the participants in this undertaking to condense 24 long hours into one simple sentence, it must be admitted that the 3-A commander’s note does state specifically what happened but from the Army HQs’ point of view. For those of us on the ground, the contact established between the 1-A and the 3-A at Houffalize on the morning of Jan 16, was the climax of a struggle against the Germans, the terrain, and the weather.
A month prior to this time, we of the 41st Cavalry Recon Squadron (Mecz) had been with the other elements of the 11th Armored Division in south-central England doubtful that we would ever get across the English Channel or into combat. When the sadden orders came for our move, we had no idea of the seriousness of the situation in Belgium, which became increasingly apparent as the squadron made a forced march from Cherbourg, France, to the Sedan-Givet area, the French-Belgian border, on the west bank of the Meuse River, thence across this river on Dec 24, with the dual mission of securing liaison with the British forces on the north and establishing contact with the enemy northeast of the Meuse River. It was not until this date that most of us in the lower units knew that the Germans had broken through the American lines in the Belgian Ardennes Sector as well as down south in the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, and were attempting to split the Allies with the crossing of the Meuse River.
We knew that we had finally realized our desire to get into the fight. For the next 21 days, we were actively engaged in the main effort to close the Bulge and shut the door to Western Europe that the von Rundstedt offensive’ had opened. The final phase of the fighting in the Ardennes Salient was characterized by the concerted drive by the 1-A and the 3-A on the key town of Houffalize, on the Ourthe River, a town situated about ten miles north of Bastogne. The 41-CRS was the 3-A unit which was given the mission of contacting the 1-A in the vicinity of Houffalize. This action by the squadron which terminated the Bastogne operation covered a 24-hour period which can be discussed in three phases, preparation; move to contact, and actual contact.
To achieve the proper perspective of this action, it will be necessary to consider first the preparatory phase, those few hours immediately preceding the assignment of the contact mission. During the month of Jan 1945, the entire weight of the 3-A was in the attack directed at driving the Germans behind the Siegfried Line. The 11-AD was directed to relieve elements of the 101-A/B in the vicinity of Longchamps, Belgium, and to launch an attack northwest as far as Bertogne, and thereafter east to seize and secure the high ground south of Houffalize.
On the morning of Jan 15, the 41-CRS (less Troop B) and attached to CCA (11-AD), was deployed along the northern fringe of the Assins Woods in the vicinity of Monnaville. These woods had been cleared of the enemy the day before in a dismounted attack by Troops A and C abreast with Troop E (assault guns) and Fox Co (light tanks) in direct support. The advance had been made against heavy mortar fire, some artillery, and moderate resistance from ground troops armed with automatic weapons. This action had inflicted heavy casualties on both troops, Troop A experienced particularly severe losses. Lack of the necessary detailed preparation and coordination for a dismounted attack by inexperienced troops was the underlying reason for the many casualties and resulting confusion in this troop. As the objectives were attained, it became necessary for Troop D to replace Troop A in the line so that the Commander of Troop A could reorganize and reequip his unit preparatory to resuming the attack on the next day.
At approximately 1800 that evening, elements of the 193-GIR (17-AB) were moved in to reinforce the squadron. The combined units, Airborne and Recon, were prepared to continue the attack on the right flank of CCA. Plans for the renewal of the attack were changed the next morning. At 1100 on Jan 16, the squadron was ordered to release control of its sector to the 17-A/B units, to withdraw from the position, reassemble in the vicinity of Monnaville, and then move to the north and east of Bertogne to protect the northern flank of CCA (11-AD) in its advance to the east. Fox Co moved first, at 1300, to the vicinity of Rastate, and out posted the roads to the north. At the same time, the 2nd Platoon of Troop A was assigned the mission of proceeding northeast to the Ourthe River, and to contact patrols of the 1-A in that area. Col H.M. Foy, the squadron commander, with the remainder of Troop A, proceeded to Bertogne to report to the CO of CCA, Gen W. A. Holbrook.
As a squadron executive officer, I was directed to remain in Monnaville and to direct the movement of the other troops (HQs, Charlie, Dog, and Easy). By 1630, all troops had been withdrawn and had started to Bertogne, so I closed the HQs in Monnaville and moved to the new sector. No sooner had I arrived in Bertogne and jumped from my half-track than Gen Holbrook and Col J.B. Williams, the division chief of staff, came speeding up in their Jeeps. They were obviously excited and were calling for Col Foy. I rushed to them, reported, and said that Col Foy was forward with Troop C. Mike, Gen Holbrook said, we have another mission that you and the remainder of the squadron must undertake. This is an extremely important mission. A must, directed by the Army commander. I told the general that I had some troops available and that we could start immediately.
What was the mission? Someone must get to Houffalize tonight and contact the 1-A as it comes down from the north, Gen Holbrook stated. Col Williams then spoke up, this is a delicate, difficult assignment for anyone because Houffalize is at least ten miles behind the German lines. But someone must get through to establish contact with the 2-AD as it comes down from Achouffe. They may already be there. Gen Patton wants this mission accomplished without delay and he wants this division to do it.
Here is an excellent recon squadron mission, Mike, Gen Holbrook reassured me. We’ve got to get around to the northern flank of the division and then through the German lines if they extend that far. It should be interesting. I instructed the S-3 to alert Troop D, an assault gun platoon, and any tanks that might be available. Then the general, the chief of staff, and I began a serious map study to see just what this assignment would entail.
True, Houffalize was approximately ten miles behind the lines; was on the dominating high ground; the routes of approach except by the main highway, were indistinct snow-covered trails through the woods and it was already getting dark! We had gotten word to Col Foy that an important situation had arisen, therefore he came back to the squadron CP. Then we were able to organize a small task force composed of Troops D and E, 2nd Platoon of Troop A, and Fox Co. I was placed in command of this composite group and assigned the mission of proceeding northeast to meet elements of the 1-A, believed to be in the vicinity of Houffalize, the Corps objective. As will be recalled, the tank company and the 2nd Platoon, Troop A, were an outpost and patrol missions on the combat command flank. These two units were directed by radio message to rally in the vicinity of Rastate and the commanders were to meet me at the edge of town for further orders
Since the morning of Jan 13, when this attack began, the full strength of the Corps had been focused on Houffalize. The Corps commander now directed that this objective be reached without further delay. CCA organized into two task forces, had been attacking eastward astride the Bertogne-Compogne-Mabompré road all during the day. An integral tank task force had pushed rapidly eastward clearing the Pied Du Mont Woods at 1130, Compogne at 1510, Rastate immediately thereafter, and Vellereux shortly before dark. During this attack by the CCA, the 41-CRS had been moving from Monnaville to Bertogne to be employed as the security element for the CCA left flank and as stated had just closed into Bertogne when the new mission was assigned.
I then left Bertogne, with Troop D and Troop E, at 1730 advancing northeast thence east to the previously indicated rallying point. One platoon of Troop D was sent ahead of the column as the point unit to conduct necessary route recon. Just as we were leaving, an A Troop Jeep carrying a seriously wounded sergeant came in from along our proposed route. The sergeant’s jeep had struck a mine some two miles from the village, and the sergeant believed that there was an extensive minefield across the field north of the Pied Du Mont Woods. If this were correct, the minefield would be located directly across our proposed route of march.
From Bertogne to Rastate, I rode in my half-track directly behind the last vehicle of the point. The column had advanced only about two miles when it came to a sudden halt. Anxious to keep moving as long as there was some daylight, I ran to the head of the column to ascertain the reason for the delay and found the Point commander was standing in front of the lead Jeep.
What’s the trouble, Tousley? I asked.
Major, we’ve found that minefield. Here it is, right in front of us and there don’t seem to be any clear lanes. (He had checked for about 100 yards on either side of the trail).
No mines were visible to our immediate front but they could be seen just under the snow to the right and left. I noted that there was evidence that 2 or more vehicles had passed through the mine belt a few feet to the right of the main trail. Not wanting to delay any longer and not being able to find any by-pass, I ordered one Jeep to move ahead along the trail, through the mines! The Jeep made it! The other vehicles of the point, six in all, then proceeded through the same gap. I stood at the entrance to watch them pass by. As the command half-track drove up, I stepped up on the battery box and motioned the driver forward. In the split second that followed, there was a terrific, blinding explosion and then everything went black for a few seconds. As I regained my senses, I found myself sprawled in the snow about ten feet from the badly damaged half-track. A quick check indicated that no one had been more than badly shaken, but that the half-track was now immobile. The left front wheel had struck one of the hidden AT mine just as the vehicle started forward.