Realizing that it would now be impossible to get any other vehicles through the obstacle at this point, I directed that all effort be devoted to finding a possible by-pass. Shortly thereafter, an enlisted man dashed up in a Jeep to say that he knew of a route around the mines and would guide us the rest of the way to Rastate (he then told me what he had been sent to meet us and show us the proper route). Had I waited for this guide or spent more time looking for this by-pass, I could have saved my half-track and some unnecessary strain on the men’s nerves. But in my mind there existed the definite possibility that this minefield could have delayed me for many hours. I believe that the loss of the half-track and the anxiety of the men were a very small price to pay to avoid delay, however. After I had commandeered an armored car from Troop D and re-established communications with my command and Sq HQs, we continued on to Rastate. Meanwhile, the other elements of the combat command were very heavily engaged with the enemy in the vicinity of Vellereux. These forces were striding the main road and were endeavoring to continue the advance to the northeast.

At 1910, the leading elements of the tank task force continuing eastward through a defile between Vellereux and Mabompré were heavily attacked on the northern flank by enemy tanks, artillery, and AT fire. As a result, the task force was forced to withdraw to the high ground west of Vellereux. The enemy was believed to have withdrawn in the direction of Bonnerue and Houffalize. All of this action had taken place while I was en route to Rastate from Bertogne. When I reached Rastate, I found that the tank company and the Troop A platoon were assembled as had been directed. The town and its inhabitants, civilian and military were in a state of complete confusion and excitement. Troops of the CCA task force, driven from a position east of Vellereux, were falling back into Rastate which was still burning as a result of the fighting that had taken place there a few hours earlier.

To add to the confusion, it was completely dark except for the light created by the burning buildings, and consequently the officers and non-commissioned were having a difficult time reorganizing their units. Capt Mullins, the Tank Company Commander, told me that he had assembled the other 41-CRS officers and NCOs in an abandoned house nearby. He knew that I would want to have these men together for the detailed planning and issuance of orders to affect the accomplishment of our assigned mission. As I opened the door into the improvised conference room, I heard the platoon leader of the 2nd Platoon, Troop A, Lt ‘Big Gone’ Ellenson say:

It can’t be done! I hope the major doesn’t think we’re going through there tonight! That is just when we’re going! I cut in, and the best, you’re going to lead the Way!

In spite of this spontaneous remark, I fully realized that it was going to take a great deal of map study and planning if I was to get this force to Houffalize.

Before any orders could be issued, it was imperative that I, assisted by suggestions from the other officers, make a thorough study of the situation and terrain that confronted us. This study reemphasized the fact that no one in our assembled group had ever made, a personal recon of the proposed area of operations, that it was now completely dark and visibility was very limited, and lastly, that none of us knew the location or the strength of the enemy. The region through which we were to move was typical of the entire Ardennes locale. There were no main roads – the only road of any consequence was a single lane dirt road from Rastate to Bonnerue thence north to the Ourthe River; all other routes were more logging trails through forests. The forests themselves were very hardly planted due to the Belgian Government’s replanting program.

If forced off any road or trail, the only alternative would be to dismount the men and walk. The map showed that the only available route from Bonnerue to Houffalize was a trail through the dense forests. This trail crossed a stream that flowed into the Ourthe River through a deep valley just west of Houffalize. As if these tricks of nature were not enough, we were faced with the problem of advancing through a minimum of eighteen inches of snow which had undoubtedly drifted in many places. My map study indicated clearly that the terrain would be as formidable, if not more so, than any enemy we might encounter. The meager facts supplied by the CCA elements that had been in action during the day were the only information we had of the enemy. The consensus of opinion was that, after the counter-attack in the vicinity of Vellereux, the Germans had withdrawn to the northeast in the direction of Houffalize or to the north in the direction of Bonnerue. It must be borne in mind, however, that any information obtained from combat elements tended to be slightly colored by fruitful imaginations. After careful consideration of all known facts, it was clear that contact could be expected en route to or in the vicinity of Houffalize.

Based upon a detailed map study, personal knowledge of the Ardennes-type terrain, and the enemy information available, I evolved my scheme of maneuver. The task force would advance initially in a column prepared to split into two forces, the main body and a recon unit, where possible. The mission of the so-called recon unit would be to continually probe the flanks for alternate routes. From Rastate, we would move in one column for about two thousand yards to a point where a trail branched to the right of the Rastate-Bonnerue road. I anticipated that the main route would be blocked at this point so I planned to have the recon unit select another route or outflank any hostile force at this junction. The entire force of the column had an organization in order of march at this time was as follows, Recon Unit, Troop D (less 1st Platoon) and 1st Platoon, Troop B. Main Unit, 2nd Platoon, Troop A, Fox Co (Tanks), Troop E (Assault guns)(less l platoon) and 3rd Platoon, Troop D. My command vehicle, a tank, was located at the head of Fox Co.

Upon clearing the woods south of Bonnerue, the scheme of maneuver called for us to skirt the village to the south and east and to reenter the woods on any passable trail. The Recon Unit was to locate, if possible, a feasible route around Bonnerue, into the woods, and thence on to the objective avoiding enemy contact in so far as possible. During this initial conference, no specific orders for the seizure of Houffalize were issued. This phase of the operation was still in the preliminary planning stage. However, in my mind, I envisioned that there were three distinct steps to be taken to assure the successful accomplishment of the mission.

The steps were 1, was to dispose troops to observe and contain any Germans still in the town; 2, was to seize the high ground south of Houffalize as a means of assisting CCA and 3, was to dispatch patrols across the Ourthe River in an effort to establish a junction with 2-AD. The plan for the advance on Houffalize was discussed with the key Officers and NCOs. I issued the necessary orders to implement this plan and directed that all personnel be thoroughly oriented as to our mission and the steps to effect its accomplishment. After these commanders had returned to their units and briefed their men, I ordered Troop D to initiate the move toward Houffalize. Troop D was en route by 2300 and a long tense night began.


When I departed from Rastate on that night of Jan 15, I did so very reluctantly. I had no conception of the potentialities of the next few hours, confused indication of enemy locations, no daylight recon of the route ahead, and visions of being another heroic but useless ‘Lost Battalion’. In spite of these shortcomings, however, I felt that I had a compact, effective force that was augmented by a sound, workable plan of operation. The combination of these two should form a successful team. I was soon to learn that the plan, as it is with all others, was subject to change without notice and that it must be highly flexible to be usable. Troop D, the leading element had advanced 2000 yards when the first change in plans occurred. At the road junction where the column was to split into two units, we found that we were blocked by several large craters that had been blown in the trail to the right. The woods here appeared to have been bombed or heavily shelled and as a result, it was impossible to use the other route.

Therefore I ordered the entire column to continue on the main axis of advance until we had emerged from the woods south of Bonnerue. At this point, I would make further changes that might be expedient. I had hoped to bypass Bonnerue by moving cross-country to the south and east. However, I soon found that this plan was not feasible. The country was open, not wooded, but the snow had effectively concealed any possible trails, and cross-country movement would be hampered by the rugged terrain. The only alternative was to go through the now dark village. The movement of the column was by bounds, one unit moving into and through the town while the other units covered this move.

By this means the entire column succeeded in getting through Bonnerue and onto the trail to the northeast without any incidents other than the fact that a few vehicles deviated slightly from the correct route. The next morning, another platoon of Troop A, passing through this same village, captured the remnants of a German company that had hidden there through the night. Upon reaching the high ground northeast of Bonnerue, the task force was reorganized and then continued its mission. The nature of the route from here on dictated that we proceed in one column through the La Couturie Wood to Houffalize. The composition of the column was now the 2nd Platoon, Troop A; Troop D (less 3 Platoon), and 1 Platoon, Troop E (attached), Fox Co, Troop E (less 1 Platoon), and the 3rd Platoon of Troop D.

Now the terrain, the night, and the weather became our main foes. Progress through this heavy sinister forest was a slow tedious undertaking. Lt Ellenson virtually walked the entire distance because it was necessary that he constantly check and recheck to be certain that he kept us on the correct route. Many times the map did not match the ground in either direction of location; very probably this disagreement was due to the illusion caused by the deep snow, the darkness, and the nervous tension. All of the men were ‘on the edge’, expecting an attack at any moment from any direction. Actually, no enemy was encountered during this movement, but I believe that the presence of a real enemy would have relieved a great deal of the nervous tension.

As it was, the column proceeded slowly, nervously, and anxiously through the long, dark night hoping that the next minute would bring some daylight and the objective. By 0300, we had reached the bridge (Pont du Sûhet), about two miles west of Houffalize. Upon arrival, I was greatly relieved to find it still intact. During my preliminary map study some six hours earlier, I had made a mental note of how an effective block could be created by destroying this bridge. However, the Germans had evidently missed an opportunity to delay our column because the bridge had not been destroyed. But before I could fully appreciate our good fortune at this point, I found that across the stream there was indeed an obstacle, motor effective than any man-made block. Immediately beyond the bridge, the trail went up a steep slope, about forty degrees, which was now covered by a coat of ice. It was impossible for any wheeled vehicles to move up this hill under their own power.

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