Report about the employment of 4 Tank Destroyer Battalions in the ETO. Officers Advanced Course, Armored School.
644th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Self Propelled), By Maj William F. Jackson, Maj John E. Wales III, Maj Marshall B. Garth, Maj John A. Rankin, Maj Alfred L. Dibelia, Maj Robert Hall, Capt George F. Sawyer, Capt Robert L. Perley, Capt James L. Higgins
Operations of 644-TDB in the Ardennes
The 644-TDB (SP), commanded by Col Ephriam F. Gaham, sailed from the USA on Jan 2, 1944, on board of the HMT Aquitania. The battalion landed in Northern Ireland on Jan 13 and there continued its training with emphasis placed on indirect fire. This unit left the USA equipped with the 3-inch motor gun carriage M-10 (76.2-MM), the vehicle it retained throughout its operations in Europe. On May 10, the Battalion moved to Hungerford, England, where, along with more training, preparations were made for the move to the Normandy Peninsula. In order to provide protection for the crews against artillery fragments, a cover for each tank destroyer turret was made. These covers were made of one quarter inch armor plate. They completely covered the overhead openings of the turrets. The battalion landed in Europe on Utah Beach on Jul 11. The major portion of the battalion moved across the English Channel on Jul 11 in Landing Ships and Landing Tank. The remainder of the battalion, also in LST’s and under the control of its executive officer, Maj Edward R. Garton, crossed the following day. On Jul 15, the 644-TDB was attached to the 8-ID and although elements of the battalion were from time to time attached to other divisions, the battalion itself remained so attached until early Dec 1944.
In late autumn 1944, the US forces driving across Europe were confronted with the Roer River in their northern sector. The crossing of the river itself as it flowed at this time presented no great problem. However, located on this German river in the vicinity of Urft and Paulushoff were two very important and well-defended dams. The importance of these dams was fully realized by both the Allies and the Germans. Should these dams be blown, the released water would cause the river below to become so swollen and swift that a relatively small defending force could render a military crossing in this area next to impossible.
The US 1-A (Gen Courtney H. Hodges) stated in its report of operations for that period ‘since the middle of September our attention had been directed toward the problem presented by the Roer River dams. It was realized at that time that no large-scale crossing of the Roer River below the dams could be undertaken until they were in friendly hands’. The V Corps (1-A), stretched thin its lines in the south so that it might assemble a force in sufficient strength to attack these dams. Early in December, changes were made in the V Corps dispositions in order to attack in the area of the Roer Dams. On Dec 7, the newly attached 78-ID commenced to arrive and close one of its regiments into assembly areas in the zone of the V Corps, its second regiment arriving the following day.
On Dec 10, the 2-ID commenced moving its units from front line positions in the Schnee Eifel area to the area of V Corps. On Dec 12, CCB of the 9-AD was attached to the V Corps as well as the 2-ID which was attached at 1030 and closed in assembly areas. Still, on Dec 12, the 78-ID took over the center of the corps front from Lammersdorf to Monschau, relieving the 102-CG. To its left, the 8-ID continued along the line of the Kall to include the Brandenberg Ridge. To its right, the 99-ID still held the front from Monschau to the corps southern boundary in the Bucholz Forest Northwest to Losheim, Germany. The 2-ID was now assembled in the town of Elsenborn (Camp & Vicinity) ready to participate in the attack by passing through part of the 99-ID front.
The V Corps order of the battle on Dec 13, 1944, was as follows ‘front line units being listed in order from north to south, 8-ID; 78-ID; 2-ID; 99-ID; CCB 9-AD (in reserve); 102-CG (in reserve) and CCR 5-AD (in reserve)’.
Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his account of World War II, wrote the following in connection with the situation existing in this area ‘through late November and early December the badly stretched condition of our troops caused constant concern. In order to maintain the two attacks that we then considered important, we had to concentrate forces in the vicinity of the Roer dams on the north and bordering the Saar on the south. This weakened the static, or protective, force in the Ardennes region. For a period we had a total of only three divisions on a front of some seventy-five miles between Trier and Monschau and were never able to place more than four in that region. Our conclusion was that in the Ardennes region we were running a definite risk but we believed it to be a mistaken policy to suspend our attacks all along the front merely to make ourselves safe until all reinforcements arriving from the United States could bring us up to peak strength.
In the fall of 1944, the German troops and equipment at the front were generally in a poor state after ten years of fighting and repeated Allied bombings of industries and transportation. The Germans were engaged in the east along a wide front against the Russians. On the western front, the Allies were attacking the border of the Homeland. The German defenders had been forced back to the Siegfried Line and in the north to the line of the Roer River. Hitler, anxious to regain the initiative and bolster home front morale, was extremely desirous of mounting an offensive. He reasoned that no decisive objectives could be gained on the Eastern front against the unlimited Russian manpower. In the west, prospects looked better to him. An attack through the difficult but thinly held Ardennes could with surprise cross the Meuse River, capture the port of Anvers, and destroy the northern half of the Allied Forces. The Siegfried positions were to be held with a minimum of troops. The best units were withdrawn, reorganized and completely reequipped for this grand offensive.
Three armies were to attack. On the north, Dietrich’s 6-SS-Panzer-Army; in the center, Manteuffel’s 5.Panzer-Army; on the south, Brandenberg’s 7.Panzer-Army. The 6.SS-Panzer-Army assigned the major effort was forced, because of the terrain and narrow front, to attack with Hermann Preiss’s I.SS-Panzer-Corps followed by Wilhelm Bittrich’s 2.SS-Panzer-Corps. The plan was that the Corps was to break through on its own sector of the enemy’s main field of combat with three infantry divisions, the 277.VGD (right) to reach the area of Elsenborn, the 12.VGD (center) to reach the area of Nidrum Weywertz and the 3.Fall-Div (left) to reach the area of Schoppen Elberdingen. Gen Kraemer, chief of staff of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army, in his report of the commitment of that army, wrote the following ‘the best division was the 12.VGD which had an especially skilled Commander and had fought excellently in the Battle of Aachen’.
The 1.SS-Panzer-Division and the 12.SS-Panzer-Division were not to be used in the initial breakthrough. The strength of these divisions was to be conserved for the thrust beyond this. On Dec 14, at noon, the Corps took over the command of its attack sector and following formations were committed in the sector, the 277.VGD, the right-wing of which stood at the edge of the wood about 2000 Meters southeast of Alzen, and thus, inside the sector of the contiguous corps (LXVII). The left-wing was near Losheim, 1 battalion of the neighboring corps on the left (LXVI) was near Krewinkel. On the evening of Dec 15, the 12.VGD and the 3.Fall-Div moved into their attack sectors and assembly areas.
Situation immediately before the attack
The reinforced Battalion of the 277.VGD, which was in the LXVII Corps sector, had not been relieved so that it was absent at the beginning of the attack. This weakened the right-wing attack group. The 12.VGD had completed its preparations according to plan and had undertaken its own security. The 3.Fall-Div, which had been put under Corps command on Dec 14 by the CG Army Group, arrived during the early evening of Dec 15 with only two regiments (the second regiment of which was without heavy weapons in some of the elements). At 0530, Dec 16, the artillery opened its preparatory fire.
Operations – Pre-battle movement
In the early days of Dec, the 8-ID (1-A) was fighting its way through the Hurtgen Forest in an attempt to capture the Roer River Dams. The resistance displayed by the Germans proved too stubborn for such a head-on attack by this depleted division. Gen Courtney Hodges, CG 1-A, organized a new plan calling for a strong ground thrust from the south, just north of the Ardennes, aimed at these all-important dams. The attack was to be made by the 2-ID on Dec 13. To add more power to the attack, the V Corps, ordered on Dec 8 the 644-TDB (less one Gun Co and one Recon Platoon) detached from the 8-ID and attached to the 2-ID, then commanded by Gen Walter M. Robertson.
The order was received on Dec 8 and the battalion commander accompanied by Capt Harry L. Godshall (644 S-3), proceeded immediately to the HQs of the 2-ID located at St Vith, Belgium, where orders for the battalion to proceed to Sourbrodt, Belgium, on Dec 11 were received. Graham and Godshall returned then to the battalion area, located at Hurtgen, Germany on Dec 9, and plans were formulated for the move.
On Dec 10, the 817-TDB (Towed), a unit believed to be less suited for offensive operations because its weapons were towed, relieved the 644-TDB, less Baker Co, and one platoon of the Recon Co. The battalion moved to Sourbrodt the next day. From this point on, in this report, when the 644-TDB is mentioned, it is to be understood that it is referring to the Battalion less Baker Co and one platoon of the Recon Co.
On the morning of Dec 11, at approximately 0930, the battalion set out on its move from Huertgen to Sourbrodt. The distance was approximately 30 miles. The weather was very bad and all roads were covered with snow. No enemy interference was encountered, however, the battalion completed the move without incident at 1745 the same day. The battalion CP was set up in Sourbrodt and the tank destroyers were serviced and made ready for the operations to come.
On Dec 12, Able 644 was attached to the 9-IR, then located at Rocherath. Able 644 moved to the regiment’s assembly area located in the Monschau Forest north of Rocherath and closed by dark. Charlie 644 was attached to the 38-IR which was at that time located in the Military Camp in Elsenborn. Plans were made to move Charlie 644 forward to the regiment’s assembly area on order. The remainder of the 644-TDB was attached to the 2-ID Artillery. The plan to capture the Roer River Dams initially called for the 9-IR to pass through the positions held by the 2nd Recon Troop and the 99-ID north of Rocherath, and to attack and seize that portion of the Siegfried Line located at the Wahlerscheid Road Junction (Heartbreak Crossroads). The regiment was then to swing north and seize the town of Rohren (Germany) lying to the north beyond the Monschau Forest. When the 9-IR had taken Wahlerscheid, the 38-IR was to pass through the 9-IR and advance through the Monschau Forest toward Dreiborn (Germany).
At 0830, the 9-IR began the attack as planned. The regiment advanced through the woods along both sides of the Rocherath Wahlerscheid Road. Because the woods on both sides of this road contained many swamps, the tanks and tank destroyers were confined to the road. With the morning had come a sudden thaw. The snow on the road turned to slush. The visibility was very poor. In order to gain surprise, no artillery preparations were fired. By 1330, the regiment had advanced to within 600 yards of the Wahlerscheid Road Junction. There it met a German strongpoint impervious to quick attack. The road junction was defended by 24 enemy pillboxes placed 20 or 30 yards apart. In front of these pillboxes was an AT ditch, a wide belt of barbed wire concertinas, and thickly sewn AP mines. The Rocherath Wahlerscheid Road was also mined, thereby denying the infantry the direct fire support of the tanks and tank destroyers.
Operations December 14 The regiment was not successful in its efforts to seize this strong point. This was largely due to the lack of effective supporting artillery and to the weather, which kept our tactical bombers grounded. On this date, the 644-TDB forward CP moved to Rocherath. The battalion forward CP, as was normal, consisted of the battalion commander, the S-2 and S-3 sections, and the Recon Co.
Operations December 15. The morning of Dec 15, found the weather still too hazy for the use of tactical bombing. The 9-IR spent the day patrolling and probing the objective. The 38-IR made plans this date to relieve the 9-IR on Dec 16. The regiment planned to employ the 3/38 in a flank attack against the position from the southeast. During the day, routes and positions were reconnoitered for the attached tanks and tank destroyers so that their direct fire weapons could be brought to bear on the objective, thereby assisting the 3/38 in the main attack. Just after dark (Dec 15) Col Walter M. Higgins, CO 2/9, sent a patrol to cross the German lines. The patrol reported the Germans off guard and an attack in strength was made by the 2/9. The attack was successful. The 1/9 and the 3/9 advanced through the gap made in the enemy lines by the 2/9, prior to daylight on Dec 16. By 1200, what was to be remembered as Heartbreak Crossroads was taken and the 9-IR was in the process of consolidating its positions. Due to the success of the 9-IR attack, the 38-IR did not carry out the attack planned the previous day, but advanced North to pass through the 9-IR as called for in the original plan. By 1700, the 38-IR was located in a defensive position for the night along the high ground approximately 1000 meters directly east of the Wahlerscheid Crossroad.
Charlie 644, which had been in support of the 38-IR was disposed as follows on Dec 16, the 2nd Platoon was located just east of the Rocherath Wahlerscheid Road, approximately 5500 meters north of Rocherath. The 1st Platoon was located approximately 3000 meters north of Rocherath and 600 meters east of the Rocherath Wahlerscheid Road in the vicinity of the 2/395-IR (99-ID). The remainder of Charlie 644 was located in Rocherath where the company CP had been moved on this date. Late in the evening of Dec 16, Able 644 and Charlie 644 were ordered released to 644-TDB control as of Dec 17.
Operations December 16. On Dec 16, the Germans launched their counter-offensive in the Ardennes. Their attack extended from Kesternich (Germany) in the north to include all of the Luxembourg frontiers in the couth. In the area immediately concerning the 2-ID, the Germans had attacked the over-extended 99-ID lines and succeeded in local penetrations. The US lines held, however, and by the end of the day, the situation was partially restored. The Germans had in their attack, succeeded in breaking contact between the 99-ID on the north in Manderfeld and the 106-ID on the south of this town. Manderfeld had been captured. On the afternoon, the 23-IR (2-ID), then located at Camp Elsenborn, received orders to attach its 1/23 and the 3/23 to the 99-ID. The 1/23 was attached to the 394-IR. This battalion left on trucks at 2330 and proceeded to Bullingen where the troops were detrucked and marched southeast to Hunningen where the battalion took up a defensive position. The 3/23 was attached to the 393-IR and left its area on trucks at 1400. At 1630 the battalion arrived at the western edge of the Krinkelt Forest and immediately deployed north and south of the road in the 393-IR area. The 2/23, under 23-IR control, was moved at 1345 a distance of approximately 15 miles by truck to an assembly area 3000 meters north of Krinkelt, arriving at 1430.
Operations December 17-18. Early on Dec 17, the 1.SS-Panzer-Division committed its armor in the attack. The division smashed to the northwest on the railroad running from Losheim to Butgenbach and overran the town of Honsfeld. By 0830, the armored force was in Bullingen, and shortly thereafter sent an armored thrust northwest toward the villages of Wirtzfeld and Krinkelt. The 644-TDB received information about the heavy armor attack advancing toward Bullingen. One platoon of the Recon Co, commanded by Lt Edward B. Patterson, was immediately sent to establish and maintain contact with the enemy tanks. The platoon was surrounded in Bullingen and the 1st Section was captured. The 2nd Section escaped capture by breaking from the encirclement.
To meet the enemy armor thrust driving from the southeast the 1st Platoon Charlie 644, and one platoon of the 741-TB were ordered to pick up infantry of the 23-IR (2-ID) and proceed south. At 0845 the tank destroyers and tanks contacted Easy 23 north of Rocherath. With the company of infantry mounted on the tanks and the tank destroyers, the small force moved south through Rocherath and into Krinkelt. Col Stokes, ADC 2-ID, met these tanks and tank destroyers at Krinkelt. He ordered the tank destroyers and that part of Easy 23 mounted on them to go to Wirtzfeld. The four tanks and accompanying infantry, he ordered to Bullingen under Capt Byrd.
The tanks had gone only a short distance out of Krinkelt when they encountered a Mark IV tank, a half-track, and an armored car. The infantry dismounted and took cover while the tanks prepared to open fire. Meanwhile, the three tank destroyers which had turned right toward Wirtzfeld sighted the enemy vehicles. After the infantry had dismounted, the tank destroyers immediately, opened fire and knocked out all three enemy vehicles. The infantry from the tanks and tank destroyers joined forces and captured 12 prisoners who were hiding along the road in the vicinity of the three enemy vehicles.
Able 644 (less 2nd Plat), had been ordered to Wirtzfeld early on the morning of Dec 17 and arrived just as the 1st Platoon of Charlie Co had knocked out the three enemy vehicles. The CO of Able 644 was wounded by a shell fragment and evacuated. Lt Clarence Steves assumed command of Able 644 and was ordered to provide anti-armor defense for Wirtzfeld, relieving Charlie without delay. The CO of Charlie 644 was ordered to provide AT defense for the Rocherath and Krinkelt area. With the bulk of the battalion located in Wirtzfeld and Krinkelt, the forward CP (less the Recon Co) was moved to Wirtzfeld. Capt Godshall, the battalion S-3, was ordered to take command of Able 644 late in the afternoon of this date. The CO of the 38-IR assumed responsibility for the defense of the Krinkelt – Rocherath area.
The 2/9, and the 3/9 (less King Co) had moved from Wahlerscheid down to Wirtzfeld about noon on Dec 17. The 2/9 was given the mission of protecting the road out of Wirztfeld to the east. The 3-9 (less King Co) was positioned between Wirtzfeld and Bullingen with the mission of protecting Wirtzfeld from the direction of Bullingen which was in the hands of the Germans. The CO of the 9-IR was made responsible for the defense of Wirtzfeld where his CP was now located. From the time the elements of the tank destroyer battalion moved to Wirtzfeld and Krinkelt, heavy artillery fell throughout the area.
On Dec 17, the Germans pushed forward directly from the east in an attempt to take Rocherath and Krinkelt and joined its southern forces attacking toward Bullingen and Butgenbach. The enemy unit making this attack directly from the east was the 277.VGD reinforced (Gen Wilhelm Viebig) with assault guns.
The plan for this attack was recorded by SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Kraemer as follows: the 277.VGD was to continue their attack on both sides of Udenbreth past Krinkelt and Wirtzfeld from a later assault on Sourbrodt south Elsenborn. The division was reinforced by an assault gun detachment that had not been ready for the commitment on Dec 16 because the last parts of this detachment could only be extricated during the night of Dec 15/16. It was to be expected that the division with their attack in the direction of Elsenborn would gain terrain and contain the enemy forces that were situated in this area.
The seriousness of the attack was realized by Gen Walter M. Robertson (CG 2-ID). One Platoon of Able 644 was sent to guard the crossroads located about 1400 meters east of Rocherath. Also sent to this location were the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon of King Co and the 1st Platoon of Mike Co, all elements of the 3/9-IR. Orders to proceed to this location were received while this unit was proceeding south between Rocherath and Wirtzfeld. The units bearing the brunt of the German attack aimed east toward Rocherath were those of the 23-IR (2-ID) and the 393-IR (99-ID). It was apparent that this line was about to give way to the German thrust. The movement of the 1/9 to the south was intercepted by Gen Robertson about 4000 meters north of Rocherath. The battalion was ordered to move to the road junction recently occupied by the platoon of Able 644. Gen Robertson punctuated the urgency of the situation by personally loading the leading elements of the infantry in commandeered 2 1/2 ton trucks and leading them to within 1000 meters of the road net. The CO of the 1/9 had orders to command all friendly troops in the area. The battalion managed to get Able and Baker Cos astride the road facing southeast just as darkness fell.
The CO of the 1/9 having of necessity left all the battalion AT mines in the Wahlerscheid area, contacted the tank destroyer platoon leader and arranged for the use of AT mines in the possession of the tank destroyer platoon.
The problem of setting up a defense in this area at this time was extremely difficult. The elements in contact with the enemy were falling back in a disorganized fashion. The area was subjected to direct enemy machine-gun fire. With darkness setting in the units attempted to set up their defenses in an unfamiliar area. The CO of Item 23-IR arrived without men from the east. He was shown the area he would occupy and defend when and if he could get control of his company. A hurried defense plan was given the company commanders at the 1st Bn CP, located 300 yards northwest of the crossroads. The battalion artillery liaison officer had been out of contact with his artillery battalion for over two hours. He worked feverishly to restore communications and as darkness set in he succeeded. He immediately planned his defensive fires along the road in front of the position.
With the darkness came the first enemy attack. The entire situation was confusing. While the enemy was attacking, elements of the withdrawing front line units were entering the battalion’s position from the same direction. In attempting to allow friendly elements to pass into this position, enemy vehicles, including tanks, were allowed to pass through.
When this was discovered, a daisy chain, made of the tank destroyer platoon’s antitank mines, was dragged across the road. This measure along with artillery fire support and direct fires from the battle position stopped the attack. By midnight this force had destroyed five enemy tanks and an undetermined number of foot troops. Throughout the night artillery fire was placed continuously in front of the position.
At 0645, Dec 18, the full force of the German armor fell in this zone. Every means at hand was employed to repel this attack, but the task became impossible. Had it not been for a platoon of Able 741-TB, which was sent forward to the position about noon, this unit could not have been withdrawn. By employing tremendous amounts of artillery fire and counter-attacks by the tank platoon, the defenders were able to withdraw through the 2/38-IR, and assemble 2000 meters northwest of Rocherath. For this action at the crossroads near Rocherath, known to the men of the battalion as Purple Heart Corner, the 1/9-IR, received a Presidential Citation. Throughout this entire defensive action, the 2nd Platoon Able 644, remained in its position at the crossroads, lending its support to the 1st Bn. The platoon withdrew with the 1st Bn. This platoon proceeded to Krinkelt on the afternoon of Dec 18 and was attached to Charlie 644.
The German’s view of the action of December 18 on this front as expressed by Gen Kraemer, was as follows: The attempts, to win the roads from Monschau to Euskirchen to the Camp at Elsenborn, and from there the roads from Bullingen to Waimes were continued in cooperation with 277.VGD, that continued the attacks near Udenbreth. The 277.VGD advanced well forward on Dec 18 and took the heights north of Wirtzfeld. With this, the Division was freed and together with the 12.VGD could attack in the direction of Elsenborn. This was ordered for Dec 19. The attacks in Monschau and in Elsenborn had to be under the direction of LXVII Corps. The 12.VGD had, together with the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, taken Bullingen a hard battle. Both divisions fought for Butgenbach against a strongly defended enemy who for the first time attacked with tanks.
When the CP of the 644-TDB moved from Rocherath to Wirtzfeld on Dec 17, the Recon Co (less one platoon) remained in its position in Rocherath. At about 2030 that night, the Germans who had passed through, and to the south of the defensive position of the 1/9-IR, forced their attack into Rocherath. The attack fell in the area of the Recon Co. The CP group was organized by the commanding officer and the company attempted to repel the enemy attack. The company managed to hold off the attackers until late in the morning of Dec 18, at which time the attack ceased. During this action, the company destroyed an enemy tank, damaged another, and accounted for about 20 casualties among the enemy. The company lost all vehicles open to the attackers’ view, but suffered only minor personnel casualties.
On Dec 18, the CO 644-TDB was made responsible for the AT defense of the Wirtzfeld area. Charlie 612-TDB (T), and three guns of the 801-TDB (T) were attached to the 644-TDB. Throughout the day of Dec 18, elements of the 394-IR (99-ID) and the 1/23-IR (2-ID) withdrew through the defensive positions of the Wirtzfeld Krinkelt area.
The 801-TDB had been attached to the 99-ID since Nov 9. This battalion had met the brunt of the German attack with the 99-ID. The three guns attached to the 644-TDB on Dec 18 were of the 1st Platoon Able 644. These were the only guns remaining in Able Co. Col F.B. Horsfall, the CO of the 801-TDB wrote of this in the unit’s after-action reports as follows: Dec 18, 1944, at 0215, the 1st Plat (Able 801) was ordered to proceed to Wirtzfeld thru Krinkelt. Upon reaching Wirtzfeld they met with the 23/2-ID. There they set up AT defense on the north and east side of the town with their remaining three guns. The rest of the company which had lost the majority of its equipment was employed with the infantry. All of the remaining guns of the battalion, less three in Wirtzfeld, were placed east of Elsenborn in AT defense. A provisional company was organized from these gun crews and placed under the command of Charlie 801s’ CO. The consensus of opinions of the plat leaders and the gun crews are that if it had not been for the fact of the non-mobility of the towed gun and the lack of armor protection for the gun crews and in most cases, the overrunning of the gun positions by the infantry many more tanks and vehicles could have been destroyed.
Enemy action on Dec 18 in the area consisted of armor and infantry attacks from the south and southeast. None of the attacks were successful, but the pressure being brought to bear by the powerful enemy caused the US forces to plan a general withdrawal to the better defensive terrain of the Ridge in Elsenborn approximately two miles west of Rocherath Krinkelt and Wirtzfeld. The pulling back of the forward units of V Corps resulted in the concentration of force in a tight semi-circle to the west of Elsenborn.
Operations December 19. The withdrawal was planned for the night of Dec 19. Enemy artillery fire was moderate during the withdrawal. Charlie 644 covered the withdrawal from Kinkelt-Rocherath as rear guard. Able 644 covered the withdrawal from Wirtzfeld which was set on fire. The withdrawal was accomplished without undue difficulty.
On the Elsenborn Ridge. Prior to daylight on Dec 20, one platoon of Charlie 644 moved into position on the high ground east of Berg in support of the 38/2-ID. Able 644 moved into reserve in Elsenborn. One Platoon of Able moved to high ground east of Elsenborn to provide AT protection from the east. The battalion forward CP was established in Berg. On the morning of Dec 20, the 2-ID CG, Gen Walter Robertson, called the CO of the 644-TDB, to personally commend the battalion.
Gen Kraemer recorded the actions of the Germans in this area on Dec 19, as follows: On that day the enemy counter-measures were quite obvious. The enemy resistance at the LXVII Army Corps was growing. Counter-attacks were made in the north. The terrain captured during the preceding days had to be given up. Kalterherberg south of Monschau was taken. The 277.VGD reached the road Forsterei Wahlerscheid-Rocherath. On the whole, no perceptible progress was made. (On Dec 18, a Volks-Artillery Corps was attached to the LXVII Army Corps and was moving up to the new positions. The 12.SS-Panzer-Division and 12.VGD of the I.SS-Panzer-Corps could no more advance against the increasing enemy forces. The terrain being very muddy, the infantry advanced only slowly, and the tanks could not be committed off from the road. Enemy anti-tank guns and tanks were well emplaced. Stronger artillery fire and the difficult terrain would probably prevent our breakthrough past Butgenbach because it was no more possible for the attacking forces to move into the assembly positions. Evidently the two divisions did not find the appropriate terrain for the attack, the battalions could not advance on the muddy ground and had to use the roads, where they were exposed to the enemy artillery. That caused temporarily an in-coordinated direction of the two divisions, Tanks, that during the morning hours had found by-passing road south of Butgenbach broke down in the mud at the west end of the village and only at night could be removed from there with great difficulties. A further advance was impossible the weather continued like this. Therefore, the Army gave an order in the afternoon that the 12.SS-Panzer-Division cease the attack, be extracted rapidly and assemble in the area Baasen, Losheim, Manderfeld and be sent either after the 1.SS-Panzer-Division or the 9.SS-Panzer-Division.
During the period covered by this report, the 644-TDB’s offensive operations were severely limited due to the terrain and weather. The method in which the battalion operated is shown, however. As was normal, the battalion itself was attached to the division artillery. The companies were attached to the infantry regiments. The platoons were attached to the infantry battalions. Then working with infantry on the offensive, the battalion attempted to operate in units no larger than platoon strength. On the defensive, the battalion operated where possible in company strength. At times, however, when it was more suitable, it operated in platoon strength. Also, because of their flexible organization, there were times when platoons were attached to companies of the battalion other than their parent companies. In regard to destroying enemy armor in this operation, the 38-IR recorded the following: in the attack, every effort was made to keep tanks and TD’s well forward to place direct fire on enemy fortifications and to repel any counter-attacks. When the enemy launched his offensive available elements of 741-TB and 644-TDB, were employed to counter enemy armor. Because of the superior firepower and frontal armor of the enemy tanks, our armor was employed in TD fashion, taking up firing positions along the flanks of approaches and placing their fire on the flank and rear of enemy tanks. The normal procedure in countering enemy armored attacks on Rocherath and Krinkelt was to take enemy armor under fire with medium artillery before it reached our lines; then to hit individual tanks from the flank without tanks, TD’s and 57-MM AT guns, and mop up infiltrations. Destroyed were set afire with gasoline-oil mixes poured on them and with termite grenades set in gun barrels that burned through the barrels. The 57-MM AT gun proved very unsatisfactory, only one effective hit being scored on the turret of one enemy tank. Medium artillery proved effective in breaking up enemy tank formations. The close teamwork between infantry, artillery, tanks and TD’s accounted for 69 known enemy tanks, plus several armored trucks and scout cars.
When the 2-ID had completed its withdrawal to the Elsenborn Ridge area, Gen Courtney Hodges phoned the following message to Gen Walter Robertson: What the 2-ID has done in these past four days will live forever in the history of the United States Army.
The 644-TDB indeed played an important part in the defense of this area, for during the period starting on the morning of Dec 17 and ending on the night of Dec 19, the battalion destroyed 17 enemy tanks, knocked out two SP guns, and damaged two enemy tanks.
Logistics and Personnel
The 644-TDB, during the period covered by this report, was well supplied with materials and personnel. Moving supplies from the battalion CP located at Sourbrodt to the forward CP in Rocherath became a problem when the Germans launched their counter-offensive. The only practical route from Sourbrodt to the forward CP was the Elsenborn, Butgenbach, Bullingen, Krinkelt road. On the morning of Dec 17, a battalion supply convoy moving to the west met the advancing Germans on the eastern edge of Bullingen. The supply vehicles were able to withdraw to Elsenborn. Only after much difficulty did they succeed in reaching the forward CP by moving over foot trails southeast of Elsenborn. Many routes appeared on the map in this area but these routes proved to be but trails. An engineer unit made a road from Wirtzfeld to Elsenborn by enlarging one of these trails and it was used by all units in the area for both supply and withdrawal.