Mark V Panthers destroyed in Krinkelt

US Presidential Unit CitationAt 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not been for a platoon of Able 741-TB which was sent forward to the position about noon, this unit could not have been withdrawn.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.

NaziThe 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 Camp Elsenborn, and from there the roads from Büllingen to Waimes were continued in cooperation with 277.VGD, which 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 the LXVII Corps. The 12.VGD had, together with the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, taken Büllingen a hard battle. Both divisions fought for Bütgenbach against a strongly defended enemy who for the first time attacked with tanks.

Another Mark V Panther destroyed in Rocherath

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 of the 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.

TDB99-IDThe 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 sides 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 801-TDB’s CO. The consensus of opinions of the plat leaders and the gun crews is 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.

Winter is setting in

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.

Foxhole Freezing Weather and Snow - You found a place in the Army

NaziGen 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 against 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 was 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 a 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 if 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 area Baasen, Losheim, Manderfeld and be sent either after the 1.SS-Panzer-Division or the 9.SS-Panzer-Division.

Hunting Krauts all over the northern shoulder

Summary

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:

TD in the attack, every effort was made to keep tanks and TDs 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, 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, with 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 TDs accounted for 69 known enemy tanks, plus several armored trucks as well as 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, Büllingen, 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 Büllingen. 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.

Battlefield Relics from Doc Snafu (among tons of other things)

Conclusions (Doc Snafu)

During the harsh winter of 1944, an incredible quantity of men gave their lives for causes that belonged to them. The Germans had been of course easily indoctrinated facing the arrogance of the French Military and their Treaty of Versailles after World War One. At this time, there was not a single solution, in Germany, to find for its inhabitants a semblance of normal life as they had been reduced to the rank of slaves of the victors. It is obvious that this could lead to nothing but a Second World War a few years later. As for the Americans, the only fighters who resisted the German Offensive in this part of the battlefield, they had come from a free world, could not conceive of the reality of a dictatorship, and fought accordingly.

Then, often forgotten, there was the civilian population, most of whom were simply caught in the crossfire. Considered German by the rest of Belgium because the county Eupen Malmedy St Vith was German in the past, became Belgian following the Treaty of Versailles, then became German again on May 10, 1940, when the Germans invaded Belgium, for, at the end of the Second World War, become Belgian again. All this made things very complicated at the beginning of September 1944 when the Americans settled in this region.

However, quickly, our Belgian population in the south of the country proved in a very large majority that they were indeed Belgian. From all this, I deduce what many combat veterans have told me. And there were many of them during the thirty years during which I welcomed them for a walk in the forest. They are all unanimous, whether they are Americans, whether they are Germans, the men who fought in this sector, do not hide the fact that each and everyone showed exceptional courage, this, for the victors than the vanquished. All, without exception, deserve respect.

Battle Words

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