At Gouvy, these troops found an army ration dump, containing 50.000 rations, which had just been set on fire by Army QM personnel to prevent its capture by the enemy, who were already threatening with small-arms fire. Dog 40-TB drove off the enemy and extinguished the fire, which had done little damage, and began the issuance of rations to all units of the division. Also in Gouvy, there was an abandoned army prisoner of war enclosure, containing over 300 German prisoners of war, guarded by one officer and eight MPs. These prisoners were successfully evacuated by the division. Division Headquarters created other task forces out of the remnants of the 14-CG and assigned them the mission of screening and protecting the southeast flank of the division. Troop D, 87-CRS, was directed to proceed to Salmchâteau and then west, and was given the mission of screening the northern flank of the division rear. The most significant change that occurred in the disposition and composition of division troops on Dec 20, was the formation of Task Force Jones, commanded by the CO of the 814-TDB, and in position on the southern and southwestern flank of the division to the right rear of CCB-7-AD. The force consisted of part of the 17-TB, the 440-AFAB, part of the 814-TDB, and elements of the 38-AIB, 31-TB, 40-TB, 33-AEB, and a detachment of the 14-CG. The strength of the enemy and the seriousness of the situation in the south, leading to the formation of Task Force Jones, was obtained in part from Col Robert O. Stone, with whom the division had been in touch about two clays. This officer was located near Gouvy with an assortment of about 250 stragglers, including both officer and enlisted Quartermaster, Engineer, and Signal personnel whom he had collected. He had established a defensive position, saying, By God the others may run, but I am staying here and will hold at all cost. Stone’s force was incorporated into Task Force Jones.
The force was in position by about 1600 and immediately became engaged at Cherain and Gouvy. By 1800, it was receiving a strong German attack which it successfully repulsed. In spite of this activity in its rear, CCB had a relatively quiet day. During the night of Dec 19/20, some infiltration was reported by the 17-TB at Recht. At 0800, the 17-TB was instructed to withdraw to Rodt, leaving one company plus a platoon of infantry in position north and east of Rodt to maintain contact with CCA on the left. Enemy concentrations of tanks and infantry were collected in Wallerode and Neider Emmels. Heavy artillery concentrations quieted these threats. During the afternoon, enemy columns were reported moving from Medell to Born and at 1630, enemy tanks moved into Ober Emmels and forced out a light tank platoon on outpost there; but the forces on the high ground to the south held firmly. During the night of Dec 20/21, approximately 68 men and two officers led by Lt Long of the I&R Platoon 423-IR (one of the surrounded regiments of the 106-ID) infiltrated back through CCA’s lines.
When interviewed, Lt Long stated that the commanding officers had told them that the two regiments (422 and 423) were preparing to surrender and that orders were being given for the destruction of their arms and equipment. The troops had been told that and personnel wishing to attempt to infiltrate to friendly lines rather than surrender were authorized to leave. These men were some of those who had chosen to risk returning and fighting again to laying down their arms and surrendering. CCB established an assembly point in the schoolhouse at St Vith where these men were given rations, such other supplies as they needed, and a well-deserved rest.
During the night of Dec 21/22, when the situation became critical, these men were put back into the line. When they were told that they were going back into the line, their enthusiasm was high, and subsequent reports obtained from the troops with whom they fought indicated that without exception these men discharged their duty in exemplary fashion. During the day, CCA, to the left rear of CCB, was under considerable pressure in the vicinity of Poteau. Division HQs had sent them a message at 0925 that it was imperative that they command the road from Recht and leading into Poteau. Although CCB did not know at this time, the situation to the left rear and on the northern flank was critical.
EVENTS OF DECEMBER 21
The Germans realized that the failure to control the network of roads and railroads centering on St Vith was disrupting the timetable and the entire counter-attack. The stand of the 7-AD had left a dangerous salient in the German lines which threatened the northern flank of Manteuffel’s 5.Panzer-Army, preventing also to link these forces with Dietrich’s 6.Panzer-Army. All further westward movement of the 6.Panzer-Army had virtually stopped for lack of needed gasoline and ammunition, which were on the supply columns immobilized far from St Vith, or on the trains halted between Prüm and Gerolstein (Germany). Accordingly, orders were issued to the II.SS-Panzer-Corps to move to the south and take St Vith without delay. All during the night of Dec 21/22, tanks and other vehicles could be heard massing to the north, east, and south of St Vith. Troops of the II.SS-Panzer-Corps was moving to position and at 1100, the assault was launched.
A full-scale corps attack was launched against the town, and at 2200 CCB-7-AD withdrew to the high ground west of St Vith. CCA-7-AD captured the high ground northwest of Poteau and repelled the counter-attacks. Task Force Jones was receiving enemy attacks from the south.
From the time of the first attack on the 21 until the completion of the successful withdrawal of the 7-AD across the Salm River two days later, the enemy attacked unceasingly along the entire front of the division. Throughout the 21 and until 2200 that night, the lines held against the continuous assault of infantry, supported by heavy artillery and screaming meemies concentrations of unprecedented size and duration. Large formations of enemy tanks joined in the assault and smashed their way into the lines, where they blasted the defenders from their foxholes with point-blank tank fire. Time after time, the German infantry were forced to withdraw under the aimed short-range fire of the gallant infantrymen, engineers, tankers, recon troops, and others who stood their ground and inflicted huge losses upon the attacking formations. Even the heavy tanks were forced to withdraw, leaving destroyed hulks battered and burning in their wake. On that day, the men of the 7-AD performed, individually and collectively, repeated deeds of heroism; soldiers not only engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the German infantry but also destroyed German tanks with bazookas and grenades.
Still, the Germans attacked. Starting at 1100 with an artillery barrage on the northern and eastern positions of CCB and an infantry-tank attack against the juncture of CCB-7-AD and CCB-9-AD, the Germans stepped up the scale of their assault; by 1300 the entire line of CCB-7-AD was aflame with enemy artillery, screaming meemies, tanks, and infantry pouring a concentration of steel at the defenders.
100 MM Nebelwerfer 35. The lower muzzle velocity of a mortar meant that its shell walls could be thinner than those of artillery shells, and it could carry a larger payload than artillery shells of the same weight. This made it an attractive delivery system for poison gases. The US Army’s Chemical Warfare Service developed their 4.2-inch chemical mortar for precisely that reason and the German Nebeltruppen shared that reasoning. Its first weapon was also a mortar, the 100 MM Nebelwerfer 35 (1934).
100 MM Nebelwerfer 40. Almost from the beginning, the army wanted more range than the 3000 Meters of the Nebelwerfer 35. Trials of two new prototypes did not take place until May 1940 and both were not entirely satisfactory. Anyway, the best features of both were incorporated into the 100 MM Nebelwerfer 40. This projectile was a very advanced breech-loading weapon with a recoil mechanism and an integral wheeled carriage. It had twice the range of its predecessor but was eight times the weight of the Model 35.
150 MM Nebelwerfer 41. The first weapon to be delivered to the troops was the 150 MM Nebelwerfer 41 in 1940, after the Battle of France, a purpose-designed rocket with gas, smoke, and high-explosive warheads. One unusual feature of this projectile was that the rocket motor was in the front, the exhaust venturi being about two-thirds down the body from the nose with the intent to optimize the blast effect of the projectile as the warhead would still be above the ground when it detonated. The Nebelwerfer 41 was fired from a six-tube launcher mounted on a towed carriage adapted from that used by the 37-MM PaK 36 and had a range of 6900-M. Almost five and a half million 150 MM rockets and 6000 launchers were manufactured over the course of the war.
280/320 MM Nebelwerfer 41 (Schweres Wurfgerät 41). The 280/320 MM Nebelwerfer 41 rockets were introduced in 1941, before Operation Barbarossa. They used the same motor but carried different warheads. The 280 MM (11′) projectile had a HE warhead, while the 320 MM (13′) Projectile was an incendiary device. The maximum range for either rocket was only 2200 Meters. Both could be fired from their wooden packing cases or a special wooden (Schweres Wurfgerät 40) or tubular metal (Schweres Wurfgerät 41) frame. Later, a towed launcher was developed that could take six rockets. Both rockets used the same launchers, but special liner rails had to be used for the 280-MM rockets. A vehicular launch frame, the Schwere Wurfrahmen 40, was also designed to improve the mobility of the heavy rockets.
210-MM Nebelwerfer 42. The 210-MM Nebelwerfer 42 rocket, which was introduced in 1942, had a longer range (7850 Meters) and a simpler design than the smaller 150 MM rocket. It was only made with high-explosive warheads and was fired from a five-tube launcher that used the same carriage as the smaller weapon. 300-MM Nebelwerfer 42. The last German-designed rocket to be introduced was the 300-MM Nebelwerfer 42 in 1943. This was intended to replace the 280-MM and 320-MM rockets, which had too short a range. Advances in propellant chemistry also reduced its smoke signature.
As the enemy closed in they were met in turn by all possible concentrated fires that could be brought to bear – but still, they attacked. Major attacks were launched against that part of the line held by the 38-AIB at 1100, 1230, 1400, 1610, and 1710; while the northern flank manned by the 31-TB and the 87-CRS was hit with attacks at 1300, 1730, 1805, and 1820. All attacks were turned back, and the CCB’s lines continued to hold. Then three heavy assaults were started by the Germans, with each directed along the axis of the main roads entering St Vith; at 1650 from the east along the Schoenberg Road; followed by an attack down the Malmedy Road at 1835; with the last one starting up the Prüm Road at 2000. Each of these attacks was preceded by intense artillery barrages lasting from 15 to 35 minutes and closely followed by the infantry and tanks. The Germans were not to be denied and their relentless pressure since 1100 in the morning had left gaps in the line since there were no replacements for the dead and wounded. By 2000, the CCB’s lines had been penetrated in at least three points. The battle continued until approximately 2200 when Gen Clarke, seeing that a portion of his position was no longer tenable, issued the order to withdraw the center of the line to the high ground west of St Vith.