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1st Infantry Division, December 1944
On December 1, 1944, after two weeks of arduous fighting, the enemy had succeeded in delaying the advance on the Roer River. At Merode, he had achieved local success in holding the town and eliminating two companies which had entered it. On the other hand, he had lost Hamich, Heistern, and Langerwehe, the framework of his defenses before Düren. In losing them, moreover, he had suffered serious losses in personnel and materiel, and, in spite of his efforts, the line on December 1, roughly paralleled the course of the Roer and the natural defenses of the terrain had been overrun. This weakening tactical situation, however, in no way diluted the enemy’s determination to hold what he had. The Wenau-Merode road was a very sensitive point; any effort on the part of the Division to move down the road was met by heavy and concentrated fire, although the penetration of the 3/26-IR (1-ID) north of the road met much lighter opposition. The Stutgerhof (a large farmhouse) east of Langerwehe was an equally troublesome point. A platoon from George Co, 18-IR, which assaulted the house was pinned down by intense artillery fire and surrounded by enemy troops; after extremely bitter fighting on the part of rescue parties, ten of the men were pulled out. Enemy artillery, likewise, was at its high-water mark.
It was estimated that the enemy had available, besides the organic artillery of the 3.Fallschirmjäger-Division, the remnants of the 12.Volksgrenadier-Division and the 47.Volksgrenadier-Division’s artillery, possibly that of the 3.Panzergrenadier-Division, as well as normal corps and Army artillery.
At the beginning of the period, it was believed that the 3.Fallschirmjäger-Division alone opposed the 1-ID’s advance; the survivors of the 47.VGD with the 48.Regiment and the 89.Regiment (12.Infantry-Division) had been pulled out. Of the 3.Fallschirmjäger, the 3.Battalion of the 8.Regiment was in position north of the Military Highway; the 2.Battalion extended the line to the south, with outposts in the Stutgerhof, and the 1.Battalion was in the line south of the Division sector. The 1.Battalion and 3.Battalion of the 5.Fallschirmjäger-Regiment, were believed to be in position east of Jungerhof and west of Merode, with the 2.Battalion in local reserve east of Merode. The 9.Regiment was probably in division reserve somewhere in the vicinity of Merken. Luchem was the next enemy strong point to be eliminated. It was reduced by a power play of infantry, tanks, TDs, and artillery. On the morning of December 3, Luchem was held by elements of the 2.Battalion, 8.Regiment, supported by a platoon of the 14.Company covering a road-block on the Langerwehe-Luchem road. A large part of the 12.Company was in the town, although some of its mortars were about 600 yards to the northeast. Altogether, the enemy with fairly good reason considered himself secure from attack.
At 0600, December 3, the 1/16-IR, moved across the open ground between Langerwehe and Luchem and entered the western edge of the town. There was no artillery preparation and the enemy was taken completely by surprise. As the infantry advanced they liquidated the road-block shutting off the Langerwehe road. At first light, tanks and TDs were moved into the attack, and with their arrival, our artillery boxed in the area to prevent the bringing up of reserves.
Although the enemy stubbornly defended his positions at the main crossroads, the town was cleared in the afternoon. More than 150 prisoners were taken. The POWs said that the sudden appearance of our tanks had decided the question for them, further evidence that a few tanks may produce the German hopeless situation and consequent honorable surrender. During the attack on Luchem the enemy artillery, which might have been a weighty factor in the seizure of the town, was slow in taking up the fire, possibly because its forward observers had been bottled up by our deceptive attack. It was not until later in the day that the enemy laid heavy fire on the town, and by then it was too late. Several American soldiers were recaptured; they said that the parachutists, before surrendering, had burned all valuable papers and destroyed their weapons; it was obvious all during the Division’s contact with the 3.Fallschirmjäger-Division that the paratroopers’ sense of security was far higher than that of the ordinary Landser.
The enemy’s reaction to our seizure of Luchem started with recon patrols in the morning of December 4. Shortly before dark in the afternoon, movement was observed in the area northwest of Echtz, and our artillery, preparing for a concentration, had just registered on the area when the first elements of the attack left the enemy positions and advanced on Luchem. In the subsequent disaster, only one PW was taken, and he believed himself to be one of the few survivors of his company, the 6.Company, which had been given the mission of retaking the town. The prisoner said that his battalion commander, a 1st Lieutenant who had been elevated from commanding the 5.Company the day before, had decided to take Luchem on his own initiative, spurred on by the desire for a Ritterkreuz (Knight Cross).
The 6.Company and one platoon of the 5.Company were ordered to assault the town, and after a short artillery and mortar barrage, the men started across the open fields in line of skirmishers. They were fairly in the middle when the four battalions of artillery caught them. Some of them managed to struggle to come to grips with the 16-IR, but the back of the attack had been broken. With the loss of Luchem, enemy activity went on the descendant; artillery slackened off, and although large-scale movements were observed and attacked by our aircraft well behind the enemy lines, enemy activity in the forward areas was confined to a minor reshuffling of troops and positions. The enemy’s attention swung to the north, where he mounted an attack, supported by ten tanks, against Lucherberg, previously captured by the 104-ID. The attack was unsuccessful and did not spread to the Division area. This decline of activity continued, interrupted by patrolling on both sides, until December 7, when the 1-ID was relieved by the 9-ID.
Enemy Breakthrough (Dec 16 – Dec 31)
In the morning of December 16, the enemy, implementing a capability which had existed since the start of the Allied drive to the Rhine, launched a high-geared meticulously-planned counter-attack in the center of the American line between Monschau and Echternacht. The ultimate objectives of this drive are still not clear and it is probable that the operation was designed as a monumental spoiling attack cutting off the Allied supply port of Antwerp and communications center of Brussels.
In any case, the German people and the Wehrmacht were promised Liège and the Meuse River, and in the POW cages during the early days, there was considerable high talk of Paris for Christmas. One of the primary objectives of the attack was the seizure of the enormous American supply dumps in the Liège, Verviers, and Eupen area (Soumagne); in fact, the continued impetus of the drive hinged on the capture of these supplies. Certainly, the thrust was for more than a local counter-pressure; if its success could not win the war for the enemy, at least it could delay the Allies’ winning for a depressing length of time.
The enemy’s plan for the blow was carefully thought out and carefully disguised. (X) He picked the terrain an unlikely spot and therefore lightly held it. He waited for the weather, and for the first week, his operations were blanketed in baffling fog. He built up enough supplies to catapult the initial momentum. And he gathered up all his strategic reserves, including the 6.Panzer-Army, and drove them through in a gamble that was far from unreasonable. Furthermore, beyond the normal means at his command, he used every deception and surprise element he could conceive, labeling them collectively Operation Greif. The plan was simple enough once the necessary force had been assembled. Detailed intelligence reports and estimates kept track of the American situation in the avenue of the proposed attack, (X) and it was plain that the one imponderable in the German planning was the mobility of the American forces which could be made available to block the drive. Operation Greif had the mission of equalizing this factor.
(X) Captured Photograph Captions
Evidence of the enemy’s long-range planning and elaborate preparations for his drive to the west is obtained from four reels of newsreel and propaganda films captured by the 16-IR. The films were taken off a courier who had been dispatched from Cologne to the leading elements of the 1.SS-Panzer-Division to pick them up. He was to return to Schleiden, the CP of the division, but was captured en route. Eventually, the films were to be sent to Berlin for development; instead, they have been forwarded to higher US Headquarters. With the films was following descriptive note: Unit: 1.SS-Panzer-Division. No. 85—88 Subject: We Attack. Light: Dark, rain. Develop and cut! s/Schaefer.
Contents and Captions: 1.SS-Panzer-Division (LSSAH), Ligneuville (Engelsdorf), Belgium, December 18, 1944. Battle Sector: Belgian Border. Route: Munstereifel, Hallschlag, Belgian Border, Bullingen, 6 Km south of Eupen – Malmédy Highway: The attack started on December 16, across the Westwall, at 0530. The weather is extremely bad. A very heavy artillery barrage throws the surprised enemy out of his position. We follow up our attack day and night. Already plenty of POWs are being brought in during the early hours of the first day. Many guns and vehicles are being captured. Most of the American gun crews are surprised and killed at their guns.
Reel Picture 230: (1—4): The first surprised POWs come in during the early hours. (6—8): Bridges demolished by the Americans are rapidly fixed by our engineers and we only stop for a few hours. (9—11): Only four shots were fired from this US 75-MM AT gun, after that our tanks took care of it. (13—19): New POWs stream back. (20—24): Pictures from a vacated American tent city in the Eifel. (25—30): New weapons and vehicles are captured, and plenty of dead are left by the surprised enemy.
Reel Picture 231: (1—3): Snapshots of the advance; Laughing drivers; Captured cigars are distributed. (4—8): Scenes of the march through the Eifel mud. (9—23): Pictures of the advance of the infantry. From our SPs we have shot up many US tanks, scout cars, and supply vehicles.
Reel Picture 232: (1—30): Attack; captured vehicles, burned-out US tanks, and vehicles.
Reel Picture 233: (1—17): On the road to Malmédy. (18—20): CO of Reconnaissance Unit, SS Stbf. Knittel (Kampfgruppe), speaks to an officer.
(Danger G-2 Note: Many of the photographs captured in this haul later received prominent attention in the Allied press.)
Roughly 700 parachutists dropped behind our lines would seize the important road junctions between Eupen and Malmédy and block the American troops which could be counted on to be pulled from the north, where the main strength of the Allied Armies had been committed in the drive on the Rhine. In conjunction with the parachutists, special troops in American uniforms (Einheit Stielau) and equipped with American transportation and Sherman tanks would spearhead the German panzers to spread confusion behind the American lines and disrupt the organization of resistance. These men (Skorzeny’s 150.Panzer-Brigade) planned to race toward the American rear, shouting Germans are 500 yards back!, to stall Sherman tanks at critical points in the American road net and, in general, carry on dozens of similar divertissements. With the American ability to organize and strike back thus tied down, the panzers could get underway and move west. The preponderance of the weight was committed in the north with SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich’s 6.Panzer-Army; to the south was Gen Hasso von Manteuffel’s 5.Panzer-Army, and below that was Gen Erich Brandenberger‘s 7.Army with the mission of holding the southern flank and, eventually, the rear of the drive west and north. The two panzer armies were to advance, with eight panzer divisions in line, on a vast, simple turning movement: four SS divisions on the axis Malmédy – Liège, and four army divisions on the axis Marche-en-Famenne – Namur.
Four routes were allotted to the 6.Panzer-Army: Rollbahn A and B ran eastward through the Monchau area and were for the use of the 277.Volksgrenadier-Division, the 246.Volksgrenadier-Division and the 326.Volksgrenadier-Division breaking the way for the panzers on the northern flank. Rollbahn C and D, and presumably other routes to the south, were to carry the 6.Panzer-Army, with the 1.SS-Panzer-Division (Mohnke) heading west along the Malmédy-Stavelot line to reach the Meuse River west of Liège, and the 12.SS-Panzer-Division (Meyer) to get on the Losheim-Bullingen-Butgenbach-Waimes-Malmédy-Spa axis to hit Liège from the north.
Things went wrong, at least in the northern sector, from the start. On the night of Dec 16/17, nearly 700 Fallschirmjaeger (Operation Stösser) were dropped in the general area of the Malmédy-Eupen woods. They were, as established from POWs taken by the 18th Infantry Regiment later, members of a special unit led by Oberstleutnant Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte, and had been culled from various parachute divisions on a volunteer basis. Von der Heydte himself was a veteran of the Crete landings and a former holder of a $1500 Carnegie Fellowship for the study of international law in Vienna. In spite of this distinguished leadership, however, the plan went awry. None of the paratroopers had been told of his mission, other than that further instructions would be given him once he landed. The NCOs only knew that they were to hold certain road junctions; beyond that, they knew nothing. A crosswind and bad briefing of the Ju-52 pilots scattered the units and their weapons and equipment over an area far wider than planned. Much of the equipment was lost during the fall and more was broken; the radios were knocked out and reorganization was sketchy. With no secondary mission, those paratroopers who managed to reassemble hid out in the woods, harassing isolated vehicles and taking a few prisoners. They were entirely unable to block the arrival of reinforcing troops.(X)
Meanwhile, to the south, the 1.SS-Panzer-Division (LSSAH) was going well, but the 12.SS-Panzer-Division (HJ) had stalled east of Bullingen; the II Panzer Corps: 2.SS-Panzer-Division (Das Reich) and 9.SS-Panzer-Division (Hohenstaufen) for some reason had not even tried to force a passage through the Monschau area, possibly because of the failure of the Volksgrenadiers to break the crust. Still further to the south, however, the 5.Panzer-Army (Manteuffel) was doing very well, having completed its breakthrough on schedule. This success of mere Wehrmacht troops was probably a matter of some chagrin to the superior SS men.
(X) Captured Intelligence
Estimate, 12.SS.Division (HJ)
Annex to G-3 Journal 1503/44, G-2 Section top secret
Div HQ 14.12.1944 TOP SECRET I 111/25
Intelligence Report Page 1, closed 14.12.44, 1200.
Enemy Strength and Organization
In the first line of our own frontal sector, the 99-ID has been identified. The Division covers the Monschau-Ormont sector (along the road bend 2 kilometers west of Hollerath) with 3 Regiments along a front of 30 kilometers. At Monschau the newly-arrived 78-ID is in position. This unit succeeded in penetrating the German defense lines with the intention of reaching the Erft reservoir.
The 99-ID and the 78-ID belong to the V Corps of the 1st US Army. South of the 99-ID sector the 108th independent Cavalry Regiment is probably committed. It may be assumed that the operational reserves in the rear of the 99-ID consist of the 2nd Infantry Division plus the 4 and 102 independent Cavalry Regiments. Furthermore those units, now in rest areas, which have been relieved from the Roer sector, including the 1st US Infantry Division, may be considered as operational reserves. In this sector may be committed units of Division size from the reserve of the US 9-A now attacking in the Julich area.
In the sector of the 99-ID, the enemy is in a defensive position. His defensive line in the sector in the sector Höfen – Hollerath consists of strong points only, due to the wooded terrain, while in the area Hollerath – Udenbreth and to the south a system of strong entrenchments has been identified. Due to the recent digging activities in the area Höfen – Hollerath it may be concluded that his defensive line will be strongly fortified. It may even be assumed that the enemy will commit his units south of Monschau into the attack in the direction of the Erft reservoir. German POWs are being used to dig entrenchments. A large number of dogs have been observed at many places. Apparently troops occupy all villages near the front. The American soldier is very careless in guarding his billets. In many instances, the guards desert their posts at night. Enemy artillery build-ups are apparent in three main areas: In the area Krinkelt – Hunningen (5 to 6 battalions). South of Monschau (approx 4 battalions). At Manderfeld (approx 4 battalions). So far only harassing fire has been employed.
Evaluation of Enemy Units
The 99-ID was activated in 1942. In Europe since the end of October; first combat experience middle of Nov 1944. The 78-ID is also a newly-activated infantry division without combat experience. These units in reserve areas which will probably be committed from their rest areas have suffered heavy losses during the battle in the sector west of the Roer. In spite of the fact that they are old and battle-experienced divisions, it appears that the replacements are not of the desired caliber, since it has been learned that one of the divisions used members of a penal company as replacements.
In view of his intentions in the area east of Aachen, and the heavy losses sustained there, the enemy has occupied the Eifel front only very weakly. In order to secure this sector against German surprise attacks, the relieved units from the Roer sector have been placed in rest areas in the forward sector. These units are only capable of offering strong resistance against an energetic attack if the enemy succeeds in bringing to the south in a short time the operational reserves held in readiness for the Roer attack. As learned from experience it is assumed that the enemy will not quickly recover from his unexpected reverses. As far as terrain is concerned, the attackers, as well as the defenders, must cope with the heavy clay of the area Hohen Venn and also the many rivers and rivulets which mostly flow from north to south. A good road net is available for troop movements in a north-south direction.
Enemy Air Force Employment
At all times one must consider the employment of a Belgian Militia or members belonging to units of the Armee Blanche. In this connection, your attention is brought to the instructions about the interrogation of civilians, which has been sent to the FPA (lower unit interrogation).
For the 12.SS.Pz.Div HJ
First General Staff Officer
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