On December 16, the 1-ID was in a rest area north of Eupen. When it became apparent that the breakthrough was of major proportions, the Division was put on an alert. At 0300, Dec 17, the 26-IR was sent down to Camp Elsenborn, on the northern flank of the breakthrough, to contain the enemy’s drive and prevent it from spreading north. The Division, less the 18-IR and elements of the 16-IR, unmolested by von der Heydte’s paratroopers, was in position 24 hours later. From that time to the end of the period the enemy’s frantic efforts to break through by the Bullingen – Butgenbach – Waimes route of approach to the dumps of Spa and Verviers were blocked by the Division.
It is impossible to overlook a startling parallel between this enemy operation (and the Division’s reaction to it) and the enemy’s attempted breakthrough at the Kasserine Pass in late February 1943. At Kasserine, the Division, in the Ousseltia Valley, was threatened by a major breakthrough to the south in the vicinity of the Faid Pass. Here, the breakthrough south of Monschau caught the Division in a rest area to the north. In both cases, the enemy was spurred on by the hope of capturing supplies: Tebessa in Tunisia (North Africa), and the Verviers – Liège – Eupen area in this drive. In both cases, the 26-IR was detached from Division control and sent out to hold the flank of the German spearhead, attached to II Corps in Africa and V Corps here. In both cases the Division turned back the threat, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy: on the 2.Panzer-Division in Africa, and the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, the 3.Fallschirmjâger-Division and 12.Volksgrenadier-Division here. And finally, in the case of Africa, the Tunisian campaign was over three months later.
The enemy attack in the north, around Monschau and Bullingen, was slow in starting. On Dec 17, the enemy attacked Monschau in some force, but was turned back by artillery fire; subsequent attacks, which did not seem to be pressed to the full extent of the enemy’s potential, were likewise repulsed. Meanwhile, the Germans occupied Bullingen and pushed patrols toward Butgenbach, failing to take advantage of the fact that our defenses had not yet completely congealed in the area: the first elements of the 26-IR only reached Elsenborn to the north at 0700, Dec 17. Consequently, something of a race developed between the 26-IR and the 12.SS-Panzer-Division for the occupation of Butgenbach, the next town on the projected northern route of the enemy.
Before dark, on Dec 17, the 2/26-IR had taken over the town and was defending the high ground (Doom Butgenbach) to the southwest against any thrust from Bullingen. The 16-IR was on its way down from its bivouac area in the vicinity of Verviers to take up positions north of Waimes; the 18-IR remained just south of Eupen on an anti-parachute mission.
On Dec 19, the enemy continued his attacks to reach his assigned road net from the east, putting heavy pressure on the twin villages, Krinkelt and Rocherath, and finally occupying these towns after the 2-ID and the 99-ID had been ordered to withdraw by V Corps. Preparatory to a full-scale offensive, the enemy probed our positions constantly during Dec 19. The attacks grew in violence as the enemy tested our defenses from all sides with up to ten tanks and approximately a battalion and a half of infantry. During the day of Dec 19, no prisoners were taken who could identify the attacking units, but it is probable that they were elements of the 12.SS-Panzer-Division which was falling far behind in its failure to get on its route of approach according to the German overall plan.
With every day he delayed the enemy’s opportunity of breaking the line and getting control of the Elsenborn and Malmédy roads lessened; during the day of Dec 19, the 18-IR was moving south to take up a position in the line after sweeping the woods south of Eupen for parachutists. During the hunt, King Co ran into a sizable force from the von der Heydte group dug in in the woods, but a large part of the group took off to the east and southeast during the night. Members of von der Heydte’s ill-starred crew, in fact, kept showing up all over the area and turning themselves in, to the anti-aircraft units, supply installations, and artillery positions; the whole venture has officially pronounced a fiasco when the colonel himself, trying to beat his way back to the German lines, called for an ambulance in the vicinity of Monschau (Mutzenich) a few days later and asked the US Medic to be evacuated. Although well aware of the failure of his mission, he asked the interrogator to notify him should the German radio announce that he had been awarded the Swords to the Knights Cross.
At 0225, Dec 19, the first thrust at our positions southeast of Butgenbach was launched when 20 truck-loads of enemy infantry and several tanks hit Easy Co (26-IR); supporting artillery was called in and the attack faded out within an hour. Patrols from Easy Co later counted over 100 enemies dead in front of their positions.
Later, at 1010, two tanks and about a company of infantry were observed moving in on the 2/26-IR positions from the south. The tanks managed to work their way up to our roadblocks where one of them was destroyed by 90-MM fire; the other tank withdrew, but not before a Panzerschreck team had damaged one of our 90-MMs. The supporting infantry was disposed of handily by artillery fire. At the same time another attack in about the same strength thrust eastward from Bullingen; it, too, was dispersed with one tank destroyed. Other tanks, working their way toward Waimes from the east and west, were turned back by intense artillery and mortar fire. Before dark two more forces, both of company size and supported by tanks tried again to find a soft spot on the southern and eastern edges of Waimes, with a complete lack of success. Altogether, the day was totally unproductive from the enemy’s point of view; not only did he fail to sound a hollow spot in our defenses, but his attempts to do so were very expensive in both infantry and armor.
Nevertheless, with the 1.SS-Panzer-Division in serious straits to the west on account of the 12.SS-Panzer-Division’s failure to clean up the north flank, and probably because it was clear to the most inflated SS ego that the campaign had stalled, the enemy continued resolute in his decision to force a passage to the north and west. He attacked on December 20, in greater strength but with no greater success. At 0615, the 2nd Bn of the 26-IR reported contact with a heavy force of tanks and about a battalion of infantry. The attacking force was probably the 2.Battalion, 25.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment, reinforced by additional infantry (possible elements of the special parachute regiment attached to the 150.Panzer-Brigade), part of Operation Greif, and supported by the 3.Battalion, 12.SS-Panzer-Regiment.
Although first contact with our forces was made just before daybreak, previously, as an extremely interesting captured document indicates, (X) the attack had suffered high casualties and had been confused by our intense artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire. In spite of this initial disadvantage the attack was driven home hard and a slight penetration was made. By 0815, however, the attack had been completely repulsed, eight tanks had been knocked out and were seen burning (the number knocked out and not seen must have been considerably higher, according to the same captured report), and all the Division positions had been restored.
(X) A letter written by an eager SS man to his sister Ruth
Eifel, 16 Dec. 44 (Saturday)
My daily letter will be very short-short and sweet. I write during one of the great hours before an attack-full of unrest, full of expectation for what the next days will bring. Everyone who has been here the last two days and nights (especially nights), who has heard the constant rattling of Panzers, knows that something is up and we are looking forward to a clear order to reduce the tension. We are still in the dark as to ‘where’ and ‘how’ but that cannot be helped! Some of the men believe in big wonders, but that may be shortsighted! It is enough to know we attack, and will throw the enemy from our homeland. That is a holy task! I do not want to talk or write much now-but wait and see what the hours ahead will bring! Overhead is the terrific noise of VI, of artillery – the voice of war. So long now wish me luck and think of me.
The following postscript was hurriedly scribbled on the back of the sealed envelope: 16 Dec. 1944 … Ruth! Ruth! Ruth! We March!!!
While this attack was under way, another attack, possibly coordinated with the 12.SS-Pzr-Div, but more probably not, was coming in against our positions south of Waimes. The unit engaged in this thankless task was identified as the 8.Regt, 3.Fal-Div, old acquaintances from Normandy, Langerwehe, and Jungersdof. The parachutists had had, in fact, much the same history as the Division during the month. Relieved from the line in the Düren area on Dec 15, they were sent back to a rest area near Munstereifel to refit and re-equip. On Dec 16, they were alerted and sent to Möderscheid to hold the northern flank of the German breakthrough. On Dec 20, the 3.Bn of the 8.Regt, was ordered to attack our positions in Ober Weywertz from the south.
According to the captain commanding the 11.Co, who was taken prisoner during the fighting, the 11. and 12.Cos worked their way northward along the railroad track to the edge of the objective. There the captain was told by a civilian that the area was lightly held by American troops. The captain was not sure of the civilian’s integrity and circled the town to the east, intending to take it by the main road. Our troops opened fire on him before he could group his forces for the assault and the two companies scattered. The captain said that a great many of his men had been killed; the 10.Co, which was to support the attack, never showed up after suffering heavy casualties from our artillery fire.
Although these and subsequent smaller attacks throughout the day of Dec 20, were unpromising from the enemy’s point of view, the build-up in front of the Division positions continued, and it was plain that it presaged far more than continued local pressure. On Dec 21, another assault was launched. Into this, the enemy put everything he had at his command, as well he had to, for by this time his need to break through to the north and come to the rescue of the beleaguered 1.SS-Pzr-Div to the west was imperative. At 0130 the enemy opened up with machine gun and tank fire on the 2/26-IR, positions southeast of Butgenbach; artillery was brought down and the attack was disposed of as another feint. At 0300, however, the enemy laid down an intense, concentrated artillery, Nebelwerfer, and Mortar barrage.
The battalion positions were blanketed, communications were reduced to radio and no contact at all was possible with the forward elements of the battalion, but when the inevitable follow-up thrust developed, our infantry was ready for it. Ten to fifteen tanks and approximately a battalion of infantry drove forward on the battalion positions. Artillery defensive fires were laid down (during the day the artillery fired nearly 10.000 rounds) and succeeded in putting a serious crimp in the assembly of the reserve and following troops.
Despite this disruption of his rear elements, however, the enemy drove his attack hard and a slight penetration was made. Five tanks that hit between Easy and Fox Cos, got through the lines, but our infantry held fast and cleaned out the infantry following. The tanks which got through, although working on borrowed time, succeeded in pinning down the 2/26’s CP with direct fire at a range of 75 yards and overrunning the Easy Co CP.
AT guns near the battalion CP destroyed four of the tanks; the fifth got away. By 1140, the full force of the enemy assault began to abate and the situation in the Easy and Fox Co’s area was being restored. Though operating under considerably reduced power after his rough handling, the enemy continued to try to force his way through our positions during the day. Late in the morning, a couple of tanks, spearheading the attack of approximately a battalion of infantry (again, probably the 12.SS) broke through the lines of the 1/26, but again was isolated. At 1430, another attack led by tanks hit Fox Co, but was so punished by our artillery that the enemy was not able to come to grips with our infantry.
After the full weight of the fighting was over it was possible, through the interrogation of the one prisoner captured, (X) to reconstruct the enemy’s attack. This man said that the 9.Co, 25.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment, had led the attack with the mission of taking Butgenbach with strong tank support; following in line were the 10., 12. and 11.Cos. Leading the attack, the 9.Co suffered extremely severe casualties from our machine gun and small arms fire and withdrew, but the following companies pressed on with, in the end, no greater success and at an equal cost. Although the 25.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment was pretty well eliminated as a potential in the fighting of Dec 21, the enemy continued to place the highest priority on cracking our defenses to allow him to roll up the Butgenbach road. On Dec 22, the 26.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment was committed to succeed where the 25.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment had failed. For a while, this new outfit, again with heavy tank support, almost succeeded. Tanks started north against the Division positions shortly after dawn, attacking from three points west of Doom Butgenbach; enemy infantry following the tanks managed to push our lines back.
At 0940, an undetermined number of panzer grenadiers had forced through our lines, splitting Able and King Cos 26-IR. Elements of the 18-IR were committed to hold further penetrations, Baker Co 26-IR, advanced to restore the ground and Able Co attacked due east to close the gap. Later, around 1600, elements of the 18-IR moved in and helped in retaking the ground. One tank was still behind our lines after the fighting was over, but managed to escape after dark.
This second attack, which was equal in intensity to that of the 25.Regt the day before, was, in the end, equally disastrous to the enemy. Beyond his failure to reach the promised land of his northern road net, he lost well over twenty tanks, and his casualties, although uncounted, ran into crippling figures. Patrols sent out on Dec 23 reported enemy dead as common as grass, with corresponding amounts of abandoned equipment. For the two days of fighting it was estimated that the enemy lost more than 44 tanks — more than 44 since that number was actually seen and counted. The 26-IR estimated that it had inflicted over 1200 casualties on the enemy. With the collapse of his plan to force his way north, the enemy subsided into the defense, bringing up infantry units to hold the line while he withdrew the 12.SS-Pzr-Div for repairs. Movement in front of the Division was heavy but undetermined in purpose; the most significant report of Dec 23 was that horse-drawn equipment was observed moving across the Division sector indicating the arrival of purely infantry units. Small attacks came in against the 16-IR and the 26-IR, but they were obviously intended as holding efforts rather than serious attempts at penetration. Two more enemy tanks were knocked out in the vicinity of Bullingen.
From Dec 23 to the end of the period, the enemy continued to bring in infantry elements to replace his armor and to build up an artillery concentration, both field and anti-aircraft, southeast of Bullingen. Movement on the limited road net in front of the Division line continued heavy, and was taken under punishing artillery fire, but rather than indicating a new formation for an attack, it proved to be traffic supplying the deeper penetrations of the enemy salient, driven off the main roads by our air attacks. The Division prisoner count dropped to practically nothing; those who were taken were usually lost and snared on our minefields. Division patrols moving to the front were often able to penetrate 1000 yards before contact, and from their reports, it was evident that the enemy was digging in and preparing to defend.
On Dec 26, prisoners and documents indicated that the 3.Fallschirmjäger-Division still held the western flank of the Division’s front; to the east, it was believed that the 12.Infantry-Division had moved into line.
On Dec 28, this belief was confirmed. Shortly before dawn the 3.Bn of the 27.Volksgrenadier-Regiment (12.Infantry.Division) attacked the left flank of the Division positions after an intense artillery and Nebelwerfer barrage. The plan was ambitious. The 1.Bn of the 48.Regt, was to make a simultaneous attack to secure the high ground west of Wirtzfeld, and elements of the 246.Volksgrenadier-Division, previously identified in front of the unit on the left of the Division, were to push through to Elsenborn from the east. Despite these elaborate plans, the attack was a complete fiasco. The 3.Bn of the 27.Regt, was taken under intense artillery fire during its approach march and a high percentage of the Volksgrenadiers reversed their field and moved rapidly to the rear. Some elements of the 9.Co and a handful of engineers from the 12.Engineer-Battalion succeeded in infiltrating up the draw northwest of Bullingen; they remained ineffective during the day and were combed out by strong combat patrols before dark. The attacks of the 1.Bn of the 48.Regt, and the elements of the 246.VGD were equally discouraged, and the net result of the day’s work was the capture of three men from the 53.Nebelwerfer-Regiment which had supported the attack, thus giving a source for much of the Nebelwerfer fire which had been falling on the Division positions during previous days.
The failure of his last ambitious attack apparently convinced the enemy of the futility of trying to force his way through our defenses. Enemy activity to the end of the period as reported by patrols, consisted only of busy digging and moderate counter-patrolling. The enemy continued to lay artillery fire on our forward positions and extended his efforts to interdiction of roads in the rear areas. To what extent the stand of the 1-ID southeast of Butgenbach put a spoke in the wheel of the enemy’s plan is an open question. Certainly the enemy, from the high priority he placed on getting through to the northwest and his successive all-out attacks, considered it of primary importance.
The stand, moreover, was disastrous to the enemy in a negative way. On the positive side, he had two regiments of one of his top-drawer SS panzer divisions ground down to a framework and lost up to 60 tanks in addition. On the negative side, however, he was unable to come to rescue the 1.SS-Pzr-Div caught in a vise in the Stavelot – La Gleize area by the 30-ID. And, possibly most important of all, he was forced to rearrange his high-level plan completely, abandoning the idea of getting at the US 1-A dumps in the Verviers & Soumagne areas.
As a result, the II.SS-Panzer-Corps, which was to follow up the successes of the I.Panzer-Corps, was committed to the south instead. With the 1-ID jutting out into the salient, the overloaded road net supplying the point of the thrust was further restricted in the radius of artillery fire. Altogether, the northern flank of the German penetration was not a matter of heart-warming satisfaction to the German High Command. If the enemy had failed to gain his ground, certainly he had tried hard enough with every means at his command. Treachery and deception played an integral part in his plan. The tactics of the 150.Panzer-Brigade (the power behind Operation Greif) were never fully successful due to greatly increased security measures taken by the Division. Although no established penetrations of Germans in American uniforms, Einheit Stielau, took place in the Division zone, an idea of the effectiveness of control can be had from the case of a strange officer from higher headquarters who got lost on his way to one of the regimental CPs and ended up on a road leading through one of the front-line company positions. Within an hour of the first alarm, the officer had been arrested four times and cheched for identity. Treachery had an equally important part in the enemy operation.
A number of American prisoners taken by the 1.SS-Pzr-Div southwest of Malmédy on Dec 17, were disarmed and shot by their captors; more than 25 civilians were murdered in Stavelot by the same unit. On Dec 26, a three-man enemy patrol entered the lines of the 16-IR with the indication it wanted to surrender. It was discovered, however, that one of the enemies was carrying a P-38/40 machine pistol behind his back. The patrol was eliminated. Enemy artillery during the period was consistently strong, although it reached the intensity of the Hamich Woods only on the few occasions before an attack. At the end of the period, a considerable artillery build-up was still reported southeast of Bullingen. During the operation, the Luftwaffe put in an appearance in greater strength than the Division had encountered since the European campaign started. Enemy air attacks were frequent but not very productive; the highest number of enemy planes reported over the Division area at one time was 30. The enemy air situation was further confused by the appearance of American P-47s which committed hostile acts and were believed to be enemy-operated; it was later learned that the planes were American and that the fault lay with the pilots’ briefing.
During the night of Dec 19—20, the 26-IR received a heavy armored and infantry attack on its left flank. The attack, which started at about 2300, continued in varying degrees of intensity throughout the night and until about 0800. An hour later a second attack, at the time believed to be a continuation of the first, came in on the right flank of the 26-IR. After the attacks had subsided, the 26-IR estimated that it had knocked out six tanks. During the morning of Dec 24, a courier, apparently lost, ran across a minefield laid by the 16-IR in a tracked motorcycle and blew up. The courier was carrying the document below. The report deals with the attack on the left flank of the 26-IR, and it is evident that considerably more than the estimated six tanks were knocked out by our fire. The infantry mentioned is believed to be the 2/25.Pzr-Gren-Regt; the parachutists were probably from the special (z.b.v.) (zur besonderen verwendung – for special use) parachute regiment attached to the 150.Panzer-Brigade. The later attack on the right flank of the 26-IR was launched by elements of the 3.Fallschirmjäger-Division.
3/12.SS-Pz-Regt – Bn CP, 23 Dec 1944
Combat Report For Period 18/23 Dec 1944
After the night attack on Krinkelt during the night of Dec 18/19, the battalion was ordered back to its starting position on orders from regiment. The battalion, less the 11.Co, reached the highway in the wooded area vicinity point 639 and 672 at 2400. The 11.Co, which, together with 5.Co, had remained at the northeastern edge of Krinkelt for security, was also pulled back into the wooded area later during the night. Losses in the night attack: 1 Mark IV belonging to 10.Co became a casualty when it hit a mine and another Mark IV belonging to 11.Co was damaged by a Sherman tank during the night fighting in the town (damage to tracks). 1 Officer of the 11.Co was slightly injured by shrapnel.
Accomplishments: 1 Sherman put out of action by 11.Co, 10 prisoners taken. After replenishing its gas and ammunition supply, the battalion was to assemble at 0500 and start its advance on Butgenbach via Losheimergraben – Bullingen. Because of difficulties in connection with refueling and the clogged highways, the battalion’s point reached the road near (left out of original) at 1200. The battalion commanding officer, together with his liaison officer, went ahead to Bullingen in order to reconnoiter terrain and situation and establish contact with elements committed there. After being briefed by SS-Hauptsturmführer Urabel (3/26.SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment), the battalion was oriented as follows by the commanding officer of the advance elements of the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, Maj (Wehrmacht) Meier: I reached Bullingen which had already been taken for one or two days.
The exact date slipped my mind; it can, however, be established by further inquiry. I was then stopped by my division in spite of my suggestion to penetrate to Butgenbach without delay, lest the enemy gain time to bring up reserves and establish a strong line of defense. Maj Meier further explained that the enemy had strengthened himself continually during the preceding day, that he had dug in, and thus established a defensive line in the vicinity north of Bullingen, (Doom Butgenbach), to the edge of the woods southwest of Doom Butgenbach (Morscheck).
After the report concerning the situation at Bullingen had been given to the Regimental Commanding Officer in the Division Commanding General’s presence, the latter gave instructions concerning further plans. The alerted battalion moved as follows: 10.Co with Engineer Platoon, 9.Co, 11.Co, Parts of Headquarters Company. As the infantry reached its first objective west of Bullingen only at 2300, the battalion started its attack 10 minutes later. In the darkness, the tank point, instead of advancing in a westerly direction, advanced towards the southwest; yet it was possible to halt it and direct it to the correct road. In the meantime, the liaison officer had found out that the infantry was still on both sides of the road about 800 meters west of the road junction at the western entrance into Bullingen. Slowed down by the pace of the infantry, the attached paratroopers and mine detector squads, the point made halting progress only After the security lines of the infantry, paratroopers, and engineers already committed in that area, had been passed by about 220 meters, heavy AT fire from the left (Doom Butgenbach), as well as exceedingly heavy artillery and mortar fire was encountered. The infantry suffered the most serious losses as a result of this fire and the accompanying heavy rifle and enemy machine-gun fire. The attack failed before the point could be fully committed, as several vehicles were in bad shape because of artillery and mortar hits. The company was withdrawn by the commanding officer, and the battalion was regrouped.
At about 0500, the battalion, on both sides of the highway, renewed its attack with the 9.Co (Jagdpanther) as point. It penetrated the foremost AT defenses, but the commanding officer and his tank were hit. The commanding officer took his burning command tank to the rear and took the command tank of the 11.Co, which he led during the attack. In the meantime, the 9.Co, in spite of the extremely heavy AT fire, had penetrated to the high ground west of Doom Butgenbach and was engaged by superior enemy forces, which put three of eight tanks out of action. The 9.Co, engaged in that vicinity, was exposed to extremely heavy artillery and mortar shelling.
The 11.Co, which had been brought up in the meantime, received heavy AT fire from the right flank, and the command tank with the battalion commanding officer, received a direct hit and started to burn. Other tanks were damaged by artillery and AT fire. As the 9.Co was unable to advance further, and the point was pinned down, the commanding officer decided to discontinue the attack. There was no further hope of success, and friendly artillery was unable to diminish the enemy’s artillery fire. The battalion was taken back into its starting positions. Refueling, repairs, and receipt of ammunition could not be accomplished in Bullingen as originally planned. For that reason the US artillery having zeroed in on the town, the battalion was taken two kilometers to the rear to the vicinity of Tiefenbach.
Since very few elements of the battalion were left (3 Jagdpanther and 10 Mark IVs), they were consolidated under SS-Hauptsturmführer Wewers in order to take part in another attack on Dec 21. During that action, the battalion’s liaison officer, SS-Untersturmführer Fritsch, was killed by a direct AT hit on his tank. Detailed reports about that action will have to follow, as SS-Hauptsturmführer Wewers has probably been killed and the situation will have to be cleared up through further inquiry. The same is true of the attack of Schoppen on Dec 22 1944.
Additional Sources I used for this Archive
ETO History (Bill Warnock)
Snow and Steel
Battle of the Bulge – Scale 1/10
The Hangar Deck – Piper L-4
Army Air Force – Winter 1944
Elsenborn Ridge, the battle
Relief At Capture For A German Paratrooper (Lea Rose Emery)
Battle of the Bulge Memories