Source Document: Selected Intelligence Reports, December 1944 – May 1945, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, First United States Infantry Division, Czechoslovakia, June 6, 1945
On January 1, 1945, the enemy was on an operational see-saw. His original plans of an unchecked drive to the Meuse River had been blocked to the west and his desperate efforts to enlarge his salient to the north by driving the 12.SS-PD through the US 1-ID and on up the Bütgenbach – Eupen road net had failed with serious losses. As a consequence, the 1.SS-PD (LSSAH), farther west, had been cut off on its exposed right flank and very roughly handled. The enemy was rapidly losing the advantage of initiative in operations, but he still had sufficient forces to attempt to seize it again, although on a plan considerably revised from his original ambitious strategy. What he could do, and eventually, what he did was to bring in infantry units to hold the salient which he had won while he withdrew his striking forces, the panzer divisions, and assembled them for a new blow, possibly to the north toward Liège, (ANNEX 1). But as so often in his planning, the enemy waited too long before initiating this policy. By the time sufficient infantry forces had been brought into the salient, his armored forces, regrouped in the center of the Bulge, had to hurry off to answer the threat of the American penetration from the south in the vicinity of Bastogne. The idea of holding his gains by infantry, however, persisted, and on January 1, a prisoner from a Volksgrenadier division was captured to the right of the Division sector.
It seems that the enemy has penetrated more deeply west of Stavelot. Counter-measures are being undertaken. However, there remains the constant capability that the enemy will attack our division front, in order to tie down our troops or even force a breakthrough. The small-scale attacks which the enemy undertook on January 4, must be considered as feints for the main attack in the Stavelot – Marche sector. The division expects the enemy to undertake several small-scale attacks in the next few days. It is a constant necessity, especially during the hours of dawn and dusk, to have reserves available, to improve defensive dugouts, and to have constant and adequate communications with the artillery forward observers. According to an order from the 3.FJ Artillery Regiment, dated January 2, 1945, the division artillery is also responsible for counter-battery fire against heavy mortars. The 3.FJ Artillery Regiment will fire at these targets when sufficient ammunition is available. Not a single foot of soil will be relinquished. The enemy’s attack must be stopped immediately at the MLR (Main Line of Resistance) by the concentrated fire of all weapons and by counter-attacks. The enemy’s penetration west of Stavelot was accomplished by tanks with the infantry riding on the armor. The AT defenses are once more to be checked for adequate security in depth. The troops are to be instructed again that we are now on German soil. Theft will be punished as pillage. The inhabitants are to be treated as German ‘Peoples Comrades’. Civilians who are picked up at the MLR or under suspicious circumstances anywhere are to be arrested and evacuated immediately. Signal security will be stressed once more. The Americans are able to listen in on all telephone conversations. Secret messages are to be transmitted by runners only. Morning Report — (Administrative details of no interest follow).
signed, (illegible), Captain, Commanding
On January 2, a battalion of the 27.IR, 12.ID, another old acquaintance from Verlautenheide and Gressenich, was identified in the Büllingen area, and on January 3, the 1.Bn, 1055.VGR (89.VGD) was located south of Dom Bütgenbach and the 2.Bn in the Büllingen-Wirtzfeld area. It was probable that the 27.IR had dropped off on its way west to protect the stalled panzers and that 1055.VGR had been moved into the area to hold the line permanently. In any case, there was no question but that the enemy was implementing his capability of trying to hold the line he had gained with infantry while he regrouped his panzers elsewhere for either a concerted attack or, failing that, an integrated withdrawal (ANNEX 2). It was evident from the activities of the enemy infantry units facing the Division that they held no idea of attacking in force. Our patrols, which were active and frequent, reported that the enemy was digging in, putting up wires, and constructing dugouts. By January 5, the enemy position had become more or less stabilized, with the 1.Bn, 9.FJR on the extreme left flank of the 3.FJD (one company held Thirimont), the 8.FJR to the east extending to within 1500 yards of the road from Morscheck to Dom Bütgenbach, and the 1055-IR carrying on from there, through Büllingen to Wirtzfeld. Elements of the 5.FJR, believed to be in strategic reserve, were identified in Vielsalm on January 7, but prisoners captured on the Division front later in the fighting said that the main body of the 5.FJR had relieved the 8.FJR on January 7.
Both, the presence of new enemy troops brought up since the beginning of our offensive and the well-sited enemy positions and mines encountered during our attack on December 28, 1944, show that the enemy has constructed strong defensive lines after regrouping and consolidating the breakthrough. This strong defensive line in front of the Corps sector is supported by strong artillery formations. Enemy Intentions, further entrenching and holding of the Elsenborn apex in order to prevent further progress of our defensive screen towards the north and west. (1) Especially in the direction of St Vith in order to narrow our bulge in southeastern Belgium. (2) Enemy attacks of greater than merely local significance must be expected in a southeasterly and easterly direction from Elsenborn. Enemy Methods of Special Note: The enemy is conducting a stubborn defense in well-constructed, strategic positions, and is well-armed. (1) He will place his MLR in a locality where there is open ground between his and our positions, at the outer edge of the woods; he will construct strongpoints along this line, using houses and high ground sometimes located in front of the MLR. A complete system of communication lines. He will construct strong points in the middle of the woods, from which he can dominate the MLR. (2) Enemy defense is in-depth, with the usual thin outpost line. There are strong reserves for counter-thrusts and holding attacks and roadblock defenses, and artillery plans for fire on advancing troops, even far inside his own line. The MLR has been strongly fortified by mines and log obstacles, which are only superficial and badly camouflaged; the use of mines in depth is rare. Infantry defense in forest fighting is extremely stubborn; the attackers and patrols will remain unmolested until they reach the immediate vicinity of the enemy, where they will be suddenly taken under fire. Snipers will be employed, and hand-to-hand combat is probable. (3) AT defense in the woods and along main highways will be exploited by means of single AT guns, bazookas, rapid construction of AT gun positions, and use of armor at places where our troops have to leave the woods for open terrain. The enemy will use High Explosive (HE) shells against attacking infantry. (4) Enemy artillery is exceedingly mobile, firing effective concentrations on our movements and congestions with excellent intelligence. He will rely on maps for night firing, Cubs, and forward observers for observed fire. Frequent use of forwarding observers with infantry, tanks, and planes is usual. (5) Armor has been committed only to a limited extent in front of the Corps sector; it is mostly used as artillery support for infantry troops and fires at a considerable distance from the front lines. Occasionally, tanks are dug in. (6) Enemy Air: Support of medium bombers, fighter-bombers, and fighters when weather conditions are favorable (fairly clear weather) is probable. These crafts as well as Cubs will take part in combat. The use of four-engined formations in forwarding positions is to be expected.
(for the Division Commander)
2. DEFENSE OF THE SALIENT (January 15 to January 30)
In the early morning of January 15, the 1st Infantry Division, with the 23-RCT attached, jumped off from positions that had been held since the 12.SS-PD had tried to force a passage north at the beginning of the German breakthrough. The attack was the reverse swing of the pendulum: the Division was attacking to the south to close off the ambitious enemy salient. During the time between the German breakthrough and the Division’s attack to the south the enemy had seen his best forces shot up, his reserves committed, his drive curbed and turned and his main power slowly draining away by attrition, lack of gasoline, and the paralyzing rigors of the winter. By the middle of January, he no longer had the initiative of attack; his most pressing concern, in fact, was to get what he could of his indispensable panzer divisions off the hook. To accomplish this it was imperative that the shoulders of his original salient be held firm. He could not allow any reduction of the mouth of his bulge, since his road nets, clogged with traffic and blocked with snow, were already carrying capacity movement. The loss of any roads at all would be disastrous.
It was in this situation that the 1-ID attacked on January 15. The enemy’s strategic position forbade a slow and organized withdrawal; he had to hold the ground he was on and hold it to the last man. Over and above any reaction by the Germans, however, were the difficulties of the terrain and weather. Both presented conditions which were almost insurmountable. The terrain comprised a series of high ridges and deep draws, usually heavily wooded. These obstacles, difficult enough in themselves were greatly increased by the weather: deep snow, over a foot and a half on the level and running as high as five feet in drifts, covered the area. The ground was frozen, making it extremely difficult to dig the sufficient cover. The temperature hovered around 20 degrees and the wind was strong and cutting. The weather was so bad, in sum, that during the engagement PWs often expressed surprise that the Division had been able to attack at all. The only advantage that the weather presented, and it was a somewhat left-handed one, was that the Division was often able to achieve surprise because the enemy did not believe that an attack was possible under the prevailing conditions.
It is hard to say whether or not the initial attack came as a surprise to the enemy. (ANNEX 3) Prisoners taken later said that their officers had told them that the Americans would attack on January 15; it was front-line gossip, and the report may have had its origin in Operation Greif. On the other hand, they said that the attack without artillery preparation certainly was unexpected. Probably as a result of the first report, a strong combat patrol, numbering over 50 men attacked the 16-IR’s positions after midnight, and was only driven off by 0430 hours. Shortly afterward the Division jumped off all along the line, with the 23-RCT on the right, the 16-IR, in the center, and the 18-IR on the left. The 23-RCT was to take Steinbach and Remonval, the 18-IR was to take the high ground about 1400 yards south of their line of departure, and the 16-IR was to seize Faymonville. The first and all-encompassing obstacle was the snow. Complete mine detection was next to impossible and in at least one case a tank was knocked out by one of our own mines, buried so deeply in the snow that it did not register on the detectors. The attacking infantrymen found the going as difficult as wading through waist-high water. A man carrying his equipment could go no more than just 300 yards without stopping for a rest. All across the front progress was slow.
On January 10, the 89.ID expected the 1-ID to attack. This captured order shows the measures the division undertook to counter the blow. On January 15, the 1-ID fulfilled the enemy’s expectations by attacking. The defense outlined in the extracts of the order as translated below was followed until the heavy pressure of our attack forced drastic, and eventually make-shift revisions of the enemy’s plan.
Grenadier Regiment 1055
S-3 Reg N°: 55/45 Sec
Regimental Order for the Defense of the Büllingen – Bütgenbacher Heck Sector
(1) Enemy: The strong infantry patrol activity has now been somewhat reduced. However, we must expect further patrols during the daytime as well as at night. We also must expect reconnaissance in force, with the enemy probing our positions constantly to determine our strength, and prevent withdrawal of our forces. Artillery interdictory fire has been considerably reduced. Immediate attack seems unlikely. However, we will have to keep the possibility in mind at all times, since the enemy may want the Büllingen – Hünningen – Honsfeld high ground in order to disrupt the MSR of our attacking armies. (2) 89.ID will defend the present front line and oppose any enemy attempt to break through to the east, southeast and south. (3) 3. The 1055 VGR has the mission of defending the present MLR against any enemy attack. An active defense must be initiated. As soon as our own strength permits we will assault all located enemy strongpoints in order to camouflage our intentions and to gain a more favorable defensive line. (4) The following units will be employed: 2/1055.VGR on the right, 1/1055.VGR on the left. (5) Mission: 2/1055.VGR will defend and hold the present MLR to oppose a breakthrough on either side of Büllingen and the line Mürringen – Hünningen – Honsfeld. The 1/1055-VGR will defend and hold all enemy breakthrough attempts in the direction of Morscheck and the Bütgenbacher Heck and in the neighboring sector of Heppenscheid – Möderscheid – Schoppen. The battalions will also prepare an offensive defense, which will mean combat patrols to capture enemy strongpoints. (6) Artillery: 2/189.AR will cooperate with the regiment and support the regiment on the defense. The 407.Volksartillery-Corps will support the regiment with TOTs (Time on Target) and other fire as directed by the Commander, 189.AR. The artillery will at all times be coordinated with the organic heavy weapons of the battalions. For all missions code names will be used. (7) Infantry Employment: The regiment will defend the present MLR and will repulse any attack directed against it. The MLR will be held with strongpoints because of the present strength of the unit. Strongpoints will be laid out according to the terrain. He who tries to defend everything ends by defending nothing. Constant reconnaissance will be maintained. To give the troops more rest, the line will be held in less force in the daytime. That is the only alternative. Infiltration of enemy forces is a constant danger and will be vigorously opposed. HMGs will not be employed within the MLR, but about 100 M to the rear. During the day these HMGs will be moved without the tripods and employed with and as LMGs. (8) Defense in depth: At all times resting troops will constitute the reserve. Each company will furnish one squad, each battalion one platoon and each regiment one company. This force will be the initial counter-attacking force and will form an effective defense in depth. Every position will be made a strongpoint. Enough ammunition, food and first aid equipment will be on hand to make every position seli-suiiicient..
s/ Meyer Bertholdt
On the eastern end, the 23-RCT, moving out from positions near Waimes, labored over the difficult terrain to take Steinbach and Remonval against enemy resistance. Remonval was held by about 120 men from the 3.FJB and part of the 2.FJB, 9.FJR; the enemy in Steinbach numbered about 100, with an equal number on the hill southeast of the town. The approaches were well-mined and difficult to detect: 56 mines were probed at one point near the underpass, and two tank destroyers and one tank were lost. In spite of the fact that the enemy controlled all observation and had ideal fields of fire, the two towns were taken by 1900 hours, as well as a bag of more than 100 prisoners. In the center of the line, the 16-IR pushed towards Faymonville, but was stopped cold north of the town; the 3.FJB moving to the east got into a hornets’ nest in a patch of woods east of the town, which was only cleaned out by King Co after a hard and bloody struggle. Later, however, the 1/16-IR was able to push the enemy out of the northern part of Faymonville, which was held by the 2.FJB of the 9.FJR. (ANNEX 4). By nightfall, the 16-IR held about half of the town, but the enemy at first showed no disposition to vacate his end without forcible ejection.
On the Division’s left flank, the enemy was giving the 18-IR serious trouble from well-emplaced positions on Klinkenberg and the hill to the south. Love Co, advancing to the south was caught by daylight in front of the enemy’s MLR, and the 1.FJB, 5.FJR on the high ground was able to cut the company to ribbons. By 1125 hours the company’s attack had been broken and the company was forced back to its original position. Casualties were heavy; one officer and 25 men were wounded; one officer and 42 men missing. The first day of the attack emphasized the difficulties imposed on supply and evacuation which were, indeed, as dogged as the reaction of the enemy himself. Jeeps were almost useless in the snow; the only vehicle which could negotiate the drifts, in fact, was the Weasel, and there were not enough of them: only one to a battalion. The evacuation of the wounded was particularly difficult and made more so by the fact that unless casualties could be evacuated within a few hours the chances of the wounded if seriously hit, were pretty slim. It is probable that a large percentage of the men listed as missing were not captured by the enemy but had fallen when hit and had been covered over by the snow.
The attack, however, continued. The enemy facing the 23-RCT had retired south of the Amblève River to take up strong defensive positions on the south bank. As the deployed troops of the 23-RCT pushed on down to the river bank they were subjected to intense small arms and mortar fire, but in spite of heavy casualties, the 2/23-RCT managed to reach the near bank. But the position was untenable; exposed to direct fire from the other side, the troops were being decimated. After dark, on January 16, the battalion pulled back to the high ground southwest of Ondenval.
ANNEX 4 (Order of Col Liebach on Resuming Command of 8.FJR)
8.FJR, January 7, 1945.
Commanding Officer – Special Order
As of today I am again in command of the 8.FJR. I greet you in old comradeship and mindful of the old spirit and soldierly bearing which you displayed in so many actions as paratroopers. With proud memory, I think of the many officers, NCOs, and enlisted men who died for the freedom and future of Germany. Also, I think of the many who were taken prisoner through no fault of their own and who now must endure the rest of the war defenseless. I particularly expect the ‘old men’ of the EIGHTH to carry on the traditions of the regiment and also that the new men will fit themselves into the unit. They owe that spirit to the many who have died for the banner in the course of their duty. With the old paratroopers’ spirit, we will fight on, master the difficult, and achieve the impossible. I expect strict discipline in all men of my command; I expect everyone to bear responsibility for his command down to the letter. We know that we paratroopers always draw the toughest assignments. In the proud tradition of our branch, we think back to the men of Crete, the many battles in the east, west, and south which have added here and there more and more glory to our banner! We are a community of battle-hardened men; we look with confidence to the new year! Our watchword is: STRONG AND TRUE FOR FUEHRER AND REICH!!!
s/ Liebach; Colonel and Co; First Staff Officer
s/ Gaul; Major