Again at 0430, the enemy struck, this time on the right flank, defended by the 3/120. Two companies of infantry with ten tanks moved against the positions beside the main highway running into Malmedy, apparently to seize the Malmedy-Stavelot road. Two outposts had been overrun when the enemy hit the paper mill. Near where the road crosses the Warche River a mile and a half southwest of Malmedy stood the paper mill. The road junction there was a strong point of the 3d Platoon of King Co. There, not far from the Company CP, the force of tanks with infantry paused, and while one tank maneuvered and attacked, the others gave supporting fire. After six hours of fighting, men of the strongpoint, still holding the tanks at bay, repositioned themselves in and around the paper mill fifty yards away from their original holes. In crossing the treacherous river one man was hit by rifle enemy fire and his leg was broken. Pfc Leo Miller dragged him over the slippery stones under fire to the safety of the building. Pfc Francis S. Currey, BAR-man, had been firing energetically, but when he found a bazooka in the mill he picked it up eagerly and sought ammunition for it. The TD half-track across the road was known to hold some; and so with only one purpose, he rushed across the exposed roadway to procure the rockets. He then returned with the rounds, and from an advantageous, though exposed, position loaded for another man, Pfc Adam Lucero, who blasted the turret of a tank and knocked it out. Currey and Lucero tried to fire on other tanks from a second-story window across the street from the mill hut they were spotted after a short round. Currey took a bazooka out alone, and while Lucero covered him from the window he fired on a house that the enemy had captured and around which they had grouped their tanks.
The TD half-track was not far away from him; Currey made a dash for it and pulled some AT rifle grenades from it. From a flank position, he then fired all the rifle grenades and damaged three tanks. The half-track was still inviting to Currey and again he ran to it, turned the Browning M-2 .50 Cal against the enemy, and fired. The position was not advantageous, however. He saw a machine gun that better suited his purposes and made a 30-yard dash to a .30 caliber near the bridge. It was jammed but Currey removed a ruptured cartridge and started a protective rain of bullets which permitted some TD men to be trapped in holes close to the German tanks to return to safety without drawing fire. There were other great deeds that morning. The machine-gun platoon of Mike Co by 1/Lt Kenneth R. Nelson received the full fury of the attack. Concealed by fog, enemy tanks, and infantry, covering their advance with heavy fires, at times fought their way to within 20 yards of the platoon’s guns. Men of the platoon stubbornly returned this fire with machine guns, carbines, MK-2 fragmentation, and M-15 white-phosphorous grenades with such effectiveness that one onslaught after another was repelled. Lt Nelson time and time again went from one position to another, constantly exposing himself to the enemy’s murderous fire, for the purpose of coordinating the platoon’s defensive fires. Lt Nelson thus exposed himself for several hours from 0430 to about 1000, when he was wounded seriously and refused to be evacuated, continuing to direct his platoon from the building to which he had been carried. There he died – a brave man.
T/Sgt John Van Der Kamp, platoon sergeant, replaced Lt Nelson in the dangerous mission of coordinating the defense immediately after the lieutenant was struck. Shortly thereafter, T/Sgt Van Der Kamp too was wounded but he continued his hazardous duties until the enemy’s attack was completely repulsed. 1/Lt Arnold L. Snyder, mortar observer, in addition to carrying out his usual fire-control duties, secured a bazooka to bring effective fire upon the enemy from a dangerously exposed position. The enemy’s attack, though vicious, was stupid. Our lines east of Malmedy were formed in the shape of a U. On the left of this U was the 99-IB-(S). At the base was King 120. Elements of the 117-IR were on the right side of the U. The enemy attacked through the darkness down the center across the open fields. With the arrival of dawn, he had pushed forward within the U, being concealed by fog that limited visibility to less than fifty yards. Suddenly, at about 1030, the fog lifted and there were the Germans where Americans like to see them – in the open. Fearfully devastating direct fires struck the Germans from three sides. Mortar and artillery observers brought down heavy concentrations where the Germans were most congregated. The new Kodak VT proximity fuse was used for the first time by artillery supporting our Regiment. Germans ran and screamed as crazed men – few escaped.
The next day, news flashes over the air told that Malmedy had been retaken by the Allies. Members of the 120-IR grinned, for though the artillery was still falling intermittently in the town, they knew Jerry had never taken, nor even come close to taking, Malmedy. At last, the enemy had met the Regiment in this sector, but as yet he had made not a dent in our defenses. The troops were uneasy, however, as they dug a little deeper, connected foxholes with trenches, and put more dirt on their hole covers. More reports reached the men about untrustworthy civilians; one woman was rumored to walk ahead of enemy vehicles and patrols, shooting a burp gun to indicate that it was safe for them to advance. For the doughboys digging on the bald hills, it was a matter of watching and waiting – and keeping warm. Snow fell on December 27 and for several succeeding days so the entire area became blanketed in white. The foxholes had to take turns warming in the nearest available houses which, particularly on Chivremont (Able 120), were not very near. A task force was committed on December 21 in the vicinity of Burnenville, west of Malmedy. The 99-IB-(S), with one company of light tanks and Baker Co of the 740-TB, cleaned out the area and prepared to repel an attack in that sector.
Some soldiers suspect that the enemy drinks himself to intoxication before a suicide attack or patrol. Early in the morning of December 22, and again on December 23, incidents occurred which were wild enough almost to support that belief. They show the Germans’ persistent attempt to bluff and outtalk our doughboys. They found, incidentally, that they couldn’t. Pfc William J. Henderson and Pfc Simon A. Denaro, of Baker 120, were on a roadblock assignment along the Malmedy road 300 yards north of Geromont at 0230 on December 22. Visibility was poor, but through the mist, the two men on guard perceived the bright lights of an American half-track advancing from the south towards a minefield one hundred yards in front of the lines. Behind the half-track, the men could hear a noisy column of tanks, armored cars, and more half-tracks. Suddenly the column halted; the enemy could be seen around the vehicles, some removing the mines from the road. Crawling out of his hole for a better field of fire, Denaro triggered several bursts on his BAR. From the column came voices protesting in English that they were friendly troops, and that if they weren’t American, why would they have their headlights on? Denaro fired a few more bursts. ‘Come on down here’, he heard them yell back. ‘We have some pretty Frauleins!’ Denaro was not tempted. Then he began to receive return fire. Our lines were alerted and mortar flares were sent up.
Henderson bazooka man crept up beside Denaro and fired on the half-track, which he disabled, and on other vehicles. By this time our mortars and artillery were zeroed in on the column, and the enemy retreated. Thick snow had fallen the morning of the same day when just before noon the enemy sought to test our dispositions again. Two American jeeps, containing Germans, drove hastily to the roadblock on the crossroads in front of Able 120. An antitank gun prepared to fire, but hesitated because several civilians were noted running near the house and the road. The jeeps took note of the roadblock, turned around, and escaped before the anti-tankers could pull the trigger. A little more than a half hour later, riflemen and antitank men noticed some men in American uniforms creeping toward them on their left flank. Observing German equipment, machine guns, mortars, and bazookas, our troops turned on the strangers with rifle fire. At the head of the German patrol of about twenty men was a vociferous noncom, who yelled energetically and shouted orders at his men. The patrol returned our fire and shot bazookas into antitank trucks near the guns. Pfc Roy C. Johnk, a cannoneer in an antitank-gun crew, turned to a nearby .50-caliber, switched its direction of fire upon the enemy and, though he had had little experience with the gun could, by directing short bursts at each advancing enemy, cause such consternation that the patrol lost heart. After only ten minutes from the time they were first seen they had withdrawn into the wood and off to the left flank of the battalion.
Word of the skirmish reached Lt Col Ellis W. Williamson, 1/120 Battalion commander, and in the confusion and haste of the message to him, the patrol was exaggerated to a ‘battalion’. Eager to see the situation for himself, Lt Col Williamson rode at all speeds to Able Co and went to the scene of action. The men were shaken; some were wounded. With an assurance that staggered observers, he hastily organized a ten-man patrol of the antitank men and a lieutenant standing close by. The men rallied and formed a skirmish line which moved through the woods over the route of the departing patrol until Lt Col Williamson felt the men were in danger of their own artillery. No German remained. There were only blood tracks that merged; and tracks, too, of seemingly dragged heels. Apparently, the patrol had suffered numerous casualties. Lt Col Williamson returned with the men and checked the story of the ‘battalion’. He warned those concerned that reports should always be checked. Jerry’s tactics in the assault are ever to terrify his opponents with tremendous volumes of fire, and to create an appearance of having more men than he does have. Meanwhile, to keep the enemy out of town at all costs, three bridges south and southwest of Malmedy were destroyed. Night brought darkness and cover for the men who were perfecting the Regiment’s defensive setup. The Engineers laid deliberate minefields, while riflemen and men of the Battalion Ammunition and Pioneer Platoons, directed by Lt Salvatore Petinga and Lt Richard J. Lewman, dug and buried them, occasionally under direct enemy fire. Concertina wire was strung between the forward lines and the minefields.
On December 23, the enemy was little in evidence; the 1/120 reported that a patrol had observed ten Germans in the area to the battalion’s front. Early in the morning, the enemy tried once more a ruse destined for failure. Seven Germans in stolen American uniforms and with American and British equipment planned to get through our lines to spot our military installations and return. At 0200, supplied with maps, brass knuckles, and hand grenades, they approached a crossroad 1000 yards north of Geromont. They were halted by a member of Baker 120, S/Sgt Daniel Barbuzzi, then on his way from his company CP to his platoon area. Coolly their leader replied that they were artillery observers. The speech was slightly accented, and none of the men had a radio. The guard was suspicious. Armed only with a pistol and hand grenades, Barbuzzi yelled loud enough to alert his comrades, ‘Move, and I’ll mow you down’. When some of the Germans stirred uneasily towards the ditch beside the road, he fired two rounds from the .45. Soon, American soldiers had taken the patrol prisoner, and the men, young and in tiptop shape, were found to be members of the 150.Panzer-Brigade, reportedly attached to the 1.SS-PD, an old opponent from Mortain. Information received later from the US 1-A indicated that all seven spies were tried and executed. Barbuzzi’s T/E weapon was the M-1 rifle, and perhaps he regretted a little that he hadn’t been carrying it that night. But he took good care of his pistol after that. By now, our Army realized that the counteroffensive was Hitler’s do-or-die bid for a comeback, and with Hitler anything was possible. Accordingly, from Division came the instructions for the Regiment to carry gas masks at all times, and to practice wearing them daily.
The Bombing of Malmedy
December 23, was the first day of three on which friendly aircraft four times bombed the town of Malmedy, which it presumably supposed to be in enemy hands. The civilian property was lost, and some on Christmas Eve. Digging people out from under was a delicate but difficult job, and it took far into the cold night. Sgt Frank Palco, an aidman with Mike 120, was approached by a young girl in distress. She took him to an air-raid shelter that had suffered a direct hit and urged him to rescue three women who had been crushed by the fallen supports in such a way that their legs were lacerated and pinned painfully to the ground. Palco had no surgical tools, but he pulled out his GI scissors and performed one of the crudest – yet most effective – amputations in history. Two of the women survived the excruciating torture without the benefit of anesthetic. Palco later disclaimed any desire to become a surgeon after the war. The 3/120 suffered most of all, for its companies were located all through the town with its kitchens established in the heart of the building area. Within a few minutes, the kitchens of both Love and King Cos were destroyed with their complete staffs, and that of Mike Co was seriously damaged. Most of the burden of rescue fell upon the Battalion Headquarters Company, whose platoons went into immediate action, putting out fires, digging out people, and clearing paths. The 1/120 sent medical aid at once.
MALMEDY BELGIUM MISTAKEN BOMBING 23 AND 25 DECEMBER 1944
(Official Record after Investigation)
(Added to the 120-IR Report by Doc Snafu)
Malmedy was erroneously bombed on December 23 and December 24, not the 24 by the IXth Bombardment Division (M), according to the Ninth and Eighth Air Forces records. Photographs revealed the location, not pilot observation. Personnel misidentification was responsible. Acknowledgment was made by the IX-BD (M) in its daily report, but not by the Ninth Air Force. During the Allied Air Commanders’ Conference on January 4, 1945, Gen Carl Tooey Spaatz referred to an alleged Malmedy mis-bombing by the Eighth Air Force in December. That reference was the source for the only allusion to the Malmedy accidents by the Army Air Force’s official history. Zülpich (Germany) was the assigned primary of the 322nd Bombardment Group for December 23, but of the 28 dispatched B-26s, six dropped 86 x 250 GP Bombs upon Malmedy at about 1526. Their personnel realized that Zülpich was not bombed, but believed Lammersum (Germany), six miles beyond had been attacked. Photographs disclosed Malmedy as the victim. The flight was, of course, bombed some 33 miles short, a town in the hilly forested country, whereas Zülpich was in the open. Visibility was unlimited. Enemy aircraft did not oppose, nor did flak prevent full load drops. Four B-26s from the 387th Bomber Group dropped 64 x 250 GP Bombs upon Malmedy at about 1600 on December 25, instead of the nearby St Vith, the Bomber Group’s objective. Pilot interrogation indicated a mistake, and Born was believed to have been the locality. Photographic interpretation by the IX-BD again pointed to Malmedy as the location. Personnel error was the apparent cause. Flight officers believed St Vith to be their position, inasmuch as instruments and visual observation agreed. Plane-to-ground visibility was three to four miles.
DECEMBER 23 – AAF Orders.
Zülpich (-230327) was the primary target – the secondary, for the afternoon mission of the 322nd Bomber Group. It was a necessary railroad for the German 7.Army, according to the IX-BD, which named the town as the 322-BG’s target. Bombing could be visual if conditions permitted. In turn, the 99th Bombardment Wing added that the route was to be from the base to K-7746, to the target, and the bombing was to be blind from approximately 12.000 feet at 1500. At 1145, the 322-BG’s Operations notified A-2, and pilots were briefed at 1230-1330.
The Flight and Reports.
Six B-26s attacked Malmedy at 1526, while 22 others also dispatched to Zülpich was aborted or bombed elsewhere. Maj C. J. Watson’s flight took off at 1328-1408. According to the course map, the briefed route was flown, which was from the base to Roetgen (Germany) (Initial Point), to target, left to Siervenich (Germany), and return. Pilots named Lammersum (Germany)(F-3445), some six miles northeast of Zülpich, as the target of their 86 x 250 GP Bombs. Their A-2 statements immediately after the 1655-1730 landing were descriptive.
Flight Leader, Maj C. J. Watson: Hit town, not target might be Lammersum. Excellent results on town.
2/Lt D. R. Gustafson : Center of tomn and walked out. Not target. Ex.
1/Lt S. E. Eyberg: Hit town of Lammersum not target. Excellent on town.
1/Lt R. Pike: Bombs through the center of town, not target. Excellent results.
1/Lt H. S. Isaacs: . Hit center of town was not the target. Excellent results in town.
Conley: Bombs blanketed the small town. Did not bomb primary. 3 or 4 runs on T/0.
Based upon pilot reports, the Group telephoned the IX-BD at about 1845 that Zülpich had not been bombed, and believed Lammersum had ben attacked. A 2210 amendment to the official OPFLASH #228 of 1915, repeated that data.
Photographs Identified Malmedy
Flight cameras operated 100%, and Capt Bernhard O. Hougen, IX-BD Photo Interpreter reported:
6 A/C. P.N.B. Bombs hit through the center of the tom of Malmedy, on buildings and streets in the town. His center of town description was identical to pilots. Although the IX-BD acknowledged the mistake, the Ninth AF did not. The IX-BD’s daily Mission Summary as to the 322-BG reported: 6 A/C bombed the town of Malmedy, 1/2 mile of bomb line, due to misidentification of target by the bombardier. In turn, the Ninth AF’s Summary of Operations for December 23, (dated December 26), referred only to Euskirchen (Germany) and Gladbach (Germany) attacks by the 322-BG. Pilot statements based upon impressions were the original 322-BG information, then when later photographic interpretation provided accurate details, the Group’s December history related this version. The Group’s bombers headed for the defended area of Zülpich in the afternoon but weather conditions interfered with the operation and the majority of the aircraft brought their bombs back to base. Six aircraft misidentified the target and bombed the village of Malmedy in Belgium while four others bombed east of the village. Because of the fluid situation of the troop lines during the German counter-offensive, no serious damage to our troops was reported in the bombing of Malmedy.
Pilots were lost and committed a personnel error, yet several mission factors seemed to favor the flight. Location. Malmedy (Belgium) was 33 air miles from Zülpich (Germany), a substantial distance, even for aircraft, and Lammersum (Germany) was yet another six miles beyond Zülpich. Actually, the flight was off course and did not approach Zülpich. Malmedy was en route to both base-to-target and base-to-IP of Roetgen (Germany) (Initial Point) where the formation was to take positions. Terrain could be a guide. Malmedy was in the hilly, forested country, Zülpich in the open. Lammersum and Malmedy were both on rivers, however, possibly a perplexity. The former was on the Erft River, Malmedy at the junction of the Warche River and the Warchenne River. The weather was favorable. Pilots reported ceiling and visibility unlimited. Their descriptions of results and photographs were both detailed, sugg sting sharp observation. The weather did not affect the bombing, the IX-BD Weather Office reported. The enemy was not distracting. Aircraft opposition was lacking, and flak did not prevent the dropping of 86 of the 87 carried bombs. Attention is called to possible tactical significance in the IX-BD’s flak analysis of the 322-BG Zülpich mission. The location’s identity was uncertain, however, inasmuch as Zülpich was the target, Malmedy was bombed, but pilots believed Lammersum had been attacked.
While our troops were busy giving all possible aid, our Air Forces bombed us a second time that day. Fortunately, the damage was slight. Lt Col Greer, the Battalion commander, was energetic and with his staff reorganized and stabilized the panic-stricken people. During the evening hours every man did his utmost in the face of the totally unnecessary catastrophe; the wretched town, once so picturesque and lovely, was now a beehive of half-angry, half-dazed, but very busy men. Among those who gave unselfish aid to the civilians was Lt O’Shea of Item 120, T/4 Burner of Battalion Headquarters, and Pfc Conroy, also of Battalion Headquarters. Lt Col Peter O. Ward, 120-IR Executive Officer, was among the most active. The 291-ECB did miraculous work in opening vital roads and extinguishing fires that threatened to destroy the town. Soldiers remember civilians staring at the sky that evening. ‘American planes?’ they murmur in a still-shaken, mystified voice. Few of the soldiers could find it in themselves to answer. They could only look away. They were mystified themselves.
Christmas brought another light air raid. Again there were civilian casualties, but only one man in the Regiment was reported injured.