Not far behind the radios came three tired figures with a reel of wire. Twisting around the trees, they trudged, stopping every now and then to make sure of their direction. The road to St Vith would have been an easy route for wire, but the road was usually held by the enemy long after the woods on either side had been taken. Every once in a while, as they plunged through the drifts toward the front-line companies, a barrage of rocket fire, or heavy artillery, would shatter the trees. Sometimes the wiremen had to trace their way back then, to mend a break. Many times they had to help a wounded comrade to the aid station. It was a 24-hour job for every wire team in the Regiment. When the fatiguing ordeal of establishing the lines was done, it was only a short time before the call came for men to repair the wires. It snowed most of the time, and just to find the wire presented a problem. But if you followed along with the wire in your hand, through the tortuous pathways of the Emmelser Wald, you usually found the break in the line, or the company, if you were looking for a company.
In fact, following the wire was usually the best way to find a unit in these same-looking woods, especially when the map locations were slightly inaccurate and when there was nothing but trees from which to gauge location on the ground. Once the wiremen were lost trying to locate Love Co, and when they radioed the company to send a guide to the battalion CP, Capt Reeves, the commander, sent men who one after the other became lost. The situation looked hopeless for a long time, but the wiremen finally discovered that they had come within fifty feet of the company without knowing it, so snowed under and hidden were the dugouts. Sometimes radio relay stations had to be used between battalion CPs and OPs. In chilly foxholes, the radiomen nestled down, and passed the message from one station to the next. Provided, that is, that the cold and thick woods did not make hearing impossible.
All night long on January 20/21, the wiremen of the 3/120 Headquarters Company had worked through the woods, following the route of the battalion to the Nieder Emmels Heide. At 0100 they still had 300-400 yards to go but found themselves out of wire. We had gone four miles to cover a two-mile distance, said Lt Jack W. Gollust, Communications Officer, but since the road wasn’t open, we had to take a long way; in our situation, there was nothing to do but go back to the CP over the four-mile route and bring up more wire; when we got back, we found the road was open. By early morning, the wire had been laid along the highway to the front-line companies. But with the opening of the St Vith road came the tanks and TDs to take up defensive positions. Tracked vehicles have always spelled doom for wires, and hundreds were gnawed apart in the fire breaks and on the main road. Soon calls were coming in for line repairmen, and they set out through the snow, feeling their way along the wire. That morning (January 21) the counter-attack struck as they were working just behind the MLR. But in the middle of the fight, communications were established. Soon the good news was to come over the copper that the enemy had been repelled. Trouble? asked Lt Gollust, we had hell!
Nieder Emmels & Ober Emmels
Two objectives south of the Nieder Emmels Heide remained to be taken. The 2/120 moved forward on January 22 from Feckelsborn. Fox Co attacked Ober Emmels, a village that dominated the western half of the objective. Easy Co moved through Fox Co to take Nieder Emmels, the eastern, northern portion. Resistance was light since friendly troops were putting pressure on the southern tip of Nieder Emmels. Five enemy tanks were knocked out or captured, however; in one the motor was still running long after the town had been taken. Inside, riflemen found the tank driver frozen to his controls – dead. One hundred eighty-one prisoners were captured in the day’s action. Prisoners of war stated that they were overwhelmed by the speed with which our forces surrounded them. It is more than likely, however, that the enemy felt a constantly growing pressure, too, and sensing our relentless progress, did not care to stop it. Sometimes the progress did not seem to be relentless. The supply routes always seemed endless, and the enemy had fought so fanatically that every man must have wondered if the advance were worth our losses. But the 120-IR had come through the ordeal with every mission accomplished, and if anyone had the ambition, he could have wandered among the camouflaged white foxholes and seen, here and there, a bearded smile from the man on guard, or could hear, now and then, a rough laugh from a doughboy crouched over his K-ration-box fire. At any rate, even though the cost had been high, the 120-IR had been too much for the enemy to handle.
The seizure of these last objectives made possible the recapture of St Vith by the 7-AD, which had been the last American forces in the town at the time of the German breakthrough. Elements of that division attacked through the 30-ID lines in the Nieder Emmels region on January 23. At 2230, the 3/120 relieved the 2/120 of Ober Emmels; the latter moved back to its former area at Feckelsborn. The following morning the 1/120 replaced the 3/120, which moved the hack to Malmedy. The 30-Recon had been relieved of attachment to the 120-IR at 1730 on January 22, and was attached to the 117-IR. The next three days gave the Regiment a chance to rest and reorganize following the bitter campaign. Men warmed up in the shelter of a Belgian home for the first time in a week. Reinforcements joined the outfit. Light training included: battle orientation discussion, combat tips from veteran soldiers, first-aid instruction, and winter combat hygiene. Care and cleaning of equipment naturally took first attention in training. All weapons were brought up to A-I shape.
On January 27, the Command Post of the 120-IR moved from Ligneuville to Sart, and was in operation at 1115. From Nieder Emmels, the 1/120 moved to Verleumont; from Feckelsborn the 2/120 moved to Sart, and the 3/120 moved from Malmedy to Halt. Antitank Company assembled in an area at Provedroux. On the following day Cannon Company, with the 230-FAB, moved into Salmchateau. On January 28, training began. Billets were cleaned and church services were held. Weapons were cleaned and checked. The last three days of January were given to training, the firing of weapons, and recreation. One noncom from each platoon attended Regimental Gas School on January 29. The 1/120 and the 2/120 saw a film on ‘Germany: Non-Fraternization’. Part of the 1/120 and 3/120 had bathed in Stavelot. All battalions were familiarized with the new M-24 light tank. Improvised snow suits, woolen ‘booties’, and Quartermaster arctic clothing were fitted and distributed.
At the end of January the German salient in Belgium, which had ended hopes for peace in 1944 and had startled once-complacent optimists in noncombat zones, had been reduced to a ‘bubble’. Von Rundstedt’s counterattack was already mentioned in papers as a ‘fizzle’, and compared to the dying convulsions of Ludendorff in the last war. The 120-IR will long remember the ‘Bulge’ in Belgium. The doughboys may not remember the spectacular success they had in overcoming some of Hitler’s few remaining crack paratroopers, the brilliant tactics of their commanders, nor the superhuman effort they expended in the worst of circumstances. But they will remember Thirimont and Hauts Sarts, Hill 522, and the counterattack on Emmesler Wald. Even more, will they remember the dull, cold hours of watch, the long, dark days of plodding through snow, and the foxholes they dug in the pine woods and camouflaged over and over again? They will remember the cry of incoming tree bursts, and sleeplessly bitter nights, and cold K rations. Later, at a presentation of awards, Maj Gen Leland S. Hobbs, commander of the 30-ID, was heard to say, In every hot spot, in every heavy encounter since D-Day – excluding only D-day itself – you men have been there, and have come through on top. And so, along with St Lô and Mortain, the campaign of the Belgian Salient took its place among the most difficult assignments of the Regiment. The doughboys had fought doggedly and yard-by-yard against a stubborn enemy, a cruel climate, and unfavorable terrain. Another tough spot – another victory for the 120th Infantry.
On February 1, 1945, the Command Post of the 120 was located in Sart. The Regiment was in a period of rest and training following the campaign of the Belgian Salient, where it had pushed the German lines from Malmedy to Nieder Emmels. The AT Co was in Provedroux; Cannon Co was with the 230-FAB in Salmchateau. The 1/120 was billeted in houses in Verleumont, the 2/120 at Grand-Sart, and the 3/120 in the same area. All battalions were receiving reinforcements, and extensive training was conducted, covering group tactics and weapons techniques. The deep snow which the Regiment had come to know so well in Belgium had begun to thaw out so that training in the battalion area was carried out in slush. Word came that the Germans had been pushed back beyond the lines through which they had effected their terrifying but abortive penetration. Plans for the continuation of the fall offensive in Germany, disrupted by Von Rundstedt’s counter drive were to be resumed; the Division was to return to Germany; by the third day of the month march tables were completed. Secrecy was to veil the entire movement to the new location; accordingly, bumper identifications were painted out and shoulder patches were removed. It was without sorrow that the men who had fought through the cold and wilderness of the Ardennes left the winter and the mountains behind; as the men rolled their packs, spring had already warmed the countryside.
On the early morning of February 3, at 0345, the Regimental Command Post at Sart closed, and with bright lights, the first vehicles in the Regimental convoy crossed the Initial Point at Salmchateau at 0400. Well-packed in the trucks and clutching their weapons and rolls, the troops rolled through Verviers, Eupen, and Aachen, to territory increasingly familiar to them. At Aachen blackout lights only could be used, and men of the Regiment began to realize that they were once again close to combat, and that, at the root of all the secrecy of the movement, a new mission was in store for them. By 0800, the forward elements of the Regiment had reached the vicinity of Broichweiden (Germany), a town that the 2/120 and the 3/120 had seized in mid-November. In the center of this town, the Regimental Command Post was established shortly after 0800. Also in Broichweiden in an area where it had expected to spend Christmas week, the 1/120 was installed by 0950, followed an hour later by the 2/120 which settled in an adjacent area in the same community. The 3/120 reported that it had moved into an assembly area 1000 yards north of Zopp by 1150.
The old, familiar, battle-scarred quarters needed considerable renovation, and the soldiers went about this with enthusiasm, glad to be free of snow-covered foxholes. The weather was drizzly and dark, reminiscent of the fall rains of the Birk-Euchen-Altdorf days. When it was announced that the 30-ID was once again in the Ninth Army, the conversion to the ‘old days’ was complete.
MALMEDY BELGIUM MISTAKEN BOMBING 23 AND 25 DECEMBER 1944
(Official Record after Investigation)
(Added to the 120-IR Report by Doc Snafu)
Flash Report, dated 23 December, for the 322-BG, was the following:
322d Bomb Group Target: F-23027 (1530) Zülpich
Target Clear, Snow on Ground. VSBY 4-6 Miles in Haze
Did the weather affect the bombing: No
322-BG’s History, December 1944. Updated
The Group’s bombers headed for the defended areas 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 past the village. Several others bombed casual targets. 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. Eighteen aircraft were flak damaged but there were no losses or casualties.
Malmedy-Zülpich Distance and Terrain
Examination of a 1:100,000 map indicates the air distance to have been approximately 33 miles. Malmedy was situated at the junction of the Warche River and the Warchenne the terrain being hilly and forested. Zülîch and the nearby (northeastward) Lammersum were in open country, the latter also on a river, the Erft River.