"Battle of the Bulge"

On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched a surprise offensive through the Ardennes Forest, which caught the Allies completely by surprise. Two days later the 82nd joined the fighting.

December, 16: D-Day for German operation Herbstnebel (Autumn Mist). The commanders which led the offensive were, von Runstedt (Overall commander in the West), Field Marshall Model (who was the tactical commander for the offensive), Josef "Sepp" Dietrich (Sixth Panzer Army), and Hasso von Manteuffel (Fifth Panzer Army) all were reported to have had reservations about Hitler's plan.

Between the two attacking Panzer armies, the 5th and 6th, the Germans mustered eleven divisions, and smashed like a whirlwind into the Ardennes through the Losheim Gap against the four American divisions assigned to protect the area. Dietrich and the 6th Panzer Army branch to the North, while Manteuffel and the 5th Panzer Army took a southern route. The northern wing of the attack would be defended by the 15th Army of Von Zangen, and the southern wing by the 7th Army of Brandenberger. Specially trained groups that speak English and are dressed in American military uniforms had to infiltrate into the allied divisions to create confusion. Without knowing the extent of the attack, Eisenhower sent two Armored divisions, one from the North and one from the South, to cover the flanks of the German advance and to assist wherever possible in halting the attack.

December, 17: When the first of the spearheads of Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army arrived at the key road junction of Saint Vith, they were met by the first of the American reinforcements sent by Eisenhower on the opening day of the attack, the 7th Armored Division. Saint Vith was a key road junction, which led to the Meuse River and the approaches to Antwerp. The American 7th Armored division succeeded in halting the German advance at St. Vith, and forced it to move in a less direct route to the Meuse River and Antwerp. The defense at St. Vith seriously hindered the precise timing of the German attack plan, and helped grind the advance to a halt in late December.

American prisoners taken at Baugnez are shot by Colonel Peiper's unit while on the road to Malmedy. This was to be known as the Malmedy massacre, and would be regarded as one of the worst crimes inflicted upon American soldiers during the War in Europe. Of the 140 men taken prisoner that day, eighty-six were shot and forty-three managed to survive and escape to tell what happened.

December, 19: The lead divisions of Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army arrived at the outskirts of Bastogne, which was the key road junction for his drive from the South to the Meuse River and Antwerp. There had been a race between the Fifth Panzer Army and the American 101st Airborne division as to who would get to Bastogne first and hold it. The Americans won, but by December 25th, the Germans had surrounded the city and had moved on. Bastogne would become the heroic pocket of American resistance to the German offensive, and would be the object of General Patton's amazing counterattack against the German Southern flank.

December 19th and 20th also saw the beginnings of US efforts to systematically deal with the threat KG Peiper's movements created. First a task force made up of part of the 119th Infantry Regiment and 740th Tank Battalion, with supporting artillery, called Task Force Harrison, was set up near Stoumont to block any farther German advance west.

Bastogne

Second, the US 82nd Airborne Division was sent from the Werbomont area to beef up the sector separating 5th and 8th Corps. The division's 504th and 505th Regiments were dispatched to relieve the part of the 119th Regiment guarding the line of the Lienne Creek. Those paratroopers were then to advance to secure La Gleize and Trois Ponts.

December, 20: The Allies, having been notified of the German goal of crossing the Meuse and moving on Antwerp by ULTRA, moved to check all access to the River. Eisenhower gave Montgomery command of the forces that were to check Dietrich's path in the North, and Montgomery fortified all bridges across the Meuse and then began a counterattack against Dietrich's northern flank. At the same time, Eisenhower assigned Patton control of three divisions to begin a counter-offensive against Manteuffel's southern flank with the objective to relieve Bastogne.

December, 21: 1st SS Panzer Corps headquarters received orders from 6th SS Panzer Army to find some way to reinforce Peiper and make his increasingly boxed in KG mobile again. Holding the bridgehead on the hill at Wanne was E Company, 2nd Battalion, 505th Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. Led by assault guns, German infantry hit the hill from the front while other men infiltrated along the flanks. Impeded by the soggy ground, the vehicles soon halted and fierce hand-to-hand fighting began. Outnumbered, the Americans fell back across the bridge to the other side of the Salm with the Germans following close on their heels. A number of the SS got across and formed a bridgehead on the American bank. But their success was short-lived. The 2nd Battalion reformed and, supported by the firepower of some engineers and artillery soon pushed the Germans back across the river. Later that afternoon the US engineers blew up the bridge.

December, 22: The defenders of Bastogne are offered an ultimatum for surrender or death. The commander in Bastogne, General McAuliffe, answered "Nuts". This was to signify the entire American defensive effort during this German offensive, as across the entire front, overmatched American units continually fought hard and slowed the advance with costly effects to the German's strict timetable for this operation.

CHRISTMAS IN THE ARDENNES. Christmas week in 1944 is a bloody, brutal time for American soldiers fighting to stop Hitler's Ardennes Offensive. Several Organized Reserve divisions are fully engaged. The 99th Infantry Division (OR) is holding Elsenborn Ridge at the northern end of the Bulge. The 82nd Airborne Division (OR) is battling the 1st SS Panzer Division near St. Vith.

December, 26: The bad weather, which had been so important to the German advance because it grounded all Allied planes, cleared, allowing air support to work for the first time. This was the first sign that the offensive was stalling. This helped Patton break through and relieve Bastogne. This also helped General Hodges 2nd Armoured Division repell the 2nd Panzer Division just short of the Meuse River at Celles. The German advance had been successfully stopped.

January,3 1945: Montgomery launches a counter-attack against the western and northern positions of the German's new front.

January,8: Hitler is forced to pull back his forward Panzer Divisions because of the threat of Patton's attack from the South which relieved and held Bastogne, and Montgomery's attack from the West and North.

January, 13: The American and British forces meet at the center of the Ardennes salient, effectively wiping out the 'Bulge' created by the German offensive.

January, 16: The original front line is restored.

Thrown into the breach of the famous "Battle of the Bulge" and despite a lack of cold weather equipment, the 505th withstood the bleak winter, blunted General Von Runstedt's northern penetration in the American lines and stopped the fanatic German attacks cold. Once again airborne spirit, courage, and hard-nosed determination won the day.

 Belgian Citation

 

 

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