Wednesday, December 31, 2014

16. The Homefront at Year's End

While my dad was in Europe, his mother at home kept her own silent vigil. The pages of her diary said very little. She was clearly just trying to maintain whatever semblance of normal she could have. Once in a while a comment would be made about getting gas ration stamps, but overall she cooked, cleaned, visited friends, sat alone as her husband worked on the railroad, her daughter lived 140 miles away and her oldest son passed through weekly.
One amazing bit of information is how often she got letters from my dad, who she usually referred to as "Buddy." I wish I had all those letters. They would certainly add something to what I've been reading and writing about the 10th Armored 70 years ago. I am sure he didn't say anything that would give anything away. All letters were censored, of course. But they might give the same bits and pieces I get from grandma. Like this one note in her diary on December 29, 1944:
Had a letter from Buddy and he sent me a dime for good luck
Beyond Dad thinking of her like that, there's not much else until later at the end of the war when he sent postcards which I still have. But that's a few months off.

Dad, Grandma 6/1944
The last entry in the diary summed up her roller coaster of a year. It had been a year when her youngest and oldest children, the two boys, both got married and her younger son went to war at age 38. She said nothing about the Battle of the Bulge anywhere in these last days of the year. She simply put a few words down, saying volumes of fear and hope:
12/31 – This is the last day in 1944. Gee, I hope 1945 will be better

15. The Year- and the Siege- Ends

26 Dec- The siege of Bastogne, for purposes of historic record, may be considered ended at 1645 on 26 December when the 326th Airborne engineers reported contact with "three light tanks believed friendly." True, the breach in the German-held ring opened by the 4th Armored Division was narrow and precarious, but it would not be closed despite the most strenuous enemy efforts in coming days. The staunch defense of Bastogne had impeded the Fifth Panzer Army drive to the west,…

The human cost of the Bastogne battle, therefore, probably was not out of proportion to the military gains achieved.

The 101st Airborne Division suffered battle casualties numbering 105 officers and 1,536 men. CCB of the 10th Armored Division had approximately 25 officers and 478 men as battle casualties. There is no means of numbering the killed, wounded, and missing in the miscellany of unrecorded tankers, gunners, infantry, and others who shared in the defense of Bastogne.

As Nichols reports in Impact:
26 Dec- The Tigers’ Christmas present, though a day later, was delivered. The iron ring of German panzers was pierced and the rescue was begun… [H]ard fighting was still required of all units. This was necessary in order to widen the corridor during the ensuing days.

Bastogne, 26 Dec 1944
27 Dec- Wounded were evacuated and supply trains wheeled in. Along with the supplies came swarms of war correspondents and official observers. The sickening sight of gutted buildings, smashed tanks and vehicles, was mute testimony of the hell that Bastogne had been for eight long days.

Painting 'Medics Moving in Near Bastogne / Relief Station at Bastogne' (Belgium) by Olin Dows, 1945

Meanwhile, the rest of the 10th Armored, minus CCB, was kept busy on the southern end of the bulge. They had been “jabbing and sparring” just north of the Saar-Moselle Triangle to keep the Germans off balance. At the center of this was Combat Command A (CCA). Their part of General Patton’s great offensive against the Bulge was a success.

28 Dec- 10th Armored’s defensive positions secured.

31 Dec- 10th Armored (minus CCB) moved south to Metz for rehabilitation and training, ending the most hotly contested battle in the Division’s brief but rugged operational history since its November baptism of fire at the swollen Moselle.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

14. No Truce for Christmas

Exactly thirty years before the Battle of the Bulge the “miracle” of the impromptu Christmas Eve truce made history in the trenches of World War I. No such “miracle” occurred for the men in Bastogne and the surrounding area in 1944. It had been a week of continuing hell! Between December 19 and 24 Combat Command B (CCB) of the 10th Armored had fought its way around and into Bastogne. Words like “chaos, panic, and utter disorganization" were used to describe the hard-hit units.

On the map, the 10th Armored troops are in the right-hand side. 
  • Team O'Hara behind the German line south of Wardin; 
  • Team Cherry behind German attack line on the far right side; 
  • Team Desorby behind German attack line at the top of the map; 
  • HQ of Team Cherry in Neffe just outside the Bastogne perimeter; and 
  • CCB HQ in Bastogne.
22 Dec
The tide of battle may be about to shift though. The German thrusts have repeatedly been stalled by fuel shortages and pockets of American resistance. Better still the days of sleet and low cloud, which have protected the Germans from Allied air power, are about to end, according to the forecasters.

Meanwhile, Patton's Third Army is on the move. (The 10th Armored, part of the Third Army, was already there and engaged). Eisenhower did not believe Patton when he promised that he would be at Bastogne by today; he had to disengage his men from battle on the Saar front, execute a 90 degree change of course and move over 130,000 vehicles 75 miles to the north. And he has done just that.

23 Dec
In the U.S. Third Army area, improving weather conditions permit extensive air support, particularly in the Bastogne area, where 260 USAAF IX Troop Carrier Command C-47 Skytrains drop 334 tons (303 metric tonnes) of supplies in parapacks on several drop zones inside the besieged American positions at Bastogne.

The German forces that have bypassed Bastogne do not have the strength or supplies because of the growing effectiveness of Allied air support. The US 101st (and CCB of the 10th) in Bastogne holds out.

The circumference of the ring around Bastogne would be approximately 25 kilometres.

Much of the above information is from a World War Two Chronology.
The following is from Art of Manliness
On Christmas Eve, 1944, General Anthony McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, issued a flier to his men. It was headlined “Merry Christmas,” and the general wrote, “What’s merry about all this, you ask? We’re fighting. It’s cold. We aren’t home.” He went on to praise Allied troops for stopping flat everything the enemy was throwing at them. Then he described a story that happened two days earlier.

On December 22, the commander of the German army had sent word to McAuliffe. The enemy commander had painted a bleak picture of the Allied position, and insisted there was only one option to save the Allied troops from total annihilation.


When McAuliffe read the demands, he fumed, then sent back to the German commander a reply of only one word.


When the messenger asked for further explanation, he was told, “It’s the equivalent of saying, ‘Go to hell.’”

--from Art of Manliness

The tide is turning, but a lot of battle will continue.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

13. The Homefront and News

Note that this is is a week after the beginning of the battle. A news embargo had been placed several days earlier and the word was carefully controlled. Perhaps out of fear and not wanting to think the worst, my grandmother's diary has absolutely nothing about this battle, not even a side comment.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

12. A Critical Time

19 – 20 Dec
Two days of 24-hour combat was faced by most of Combat Command B (CCB). Nichols, in Impact, describes Team Cherry’s experiences:
With tanks in the lead and dismounted doughs around them, the shot-up force pushed north… The enemy did not emerge lightly from the Team’s determined stand as it lost 15 tanks, 1 armored car, 2 halftracks, 3 anti-tank guns, 184 Germans killed and an undetermined number wounded. Our Teams lost 11 Mediums, 7 light tanks, 17 halftracks, 1 tank dozer and 2 recovery vehicles. In addition 1 Tiger officer was killed, 1 officer and twenty enlisted men wounded and 2 officers and 44 men were missing. Cherry’s Tigers were a tower of strength and fortitude as they held off numerically superior enemy forces to help prevent Bastogne from being captured on December 19.

It was not fully known until studies were made after the was, just how enormous was the German strength…It is difficult to imagine the utter hopelessness of Team Cherry’s situation in view of the tremendous forces arrayed against it, plus the fact that the team was confined to just one road, and to maneuver was out of the question… [While it may have been a minor victory for the Germans,] Cherry’s [Tigers] softened the enemy and… gained precious time for General McAuliffe’s airborne battalions to deploy east of Bastogne

Team O’Hara, meanwhile was attempting to prevent the enemy from gaining the town of Marvie. Even with a position on higher ground, O’Hara was powerless to stop the enemy halftracks from smashing into the town. There other troops from 327th Infantry routed the Germans in a house-to-house combat that lasted into the early afternoon. Later in the day snow flurries began to fall. Nichols reports:
…as the ridges became white and the drifts deeper, the most pressing problem became that of getting the defenders indoors in order to escape the icy blasts of the Ardennes winter.
As this important 48-hour period came to an end, the 101st Airborne was able to place several battalions on the front. It was the critical defense by the Tiger armor that had bought the needed time. Nichols writes:
It is likely that without the determined stand taken by the CCB Tigers east of Bastogne, the defense of the city would have been impossible. Subsequent newspaper accounts, movies, and magazine articles about the Battle of Bastogne have given little attention to the significance of the Tigers’ role, but the men who fell and those who survived are themselves the most eloquent testimony that the first twenty-four hours were the most punishing and the most crucial of the German winter blitz…. [The defense by the Tigers] resulted in a major upset of enemy plans, giving General McAuliffe time enough to bring in his troops and drape them around the Bastogne perimeter.

Friday, December 19, 2014

11. Homefront and Battlefront- Christmas 1944

With all the work I've been doing on following the 10th Armored Division through their European campaign on 1944-45 the situation at home hasn't been far from my thoughts. My Dad had just been married in May of 1944 and then shipped out in September. The American homefront was clearly invested in the war- rationing, recycling, extreme and extraordinary commitments and sacrifice were all over the country.

As 1944 was coming to a close there was at first a sense of hope. D-Day had been successful. But by Christmas, as the news began to be reported, a number of days late, of the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes, tensions, fears and uncertainty became very real.  I did a quick search on Christmas 1944 and found a few postcards and posters that were from that era.

 While in the Ardennes, the picture was very, very different. They tried to make the best of the situation, but it was often more of a short break from the constant fighting of the Battle of the Bulge.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

10. A Serious Affair Indeed

This is part of a series following my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago. He was a medic with the 80th Medical Battalion assigned to the 10th Armored, part of Patton's Third Army.
16 Dec - 18 Dec The Battle of the Bulge Begins
Map depicting the Battle of the Bulge German counteroffensive.
  • The 10th Armored was down in the lower right, south of Luxembourg when the attack began. (See map below)
  • Combat Command A (CCA) and most of the 10th stayed in that south eastern sector as part of the defense near what became the extent of the offensive.
  • Combat Command B (CCB) continued on to Bastogne where it was instrumental in holding the city until enough reinforcements arrived with the 101st Airborne. Bastogne survived in spite of the siege that made it a surrounded enclave.
16 Dec- all units of the Division were alerted for movement
 north with the mission of counterattacking a major
 German drive. Little more than this was known at Division Headquarters in the little town of Apach on
 the Moselle River just south of Perl.

17 Dec- At 0330 orders were received attaching the Division
 to VIII Corps of First Army and directing the Division
 to march toward Luxembourg City immediately. By 0630 the column recrossed the Moselle at Thionville. Along
 the route to Luxembourg City the situation became somewhat clarified and the Division was split into two
 major units to perform entirely separate missions.
While CCB moved to the vicinity of Bastogne to reinforce the troops in that area, CCA and the rest of the Division continued almost due north from Luxembourg City to protect the town from the threat of being overrun by the enemy. Everyone began to realize that the Major
 German Drive "was a serious affair indeed." (Note: the 10th Armored Division was the first US unit to be diverted from another mission to reinforce troops in the Bulge)

18 Dec- CCA completed a seventy-five mile march to an area some twenty miles northeast of Luxembourg City in the early morning of the 18th and went into action at once. Their mission - to protect the city. Their plan to carry out this defense -- attack. This attack stopped German advances in Luxembourg.

With CCB, Colonel Roberts led his column into the town of Bastogne late in the afternoon of the 18th. When he dispatched Teams Desobry, Cherry and O'Hare to defensive positions north and east of the town immediately, all hands realized that the situation was even more serious than most of them had suspected.

 My wife asked if the legend of Patton speeding north into the Bulge was true. It appears that his 10th Armored definitely accomplished that feat.

Where was my Dad? That is probably an unanswerable question after all these years. Company B collecting company of the 80th Armored Medical Battalion is listed in orders of battle as supporting CCB around Bastogne. CCB is also mentioned as having taken some medics along. So far I have been unable to determine or discover anything more than that.

But taking a look at pictures, movie clips and reading, it is very clear in my mind that no matter where he was along the battle front, it was, at best- hell. A white, fog-bound hell. Snow, cold, the ever present sound of battle- tanks, artillery, small arms. You name it- it was there. If he was in Bastogne proper, the tension and the level of combat would have been unbearable. Nichols, in Impact, the battle story of the 10th, describes that at one point Team Desorby had to retreat 100 yards.

100 yards is the length of a football field. The difference between danger and a place of defense was that small. At Team Cherry's HQ, enemy troops managed to get as close as 5 yards to the building before being "cut down." My mind was filled with the images in the recent WW II movie, Fury. I am getting the feeling that even that image was cleaned-up from what the pure hell must have been like.

I will never be able to understand what Dad went through, how he felt, and how it impacted the rest of his life. I am grateful that I can get this sense of his life all these years after his death. He was one of those citizen soldiers, his own band of brothers, facing the destruction of everything they knew. They fought back- or in my Dad's case- helped bring relief to those who did.

War is hell. Perhaps for those like Red, that may be the hope of grace in a heaven of peace.

Monday, December 15, 2014

9. Waiting and Regrouping

This is part of a series following my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago. He was a medic with the 80th Medical Battalion assigned to the 10th Armored, part of Patton’s Third Army.

30 Nov - 16 Dec Regrouping in the Saar-Moselle Triangle
10th Armored area early December. Distance about 13 miles.
30 Nov – 1 Dec- Combat Command B (CCB) had almost reached its mission objective- the bridge over the Saar at Merzig. Just as they arrived, the Germans had blown it up. The next day, December 1, 1944 CCB cleared Hilbringen, just west of Merzig, and continued to straighten its lines. 2 Dec - The Division Commanding General ordered CCA to relieve CCB. 3 Dec – 16 Dec- CCB assembled in an area north of Remeling and the weary tankers began the move to an assembly area in the vicinity of Montenach, ten miles northeast
of Thionville. In two and a half weeks of incessant combat they had reached their objective only to find their mission – the capture of a bridge across the SAAR in the vicinity of Merzig - incapable of accomplishment. Units, however, had received their baptism of fire and had ironed out many kinks in operating technique. These and other lessons learned proved invaluable in time to come.

{NOTE: CCA continued to occupy positions overlooking the Saar until just prior to the Division
 move to Luxembourg on the l7th of December.
It engaged in no serious combat, and was used primarily to "beef up" the depleted forces of the 90th Division who were primarily responsible for the zone. CCB remained in the Montenach area during the entire period.}
Information from a research report from the Officer's Advanced Course at the Armored School, 1948-49.
Saar-Moselle Triangle (2014 map)
13 Dec At this point in the month, the main direction of the Allies in the area continue to be the Saar-Moselle Triangle.
  • The U.S. Third Army III Corps accepts the surrender of last of the Metz forts--Jeanne d'Arc
  • The U.S. Third Army draws up plans for an air-ground assault on the West Wall. In the XX Corps area, the 90th Infantry Division prepares for an all-out effort to take the rest of Dillingen on 15 December, regrouping and building up supplies.
What happens next will be a surprise to all involved. It would appear that Allied intelligence had no idea that there was a major build-up of enemy troops, spreading out along a 75-mile battle front. The goal was to push the Allies west and open up a route for the Nazi troops to the port at Antwerp. But today all was quiet. Mopping up was finishing on this phase and plans were ready for the next.