IN THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE
Reports from within the besieged City of Bastogne were meager. News had readied members of the Battalion that von Rundstedt had launched a tremendous offensive, but such news strangely enough had made small impression on the bulk of the men.
The great breakthrough that had shattered the First Army's lines was not only a fact, but as our troops were quickly to learn, presented a grimly serious situation to the Allied High Command. True, the powerful momentum of the German advances had been checked, but they were by no means stopped. This was, as von Rundstedt himself had declared, a final desperate gamble. If he had succeeded, the war might well have gone into another brutal year. But it was not destined to succeed, and many a gallant soldier of the 50th Armored Infantry Battalion was to give his life to insure the failure of the final master plan devised by members of the "master race".
Marching on Bastogne as a Task Force, and in Command of Colonel Wall, our Battalion was supported by a Commpany of Tanks, a Platoon of Tank Destroyers, and a Platoon of Engineers. Our mission was to reach a specified area on the outskirts of Bastogne and then to infiltrate on foot to forward positions. From there it was planned to launch an attack to the Northeast on the following morning, January 1, 1945. Slippery highways, combined with the presence of other troop movements along our route of march, conspired against us and it was not until a day later that the Task Force was in position to attack.
Fate had chosen the City of Bastogne as the scene for the gallant stand made by the 101st Airborne Division, an epic event in American military history. The short but swift siege-breaking dash of the Fourth Armored Division had brought relief to our beleaguered comrades who had until now battled alone and defiantly against the enemy's savage thrusts. But tremendous pressure still remained, and upon the Fourth's withdrawal to Metz, the Super Sixth swept forward to clash with the ruthless fanatics that composed von Rundstedt's forces.
The men of our Battalion were well aware now of the type of opponent that they were to meet; they were prepared to, and capable of smashing all Nazi resistance. But in doing so, they would observe a soldierly code that will not tolerate a Malmedy Massacre.
The New Year dawned with our troops firmly dug-in scarcely a mile East of Bastogne, after having successfully infiltrated to this forward area under cover of darkness the previous night. But a short time remained until our troops would go into action against the typical Nazi soldier, resourceful, persistent and cruel. Task Force Wall was assigned, the left sector of the Combat Command zone, with the mission of taking the high ground East and Northeast to Oubourcy and Michamps. The attack was to be made in conjunction with a concerted assault all along the entire Third Corps front.
Promptly at eight o clock on January 2, 1945 the attack got underway, over snow covered ground. In the face of moderate opposition elements of the Task Force reached a position approximately one mile west of Arloncourt, just before noon. Here enemy resistance proved considerably stronger and was to remain so for the duration of the battle. Artillery fire was coming in from three sides, but despite this the Task Force, spearheaded by our Battalion, advanced to the edge of a small woods West of Oubourcy. Determined enemy resistance at this point forced a halt for the night.
Meanwhile the revitalized Luftwaffe continued its pounding of Bastogne, and later shifted its attack to the Battalion's positions. Although bombed and strafed in the early evening, no casualities in our ranks resulted. Our troops dug in along the line that had been gained, tieing in for the night with other elements on our flanks. The day had proved exceedingly difficult for the Battalion, yet it was the Nazi who paid the bigger price, suffering very heavy personnel losses, in addition to four 75 mm anti-tank guns demolished by our fire.
On the following day, the first of a series of savage counter blows was repulsed by Company "A", after which the Task Force continued its own attack against strongly defended, dug-in enemy positions. This mounted advance cleared the approaches to Oubourcy and Michamps and, despite heavy artillery and mortar fire, both towns were taken by mid-afternoon. It fell to "C" Company to clear the latter town, and they had all but accomplished that task after vicious house to house fighting, when strong enemy tank and infantry reinforcements attacked from the North and East, forcing "C" Company to withdraw. From heights dominating the town, the enemy harassed this operation with intense artillery fire, causing heavy casualities among Lieutenant Palumbo's troops. Faced by numerically superior enemy troops, the entire Task Force withdrew to to a line just East of Bois Jacques, thereby nullifying all the ground gained during a day that witnessed the most savage fighting encountered by the Battalion up to that time. The Task Force dug in at this point and prepared to hold its position.
The tremendous effectiveness of our air and artillery support was never more obvious than it was at this period during which the enemy suffered enormous losses in personnel, tanks and other armored vehicles. Despite these stunning blows, the Nazis poured more and more troops into the sector and just before dawn on January 3, opened a new counter-attack on our positions. Although the attack was repulsed, we paid a terrific cost in personnel casualities. With no replacements immediately available, the Task Force grew continually weaker, yet there was to be no respite. Had it been possible to shorten our lines, the situation would have been greatly relieved, but when the 501st Airborne Infantry moved further North to attack to the East on our left flank, we were forced to extend our lines to include the sector they had just vacated. The thin line now made it relatively easy for the enemy to infiltrate with infantry and tanks, aided by poor visibility resulting from swirling snows. Artillery and air support was impossible now, and the battle became one between ground troops and tanks, a vicious duel between valiant fighting men on one side and fanatical maniacs on the other.
Siezing what appeared to be an opportunity to crush the Battalion which extremely heavy casualties had cut to ribbons, the Nazis gathered all the power at their command and struck at our lines with all the might of their best blitzkrieg tactics. Unable to hold them off, the Battalion, for the first time in its history, retreated - - - gave up more hard won ground, and took up positions on the original line West of Bois Jaques. This was necessary to avoid complete encirclement. In this critical situation, every man who could possibly be spared from other
Disabled in the heavy fighting near Bastogne, this "A" Company Half Track is
quickly put backs in fighting condition by a Service Company Maintenance Crew.
Hampered by bitter cold and heavy snows, and frequently subjected to enemy
shell fire, the efforts of these Crews maintained the high mechanical efficieny
needed in the critical days during the Battle of the Bulge.
assignemts picked up an M-1 rifle and plunged in to the fight. Everything seemed to be in a giant conspiracy working to German advantage. Even had the Battalion been routed by the punishing blows rained on it by a force that outnumbered it at least five to one in every respect but courage, history would have been generous in its praise of the brave men who fought in the bitter cold, subsisting on unheated "K" rations and nothing more. But despite the numbing cold that froze their weapons and caused entire squads to be evacuated with frost bite and trench foot, the men fought on in the face of tremendous odds against an enemy that cared not at all for his own losses in men or material. During the next thirty six hours attack followed attack, but with the knowledge of what depended on their holding, these courageous men fought on grimly and, in vicious and savage fighting, refused to waver. The loss of Lt. Col. Wall, Battalion and Task Force Commander, who was evacuated suffering from concussion as the result of a nearby shell burst, was a serious blow; but Battalion Executive Officer Major Paul C. Root Jr., assumed command and continued to direct the Task Force that exchanged blow for blow with the enemy. On the night of January 4 so many key officers and NCO's had become casualties that the Battalion was faced with complete disorganization. A further withdrawal was effected to a line running from the railroad tracks northeast of Lahez to the road junctoin northwest of Bizory where a composite Company was formed of the remaining elements and placed under the command of Lt. Palumbo, "C" Company Commander. All "A" Company officers became casualties, and Ist [1st] Sgt. Rimmer took command of the Company until Lt. Kirk was transferred from Hq. Co. to assume command. On January 6 Task Force Root repulsed the last frantic enemy counter-attack that continued during a four hour period ending at 0800 that morning.
Partial relief followed in the form of no enemy activity, and good use of this time was made in improving defensive positions. American artillery again proved exceptionally effective bringing fire on several concentrations of enemy positions dispersing them with extremely heavy losses and smashing their attacks before the Germans could get them under way. In addition to other known enemy losses, an entire Regiment of infantry reinforcements was spotted advancing through the woods near the railroad bridge west of Michamps. Every artillery piece in the area fired on this concentration, and the enemy troops were completely dispersed and forced to withdraw after suffering severe casualties. Later statements made by Prisoners revealed that this Regiment had been scheduled to attack the night of the 7th but was so disastrously mauled by our barrage, that the attack war [was] called off. Our Battalion was finally relieved in the early evening of January 8th by the 3rd Battalion, 320th Infantry of the 35th Infantry Division, and moved to a point about two miles south of Bastogne. Heavy snows and sporadic artillery fire so impeded progress that it was not until a half hour before midnight that all elements closed in bivouac. On January 9 "B" Company, which had been operating with Task Force Davall, returned to the Battalion. Moderate artillery shelling continued throughout the 8th and 9th of January with the heaviest concentrations falling in the vicinity of the Battalion Command Post, still located in Bastogne. At noon on January 9th Battalion reverted to CC "R". Through January 11, the Battalion remainded in Bivouac, resting and carrying on a much needed maintenance and repair program. Lt. Col. Wall returned to the Battalion and resumed command during this period.
An early alert on January 12 ended the rest period bringing "A" and "B" Companies into line with the 320th Infantry in position one-half mile east of Bastogne on the same line previously occupired near Bizory. The Battalion, less "C" Company, subsequently reverted to CC "B" in preparation for an attack to be opened the following day. "C" Company, assigned to Task Force Kennedy, remained in bivouac alberted to support the attack of Task Force Wall. The latter comprised all of the 50th excepting Company "C", but included Company "A", 69th Tank Battalion and a section of Tank Destroyers. All elements moved into an assembly area at noon, prepared to attack to the East. Scarcely an hour later the attack started with the town of Magaret the first objective. Previously taken by Task Force Davall, this little town sprawling across the main highway between Bastogne and the Luxembourg border was vitally important to the Wehrmacht if American progress toward the enemy's last defenses before Germany was to be stopped or even delayed, hence the furious defense of that position. Quite different from the preceding days of defensive fighting was the swift advance of Task Force Wall in reaching the town against moderately strong opposition. Having supporting fire from Task Force Kennedy, "B" Company, supported by the tank company, entered the town for the second time in two weeks. This time they intended to stay. "B" Company commenced clearing the town as "A" Company passed on through to the high ground on the east, stopping just short of the woods at Bois St. Lambert. The enemy counter-attacked, re-entered the town, and fought savagely from house to house. Employing an unprecedented number of bazookas, they knocked out three of our tanks and battled throughout the night with unabated fury. It was not until the following morning that we were able to root the final fanatics from their last ditch positions, and "A" Company assisted "B" Company in this job. Although this vicious battle took a heavy toll in the ranks of the Battalion, it would be difficult to compute German losses since the fanatical enemy was sacrificing vast numbers of men and material in a desperate, reckless effort to stop our advance. On January 14 Company "C" was released from Task Force Kennedy in time to join Task Force Wall in a mid-morning attack that cleared the woods of Bois St. Lambert against little opposition. Consolidation of the new position and establishing contact with Task Force La Grew at a point between Magaret and Bois St. Lambert were the next moves.
On January 15 a revision of Task Force Wall brought about the following composition: The 50th minus "A" Company, "A" Company, 69th Tank Battalion, Troop "A", 86th Reconnaissance Squadron, Company "C", 603d Tank Destroyer Battalion, and Company "A", 25th Engineer Battalion. Our own "A" Company was assigned to Task Force Kennedy, The Task Force was to
Staff Sergeant Anthony S. Thadieo, of Headquarters Company, during the period from January 4 to January 6, 1945, in the vicinity of Bizory, Belgium, assumed leadership of his Platoon when the Platoon Leader became a casuality. At the height of a series of strong enemy counter-attacks, Sergeant Thadieo, disregarding the intense enemy fire directed on the area, moved from one position to another, maintaining organization within the Platoon. In the citation awarding him the Silver Star, his gallant action is described as being responsible for the enemy's failure to dislodge our troops from the positions held in that sector.
receive support from the 231st Field Artillery Battalion. An attack through the woods just short of Longvilly along the main road leading to that town was to be made in conjunction with an attack by Task Force La Grew to secure the southern half of the Combat Command zone. Jumping off at 0830, Task Force Wall cleared the woods east of Bois Lambert and readied the wooded area just off the main highway, a little short of the objective but on line with Task Force La Grew with whom our troops linked. Here heavy direct fire was received from the woods to the North, East and South. The enemy positions could not be overrun before dark, so the Task Force withdrew and outposted the area 1000 yards East of Magaret. While not especially heavy opposition was encountered in this operation, the Battalion lost a total of 18 men, all wounded. During the night "A" Company was released from Task Force Kennedy and rejoined Task Force Wall. Having secured its limited objective of the previous day, CC "B" now prepared to resume the offensive in an advance to the East to secure a position astride the main road running from Bourcy through Longvilly. The reinforced Battalion began the assault at 160920 against spirited opposition by a numerically stronger enemy. Heavy direct anti-tank fire from the woods North and Northeast of Arloncourt stymied the drive until early afternoon when the positions were finally overran. Determined to press the advantage already gained, Lt. Col Wall quickly reorgainzed and pushed forward. Again heavy fire stopped the advance, but when control was established with elements on the flank the position was consolidated for the night and preparation made to resume the attack the following morning. Although he contested our advance with heavy fire throughout the entire operation, the enemy inflicted only minor losses upon the Battalion only five men had to be evacuated while equipment suffered no damage.
On the morning of the 17th Task Forces Wall and Kennedy jumped off at 0830 in simultaneous attacks. In less than two hours they had cleared the woods between Arloncourt and Michamps, this time meeting only moderate opposition from the positions which had halted the advance on the previous day. Task Force Wall then continued the advance to the northeast and by noon was but 200 yards short of the Bourcy-Longvilly road where considerable tank and anti-tank fire was encountered, apparently coming from a wooded area in the vicinity of Moinet. Lack of gas had stopped the German Panzers but these deadly weapons were being put to good advantage when used as artillery from dug in positions, and they poured withering fire upon our advancing troops. In general, the Task Force had accomplished its objective and now commanded this vital highway thereby cutting off enemy units facing American units on our right, and preventing those Germans from using the road for an escape route as they withdrew in the face of ever increasing American momentum. Units of the 320th Infantry of the 35th Infantry Division relieved the Battalion commencing at 1000 on the 18th. Relief was completed shortly after noon and the Battalion withdrew to temporary billets in the city of Bastogne. The following day was spent in these billets, checking equipment and resting.
On January 19 Lt. Col. Wall was again evacuated still suffering from the effects of concussion, and Major Root once again assumed command of the Battalion. At 1100 on January 20 the Battalion was alerted for immediate movement. Comprising Task Force Root for the impending operation was the 50th minus Company "A", Company "B", 69th Tank Battalion, one platoon of Company "B", 603rd Tank Destroyers Battalion, and one squad from the 25th Armored Engineer Battaloin [Battalion]. "A" Company of the 50th was attached to TF Kennedy. On the afternoon of that same day Task Force Root moved to an assembly area just Northeast of Michamps, prepared to attack to the Northeast on order; the Battalion Command Post meanwhile had moved to Horriune. At 0820 on the 21st the attack was launched with the town of Troine as the first objective.
For gallantry in action in the vicinity of Arlon court, Belgium, on January 10, 1945, Private Thomas C. Warren, Medical Detachment was awarded the Silver Star posthumously. Braving intense shell fire, machine gun and small arms fire from enemy positions less than one hundred yards away, he fearlessly rushed to the aid of a wounded soldier. His attempt to assist the wounded man cost him his own life. His valor is worthy of the highest tribute, and is in keeping with the finest traditions of the United States Medical Department.
Apparently the long and costly engagements of the past few weeks and the heavy casualties the enemy had suffered in these engagements had seriously depleted his strength in this sector. At any rate he was forced to give up this ground and withdraw further East for reorganization. Consequently, no ground resistance was encountered as Task Force Root drove Eastward. The area however was heavily strewn with anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, requiring the troops to dismount and proceed on foot. Because of the minefields and because of the deep snow, progress was slow, nevertheless the Task Force pushed ahead to the Northeast, took Hoffelt and Hachiville, outposted these towns, and dug in for the night. The Battalion Command Post moved to Hoffelt.
At 0830 on the 22nd, the attack was resumed when Task Force Root jumped off from Hachiville. Some slight delaying action was encountered, but this was quickly overcome and the Task Force reached its objective, the town of Basbellain, Luxembourg, at 1630. Extremely bad terrain prevented tanks from crossing a stream to support the infantry in town. Because of this and due to the fact that some artillery fire was being received in town, the Task Force withdrew to the edge of Bois de Rouvrey on the Belgian - Luxembourg border. Patrols remained in the town during the night, but no enemy activity occured. The Task Force was augmented by a platoon of light tanks from the 69th Tank Battalion and additional troops from the 86th Reconnaissance Squadron. The Battalion Command Post was moved to Hachiville. On the 23rd and 24th Task Force Root remained dug in and defended its line. Reconnaissance was conducted for future operations; aside from sporadic artillery fire, no enemy activity occurred. On the morning of the 24th, Task Force Craig of the 320th Infantry attacked through our positions and Task Force Root supported them with fire. After the former had seized its limited objective. Task
When the lead scout of his Platoon was seriously wounded while crossing an exposed ridge, First Lieutenant Douglas W. Syverson, Company "A", with complete disregard for his own safety crossed that same area under intense enemy fire, and successfully evacuated the wounded man. His courageous act, accomplished in the vicinity of Arloncourt, Belgium, was instrumental in saving the life of the stricken soldier. In recognition of his gallant action, Lieutenant Syverson was awarded the Silver Star.
Force Root was relieved by other elements of the 320th Infantry and withdrew from the line commencing at 1230. The companies then moved to billets in Hoffelt and Hachiville. This relief from action was not to last long. Before the Companies had even closed in their billets, our troops were again alerted and prepared for immediate commitment. "C" Company moved out to secure an assembly area Northeast of Troisvierges and closed in its area at 1930; the Battalion CP moved to Troisvierges the same night. For this operation Task Force Root was revised to include the entire 50th Armored Infantry Battalion, Company "B", 69th Tank Battalion, a platoon from Company "D", 69th Tank Battalion, a platoon from Company "E", 603rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, and a squad from Company "C", 25th Armored Engineer Battalion. The remaining elements of the Task Force moved out under cover of darkness early on the morning of January 25 and closed in an assembly area in the vicinity of Drinklange shortly after dawn.
Technician 5th Grade Randall E. Howard, Headquarters Company, on January 16, 1945, was the driver of a Mortar Half Track destroyed by a direct hit from an enemy gun near Osloncand, Belgium. Inasmuch as it appeared possible that the position might have to be abandoned in the face of an enemy attack, Corporal Howard, acting against the advice of superior Officers, braved intense enemy artillery fire in order to fire every round of ammunition his track carried, rather than alandon [abandon] it for lack of transportation in the event a withdrawal became neccessary. The citation awarding him the Silver Star emphasizes his courage and determination to deliver fire upon the enemy, and to leave nothing that might be used to the advantage of the opposing forces.
Operating in close coordination with Task Force Craig, the attack kicked off at 0900 with the objective of taking the high ground just North of Weisenwampach, know as "Hill 510". The attack progressed slowly but steadily against moderate opposition, deep snow slowing the advance more than enemy action did. Initially Companies "A" and "B" were on the line with Company "C" in support, later Company "C" joined the other Companies on the line. Strong enemy defensive positions built around a stream in the vicinity of Herbertsmuhle formed and [an] effective barrier to our tanks which were unable to cross the stream in the face of the heavy fire. Artillery fire on our assault troops was also heavy, consequently the Task Force withdrew on order to a point just West of Hill 510 where they dug in and established a defensive line for the night. This action was fought on by far the coldest day of the winter and 18 men were evcuated with frozen limbs.
On January 17, 1945, in the vicinity of Bourcy, Belgium, Staff Sergeant Augustin Augustain of Company "C", after leading several men to an area where they would be in a position to assist him if neccessary, went forward alone from that point, under heavy artillery and direct tank fire, to remove four wounded men, members of his Organization. His gallant action was instrumental in saving the lives of his comrades, and was rewarded when Major General Robert W. Crow [Grow] pinned the Silver Star on his uniform in ceremonies conducted not far from the scene of his conspicuously gallant action.
The attack was resumed at 0500 on January 26, Task Force Root and Task Force Craig jumping off simultaneously in the left and right sectors of the zone of operations. Companies "A" and "C" advanced through defiladed areas to high ground and reached the road junction North-east of Weisenwampach, where they tied in with Task Force Craig and held a line along the main highway. Company "B" and the remainder of Task Force Root initially followed these elements, then swung North and took the road and high ground due North of Weisenwampach, tying in at this point with Company "A" on the right and with the 86th Reconnaissance Squadron on the left, thus securing the entire highway in the Task Force sector. After establishing its line, Task Force Root was relieved by elements of the 90th Infantry Division, commencing at 1300. Relief was completed by 1630, and attached units reverted to their parent organizations. The Battalion then marched to the vicinity of Diefelt where they closed in bivouac 2030.
On the following day, Task Force Root was again alerted, and reconstituted to include the entire 50th Armored Infantry Battalion, one platoon from Company "C", 69th Tank Battalion, one platoon from Company "D", 69th Tank Battalion and one platoon from Company "B", 603rd Tank Destroyer Battalion. The Task Force moved from the vicinity of Diefelt commencing at 1100, and proceeded to the vicinity of Clervaux, Luxembourg, where they relieved elements of the 26th Infantry Division holding a line in front of the Skyline Drive, Northeast of Clerveaux. Companies "A" and "B" took up positions on the line while Company "C" remained in reserve. The Battalion CP was established at Reuler. From January 27 through January 31 Task Force Root held this same line and encountered little enemy activity. Aggressive patrolling was conducted, and light artillery fire was recieved sporadically by both forward and rear elements. On January 28 one platoon from Company "B", 86th Reconnaissance Squadron, was added to the Task Force. On January 29 Company "C" relieved "A" Company on the line, relief being completed at 1300. Commencing at 1200 on January 31 the Task Force was relieved in place by Task Force Brown of the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion. Relief was completed at 1500, at which time our attached units reverted to their parent organizations. The Battalion then moved back to a rest area and closed in billets in Weicherdange.
Long awaited rest was finally in sight for the weary and battle-scarred veterans of the 50th Armored Infantry Battalion who, throughout January, in the most eventful and yet disastrous month of their battle history, hat [had] played such a tremendous part in winning the battle of the Bulge against Field Marshall von Rundstedt's fanatical and inspired Nazi die-hards. American guts and fighting ability had succeeded in gaining the upper hand after some terrible days. The tide had finally been turned, the backbone of the German strength had been broken and now the way was paved for ultimate victory. And in this great achievement, our Battalion played a major role.
February could be nothing but an anti-climax after the fierce engagements of the month preceding it. The Battalion had been badly mauled at Bastogne and during the suceeding days, necessitating almost complete reorganization from the Commanding Officer on down. Vehicles were in a deplorable state of maintenance since conditions would not permit anything approaching proper care; Companies were loaded with comparatively untrained replacements, many of them unfamiliar with the duties of an armored infantryman. Everyone was badly shaken or tired, and the need for rest clearly apparent. This rest came in the early days of the month. The remainder of February was spent first in feeling out the defeneses of the Siegfried line, and later in crushing frontal assaults upon these renowned fortifications.
The Battalion spent the first week at Weicherdange, Luxembourg, in sorely needed rest.
Private Ist [1st] Class David Zeits, Headquarters Company, was awarded the Silver Star in recognition of his gallantry in action near Weisenwampach, Luxembourg on January 25, 1945. He and another soldier were on duty at a forward observation post, when an enemy air burst seriously wounded both of them. Ignoring his own painful wounds, Pfc Zeits made his way through deep snow to his gun position, a distance of almost two miles, where he obtained medical aid for his wounded comrade. Only after he was certain that Aid Men had been dispatched to his comrade's side did he permit himself to be evacuated.
Showers were available, movies were shown regularly, the Red Cross Clubmobile came with its doughnuts and music, and it was not long before the battle weary veterans of Belgium had fully regained their morale and were ready again to do battle. The new S-3, Captain James G. Lail, instituted a well conceived, comprehensive training schedule which gave the troops a chance to fire the more unfamiliar weapons on controlled ranges. New men were oriented and given a chance to participate in special unit problems. Battalion and Company Maintenance Crews worked night and day overhauling battle scarred vehicles, while all troops made the best of this opportunity to care for personal and vehicular weapons as well as attend to clothing and equipment, much of it badly in need of repair or replacement.
While our Battalion was billeted in Weicherdange with forces holding positions extending out toward Hupperdange, Lieutenant Colonel Albert N. Ward Jr. of Baltimore Maryland, arrived to assume Command at a time when the formidable defenses of the vaunted Siegfried Line loomed just a few miles distant.
By no means a stranger, Colonel Ward had worked with our Battalion back in Burford, England, and was thoroughly familiar with the men who came under his Command on February 7, 1945.
Confident of their ability and proud of past triumphs, our troops now girded themselves for the crossing into Germany, to plant their boots on the "sacred soil" for the first time.