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The Ardennes Breakthrough

Table of Contents

HISTORY OF THE 110TH INFANTRY REGIMENT

THE ARDENNES BREAKTHROUGH

16 December 1944 - 15 January 1945


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While the 110th was licking the wounds received in the Hurtgen Forest the Germans, on the opposite side of the Our, were preparing to play a last desperate trump in an effort to halt the relentless Allied drive. [Note--Following sentences were in the original document but lined out:  Tanks were heard roaring along the east bank of the river in large numbers and on many occasions lights were observed illuminating sectors of the enemy territory; an indication that something unusual was afoot, since this phenomenon was unprecedented in previous German military conduct. Reports indicated that enemy patrols were increasing in both size and number.]  And suddenly, at 0530 on the morning of December sixteenth, the entire regimental front was subjected to a heavy artillery barrage. From 0600 to 0630 the barrage diminished slightly; at 0730 it increased in intensity. And at the same time (0730) an attack in force was launched by the enemy. The battle of the bulge had begun.

According to an article in the October 20, 1945 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, the Nazi offensive was Hitler's own brainchild; a plan which, "If it failed . .  (would lose) the war. But it could not fail." The drive was an effort to bag General Montgomery's twenty-first army group (to be accomplished after the preliminary steps of recapturing Antwerp and


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Liege ) which, according to Hitler, would ". . . . so discourage the United States that America would become a negligible factor in the war and withdraw or negotiate a peace." So certain was Hitler of the success of his plans that one of the German Divisions committed to the attack (The Panzer Lehr Division, originally organized to repel the Normandy invasion into Germany) was overtaken, shortly after the attack was launched, by a trainload of Quislings with orders to take over the government of Belgium. This was but one of the many indications of the thoroughness, as well as the confidence, of Hit­ler's preparations. And had the offensive succeeded in its aims, irreparable harm might have been done to the Allied plans. That it fell short of the mark is in large measure creditable to the initial defensive efforts of the 110th Infantry Regiment.

The 110th Infantry was holding a front of a little more than fifteen miles along the Our River, Luxembourg, facing the Siegfried Line, having taken over this sector from the 8th Division on November 17-19 after the 28th had fought a hard fight alone in the Hurtgen Forest further northward. The Division needed rest and reinforcements, as it had been in the fighting continuously since July. The Regimental front was held by two battalions, for the 2nd Battalion was in Division Reserve.


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The Division had no other reserves and the VIII Corps had no particular reserve.

The Regimental defensive sector was organized by having four company strong points generally set up in towns along the "red-ball highway" running parallel to and a mile west of the Our River. 

Each front line battalion had a company in reserve, which organized a strong point in the town it garrisoned. Each strong point sent out from three to five outguards, of a squad strength, to outpost the Our River in order that the river could be kept under surveillance and fire. Besides these outposts patrols worked day and night in the intervals between outposts and strong points. [Note--Following sentence was in the original document but lined out:  For a number of days our patrols and outposts noticed unusual activity on the part of the enemy on the opposite side on the Our River.]

The enemy attack began at 0545 on the morning of 16 December after a heavy concentration of artillery on every position and headquarters in the regimental area. Communications were cut rather generally during the first hour and it was not long before the company strong points at Heinerscheid, Marnach, Hosingen and Weiler were under enemy small arms and tank fire. Within an hour enemy forward groups had broken through the gaps and reached some of the artillery positions only to be beaten back by hand to hand fighting. Communications were out with Division, so the Regimental Commander Col. Fuller, dispatched Lt. Col. Daniel B. Strickler, his executive officer, to go over to the right part of the sector and take charge there,


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with instructions to stop at Division Headquarters to inform them of situation and to find out what was going on in the Division area generally. Later Col. Strickler reported to Colonel Fuller that the right sector held by the third Battalion and its attachments was being attacked by the enemy in force in all unit defense areas, and that he was taking command of the forces on the right.

Orders from Division were to effect that every unit and installation was to hold and fight it out at all costs. With that spirit the first day was one of fanatic resistance. Many enemy were slaughtered as they advanced over open ground against the strong points and in attempting to drive through the gaps. Some tanks from the 707th Tank Battalion and the reconnaissance platoon of the 630 T.D. Battalion were com­mitted to action in the regimental sector.

On the morning of December seventeenth the enemy resumed the attack, their forces being continuously augmented by reinforcements from all arms. The 2nd battalion was eventually ordered to secure the hard-pressed town of Marnach , resulting in increasing weakness in the regimental sector. The Nazi attackers were quick to exploit this advantage, and by approximately 1800 had brought tanks and infantry to within fifty yards of the hotel in Clervaux being used as a regimental command post. The tanks poured direct fire into the building and the infantry, moving up under cover of this fire, moved in and occupied the first floor of the hotel by 1930.


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Previously, at 1900, Colonel Fuller had issued instructions to members of his staff and operation personnel then on hand to the effect that the CP group would use Esselborn [Eselborn] as an assembly point if it became necessary to evacuate the hotel, and about 2000 the personnel comprising the operation group began, according to the Regimental journal to ". . . . infiltrate through the enemy, who had surrounded the C.P., towards Esselborn." How this apparently impossible feat was performed in the face of the fact that the 1st floor of the hotel was in the hands of the enemy and the building was completely surrounded is not explained in the accounts of the battle, but a letter written by Colonel Fuller after his subsequent capture by the Germans sheds some light on the circumstance. "My command post was overrun by many German tanks", he explains, "and the building which I was in was surrounded. However, I managed to escape with the staff through a third story window to an adjacent cliff by means of a steel ladder we found."

During the night the members of the Regimental group became separated and in the morning it had become evident that many of the officers and men were lost. Consequently, Captain Harwell, Regimental adjutant, organized and set up a CP at Allerborn. Colonel Seely arrived from Division Headquarters and took charge at approximately 0800. In the meantime, Captains Reardon and Dobbs had organized the rem­nants of the 2nd battalion near the road junction just east of Allerborn. Colonel Seely, making a reconnaissance of the area, discovered that an armored infantry company and a tank company of the 9th armored Division were also going into posit-


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tion near Allerborn, and he ordered Captain Reardon to organ­ize a position on the right of the armored unit. Enemy pres­sure continued, and in the afternoon officers from the 630th Tank Destroyer battalion reported that their CP was surrounded and that Colonel Fuller was in the CP. Still later, an officer from the Division Signal unit came into the Regimental CP and reported that an enemy column had gained control of the Wiltz-Allerborn road. Eventually (about 1930) the German forces succeeded in penetrating Allerborn itself, and between 1930 and 2000 tanks and infantry attacked the Regimental CP, forcing the command group to evacuate. Colonel Seely had previously ordered the command vehicles of the Regiment back to Margaret [Margeret, Belgium], then in allied hands, but in the meantime a heavy fog set in which worked against the defenders, since they were unable to see the German forces as they attacked. In the ensu­ing confusion, many officers and men, including Colonel Seely, Regimental Commander, whose report of the battle will be found in the appendix to this history, were captured.

From this point on the Regiment ceased to operate as a cohesive unit, and the battles which were fought were separate actions, conducted as such by isolated units and even by individuals. A citation signed by Brigadier General Perry says, "Despite intense artillery, mortar, small arms and tank fire and a scarcity of ammunition the 1st battalion, though surrounded, continued to fight piecemeal until late on the eighteenth of December and then, with communications and ammunition


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gone, the twenty-odd survivors of company "I" managed to infiltrate into company "L's" position at Consthum, where with company "L" and 3rd battalion headquarters, they threw off by close combat attack after attack of the numerically super­ior foe. Early on the nineteenth of December, on order from Division Headquarters, remnants of the 3rd battalion approx­imately two hundred strong withdrew to supplement the defense of Wiltz where they fought throughout the day to hold the ad­vance of one whole German Division . . . Wiltz was the Division C.P. and the Division Commanding General put Col. Strickler of the 110th in charge of all defense forces at the Wiltz garrison.

"The 2nd battalion (less company "G"), initially in Division Reserve, reverted to Regimental control during the night of the sixteenth and seventeenth of December . . and on the seventeenth . . attacked to retake Marnach. Immediately after the attack was launched, the enemy counterattacked with approximately one regiment supported by about twenty enemy tanks. Subjected to intense artillery, tank and small arms fire, the battalion (less company "G") took up positions on the high ground Northeast of Clervaux, and although surrounded and subjected to intense artillery, tank and small arms fire, continued to withstand enemy attacks until communications were destroyed and ammunition supply exhausted. Sixty officers and men infiltrated out to take up positions with company "G" in the vicinity of Allenborn where they were later


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overrun by advancing enemy tanks.

"The Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Company at Clervaux was attacked by approximately ten enemy tanks, closely followed by at least a battalion of Infantry during the evening of the seventeenth of December. Headquarters company was surrounded but continued to hold out against repeated attacks by the enemy until the eighteenth of December when ammunition ran out and communications were lost.

"Cannon Company shared the fate of the 1st battalion but not until every round of ammunition had been expended, communications lost and completely encircled by the enemy."

"The conspicuous gallantry, heroism and determination of the 110th Infantry to hold at all costs for nearly ninety-six hours without sleep, without food, without reinforcements and under the most adverse climatic conditions upset the timetable of Rundstedt to reach Bastogne on the Sixteenth of December . . . and contributed materially to the successful defense of Bastogne and to the defeat of the enemy in the Ardennes; and reflects the highest traditions of the armed forces." *

A letter from Colonel Fuller, written to the command­ing general of the 28th Division at the time when the former was a prisoner of war in Germany, states, "After the first two days of fighting, all elements of the 110th Infantry and

* Note: For complete citation, see Appendix


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company "B", 103rd Engineer Combat Battalion, were complete­ly surrounded. These units continued to fight stubbornly in place, until their ammunition was exhausted, and they were virtually annihilated before they were completely overwhelmed by superior forces of tanks and armored infantry. On December 16, although the enemy broke through to and surrounded the battery position of Battery "C", 109th F.A. Battalion, and captured two guns, the personnel of the battery fought viciously to hold the battery position, ultimately retaking the position and all material. This battery was again overrun on December seventeenth, but drove off the enemy and was enabled to displace to a position farther to the rear from which it continued to render continuous and effective fire support.

"Headquarters Battery and the fire direction center remained in a forward position, under fire, until afternoon of the seventeenth of December, when they were ordered to displace to the rear. At no time during the German attack was any infantry protection available to the batteries of the 109th F.A. Battalion. However, all units defended their positions when attacked using their organic weapons. . "

And a broadcast by Cedric Foster paid the following tribute to the men who wear the red keystone: "Morley Cassidy, of North American Newspaper Alliance, who is accredited to the United States 28th Infantry Division, has told today, for the first time, the story of the 28th Division's 


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heroic stand in the German breakthrough of last December. He said that it is the merest justice to declare that the Keystone 28th Division, under the command of Major General Norman D. Cota, deserves equal credit with the gallant 101st Airborne for stemming the German drive. Three days before the 101st began its stand, the men of the 28th Division were taking the full brunt of Von Rundstedt's mightiest offensive in Luxembourg. They were fighting desperately in hundreds of scattered battles. Cassidy revealed that on the fifteenth of December, the 28th Division was stretched tight as a fiddle string along a twenty mile front of the Our River. This front extended from the northeastern tip of Luxembourg to the area of Wallendorf at the mouth of the Sure River. It was the widest front held by any division . . . in Europe . . five times the length of a normal division front, and bigger than the front of some army corps. It was regarded as a rest area. The front was quiet, and the 28th Division was recovering from its bitter battle in the Hurtgen Forest in the north. The Germans struck the 28th Division lines in full power. By nightfall, the whole central sector of the front was a fluid mass of penetrations and encirclements. It was a day and a night of incredible heroism, as the thinly scattered troops of the 28th Division fought to hold a paper thin line. The Germans threw a total of eight divisions at the reeling men of the 28th. American flanks, the 109th and 112th Regiments gave ground slowly, but they


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blocked every German attempt to widen the breakthrough. On the third day of the fighting, the 110th Regiment . . . fought as few men are ever called upon to fight. Cooks and clerks and chairborne officers at headquarters turned into infantry­men to hold off the attack.. The 28th Division performed one of the greatest feats, Cassidy revealed, "in the history of the American Army. Against the nine German divisions they had held se firmly that the German time table had been thrown completely off. Bastogne was supposed to have been captured, according to German documents, the first day. It took days to surround it. The 101st Airborne was planted in Bastogne and the flanks had been held by the 28th Division in an immortal stand."

 

On December the twenty-third Colonel Strickler (whose promotion orders, effective December 1st, had not yet reach­ed him) established a CP at Neufchateau and began reorgani­zation of the 110th Infantry. Losses had reduced the unit to five hundred officers and men, and with this nucleus the Colonel designed a defense of the town. Six outposts, which had already been established, were manned; and six new OPs planned. The first six posts were known as the outer defenses, those under contemplation the inner defenses. All personnel in the town whose duties were not of an essential nature were to be attached to the 110th and employed as defensive infantry. On the twenty-fourth these defenses were strengthened and reorganized [reorganization?] continued.


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At the same time, orders were received from Division to the effect that the defense of Neufchateau would take priority over everything else. Colonel Strickler's story of the battle of the bulge (which is included in full as an appendix to this history) indicates that a third ring of protective positions was added at this time, and that the troops mann­ing the three rings came from fifteen different divisions and separate outfits. Even so there were pitifully few men, and it was necessary for the tired, hungry troops who were available to man the positions twelve hours a day in zero weather on frozen ground.

Christmas day was considerably less than cheerful. The temperature hovered just above zero, and the ground was hard and frozen. The Nazi Christmas present for the assembled group arrived promptly at noon-huge five hundred pound bombs. The enemy was pressing forward with support from small arms, and the situation continued grave. Engineers were relieved from infantry jobs and returned to their parent organ­izations to prepare demolitions; artillerymen were requested to reman their grins at strategic road junctions. From any point of view, it was a remarkably unmerry Christmas.

The enemy bombing was repeated on December twenty-seventh, when seven bombs were dropped on the town. No damage was done beyond the destruction of a. part of the CP and the interruption of communications for an hour.


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However, friendly troops were advancing fm the south, and this last bombing was the closest that the enemy ever got to Neufchateau. On the twenty-ninth of the month the 11th Armored Division passed through OP number three and continued northeast to the aid of Bastogne. The city was liberated shortly thereafter, and the German threat was ended forever. From this point on, the Allies were never subjected to a major German effort, and the Nazi war machine was limited to defensive action. The men of the Regiment, put to the supreme test, had perpetuated the name of the 110th through their role in stopping the entire German army with little more than will power and determination. This achievement had been at a formidable cost-the regiment was reduced from a combat strength of three thousand, one hundred and seventeen officers and men to five hundred eighty seven. Of that number, one hundred twenty-six were known killed, one hundred and forty-two, missing in action. For these losses the Germans paid dearly. In comparison with one hundred twenty-six American dead, over two thousand Nazis were buried in the 110th sector. The Ardennes campaign, Armagedon of World War II, had been successfully repulsed due largely to the efforts of the men of the 110th.

On January second, 1945, the Regimental commander and staff left the CP for Charleville, France, to receive orders concerning a new disposition and mission. At 1330 the CP closed in Neufchateau and at 2345 leading elements of the


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Regimental convoy moved out towards Les Mazures, France. At 1700 the CP opened at Les Mazures, the unit having become a part of the Northern sub-sector of the Meuse River defenses.

By the third of January new dispositions had been ordered and the CP moved to Fumay, France, opening at 1035. Here defensive positions were constituted, and the period from the fourth to the sixteenth of January, inclusive, was spent in carving out the regimental mission of patrolling and guarding river crossings along the Meuse River on a frontage of 35 miles. In the meantime, twenty-five hundred reinforcements were received and the reconstitution of the regiment as a whole was completed. The 2nd battalion had been reorganized under Lt. Colonel Ridge on the twenty-seventh of December; the 1st battalion was not reactivated until the thirteenth of January, at which time it was placed under Lt. Colonel Briggs. Two days later the 3rd Battalion was set up by Lt. Colonel Jarvis.

SOURCE:  National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 407, Records of U.S. Army Adjutant General, World War II Records, 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, History of the 110th Infantry Regiment, Box 8596.