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III Corps After Action Report

Table of Contents

III CORPS

AFTER ACTION REPORT

DECEMBER 1944


FOREWORD

This After Action Report was prepared in compliance with AR 345-105. It is the first report of its kind submitted by this headquarters, and although it discusses briefly the last days of enemy resistance in the vicinity of METZ, it is concerned primarily with the action in Belgium and Luxembourg which resulted in the attack to out off the German penetra­tion and the relief of the 101st Airborne Division in BASTOGNE. In terms of days and weeks it begins on 8 December and ends on 31 December 1944.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

(NOTE: Annexes 2 through 8 and all inclosures have been withdrawn from this edition)

SEC TION

I - INTRODUCTION                                                                  Page 1

II - OPERATIONS

Phase I: METZ                                                                       Page 2

Prelude to Phase II: BASTOGNE                                         Page 7

Phase II: BASTOGNE                                                           Page 8

Summary                                                                                Page 20

III - ANNEXES

Annex No. 1: Maps, 1/100,000

a.   Situation - 22 Dec

b.   Situation - 27 Dec

c.   Situation - 31 Dec

Annex No. 2: Troop Lists
Annex No. 3: Roster of Officers
Annex No. 4: G-1 Report (with 1 Incl.)
Annex No. 5: G-2 Report

Annex No. 6: G-4 Report (with 8 Incls.)

Incl.

#1

- QM Report

Incl.

#2

- Ord Report

Incl.

#3

- Surg Report

Incl.

#4

- Sig Report

Incl.

#5

- Engr Report

Incl.

#6

- CWS Report

Incl.

#7

- Overlay, Supply & Evacuation - METZ

Incl.

#8

- Overlay, Supply & Evacuation - ARLON


Annex No. 7: G-5 Report
Annex No. 8: PM Report

IV - INCLOSURES

No.

1

- G-1 Journal and

Journal File

No.

2

- G-2 Journal and

Journal File

No.

3

- G-3 Journal and

Journal File

No.

4

- G-4 Journal and

Journal File

No.

5

- Engineer Journal

and Journal File

No.

6

- Letter Orders

 

No.

7

- Special Orders

 

No.

8

- General Orders

 

1

SECTION I - INTRODUCTION

Headquarters III Corps, constituted as an inactive unit of the Regular Army in 1927 and reactivated in December of 1940 at the Presidio of Monterey, California, is today one of the oldest Corps headquarters in the United States Army. The insignia of the original III Army Corps of World War I is worn. The battle honors for the Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Oise-Aisne and Champagne campaigns ore carried on the colors. Since reactivation in 1940 the Corps has been commanded successively by Generals Walter K. Wilson, Joseph W. Stilwell, John P. Lucas, Harold R. Bull and John Millikin, who is the present Corps Commander. Under these commanders the Corps particip­ated in the defensive organization of the West Coast at the outbreak of the war with Japan, engaged in four maneuvers, and supervised the training of thousands of troops (including thirty-three divisions) for combat. On 23 August 1944 the Corps departed from Presidio of Monterey, California, for Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts, embarking on 5 September at Boston for overseas duty. (Advance party sailed on 11 August from Fort Hamilton, New York, and debarked at Utah Beach, Normandy, on 28 August after spending five days in the United Kingdom.) Upon arrival at Cherbourg on 15 Sep­tember 1944, the Corps was assigned to the Ninth U. S. Army. Headquarters was established in the town of Carteret, Normandy, and for six weeks the Corps acted as representative of the Ninth Army on the Cotentin Peninsula, assisting in the reception and processing of all troops of the Twelfth Army Group as they arrived on the Normandy beaches.

On 10 October the Corps was assigned to Third United States Army. On 27 October Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, III Corps Artillery, was temporarily attached to XX Corps and departed for the XX Corps zone. On 31 October the Corps moved to Etain, awaiting for four weeks the orders which would cause it to become operational. At that time Lieutenant General Patton's Third Army had already made its spectacular advance across France, had paused before Metz to regroup its forces and to, bring forward supplies, and on 8 November had begun the assault which was to result in the fall of Metz and the drive on the Siegfried Line. XX Corps, consist­ing of the 5th, 90th and 95th Infantry and the 10th Armored Divisions, was in the Northern portion of the Army zone. To the South was the XII Corps with the 80th, 35th and 26th Infantry and the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions. Metz had capitulated by the end of November, although a number of the forts on the outskirts of the city continued to resist. These remaining forts were contained by the 5th Infantry Division while the remainder of the Army by-passed the city and continued the advance to and across the SaarRiver.


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SECTION II - OPERATIONS

PHASE I - METZ

PhaseIMetz.jpg

Situation as of 8 December Showing Boundaries and Area of Responsibility

Assigned by Third Army's Operational Directive Dated 4 Dec.

5 DECEMBER THROUGH 7 DECEMBER

On 5 December Headquarters III Corps, located at Etain, received Third Army's Operational Directive dated 4 December, which assigned Corps its initial operational mission. Essentially, that mission was (1) to relieve XX Corps of responsibility in the Metz area; (2) to relieve the 5th Division with elements of the 87th Infantry Division and contain the remaining Metz forts without directly assaulting any major fortification; and (3) to be prepared to receive additional troops and advance on Army order. The same day the Corps began its displacement to Metz, opening at 1200, 6 December.

On 7 December Regimental Combat Team 345, 87th Infantry Division, arrived in the vicinity of Metz to relieve units of the 5th Division, in compliance with verbal instructions issued by Commanding General, III Corps.


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The relief was scheduled to be completed at 1600, 8 December, at which time control of the Metz area was to pass to III Corps.

During the afternoon of 7 December, Corps received instructions to supervise the training of some 3000 enlisted men who were to be transferred from certain organizations within Third Army to the 87th Division for train­ing as riflemen. To effect this program Corps immediately established an Infantry Replacement TrainingCenter at Dragoon Barracks, Metz, and deleg­ated to the 48th Replacement Battalion, which had just arrived in the Metz area, the mission of administering this center.

8 DECEMBER THROUGH 14 DECEMBER.

At 1600 on 8 December Corps became operational as planned when the 345th Infantry, 87th Division, completed relief of the 5th Division in containing Fort Jeanne d'Arc, the only fort which had not by this time capitulated. At that time Corps assumed full responsibility in the Metz area, and in addition to the already attached units received the 244th. Field Artillery Battalion (minus Battery B) which was equipped with cap­tured enemy weapons; Battery B of the 558th Field Artillery Battalion; and the 16th and 30th Chasseur Battalions. These two French battalions were used for guard duty and the occupation of the already captured Metz forts. These new units, in addition to the previously attached 32d Antiaircraft Artillery Group, 8th Tank Destroyer Group, 11th Tank Destroyer Group, and 87th Infantry Division, completed the III Corps order of battle as of that time.

During the day, however, verbal orders received from the Commanding General, Third Army, detached the 87th Division from III Corps and attached in its place the 26th Division. This new order of battle remained essenti­ally unchanged until the 15th, when a new mission was assigned III Corps.

During the period 8 December - 11 December the 87th Division departed from the Metz area and the 26th Division arrived to take over the tasks which the 87th had been assigned, and to conduct a program of divisional training and rehabilitation. The 26th, which had been heavily engaged in the XII Corps zone, completed relief of the 87th atFort Jeanne d'Arc at 1400 on 11 December, and official control of the 26th passed to III Corps on the 12th.

During the entire period 8 December - 14 December, in compliance with Third Army's instructions, no effort was made to directly assault Fort Jeanne D'Arc. Psychological warfare (leaflets fired by artillery, loud­speakers) was utilized in an effort to induce the occupants of the fort to surrender, and continuous harrassing artillery fire was placed on the fort throughout the entire period. No surrender was expected, however, until food or ammunition was exhausted. In addition to holding the fort, the enemy was considered capable of employing small patrols to obtain rations, and of sending out patrols to infiltrate to the German lines, by now far to the East.

At 0900 on 13 December, Major Hans Voss, Commanding Officer of the German forces in Fort Jeanne d'Arc, asked for a truce, and at 1115 surren­dered unconditionally the fortress and 511 officers and enlisted men to


4

Colonel Walter T. Scott, commander of the 101st Infantry, 26th Division.

From 8 December until capitulation at 131115A December, the only offen­sive activity of the enemy consisted of patrolling, light sporadic mortar and small arms fire, and very little artillery fire, with the exception of

the night of 9-10 December. On that night, which followed the initial relief of the 87th Infantry Division by elements of the 26th Infantry Divisi­on, the enemy fired an estimated 350 mortar rounds, 500 yellow and white flares, and continuous small arms throughout the night. While it is poss­ible that the relief of our units was detected and the enemy feared an assault which he hoped to break up by means of this fire,, it is more probable that, as stated by prisoners of war, the capitulation had been decided upon, and the enemy had chosen this means of destroying his ammunition.

On 14 December Corps received a draft of' a proposed Third Army directive which contemplated assigning the Corps a combat mission East of Metz in the vicinity of Saarbrucken on the Saar River,

15 DECEMBER THROUGH 18 DECEMBER:

By 15 December, with the fall of the last of the Metz forts, III Corps had been left with no combat mission. On the 15th, however, Third Army's operational directive of 11 December became effective, and directed that the Commanding General, III Corps, assume command of the 6th Armored Division, the 42d Infantry Division, upon its arrival at Metz, and temporary command of the 6th Cavalry Group (Reinforced) . It further directed that III Corps (1) continue its present missions in Metz; (2) maintain maximum pressure against the enemy in the assigned zone; (3) drive the enemy East of the Saar River within the Corps zone on completion of refitting the 26th In­fantry Division and on Army order; (4) seize and secure a bridgehead across the Saar River in the Corps zone on Army order; and (5) advance Northeast and seize Neunkirchen on Army Order. (See sketch, page 5)

The 6th Armored Division and Task Force Fickett (6th Cavalry Group) were engaged in patrolling in their respective zones. Corps directed that they continue to patrol and exert maximum pressure against the enemy.

On 16 December, information was received from Third Army indicating gn enemy withdrawal in the Corps zone and the 6th Armored Division was there­fore directed to be prepared to attack on the morning of the 17th with sufficient force to exploit any enemy withdrawal. The attack did not materi­alize as such, however, because the 6th Armored Division found, contrary to reports, that the enemy was not withdrawing -- but reinforcing. Both the 6th Armored Division and the 6th Cavalry Group continued to maintain pressure on the enemy, who was defensive, but who reacted strongly to any effort to penetrate his positions. Enemy activity during these three days consisted primarily of improving defensive positions, counter-reconnaissance missions, and harassing mortar and artillery fire. Major units in contact were the enemy 559th Grenadier Division, 347th Infantry Division, and the 36th Grenadier Division.


5

p5.jpg

Situation as of 15 Dec. Showing Boundaries and Zone of Advance Assigned III Corps by Third Army's Operational Directive, Dated 11 Dec.


6

The 26th Division remained in Metz and on 16 December received 2,585 replacements to train as riflemen. On 17 December Headquarters and Head­quarters Battery, III Corps Artillery, was relieved from attachment to XX Corps and moved to Merlebuch (8 miles Southwest of Saarbrucken).

On 18 December, as the Corps staff was preparing its plans for future operations and for displacement of the Command Post to a more forward location, information was received of the German breakthrough in the First Army zone.

Later in the evening, the Commanding General, III Corps, end the chiefs of general staff sections were called to a conference at Headquarters Third Army in Nancy. At 2200 the Chief of Staff, III Corps, received instructions from the Corps Commander to move the Corps Headquarters to Longwy the following morning, and it was assumed then that the Corps was to be employed against the German offensive.

Meanwhile approximately 3,000 replacements had been received by the 26th Division through the 48th Replacement Battalion, and a large number of these had been absorbed by the division; the remainder were assigned to other units within Third Army.


7

PRELUDE TO PHASE II - BASTOGNE

GENERAL SUMMARY OF ENEMY SITUAT ION

On the morning of 16 December, the V and VIII Corps fronts sprang to fife with sudden vigor as enemy troops launched a series of attacks. These attacks were followed by enemy artillery preparations along the front, and during the day elements of six enemy divisions, not previously identified on this front, were reported. The attack succeeded in making some local gains in the North, and establishing a bridgehead across the Sauer River in the center, but enemy attempts to place a ponton bridge across the Our River in the vicinity of Echternach were frustrated by artillery fire.

The following day the enemy committed additional armored and infantry units and it appeared that a strong counter-offensive had been launched by the Germans toward St. Vith and Malmedy on the North. In the center the push continued, reaching [M]arnach, and in the South enemy gains were reported in the Echternach area with that town surrounded.

On 18 December,  the operation known to the Germans as "Greif" continued to .progress as the enemy troops in the V and VIII Corps zone pushed toward Stavelot and high ground around St. Vith. The fighting was heavy and enemy armored spearheads pushed to the West, passing to the South of Malmedy and reaching Stavelot. Additional enemy armor and infantry captured Eschweiler and advanced to the vicinity of Wiltz.

The situation became more stabilized, particularly in the Southern area on 19 December, and the penetrations in the direction of Stavelot and Echternach were contained. The 101st Airborne Division and elements of the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions had concentrated in Bastogne. There they held out against constant heavy enemy attacks. American troops in Echternach withdrew to the high ground immediately South of the town. Thus, on the night of 19 December the enemy had pushed his advance in the North as far as Stavelot, and in the South had surrounded Bastogne, with small roaming elements infiltrating through American lines as far West as St. Hubert, and as far South as 5 miles North of Arlon.


8

PHASE II - BASTOGNE

19 December:  On the morning of 19 December, the Commanding General, Chief of Staff, G-2 and G-3 of III Corps left Metz for Luxembourg to attend a conference at Headquarters Twelfth Army Group, and the forward echelon of Corps departed for Longwy. The 80th Infantry and 4th Armored Divisions were attached to III Corps by verbal instructions of the Commanding General, Third Army. Neither of these divisions was engaged at the time, both having been relieved in the line shortly before the beginning of the German offensive. During the morning of the 19th, in accordance with instructions received by the Divisions from Headquarters Third Army, they began their movement from the XII Corns zone to the North. The 26th Infantry Division which remained tinder III Corps control, was still in Metz where it had re­cently absorbed approximately 2,400 replacements from III Corps Infantry Replacement Training Center, and where it was conducting training.

At 1100 Corps Headquarters at Longwy moved immediately to Luxembourg; the 80th Infantry and 4th Armored Divisions were relieved from attachment to III Corps; and the 9th and 10th Armored and 4th Infantry Divisions were attached to the Corps.

As the Corps was moving into its school-house headquarters in Luxem­bourg at 1600, Major General Leven C. Allen, Chief of Staff, Twelfth Army Group notified the Commanding General, III Corps that the Corps Headquarters was to move to Arlon, Belgium next morning; that, as originally planned, the 26th Infantry, 80th Infantry and 4th Armored Divisions were to be attached to the III Corps instead of the 9th and 10th Armored and 4th Infantry Divisions. The Corps staff consequently began to make plans for the dis­placement to Arlon, and for the coming offensive.

Eleven field artillery battalions, all of which were at the time actively engaged, and three tank destroyer battalions (attached to divisions) were attached to Corps by Third Army. At 1745 those battalions were on the road, expecting to close in assembly area vicinity of Villers the following day.

During the night Corps was directed by Third Army to attack on the morning of the 22nd. This attack was designed to hit the enemy on his Southern flank and to open a corridor to Bastogne where the 101st Airborne Division, reinforced, continued to hold out against enemy assaults.

20 December: Having departed Luxembourg, Forward Echelon, Headquarters III Corps closed in Arlon (Girl's NormalSchool Building) at 1100 and the Corps staff began detailed plans for the offensive to be launched against the Southern flank of the German penetration. Information concerning the ex­tent and strength of the enemy penetration was incomplete, and the situation of friendly units was uncertain. It was known that the 101st Airborne Division, with elements of the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions, were sur­rounded at Bastogne; that two regiments of the 106th Division were surrounded at Ober Laschied; and that small scattered groups of the enemy were to the


9

immediate Northeast of Arlon. The situation was best described as "fluid".

The 26th Infantry Division and 4th Armored Division began concentra­ting in the vicinity of Arlon in preparation for pending operations, the 26th Division closing at 2310.

21 December:  The 80th Infantry Division closed in an assembly area North­east of Luxembourg. The 4th Armored Division closed in its assembly area near Arlon, and during the day the last of the field artillery battalions attached to Corps closed in, South of Arlon and East of Virton.

The Corps staff completed its arrangements for the offensive to take place the following day, and Field Order No. 1 was published and issued in the early afternoon. This field order announced that the III Corps was to advance North in the direction of St. Vith with the 80th Infantry Division on the right (maintaining contact with the left flank of XII Corps), the 26th Infantry Division in the center, and the 4th Armored Division on the left. A field artillery group, with three field artillery battalions, was attached to the 26th Infantry Division; a field artillery group with two field artillery battalions was attached to the 80th Infantry Division; and two field artillery battalions (armored) were attached to the 4th Armored Division. The remaining group with f our field artillery battalions, one of which was an observation battalion, was retained by III Corps Artillery. The 32nd AAA Group was assigned the task of protecting the Corps Artillery, bridges, and Corps installations, and the augmented 178th Engineer Combat Battalion, known as "Task Force Lion" was given the task of protecting the Corps left (West) flank, by establishing road blocks and preparing bridges for demolition.

22 December:  The Corps attack, launched at 0600 in a heavy fog achieved initial surprise and advanced rapidly against slight resistance. The enemy met the attack principally with infantry and small arms fire, but was suf­ficiently aggressive to make a number of small or local counterattacks, especially in the zone of the 26th Infantry Division. That division made rapid progress initially but during the evening received an enemy counter­attack south of Grosbous by 915th Regiment of 352nd Volksgrenadier Division, which forced advance elements of the division to withdraw about one mile.

The 80th Infantry Division, on the right flank, advanced as much as five miles, halting finally at nightfall on meeting stiffening resistance from elements of the 352nd Volksgrenadier Division at Merzig and Ettelbruck,

On the Corps West flank where the 4th Armored Division was attacking with two combat commands abreast, rapid progress was made initially with CCB (left) advancing approximately 5 miles before making contact with the enemy. CCA advanced to Martelange where it was halted by a blown bridge, North of which the enemy resisted first with small arms fire and later with light artillery. CCB advanced to Fauvillers where it made first contact with the enemy. (Enemy in 4th Armored Division zone were identified as 5th Para Division).

*See Annex No. 1(a) Map, Situation of 22 Dec. [map not reproduced]


10

p10.jpg

Situation as of 22 Dec at close of 1st Day of Corps Attack.


11

Prior to the attack, the Commanding General, VIII Corps offered Commanding General, III Corps the use of some of his artillery, which he could not then employ. Consequently, the 402nd Field Artillery Group with one observation and four firing battalions, was attached to III Corps. Of this group, one field artillery battalion was in turn attached to the 4th Armored Division, and the remainder placed in general support of Corps. All of these battalions had seen hard fighting and had suffered approximately 25 percent losses in both equipment and personnel. Many of the personnel losses, however, had been compensated for by the acquisition of a number of other artillerymen who had become separated from their units during the initial German advance.

23 December: The progress of the attack on the second day was slowed con­siderably and counterattacks by both infantry and armor were met. On the extreme East flank the enemy resisted strongly and continued to hold Ettel­bruck, but in the center Merzig and Grosbous were cleared, and a salient pointing toward Kehman was formed. (The strong resistance in the East came from the 79th Volksgrenadier Division which had relieved the badly mauled 352nd, and from the Fuehrers' Grenadier Brigade which had arrived in the Eschdorf area during the night) . The enemy attacked the salient pointing toward Kehman, but was repulsed.

On the West, CCB of the 4th Armored Division advanced to Chaumont, where it encountered strong resistance and after entering the town was counterattacked (by 1st and 3rd Battalions, 14th Para Regiment), and forced to withdraw to the South of the town. CCA remained at Martelange, stopped by the blown bridge and by strong enemy interference with bridging opera­tions.

During the night OCR had been moved up on the right of the Division to seize Bigonville, where the enemy had been employing the high ground to deliver fire on CCA, and where a gap had formed between the 4th Armored and 26th Infantry Divisions.

The high ceiling and clear cold day permitted aerial activity by both forces. Air was used to drop supplies and needed equipment to the surround­ed 101st Airborne Division (reinforced in Bastogne, and sixteen sorties were flown in the Corps area by XIX TAC. The enemy strafed columns and single vehicles and attempted to demolish bridges and supply installations. The rear echelon, Corps Headquarters, closed in Longwy at 2000.

24 December:  III Corps continued its attack to the north against stiffening enemy resistance. CCB of the 4th Armored Division, on the extreme West flank, received a number of enemy counterattacks, and the advance" of the two infantry divisions was slowed considerably by increasingly stubborn enemy resistance, which included fairly strong counterattacks on the East.

During the day the boundary between the 26th Infantry and 4th Armored Divisions was moved approximately one kilometer to the West, so that the 26th Infantry Division might assume responsibility for Rambrough. To fill a gap that existed between the 26th Infantry and 4th Armored Divisions, the


12

249th Engineer Combat Battalion was attached to the 26th Infantry Division. The zone of that division was then extended from its assigned boundary 'Nest to include Bigonville, which had been captured by CCR of the 4th Armored Division. Shortly afterwards the 188th Engineer Combat Battalion and RCT 318 (minus one battalion infantry and one battalion artillery), 80th Infantry Division, were attached to the 4th Armored Division. This division was instructed to maintain contact with the 26th Infantry Division on its East flank.

Late in the evening the augmented 6th Cavalry Group (Task Force Fickett) consisting of 6th and 28th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadrons, one company of engineers and one company of tank destroyers, closed in the Corps area. Its 6th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron was given a zone between the 26th Infantry and 4th Armored Divisions, and instructed to maintain contact with those units. Thus, with the creation of a zone for the 6th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, the zone of responsibility of the 26th Infantry Division was moved back to its originally assigned boundary. OCR of the 4th Armored Division, also being relieved of responsibility in that zone, was moved to the division's left (West) flank to attack Northeast astride the highway Neuf­chateau - Bastogne in the direction of Bastogne, where the situation of the 101st Airborne Division was reported as being critical.

The 6th Cavalry Group minus 6th Cavalry Squadron was assigned the mission of protecting the Corps West flank in the Neufchateau area and assisting the advance of the 4th Armored Division.

The Corps Artillery fired twenty-two harassing and interdiction mis­sions and participated in a division artillery preparation on the night of 23-24 December. Three squadrons of fighter-bombers of the XIX TAC supported the Corps.

25 December:  During the night of 24-25 December, the 26th Infantry Division continued its attack and by Christmas morning had reached the Sure River in two places. On both the East and West flanks stiff resistance was encount­ered, and progress there was slow throughout the day. In the 80th Infantry Division zone the enemy (79th Volksgrenadier Division) continued to hold Ettelbruck and Kehman, and in the zone of the 4th Armored Division the Ger­man 5th Para Division defended stubbornly. It appeared that his mission was to protect the flank enemy assault on Bastogne, and that he intended to carry out that mission at all costs.

The Corps Artillery continued to support the advance of the attacking divisions, principally with harassing and interdiction missions, and with concentrations on towns. At 1100 fires were delivered on call of the 101st Airborne Division, which was still surrounded in Bastogne, the call having been relayed through the 4th Armored Division Fire Direction Center to Corps Fire Direction Center.

During the day eight fighter-bomber squadrons of the XIX TAC were in support of III Corps. The 3rd Chemical Battalion (4.2 mortars) whose attachment to Corps became effective upon its arrival, closed in the Corps


12

zone at 1500. One company of the battalion was attached to each of the 26th and 80th Infantry Divisions, 4th Armored Division and 6th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.

In the afternoon information was received that the 35th Division was to be attached to III Corps and that the 80th Division, although remaining in its present zone, was to pass to control of XII Corps. The East boundary of III Corps would then become the present 26th Infantry Division East boundary.

26 December: On the morning of the 26th the Corps resumed its attack to the North. Strong enemy resistance again slowed the progress of the infantry divisions, but by evening the greater part of the 101st Infantry, 26th Division, had crossed the SureRiver, and the enemy had withdrawn from Esch­dorf. The 26th reported the first indications of positive enemy defense measures, having seen units digging in on the North bank of the Sure River. On the West, elements of the 4th Armored Division advanced about five miles, made the first contact with the American defenders of Bastogne, and during the night escorted forty trucks with medical supplies, ammunition, and food into Bastogne. In malting this contact, the 4th Armored Division had appar­ently broken through between the 5th Para and 15th Panzer Grenadier Division and overrun artillery And infantry elements of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division south of Assenois. The mission of the 15th Panzer Division, accord­ing to prisoners of war, had originally been to join in the attack on Bastogne, but the 4th Armored Division's attack caused the mission to be changed. The 26th Volksgrenadier Division was obviously engrossed in its attack on Bastogne, and our attack gained surprise as the artillery elements of the division were the first to be contacted.

CCA, 9th Armored Division, at the time located near Luxembourg, was attached to III Corps. The Commanding General, III Corps, in order to hasten the relief of the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne and to secure that city from the enemy, attached it to the 4th Armored Division. It was decided that this combat command would be employed on the left of the 4th Armored Division to attack the high ground to the Southwest of Bastogne, astride the Neufchateau-Bastogne highway. The combat command closed in its assembly area Northeast of Neufchateau in the late afternoon.

At 2000, control of the 80th Infantry Division passed to XII Corps and with it went the field artillery units which had been attached to it. The 26th Infantry Division's right flank then became the right flank of III Corps. In addition, one field artillery group, with one field artillery observation battalion and three firing battalions, were relieved of attachment to III Corps and passed to control of VIII Corps.

At 0600 the 35th Infantry Division began its move from Metz, and closed in the Corps area at approximately 2200. It was planned that the division would attack through the 6th Cavalry Squadron at 0800 the following morning, with the main effort to be made on the left (West) to further the advance of the 4th Armored Division. Upon being passed through by the 35th Division,


14

the 6th Cavalry Squadron was to be returned to the control of the 6th Cavalry Group.

Three squadrons of the 362nd Fighter-Bomber Group supported Corps during the day, flying eight missions, and reported that damage was done particularly at Sainlez, Sibret and Tintage, and to enemy vehicles and truck concentrations. Their activities were somewhat hampered, however, by the Germans use of American identification and American aircraft recognition panels on vehicles.

Corps Artillery continued to support Corps operations, but a shortage of heavy ammunition (155 gun, 8" Howitzer, 4.5 gun) curtailed the harass­ing and interdiction fires which the artillery had been delivering.

The ammunition was available, but the problem was one of transportation, the nearest supply point being as far away as Verdun or Etain.

During the day plans were made for the evacuation of wounded and prisoners of war from Bastogne, as well as for the supply of the garrison in that city.

27 December:*  The attack of the 35th Infantry Division on the morning of to 27th met initial success, and by nightfall the division had reached its first objective - the high ground north and west of the Sure River. The 26th Infantry Division also continued to move troops across that river and encountered increasingly stubborn resistance, receiving one counterattack in their bridgehead area from vicinity of Liefrange. The enemy continued digging in along the North banks and established roadblocks and minefields. His artillery fire continued light and scattered, and although fire from emplaced tanks and dug in light artillery was received along the entire front, the principal German resistance came from small arms and mortars.

The 4th Armored Division consolidated its hold on the road leading into Bastogne and during the day traffic moving to and from Bastogne received only casual artillery fire, although the enemy strongly resisted the widening of the corridor. Air support was given in eleven missions flown by two fighter bomber squadrons. Naplam, general purpose, rocket and fragmentation bombs were dropped on roads, transports, armored vehicles and buildings, and troop concentrations were strafed and bombed.

During this twenty-four hour period 871 prisoners of war were taken. 400 replacements were delivered to the 4th Armored Division and 400 to the 101st Airborne Division. Information was received that the airborne division was temporarily attached to III Corps.

28 December: Advances during the day were limited, with the 35th Infantry Division gaining about a mile and a half on its West flank and the 26th Infantry Division advancing against heavy resistance to about a mile and a half South of Wiltz. (Enemy forces in the East had been bolstered by arrival of two battalions of the 36th Grenadier Regiment, 9th Volksgrenadier Division). By this time all of the 26th Infantry Division had moved North

*See annex No. 1 (b): Map - Situation as of 27 Dec [map not reproduced]


15

of the Sure River, There was little change on the Corps West flank, where the 4th Armored Division strengthened and widened the corridor into Bastogne, but where the division made little forward progress. The. 6th Cavalry Group advanced to Moircy - Remagni and reported that the enemy was screening the general line Hartville-Vesquenville with strong outposts.

The enemy continued to take advantage of available high ground, seem­ingly content to fight a delaying action, evidencing stubborn resistance and little aggressiveness. During the night there was a noticeable increase in enemy artillery action which had up to this time been light and scattered. Because of poor visibility and low ceiling, air activity on both sides was negligible.

During the day liaison was established between the 101st Airborne Division and III Corps. A message received at Corps from the division stated that the division's condition was excellent, that its supplies were adequate, and that it was prepared for offensive combat.

During the day the 4th Armored Division received 14 new tanks of new design: long 76mm gun with muzzle brake, low silhouette, torque type sus­pension; and its resemblance to the German tank caused the division to feel that it might be fired on by American troops, and sketches of the new tank with warnings were distributed.

29 December:  4th Armored Division made further contact with the Bastogne garrison, widening mid strengthening the corridor into that city, and both the 26th and 35th Divisions advanced slightly to the North against an enemy that continued to resist strongly. (During the night more elements of the 9th Volksgrenadier Division arrived in the Corps zone and took up defensive positions south of Wiltz). On the Corps West flank the 6th Cavalry Group reported strong enemy outposts, which they were unable to penetrate, and a prisoner of war captured by the group stated that the mission of his regi­ment was to hold at all costs. The increasingly determined enemy resistance, plus indications of enemy concentration Northeast of Bastogne and east of Lutrebois, led to the belief that a counterattack in that vicinity might soon be expected. During the evening both the 4th Armored and the 35th' Infantry Divisions were instructed to be on the alert and prepared for counterattack.

The 6th Armored Division was attached to III Corps and as elements withdrew from the line in the zone of the XII Corps they began their move­ment to the Corps zone. The division began to arrive early in the after­noon, closing during the night, end the CF opened at Habay-la-Neuve at 1330.

During the afternoon it was agreed by the Commanding Generals, VIII and III Corps that in Bastogne (1) command of VIII Corps units would pass to control of VIII Corps at 1800; (2 ) III Corps would continue to command III Corps units in that area; (3) until further orders all troops would remain in present positions for the protection of Bastogne; and (4) until further notice the artillery in Bastogne would remain connected with the 4th Armored Fire Direction Center in order to furnish fire support for the Bastogne


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area. This plan was agreed to by Chief of Staff, .Third Army at 1405. At 1800, therefore, the 101st Airborne Division and the 9th Armored Divi­sion reverted to VIII Corps control, and the III Corps staff prepared plans for an offensive which was to be launched in conjunction with an VIII Corps attack on the III Corps' left. The highway between Bastogne and Neufchateau, and the railroad running northeast from Bastogne was es­tablished as a temporary operational boundary between the Corps, and the Commanding General, III Corps decided to employ the 6th Armored Division on the Corps West flank, sending it through the 4th Armored Division to attack from Bastogne to the Northeast.

Two companies, 3rd Chemical Battalion were attached to each of the 26th and 35th Division.

Good visibility and clear weather enabled the two squadrons support­ing III Corps to take to the air again, and good results were obtained from strafing and bombing missions. At 1830 Bastogne was bombed and strafed by the enemy. Elements of the 35th Infantry Division made con­tact with the Bastogne garrison, and Corps Artillery continued to support the attack, as did the 4.2 chemical mortars.

30 December:  At 0600 the 35th Infantry Division reported that a small counterattack was being received by elements of the 134th Infantry in the vicinity of Lutrebois, but by mid-morning it was evident that the initial small enemy attack was developing into a major operation, with at least one enemy regiment plus supporting armor, attacking along the general line Lutrebois - Villers-La-Bonne-Eau. (Initial assault was actually made by 331st Regiment, 167th Volksgrenadier Division, supported by one battalion of the 2nd Panzer Regiment, 1st Panzer SS Division). On the west flank of the Bastogne corridor CCA of the 9th Armored Division received savage attacks, and during the day identified elements of the 3rd Panzer Grena­dier Division. As bitter fighting continued throughout the day, it became apparent that this assault was no local attack, but an offensive designed to cut off the bulge which had been created in the German South flank, and reisolate Bastogne.

In the early afternoon elem9nts of the 4th Armored Division were shifted in order to provide support for the 35th Infantry Division, and to prevent an enemy breakthrough to the Southwest, where defenses were less strong than in the North. By evening the enemy assault had diminished in intensity, and the 35th Infantry Division reported that no major penetration had been made by the enemy and that the situation had been fairly well stabilized.

At the close of the day it was reported that at least fifteen and per­haps thirty enemy tanks had been knocked out by ground forces. The air had also been active during the day, and the three squadrons which had been placed in support of the 35th Infantry Division reported good results.

Regardless of the enemy assault, it was decided that the Corps attack


17

p17.jpg

Situation as of 1 January 1945


18

scheduled to take place the morning of the 31st would jump off as planned. The 6th Armored Division remained in the assembly area to the West and Southwest of Arlon, and Field Order No. 2, Hq III Corps, was published. This order assigned new boundaries for both the Corps and the divisions, and in general provided for a continuation of the attack in the direction of St. Vith. The 6th Armored Division was to attack through the 4th Ar­mored Division, and the 4th Armored Division, upon being passed through by the 6th, was to pass to control of the VIII Corps.

On the West flank the 6th Cavalry Group by this time was to the im­mediate South of Hatrival, below and around Vesqueville; at the edge of Moircy, fighting in Remagne, and firmly holding Magerotte. The group was relieved by the 87th Infantry Division and the 11thArmored Division (VIII Corps), and as they were relieved elements of the group moved to an assembly area in the vicinity of Habay-la-Vieille.

At 1925 the 26th Division was directed to attack Northwest on the morning of the 31st and was instructed that it would not become embroiled in towns, but rather would by-pass them, leaving them to be cleaned up by following units. The 35th Division was given similar instructions, but was ordered to attack to the Northeast.

Although the enemy attack appeared to have been stopped this day, it was felt that a continuation could be expected on the following day, and all units were alerted to be prepared for a resumption of the enemy assault. During the night artillery concentrations were delivered on suspected enemy assembly areas, and intensive harassing and interdiction programs were fired.

31 December: * On the morning of the 31st the enemy showed no indication of resuming his attack in the zone of the 35th Division, and it was be­lieved that his plans for the resumption of the attack had been frustrated by the volume and accuracy of artillery fire which had been placed on his assembly areas during the night and morning. The 26th Division, however, shortly after its attack jumped off, was pushed back about 200 yards in the center of its zone by an enemy attack consisting of from two bat­talions to one regiment of infantry, who were reported to be wearing white camouflage suits. At about 0930 the Commanding General, 26th Infantry Division requested permission to employ his reserve battalions should that become necessary, stating that the situation was not beyond control, and that he was confident he could handle it. Permission was granted.

The 35th Division also launched its attack on schedule, but was un­able to make any progress against an enemy who fought bitterly, and who seemed determined not only to hold ground but to regain the initiative and resume his own attack. The fighting in the zone of the two infantry divisions raged throughout the second day of the German assault, but again neither side made any major advances, although the Germans were by this

*See Annex No. 1(c): Map - Situation as of 31 Dec.[map not reproduced]


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time in possession of Lutrebois.

On the Corps West flank, CCA of the 6th Armored Division was in position to attack at the time scheduled, but CCB, having been delayed by dense traffic on key roads in its march to the North, arrived in the as­sembly area too late to attack that day. CCA did make a limited objec­tive attack during the early afternoon, and advanced approximately 121 miles, when it halted to await the arrival of CCB.

During the day the 4th Armored Division passed to control of the VIII Corps but it was mutually agreed by the Commanding General, VIII Corps and the Commanding General, III Corps that the division would re­main in its present location, assisting; the 35th Infantry Division until such time as the situation would permit it to be withdrawn.

Corps artillery continued to fire intense harassing and inter­diction missions, and placed a number of TOT's on Wiltz. Air activity was restricted by clouds and low ceiling, and although the two supporting squadrons of fighter-bombers did attack tanks and columns during the day it could not be employed to their full capabilities.

By nightfall neither the German nor our forces could claim success, although it appeared as though the Corps, while holding its salient to the North successfully, had been temporarily stopped in its advance to the North. The situation remained serious but it was expected that the attack of the 6th Armored Division would improve the situation.


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SUMMARY

During its fourteen days of operations in the month of December, the most important and significant of Corps' activities took place between the 22nd and 31st of that month, when III Corps was for a time the only major unit on the Western Front to seize and hold the initiative at a time when the enemy had not only made deep penetrations into the First Army front, but had threatened to make good his breakthrough and completely disrupt the American armies. The juncture of III Corps with the encircled garri­son at Bastogne, and the resultant creation of the salient projecting into the enemy Southern flank constituted a dangerous thorn in the German side, and one which he could not ignore. Consequently, his reaction to the thrust was swift and sure, and although the Corps advance to Bastogne was too sudden and too swift for the German to prevent the junction, he fought bitterly to delay it. Failing this, he poured in additional units and then struck hard in an effort to reduce the corridor and reisolate Bastogne.

The move of the Corps to Arlon and the execution of the attack were born of need and conceived in urgency. The suddenness and unexpected strength of the enemy assault, his rapid initial successes and the early American reverses left no time for lengthy planning, long thought-out orders, or extensive reconnaissance. On the contrary, time was the all-important factor - it was imperative that the enemy be given no time to consolidate his gains, to further expand his penetration, or to prepare for the American counterblow which was sure to follow. This was recog­nized fully, and the detailed niceties which normally would be considered essential in planning such an operation were sacrificed in part to gain surprise and a swiftly mounted attack.

Only thirty-six hours elapsed during the time the Corps Headquarters first received its movement instructions, moved to Luxembourg and then to Arlon. In three days, three divisions had received orders, planned and coordinated their movements, and moved from sixty to eighty miles to new and unfamiliar assembly areas. The operation entailed the installation of an entirely new signal communication system in a totally new area. It meant that the supply and evacuation system must be uprooted and reestab­lished almost simultaneously with the movement of large numbers of troops into position. It meant that the attack must be launched with a minimum knowledge of the friendly and enemy situation. Equally important, it meant that a Corps whose components had never before operated as one unit must be quickly welded into a smoothly functioning team.

The terrain itself presented a formidable obstacle. Numerous icy streams ran generally East and West through rugged hills and mountains, forming for the greater part compartments across which our troops had to fight their way; armored units found themselves to a great extent road-bound. The weather, although fortunately clear enough most of the time


21

to permit air operations, was cold, with snow falling toward the end of the month, and with icy roads hampering the movement of vehicular traffic.

Despite these factors the movement of the divisions, the organization of the Corps for combat, and the beginning of the attack were executed re­markably well, and the attack progressed smoothly. That the decision to strike fast had been wise was evidenced by the complete surprise with which the enemy received the attack; his initial high losses; and the ini­tial rapid progress of the attack. It was fortunate for the enemy that on the 23rd his 79th VG Division and Fuehrer's Grenadier Brigade had ar­rived on the scene when they did, because without them the Corps attack might well have driven through the enemy south flank instead of being slowed on the 23rd and then stopped on the 30th and 31st. All in all, a total of ten enemy divisions were identified in the Corps zone throughout the period. Two of these were lost when the Corps right boundary was moved to the West, and several were contacted in the vicinity of Bastogne when the junction with the 101st Airborne Division was effected.

During the 10 days of the assault III Corps losses amounted to a total of 3330 killed, wounded and missing, of whom only 303 were killed.

On the other side of the ledger, the enemy lost 4730 captured, an estimated 4051 killed, and an estimated 28,357 wounded, or a ratio of 11 to 1 in our favor. The high enemy losses were in great part a direct result of artillery fire. The large surprise concentrations of artillery fire caused a tremen­dous number of enemy casualties and in at least two actions were credited with breaking up large scale attacks.

Enemy losses in material and equipment were also great. During the ten day period he lost 82 Mark III and IV tanks, 73 Mark V and VI tanks, 99 artillery pieces (75mm or larger), and 140 vehicles of all types - these a result of ground action, and in addition to any claims made by the Air Forces.

During its 15 mile advance the Corps liberated more than 100 towns; but the distance covered and the towns captured are not so significant as the result of that advance: the securing of the vital road center of Bas­togne, thereby denying to the German the use of the roads which were necessary for him to widen his salient; the creation of a bulge in his southern flank; and the threat to the enemy of an eventual pinching off of his penetration. There is no doubt but that this threat drew enough troops to seriously curtail the continuation of the enemy plunge into France and Belgium, and to aid the Russian Winter campaign.

SOURCE: National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 407, Records of the U.S. Army Adjutant General, World War II Records, III Corps, After Action Reports, December 1944, Box 2735.