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Chapter XI

Table of Contents


U.S. Army Medical Units during the

German Counteroffensive in the Ardennes

(16 December 1944 - 23 January 1945)


George W. Garand

Chapter XI

Table of Contents


In the Eye of the Storm

Massacre at the Crossroads

A Time to Try Men's Souls

The Third Day

Allied Countermeasures

The Battle of Bastogne

Battle of Attrition

Diversion to the South



Early on 16 December, while a heavy fog blanketed the mountains of the Schnee Eifel, one of the great offensives of World War II erupted in an area that up to this time had been considered so quiet that it was manned on the American side by divisions which had not yet been exposed to combat and others that had seen so much of it that they were now exhausted and manning this quiet sector while undergoing refitting and retraining. Except for some local patrolling and occasional exchanges of artillery fire, the entire sector had assumed the dimensions of a Ghost Front, that appeared far removed from the realities of war.

These realities were about to intrude upon the quiet scene with explosive force. As early as August 1944 none other than Adolf Hitler, while still recovering from the effects of the explosion which on 20 July had nearly cost him his life as a result of the abortive

plot of his generals against him, was considering a bold stroke against the Allies in the West. As envisioned by Hitler, the blow to be struck would be nothing less than a decisive turning point on this sector of the front and perhaps even of the entire war. In laying the foundation for his offensive, Hitler correctly reasoned that the 70 divisions available to the Allies would not be equally strong along the nearly 500-mile long front they were  manning, and thus it remained to locate a suitable spot in the line where the Allies were the weakest and chances of scoring a decisive breakthrough were the most promising. Such a breakthrough had to reach dimensions that would change the entire situation in the West in Germany's favor. The sector Hitler decided on


for this offensive was the Eifel, where Allied divisions in the line and in reserve were few. The ultimate objective of the offensive was Antwerp. Initially, the offensive was to get under way in November, when the weather would effectively reduce Allied superiority in the air if not neutralize it altogether.

German planning went into high gear throughout October and November 1944. There were many modifications to the original plan, and it became necessary to postpone the beginning of the offensive from late November to the Middle of December. But the basic plan, which had the vital port of Antwerp as its final objective, was never changed. In addition to an overwhelming assault force, such deceptions as having English-speaking Germans, dressed in American uniforms, roam the Allied rear to heighten panic and confusion, were not omitted. Featured also was the last German parachute operation of the war. After weeks of careful and well concealed preparations, most of which went completely unnoticed by the Allies, the stage for the assault was set. The German Sixth Panzer Army, Seventh Army, with two infantry and two Panzer corps were ready to jump off (see Map 1)[NOT REPRODUCED]. Over trails and roads matted with straw to muffle the noise a total of 250,000 Germans, nearly 1,000 tanks and assault guns, some of them fresh off the assembly lines, and 1,900 pieces of heavy artillery stood ready for the assault set for 0600,

XI-3 Map “Wacht Am Rhein” [not reproduced]


16 December. A heavy fog had settled over the brooding forests of the Ardennes and to the casual observer all was quiet.(1)

An identical quiet prevailed throughout the 85 miles of twisting frontline held by six American divisions of the V Corps in the north and the VIII Corps to the south, whose southernmost sector extended into northern Luxembourg. This sector which extended northward from the picturesque town of Echternach, was held by the 4th Infantry Division

which had fought and suffered heavy casualties in the Huertgen Forest the preceding month. Five miles north of Echternach was the sector held by the 9th Armored Division which had only recently arrived in the European Theater and had not yet seen any action. To the north of this division adjoined the boundary of the 28th Infantry Division along the

Our River to Vianden. This division had been heavily mauled during the costly fighting in the Huertgen Forest and was now undergoing extensive rehabilitation. Perhaps the most critically exposed sector of all was that held by the 106th Infantry Division, where the frontline crossed


the Our River and a salient of about 8 miles penetrated the Siegfried Line and extended into Germany proper in the Schnee Eifel. The division had relieved the combat-wise 2nd Infantry Division in this sector only a few days earlier and was totally new to the Theater and had not experienced any combat. To the north of the 106th Infantry Division sector was a valley known as the Losheim Gap. This valley was of strategic importance because through it had poured the German panzer divisions during the summer of 1940 and earlier wars, where it had become the classic invasion route from Germany into Belgium.

During the night from 15-16 December 1944 this critically important area was loosely held by about 900 cavalrymen of the 14th Cavalry Group whose positions centered on the   village of Krewinkel. To complicate matters further for the American command, the cavalry group, which the 106th Infantry Division had inherited from the 2nd Infantry Division, formed the northernmost unit of General Middleton's VIII Corps near the boundary between that corps and General Gerow's V Corps, whose 99th Infantry Division held a sector just north of the Losheim Gap (see Map 2)[NOT REPRODUCED]. To the north of the 99th Infantry Division elements of the 2nd Infantry Division had been engaged in attacking into the Siegfried Line on a two mile front near Wahlerscheid in an attempt to seize the vital Roer River dams that still remained in German hands, but for all practical purposes this attack had already bogged down and the dams remained out of reach. The remainder of the night passed as quietly at Echternach in the south as it did at the 99th Infantry Division sector in the north near Monschau.

XI-6  Map “The First 48 Hours” [not reproduced]


At 0500 on 16 December a heavy artillery barrage blanketed many of the American positions along the winding 85-mile long front. Three hours later on this murky, drizzly morning, German armor and infantry jumped off along a 50 mile front, while the Americans shivered in their wet and muddy foxholes. The enemy exerted his main pressure against the northern flank between St. Vith and Elsenborn, where he penetrated the weakly held positions of the 14th Cavalry Group and advanced three miles in that many hours. In the 106th Infantry Division sector, German armor advanced rapidly for a mile and a half before it was slowed down by division reserves. This German force had St. Vith as its objective, but the town held. On the other hand, in the Schnee Eifel two regiments of the 106th Infantry Division were quickly surrounded in an encirclement that offered no escape.

Farther south, the Germans attacked the 28th Infantry Division in the Wiltz area with two Panzer, one parachute, and three infantry divisions. Along its badly overextended frontline of nearly 30 miles the men of the 28th Infantry Division fought on as best they could, but by nightfall the Germans had seized several important ridges and had advanced up to five miles through the American lines. Along the southern portion of the VIII Corps line, the enemy launched local attacks against positions of the 4th Infantry Division, but none of these posed any serious threat. The heaviest pressure was exerted against Malmedy in the north, St. Vith in the center, and Wiltz in the south. The end of the first day of this great battle saw jubilation in Hitler's headquarters and a growing awareness of the unexpected threat that was developing on the part of the Allies.


In the midst of the epic battle that was just then getting under way were units of the U.S. Army Medical Department. Up to this time, these unarmed men and women had been fully engaged to the best of their professional abilities in the overriding task of saving humanlives, reducing the suffering that is the steady companion of warfare, and restoring health to those able to return to the frontlines. . . . Brigadier General Rogers [First U.S. Army Surgeon] first learned that something unusual was afoot on 16 December when the 44th and 67th Evacuation Hospitals reported that the town of Malmedy was under heavy artillery fire. The latter installation, as well as the 5th Evacuation Hospital at Eupen suffered a slight amount of damage to their buildings. The commanding officer and one noncommissioned officer of the [464]th Medical Collecting Company at Malmedy were killed by shellfire while rendering first aid to civilian wounded.(2)

At 1900 on 16 December the First U.S. Army Surgeon learned that the enemy had penetrated the front of VIII Corps as well as along the boundary between the VII and V Corps. On the basis of this information it was decided to move the 1st Hospitalization Unit of the 42nd Field Hospital from Wiltz and the 107th Evacuation Hospital from the vicinity

of Clervaux to St. Hubert as fast as it could be entrucked. The 102nd Evacuation Hospital was closed to admissions in preparation for movement.


The withdrawal of the evacuation hospitals was completed successfully, but the field hospital was not as fortunate. Attached to that installation was a medical unit whose members were to be caught up in the midst of the winter battle in the Ardennes. They were the men and women of the Third Auxiliary Medical Group who were going about their duties until, with hardly any warning, they found the battle swirling around them. For some of them this battle would mean death, more often a close escape by a few feet or minutes. For others the Ardennes offensive meant capture and just as sudden liberation within hours, while others were to remain in captivity under the most harrowing conditions for the remainder of the war. But each one of these men and women experienced the sudden battle in a highly personal way and responded to this new and profound experience in a highly individualistic manner based on background, professionalism, and personal outlook. In this context, their experiences in a situation of adversity needs to be told, though many other medical units whose story cannot be narrated in equal detail, were equally involved at the periphery of the battle. Much of the account that follows is a description of the battle as seen through their eyes.


In the Eye of the Storm

When the German offensive rolled forward on 16 December 1944, several field hospitals with teams of the 3rd Auxiliary Surgical Group attached to them found themselves directly in the path of the enemy steamroller. They were the 3rd Platoon of the 47th Field Hospital at Butgenbach with two surgical teams, one headed by Major John B. Peyton and the other under Major Ralph A. Dorner; the 1st Platoon of the 47th Field Hospital at Waymes with two teams under Majors Alfred Hurwitz and James M. Higginbotham, respectively; the 3rd Platoon of the 42nd Field Hospital at St. Vith under Majors Philip F. Partington and Frank J. Lavieri; and the 2nd Platoon of the 42nd Field Hospital at Wiltz under Majors Charles A. Serbst and Duncan A. Cameron, the latter heading the second team in place of Major Robert M. Sutton who had been detailed to Paris on temporary duty. (For location of these surgical teams during the first days of the offensive, see Map 3).

On this first day of the battle, the top Allied commanders had only a hazy picture of what was happening in the Ardennes, and personnel of the surgical teams found themselves in a similar situation. Nevertheless, the stories told by casualties did offer some insight. Thus at Butgenbach an ambulance of the 2nd Clearing Station arrived with a man suffering from only a superficial arm wound. Upon inquiring why such a light casualty had been taken to a field hospital instead of the division clearing station, Major Peyton learned to his surprise that the 2nd Division Clearing Station had already pulled back to Malmedy to his rear.

At St. Vith Major Partington and his surgical team suddenly found himself engulfed with wounded from the 106th Infantry Division and learned to his

XI-11  Map 3


amazement that the clearing station of that division had pulled back all the way to Vielsalm nine miles to his rear, which in effect left his team in front of one of the 106th Division's battalion aid stations. Farther south at Wiltz, Major Serbst proceeded to the command post of the 28th Infantry Division to find out what was happening but obtained only little

concrete information. What little he did hear, however, disturbed him profoundly.(3)

The second day of the offensive, 17 December, was to prove a black day for the Americans. The murky weather still precluded aerial reconnaissance or close support on the part of the American air force. The Germans drove hard to exploit their initial penetrations as their armored columns headed for the Meuse south of Liege. At the northern portion of the front the 106th Infantry Division was in full retreat and during the morning its two regiments in the Schnee Eifel east of St. Vith found themselves cut off. Elements of the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions were defending Butgenbach and Malmedy, but lacked the heavy weapons that could have been effectively employed against the German tank concentrations. Throughout the 28th Infantry Division sector the Germans made large gains. North of Wiltz one salient was eight miles deep while another to the south


of the town extended for six miles. Even now, German armor was within 11 miles from Bastogne. The initial Allied setback was threatening to turn into a major debacle.

Massacre at the Crossroads

Shortly, after noon of the 17th one of the darker chapters in the history of World War II was to be written when one of the worst atrocities to be committed against Americans in the European Theater occurred. A task force of the 1st SS Panzer Division under Colonel (Obersturmbannfuehrer) Joachim Peiper had happened upon elements of the American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. Trapped by superior German armor at the Baugnez crossroads, about 100 Americans surrendered to the SS troops, who had already made a dismal record for themselves on the Eastern front where allegedly they had razed two villages and killed all of the inhabitants.(4) In any case, even as a Belgian civilian standing in the doorway of a nearby cafe watched, the newly captured Americans, many of them chatting with an air of unconcern, were herded by their German guards into an open field that adjoined the cafe. More vehicles, the main body of Task Force Peiper, rolled out of the east and turned south at the cafe. A German half-track stopped, a man in the rear stood up, aimed his pistol at the group bf prisoners and shot one of them. An armored car skidded to a stop, there was a second pistol shot, followed by the dry hacking of a machine gun. Some of the


American prisoners tried to crawl away, but they were shot with pistols. Others, writhing in pain and screaming or moaning, suffered a similar fate.(5)

This was not to be the only desultory act of this kind to be committed by this unit, which gained the dubious distinction of being the only group to kill prisoners in the course of the Ardennes offensive. (See photos 1 and 2)[NOT REPRODUCED]. Nor were the wanton killings to be restricted to that hapless group of American artillery observers at the Baugnez crossroads. As Task Force Peiper continued its advance towards Malmedy, it left behind a trail of prisoners of war and Belgian civilians murdered in cold blood. At Ligneuville, the owner of the Hotel du Moulin, where a German command post was being set up, confronted a German sergeant whom the civilian had observed minutes before summarily executing eight Americans behind the hotel. For his trouble, the courageous Belgian was punched in the jaw and had two teeth knocked out and was about to be shot himself when he and other prisoners were saved through the intervention of an SS officer, Altogether, within four days of the beginning of the German counter-offensive, Task Force Peiper was to leave behind a trail of destruction culminating in the murders of about 350 American prisoners

XI-15  Photographs [Not reproduced]


of war and at least 100 unarmed Belgian civilians at a dozen different locations along its route of advance.(6)

The precise reason for the above derelictions have never been clearly established. They may have been rooted in the experiences of the veteran SS troops in Russia were excesses against prisoners of war were a common occurrence. In addition, an order by Hitler at the beginning of the offensive that the "German troops should be preceded by a wave of terror and fright and that no human inhibitions should be shown" may also have had its effect.(7) In the end, the atrocities were to backfire on the Germans. Several of the American prisoners machine-gunned at Baugnez survived the massacre and made their way back to the American lines to tell their story. News of the Malmedy massacre, as it came to be known, travelled like wildfire and caused ripples far beyond the European Theater. Instead of striking terror into the hearts of American fighting men, the news that the enemy was killing prisoners steeled their resolve to fight and die fighting, if necessary. Some American commanders expressed the opinion that all SS


troops should be killed on sight. In the words of the official U.S. Army history of the battle,

....It is probable that Germans who attempted to surrender in the days immediately after the 17th ran a greater risk than would have been the case during the autumn campaign. There is no evidence, however, that American troops took advantage of orders, implicit or explicit, to kill their SS prisoners.(8)

A Time To Try Men's Souls

As the situation all along the Ardennes front worsened for the Americans by the end of the second day of the offensive, the Germans suddenly became aware of a strong stiffening of the backbone of the usually heavily outnumbered defenders. Along with it came a complete change of attitude each time that American forces seemed trapped. During the initial shock of the assault on the first day, many Americans had run, but others stayed to fight. Increasingly, as the initial shock wore off, men who had firmly believed only days earlier that the war was just about over shed the complacency that had engulfed them and rallied for a prolonged and bitter battle. Nor was this resolve limited to the infantry

and tankers who desperately tried to stem the enemy onslaught with whatever means were readily at hand. As battalion and regimental aid stations were overrun, and even though word of German atrocities against prisoners


of war had spread up and down the line, U.S. Army medical officers and enlisted men quietly went about their business of tending to the wounded, staying at their posts even when capture was imminent. Others remained with casualties long after the tide of war had swept past them and did all they could to sustain the men whose lives depended on their care. (9)

Some of the American wounded, who at best faced an uncertain future at the hands of an unpredictable enemy, were to benefit from the generosity of the civilian population. In the border regions of Belgium and northern Luxembourg, many of the inhabitants spoke German and, like their neighbors in adjacent Lorraine, had close relatives serving in the German armed forces. Nevertheless, despite isolated instances of treachery, many risked their lives and those of their families by taking in American stragglers and caring for the wounded among them, hiding them in their homes even while German troops were billeted in them. In view of the tactical situation prevailing during the early days of the German counteroffensive, there was little hope of reward for these civilians, and all participants of the battle agree that their actions stemmed from a deep seated sense of decency and humanity that was to be tested innumerable times as the war rolled over the erstwhile peaceful communities in the Ardennes.


In the confusion of the early days of the battle, many American units only miles from the front that was rapidly being torn to shreds By the German armored columns remained unaware of the crisis that was developing all around them. In recording his experiences as a member of Major Peyton's surgical team, Captain Claude M. Warren, was to recall that

....All during the night of 16 December we heard tanks and trucks going past our buildings but to our surprise they were all heading away from the front! We knew that a battle was going on but we could not understand why the tanks were running away from it. Some of our men became greatly worried. After all, we were only a few miles from the line. But to most of us it was just a joke. If the Jerries did come through, we could get out in a hurry and our troops would chase them back in short order.(10)

On the morning of 17 December, the 3rd Platoon of the 47th Field Hospital at Butgenbach was still totally unaware of the danger that threatened it. The hospital had established itself at this location only a few days earlier in a battered schoolhouse without either light or heat. The surgical team spent most of the night from 16-17 December looking after a soldier who was undergoing a traumatic amputation of both legs and who remained in deep shock.    Early on the 17th, just as


the casualty was beginning to respond, small arms fire became audible down the road. Jeeps raced by th8''schoolhouse, each one loaded to capacity with personnel who obviously were in a rush to get away. Just as suddenly as it had begun, the flow of traffic ceased. The next vehicle to come down the road was a bicycle, propelled by a Belgian boy who was screaming at the top of his voice and pointing to his foot. A member of the surgical team questioned the boy and learned that the bicyclist had been shot at by a German soldier 500 yards down the road. The bullet had lodged in the boy's boot without penetrating the skin.

With capture now a distinct possibility, it was decided to evacuate the nurses, who jumped into an ambulance without anything but the clothes on their backs and rushed to the 2nd Infantry Division Clearing Station at Elsenborn, from where they were safely evacuated when the fighting engulfed that facility. Back at Butgenbach, at 0800 the 2nd Infantry Division Surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel Walter R. Cook, MC, rushed into the schoolhouse with word that the Germans were coming down the road. By this time the patients had already been evacuated and the surgical team ran out of the village on foot, alternately dodging bullets and hiding in ditches until they had made their way back to the American lines. There, they were directed to report to the 44th Evacuation Hospital at Malmedy, as were 15 men from the 47th Field Hospital. Only a few miles separate the village of Waymes from Malmedy. Halfway between the two, the retreating medical officers, now totalling 31 riding in an ambulance, passed the junction where the road to St. Vith turned off. It was noon by this time and the area was deserted. Within two hours, this spot was to become the scene of the infamous Malmedy massacre. At Malmedy


the 44th and 67th Evacuation hospitals had set up in school buildings. The battle was coming closer, and rifle and machine gun fire were audible from several directions. The new arrivals learned to their consternation that the Germans had bombed Malmedy and that enemy paratroopers had cut the road to Eupen.

Having gone without sleep the night before and while their services were not immediately required, the members of the 3rd Auxiliary Surgical Team withdrew upstairs to get some badly needed rest. Barely an hour later they were awakened by heavy firing nearby and it was evident that the Germans were only a couple of blocks away. The entire staff of the 44th Evacuation Hospital poured out on the street and ran, some of them not even taking time to put on their uniforms. One surgeon ran out of the town at a dog trot in his shorts. The 44th Evacuation Hospital evacuated as best it could in the time remaining to Spa, on foot and by truck. Major Peyton's team received orders to proceed to Luxembourg at once and to this end boarded a truck belonging to the 134th Medical Group. Halfway to Stavelot the team found its way barred by a German roadblock and backtracked to Spa. Later that afternoon a convoy carrying the 134th Medical Group was bombed and two medical officers were killed.

Upon its return to Spa the team was ordered to proceed to Bastogne, a name unfamiliar to most of them at the time. Taking the most direct route that led through Malmedy and St. Vith, the team became embroiled in a traffic jam at St. Vith that reached classic proportions. It resulted from attempts by the 7th Armored Division to get through the town en route to the front while running head-on into fleeing remnants of the 106th Infantry Division. After a delay of several hours the surgeons succeeded


in extricating themselves from the mass of vehicles and humanity surrounding them. Heading south from St. Vith, the roads seemed strangely deserted, but in the blackout the truck continued on as fast as it could. Suddenly, a bright glow appeared ahead, a farmhouse that was on fire. At this point it appeared wise to try to get back to St. Vith. Just as the truck was attempting to back up, there was a roar of engines and three dark shapes loomed out of the darkness. They were tanks. Captain Warren, who had dismounted in trying to help the truck to back up was afraid that one of the tanks that was heading towards him at a pretty good clip might crowd the truck off the road. So he ran towards the lead tank, swinging his arms and shouting at the top of his voice. Undoubtedly, the tank driver could not hear him above the roar of his engine, but he spotted the gesticulating figure running towards him. Next the tank driver throttled his engine and said something that made no sense. Then a terrific shock hit the medical officer: the tank driver was talking to him in German!


The next few seconds were tense, and Captain Warren recalled them in these words:

....Suddenly the whole desperate situation dawned on me. These were German tanks and the only reason they had not opened fire was that they took us to be Germans, too! They were now no more than 20 yards away and I had to think fast. If I said something in English, we would be discovered and we never would have gotten out alive. I had to continue the deception. But how? The only German word I knew was "Ja." I had no choice. Mustering my last bit of strength, I shouted back "Ja, ja, ja!" Then, without waiting for an answer, I ran back towards our truck and told the driver to step on it. He excelled himself. We shot out of the side road, caromed around the corner, and beat it. We didn't even look back. Quickly we outdistanced the tanks.(11)

The team finally reached Bastogne at midnight. Only 24 hours had elapsed since the surgeons had started to feel the full brunt of the German counterattack, but within that period of time they had learned to brave adversity and roll with the punches.

During the afternoon of 17 December it became necessary to order the 44th and 67th Evacuation Hospitals in Malmedy to evacuate their installations of all transportable patients and the bulk of their personnel. In addition, such personnel and patients as could be moved were evacuated from the 618th Medical Clearing Company at Malmedy which was operating

XI-24 Photograph [not reproduced]


a combat exhaustion facility in the center of town. Throughout 17 and 18 December the medical officers maintained a constant check on the tactical situation in order to ascertain what routes of evacuation could be utilized and what hastily abandoned equipment could still be recovered.

Adversity for American fighting men and medical personnel was to be a frequent commodity during the early days of the German offensive, which was marked by great confusion on both sides, while the situation often remained obscure. To add to this confusion, the Germans had dropped a parachute division behind the American lines to the north of Malmedy, while a special task force that spoke English and was dressed in American uniforms had penetrated the American lines and roamed the rear area, creating much disturbance out of all proportion to its numbers. The shock waves of that operation were felt all the way back to SHAEF headquarters in Paris, where it was feared that special German assassination teams were roving the rear areas in an attempt to murder the Supreme Commander and members of his staff. A number of German saboteurs dressed  in American uniforms were captured during the early days of the offensive and were summarily dealt with (see Photo 3)[NOT REPRODUCED].(12)

Meanwhile, two other teams of the Third Auxiliary Medical Group were to face their moment of truth on 17 December. These were the teams


under Majors Alfred Hurwitz and James M. Higginbotham who found themselves at Waymes on the second morning of the offensive. One of the nursesassigned to one of these teams, First Lieutenant Mabel Jessop, was to remember her experiences on that day in memorable detail. She recalled that. . .

. . . When we went to breakfast on the morning of 17 December, we all knew that there was a push on. But even our commanding officer was completely in the dark about the seriousness of the situation. The only source of news we had was the battle casualty. His words carry the weight and authority of the eye witness but they are dis­torted by personal emotions. It is a worm's eye view. Nevertheless, we all eagerly questioned the soldiers that were brought to us during the early hours of that day. They were men from the 2nd Division and the 99th Division and they were in a state of acute jitters. Most of them had been forced to retreat before an overwhelming force of tanks on the Elsenborn moors.(13)

As the morning wore on, the situation became more and more tense. The noon hour came and went, but no one felt hungry. In any case, the food was a cold tasteless mixture of canned hamburger and dehydrated potatoes. At1300, the two teams received orders to pull out at once. Priority of evacuation was patients first, nurses next, and the remainder of the personnel last. Within 10 minutes after the


order to evacuate was given, all of the patients were on their way and the surgical teams accompanied them. Another 10 minutes later the 10 nurses at Waymes piled into an ambulance and pulled out for Malmedy, leaving behind everything except for a few hastily gathered toilet articles. At 1330 the ambulance approached the intersection at Baugnez, just ahead of the spearheads of Colonel Peiper's armored column, which was coming up from the south at the very time the ambulance approached from the east. In clear weather the German column might have been visible, but fortunately neither side could see too far ahead, though shellfire from the advancing column was clearly audible. The nurses quickly discovered that some of the shelling was directed at their vehicle, and the driver drove off the road and sought protection in a nearby woods, where about half a dozen trucks had already gathered in an attempt to escape the shelling. As the volume of fire intensified, all further thought of proceeding by ambulance had to abandoned and the nurses crawled back towards Waymes, where they had initially started out.

Upon their return to Waymes the nurses quickly discovered that the hospital had been completely dismantled, and only a skeleton crew remained. As the nurses reviewed their situation, they became fully aware of their predicament. Their retreat to the west had been cut off. Evacuating eastward to Butgenbach would be futile since the village was known to be in German hands. Retreat to the south would have taken the nurses to St. Vith-which was already surrounded. Retreat to the north appeared equally futile, since it would have required passing a road junction northeast of Waymes which was already presumed to be enemy held. So for all practical purposes the nurses were trapped and there was little


to do but await the arrival of the Germans. Late in the afternoon two ambulances arrived with casualties from the fighting at Butgenbach. Many of these men were in severe shock and needed immediate attention. More ambulances pulled up and the nurses got busy looking after the casualties as sporadic shellfire hit the village.

At 0200 on 18 December someone mentioned that a German half-track had passed the building, but there was no exchange of fire. Throughout the night American stragglers arrived, some from service and others from combat units. The latter posed a problem in that they were fully armed, and in the event of capture the medical staff might have been accused of violating the rules of the Geneva Convention (see Photo 4)[NOT REPRODUCED]. As a way out of this problem, the combat soldiers were requested to deposit their weapons in a distant part of the building. The morning dawned with a few encouraging signs. The mess sergeant managed to whip up a hot breakfast, the shelling had stopped, and the more optimistic among the nurses felt that perhaps they would not be captured after all.

This sense of euphoria ended shortly after 1000, when two dissimilar figures approached the front gate. To describe their appearance,

. . . One was dressed in a German captain's uniform. The other wore an American uniform with a sergeant's stripes and a 5th Armored shoulder patch. They had their rifles in the ready. The one in the American uniform shouted to our truck drivers in English: "Your hospital is under arrest. Everybody line up in the yard!"(14)

XI-29   Photograph [not reproduced]


Lieutenant Jessop was thunderstruck, as were most of the other Americans, but there was nothing to do but comply with the orders of their captors and so they marched out into the courtyard and lined up. There were plenty of American weapons nearby that might have been used in overpowering the two Germans, but no one dared move for fear of violating the Red Cross rules. While the German captain kept his gun pointed at the Americans, his companion went through the lines and collected such items as pocket knives, bandage scissors, and fountain pens. In this moment it flashed through Nurse Jessop's mind that contrary to regulations she had kept a diary that she had tucked away in her bedroll. Before she could ponder this matter further the Germans ordered the patients and hospital staff to get ready to load up within 10 minutes. A lengthy argument followed as to the feasibility of moving the wounded. In the end the Germans relented to the point where nontransportable patients were to be left behind in the care of four medical officers, all the nurses, and a dozen technicians. Everybody else was to board the trucks without delay.

While several hundred of the newly captured Americans were boarding the trucks, Nurse Jessup looked around and was startled to see that the citizens of Waymes appeared to be welcoming the Germans with open arms. More shockingly, it turned out that the German in American uniform was apparently the nephew of the woman who ran the tavern where the nurses had been billeted. The nurses had bestowed numerous gifts on her and up to this point she had always been a model of hospitality and graciousness. However, on this eventful day the tavern keeper came out into the street, embraced her nephew, and pointed at the captured


nurses in a gesture of contempt.

At this crucial juncture, the fortunes of war took a sudden turn for the better. Three American half-tracks were coming down the road and, apprised of two Germans holding the American hospital staff captive at gunpoint, charged to the rescue. In the ensuing exchange of gunfire, the captured American combat troops jumped off the trucks, ran into the building, grabbed their weapons, and joined in the melee. Somehow, the Germans escaped; in any case, they were not seen again thereafter. At 1100, exactly one hour after the excitement had begun, a lieutenant colonel from the 1st Infantry Division entered the courtyard and announced in stentorian tones that the situation was under control. In any case, it was decided that the time had come to move the hospital. All the patients were loaded on trucks, followed by the hospital staff, all of whose personal belongings were discarded and never recovered. The trucks pulled out of Waymes among the din of battle, with only a hazy idea of where to go. Malmedy had already become a ghost town, and Spa was in the process of being evacuated. Liege was still considered safe, and this is where the truck convoy proceeded. By evening of 18 December the trucks pulled up at the 15th General Hospital in Liege, where the tired travelers learned to their dismay that this supposedly safe place of refuge was under sporadic bombardment by German V-2 buzzbombs and V-1 rockets.(15)


The Third Day

The third day of the German offensive, 18 December, was to turn into another day of crisis for the Allies. By-this time the Germans had seized Butgenbach and Stavelot and were exerting heavy pressure on Malmedy. One of the German armored spearheads had advanced beyond Stavelot to La Gleize, at which point it was only five miles from Spa. It seemed that there was little to stop this spearhead as it advanced toward the town under conditions of very poor visibility. Nevertheless, the air artillery liaison officer from Headquarters, First U.S. Army, accidentally spotted the enemy armor that was approaching Spa while he was airborne in a spotter plane. As the German tanks emerged from a valley at Andrimont the artillery air liaison officer called in a flight of P-47 fighters that were patrolling at a higher altitude. The fighters attacked the enemy armor, even though visibility was limited to less than a mile, and the German advance was halted for the time being. Along with other American units occupying the town, the Headquarters of the Third Auxiliary Medical Group which had occupied a villa at Spa used this reprieve to vacate. All circulars, reports, and inventories were abandoned. On the other hand, all blankets, heaters, and radios were taken along as a convoy of trucks left town in the late afternoon and headed for Huy, a small town on the Meuse River. Before long, all schools,  convents, and warehouses in the town were jammed, and Group Headquarters finally found a haven in the drafty opera house. Later, the headquarters moved into a nearby conservatory where it was to be housed for the remainder of the battle.

Also in the course of 18 December, other medical units were ordered by the Chief of Staff of the First U.S. Army to evacuate. The original plans called for a withdrawal to Remouchamps, but they were later


directed to pull back to Huy, which resulted in that town being swamped with medical units. In the course of the day, First U.S. Army ambulances and trucks evacuated 1,000 patients of the 4th Convalescent Hospital from Spa. Of this number, 900 were evacuated to the 3rd Replacement Depot and the remainder to the 130th General Hospital at Ciney.(16)

Meanwhile, the remaining teams of the Third Auxiliary Surgical Group each coped with a rapidly deteriorating situation as best they could. At St. Vith, the surgeons attached to the 3rd Platoon of the 42nd Field Hospital, two teams under Major Philip F. Partington and Major Frank J. Lavieri watched elements of the 106th Infantry Division streaming back on the first and second day of the offensive. On 17 December, the hospital evacuated St. Vith, abandoning all of its equipment in the school building that it had occupied. As the motor column withdrew from St. Vith to Vielsalm over a narrow road, the retreating troops of the 106th Infantry Division and the advancing tanks of the 7th Armored Division created a tremendous traffic snarl that all but forced tie ambulances off the road. At Vielsalm itself, the situation was completely out of hand. When the surgeons arrived it was almost dark, and wounded were everywhere. Making their rounds by flashlight, the medical officers attempted to conduct at least a triage. By midnight an operating room had been improvised featuring a table, a set of sterile instruments, and a few bottles of penthotal, and the surgeons sat to work.


As the Germans closed in, the teams withdrew to La Roche, where the 2nd Platoon of the 106th Division Clearing Station had established itself.  However, there were no facilities for surgery and on the morning of 20 December, with the Germans close at their heels, the members of the team boarded a truck and headed for the 107th Evacuation Hospital at Libin. En route to this location they passed through Herbaimont, oblivious of the drama that had unfolded here on the previous evening, when a German armored column had overrun a clearing station nearby operated by the 326th Airborne Medical Company of the 101st Airborne Division, whose story is told elsewhere in this chapter. After a four-hour trip in bumper to bumper traffic the teams of Majors Partington and Lavieri arrived at the 107th Evacuation Hospital which was housed in a beautiful chateau ( See Photo 5) [NOT REPRODUCED].(17) The evacuation hospital was deluged with casualties, and the surgeons immediately went to work and continued operating until morning of 21 December. After a brief rest, the surgeons awoke in an ominous silence. Upon investigation they were startled to discover that the 64th Medical Group and the 107th Evacuation Hospital had evacuated in a hurry while the surgeons had been sleeping and they had been inadvertently left behind.

XI-35  Photograph [NOT REPRODUCED]


Quick action was called for, since the arrival of the Germans was imminent. The surgeons discovered that their truck was still there, so they scrambled aboard and headed for the 130th General Hospital at Ciney 40 miles away. The trip to the new location was uneventful, and upon their arrival at Ciney the two surgical teams found that other teams of the 3rd Auxiliary Surgical Group had already preceded them there. The 130th General Hospital was set up in a stately mansion and for several days the surgeons were able to work under settled conditions, Nevertheless, on 24 December German tanks were approaching Ciney for what was to be the farthest German advance during the Battle of the Ardennes, Once again, the surgical teams were forced to evacuate at short notice, and this time they proceeded to the 102nd  Evacuation Hospital at Huy, where they remained until the German offensive had passed its zenith.

The story of three more surgical teams in the path of the German counteroffensive is of interest because they were the teams that were unable to avoid capture. The first two were the teams of Majors Charles A. Serbst and Duncan A. Cameron, attached to the 2nd Platoon of the 42nd Field Hospital at Wiltz on the first day of the German counteroffensive. By 18 December the German salients extended to both the north and south of Wiltz. On the evening of the 18th, with the Germans closing in, the decision was made to evacuate the portable patients and nurses. Major Serbst and his team, Major Henry Huber, the commander of the hospital, and one other m medical officer would remain behind along with 26 non-transportable patients. The trucks arrived at Bastogne after a hazardous journey, which included shelling by the Germans and drawing fire from 28th Infantry Division troops who had thrown up a roadblock outside of Bastogne. By midnight of


18 December Bastogne itself was already approaching a state of siege, and German spearheads were only three miles from the town, which at the time was defended by only one combat command of the 10th Armored Division which had been rushed there by General Patton. The situation at Bastogne appeared so untenable to the surgeons that long before dawn of 19 December they pulled out of Bastogne, with the surgeons heading for the 107th Evacuation Hospital at Libin, while the nurses proceeded to the 42nd Field Hospital at Sedan.

For the medical officers who had remained behind at Wiltz the situation was grim. During the night from 18-19 December the Germans shelled the bridge across the Wiltz River, and the concussion blew out all the windows in the convent in which the Americans had established their hospital (See Photo 6)[NOT REPRODUCED]. Ultimately, the medical officers moved their

patients into the basement of the spacious structure. Early on 19 December the sound of machinegun fire could be heard from the village. Major Huber fashioned a white flag out of a bedsheet and went outside. German paratroopers were coming up the road and, startled by an American uniform, they fired at him. When the Germans realized that they were dealing with

a medical installation they approached the medical officer and told him to line up his men in the courtyard. Once this had been done, the paratroopers searched their prisoners and confiscated cigarettes and other personal items. When they came to Captain Harry Fisher, they stopped, took a close look at him, and announced: "Aha, a Jew." Fisher was taken out of the line and marched off. No one doubted that he was being taken away to be shot, and morale among the newly captured Americans dropped to a new low.

XI-38  Photograph [not reproduced].


With the newly taken prisoners still lined up in the courtyard a German captain addressed them and announced that they were prisoners of the Fifth Panzer Army and that the Germans planned to set up a clearing station in the convent. The captured medical staff were to remain there to take care of the American wounded. The German medical personnel consisting of five officers and 50 enlisted men arrived shortly thereafter. The officers attempted to be friendly but at the same time appropriated all of the American hospital supplies. The German equipment consisted of paper bandages, crude  instruments, and make-shift sterilizers. The only instrument that was new and shiny was the amputation knife, which the German surgeons wielded with uncanny dispatch, taking off an arm or a leg as readily as the Americans would incise a boil. When Major Serbst expressed his amazement at this procedure, one of the German surgeons replied: "We do not have the time or the money to undertake tedious and expensive reparative surgery. A man with a stump can be discharged in a few weeks. A man with a plaster cast uses up a hospital bed for months." (18)

The captured surgeons continued to look after the American wounded in the days that followed to the best of their ability under steadily deteriorating conditions. Among the scores of casualties who arrived many died from lack of blood. There was no heat and supplies were giving out. The only bright spot in the situation was that on Christmas Eve the Germans sent a few bottles of wine to the basement where the Americans


were quartered. Just as the surgeons were about to dole out this unexpected gift to the casualties, four shells landed in rapid succession in the courtyard, and four Americans were injured by falling beams and flying glass. German casualties were even heavier. When the situation at Wiltz began to deteriorate for the Germans around 27 December, they decided to evacuate both their own men and the American casualties and medical staff. The wounded were placed on open trucks for the long trip into Germany. Among the Americans there were 80 casualties, at least half of them nontransportable, and their ability to survive the trip in the bitter cold was questionable, but there was no other choice.

As Major Huber, within sight of a German medical officer, was supervising the litter bearers who were loading the casualties on the trucks, a figure came up to him in the courtyard. It was an intelligence sergeant named Lester  Koritz, who had been captured by the Germans several days before while trying to retrieve classified material in Wiltz and who, through sheer luck, had after his capture been detailed to help with the care of the wounded. Just minutes before the Americans left for Germany, Sergeant Koritz informed Major Huber that he was planning an escape; the surgeon did not dissuade him and wished him the best of luck in the attempt. While the remainder of the American prisoners embarked on the bitter road to German prison camps, the sergeant made good his escape, picking his way down a steep winding path leading away from the convent. He made it into Wiltz, narrowly avoiding recapture, and found shelter with


friendly Luxembourg civilians who looked after him until the town was retaken by elements of the 26th Infantry Division in late January 1945.

For Major Serbst and his team of surgeons, the journey into captivity was to prove an agonizing experience. He and his men, like many other prisoners faced cold, hunger, bombings by Allied aircraft, exhausting foot marches, and the ever present fight against total demoralization and disease. Some members of his team would pass through a succession of prisoner of war camps that ultimately led them into Poland and a hazardous liberation by the Red Army. Thereafter they remained in a state of limbo while they alternately looked after Russian casualties, Polish civilians, German prisoners of war, and whoever else required their help during final operations in Eastern Europe. Some of the surgeons even worked their way back to the Russian rear until they found themselves in the Soviet Union, surrounded by a society and bureaucracy that did not know what to do with them, until they were eventually repatriated to Western Europe by way of Odessa.(20)


Allied Countermeasures

Meanwhile, the Battle of the Ardennes was reaching its climax. Following the initial shock and surprise that followed the German onslaught, Allied commanders were quick to react once the seriousness of the German plan had been recognized. Late on 16 December General Bradley ordered General Patton's 10th Armored Division out of its rest area near Thionville with orders to proceed north to Luxembourg, where it was attached to the VIII Corps. As early as 17 December the 7th Armored Division moved south from the northern flank to St. Vith, where it set up a defense, together with remnants of the 106th and 28th Infantry Divisions. This force delayed the German advance near St. Vith until the 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions could move up to further reinforce the northern shoulder of the Bulge. Also on 17 December, the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were released from  SHAEF reserve to the 12th Army Group. In addition, the XVIII Airborne Corps was transferred from the United Kingdom to France and arrangements got under way to commit the 11th Armored Division that had just arrived in the Theater. For the remainder of 17 and 18 December the developing battle was closely examined and analyzed at SHAEF headquarters. Even then, the crucial importance of Bastogne was readily apparent and on the highest level the decision was reached to hold the town against all odds. Meanwhile, it became necessary to divert the 82nd Airborne Division to the north toward Stavelot and it was the 101st Airborne Division which,


along with a combat command of the 10th Armored Division, and other units was to bear the full burden of the defense of Bastogne.(21)

Early on 19 December, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and members of his staff went to Verdun where he conferred with Generals Bradley, Patton, and Devers. Purpose of the meeting was to make arrangements for an assault against the German salient from the south.(22) In order to muster the necessary strength to strike the enemy where he was most


vulnerable, General Eisenhower ordered General Patton to halt all further offensive action eastwards towards the Saar, and instead shift the direction of attack from east to north with six divisions. To this end General Patton was to temporarily assume command over the VIII Corps and prepare to organize a major counterblow by 23 or 24 December. While this difficult

maneuver on the part of the Third U.S. Army was under way, General Devers, commanding the Seventh U.S. Army in Alsace, was to take over most of the Third U.S. Army front, even though the extension of his area would stretch his own frontline to a dangerous degree.(23)

General Patton lost no time in having his Army shift its direction of attack. In fact, so certain had he been that his Third Army would be ordered to strike at the southern German flank that even before leaving for Verdun he had already ordered his staff to prepare for a rapid movement to the north. When General Eisenhower asked how soon he could attack, Patton stunned all those present with the reply that he could attack with three divisions, the 4th Armored, and the 26th and 80th Infantry Divisions, by 22December, which was at least 24 hours sooner than anyone had thought possible. For the Third U.S. Army commander,


making this announcement in an atmosphere of sheer skepticism was to be the sublime moment of his career.(24) To put this difficult and daring maneuver into effect required the tremendous skill that only a master tactician could provide. But so sure had Patton been of what would be asked of him that all he needed to do to get the wheels moving was to call his headquarters, giving a prearranged code, and his staff automatically set into motion the momentous task of changing the direction of the Third U.S. Army's attack from east to north.

After his return from the conference of Verdun on 19 December, General Eisenhower and his staff received reports about the progress of the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes that grew so alarming that the Supreme Commander decided on one more major step in meeting the growing threat to his frontline. As a result, he divided the Ardennes front into two parts, each under a separate command. The entire northern flank was placed under Field Marshal Montgomery's 21st Army Group, while General Bradley retained control of the southern flank with his 12th Army Group. In line with this realignment, both the U.S. First and Ninth Armies came under Field Marshal Montgomery's command effective 20 December 1944.(25)


Initially, while the British Field Marshal reorganized and consolidated his forces, he would be engaged in a holding action designed to prevent a  German crossing of the Meuse within his sector until such time as he could muster the strength to attack the German salient from the north. Meanwhile it was up to General Bradley's 12th Army Group and the Third U.S. Army, in particular, to attack the German penetration from the south. It was here that the crucial battles were to be fought during the final days of December.

The Battle of Bastogne

The contest for Bastogne began to shape up in a very broad outline as early as 17 December when SHAEF found only two division size units available to throw into the path of the German offensive: the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Both of these divisions had been badly mauled during their employment in Holland and at the time were undergoing extensive rehabilitation. Late on 17 December SHAEF ordered both airborne units to proceed with all possible haste to the town of Bastogne in Belgium. Because of its central location and excellent road net, Bastogne had been selected as an ideal assembly point from which the divisions could move out and engage the enemy according to the requirements of the situation. At this point, a German attack on the town itself was not yet anticipated.

Early on 18 December the 82nd Airborne Division loaded into huge ten-ton truck trailer's and headed towards Bastogne, followed later in the day by the 101st Airborne Division. As news of the worsening situation reached Allied headquarters in Paris, the 82nd Airborne Division was diverted to the area 30 miles north of Bastogne near Werbomont to halt Colonel Peiper's drive to the Meuse. The 101st continued on towards its original


destination, At the same time, General Patton's 10th Armored Division was headed north through Luxembourg towards the Ardennes. The advance of the latter division was spearheaded by Combat Command B under Colonel William Roberts who reported to General Troy Middleton of the VIII Corps at Bastogne around 1500 on 18 December. At this time German armor was already closing in on Bastogne, and the 101st Airborne Division barely made it into the town before the roadblocks at its outskirts came under German attack. In Major General Maxwell Taylor's absence Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe acted as commander of the 101st Airborne Division. He reported to General Middleton and was briefed on the situation which was becoming more critical by the hour as strong German armored units approached from the east and prepared to encircle the important road and rail center (see Map 4)[NOT REPRODUCED].

Since Bastogne still was not entirely surrounded in the course of 19 December, elements of the 101st Airborne Division continued to head for the town. En route all of the medical  detachments accompanied them as part of a motor convoy. Because of the precariousness of the situation and the rapidity with which the airborne division was being committed, such items as the first aid packet (parachutist) and the individual copper sulfate sponge were not obtainable. On the other hand, all detachments transported extra blankets and litters on the trucks allocated to them. Among the units heading for Bastogne were 19 officers and 198 men of the 326th Airborne Medical Company. Attached to this unit was a team of the 3rd Auxiliary Surgical Group consisting of four officers and four enlisted men under Major Albert J. Crandall, In addition, three

XI-48   Map [not reproduced]


officers and two enlisted men from the Division Surgeon's office  accompanied the medical company on its road march to Bastogne.(26)

The medical company opened a clearing station at 1100, 19 December near Herbaimont, about eight miles west of Bastogne, an area generally considered safe. Shortly thereafter the first casualties arrived. The collecting elements of the company were immediately sent out to the regiments to initiate evacuation to the clearing station. In the late afternoon the commanding officer of the medical company left the clearing station with three ambulances loaded with 15 litter and walking wounded patients who were being evacuated to the 107th Evacuation Hospital at Libin. There, arrangements were made with the 64th Medical Group to furnish five additional ambulances which were to assist in evacuating the clearing station. While the commanding officer of the 326th Medical Company was attempting to return to his clearing station and found one road after another blocked by demolished bridges or military traffic, the clearing station itself suddenly found itself squarely in the path of the German advance.

Shortly after 2230, an enemy force estimated at six tanks and half tracks, supported by about 100 riflemen, was proceeding in a southwesterly direction [from] Houffalize when it encountered the clearing station. Without stopping to ascertain the nature of the


installation they were approaching, the German armor sprayed the tents with machine gun fire for about 15 minutes. The effect of this sustained fire on the unarmed and totally surprised  American medical personnel can well be imagined. One of the enlisted men on Major Crandall's.surgical team, T/5 Emile K. Natalle, was to describe the events of that night in these words:

. . . .I had just dozed off when I was aroused by a machine gun barrage. Bullets were flying everywhere. They passed right over my head. . . .In a few minutes our area was lit up like day. The light was coming from our own vehicles that had been set afire by tracer bullets. . . . As soon as the firing subsided I crawled out of my foxhole toward the surgical tent. . . By this time the Germans were all over the area. They hollered, laughed, and made noise, just as Germans always do. . As soon as we went outside, we could see the Germans. They were Panzer Grenadiers, the much-feared, hard-hitting tank men of Hitler's legions. . . The officer in command was a typical Prussian. He was wearing well‑polished, high, black hoots and his uniform looked as if he had just came back from a Berlin pass. In his right eye was a monocle. I don't know why. I remember all the details. I suppose because he was such a contrast with the ordinary fighting man. War is dirty. No one expects a Beau Brummel on the battlefield.(27)


According to at least one official account of the incident, the Germans  continued to fire their machine guns after the burning trucks lighted the area so that red crosses on the tents of the clearing station were clearly visible to the enemy.(28)  Once the immaculately dressed enemy officer entered the clearing station, he demanded to talk to the senior officer present. The 101st Airborne Division surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel David Gold, stepped forward and formally surrendered the installation, The enemy gave the newly captured Americans 30 minutes to load their personnel and equipment on vehicles and follow them into the enemy lines. Here T/5 Natalle resumes his account in these words:

. . . And all this time, the burning trucks became raging infernos. You could hear the cries of the men who had been caught inside. I ran over to Captain Van Gorder, who was talking German to the Nazi officer. Captain Van Gorder told me to go down to the crossroads and see if I could get any of the wounded out of the trucks. A German soldier was to go with me. We ran as fast as we could. We tried to get near the trucks. The heat was intense. We looked at each other and shook our heads. There was nothing we could do. We turned back. Yes, we turned our backs on those wounded but their cries and pleas will forever remain in my memory.(29)


Altogether, the Germans at Herbaimont captured 11 officers and 119 enlisted men of the 326th Airborne Medical Company, as well as 3 officers and 2 enlisted men from the Division Surgeon's office, and 4 officers and 3 enlisted men of Major Crandall's surgical team.(30)  Precisely one half hour after the German armor ceased firing, the Americans embarked on their long and painful journey into captivity. Once the commander of the no longer existant medical company learned of the fate of his men, he reported the circumstances of their capture to the Commanding Officer of the 64th Medical Group, who in turn notified the Surgeon of the VIII Corps. Acting on this information, the Corps Surgeon secured the 429th Medical Collecting Company and the 635th Clearing Company to perform second echelon medical service for the 101st Airborne Division. Even this rapid improvisation did little to compensate the division for its loss of doctors, aidmen, and medical supplies, which was to be later described as "one of the most severe blows dealt the 101st."(31)

Since the loss of the 326th Airborne Medical Company had left the 101st Airborne Division without second echelon medical service, all available doctors were pulled out of such positions as assistant regimental surgeon, artillery surgeon, and antiaircraft surgeon and rushed to Bastogne where


they were placed in a formerly Belgian military compound. There, they set up-a medical collecting point just before the German vise tightened, precluding all further reinforcement of the American garrison. It was in the same compound in which General McAuliffe and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division had set up their respective command posts.(32)

As of 20 December 1944, when the Germans completed their encirclement of Bastogne, there were about 18,000 American troops garrisoning the town. These included the 101st Airborne Division, Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division, miscellaneous artillery and engineer units, a tank destroyer battalion, and 14 tanks of the 9th Armored Division. At the time that General McAuliffe was organizing the defense of the town, three  German divisions totalling about 45,000 men, were encircling Bastogne from three directions. For the next 48 hours after the complete encirclement of the town, the two opposing sides were engaged in probing each other's positions. Late on 21 December General McAuliffe formally assumed command of all American forces in Bastogne. It was in this capacity that on the following morning, when a German emissary demanded the capitulation of the American garrison, General McAuliffe issued his famous negative reply. Thus far, three factors had kept the enemy from overwhelming Bastogne. These were the stubbornness of the defenders, lack of coordination of the German attacks, and a lack of artillery on


the part of the encircling forces. At the same time, the American garrison was desperately short of artillery ammunition. As for the medical situation,

. . . The large number of wounded congregated inside Bastogne presented a special problem: there were too few medics, not enough surgical equipment, and blankets had to be gathered up from front-line troops to wrap the men suffering from wounds and shock. Nonetheless, morale was high.(33)

This high state of morale was to suffer a temporary decline on the evening of 22 December when a scheduled airdrop of badly needed supplies failed to materialize because of bad weather. Yet the same poor flying conditions did not prevent German bombers from coming over and dropping their lethal cargo on the town. For the men in the foxholes, it seemed that the Germans were about to make good their threat to completely devastate Bastogne unless the Americans surrendered. On the other hand, there was also some heartening news for the surrounded Americans over the teletype and two-way radio telephone communication which remained available to General McAuliffe throughout this crucial period: the aborted airdrop of badly needed supplies was being rescheduled for the following morning, and word was out (though incorrectly) that both the 4th and 7th Armored Divisions were headed for Bastogne to break the siege.


A strange twist of fate had ordained that at least one American, and the least likely one under the circumstances, would witness the initial enemy thrusts at the Bastogne defenses at closest range from the enemy side. This was none other than Captain Harry Fisher of the 3rd Auxiliary Surgical Group, who had been captured on 19 December along with other members of his team. While lined up with other prisoners and being searched he had been identified as a Jew. A German guard placed a hand on his shoulder and he was marched away from the group of prisoners. During the Battle of the Ardennes, a hand on the shoulder meant different things at different times. In the case of four young students of the Bastogne seminary who had been overtaken by an advancing German column west of Bastogne while seeking safety out in the country, the hand on the shoulder meant that they were about to be executed.(34) For Captain Fisher, whose expectations were low at this point, the hand on the shoulder was to make him a ringside spectator to one of the epic battles of World War II. After being marched away from the lineup of prisoners, the American surgeon was taken to the motor pool and asked whether he knew how to drive an ambulance. He pointed out that he was a surgeon, but it was conveyed to him to do as he was told. Since he was not in a good bargaining position, all further argument appeared futile. Thus, together with a German orderly assigned to him, Captain Fisher joined the clearing station of the


Panzer Lehr Division, the very unit initially charged with assaulting Bastogne.

As the German armor attacked Wardin, just off the road linking Bastogne and Wiltz, Captain Fisher watched the panorama of battle unfold below him. German Tiger tanks and an armored infantry battalion engaged Company I of the 101st Parachute Infantry Regiment which had no anti-tank weapons and bore the brunt of the attack. Then the wounded arrived, and the surgeon got to work on the wounded of the parachute company who had survived the battle and, like he himself, had become prisoners. In Captain Fisher's words,

. . .There were over a hundred casualties that I saw myself. There were many more that I never saw at all. I'll never forget that night. I was trying to take care of a hundred casualties in one of those two-by-four Belgian basements. Most of the casualties had to stay outside in the rain. American shells started coming at us and we decided to get out as quickly as we could. We left most of the casualties behind.(35)

On 20 December the German clearing station moved into what was left of Wardin two miles closer to Bastogne and it was from here that Captain Fisher witnessed the German assault on Marvie. For a time it looked as if the Germans there had gained the upper hand, but the village remained in American hands even though enemy half-tracks roamed the streets. At this point, the Germans were only one mile from Bastogne, but as long as


the Americans maintained a presence at Marvie the enemy advance into Bastogne was effectively blocked. Since the Germans were unable to seize the town by direct assault they decided to bypass it and continue their drive to the Meuse, leaving the Panzer Lehr Division to reduce the encircled American garrison. The snow which had started to fall on 20 December spread its blanket over German and American positions alike, and the bitter cold imposed an added hardship on the wounded.

For the first time in days the weather around Bastogne cleared on the morning of 23 December with virtually unlimited visibility from American air bases in the United Kingdom all the way to the frontline in the Ardennes. Around 0900 a pathfinder team dropped inside the defense perimeter and set up the equipment to guide the C-47 cargo planes to the drop zone which was located on the western fringes of Bastogne. For a period of about four hours, a total of 241 aircraft, each carrying a cargo of around 1,200 pounds, winged their way toward Bastogne, to be

followed by another 160 planes on the following day.(36) Not all of the cargo planes reached the drop zone and not all of the urgently needed supplies were recovered, but for the hard pressed American garrison at Bastogne the arrival of urgently needed artillery ammunition and medical supplies spelled the. difference between survival or defeat. (See Photo 7)[NOT REPRODUCED]. While poor flying conditions precluded the continuation of the airdrops on Christmas Day, 11 gliders did arrive bringing in a team of four surgeons and gasoline badly needed by the tanks of Combat Command B of the 10th

XI-58  Photograph [not reproduced]


Armored Division. The biggest air supply operation of all was mounted on 26 December, when 289 cargo planes delivered their cargoes to Bastogne. In addition, a special shipment of 100 ampules of penicillin was delivered to the 101st Airborne Division. Of the medical supplies airdropped on 24 December, recovery amounted to 100 percent. Included in these supplies

were whole blood, vaseline gauze, litters, blankets, atropine sulfate, tetanus toxoid, pentothal sodium, distilled water, syringes, and sterilizers.(37)

For Captain Fisher who was looking down on Bastogne from the clearing station at Wardin, still a prisoner of the Germans, the incoming flights of American cargo aircraft were "the most thrilling thing he had ever seen."(38) The spectacle of hundreds of gaily colored parachutes blossoming out over Bastogne and then drifting down onto the open fields also had an electrifying effect on the town's civilians, "who poured out of their cellars and stared up in awe at the carnival sight. These Americans were like people from another world."(39)

XI-60 Photograph [not reproduced]


Not everything dropped from the sky as the Battle of the Ardennes neared its climax was to result in loud cheers on the part of the hard pressed American troops. During the afternoon of 23 December six B-26 bombers of the 322nd Bombardment Group were preparing to attack German‑held La Gleize, where Colonel Peiper's armor found itself isolated and virtually surrounded by the Americans. The planes dropped their bombs and noted that they were right on target. Only too late did they realize that through an error in navigation they had dropped their loads on American-held Malmedy, where "dazed American soldiers of the 30th Division and hysterical civilians were crawling from the wreckage. Many were no longer able to crawl." (40) On their part, the Germans elected to send their bombers over Bastogne twice on Christmas Eve. These air attacks set dozens of buildings on fire (See Photo 8)[NOT REPRODUCED] and destroyed the command post of Team Cherry of the 10th Armored Division Combat Command B. Worse yet, the improvised military hospital absorbed a direct hit and was turned into a mass of debris. For the remainder of the night, volunteers dug for the dead and dying patients entombed in the wreckage. Among the dead were a score of wounded of the 101st Infantry Division, as well as a Belgian nurse, daughter of the mayor of Bastogne.

The German armored assault against the Bastogne defenses continued throughout 25 December, which dawned bright and clear. At one time German tanks and infantry managed to break into the town, only to find themselves isolated and chewed up by the Americans. General Patton had initially


hoped that his 4th Armored Division would be able to break the siege of Bastogne on Christmas Day, but icy roads and extremely heavy German resistance slowed progress of the relief force to a crawl. Nevertheless, General McAuliffe and the men under his command knew that help was on the way (see Map 5)[NOT REPRODUCED]. For the wounded at Bastogne help arrived on 25 December when a general surgeon flew into the encircled town by liaison plane, followed by three more general surgeons, an orthopedic surgeon, an anesthetist, and four enlisted technicians the next day. Both aircraft encountered enemy fire, but all personnel and their equipment arrived safely. Without delay, the new arrivals proceeded to the make-shift hospital inside Bastogne, which at this point was located inside a large garage consisting of one very large room and a small adjoining room. The large room was occupied by about 150 seriously wounded men who lay on litters and straw pallets. All casualties except the most seriously wounded were scattered throughout Bastogne in cellars, basements and such other buildings as afforded some measure of shelter from enemy artillery fire, air attacks, and the elements.

The four battalion aid station surgeons who had treated all casualties until the arrival of the medical relief on 25 December were completely exhausted. In their place, the general surgeon who had flown in by liaison aircraft set up an operating room in the small chamber adjoining the big garage, which was unheated and had only one light in the larger room.

At Bastogne the supply of blood was very low because most of the containers that had been parachuted in on the previous day had broken upon impact. On the other hand, there was a plentiful supply of plasma.

XI-63  Map [not reproduced]


Within less than two hours after their arrival, the new surgical teams had carefully triaged all of the patients in the garage, and those requiring immediate surgery were prepared for it. The teams set up four operating tables in the small room by placing litters on tables. Two anesthetists, one of whom had been freshly flown in and the other who was a battalion aid station surgeon with the 10th Armored Division, alternated between the operating tables, Meanwhile, medical officers of the 101st Airborne Division provided medical care for the patients occupying the large room. The operations got under way at 1830 on 26 December and continued throughout the night until noon of the following day.(41)

By the time the exhausted surgeons were able to take a breather the relief of Bastogne had already been accomplished. Shortly after noon on 26th December the 37th Tank Battalion of the 4th Armored Division, spearheading the Third U. S. Army drive from the south, had approached to within five miles of the encircled garrison. At this time the commander of this tank battalion, Colonel Creighton W. Abrams, decided that the time had come for a final assault to break the encirclement. This attack succeeded and by 1645 the 4th Armored Division linked up with elements of the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne, thus breaking the German encirclement. Initially, the corridor that had been opened to Bastogne was only a narrow and precarious one. Almost immediately the Germans threw all available forces against it in an attempt to close the ring of


encirclement once again. But in the days to come all of their desperate efforts resulted in failure, and the corridor remained open until the German counteroffensive had faltered.

Evacuation of the wounded who had amassed in Bastogne during the siege fell to the 64th Medical Group, which deployed its 635th Clearing Company at Villers devant Orval to handle the task of triage and evacuation. As soon as the siege was broken the Group dispatched 40 ambulances to Villers devant Orval to transport the Bastogne patients to evacuation hospitals. Supply columns reached Bastogne on 27 December (see Photo 9)[NOT RERPODUCED] and the evacuation of patients from the charred town began on the same day. The same trucks that hauled supplies to Bastogne took out the walking wounded on the return trip. During the afternoon of 27 December, 12 truckloads of walking wounded and 22 ambulances carrying litter

patients arrived at the Clearing Station at Villers devant Orval. Late at night the trucks and ambulances made a second trip until 652 patients had been evacuated from Bastogne.(42) On the following day, another 242 patients were evacuated, including 23 prisoners of war.

The relief of the Bastogne garrison by units of the Third U.S. Army did not signal the end of German attempts to capture the town. In fact, during the days to come Hitler committed additional divisions for this purpose, but in doing so the ultimate German objective of crossing the Meuse and advancing on Liege could no longer be realized. The staunch American stand at Bastogne, as well as the prolonged defense of St. Vith

XI-66   Photograph [not reproduced]


by elements of the 7th Armored Division had severely upset the German timetable to a point where on 28 December Hitler himself was forced to admit that the attack in the Ardennes had ". . not resulted in the decisive success which might have been expected."(43) A review of the situation by the German High Command on 26 December revealed that after nine days of bitter fighting, the German assault forces had been stopped at Elsenborn, slowed at St. Vith, trapped in the Ambleve River Valley, frustrated at Bastogne, arrived at the Meuse too late, and finally were halted at Manhay. Above all, it had become evident that the German units assembled in the bulge that had been driven into the Allied lines, now lacked a point of main effort.

For the Americans defending Bastogne during the siege, the human cost had been very high though probably justified by the military gain achieved. Battle casualties of the 101st Airborne Division amounted to 105 officers and 1,536 man, while Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division lost 25 officers and 478 men.(44) No accurate record has ever been compiled of the uncounted artillerymen, tankers, and infantrymen who were killed or wounded on the outskirts of Bastogne in their desperate


attempts to slow the pace of the German advance, thus buying time for the hastily assembled garrison within the town to organize its defenses.

Battle of Attrition

Even though the encirclement of Bastogne had been broken on 26 December, the battle for the town was far from over. Confronted by his military advisers with the information that the German assault armies could not force the Meuse as had been originally planned, Hitler decided to keep the offensive going by throwing additional divisions and at least 25,000 fresh replacements into the Ardennes. One of the initial objectives was to seize Bastogne, advance beyond the Meuse, and capture a large Allied force that was being assembled in the bend of the Meuse. Since the beginning of the Ardennes offensive, however, the German drive had started to lose momentum. The paratroopers dropped in the northern portion of the Bulge were totally ineffective; the saboteurs under Skorzeny caused a lot of confusion but otherwise did not seriously interfere with Allied countermeasures that were instituted once the initial shock of the German onslaught wore off. The huge Tiger tanks which were to block the northern roads of the bulge did not reach the front lines because of Allied air attacks and structural weakness of the bridges.

At the same time that the Germans encountered numerous delays and obstacles not provided for in their original planning, troop movements on an unprecedented scale were taking place behind the Allied lines.


During the first week of the battle alone, the First U.S. Army moved 248,000 troops and 48,711 vehicles.(45) On 26 December the German advance reached its high water mark when the 2d Panzer Division advanced to within 17 miles of the town of Dinant (see Map 6)[NOT REPRODUCED]. There, during the same afternoon that saw the relief of Bastogne, the German armor was stopped cold by the U.S. 2nd Armored Division. In this respect it may be correct to say that 26 December marked the turning point in the Battle of the Bulge. The closing days of December found German divisions from all parts of the penetration converging on Bastogne in a renewed attempt to encircle the town. Once this objective had been achieved, the Germans planned to surround and capture Allied forces east of the Meuse. These hopes were not realized because General Patton decided to attack the German-held area west of Bastogne. Early on 30 December General Bradley's 87th Infantry, 11th Armored, and. 17th Airborne Divisions jumped off in severe cold and heavy snow, while ice-covered roads all but impeded the movement of tanks. The attack progressed very slowly and the American forces sustained heavy casualties. But the very timing of this attack eased enemy pressure on Bastogne, which remained under incessant German attack until 3 January.

During this phase of the battle the Germans experienced major difficulty in evacuating their wounded from the battlefield. By the end of December, for instance, the Fifth Panzer Army had to evacuate its casualties all the way back to Andernach on the Rhine, a distance of nearly

100 road miles over highways and railroad lines that were at all times

XI-70   Map [not reproduced]


exposed to Allied air attacks. By way of comparison, even though a number of American medical installations had been overrun by the enemy during the early days of the offensive and the medical personnel captured, the U.S. Army Medical Service continued to maintain a high standard of medical care even in the midst of this momentous battle. This was possible because

both the First and Third U.S. Armies, as was standard practice in the Theater, were prepared to handle a peak casualty load. As of 1 January 1945, for example, there were nearly 9,000 vacant beds in the hospitals of these two armies despite the heavy casualties that were being sustained.(46) Beyond taking care of its wounded, the U.S. Army extended the same quality of care to enemy wounded that were being captured in increasing numbers.

Diversion to the South

At the very time that the balance of the battle was beginning to shift in favor of the Allies, Hitler decided to strike a second major blow where the Allies were least prepared for it. The sector that lent itself best for such a venture was the thinly held Seventh U.S. Army line in Alsace, which had become even more fragile after the Third U.S. Army had moved northward into Belgium and Seventh Army had taken over part of General Patton's former line. To the south of Strasbourg, the Germans still held a bridgehead across the Lower Rhine known as the Colmar Pocket and it was to the north of Strasbourg that Hitler decided to strike a series of blows, designed to keep the Allies off balance and prevent them from regrouping and organizing for another major assault against the German lines. In Alsace,


the Germans prepared to launch a dual attack with seven divisions under the direction of Heinrich Himmler. One prong was to attack from the Palatinate into Alsace and drive southward towards a junction with German forces attacking northward out of the Colmar Pocket. In addition, it was planned to establish a bridgehead across the Rhine north of Strasbourg and from this vantage point link up with the German forces coming from the north and south while simultaneously, cutting off Strasbourg.

The operation, designated as Nordwind (see Map 7)[NOT REPRODUCED] got under way at the stroke of midnight, New Year's eve and appeared promising at first. However, in contrast to the situation in the Ardennes on 16 and 17 December, this time the Allies were not surprised. General Patton had warned on a number of occasions that this was the precise sector that the Germans could be expected to attack once the Third U.S. Army had become fully engaged in the Ardennes, and his warnings had not fallen on deaf ears. A former intelligence officer on General Eisenhower's staff was to recall that

. . . in fact from our point of view, the Alsace sector was a much more dangerous one, everything considered, than the Ardennes, for you can imagine what would have been the effect of a German slice through and seizure of Metz upon the French and our own Sixth Army Group. The fact that the Germans, in desperation, might employ their last remaining strategic reserves in a gamble to achieve some tactical or strategic advantage was also, I believe, fully appreciated by General Eisenhower and by General Bradley in a conference at SHAEF which took place long before December 16th.(47)

XI-73  Map [not reproduced].


For the first few days beginning on 1 January 1945, the German offensive in Alsace proceeded according to plan as pincers closed in on the Alsatian plain. The danger to Allied positions in Alsace became acute on 5 January when the Germans crossed the Rhine and established a bridgehead in the area between Drusenheim and Gambsheim just north of Strasbourg. General

Eisenhower's decision to evacuate Strasbourg met with such determined resistance on the part of General de Gaulle and members of his staff(48) that he reversed himself and ordered Strasbourg held if at all possible.(49) In his appeals, General de Gaulle found himself in perfect accord with General Patton who felt that a withdrawal back to the Saar-Vosges line or even to the Moselle

. . . is disgusting and might remove the valor of our army and the confidence of our people. It will have tremendous political implications and probably condemn to death or slavery all the inhabitants of Alsace and Lorraine if we abandon them to the Germans.(50)


For Seventh U.S. Army medical installations in Alsace, the initial German penetrations of the American lines, especially those along the northern perimeter between Sarreguemines and Lauterbourg, posed a grave danger as thefull fury of the enemy assault fell on the 45th and 79th Infantry Divisions of VI Corps and the 44th, 100th, and 103rd Infantry Divisions, along with the

106th Cavalry Group, of the XV Corps. When the Germans in Alsace started to make some early gains, Seventh Army ordered all of the supporting units to move west of the Vosges Mountains to avert a possible encirclement. As part of the withdrawal plan, hospitals began to move to the rear toward Epinal, St. Die, Baccarat, and Rambervillers. Smaller medical units remained at Sarrebourg, Mutzig, Phalsbourg, and in the Colmar sector, the latter to insure adequate medical support for the troops engaged in eliminating that pocket.(51)

Among the difficulties encountered by Seventh U,S. Army medical units in the course of their withdrawal the lack of adequate transportation was paramount. The absence of suitable buildings to accommodate hospitals, medical personnel, and patients ranked second in importance; a third factor was the short notice at which the retrograde movements had to be carried out in the midst of an unusually severe winter, which added to the hardships of patients and staff alike. Among medical units directly affected by the withdrawal orders were the 2nd Convalescent and 9th Evacuation Hospitals, both located at Sarrebourg, which moved to Epinal and Rambervillers


respectively. The 117th Evacuation Hospital, then located at Phalsbourg, as well as the 95th and 132nd Evacuation Hospitals at Mutzig actually were in the process of moving into the area west-of the Vosges when they received word that the withdrawal plans had been reversed and the latter two hospitals returned to their previous locations, while the 117th Evacuation Hospital proceeded to Epinal. At this point the Seventh U.S. Army G-4 notified the Army Surgeon that no more hospitals would be permitted to move until the tactical situation had become more static, which left the 93rd, 95th, 11th, 116th, and 132nd Evacuation Hospitals in the forward area. This policy remained in effect until 7 January, at which time considerable enemy activity to the north and south of Strasbourg made it necessary to move the 95th Evacuation Hospital from Mutzig to Sarrebourg. Meanwhile, the 117th Evacuation Hospital had been unable to set up in Epinal because base installations had already laid claim to all suitable buildings. As a result the 117th attempted to relocate to Luneville, but no site capable of housing a hospital could be found there. Ultimately a building was obtained in nearby St. Jean de Bassel; as a result, the 117th Evacuation Hospital was once again in operation on 18 January.(52)

After several days of bitter fighting in early January it became apparent that the Germans could not exploit their penetrations in Alsace. A frontline inspection conducted by the German Chief of Staff on 6 and 7 January led him to express the view "that the rugged terrain had imposed an extreme physical strain upon the men who were compelled to fight without rest and live in the open. There was a visible abatement in combat strength." (53)


Nevertheless, the enemy continued to make a maximum effort to the southeast of Bitche and on 5 January succeeded in establishing a battalion-size bridgehead on the west bank of the Rhine at Gambsheim just north of Strasbourg with the obvious intent of encircling that city from the north and south.

The bitter fighting in Alsace was to continue through most of January and well into February 1945. But, heavy casualties to the contrary, the American divisions committed to stem the German assault proved too much for the enemy though some of them had not previously experienced combat. The German drive out of the Saar Valley was the first to be blunted and

finally was halted altogether. Southeast of Bitche the Germans were unable to widen their earlier penetration, nor were they able to link their bridgehead at Gambsheim with German forces advancing out of the Colmar Pocket. As a result, the planned envelopment of Strasbourg never materialized. Another drive to the north and northeast of Haguenau likewise failed to yield

the results that had been anticipated. By 20 January the situation in Alsace had stabilized materially and the threat of an enemy breakthrough was no longer paramount. Looking ahead to the resumption of a Seventh Army offensive to the Rhine and beyond, SHAEF in late January 1945 assigned the following medical units to the Seventh Army:

Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 87th Medical Battalion

Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 88th Medical Battalion

530th Medical Clearing Company

892nd Medical Clearing Company

443rd Medical Collecting Company

519th Medical Collecting Company

64th Field Hospital

81st Field Hospital

85th Field Hospital (54)


At the end of January 1945 the hospitals attached to the Seventh U.S. Army and their respective locations were as follows:

    9th Evacuation Hospital     Rambervillers, France

    11th Evacuation Hospital   Lorquin, France

    27th Evacuation Hospital   Baccarat, France

    51th Evacuation Hospital   St. Die, France

59th Evacuation Hospital (Closed) Epinal, France

    93d Evacuation Hospital    Dieuze, France

    95th Evacuation Hospital   Sarrebourg, France

    *103d Evacuation Hospital    Baccarat, France

    112th Evacuation Hospital     Sarrebourg, France

    116th Evacuation Hospital     Sarrebourg, France

    117th Evacuation Hospital     St. Jean De Bassel, France

    132d Evacuation Hospital Sarrebourg, France

2d Convalescent Hospital   Sarrebourg, France

VD Hosp (Prov) (1st Plt 616th Clr Co) Sarrebourg, France

    NP Hosp #1 (Prov) (2d Pit 616th Clr Co) Sarrebourg, France

NP Hosp #2 (Prov) (682d Clr Co) Cirey, France

10th Field Hosp, Hq   Dieuze, France

Unit #1    Dieuze, France

    Unit #2    Inswiller, France

Unit #3    Morhange, France

11th Field Hosp, Hq   Saverne, France

Unit #1    Stephansfeld, France

    Unit #2    Phalsbourg, France

    Unit #3    Hochfelden, France

    54th Field Hosp, Hq   Drulingen,France

    Unit #1    Drulingen, France

Unit #2    Diermingen, France

Unit #3    Drulingen, France

*57th Field Hosp, Hq Sarrebourg, France

Unit #1    Ribeauville, France

Unit #2    Mutzig, France

    Unit #3    Ribeauville, France

 *Attached for operations only. (55)

These were the medical units that were to be primarily responsible for, supporting the Seventh  U.S. Army's drive to the Rhine and into the very heart of Germany during the spring of 1945.


End in the Ardennes

Various dates have been advanced as the turning point in the Battle of the Ardennes. Thus, as early as 20 December, some of the German commanders appear to have suffered the first pangs of doubt as to the success of their counteroffensive. Four days later, the commander of the Fifth Panzer Army concluded that the objectives of the offensive could no longer be attained.(56) With the opening of a corridor to the encircled garrison at Bastogne on 26 December, the initiative in the battle passed from German into American hands. The arrival of the New Year found the Germans still capable of striking heavy blows at the American lines, as evidenced by the beginning of Operation Nordwind in Alsace. On 1 January the German Air Force launched one of its strongest attacks since the Normandy invasion against Allied airfields, especially those near the Ardennes and to the north of this area. Many Allied aircraft were destroyed on the ground, but for this achievement the Germans paid with half of their attacking planes which German industry could no longer replace.

On 3 January 1945 Field Marshal Montgomery began his long awaited offensive against the northern perimeter of the Bulge. Equally heavy pressure against the German penetration from the south soon created a situation where the German divisions in the pocket feared that they themselves might become encircled. By 10 January "the situation of German forces in the Ardennes had become critical and for them the battle now


turned into a bitter rearguard action involving heavy losses in both men and materiel, diminishing supplies, and an acute shortage of fuel." (57)

Heralded as a master stroke of strategy by its inceptors, the enemy counteroffensive resulted in total failure. Not only had the Germans failed to reach their final objectives beyond the Meuse, but the delay imposed on the Allied winter offensive was bought at a very heavy price. U.S. intelligence officers estimated that in the month-long battle enemy casualties exceeded 250,000, while 36,000 Germans were taken prisoner. In addition, the enemy lost more than 600 tanks and assault guns in the battle.(58) Both these men and the materiel expended in the Ardennes would

be sorely needed in the East where the Russians on 12 January launched a powerful offensive that would take the Red Army into Germany proper and signalled the beginning of the end for the German forces on the Eastern front.

For the American divisions that had stood their ground in the Ardennes in the face of all the Germans had been capable of throwing at them


the month of January brought a major change. As the ground ceded to the enemy in the early stages of the Ardennes offensive was retaken in a grueling advance under conditions of bitter cold, there was a major change in the American fighting man. As one author well familiar with that battle was to observe:

The good-natured, rather careless, supremely confident GI who had known one victory after another since landing in Normandy; who assumed he would be well clothed, well fed, and well led; who accepted it as his heritage to outgun and outmachine the enemy, was gone. Since December 16 he'd had few days of the overpowering air support and air

cover he'd taken for granted; his clothing didn't keep out the cold; his boots were traps for trench foot; his tanks were outnumbered; often his machines were immobilized by cold, snow, and terrain. He was cold and hungry. He had just fought a humiliating series of retreats where terror roamed far behind the lines. He had tasted defeat.

But he had learned bitter lessons that were beginning to pay off. In this first major winter battle ever fought by Americans he had learned  that the wounded die fast in the zero cold. He had learned in a few weeks that cold is a living enemy and must be fought.

Medics had learned to tuck frozen morphine Syrettes under their armpits; to put plasma under the hoods of trucks and jeeps. Infantrymen were saving their hands from frostbite by cutting four oversized mitten patterns from blankets and sewing them together. Trench foot, which was cutting down more Americans than bullets, was beaten with muffs made from blankets. At night the men learned to take off their soggy combat boots and socks, massage their feet, and then pull these blanket "tootsie warmers" on, topped by  overshoes. They learned how to dry socks and shoes: heat pebbles in a can; dump the hot pebbles into the wet socks and the socks into the shoes.(59)

XI-82 Photograph [not reproduced]


The American soldier in the Ardennes learned additional expedients that would help him to survive and keep in fighting trim. Thus the learned that circulation in frozen toes, ears, and noses could be restored through gentle rubbing. The old practice of rubbing snow on frozen parts of the body was likely to bring on gangrene. The men discovered that eating snow except in very small quantities was likely to chill their stomachs. With white sheets obtained from civilian sources, they made themselves as invisible in the snow (see Photo 10) [NOT REPRODUCED] as their enemies, who had earlier learned the value of such camouflage in the vast steppes of Russia.

For the men of General Patton's Third U.S. Army the combination of bitter fighting, very rough terrain, and subfreezing temperatures during January 1945 produced the highest number of battle casualties in a single month since the Third Army had become operational. A total of 16,035 battle casualties were treated in Third Army hospitals during the month.(60) (For a breakdown of evacuation and hospitalization units within Third Army, see Table I). By the end of January, just 45 days after the German counteroffensive had begun, the enemy had been forced back along the Third U.S. Army front to the very fortifications within the Siegfried Line -that he had occupied before the offensive. General Patton's army had regained virtually all of the territory the enemy had overrun during the early days of the German onslaught.




Source: Annexes I and II to Periodic Report, Headquarters, Third U.S. Army Medical Section, 1 Jan - 30 June 45, File HD 319.1-2, p. 189.


Even though the Ardennes offensive had failed in all of its strategic objectives, the Germans still had one final trick up their sleeve. In the course of January 1945, they succeeded in projecting rocket shells into the city of Luxembourg. These missiles were evidently designed for antipersonnel use. Even though the trajectory of the shells was erratic, several of the missiles hit the 104th Evacuation Hospital during the night of 13-14 January. The blast effect and flying fragments broke many windows. There were no casualties among the hospital staff, but several members of a Quartermaster laundry platoon attached to the hospital were injured by flying fragments. One of this group was wounded to the extent that his right arm had to be amputated. The 12th Evacuation Hospital at Luxembourg City was also damaged, but sustained no casualties.(61)

As the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes neared its climax, most of the First U.S. Army medical installations, other than those absolutely necessary for operations, were moved to the west bank of the Meuse. (A complete breakdown of First U.S. Army medical units for this period is shown on Table II). It was further directed that any installation east of the Meuse be held in readiness for movement on 24 hour's notice. By 31 December the movement of medical units to the rear was completed. At that time the 2nd Evacuation Hospital was located at Eupen, the 97th and 128th Evacuation Hospitals at Verviers, and the 102nd Evacuation Hospital and all three

hospitalization units of the 51st Field Hospital were situated at Huy.




464th Med Coll Co Sep

468th Med Coll Co Sep

469th Med Coll Co Sep

470th Med Coll Co Sep

422d Med Coll Co Sep

484th Med Coll Co Sep

491st Med Coll Co Sep

492d Med Coll Co Sep

493d Med Coll Co Sep

479th Med Amb Co

489th Med Amb Co

546th Med Amb Co

565th Med Amb Co

575th Med Amb Co

576th Med Amb Co

577th Med Amb Co

578th Med Amb Co

583d Med Amb Co

584th Med Amb Co

956th Med Amb Co

617th Med Clr Co Sep

618th Med Clr Co Sep

622d Med Clr Co Sep

628th Med Clr Co Sep

629th Med Clr Co Sep

633d Med Clr Co Sep

649th Med Clr Co Sep

660th Med Clr Co Sep

662d Med Clr Co Sep

684th Med Clr Co Sep

1st Medical Depot Co

Det "A" 152d Sta Hosp, atchd

13th Field Hospital

45th Field Hospital

47th Field Hospital

51st Field Hospital

66th Field Hospital

10th Medical Laboratory

3d Auxiliary Surgical Group with present achmts

2d Evacuation Hospital

5th Evacuation Hospital

44th Evacuation Hospital

45th Evacuation Hospital

67th Evacuation Hospital

96th Evacuation Hospital

97th Evacuation Hospital

102d Evacuation Hospital

112th Evacuation Hospital

128th Evacuation Hospital

Hq and Hq Det 68th Medical Group

Hq and Hq Det 134th Medical Group

Hq and Hq Det 50th Med Bn

IIq and Hq Det 53d Med Bn

Hq and Hq Det 57th Med Bn

Hq and Hq Det 175th Med Bn

Hq and Hq Det 176th Med Bn

Hq and Hq Det 177th Med Bn

Hq and Hq Pet 179th Med Bn

Hq and IIq Det 180th Med Bn

Hq and Hq Det 187th Med Tin

332d Med Coll Co Sep

383d Med Coll Co Sep

442d Med Coll Co Sep

423d Med Coll Co Sep

427th Med Coll Co Sep

439th Med Coll Co Sep

445th Med Coll Co Sep

449th Med Coll Co Sep

450th Med Coll Co Sep

451st Med Coll Co Sep

452d Med Coll Co Sep

454th Med Coll Co Sep

457th Med Coll Co Sep

458th Med Coll Co Sep

459th Med Coll Co Sep

4th Convalescent Hospital

91st Med Gas Tr Bn

Source: Annual Report, Surgeon, First U.S. Army, 1945, p. 6.


The 618th Combat Exhaustion Center likewise was in operation west of the Meuse at Avesnes.

During the entire period of heavy fighting in the Ardennes, the First U.S. Army was able to maintain a satisfactory evacuation of its wounded, and at no time did Army installations become so completely filled that they were unable to accept further admissions. Likewise, evacuation of the wounded from First U.S. Army installations into the Communications Zone kept pace with all demands that were placed on it. Most of the First Army evacuation hospitals remained west of the Meuse at the locations to which they had pulled back during the peak of the German offensive.

In early January 1945 the medical service of the First U.S. Army operated under a total evacuation policy. Building space for the establishment of hospitals was extremely scarce, and the harsh winter precluded the setting up of hospitals in fields because all efforts at maintenance to the contrary, the area where vehicles had to park and turn around became impassable in a matter of hours. Nevertheless, the Army Surgeon wanted to return as quickly as possible to a system where the maximum number of patients whose hospitalization was expected to be of short duration, would remain under Army control. As a result, the 2nd and 5th Evacuation Hospitals were ordered to take care of patients suffering from respiratory disease and those who were expected to require hospital care for no more than ten days. The 2nd and 5th Evacuation Hospitals returned convalescent cases to duty through the 91st Gas Treatment Battalion, since the 4th Convalescent Hospital was not operational at this time. The system became effective on

in January and provided the basis for a return to a 10-day evacuation





16 DEC 1944 THROUGH 22 FEB 1945


Source: Combat Medical Statistical Reports

ETOUSA MD Forms 323, in Annual Report, Surgeon, First U. S. Army, 1945, p 117.


policy. In late January the 622nd Medical Clearing Company began to function at Eupen as a Combat Exhaustion Center (for statistics on the number of First U.S. Army patients hospitalized between mid-December 1944 and late February 1945, see Table III).

The latter part of January 1945 brought with it the end of the Battle of the Ardennes. The German divisions whose remnants crawled back to the Siegfried Line defenses were a far cry from the proud units that had assaulted the American lines barely a month earlier. This withdrawal was graphically described by one author in these words:

. . .Men staggered over the snow, feet wrapped in burlap bags, women's shawls wrapped around their heads. They walked on numb feet, pursued by icy winds, bombs, and shells. Behind lay a waste of tanks, trucks, and guns -- abandoned for lack of fuel or minor repairs. The wounded and sick plodded east: some with rotting insides, noses bulbous

from cold, louse-ridden, their oozing ulcers freezing; some with pus running where once ears had been.(62)


Victory for the Americans did not come easy: there were 59,000 battle casualties, consisting of 6,700 dead, 33,400 wounded, and another 18,900 missing, most of them presumed to have been captured during the early days of the offensive when sizable units of the 28th and 106th Infantry Divisions had been overrun.(63) But German casualties were four times as many as those of the U.S. Army units committed in the battle, a total of 27 American divisions by 17 January, and the Germans no longer had the manpower reserves to compensate for such losses. Few among the retreating German columns emerging from the Ardennes any longer harbored illusions that Germany might still win the war, and in short order this disillusionment was to spread among the German population where hopelessness replaced the sense of elation that just weeks before had raised morale to a new high. The stage for the final act in the drama of war in the European Theater was now set.



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Toland, John, Battle--The Story of the Bulge (New York: Random House), 1959.


(1)  For a detailed account of German planning and preparations for the offensive in the Ardennes, see Hugh M. Cole, The Ardennes: le of the Bulge--UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II, The European Theater of Operations (Washington's Department of the Army, Office of the Chief of Military History),1965, pp. 1-74; also H.A. Jacobsen and J. Rohwer, eds., Decisive Battles of World War II, The German View (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1965), specifically Hasso von Manteuffel, “The Battle of the Ardennes, 1944-45,” pp. 391-400.

(2) Report of Operations, Surgeon, First U.S. Army, 1 Aug 44‑2 Feb 45, Annex 11, Part C, p. 140.

(3) These personal accounts and reactions of Medical Department personnel at the perimeter of the Ardennes offensive have been selected from Clifford L. Graves, M.D., Front Line Surgeons--A History of the Third Auxiliary Surgical Group (San Diego: Frye & Smith, Ltd.), 1950; Chapter X, "The Battle of the Bulge," pp. 241-298.

(4) Cole, The Ardennes, Battle of the Bulge, p. 263.

(5) Details of this and other atrocities committed by lements of the 1st SS Panzer Division have been pieced together from Cole's account, as cited above, as well as interviews incorporated in he narrative of Toland, Battle--The Story of the Bulge, pp. 60-66.

(6) Cole, The Ardennes, Battle of the Bulge, p. 262.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Ibid., p. 264.

(9) At the southern portion of the front PFC T. J. Zimmerer, an aid man, stayed behind enemy lines for 11 days with a severly wounded soldier, an act that earned him the DSC. Ibid., p. 234 FN.

(10) Capt. Claude M. Warren, MC, as cited in Graves, Front Line Surgeons, pp. 243-244.

(11) Ibid., pp. 246-247.

(12) For details of the special sabotage mission entrusted to LtCol Otto Skorzeny's special brigade, see Merriam, The Battle of the nnes, pp. 40-43; also Cole The Ardennes--Battle of the Bulge, p. 270;Toland, Battle, The Story of the Bulge, pp. 15-16, 18, 39.

(13) Graves, Front Line Surgeons, pp. 247-248.

(14) Ibid., p. 249.

(15) Hospital installations in Liege fared badly toward the end of 1944 from German buzzbombs, rockets, and air attacks that resulted in loss of life and injury to patients and hospital staff, as well as heavy damage to buildings and equipment. Even before the Battle of the Ardennes got under way, on 24 November 1944, a V-2 buzzbomb hit the 15th General Hospital at Liege, killing 12 patients and wounding another 50. On 25 December a bomb knocked out the water supply system of the 298th General Hospital at Liege for several days without injury to patients or hospital staff. On the following day a V-1 rocket struck the 28th General Hospital at Liege, killing 17 Americans and one prisoner of war. During the afternoon of 31 December, German aircraft bombed the 16th General Hospital in (Liege, killing two prisoners of war and wounding 15. Annual Report of the Hospitalization Division, Office of the Chief Surgeon, ETOUSA, 1944, dated [31 Dec 44, pp. 14-15, File HD 319.1-2.

(16) Report of Operations, Surgeon, First U.S. Army, 1 Aug 44-22 Feb 45, Annex 11, Part C, p. 141.

(17) This chateau also served as command post and quarters for the 64th Medical Group which had displaced there from its previous location at Luxembourg late on 18 December. Annual Report, 64th Medical Group, 1944, p. 7.

(18) This exchange is cited in Graves, Front Line Surgeons—A History of the Third Auxiliary Surgical Group, pp. 260-261.

(19) Loading of the American wounded at Wiltz and the escape of Sergeant Koritz are described in detail in Toland, Battle, The Story of the Bulge, pp. 295-296.

(20) The experiences of these surgeons at the hands of the Germans, Poles, Russians, Czechs, and Serbians far exceed the scope of this chapter, but make for fascinating reading, They are narrated in detail in Graves, Front Line Surgeons, pp, 261-307. Included in this narrative is also the involvement of the captured surgeons in the abortive Hammelburg raid, an excellent description of which can be found in ibid, pp. 269-273,

(21) The 101st Airborne Division was still undergoing extensive rehabilitation at this time, following its prolonged commitment for operation MARKET GARDEN in Holland. During the fast breaking situation in the Ardennes the division commander, Major General Maxwell Taylor, was in Washington, D.C. During the division's movement to the Ardennes and for most of the time the division was encircled at Bastogne, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, held command until General Taylor was able to rejoin the division.

(22) General Eisenhower outlined his plan to Generals Bradley and Devers in a cable on 18 December 1944, subject to certain modifications that might be made during next day's meeting. Cable S 71400, TS, General Eisenhower to Commanders of 12th and 6th Army Groups, dtd 18 Dec 44, as reproduced in Alfred D. Chandler, Ed., The Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, vol. IV, The War Years (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1970), pp. 12356-2357.

(23) Details of the crucially important decisions reached during the Verdun meeting are outlined in Message from General Eisenhower to Combined Chiefs of Staff, Cable S 71593, TS, dated 19 Dec 1944, in ibid., p. 2358.

(24) For details of the Verdun meeting as seen through General Patton's eyes, see Martin Blumenson, The Patton Papers, 1940-1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974), pp. 597-600.

(25) Msg, General Eisenhower to Combined Chiefs of Staff, Cable S 71632, TS, dated 20 Dec. 1944, in Chandler, Ed., The Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, vol, IV, The War Years, p. 2363.

(26) The incident described below is described in detail in Annual Report, Office of the Surgeon, 101st Airborne Division, 1944, pp. 10-11.

(27) Technician Fifth Grade Emil K. Natalie, as quoted in Graves, Front Line Surgeons, p. 278.

(28) Annual Report, Surgeon, 101st Airborne Division, 1944, p. 11.

(29) Graves, Front Line Surgeons, p. 278.

(30) Figures obtained from Annual Report, Surgeon, 101st Airborne Division, 1944, p. 11.

(31) Cole, The Ardennes, Battle of the Bulge, p. 461.

(32) For details of medical support for Combat Command B of he 10th Armored Division at Bastogne, see Annual Report, Surgeon, 10th Armored Division, 1944, p. 15.

(33) Cole, The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, p. 467.

(34) For details of this atrocity committed against the four students and 66 other male Belgian civilians at the village of Bande, see John Toland,. Battle, pp. 245-247.

(35) Graves, Front Line Surgeons, pp. 265-266.

(36) Cole, The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, p. 468.

(37) Annual Report, Surgeon, 101st Airborne Division, 1944, pp. 11-12.

(38) Graves, Front Line Surgeons, p. 267.

(39) Toland, Battle, p. 221.

(40) Ibid., p. 231.

(41) Report of the Surgeon, Third U.S. Army, Dec. 1944, in Third U.S. Army After Action Report, 1 Aug 1944 - 9 May 1945, p. 31.

(42 ) Annual Report, 64th Medical Group, 1944, p. 8.

(43) Quotation from H.A. Jacobsen and H. Rohwer, eds., Decisive Battles of World War II, The German View, p. 415.

(44) Above casualty figures cited in Cole, The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, p. 481.

(45) Robert E. Merriam, The Battle of the Ardennes, p. 181.

(46) Cole, The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, p, 668.

(47) Ltr, Col James O. Curtis, Jr., former Chief of the perational Intelligence Subdivision at SHAEF and member of the SHAEF Planning Staff to Hanson W. Baldwin, dtd 28 June 1946, as quoted in Baldwin, Battles Lost and Won (New York: Harper & Row), 1966, p. 353.

(48) General de Gaulle appealed not only to the Supreme Commander, SHAEF, but to Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt as well. Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. Ed., The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, The War Years, vol. IV (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press), 1970, pp. 2391-2392.

(49) Ltr, General Dwight D. Eisenhower to Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle, dtd 5 Jan 45, Item 2221, in Ibid., pp. 2396-2397.

(50) Martin Blumenson, The Patton Papers, 1940-1945 (Boston: Houghton Company), entry in Patton Diary for 25 December 1944, p, 606.

(51) Semiannual Report, Surgeon, Seventh U.S. Army, 1 Jan‑June 45, p. 1.

(52) Ibid., p. 5.

(53) Report of Operations, The Seventh United States Army in France and Germany, 1944-1945, vol. II, pp. 575-576.

(54) Semiannual Report, Operations Section, Surgeon, Seventh U.S., Jan - June 1945, p. 2.

(55) Ibid., p. 3.

(56) General Hasso von Manteuffel, CG, Fifth Panzer Army as cited in Cole, The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, p. 672.

(57) H.A. Jacobsen and H. Rohwer, eds., Decisive Battles of World War II, The German View, p. 404.

(58) The above figures were taken from Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 492.

(59)  No citation found in copy.

(60) Headquarters, Third U.S. Army Medical Section, Period Report 1 Jan - 30 June 45, p. 12.

(61) Report of the Surgeon, Third U.S. Army, Jan 1945, in Third U. S. Army After Action Report, 1 Aug 1944 - 9 May 1945, p. 37.

(62) Toland, Battle-The Story of the Bulge, p. 377.

(63) Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 494.