Operations of the 423rd Infantry Regiment
106th Infantry Division
in the vicinity of Schönberg, Germany
during the Battle of the Ardennes
(The Battle of the Bulge)
16-19 December 1944
From the papers of Colonel Alan W. Jones, Jr.
Formerly Captain Alan W. Jones, Jr.
Operations Officer, 1st Battalion, 423d Regiment
106th Infantry Division, WWII
THE INFANTRY SCHOOL
Fort Benning, Georgia
INFANTRY TRAINING COURSE
Personal Experiences of a Battalion Operations Officer
Type of Operation described: INFANTRY REGIMENT DEFENDING, SURROUNDED AND ATTEMPTING TO BREAK OUT
ADVANCED INFANTRY OFFICER'S CLASS No. 1
. . . ORIENTATION . . .
By October 1944 the Allied forces in Western Europe had swept across FRANCE and were generally poised along the western frontier of Germany (See MAP A- NOTE, this map, left out for space requirements, was an overall view of Belgium, Luxembourg and Western Germany. The rapidity of the advance across FRANCE and the resulting extended front, pressed to the limits of logistical support, had quickly reduced the impetus of advance. As the problem of supply became more acute, large scale advance became impossible and the front stabilized.
Checked as they were at the fixed defenses along the German frontier, the
mounting of a full scale assault became necessary and toward this end momentous
efforts were directed. However, Allied commanders, determined to maintain the
initiative and to continue the drive into Germany at the earliest opportunity,
launched a series of limited attacks preliminary to operations which were to
mean the final destruction of all German forces west of the RHINE RIVER. While
maintaining a relentless pressure on the enemy, supply difficulties had to be
solved, regrouping had to be accomplished and units had to be refitted (A-2, p.
In mid October, it was decided by the Supreme Commander that beginning in November the First Army was to advance to COLOGNE from the vicinity of AACHEN while the Third Army struck at the vital SAAR BASIN (A-11, p. 269). To continue a sustained offensive, meanwhile holding a front of more than 500 miles, it was necessary to concentrate available forces, reducing to a minimum those forces holding relatively static positions. The largest of these sectors was the portion of the first US Army line stretching through the Ardennes region from MONSCHAU to TRIER, a distance of 75 miles held by VIII Corps (A-2, p. 338).
THE GENERAL SITUATIONOn 6 December 1944, the First US Army issued orders for the continuation of its offensive to seize the ROER RIVER dams, the possession of which was essential before the attack could profitably continue toward COLOGNE (See Map A) VIII Corps, on the enemy south flank, was to continue on its previous mission of conducting aggressive defense within the Corps zone and be prepared to advance to KOBLENZ on army order when the main attack had progressed sufficiently to lessen resistance on its Corps front.” The newly arrived 106th Infantry Division was to relieve the 2d Infantry Division on the VIII Corps front thus releasing it to the V Corps, to the north, to assist in the army attack (A-3, p. 88).
From north to the south, the VIII Corps front on 12 December was held by the 106th Infantry Division, 28th Infantry Division, 9th Armored Division less Combat Command B and Combat Command R and the 4th Infantry Division. Corps reserve was composed of Combat Command R, 9th Armored Division, and four engineer combat battalions (See Map B- See map A- NOTE, this map, left out for space requirements, was an overall view of the VIII Corps area). (A-4, p. 6).
The ARDENNES region through which the VIII Corps front extended was characterized by rugged, difficult terrain. High plateaus intersected by many deep cut valleys and covered by numerous heavily wooded areas increased the difficulties of large scale tactical movements, while a restricted road net made both supply for defenders and axes of advance for attackers a major problem. Two vital road junctions controlled the road nets necessary for large scale operations in the area: ST VITH in the northern portion of the Corps sector, BASTOGNE to the south. Snow, sleet and rain added to the problems of maintaining narrow roads and made cross country movement through the area all but impossible (Personal Knowledge).
Supplies of all classes were generally adequate by mid-December with several notable exceptions. Winter combat clothing was short or non-existent and badly needed. Ammunition was closely controlled, particularly 81mm mortar, 105mm howitzer, 155mm and 3" anti-tank ammunition. These types were restricted in distribution and limited in use (Personal Knowledge).
Facing the VIII Corps were for German Volksgrenadier divisions: the 18th
Infantry Division on the Corps north, the 62nd, the 352d and the 212th on the
south. In general, these units had been regrouped or reformed during October and
filled with personnel from naval and air force units as well as with older men
and those with physical defects. Holding the Siegfried Line, except for the
section which follows the ridge of the SCHNEE EIFEL, these divisions were in
strong, well constructed, permanent defensive positions. Protected from the
harsh winter weather by pillboxes, the troops were in good physical condition;
while not of the highest, their morale was good (A-4, p. 3).
In accordance with the plan of the First US Army, the 106th Division was assigned to VIII Corps; and by Corps order, the 106th Division, with attachments, was directed to relieve the 2d Division in place and to assume responsibility for the defense of the sector. Attached to the division were the 14th Cavalry Group of two squadrons and one artillery battalion, the 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion (3" towed) and the 634th Antiaircraft Artillery (AA) Battalion. The attachments were similar to those of the 2d Division with the exception of the tank battalion attached to the later (A-7, p.2).
The 106th Division arrived at ST VITH on 10 December after a two day motor march of 270 miles; relief of the 2d Division began at once, one regimental combat team at a time, and was complete by 12 December. The 106th Division assumed responsibility for the sector at 111900 December (A-7, p.2).
After relieving the 2d Division man for man and gun for gun in compliance with Corps orders, the division was disposed with the 14th Cavalry group to the north (left and three regiments abreast; 422nd Infantry, 423rd Infantry and 424th Infantry to the south. The 2d Battalion, 423rd Infantry was in division reserve (A-6, Part I).
The division sector extended from the vicinity of LOSHEIM across the LOSHEIM
GAP to the ridge of the SCHNEE EIFEL, thence
southward astride the Siegfried Line to the southern nose of the ridge. Here the line was echeloned some 2000 yards to the west of the Siegfried Line where it continued south following the high ground just east of the OUR RIVER to the vicinity of GROSSKAMPENBERG, a ground distance of some 27 miles (A-6, Part I).
From the east two major routes enter the zone, both converging on ST. Vith,
the division command post; one from the north of the SCHNEE EIFEL down to the
OUR RIVER VALLEY, the other south of the SCHNEE EIFEL.
By 111600 December, the 423rd Infantry less one battalion had completed the relief of the 38th Infantry, 2d Division and assumed responsibility for the defense of its sector. Troop B, 18th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron and Company B, 331st Medical Battalion were attached to the regiment. Company C, less one platoon, 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Company B, 81st Engineer Combat Battalion and the 590th Field Artillery Battalion were in direct support (A-6, Part I).
Holding the southern half of the SCHNEE EIFEL within the division lines, the
3d Battalion on the regimental left and the 1st Battalion, bent around the
southern nose of the ridge, were in relatively strong positions. Along both
sides of the ridge in the 1st Battalion area were under enemy observation,
concealment was good, pillboxes were sufficiently numerous to allow their use as
command posts down to and including platoons, and observation and fields of fire
were relatively good (Personal Knowledge).
From the 1st Battalion right to the vicinity of BLEIALF the line refused some 1500 yards to the rear and west leaving a diagonal gap of about 20000 yards. The defensive positions then continued southward along the high ground just west of the narrow ALF RIVER for another 3500 yards. The Antitank Company with one platoon of Cannon Company and one rifle platoon from the 3d Battalion held the line from BLEIALF inclusive to the railway tunnel exclusive, all elements defending as riflemen. Troop B, 18th Cavalry Squadron, extended the front to the regimental right boundary. These troops were organized into a provisional battalion under command of the antitank commander. Company C, 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion was in the area of the provisional battalion (A-6, Part I). Elements of Service Company and Regimental Headquarters Company were in regimental reserve (A-9, p. 2). To garrison a six mile front of the regimental sector, depth in defensive positions had been sacrificed.
On the left contact was maintained with the 422d Infantry by patrols and on
the right with the 106th Reconnaissance Troop, attached to the 424th Infantry,
and occupying GROSSLANGENFELD, by patrols.
Wire lines existed to all units down to companies and lateral lines had been laid between regiments. While two channels existed between the division and regimental command posts, both were single cable; nor were alternate wire lines laid between other units. Teletypewriter communication was likewise available to the division. Radio silence was maintained among all units. Radios had been issued to all units in England, but since radio silence had been imposed continuously no opportunity for proper calibration or testing had been available except such as could be done without actual radio operation (Personal Knowledge).
Class I and III supplies were normal and adequate while only a major shortage of winter combat clothing, previously mentioned, was present among Class II and IV items. The available rate of supply of ammunition per weapon per day was; 81mm 8 rounds; 105mm (for howitzers of the Cannon Company), 5 rounds; 105 mm (for artillery howitzers), 42 rounds; 3 inch, 15 rounds. With the exception of artillery ammunition, only half of this daily available supply was authorized for use; the other half remained under regimental control loaded on unit vehicles kept near the regimental ammunition supply point. Other types of ammunition were unrestricted in use. The rapid movement of the regiment across FRANCE and into the lines had resulted in units entering the lines with less than basic loads of or no mortar or artillery ammunition. The 2d Division had generously turned part of their surplus stocks over to the 106th Division on position when relieved; and every effort was made at once to fill all basic loads of ammunition. Surplus stocks were not authorized (A-6, Part II). A request for anti-tank mines made on 14 December brought a curt replay from the army ammunition supply point that 48 hours advance notice was required (Personal Knowledge).
During the period 11-15 December the weather was cold and damp with temperatures generally ranging between 30 degrees and 40 degrees. Snow, sleet and rain fell intermittently maintaining 6 to 12 inches of snow over the area and making roads to the rear all but impassable. Added to those difficulties were almost daily heavy fogs which remained in the valleys until late in the mornings (Personal Knowledge).
On the day it entered the lines the regiment was at nearly full strength. It
training over a year and half period had been rigorous and thorough. However in
the six months prior to the debarkation for overseas, the regiment had lost more
than fifty percent of its riflemen as overseas replacements; its last shipment
was made after the regiments itself had been alerted for overseas shipment.
Their vacancies had been filled with men from miscellaneous units, good soldiers
but not trained riflemen. In spite of the extreme discomfort of the cold, damp
weather and inadequate winter clothing and the obviously extended and exposed
positions, moral was high. This was a quiet sector where men could learn rapidly
and safely. (Personal Knowledge).
The relief of the 38th infantry on 11 December, although made during daylight, was covered by fog and was completed without mishap or confusion. Every advantage taken of the opportunities presented to gain maximum experience. Patrolling was active, albeit initially over cautious, with maximum numbers of officers and men participating. Small unit leaders and staff rapidly settled into their jobs and routine operations ran smoothly. Detailed counterattack plans were prepared, minor fire fights occurred, and harassing fires were frequently laid down on the enemy lines. In short, the routine activities of a unit in defense in contact with an enemy on the defensive continued (A-9, p. 2, Personal Knowledge).
Commanders of all echelons were dissatisfied with the defensive positions which they had been ordered to occupy, a defense based part on tank support, extra communications equipment and additional crew served weapons, none of which the 106th Division had (Personal Knowledge). Every effort was made to obtain authority to make desired adjustments without success, although on 14 December division directed that list of additional weapons by type necessary on the present position be submitted.” (A-6, 14 December).
During this period, enemy patrols were active; each night one or more
infiltrated through the regimental line. Propaganda leaflets were found tacked
to trees in the rear areas. Prisoners, however, indicated no new enemy units and
higher headquarters seemed generally to view activities as those normal in any
quite sector. Wheeled and tracked vehicle movements were reported by patrols on
the nights of 14 and 15 December; the comment received from Corps concerning
these reports was that the sounds were undoubtedly from enemy loudspeaker
systems (Personal Knowledge).
Even as the Allies were striving to overcome the tremendous logistical problem facing them during October and November, the German Army, taking advantage of the temporary slowdown of the Allied advance, made Herculean efforts to build and train new units and to equip and supply them for a gigantic offensive planned to cut off the British forces on the north from their bases and ultimately destroy them or force a withdrawal from the continent. To accomplish this, the major port of ANTWERP was selected as the main objective (See Map E) ( Credits A-5 p. 275, See list of Books and documents at end of story)
The general plan was to break through the weak American forces in the ARDENNES with the Sixth SS Panzer Army making the main effort and striking toward the MEUSE RIVER between LIEGE and HUY, then driving on to ANTWERP. The Fifth Panzer Army on the left was to wheel northward to cross the MEUSE in the vicinity of NAMUR and push on to BRUSSELS, protecting the left flank of the main effort. To the north, the Fifteenth Army was to attack toward LIEGE protecting and assisting the main effort made by the Sixth SS Panzer Army. To the south, the Seventh Army of one Corps was to make a diversionary attack into LUXEMBOURG (A-5, p. 275). For this offensive, 24 divisions with supporting elements, including those on the VII Corps front were to be used. Training, re-equipping, and concentration in assembly areas were accomplished with the utmost secrecy: and favored by overcast and foggy weather which made aerial reconnaissance impossible, complete tactical surprise was obtained (A-2, p. 346).
Heavy artillery fire, interspersed with mortar and
Nebelwerfer f ire began to fall along the division front on 160530 December. The
last German offensive had begun (A-6, Part II).
The 423d Infantry Staff immediately alerted all units. By 0600, wire communications with Antitank Company, Troop B, 18th Cavalry Squadron and the 590th Field Artillery was out. Radio nets were opened (A-6, 16 December). Particularly heavy fire in the area of Service Company and the regimental ammunition supply point in HALENFELD destroyed a large number of vehicles and much of the regiment’s extra ammunition (Statement by Major Carl H. Cosby, then Executive Officer, 1st Battalion, 27 January 1950)
(See Map F)
As the German preparatory fire began to lift shortly after 0600, German Infantry struck BLEIALF in force driving Antitank Company back through the village house by house. Assisted by the reflected light of searchlights playing against the low-hanging clouds, the enemy moved rapidly through the half light. The stubborn resistance of the somewhat disorganized element of the Antitank Company, supported by preplanned artillery barrages and the fire of the Cannon Company, broke up repeated enemy infantry attacks toward and within the town (A-9, p. 2 Personal Knowledge).
Simultaneously, another enemy group had moved up the railroad on the regimental right and quickly pushed between the Antitank Company and Troop B cutting off and destroying the right platoon of Antitank Company and breaking contact between the two units (A-6, Part II).
By 0800 the enemy held most of BLEIALF; wire lines were still out between the regimental command post and the right flank; and pressure against Antitank Company seemed unrelenting. Service Company and Cannon Company were alerted and by 0930 had moved into BLEIALF. Here this force of about 100 men, all that were available, were committed as part of the provisional battalion (A-6, Part II, Personal Knowledge).
Meanwhile authority from division had been requested by and granted to the regimental commander to use Company B, 81st Engineer Combat Battalion as a rifle company. The company was immediately ordered and moved from SCHÖNBERG to BLEIALF. Only 70 men were available. Upon arrival, the company launched an independent attack against the west shoulder of the penetration with limited success before it was stopped (A-6, Part I).
With this additional force at his disposal, the provisional battalion commander was directed to clear BLEIALF and regain contact on the right flank. By noon with the forces on hand plus officers and men from the Regimental Headquarters Company whom the regimental commander subsequently moved to BLEIALF, a counterattack was launched with the fire support of Company C, 820 TD Battalion and the 590th FA Battalion which developed into a bitter house-to-house struggle. The enemy was gradually cleared from the village and by 1500 was driven out. Over seventy prisoners were taken, identifying the enemy assault as the 293d regiment, 18th Volksgrenadier Division (A-6, Part II).
The regimental commander placed his executive officer in command of the provisional battalion about 1300; it was he who reorganized the original defenses with the remaining elements of the Antitank and Cannon Company holding BLEIALF and Company B, 81st Engineers extending the line toward the railroad on the right. Service Company was held in mobile reserve north of BLEIALF. The enemy dug in 300-500 yards to the front (A-6, Part II).
Attempts to regain physical contact with Troop B on the right flank and through it with the 424th Infantry were unsuccessful. Attacked during the first German rush, Troop B had remained under constant pressure. By noon finding his unit running dangerously low on ammunition and attacked from the vicinity of GROSSLANGENFELD where the 106th Reconnaissance Troop had been, the troop commander finally was able to contact the regimental command post by radio and requested authority to withdraw. Knowing the situation on the right, the regimental commander granted this request. Troop B withdrew to WINTERSCHEID and organized a perimeter defense (A-6, Part II).
Throughout the day the 1st and 3d Battalions had been subjected to sporadic
artillery and mortar fire; minor enemy attack, apparently patrols in force, had
hit the battalion repeatedly. During the afternoon two tanks separately nosed
toward the 1st battalion from the vicinity of BRANDSCHEID, but withdrew when
fired on from close range (Personal Knowledge).
The 590th Field Artillery had rendered unfailing support, particularly in the BLEIALF area, despite heavy German counter battery fire and resulting losses including one battery commander and several howitzers (A-8, p. 51).
Still under divisional control, the 2d Battalion had been moved during the afternoon to the vicinity of SCHÖNBERG, there to block the roads running to the northeast and south and to hold this vital road center (A-6, 16 December). By 1730 defenses had been organized. Three hours later orders from division were received by the 2d Battalion to move to the northeast to relieve the left flank of the 422d Infantry and to protect the displacement of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion. Moving by motor under blackout conditions through sleet and mud via the circuitous route from SCHÖNBERG south to RADSCHEID and then north, the 2d Battalion reached the area of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion at 170100 (Statement by Captain Oliver B. Patton, then Platoon Leader, Company F, 24 January 1950).
At the end of the first day the 423d Infantry had maintained its original positions despite heavy enemy attacks and numerous communication failures. Wire lines had been interrupted by enemy artillery concentrations and radios had been unsatisfactory at best. Lack of previous calibration and adjustment, unfavorable terrain and weather and enemy jamming, had made radio contact fleeting or non-existent at all echelons (A-6, Part I, Personal Knowledge).
Some eighteen hours after the German Army had launched its attack it had
failed to reach its objective for the day - ST. VITH (A-3, p. 117). Division was
informed by the regimental commander A(I) will hold present position until
ordered differently.” (A-6, 16 December).
Artillery fire began to fall on BLEIALF again beginning at 170300; the provisional battalion reported armor followed by infantry approaching its positions. Communications with the 590th Field Artillery was again disrupted as was communications with the 423d Infantry to its north (A-6, 17 December).
Before dawn the enemy struck in force all along the front of the provisional battalion overrunning defensive area and penetrating between Antitank Company and Company B, 81st Engineers. By 0630 enemy forces had taken BLEIALF and a large force rapidly moved toward SCHÖNBERG. Within two hours it had joined another enemy infantry tank column which had driven south to SCHÖNBERG after a breakthrough in the 14th Cavalry sector to the north. The 423d and 422d Infantries were surrounded, (A-6, Part I).
Forced back in disorder but fighting every step of the way with fire support
of one platoon of Cannon Company, the provisional battalion withdrew to high
ground just west of BUCHET. Regimental headquarters and defense platoon
personnel joined the fight against scattered enemy groups as the regimental
command post fought to disengage itself and displace. This was accomplished and
the command post and regimental collecting station moved to the vicinity of the
3d Battalion command post (Personal Knowledge).
Troop B, 18th Cavalry Squadron and Company B, 81st Engineer Battalion were now definitely isolated, having physical contact neither with each other nor to either flank. Troop B, again in radio contact with regiment, was ordered to fall back to MUTZNICH and later to join the regiment if forced to withdraw again (A-6, 17 December). There, with remnants of the 106th Reconnaissance Troop from the 424th Infantry's left flank, Troop B remained until it was realized that the regiment could not be joined. Late in the afternoon the regimental commander authorized Troop B to withdraw toward ST. VITH if unable to reach the regiment.
Withdrawing via SCHÖNBERG, the leading platoon broke into a column of
American trucks moving toward ST. VITH only to find that they were loaded with
armed Germans. Racing down the left side of the road toward the end of the
column, firing at point blank range, this platoon was finally destroyed by enemy
tanks Regiment last heard from Troop B as the remaining elements prepared to
infiltrate through to ST. VITH (A-8, p. 93). Contact was not to be regained with
Company B, 81st Engineers. One platoon had been overrun and lost in the first
German attack but the company continued to hold its position. Another enemy
assault in late afternoon overran a second platoon and remaining elements
withdrew only to be captured some two days later west of SCHÖNBERG (A-9, p. 2).
With the regimental right flank driven back towards BUCHET and a known gap of some 8000 yards open to the south, the regimental commander began organizing a perimeter defense. Company C was moved to extend the 1st battalion right to the high ground west of BUCHET. The provisional battalion was disbanded and the remnants pulled from the line. The gap left between 1st and 3d Battalions by Company C’s move was filled by the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon, cooks helpers, truck drivers and headquarters personnel of the 1st Battalion organized into a provisional company (Personal Knowledge).
Meanwhile the 2d Battalion in the 422d Infantry rear area to the north had
been heavily engaged since dawn protecting the displacement of the 589th Field
Artillery Battalion from the German drive toward SCHÖNBERG from the north. By
0700 its radio in the division command net had been hit. The battalion destroyed
seven enemy tanks but continuing enemy tank-infantry attacks were forcing the
battalion back. Supported by the 590th Field Artillery battalion the 2d
Battalion began a daylight withdrawal (A-8, p. 84).
During the morning the 590th Field Artillery Battalion had received orders form the Division Artillery Commander to displace to the vicinity of SCHÖNBERG. Upon learning that SCHÖNBERG was filled with German armor. The battalion commander, contacting the 2d Battalion commander whose withdrawal he was supporting, decided to fall back into the SCHNEE EIFEL positions of the 423d Infantry with the 2d Battalion (A-8, p. 89).
By 1100 the 2d Battalion and the 590th Field Artillery Battalion, with three howitzers entered the area of the 423d Infantry (Statement by Major Cosby, then 1st Battalion Executive Officer, 27 January 1950). The regimental commander placed the 2d Battalion in position at once extending the perimeter defense some 1500 yards further to the northeast from the vicinity of BUCHET. The 590th moved into positions within the perimeter generally west of the 3d Battalion command post. Cannoneers who could be spared were put into the perimeter defense as riflemen. Informing the division of the arrival of these units, the regimental commander also stated, Will hold perimeter. Drop ammunition, food and medical supplies until route open.” (A-6, 17 December).
Shortly before 1500 a message from division was received, five hours after it had been sent; “Expect to clear out area west of you this afternoon with reinforcements. Withdraw from present position if they become untenable. Save all transportation possible.” All in the command post felt that Combat Command R, 9th Armored Division was surely on its way (A-6, Part I, Personal Knowledge).
Enemy pressure slackened during the late afternoon and by nightfall the
situation of the regiment was not too bad. True, the regiment was cut off, but a
perimeter defense had been organized and the regiment had its three battalions
again. Artillery support was available although the 590th had only slightly more
than 100 rounds. Patrols were still in contact with the 422d to the north, still
in position although its north flank was bent back to the east. Casualties
within the regiment numbered about 250, 150 of which had been in units that had
made up the provisional battalion. Troop B, 18th Cavalry Squadron, Company B,
81st Engineer Battalion and the guns of Company C, 820th Tank Destroyer
Battalion had been lost. Mortar ammunition was running low, but small arms
ammunition was on hand. About two thirds of a K ration remained per man
(Statement by Major Cosby, 27 January 1950). Word had been received that the
requested air drop would be accomplished within the perimeter the next morning
and Combat Command R, 9th Armored Division was thought to nearing the position.
The 423d Infantry would hold.
About 172330 the regimental commander had held a meeting with his battalion commanders during which the situation and conduct of the defense had been discussed including plans for the probable arrival of the 9th Armored Division. Plans were also made to receive the supplies to be dropped the next morning. During this a radio message initially sent some seven hours earlier was received ordering the 423d and 422d Infantries to withdraw to the line of the OUR RIVER evacuating all vehicles and equipment as possible. Relaying the message to the 422d Infantry not then in radio communication with division, the two regimental commanders agreed that this message was now obsolete and that they would remain in position since subsequent to its origination both had reported their situations and instructions had been received concerning the air drop to be made within the perimeter defense. However, some initial planning in the event of a possible future withdrawal, probably via SCHÖNBERG, was completed although such a withdrawal was now considered unlikely in view of the reinforcements and resupply expected shortly (A-9, p. 3, Personal Knowledge). Orders were received about 180730, dated 180215 from division, which stated: “Panzer Regimental Combat Team on SCHÖNBERG-ST. VITH road Mission to destroy by fire from dug in positions south of the SCHÖNBERG-ST. VITH road. Ammunition, food and water will be dropped. When mission accomplished move to area ST. VITH.” (A-6, 18 December). The two regimental commanders agreed to move out together toward SCHÖNBERG with regiments abreast, the 423d on the left moving along an axis HALENFELD-OBERLASCHEID-SCHÖNBERG
(See Map H)
After a map reconnaissance the regimental commander formulated his plan and at about 0800 issued the regimental order to his battalion commanders and staff. The regiment was to move out at 1000 in columns of battalions: 2d, 3d, regimental separate companies, 1st via HALENFELD- OBERLASCHEID- RADSCHEID- ENGINEER CUTOFF-SCHÖNBERG. The 2d Battalion was to be advance guard; the 1st battalion was to furnish the rear guard. Both the 1st and 3d Battalions were to leave covering forces in their battalion sectors. The 590th Field Artillery Battalion was to move by bounds within the column. All kitchens, baggage and supplies which could not be carried were to be destroyed and abandoned; and those command and communication vehicles and weapons carriers on position were to accompany the column. Non transportable casualties were to be left at regimental collecting station with some medical personnel. (Personal Knowledge).
The 2d Battalion crossed the initial point at 181000. Elements of the 422d Infantry could be seen to the north about 1200 moving west as planned. As the 2d Battalion moved on through RADSCHEID and approached the BLEIALF-RADSCHEID road, known as Skyline Drive, about 1200, it encountered heavy rifle, mortar and artillery fire from the left front. Its leading company was aggressively engaged and attempted to push the enemy toward the south to clear the route of march. Heavy mortar fire pinned this company down and the next company was committed on its right. Supported by the battalion heavy weapons company and the fire from one howitzer of the 590th still in position, the battalion pushed the enemy some 800 yards to the southeast where it was stopped (Statement by Captain Oliver B. Patton, then Platoon Leader, Company F, 24 January 1950; Personal Knowledge). The almost impossible radio contact and the need to conserve artillery ammunition rendered further support impossible (Personal Knowledge).
As the 2d Battalion was approaching Skyline Drive a radio message from division canceled previous instructions and ordered the 423d and 422d Infantries to seize SCHÖNBERG, then move west to ST. VITH. With this in mind, as the 2d Battalion pushed the enemy south the regimental commander ordered the 3d Battalion, then in OBERLASCHEID, to move to the right of the 2d Battalion and to cut the BLEIALF-SCHÖNBERG road (A-9, p. 3). Taking the right fork west out of OBERLASCHEID the 3d Battalion moved out, quickly crossed Skyline Drive and pushed across IHREN CREEK into BELGIUM. As the battalion crossed RIDGE 536 its leading company was halted by heavy small arms fire and 40mm antiaircraft artillery fire from the vicinity of SCHÖNBERG. The battalion commander quickly moved a second company on line and with the supporting fires of its heavy weapons company the battalion attacked, still under heavy direct fire from antiaircraft guns, and gradually moved forward until the left flank company was astride the BLEIALF-SCHÖNBERG road. Here the battalion dug in 800 yards from the outskirts of SCHÖNBERG. Since noon the battalion had been out of radio contact with the regiment and messengers sent to the rear failed to reach the regimental command post. Late in the afternoon, patrols sent to the right to gain contact with the 422d were unsuccessful (A-6, 17 December; Personal Knowledge).
As the 3d Battalion cleared OBERLASCHEID about 1300 the regimental command post was established there. The 1st battalion, with the head of its column in HALENFELD and halted by the action of the 2d Battalion near RADSCHEID, moved off the road. As the covering forces left at the original positions drifted in, a hasty defense was organized by the rear guard to protect the regimental rear. Learning that the enemy facing the 2d Battalion was being rapidly reinforced by enemy troops from the vicinity of BLEIALF, the regimental commander at about 1600 ordered the 1st Battalion to attack toward the southwest on the 2d Battalion's left to assist that battalion and to cut off the flow of reinforcements from BLEIALF.
Moving rapidly, the 1st Battalion, less one company as rear guard, deployed along HILL 546 just south of OBERLASCHEID. Supported by its heavy weapons company, the battalion launched its attack at dusk, about 1700, in what amounted to a night attack over unfamiliar territory, down into DUREN CREEK DRAW and up the lower slopes of the ridge extending south from RADSCHEID against a now heavily reinforced enemy. Against direct fire from German 88s, one of which was taken, and heavy automatic weapons and mortar fire the battalion drove some 1200 yards. Disorganized, nearly out of ammunition, and with about 70 casualties, the battalion pulled back to HILL 546 by 2200 (Personal Knowledge).
Shortly after darkness the regimental command post moved just north of HILL 575 to a house which had originally been the command post of the 590th Field Artillery Battalion. The regimental executive officer remained in direct command of the 1st and 2d Battalions then still engaged. The regimental commander sent patrols out to locate the 3d Battalion and to contact the 422d Infantry, and a motor patrol north along Skyline Drive to contact the enemy in that direction. The 3d Battalion was contacted and wire communication established; no contact could be made with the 422d Infantry; and the motor patrol sent to the north was badly shot up in the darkness by an enemy roadblock some 3000 yards from the command post on Skyline Drive (Personal Knowledge).
Contact was again made with division shortly after 2100, the first since about 1600, through considerable interference and the regiment was informed that “supplies for you and the 422d to de dropped at bend of road one half mile south of SCHÖNBERG on 19 December. You will advise 422d. (A-6, 18 December). About 182230 division was informed of the regimental situation and instructions were received that “it was imperative that SCHÖNBERG be taken.” (A-9, p. 3). This was the last radio contact between the division command post and the 423d Infantry.
Based on this information, the Regimental Commander decided that the 1st and
2d Battalions must be disengaged at once and concentrated in the vicinity of the
3d Battalion in preparation for a daylight attack on SCHÖNBERG the next morning
(A-9, p. 3).
The 590th Field Artillery Battalion, which had displaced to OBERLASCHEID about 1600 was moved to positions just north of HILL 575 to support the next mornings attack. The remaining platoon of Cannon Company, which had been with the artillery, moved into position further down the IHREN VALLEY. The regimental command post with the remnants of the other regimental separate companies displaced to the southeast slope of RIDGE 536.
The 2d Battalion, relieved of some enemy pressure by the attack of the 1st Battalion, was withdrawn and moved across IHREN CREEK to the assembly area northeast of the 3d Battalion and on the reverse slope of RIDGE 536. Leaving one company as a covering force to the south and east, the 1st Battalion withdrew along the north fork from OBERLASCHEID, picking up near HILL 575 the company which had been the rear guard, and crossed the IHREN VALLEY to an assembly area between the 2d and 3d Battalions and further down the slope of RIDGE 536. At 0300 its heavy weapons company was directed to occupy positions in the area of the 590th Field Artillery Battalion to protect this unit and the regimental rear. Seriously wounded had been left with medical personnel in the vicinity of OBERLASCHEID (Personal Knowledge).
During the day the 2d Battalion had lost some 300 casualties, including 16
officers. Five of eight heavy machine guns and four of six light machine guns
had been destroyed, all 81mm ammunition had been expended and only 2 rounds per
60mm mortar remained. The 1st Battalion had lost 70 men including 3 officers.
Mortar ammunition was negligible. The 2d Battalion had only moderate casualties
but was also short of mortar ammunition. In all units small arms ammunition was
low, rocket launcher ammunition was nearly gone, and machine guns averaged about
400 rounds per weapon (A-8, p. 125, Personal Knowledge).
Before dawn 19 December, concentration of the regiment along RIDGE 536 was complete, as complete as is possible at night over strange terrain following a disengagement with the enemy
(See Map I)
Such extra ammunition as remained, about 8 rounds per rifleman, was distributed as battalions moved into their assembly areas. Although an effort was made to have men dig in for the remaining hours of darkness and until the attack order they knew was coming could be issued, little was accomplished. The men were wet, cold, hungry and exhausted. Except as previously mentioned, security consisted of listening posts only to the northeast, northwest and southwest. There were no patrols sent to SCHÖNBERG or to the flanks to maintain contact with the enemy and such security measures as were taken were not coordinated by the regimental staff. The I&R Platoon was maintaining a roadblock just south of RADSCHEID and was therefore of no other use to the regiment. Contact had not been gained with the 422d Infantry on the right (Personal Knowledge).
As dawn broke, the regimental commander made a rapid reconnaissance and
completed his plan of attack. At 0230 the battalion commanders were assembled
at the regimental command post and orders were issued for the attack on
SCHÖNBERG (A-9, p. 3).
For this attack the 423d Infantry could muster about half of its rifle strength. The 2d Battalion on the right was about half strength in officers and men. The 1st Battalion in the center had two rifle companies, each at about two-thirds strength. The company left near OBERLASCHEID to cover the regimental rear had not been heard from. The 3d Battalion was the strongest having suffered only moderate casualties to date. The regimental separate companies were hardly to be considered after their losses of the first two days in BLEIALF.
Mortar ammunition was nearly non-existent, small arms and machine gun ammunition was limited, rocket launchers had little or no ammunition, and slightly less than 100 rounds of artillery ammunition were available. Medical supplies were critical and evacuation impossible. There had been no aerial resupply.
The regimental plan of attack envisioned battalions echeloned to the right
rear, the 3d Battalion on the left making the main effort with its left
generally following the BLEIALF-SCHÖNBERG road. The trail running northeast
along the crest of RIDGE 536 was to be the line of departure for the 1st and 2d
Battalions. Time of attack: 1910000. The 590th Field Artillery Battalion with
one platoon of Cannon Company was to support the attack by fire. All remaining
vehicles were to be destroyed.
As the regimental commander completed issuing his order about 0900, heavy artillery fire began to fall in the area from the vicinity of Skyline Drive. Much of the initial concentration landed near the regimental command post; and in his attempt to return to the 1st Battalion, the battalion commander was mortally wounded. For some thirty minutes heavy fire of various caliber's continued to blast the southeast slope of RIDGE 536, greatly interfering with reconnaissance and the preparations for the attack within the assembly area. As the fire lifted German infantry were seen sweeping over the positions of the 590th Field Artillery. The attack would have to be made without artillery support. Company D had been decimated, six of its eight officers killed or wounded, the company commander killed. Company M commander was killed.
Casualties continued to occur in all units; vehicles in the IHREN VALLEY were destroyed (Personal Knowledge). With the enemy rapidly closing in to the rear, the regiment could only drive forward. All remaining vehicles were ordered destroyed. The regimental commander pushed the attack and in spite of the interference from enemy artillery fire, the 3d Battalion jumped off in good order at 1000. The Battalion left quickly ran into heavy direct fire from enemy antiaircraft artillery and was stopped. An American tank came up the road from SCHÖNBERG, fired on attacking platoons and then withdrew. At this time the left company, along the BLEIALF-SCHÖNBERG road, became further engaged with an estimated German rifle company moving from south towards SCHÖNBERG. Counterattacking to the south with part of the assault platoons the company commander drove the enemy back but became separated from the battalion, was attacked again and by 1330 had been captured. The battalion continued to push forward. Both remaining rifle companies reach the southern outskirts of SCHÖNBERG where the were stopped by intense direct antiaircraft artillery fire. By 1500 the Battalion Commander began pulling the remnants back up the slope of HILL 504 (Personal Knowledge).
The 1st Battalion added little to the attack from the beginning. Because the battalion commander had taken none of his staff with him to receive the regimental order, valuable time was lost while the executive officer learned of the battalion commander's wound, assumed command, and was rapidly given the essentials of the attack order. Properly sending his staff forward for such reconnaissance and coordination as was possible, the new battalion commander was able to lead the battalion across the line of departure only five minutes late. Already less one rifle company lost at OBERLASCHEID and the heavy weapons company lost along Skyline Drive that morning, another rifle company was pulled out of the battalion as it moved toward the line of departure to become the regimental rear guard. The 1st battalion, in reality now Company B and part of Battalion Headquarters Company, pushed through the heavy woods along the eastern slope of HILL 504 under constant mortar and artillery fire, finally reaching the road running north from SCHÖNBERG. Here Company B remained under constant fire, until enemy tanks overran their positions. By 1400 the 1st Battalion had been eliminated.
The 2d Battalion, on the regimental right, crossed the line of departure as ordered; but as its advance progressed it became separated from the 1st Battalion by a deep, rugged, wooded draw. Unable to contact the regimental commander, the battalion commander decided to attack SCHÖNBERG from the northeast. As the leading elements moved down into LINNE CREEK DRAW they came under heavy small arms fire from the right. Contact had finally been made with elements of the 422d Infantry. While this error was quickly corrected by aggressive action on the part of small unit leaders, both units were temporarily disorganized.
Coordinating with the elements of the 422d present, one battalion plus miscellaneous elements under command of the regimental commander, patrols were sent out to the north and northeast. By mid afternoon it was known that 1500 yards to the northeast 30 enemy tanks were forming, apparently preparatory to attacking; that in the OUR VALLEY there was a strong enemy force to the front; and that enemy artillery could be seen going into position west of the OUR RIVER (Personal Knowledge).
In the meantime the 423d Infantry command post, now on HILL 504 with the 3d Battalion, had also made contact with the 422d Infantry by patrol. With one battalion eliminated and one out of his control, with heavy enemy forces and artillery forming, his remaining elements raked by artillery, mortar and automatic weapons, and with casualties increasing and unaided, no food and only 5-10 rounds of M1 ammunition per rifleman remaining, the regimental commander decided that “it was apparent that further resistance was a useless sacrifice of life.” Small groups were selected and sent out in several directions to attempt infiltration though to ST. VITH; few escaped (A-9, p. 3).
At this time with the enemy armor moving towards his northern flank the regimental commander of the 422d had independently reached a similar decision. At 191630 December the remaining elements of the 423d Infantry were surrendered (Personal Knowledge). Within the short period of four days the 423d Infantry had been engaged with the enemy in a defense, a counterattack, a withdrawal, a meeting engagement and an attack. While it is not known how many Germans were killed or wounded during this period, large numbers vitally needed in the battle for the critical ST. VITH road center were deflected from this main German objective and delayed as they contained the surrounding regiments at a time when the Germans could ill afford to delay.
The defensive positions occupied by the 423d Infantry had been previously organized by another unit and were taken over without change. Few of the companies had support platoons; neither of the front line battalions had a reserve company and the regimental reserve was meager and composed of troops not primarily riflemen. With such seriously reduced reserves and a rather wide frontage for a regiment less one battalion, the defense was cordon and, of course completely lacked depth. In reality, the positions of the 1st and 3d Battalions were not extensively extended with frontages of about 2000 yards each. Well constructed pillboxes, concealment and well dug in positions added to the natural defense of the area. The heavy woods covering the SCHNEE EIFEL, however, had required maximum use of units in front line positions. South and west of the 1st Battalion was a 2000 yard gap to BLEIALF. For another 3500 yards, the line was held by units neither trained nor equipped to hold a position against a determined attack. Yet it was this area through which the best road net entered the regimental sector. During the winter months, with accompanying adverse weather, the road net assumed increasing importance; but these approaches were the most lightly held. The Germans apparently were familiar with the organization of the defense for they properly selected the weakest sector for their initial penetration.
The combination of the weakest unit holding the least desirable defensive
position, which controlled an important avenue of approach, could have resulted
only in success of the enemy's attack. The lack of reserves to eliminate such a
probable penetration could have resulted only in a complete enemy breakthrough.
Throughout the period, communications were erratic or
non-existent. Wire lines, taken over intact during the relief, were in single
cables and alternate lines had not been installed. Heavy enemy artillery fire
and later enemy tank movement in the rear areas resulted in frequently cut
lines. Weather conditions. Adverse terrain and enemy jamming made radio contact
infrequent and unreliable. Radio operators not fully experienced in combat
communications problems were often unable to break through the interference that
might otherwise have been overcome. The radio silence imposed from the time
radios had been issued until an emergency required their use allowed no previous
testing and resulted in perhaps one third of the radios being unable to enter
the assigned nets. As a consequence, artillery fire as well as that of other
supporting weapons was often delayed at a critical time. Command control was
also interrupted. Troop B, 18th Cavalry Squadron and Company B, 81st Engineers
could have been employed more effectively on 16-17 December if the radio contact
had been continuous. Contact with the 3d Battalion on the afternoon of 18
December might well have speeded concentration of the regiment. Contact with the
422d Infantry during 18-19 December would have made possible a coordinated
effort against SCHÖNBERG. Contact with Company A on 19 December would have
warned the regiment of a pending German attack that overran the 590th Field
Artillery. Careful staff supervision of communications during periods of
planning and during later periods of execution would have overcome most of the
serious omissions by assuring that alternate methods of communications were
available and that primary means were operative.
The supply shortages effecting the regiment before the German offensive, were relative minor at that time. Because of its recent arrival in the lines, trench foot was not a problem with the regiment in spite of the shortage of winter clothing. The available supply rate for ammunition established by First Army was sufficient for a quiet sector, especially as ammunition was badly needed by troops attacking elsewhere. It would be provident to authorize troops in defense in an exposed position with only weak reserves to have on position ammunition over and above basic loads. It is to be expected that the enemy will cut supply routes if possible. Expenditure might still be controlled except in emergencies. The basic loads certainly should have been available to the gun positions; the shelling of the Service Company area caused serious losses of badly needed ammunition. Rations were last drawn on 14 December. Two rations of the K or D type were required to be on hand. Little could be done by the regimental commander or his staff to remedy this subsequent shortage. Similarly the extreme shortage of medical supplies by 19 December could not be corrected. Evacuation of wounded was not possible.
Those who could not walk could only be left with medical personnel as each
aid station was displaced. If the planned air resupply drops had been
accomplished on either 18 or 19 December the ultimate outcome would certainly
have been delayed. Reasonably continuous resupply would have maintained the
fighting strength of the regiment at a higher level. In spite of the difficult
weather and later discovered heavy enemy antiaircraft defenses near SCHÖNBERG,
it seems that a calculated risk might well be taken to resupply a
surrounded force of two infantry regiments and one field artillery battalion.
Insufficient attention was paid to the coordination of
plans and sections among commanders generally. The initial attack of Company B,
81st Engineers against a west shoulder of the enemy penetration in BLEIALF was
made without coordination with the provisional battalion commander and was only
partially successful. In contrast, however, coordination between the 590th Field
Artillery and all elements regiment was superior in spite of communications
difficulties and resulted in each case in the infantry being greatly assisted.
Most important and most neglected was the staff coordination necessary for the
simultaneous assaults of the two regiments on SCHÖNBERG. As a result contact
between the two regiments was lost during the critical period of the advance on
SCHÖNBERG; and the final attack became a series of piece-meal attacks by small
units rather than a coordinated attack of two regiments. The two regimental
staffs should have made every effort, to include continuous personal liaison and
to maintain the closest possible coordination.
Prior to the German attack and during the following
days security was well handled at all echelons. The actions of advance and rear
guards were aggressive and rapid. The operations of the covering forces left by
the 1st and 3d Battalions on the original positions were properly executed.
Twice, more aggressive security measures might have been profitable. Few efforts
were made to regain contact with Company A south of OBERLASCHEID early 19
December. While it was not intended that Company A remain in position longer
than was necessary to cover the withdrawal, it seems logical to assume that if
nothing had been seen or heard from Company A within a reasonable time that
something had happened and that every effort should be made to reestablish
contact. The lack of security elements sufficiently far to the rear the morning
of 19 December exposed the regiment to surprise, direct fire and the resulting
casualties. Lack of security on the left flank of the regiment on 19 December
allowed an enemy company to launch an attack on the left company of the 3d
Battalion eventually eliminating it.
Antitank Company, one platoon of Cannon
Company and Troop B, 18th Cavalry Squadron were on the main line of resistance
of the 423d Infantry as rifle units, each responsible for the sustained defense
or assigned zone. It was, of course, this section of the front selected by the
Germans for their initial penetration. These non-rifle units lack the training
and equipment to maintain a sustained defense. Although trained in necessary
supporting roles, they may be used effectively as riflemen for short periods in
emergencies. It is felt, therefore, that an extended front might better be
defended by organizing strong points supported by mobile reserves. If supporting
units must be used in other than their primary role, they might well be used as
part of the reserve. If this operation, their part in cordon defense against an
aggressive attack resulted in such losses that their further use in their basic
missions was considerable curtailed.
Upon being ordered to the regimental command post on 19 December to receive the regimental attack order, the battalion commander, 1st Battalion failed to take a member of his staff with him. The heavy artillery fire which mortally wounded him was completely unexpected; therefore, the battalion commander's loss with the attendant confusion and lost time resulting the 1st battalion crossing the line of departure almost on time but with its company commanders on partially oriented with the barest of information, unit disorganized and confused, coordination with adjacent units hasty and incomplete and control sketchy. Had a member of the staff accompanied the battalion commander it is felt that the new battalion commander would the have received the attack order in sufficient time to formulate his plan, issue his order, verify control measures, and properly supervise the activities of his companies.
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