Battle of the Bulge

Discussion in 'All Anniversaries' started by spidge, Dec 26, 2006.

  1. spidge


    December 26th - US troops hold Bastogne - Ardennes offensive stalls.

    From: Bastogne - Dec. 1944, a journal
    Journal by Prof. Eduardo A. Peniche

    Combat Veteran 101st Abn. Div.


    The journal printed here recounts a 10 day period during the Battle of Bastogne, December 1944.
    <hr> [​IMG] Saturday, December 16

    Word about the German offensive in the Ardennes came to us that very Saturday night,
    December 16th. We heard about it after midnight from the U.S. Army MPs who were out in force clearing out bars, bistros and bordellos in the city of Reims in northern France; there were plenty of 2 1/2 ton trucks available to take the men of the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions back to their barracks. My buddies and I were among the first to heed the MPs' orders. There was, of course, a lot of bitching and complaining, and some of the troopers, drunk or not, were using profanity to express their dissatisfaction. And why not? We had just come to France for R&R barely two weeks before after 72 days of continuos fighting in Holland where we had participated in Operation Market-Garden; the Airborne operation launched to liberate the Dutch people from Nazi occupation.
    <hr> [​IMG] Sunday, December 17th

    Upon getting back to camp there was a lot of activity there. Officers and NCOs were making sure that everyone got busy doing what they were supposed to do: cleaning weapons; drawing ammunition and rations; pack personal belongings; pack bed rolls and musette bags: underwear, socks, toilette articles, towel, mess kit and gear, etc.; canteen and canteen cup; "Don't forget gas mask and first aid kit ..."
    That went on all day Sunday, December 17th; however, we did have a break for religious services. I went to Mass with Joe O'Toole, Joe Fair and two or three others. Sunday mass was something I enjoyed, besides it gave me the chance to chit chat in Spanish with other Hispanics from the parachute infantry units.
    After lunch, the lunch was better than usual, we went to the motor pool area to check our 1/4 ton prime-mover (Jeep) and to the gun shed to clean and "bore-sight" our anti-tank gun, our piece was a 57 mm, actually a British Six pounder with double protective shields for the AT gunner and gun crewmen. We were so busy doing so many things that there was not much time to concentrate on the fact that soon we will be heading back to engage the enemy. This move to the front lines was going to be different from Normandy and Holland; in both of those operations we had landed behind enemy lines by parachute and glider, this forthcoming movement to Belgium was going to be by truck. I managed to write one of those short Victory letters to my parents before going to bed. Of course, because of censorship regulations, I did not mention that we were about to go to the front again, but in my usual way, I managed to let them know that I was doing fine and that I might have to move elsewhere. I told my mother about the morning mass and I told my dad about a bar that I had seen in Reims where they served better quality of "calvados".
    <hr> [​IMG] Monday, December 18th

    We left Camp Mourmelon about 1700, Monday, December 18th; we left by "cattle" truck; we were assigned to Co. "D" 2nd BN, 502d Parachute Infantry Regiment. We traveled all night with black-out lights. Sgt. Joe O'Toole and two others were traveling by jeep pulling the AT gun. The long convoy was moving rapidly, under the circumstances, yet we managed to get two or three "pee" calls; the night was pretty chilly and one could feel the cold air in those open trucks. Being packed like sardines helped a bit, but it was standing room only. As we approached the Bastogne area we were able to hear at the distance the sound of the artillery, ours and theirs! I guessed.
    <hr> [​IMG] Tuesday, December 19th

    By early Tuesday morning, still dark, December 19th, we were at the edge of the village of Longchamps, 5 kms north of Bastogne. The 2nd Bn 502d P.I.R was straddling the main road that led from Bertogne to Bastogne. With the assistance from "D" Co. men, using various pieces of farming equipment and other materials, we established a road block on the portion of the highway connecting Bertogne to Longchamps. Our AT gun emplacement was on the right hand side of the road on the grounds of an abandoned farm house at the very edge of the village (Longchamps). A few miles to our right, we could already hear the sounds of the firefight; both of our sister regiments, the 501 P.I.R. and the 506th P.I.R. were making contact with the enemy. The message to the German attacking forces was clear, the Screaming Eagles are here to fight.
    By daylight, Francis Papaleo and I , who constituted the AT squad bazooka team, paced the edge of the road and judged various possible positions to cover the road block. Our gun was well dug in; we also dug in two or three trenches to place the AT shells away from the emplacement. The farm house was about fifty yards behind our position; all of us also dug up our individual foxholes, Darrell Garner, our Gunner, and I were to share a foxhole; we gathered straw for the bottom of our protective trench. Sgt. O'Toole instructed us that we could use the barn from time to time, but he did not want us entering the farm house. Obviously the family that owned it, had been evacuated with the return of the German army to Belgium.
    <hr> [​IMG] Wednesday, December 20th

    On Wednesday, December 20th. about 1430 hours, we engaged a German Recon unit that came to the road block and we destroyed one of their vehicles and damaged another of their half-tracks as they tried to turn around upon discovering that we were defending that sector of the perimeter. Our position was on a knoll with a clear view of the valley slopping down between Longchamps and Monaville {to our right}. The weather was turning colder and some snow began to fall.
    <hr> [​IMG] Thursday, December 21st

    On Thursday, December 21st, we woke up with a heavy blanket of snow and the cold weather was making us feel miserably uncomfortable; we started making trips to the barn more often to warm up. The snow stopped falling about mid afternoon, but the temperature got much colder. The 2nd Bn. had increased its patrolling activities in our sector. O'Toole told us that the word from the CP was to conserve our ammunition and our rations.
    <hr> [​IMG] Friday, December 22nd

    By Friday, December 22d, the heavy blanket of snow covered our entire sector and we were surrounded by the enemy. We were now with "F" Co and Co. "D" had moved to our right; they were being shelled by enemy self-propelled guns. It was incredibly cold; the water in our canteens was freezing. We also had to rub each other's feet to prevent frostbite. From our foxholes, despite the horrible weather, it was fascinating to gaze at the wintry scenery, the snow was pretty deep and very white. The wind had picked up; it was much, much colder - - I was terrified by the thought of freezing to death; being a 19-year-old soldier from the Yucatan in southern Mexico, I had never experienced snow on the ground, much less standing and sleeping on frozen ground.
    <hr> [​IMG] Saturday, December 23rd

    On Saturday, December 23d, our lines came under heavy mortar barrages; the activity to our right flank also intensified. Our P-47s bombed and strafed the German positions directly to our front. We also knew for sure that we were completely surrounded by the Germans when we saw our C-47s (cargo planes) dropping supplies inside our perimeter. Seeing all those planes and parachutes seemed to us that we were witnessing a miracle, it was a warming and beautiful sight. O'Toole told us that back in the Platoon CP, Lt. Hill's jeep had received a direct hit from a heavy mortar round; we were sure that neither the Lt. nor his driver were just sitting there in the vehicle!
    <hr> [​IMG] Sunday, December 24th

    On Sunday, December 24th, our P-47s and P-38s came over at daybreak. We were told that the enemy had given the division an ultimatum to surrender but it had been refused. - - We all got a big kick when we heard that General McCauliffe had said "NUTS" ! to the enemy. - - We also knew that things could get worse ....More supplies came by air and except for the freezing weather, we were in high spirits and sort of confident. The vigil of Christmas began rather badly. That night, Christmas eve, the Lufftwaffe bombed Bastogne twice. - - Yet, on that unholy night, history has recorded an unforgettable mass that took place in town; wounded Airborne soldiers shed tears at the tune of "Silent Night". The German POWs were visited by Gen. McCauliffe himself as they were singing "Stille Nacht" and " O Tannenbaum". He wished them a Merry Christmas!
    NOTE: This was a Christmas eve for all times, at this important road junction in Belgium, 40,000 Germans, about 17,000 Americans, and 3,000 Belgian civilians were destined to spend Christmas Day. But, siege or no siege, civilians and fighting men on both sides were being touched by the advent of Christ. It was meant to be a white Christmas, indeed, and those involved would celebrate as best they could.
    <hr> [​IMG] Monday, December 25th, Christmas Day

    In the forward areas of the perimeter, in the MLR {Main Line of Resistance}, what is called today FEBA, the forward edge of the battle area, - - in that place where the outcome of the battle is finally decided - - clinging to our foxholes in the frozen ground, we sank into deep thoughts and emotions. I thought mostly about home in the Yucatan in southern Mexico where we never have snow; I thought about my family there and my relatives in Paducah, Kentucky, I was wearing a sweater, OD color, which had been sent to me for Christmas in early December by my cousin Marie. {I still have it}.
    That very night, on the opposite side of our lines, the enemy activity had increased . -- We did not know it at the time, but the Germans were having a large scale deployment to launch a major attack against the northwestern sector of the Bastogne perimeter; the area defended by the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment - - Bastogne, indeed, would make a worthy Christmas present for the Fuhrer. It was going to be, indeed, an unholy night for the 502d!
    Suddenly, around 0300 a.m. the first barrages crashed against our positions, a few German planes droned over regimental headquarters and dropped bombs. Minutes later, wearing snow suits, the first grenadiers crept forward against our lines, supported by a few tanks. The fire fight in our left flank intensified - - "A" Co. 1st Bn, was catching the brunt of the assault. The enemy was determined to break though - - but the "Deuce" was not about to yield easily. Champs and Hermoulle were the objectives, no doubt about it, it was a major assault.
    As the ground shook under the impact of the heavy shelling, the snow covered battlefield soon became an spectrum of bright flares and deafening explosions and machine-gun tracers .... The attack was on, it was Christmas Day already, lying face down in the bottom of my icy foxhole, I remember praying both in English and Spanish. A few mortar rounds exploded in front and behind our position, yet the activity to our left was gaining intensity. Our outposts between Longchamps and Champs had been reinforced and our machinegunners were delivering flanking fire against the attacking German infantrymen. Our own parachute infantry was also being deployed to meet the enemy threat; these men were the brave rifles from Co "E" 2nd Bn. 502d P.I.R. To me, personally, this was a defining moment in my life as a soldier and as an American, to see well disciplined courageous fellow soldiers well motivated to follow orders under the most hellish of circumstances yet, without hesitation, at that very trying moment everyone seemed to know what had to be done and they DID IT!
    The enemy attack ended in failure. The Five-o-deuce had held firm. The assault force had suffered heavy casualties and was forced to withdraw. There were also, of course, American casualties, in grotesque forms the death froze into eternity.
    <hr> [​IMG] Tuesday, December 26th

    Bastogne was relieved the next day, Tuesday, December 26th by the 4th Armored Division of General Patton's Third U. S. Army. The Ardennes was, of course, not the first time that American soldiers had fought under adverse conditions. At the birth of our nation there were cold ...tired ... and hungry soldiers at Valley Forge, but at Bastoge and throughout the Battle of the Bulge, the resourcefulness and dependability of the American fighting men were highlighted by the GIs themselves. Were we prepared for Bastogne? I believe we were; we certainly were well-trained and well-led; AND above all, we had that Airborne esprit-de-corps which always prepared us to fight facing the enemy from all sides as we did in Normandy and in the Liberation of Holland during Operation Market-Garden.
    Success in the perimeter was achieved not by chance, or because of air superiority - - it was won by officers and NCOs {From General to Sergeants} who provided exemplary leadership and by soldiers who knew how to follow orders, and yet had the initiative to act on their own when necessary. - - As such, I remember my Squad Leader Sgt. Joe O'Toole from Vincennes, IND.; my foxhole buddy, our gunner, from Florence, S.C.; Francis Papaleo, from South Philadelphia; Alfred Steen from Brooklyn, NY; Sgt. Bill Robinson; Cpl. Dale Reeder; Lt. James R. Hill; and last but not least, our AT Btry C.O. Capt Bill Lockman, from West Palm Beach, FLA. I also remember Sgt. Lawrence Silva from "D" Co. Yes, I remember all of them because destiny and faith had bound us together as one of the finest divisions ever fielded in battle: The Screaming Eagles of the 101st!
    The siege of Bastogne, Belgium was a frightful experience never to be forgotten; and hopefully, never to be repeated again. Misery on the battlefield was compounded by the severe winter of that year. YET, despite the adversity of war, all those involved were able to find warmth, strength, and comfort in man's eternal hope for universal fraternity and man's eternal search for divine guidance. As for me personally, like that of my fellow soldiers, it was my destiny to take part in and survive that gallant feat of arms; and, as miserable and terrifying as the experience was, it enriched my life forever because I learned to have faith and trust in my superior officers and in my fellow soldiers: it enriched my life because I learned first hand about the true spirit of America, by never hearing anyone ever express the word surrender. - - YES, Bastogne was part of the rendezvous with destiny of the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division, and I am proud for having been there - - I had had my first White Christmas in that small Belgian town, and there were enough lights to last me a life-time.

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