DIARY ENTRY #10
By Don R. Marsh
23 December 1944
After having been relieved by the 29th Infantry Division, we pulled out of Baesweiler, Germany as a heavy rain began falling. With three hours notice, we mounted up and began the 75-mile night road march to an assembly area at Les Avins near Huy, Belgium. We took our place in the single-line convoy stretched out for miles. Driving the converted personnel carrier without a top or windshield seated in one of the two canvas covered front bucket seats in the driving freezing rain was a nightmare to remember.
In less than 22 hours, all the Division combat vehicles had made the 75-mile trip and began assembling in defensive positions while sending out patrols. The first contact with the enemy came on 23 December, blocking the road to Namur near Haid, from the advance of the German 2nd Panzer Division leading the enemy's deepest penetration after their seven day 60-mile devastating rampage advance through the American lines.
We had been officially transferred from the US 9th Army back to the 1st Army, VII Corps once again; however, the American First Army was placed under British General Bernard Montgomery's Command of the northern shoulder. Monty's orders were to withdraw farther west on the 24th to form a defense line and "tidy up the front" without taking any action. Our 2nd Armored Division CO, Major General Ernest "Old Gravel Voice" Harmon disregarded that order and moved to block the advance near the village of Ciney. The Recon scouts sent word that the Germans had stopped near Celles, apparently to allocate the fuel now in short supply.
DEATH OF A DIVISION
At 1430 hours Harmon called General Lawton J. Collins VII Corps Headquarters and said,"One of my patrols just spotted the Krauts coiled near Celles. Belgians say the Krauts are out of gas. They're sitting ducks. Let me take the bastards!"
At 1435 hours Harmon told VII Corps, "We've got the whole damned 2nd Panzer Division in a sack! You've got to give me immediate authority to attack!" Despite Collins grave misgivings of disobeying Monty's orders, he gave Harmon the OK.
At 1625 hours Harmon told VII Corps, "The bastards are in the bag!" On this day the German 2nd Panzer Division trapped and unable to maneuver was destroyed. The enemy lost 81 tanks, 7 assault guns, 405 vehicles of all types, plus 74 big guns. An actual account of the enemy killed and captured was not recorded. It ceased as a fighting force. The German 9th Panzer Division desperately attempted to rescue the 2nd Panzer, but was beaten back with severe losses.
On 23 December 1944, CC"A" attacked south and east from Ciney, Belgium despite very heavy resistance as the attack progressed on the enemy flanks at Leignon, Buissonville, Havrenne, Humaine and Rochefort to a general line north of Rochefort. Very heavy fighting took place at Humaine where the enemy put up a fanatical defense with armor and infantry. The Command met numerous counter-defenses by combined arms.
In a thickly wooded area a number of the enemy had frozen to death right where they fought and died of wounds. An enemy machine gunner and assistant froze to the ground; both prone and propped on their elbows still holding onto their MG with the assistant alongside of him feeding the belt to the MG. Other than checking the bodies for souvenir side arms (Lugers or Walther P-38 pistols), they drew hardly a glance as we passed through the forest trail. While the column paused in the advance, it was here in the dark dense wooded area that Major General Ernest Harmon, the 2AD CO, drove up in his M-8 Greyhound Recon car to confer with Brigadier General John H. Collier, Combat Command A Commander, seated in his jeep. As I watched the meeting, I noticed BG Collier wearing a pair of Air Corps bomber crew's brown leather sheepskin lined boots and the sheepskin lined collar brown leather jacket. Must be nice to have friends in high places! General Harmon needled Collier by asking,"What the fuck is the hold up?" The reporters didn't call General Harmon "Profane Ernie" without reason. Harmon was prone to frequently use the GI common "F" word, among others.
NO PEACE ON EARTH
24 December 1944, Christmas Eve, absolutely no Christmas spirit and no caroling tonight, just the opposite - no peace on earth. Death is all around us. We were on the outskirts of Humain and Buissionville fighting in a heavily wooded area with waist deep snow and frigid temperatures near or below zero. Nobody was talking, but to a man we felt the twinge of homesickness and nostalgia. Who ever had started that damned rumor in the fall that we would be home by Christmas was severely mistaken and constipated. We got through the night and the next day wasn't much better.
Nearby at Hotton, Belgium, my friends in the 143rd Signal Company were fighting to hold a key bridge under assault by superior strength enemy tank forces. My close friend Kenny Speers would be among those wounded Christmas Eve while defending the bridge at the cross-roads village; along with my friend 2nd Lt. Jack B. Warden and his under strength platoon of men from B Company 36th Infantry. At Havrenne, enemy tanks and infantry attempted to infiltrate during the hours of darkness and succeeded to getting within 50-yards of our positions before being destroyed in a desperate but brief action.
Due to radio silence imposed by the Division, communications were very poor or non-existent other than by jeep driven messengers or our command wire; both were placed under extreme peril due to the fluid lines. A road once thought to be open would be cut and under enemy control of recon patrols and larger forces.
On 28 December 1944, we were relieved by British troops, who (in accordance with General Montgomery's directives) had assembled far to the rear near Namur. Our Command moved east over icy, snow packed roads to a new area in the vicinity of Forzee-Mont Gauthier, Belgium, in preparation for the attack on Houffalize.
SEALING THE BULGE
First Army's plan under General Bradley was to drive south and southeast to link up with General Patton's Third Army driving up from the south. The key junction city was Houffalize, Belgium. Bradley chose General Collins tough VII Corps comprised of the two heavyweight armored division, the 2nd and the 3rd under the best two armored commanders, Major Generals Ernest Harmon and Maurice Rose. Attacking abreast, with the 84th Infantry flanking the 2nd AD and the 83rd Infantry flanking the 3rd AD the attack began. Our division struck south from the Hotton-Grandmenil road, operating on a nine mile front. One village after another fell to our combined attack - among them, road centers Dochamps and Samree, and other key villages of Beffe, Devanave, Wibrin, Achouffe, Trinal, Magoster, Odeigne and Freyneux. The 66th Armored Regiment's Commander, Colonel C. J. Mansfield was killed in action in the battle for Samree.
We were in the column with the Headquarters 3rd Battalion of the 66th Armored Regiment under the command of Lt. Col. Hugh H. O'Farrell where I watched from a high ground vantage point as our tanks knocked out the German strong points.
Despite the employment of terrific concentrations of artillery, the enemy had to be killed or forced to withdraw by tanks and infantry which attacked under the cover of darkness or in blinding snow flurries to close with the enemy in their dug-in positions. On 16 January, as leading elements of the 41st Infantry Regiment of our CC"A" overlooked Houffalize from high ground immediately northwest, contact was established at 0640B with elements of the 11th Armored Division of Patton's Third Army. The Battle of the Bulge was now officially over. The American Army had suffered tremendous losses of personnel killed, wounded and thousands who surrendered and were captured, plus the staggering loss of equipment. In the end, it was a hollow victory, resulting in a bitter lesson caused by the risks and calculated gamble made by Generals Eisenhower and Omar Bradley in sanctioning the weak and thin line of defense that winter, inviting disaster.
Publication or reproduction, in part or whole, is prohibited without the written authorization from the author, Don R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family Trust