Siege of Bastogne, 18-26 December 1944

Preliminary Battles
The Siege
The Battle after the Siege

The siege of Bastogne (18-26 December 1944) was one of the most famous parts of the battle of the Bulge, and saw a US garrison hold off repeated German attacks, badly disrupting the German plans.

Bastogne was an important road junction, although the amount of roads involves varies in different sources, ranging from a high of eleven hard topped roads, to seven major routes to a crossroads town. In fact the exact number of roads isn’t terribly significant, as many of them ran north-south, so weren’t relevant to the original German plan. The key road from their point of view ran into Bastogne from the east, then continued on to the west/ north-west from Bastogne towards Namur on the Meuse, with side roads branching off west towards Dinant. Bastogne was the target of the left-most column of the four in General von Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzer Army. On the right two of his columns were to attack the 106th Infantry Division and capture St. Vith. To their left two more columns were to attack the 28th Infantry Division. The 58th Panzer Corps was to advance through the gap between St. Vith and Bastogne. Finally on the left the 47th Panzer Corps was to take Bastogne.

Although the formal siege is considered to have ended on 26 December, when the first of Patton’s troops reached the Bastogne perimeter, some of the hardest fighting in the battle came after that date. The Germans became almost obsessed with capturing the town, and ended up committing more divisions to that battle than to the tip of the advance towards the Meuse. Even after it was clear that the attack had failed to achieve its original aims, Hitler still hoped to make use of the Bulge, and Bastogne was seen as key to that.

Although Bastogne gave its name to the battle, and was the German target, the fighting actually took place in a series of villages on the approaches to the town, then after Patton’s men arrived on the sides of the narrow corridor connecting Bastogne to the rest of his Third Army.

Preliminary Battles

The 47th Panzer Corps attack would be led by the 26th Volksgrenadier Division, which was to capture bridges across the River Our. They would then be joined by the 2nd Panzer Division and the two units would cross the Clerf River, six or seven miles to the west then capture Bastogne, another fifteen miles to the west. They would be facing the US 110th Infantry Regiment. The attack would be supported to the south by a parachute infantry division from General Brandenberger’s army, which would stop the US 109th Infantry Regiment from intervening at Bastogne.

The 26th Volksgrenadiers began the attack with one advantage. They had been posting outposts west of the Our every night, and their commander, Major General Kokott, got permission to do the same on the night before the attack. He then took advantage of this to slip two of his three regiments across the river and have them advance up to the ‘skyline drive’, a hilltop road running north-south parallel to the river that was the 110th’s main line of resistance. The 2nd Panzer Division was to attack on their right flank, crossing the Our at Dasburg, advancing west to the town of Marnach on the skyline drive, then west to Clervaux to cross the Clerf. The Clerf crossings were to be captured by nightfall on the first day of the battle.

On the American side nobody really expected a German attack but they did have a plan to deal with one. The 110th would defend a series of fortified villages along Skyline Drive, then fall back to defend the Clerf bridges. The area between the drive and the Our was treated as no man’s land, with both sides sending out patrols into it.

The German plan for a rapid advance was almost immediately disrupted by pockets of determined American troops. The first attack came at Holzthum, a village west of the Skyline Drive, on a decent east-west road. The Americans had been alerted by the artillery bombardment, and were able to fight off the panzergrenadiers. At 0615 news of the attack was passed to the regimental HQ at Clervaux, so the Americans on this sector were alerted. An attempt to bypass Holzthum failed, and the Germans became involved in a lengthy battle with the defenders of that village and of Consthum, a little further west along the same road. A few miles to the east another isolated American force held out all at Wahlhausen, a hilltop hamlet just to the north of the same road, while the rest of their company held out all day at Weiler, further to the south-east and very close to the German start point. Further north along Skyline Drive the American defenders of Hosingen had attacked German columns that were attempting to bypass the village, and forced them into another length battle, this time lasting until the middle of 18 December, the third day of the attack. Further north, on the route allocated to the 2nd Panzer Division, the defenders of Marnach held out all day, forcing the Germans to commit their tanks much sooner than they had hoped. Clervaux itself, with its key crossing of the Clerf, held out for two days. The 110th Infantry Regiment suffered 2,750 casualties in two and a half days, but at the same time put the Germans almost two days behind schedule.

On the American side the time gained wasn’t wasted. General Middleton, commander of the corps under attack, moved one combat command from the 9th Armoured Division into position west of the Clerf river to defend the roads into Bastogne. Although Bradley initially believed the Germans were only launching a spoiling attack, to stop Patton attacking into the Saarland, he still ordered two armoured divisions to move to the area. The 10th Armoured Division was moved up from the south, and sent one combat command into Bastogne. Eisenhower also committed his only reserves, the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, which had been withdrawn to recover from the battering they had taken during Operation Market Garden. The 101st Airborne began moving early on 18 December, and drove 100 miles through the night to arrive at Bastogne on 19 December. The original plan had been to move the 101st to Werbomont, twenty five miles further north, but their destination was changed while they were on the move.

19 December also saw the key conference at which Patton was ordered to abandon the Saar offensive, turn his 3rd Army through 90 degrees and attack the southern flank of the German bulge. Patton famously promised that he would be able to start his counterattack within 72 hours, early on 22 December.  The reason he was able to make this promise was that Patton always had his staff prepare for a range of possible operations, and one of those plans had been for a turn left to deal with a German attack on the weakly held Ardennes area. As a result much of the work had already been done, even if Patton hadn’t really expected that he would need it.

At first the big danger to Bastogne came from the north. Here there was a large gap in the American lines, between the forces gathering around Bastogne and the defenders of St. Vith. Two German panzer divisions, the 2nd and 116th were advancing into this gap, with the 2nd on the left and the 116th on the right. By the end of the 19th a column from the 116th had reached the town of Houffalize (on the East Ourthe river), nine miles to the north of Bastogne, while its reconnaissance troops had pushed on another ten miles to the west to the West Ourthe river. The two branches of the Ourthe meet just to the west of Houffalize, and the combined Ourthe then flows north-west then north to join the Meuse at Liege. The 116th’s orders were to cross the West Ourthe, then to turn north-west. Luckily for the Americans Middleton had rushed part of his reserves to the West Ourthe where they had destroyed most of the bridges. The advanced party from the 116th failed to find a away across, and so was recalled to Houffalize, from where it would advance along the north bank of the river.

On the left the 2nd Panzer Division, which was the northern unit in General Heinrich Frieherr von Luttwitz’s 47th Panzer Corps, ran into the northern flank of the defences of Bastogne at Noville, a crossroads village on the road north from Bastogne to Houffalize, where they were able to block another of the key east-west roads. 2nd Panzer finally managed to fight its way past Noville on the afternoon of 20 December, and was then able to cross the Ourthe on a bridge that the 116th hadn’t considered. However they then ran out of fuel, and had to spend all of 21 December sitting still waiting for supplies. Once the fuel arrived, the division continued west, and would end up making the biggest advance of any German panzer division (largely by avoiding fighting and moving around any strong units they found).

The Siege

18 December

The key players began to move into place on 18 December. On the American side the 101st Airborne began to arrive at Mande-Saint Etienne, a village just to the west of Bastogne. At the same time three combat teams from Combat Command B of the 10th Armoured Division were pushed out to the east of the town, to guard the three main roads into the town.

Major William R. Desobry was sent north to Noville (on the modern N30), which put him directly in the path of the 2nd Panzer Division.

M7B1 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage 'Priest' at Bastogne
M7B1 105mm
Howitzer Motor
Carriage 'Priest' at
Bastogne

Lt Colonel Henry T. Cherry was sent east to Longvilly (on the modern N874), with around 400 men and 30 tanks. Cherry joined a force from the 9th Armoured Division, which had ended up at Longvilly after hard fighting further to the east.

Lt Colonel James O’Hara with another 400 men and 30 tanks was sent to the south-east to block the road from Wiltz (modern N84).

The last two combat teams would face the Panzer Lehr division, which was approaching from the east.

The Germans were closing in on Bastogne on the 18th, but appear to have got lost in the twisting roads and valleys. The leading force from Panzer Lehr, led in person by General Fritz Bayerlein, reached Niederwampach, about six miles to the east of Bastogne, but then struggled to find a way west. Even now there aren’t any good roads leading west from that village, and Bayerlein ended up leading his tanks down a muddy track, wasting four hours to reach Mageret, on the road between Bastogne and Longvilly (the alternative would have been to follow a better road south then west into Bastogne). He later blamed mis-information from a Belgian civilian for this mistake. He then decided to stop at Mageret after another Belgian told him fifty tanks, seventy five other vehicles and a major general had just passed by heading west. This became Bayerlein’s excuse to stop for the night at Mageret. 

19 December

Early on 19 December the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment moved east to support Task Force Cherry, on the road to Longville. This triggered the first clash with Panzer Lehr. Bayerlein began to move west, but one of his tanks was disabled by a mine near Neffe, so he stopped again to clear the mines. The 1st Battalion of the 501st ran into the Germans outside Neffe and their commander quickly realised that this was too powerful a force for him to attack. He called up his 2nd and 3rd Battalions, and formed a defensive position across the road to the west of Neffe. He then called in the artillery, and the division’s airborne 105mm howitzers opened fire. This helped convince Bayerlein that he was indeed facing a powerful armoured force, and he wasted the rest of the day preparing to attack this non-existent armoured division. His one success of the day was an inadvertent one – by arriving at Mageret from the south, he had got between Task Force Cherry and Bastogne, so the American tanks had to try and retreat past the Germans. By the end of the day Task Force Cherry had lost all of its tanks, and around 100 American vehicles of all types had been lost around Longville.

Bayerlein then ordered the northern wing of Panzer Lehr and the 26th Volksgrenadier Division to attack from Neffe and towards Bizory respectively. The attack began at around 7pm, but made little progress.

Further south another force from Panzer Lehr attacked Task Force O’Hara near Wardin, on the road from Wiltz, and forced them back towards Marvie.

To the north Major Desobry at Noville was attacked early in the day by the leading units from the 2nd Panzer Division. At first both sides were hidden in the mist, but when that lifted the Americans found themselves facing a powerful armoured force. However at first the Germans actually came off the worst, losing ten tanks to the 90mm guns of American Tank Destroyers, operating in their intended defensive role for once (If the 90mm gun often quoted here is correct then this must have been the M36 90 GMC Tank Destroyer. However none appear to have been involved at Bastogne, so it may have been the 76mm gun of the M-18 Hellcat)). A battalion from the 506th Parachute Infantry was sent to join Desobry, and the Americans even launched their own counterattack, although made no real progress. The Germans then attacked again, but the Americans held in Noville all day, while the rest of the 506th moved up to Foy, the next village to the south.

20 December

The battle at Noville continued until about noon, when the defenders were finally ordered back to Foy. Even the retreat turned into a vicious melee, but the survivors were back at Foy by dusk. After taking Noville the commander of the 2nd Panzer Division asked for permission to turn south and attack Bastogne, but he was ordered to push west towards the Meuse instead, giving the battered defenders of Foy a respite. The day and a half of fighting at Noville would eventually have fatal consequences for the panzers, allowing American armoured units to get in place to attack them before they reached the Meuse, and just as they ran out of fuel.

The Germans did carry out two attacks on Bastogne during the day. One column from Panzer Lehr, led by four tanks, attacked towards Marvie, south-east of Bastogne. They managed to break past a roadblock set up by the US 10th Armoured Division, but were stopped at Marvie by the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment. The attack was repulsed after two hours of fighting. In the east the 501st’s line near Neffe and Bizory were attacked twice but both attacks were defeated with the help of the artillery back in Bastogne.

It was only late on 20 December that the Germans finally completed the encirclement of Bastogne, finally cutting the last land corridor to the corps HQ at Neufchateau. The defenders still held an area roughly five miles across in each direction, and the paratroops at least were trained to fight in just those circumstances.

By the end of the day the Americans could no longer expect reinforcements. They had 11,840 men from the 101st Airborne, including the division’s three battalions of 75mm pack howitzers and one battalion of 105mm howitzers. CCB of the 10th Armoured Division was down to thirty Shermans, reinforced by ten survivors from CCR of the 9th Armoured. The 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion had thirty-six tank destroyers armed with high velocity 76mm guns (M18 76mm HMC Hellcat). Some of the Shermans were probably armed with the longer 76mm gun, as the 9th Armoured Division appears to have been largely equipped with that type. The artillery also included four corps artillery battalions equipped with 155mm howitzers, giving a total of about 130 artillery guns inside the perimeter. The biggest problem here was a lack of ammo, which forced McAuliffe to strictly limit the amount of shells each gun could fire.

21 December

21 December was a quiet day around Bastogne. The Germans were reorganising their forces and preparing for the next attack. On the American side General McAuliffe, the acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division, was officially put in command of the besieged forces

22 December

22 December was one of the key days of the entire battle. On the German side 2nd Panzer finally had enough fuel to attack, and began the thrust that almost took it to the Meuse.

In the south Patton’s counterattack got underway on time, with one infantry division and the 4th Armoured Division taking part in the early stages. This news was quickly passed to the besieged troops at Bastogne.

The initial attack involved Combat Command B and Combat Command A of the 4th Armoured Division. On the first day CCB advanced twelve miles to Burnon, on the upper reaches of the Sure River and CCA advanced eight miles to Martelange, a small town further down the river. However both columns were then stopped by blown bridges, something that would have been very familiar to the Germans.

The day also saw one of the most famous incidents of the battle. At about 11.30 the Germans sent in a party of four to demand the Americans surrender. General McAuliffe’s first reaction was ‘Aw, nuts!’, which was then typed up and became his official reply. The impact was rather reduced by the need to explain what it meant to the Germans, but it remains one of the most memorable images of the siege.

On the German side it had been decided that Panzer Lehr would be better used in the attack to the west, so it was ordered to abandon the attack on Bastogne and slip past the town to the south, to support 2nd Panzer Division’s dash west. The move began on 22 December, although Kampfgruppe Hauser was left behind to support the attacks on Bastogne. As a result the forces attacking Bastogne lacked enough armoured support and Panzer Lehr’s thrust west was weaker than it could have been.

23 December

The weather finally improved on 23 December, allowing the first supply drop into the perimeter. First a pathfinder team with radar guidance systems was parachuted in, then 241 C-47s supported by 82 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers dropped 144 tons of supplies in 1,446 packages into Bastogne. An impressive 95% of the payload was successfully retrieved. The fighter bombers then turned to attack the German attackers.

The Germans were finally ready to launch the first coordinated large scale attack on Bastogne on 23 December. The cold clear weather also aided them, freezing the ground and allowing their vehicles more freedom of movement. The attack was carried out by Panzer Lehr and the 26th Volksgrenadier division. The first attack hit the glider infantry on the south-eastern perimeter at dusk. Hill 500, just outside the village of Marvie, quickly fell, and the Germans pushed on into Marvie itself, putting them within two miles of the centre of Bastogne. Another attack went in just to the west and the glider infantry were all soon closely engaged in the fight. However the rest of the line remained quiet, so the Americans were able to move part of Task Force Cherry and Ewell’s 510th Parachute Infantry Regiment south to Marvie. By midnight the attack had been repulsed and the line had held.

To the south the US 4th Armoured made slow progress. CCA and CCB had very similar days, both having to build bailey bridges across the Sure while under attack. Both then advanced a short distance before getting held up at German held villages – Chaumont for CCB and Warnach for CCA. Combat Command R, the divisional reserve, was committed to the battle and advanced to the right of CCA, reaching Bigonville. This was quick progress, but they were still south of the Sure.

24 December

The Germans now decided to attack from the north-west, in the hope that this untested part of the line would only be weakly defended. Christmas Eve was spent moving around the outside of the perimeter to Mande-Saint Etienne, ready to attack on Christmas Day. Von Manteuffel also decided to send the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division to join the attack. The day ended with two heavy Luftwaffe bombing raids, a rare occurrence at this stage of the war.

The relief effort made very little progress on this day. CCB was unable to take Chaumont. CCA eventually took Warnach and was able to push a short distance further north. CCR spent most of the day clearing Bigonville.

25 December

The new German attack would hit two units. The plan was to attack Champs, to the north-west, which was defended by Lt Colonel Steve A. Chappuis’s 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment. Once the Americans were committed here, the Germans would attack further west, attacking from Flamizoulle (Flamisoul on modern maps) into the area south of Champs, which was at the far right of the stretch held by Colonel Harper’s 327th Glider Infantry. The attack would be led by the newly arrived 15th Panzergrenadier Division, although not all of the division arrived in time to take part in the attack.

The German artillery opened fire at 2.30am and the Volksgrenadiers were soon fighting in Champs. Chappuis resisted the temptation to commit his reserves this early, in the belief that the main attack would come elsewhere. At dawn a force of eighteen German tanks attacked east from Flamizoulle. The tanks dashed past the American front line, leaving their panzer grenadiers to clash with the glider infantry. The tanks rolled on east, and actually reached the HQ of the Glider Infantry’s 3rd Battalion. For a brief moment the Germans believed they had achieved their breakthrough, and one tank commander even reported that he was on the edge of Bastogne itself. Their optimist was mis-placed. As part of the German force north to try and cut off Chappuis, they exposed their right flank to a force of M18 tank destroyers that were hidden in nearby woods. Of this group of six tanks three were destroyed by tank destroyers, and three by bazookas. The other twelve attempted to reach Bastogne, but one was captured and the other eleven destroyed.

The relief effort made more progress this day. CCB was still stuck at Chaumont. CCA managed to push north to Hollange, but this still put it a little further south than CCB. However the big advance was made by CCR. This unit switched flanks. Instead of trying to cross the Sure, it was moved west, advanced to the left of CCB, then attacked and captured Remonville, just to the west of Chaumont.

26 December

On 26 December the first of Patton’s troops reached Bastogne. First contact was made close to dusk between an engineer battalion to the south of Bastogne and three tanks from the 37th Tank Battalion of the 4th Armoured Division (commanded by Lt Colonel Creighton W. Abrams, a future chief of staff of the US Army and commemorated in the Abrams tank). Abrams had pushed on from Remonville and taken Remichampagne then Clochimont, His original plan had then been to attack the German held village of Sibret, south-west of Bastogne, but this village was heavily defended. Instead he chose to bypass it to the east, and advance north through Assenois. Patton gave his approval, and the advance began. Assenois was taken, and Abrams’s leading men pushed north, making contact with the 326th Engineers. The attack was led by a Sherman M4A3E2 ‘Jumbo’, a more heavily armoured version of the tank designed to lead assaults. This individual tank was nicknamed ‘Cobra King’ although some accounts get confused and give this name to all of the M4E3E2s, but it only applied to this individual tank. 

However the leading troops had advanced fast and on a narrow front, so only had a narrow corridor connecting Bastogne to Patton’s main forces. As a result heavy fighting continued around Bastogne into January 1945.

On the afternoon of 26 August Patton ordered CCA of the 9th Armoured Division to move from its position near Luxembourg City to the left flank of the 4th Armoured Division, with orders to clear the road that ran south-west from Bastogne to Neufchateau (the last route into the city before the siege began). Patton himself reached Bastogne late in the day, and ordered his staff to begin to plan for the next stage of their offensive.

On the German side the fairly strong Fuhrer Begleit Brigade, which still had forty Panzer IVs, 30 assault guns and almost untouched infantry forces, was ordered to withdraw from the fighting on the Taille front and prepare to counterattack between Sibret and Hompre, to the south-west of Bastogne, in an attempt to cut the corridor. At the same time Manteuffel ordered the leading troops to withdraw to a new defensive line with its western tip at Rochefort. A new 39th Panzer Corps, under General Karl Decker, was set up to conduct the counterattack at Bastogne. Becker was promised the Panzer Begleit Brigade, 1st Panzer Division, 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division and Fuhrer Grenadier Brigade, some of which were expected to arrive on 28 December.

The Battle after the Siege.

27 December

Although contact had been made, Patton’s men still needed to secure a corridor into Bastogne. Just after midnight at the start of 27 December CCR attacked the woods north of Assenois, which were cleared by 3am. Later on the same day a relief convoy of 40 supply trucks and 70 ambulances reached Bastogne, protected by light tanks from the 37th Tank Battalion.

The corridor was somewhat widened by CCB which attacked to the west of Hompre (south of Assenois) and was then able to push north and made contact with the 101st Airborne by nightfall. CCA managed to capture Sainlez, a little further to the south, but made little more progress.

One important addition to the garrison was General Taylor, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, who had been caught out of place when the siege began. He was now back at the front, and resumed command of the division.

To the east the 35th Division attacked north across the Sure, on the right flank of the 4th Armoured, making slow progress in poor weather. Finally on the III Corps right the 26th Infantry Division began an attempt to push north from the Sure to Wiltz, four miles to the north across difficult terrain.

To the west CCA of the 9th Armoured Division attacked north-east up the road from Neufchateau in the morning. They were held up by American mines laid earlier in the battle but were able to get into or close to Sibret and Villeroux, just to the south-west of Bastogne.

The airlift also continued on 27 December, with 130 cargo aircraft and 32 gliders bringing supplies. This time the Germans were ready and their anti-aircraft fire took a heavy toll of the transport aircraft. Most of the gliders landed safely, and much of the damage was done after the cargo planes had dropped their supplies.

28 December

One key part of the relief effort was the transfer of the seriously wounded from Bastogne. By noon of 28 December all of the stretcher cases within the besieged town had been removed.

The 35th Division made little progress during the day. This worried the commander of CCA of the 4th, whose right flank was potentially unguarded. He asked for the reserve battalion of the 35th to be committed, and by the end of the day all three battalions were in a line with the newly arrived 134th IR in the north east of Hompre.

On the left CCA of the 9th completed the capture of Villeroux and Sibret and pushed north towards Chenogne to the west of Bastogne, but only made limited progress during the day.

Late on 28 December Patton met with General Middleton, commander of the 8th Corps, and General Millikin, commander of the 3rd Corps, to issue orders for his counterattack. By this point the Allied high command had agreed to ‘squeeze’ out the Bulge, with Patton attacking from Bastogne and Hodge’s First Army attacking from the central part of their front (with the attack led by 'Lightning Joe' Collins). The two wings of the attack were to meet up around Houffalize and St. Vith. Patton was given the 11th Armoured and 87th Infantry Divisions from SHAEF’s reserve, but with strict orders only to use them with the 8th Corps, on the left wing of his counterattack.

On the German side the first elements from the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade began to arrive, but they had to hide in the Bois de Herbaimont, to the north-west of Bastogne, to avoid Allied fighter bombers.

29 December

Early on 29 December the Germans attempted to recapture Sibret, but their attack was defeated at heavy cost. However they had more success at Chenogne, where the leading two Shermans were destroyed just after passing through the village. A second task force from CCA of the 9th advanced north from Villeroux, heading for Senonchamps, close to where the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade was assembling. The Americans also came under fire from the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, which has also reached the area. Although they did manage to reach Senonchamps, they suffered heavy losses while doing so.

30 December

30 December saw both sides launch major attacks at Bastogne, which inevitably ran into each other. Patton’s plan was to attack with two corps – Middleton’s VIII Corps was to attack to the west of Bastogne on 30 December, and Millikin’s III Corps was to join the attack to the east of Bastogne on 31 December. Middleton’s plan for 30 December was to attack north from the Neufchateau-Bastogne road, with CCA of the 9th Armoured at the right, the 11th Armoured Division in the middle and the 87th Infantry Division on the left.

On the German side two corps were to attack on 30 December. The newly formed 39th Corps would attack from the east, using the 1st SS Panzer Division and the 167th Volksgrenadier Division, attacking towards Lutrebois then Assenois. The attack from the west would be carried out by the 47th Panzer Corps and would be led by the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade heading for Sibret. The 3rd Panzer Grenadiers Division would advance to their left, while the 26th Volksgrenadier and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions would act as a screen.

To the west both sides were underway by about 7.30am. On the German side the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division made very little contribution, after being by American artillery in their starting position. This left the bulk of the fighting to the panzer grenadiers and tanks from the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade. While the tanks waited in Chenogne (to the north of Sibret), the panzer grenadiers attacked Sibret from the north. They made some progress, but were then stopped by elements from the 9th Armoured.

To the left the tanks from CCB of the 11th Armoured Division reached Lavaselle, which put them just to the west of the Fuhrer Begleit’s armour. The commander of the Begleit Brigade left Chenogne to access the threat, and while he was away the village was bombarded forcing his tanks out. The armoured infantry from the 11th Armoured then attached Chenogne, running into the German tanks. As night fell both sides withdrew from the ruined village, which was then reoccupied by the 3rd Panzer Grenadiers.

Further west CCA of the 11th Armoured made good progress at first, getting close to their initial target of Remagne, ten miles to the west of Bastogne, without any problems. However just south of that village they ran into heavy German artillery fire. With little room for movement on this front, it was decided to move them east to rejoin CCB.

The 87th Division attack began from Bras, and was aimed at cutting the Bastogne-St. Hubert road. They got as far as Moircy, just to the south of the road, before running into serious resistance. An attempt to outflank Moircy and take the next hamlet failed after two German tanks intervened, but Moircy was captured. The Germans counterattacked late in the day, and after heavy fighting both sides withdrew from the village.

On the German side the 39th Panzer Corps attack was carried out by a kampfgruppe from the battered 1st SS Panzer Division and the newly arrived 167th Volksgrenadier Division, with limited support from the 14th Parachute Regiment. The German target was the main road south from Bastogne to Martelange. The attack would hit two regiments from the 35th Infantry – the 134th at Lutrebois and the 137th a little way to the south-east near Villers-la-Bonne-Eau. Both villages were hit by tanks from the 1st SS Panzer Division. The small American force in Villers was almost wiped out, with only one man returning to US lines and the rest of the survivors forced to surrender. A confused battle broke out at Lutrebois. The main German tank force didn’t appear until about noon, but it was then hit by fighter-bombers which crippled or destroyed seven of the twenty-five tanks involved and forced the rest to turn back.

CCA of the 4th Armoured Division moved east to help the American infantry, and ran into the 167th Volksgrenadiers who had reached some trees south-east of Assenois. The Germans made several attempts to attack from the forest, but were hit by fighter bombers and by one of the first combat uses of the new POZIT proximity artillery fuse. This allowed the shells to detonate a set distance about the ground, with devastating effect on exposed infantry. They had been top secret, but Eisenhower had gained permission to use on them on land for the first time. General Hoecker of the 167th described his attack being stopped by ‘tree smasher’ shells. More panzers managed to get into some woods south-west of the village, but all were destroyed. By the end of the day the Germans had managed to capture Lutrebois, but had failed to reach the key road.

31 December

Patton’s second corps, III Corps, joined the attack on this day, led by the 6th Armoured Division, heading for St-Vith. This attack was over a wide front. On the left the 6th Armoured Division ended up attacking through a line of villages that had been the site of defensive battles earlier in the campaign – Wardin, Neffe and Bizory, and made limited progress in an area that was thus familiar to the German defenders. The attack on 31 December was slowed down by icy roads and traffic jams, which prevented CCB reached its planned starting point. CCA was eventually forced to attack alone just after noon, at least in part to get away from German artillery fire. Neffe was taken, but the Americans were unable to make much more progress.

To the right of the 6th Armoured Division, the 35th Infantry needed to retake Lutrebois before it could consider rejoining the counterattack. Two battalions attacked on 31 December, but were stopped by small arms fire. Another force attempted to reach Villers-la-Bonne-Eau, in the hope that the riflemen there could still be rescued.

To the east the 26th Division attacked towards Wiltz but made slow progress in difficult terrain. On this front the Germans were able to hold onto a sizable salient to the south-east of Bastogne for some time, only withdrawing after an American attack on 9 January threatened to cut off the base of the salient.

On the VIII Corps west front west of the city the 87th Division was able to capture Remagne, opening up a second approach route to the Bastogne-St Hubert Road.

The 11th Armoured Division was now concentrated for an attack north down the Rechrival Valley. The aim was to take Mande-St. Etienne and Flamierge and thus cut the road from Bastogne north-west to Marche. Once again progress was slow. CCA was able to take Rechrival, but CCB was unable to take Chenogne.

1 January

The German plans kept changing. On 29 January General Priess, commander of the I SS Panzer Corps, had been told that he was to take over command to the north-west of Bastogne, where his corps would be concentrated. By 1 January he was in place and preparing for a counterattack to be launched later in the day, when he was summoned back to HQ and told to take over on the northern flank, where the 26th Volksgrenadier Division was in trouble. He would be given the 12th SS Panzer Division, which was moving from the north, the 26th Volksgrenadiers and the 340th Volksgrenadiers, who were moving from the Aachen area. He was to take over at noon on 2 January and prepare for a counterattack. In theory the Germans now had parts of eight divisions around Bastogne, although some of these units were present in rather small numbers.

On the 6th Armoured front CCB was finally in place. Its plan for the day was to take Bourcy and Arloncourt, from where it could threaten the roads being used to supply the Germans around Lutrebois, east of the corridor. CCA was to push further east from Neffe. CCB was able to capture Bizory without any problems, as the German 78th Grenadier Regiment’s main line of defence was further back. However the Americans then came under fire from Mageret, on their right flank, so the leading unit diverted south to capture that village. Mageret fell by mid-afternoon. A battalion from CCA then took over the advance east from Magaret, while the battalion from CCB resumed the push towards Arloncourt. The tanks reached Arloncourt, but had now found the German main line of resistance. They were able briefly to occupy part of the village, but had to withdraw at dusk. To the south CCA was only able to push a short distance out of Neffe.

To their right the 35th Infantry Division now faced the 167th Volksgrenadier Division, which had replaced the 1st SS Panzer Division. This time three battalions attacked, but once again progress was very limited. Further right elements of the division began a costly ten day battle to retake Villers-la-Bonne-Eau.

On the VIII Corps front the 87th Division attempted to attack north from Moircy and Remagne to cut the Bastogne-St. Hubert Road. However this attack brought it up against one of the stronger sections of the German line, at the right flank of the Panzer Lehr position. Late in the day the Germans counterattacked and forced the Americans back towards Remagne.

The 11th Armoured Division concentrated against Chenogne, but overnight the Germans had withdrawn most of their forces to avoid being cut off by the advance to the west. The village fell easily, but an attempt to push further north ran into the new German line and was soon stopped. On the left CCA was hit by a counterattack by the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade. This caught the Americans by surprise, but was fought off after three hours. The attack had weakened the Germans more than the Americans, and CCA was able to resume its advance. It reached Hubermont late in the day, but lacked infantry support and withdrew to Rechrival for the night. That night the division was ordered to consolidate on the following day ready to be relieved by the 17th Airborne Division.

2 January

On the afternoon of 2 January Model visited the Bastogne front to examine the plans for the upcoming counterattack. At this point only the advance guard of the 12th SS Panzer Division had arrived, and the 340th Volksgrenadiers were making slow progress. Model postponed the attack until 4 January, and promised to add the 9th SS Panzer Division to Priess’s force. He was able to get permission to change the emphasis of the attack, successfully arguing that it was no longer possible to any more troops in the pocket south-east of Bastogne, so an attack on the original corridor was no longer possible. Instead the attack would have to come from the north, attacking south down the road from Houffalize – the exact same route that Patton was intended to take on his way north. Manteuffel would have preferred not to attack, and asked for permission to withdraw from the tip of the bulge and form a new line based on Houffalize. Model and Rundstedt are said to have agreed with him, but knew that Hitler wouldn’t give permission, so the attack had to go ahead.

On the American side the 6th Armoured Division attacked with five task forces in a line. CCB attacked on the right with two tank battalions and an armoured infantry battalion, and CCA on the right with two battalions taken from CCR. The dividing line between the two forces was the route of an old railway that led east to Benonchamps then Wiltz. On both fronts the fighting actually began with German attacks early in the day. In the south a battalion from the 167th Volksgrenadiers attacked, but was forced back with heavy losses by fire from nine battalions of field artillery. On the left the first troops from the 340th Volksgrenadiers managed to infiltrate into Mageret, and it took a couple of hours to force them out.

By mid-morning the Americans were ready to move, but a second attack on Arloncourt was repulsed with heavy losses. Just to the north the village of Oubourcy was captured but an attack on Michamps failed, and Oubourcy was abandoned when German armour was seen nearby. This was part of the 12th SS Panzer Division, finally getting into place for the upcoming German attack. On the right CCB made limited progress around Wardin.

On the 35th Division front one battalion finally managed to get a foothold in Lutrebois, but it would take another two days to clear the village.

On the III Corps right the 26th Division launched a fresh attack towards Wiltz. This made limited progress, but it also worried the commander of the German Seventh Army, who asked for permission to withdraw his right flank to avoid having it cut off. Unsurprisingly the permission wasn’t granted.

On the VIII front the 87th Division attacked once again, and this time managed to get a foothold on the Bastogne-St. Hubert road, taking Bonnerue, towards the left flank of the attack. To the right CCB of the 11th Armoured was given permission to complete the capture of Mande-St. Etienne. A large artillery bombardment was followed by a slightly late attack, and by the end of the day the town had finally been secured.

3 January

3 January saw the start of Collins’s counterattack from the northern side of the Bulge, heading towards Houffalize from the north-west. Progress was equally slow for Collins, and it would take almost two weeks for the two US armies to meet up.

At Bastogne the 11th Armoured was relieved by the 17th Airborne. The armoured division had advanced six miles in four days, lost 220 killed and missing and 441 wounded and had lost 42 medium and 12 light tanks. However it had also helped defeat the major German counterattack on 30 December, and had advanced far enough to begin to threaten the German positions to the north-west. The fall of Mande-St Etienne so worried von Manteuffel that he went to Model to ask for permission to withdraw from the western part of the bulge. Model wasn’t able to give that permission, and the troops had to stay where they were.

6th Armoured Division made some progress on the 3rd, capturing Oubourcy, Magaret and Wardin to the east of Bastogne.

4 January

The last German attempt to capture Bastogne began on 4 January, far too late to have any real chance of success. The plan was for the 9th Panzer and 26th Volksgrenadier Divisions to attack on the west of the road north from the city in the mid-morning, and the 12th SS Panzer and 340th Volksgrenadier Divisions to attack east of the road at noon.

The attack began before dawn when part of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, from the 47th Panzer Corps, attacked the village of Longchamps, to the west of the road. They were later joined by the 9th SS Panzer Division, but both attacks were driven off. The defenders claimed to have destroyed 34 tanks, which by this point wasn’t far off the strength of most of the Panzer divisions.

East of the road the attackers made more progress, and the 12th SS Panzer and 340th Volksgrenadiers were able to force the 6th Armour out of Oubourcy, Magaret and Wardin. However the Americans were able to hold on to high ground west of these villages, and the attack was repulsed.

Aftermath

The failure of the attack on 4 January marked the real end of the battle for Bastogne. The fighting around Bastogne was still very hard, but from now on the Americans were on the offensive. Late on 5 January Model ordered von Manteuffel to withdraw the 9th SS Panzer Division from the Bastogne front to move to the Sixth Panzer Army front, where the US 1st Army offensive was making slow but steady progress. On 6 January Manteuffel ordered the 12th Panzer Division to prepare to move into the reserves on the following day. The Americans were able to make slow but steady progress to the west and north of Bastogne, although the German pocket to the south-east held out for longer. On 9 January Patton was able to launch a two-pronged attack on the base of the pocket, taking advantage of the progress made to the north-east of Bastogne – the 6th Armoured Division was in a position to attack south-east across the base of the salient while the 90th Division attacked from the south. The Germans were caught by surprise, and were forced to withdraw to avoid being cut off. By 11 January this move had been completed, and the last German troops had gone from the Bastogne area.

On 8 January Hitler finally gave permission for the troops in the tip of the line to withdraw to a new position on a line of ridges to the west of Houffalize. By 11 January signs of this retreat appeared around Bastogne, when the troops on the western end of the line found the Germans gone from St. Hubert. Progress was still slow on both fronts, but eventually, on 16 January, patrols from the First and Third Armies met at Houffalize. Very few German troops were trapped to the west of this, but it did mark a key moment in the closing off of the Bulge.

The successful defence of Bastogne badly disrupted the German plans in the southern part of the bulge. It denied them access to part of the southern ‘rollbahn’ for Manteuffel’s army, and made it more difficult to get supplies and reinforcements to the 2nd Panzer Division as it pushed west. The German decision to focus on capturing Bastogne rather than just shielding it also reduced the strength of the push to the west and even units that were sent west, such as Panzer Lehr, had to leave some forces behind to help with the siege.

On the Allied side the defence of Bastogne became a symbol of defiance in the face of the surprise German attack. When combined with the early success at the Elsenborn ridge in the north and the shorter defence of St. Vith in the middle it restricted the Germans to a limited number of roads, and helped make sure that they didn’t even reach their preliminary target of the Meuse, let alone threaten Antwerp.

The Tigers of Bastogne: Voices of the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge, Michael Collins and Martin King. Looks at the crucial contribution made to the defence of Bastogne by the 10th Armored Division, the first US unit to arrive in the city, and solely responsible for holding it until reinforcements arrived to share the burden. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 March 2021), Siege of Bastogne, 18-26 December 1944, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_bastogne.html

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