This is the second of Lunteren’s books on the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, following on from a look at their experience during Operation Market Garden. We thus begin with the regiment in rest camps at Sissone, recovering from its previous battle and not really expecting to be called back into action quickly. However everything changed when the Germans attacked in the Ardennes, catching the Allies by surprise, and forcing them to hunt for every available reserve. The 504th was ordered to head for the front, initially towards Bastogne, before they were turned north towards Werbomont. Most of the book is made up of very detailed accounts of the day-by-day fighting carried out by the regiment, supported by an impressive array of eyewitness accounts.
Their initial opponents would come from Kampfgruppe Peiper, part of the Sixth Panzer Army, where most of the SS troops were concentrated. Most of this army failed to achieve any of its objectives for the battle, but Peiper managed to find a gap in the lines and lead his battlegroup west. However even his attack ran out of steam on 18 December, only the third day of the battle and he was forced to retreat from his most advanced positions to the areas around Cheneux and Trois Ponts. This is where the 504th came into contact with him. Over the next few days the 504th played an important part in keeping Peiper pinned down and forcing him back, and eventually he was forced to abandon most of his equipment and order his men to break through the American lines.
Much of the book looks at the next stage of the battle, the Allied counterattack that eliminated the bulge. Eisenhower chose to attack all around the edge of the bulge instead of attempting to attack from its flanks to cut off the Germans inside, and the 504th became involved in some of the bitter battles that resulted from this choice. One theme that emerges from these battles is that on several occasions units within the regiment suffered very heavy losses after carrying out poorly conceived attacks against well prepared German defences (following orders from further up the chain of command), but this entire part of the campaign comes across as being rather ill-conceived, forcing units like the 504th to fight bitter battles for little benefit.
This is a very detailed ground-level account of one regiment’s role in the battle of the Bulge, giving us a vivid picture of just how costly the fighting was, even during the stages of the battle when the Allies held the upper hand.
1 - Camp Sissonne: Sissone, France, November 15-December 15 1944
2 - A Serious Breakthrough: Werbomont and Rahier, Belgium, December 16-19, 1944
3 - The Road to Cheneux: Cheneux, Belgium, December 20, 1944
4 - The Battle of Cheneux: Cheneux, Belgium, December 20, 1944
5 - The Capture of Cheneux: Cheneux and Monceau, Belgium, December 20-21, 1944
6 - The End of Kampfgruppe Peiper: Cheneux and Trois Ponts, Belgium, December 22-24, 1944
7 - Entrapment and Endurance: Bra-sur-Lienne, En Floret, Belgium, December 25-26, 1944
8 - Breaking up the German Assault: Bra-sur-Lienne, Bergifaz, Belgium, December 26-31, 1944
9 - Striking Back: Belgium, January 1-6, 1945
10 - Victory at a High Price: Farnieres, Mont and Rochelinval, January 7, 1945
11 - Twin Towns: Petit Halleux and Grand Halleux, Belgium, January 8-11, 1945
12 - Recuperation: Remouchamps, Belgium, January 12-24, 1945
13 - Advance by Attrition: Hunnage and Herresbach, Belgium, January 25-29, 1945
14 - Decimation at Manderfeld: Holzheim, Eimersheid and Manderfeld, Belgium, January 30-31, 1945
15 - The Battle for the Mertesrott Heights: Mertesrott Heights, Germany, February 2, 1945
16 - Breaching the Siegfried Line: Mertesrott Heights, Germany, February 2, 1945
17 - From One Forest to Another: Huertgen Forest, Germany, February 3-21, 1945
Author: Frank van Lunteren