35th Infantry Division Memory

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Santa Fe
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The Beginning of the End

Ardennes Campaign, 16 Dec 44 - 25 Jan 45

Chapter 10

Bastogne


 

December found the Allied Armies all along the western front pounding on the German West Wall. Disaster for the Nazis was imminent. The Boche could sell neither time nor space. Only by deception and a smashing blow could eventual defeat be delayed.

Von Rundstedt turned to his files of nefarious schemes and pulled out the "Blitzkrieg in the West" dated May, 1940. This, "the lightening attack plan," said simply "Assemble all armor and reserves in the Coblenz-Trier area, smash through the Ardennes Forest, then attack and conquer your enemies in turn." This attack in 1940 caused the Netherland Army to surrender in five days, the Belgian Army in nineteen days and completed the domination of all France in 43 days.

Now, in December of 1944, with time running out, Von Rundstedt, in desperation, chose the same Ardennes area as in 1940. Spearheaded by the Sixth Panzer Army, on 16 December, the smashing blow fell. Eruption and breakthrough by German armor and armored infantry destroyed or swept aside all immediate Allied resistance. The world was agasp.

Squarely astride the road network, and key to Von Rundstedt's Blitz, was - Bastogne!

Christmas, the tenth day of the German Blitz, was spent by the 35th in Metz. This was the first real break the division had received since the beachhead. Everyone gorged himself on turkey and had an opportunity to relax and get some much needed rest. But it did not last. On Christmas night the order to move out was received. The German armored breakthrough had made dangerous progress through the Ardennes and the 35th was transferred from the XX to the III Corps and sent to the vicinity north of Arlon, Belgium. The entire Division had moved more than 80 miles and was in the thick of battle within 24 hours after leaving Metz.

In conjunction with the 26th Division on the right of the 35th and the 4th Armored on the left, the plan of the III Corps was to attack, advance and relieve the surrounded American troops holding the important communications center of Bastogne. Limited information was obtained from elements of the 6th Cavalry Group, but a line of departure was established for the Santa Fe generally along the Sure River.

At 0800 on 27 December, the Division attacked in snow six inches deep. The 137th moved by truck along a road in the 4th Armored sector to a point southwest of Tintange in order to cross the river in friendly territory. Considerable gains were made until the town of Surre was reached. There the 137th met bitter resistance and only after a hard struggle was it able to capture the town.

The 320th ran into considerable difficulty in crossing the Sure River, but by wading in icy water waist deep, the 3rd Battalion got a company across in the afternoon. By dark the 2nd Battalion had captured the towns of Boulaide and Baaschleiden.

Next day little gain was made in any sector. The 3rd Battalion of the 137th drove to a hill southwest of Villers-la-Bonne-Eau where severe small arms, mortar, and artillery fire was encountered. The 320th took an important road junction. The 3rd Battalion of the 134th was brought up from reserve and relieved the 1st Battalion of the 318th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division.

On 29 December, the division continued to attack. The 137th made no gain. The 320th was locked in bitter battle for a farm southeast of the town of Harlange.

Then the division reserve, the 134th, was committed into cold, bleak, battle. Colonel Miltonberger attacked in column of battalions in order to give depth to his effort. The regiment fought with its usual tenacious Santa Fe spirit and soon the 1st Battalion moved into Marvie, three kilometers southeast of Bastogne, making contact with the 101st Airborne Division. This effort, coupled with that of the gallant 4th Armored, made certain that Bastogne was relieved of all encirclement.

The Germans launched a powerful counter-attack against the 134th and 137th on 30 December. Much credit for destroying the German armor around Lutrebois was due to the Santa Fe's 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion of the 4th Armored Division. In all they destroyed 11 tanks during this attack. The attacking forces were the 1st SS Panzer "Adolph Hitler" Division and the 167th Volksgrenadier Division. It was a brutal counter-attack and elements of Companies K and L of the 137th were cut off in Villers-la-Bonne-Eau.

The German objective in their counter-attack was to cut, at all costs, the Arlon-Bastogne Highway. All day and night the battle raged, finally with the assistance of the air corps and close proximity fuzed artillery, it was broken, and the elite 1st SS Panzer Division lay lifeless, broken and destroyed upon the field of battle.

On the last day of December, attempts to relieve the situation of K and L Companies, 137th, were in vain. They were finally given up for lost when it was learned from German prisoners that they had either been killed or captured. The Nazis blasted holes in the walls of the houses from which the men fought and then turned flame throwers on the men inside. This was a blow that the Division vowed to avenge. The majority of the 235 men missing from the regiment that day were believed lost in this action. Their bravery and intense devotion to duty gave impetus to the Santa Fe spirit and determination to finish the war quickly as possible.

The division was attacked again and again. Neither side gave quarter. But the Santa Fe did not budge. In the opinion of many veteran 35th Division soldiers the Battle of the Ardennes was even more fierce than St. Lo. From 3 to 7 January, Division artillery under the command of Brigadier General T. L. Futch fired 41,385 rounds into enemy positions.

Even in zero weather and waist-deep snow the Nazis fought with the most tenacity. The 1st SS Division committed many atrocities. Some of their soldiers were captured in complete American uniform and using American weapons and vehicles. Bottles of acid were also found on them, with instructions that the wax tops be broken and the contents thrown into the face of their captives.

The Germans were fighting in excellent defensive terrain and good road networks. The entire area was filled with towns and villages and every house was transformed into a miniature fortress. Every hill and every small woods had to be taken separately. The 137th fought for 13 days before it battered down the defenses of Villers-la-Bonne-Eau. It took five days of constant assault by the 134th to capture Lutrebois. Harlange was held by the Nazis even though the 320th put extreme pressure on it.

Units identified on the 134th Infantry front alone were the 901st Regiment of the 130th Panzer Lehr Division; the 2nd Regiment of the 1st SS Panzer Division, and the 401st Artillery Brigade. Further identification were made of the 331st Regiment, 167th Volksgrenadier Division, and the 167th Division Artillery Brigade. Roughly, four German Divisions had attacked the Santa Fe and had been beaten off.

From 27 December to 17 January, the 35th took 1,034 prisoners and killed and wounded as many more. The Santa Fe, fighting in freezing and bitter cold against a ruthless enemy, had performed admirably and the Battle of Bastogne was closed. Now the enemy's Ardennes penetration was reduced to a defensive bulge from which the Germans could only continue to retire under pressure. Enemy equipment captured in the Bastogne engagement included:

Rifles - 1,321
Pistols - 116
Machine pistols - 312
Machine guns - 263
Bazookas - 267
Mortars (80mm) - 27
Mortars (50mm) - 5
Mortars (120mm) - 14
Grenades - 1,053
AT guns (75mm) - 8
Guns (88mm) - 10
Wagons - 18
Howitzer (105mm) - 1
Howitzers (75mm) - 2
AT mines - 12
Guns (40mm) - 2
Guns (20mm) - 2
Nebelwerfers - 7
AT gun (puppchen) - 1
Panzerfaust - 40
Teller mines - 48
Rifle grenades - 75
Bayonets - 12
Vehicles (Misc.) - 17
Arty. Carriages (horse drawn) - 2
Bicycles - 3
Personnel carrier - 1
Motorcycle - 1
Volkswagons - 10
Com. And Rcn. Cars - 4
Trucks (1 ¬Ĺ ton) - 11
Trailers (1 ton) - 4
Half-tracks - 3
Tanks (all types) - 16
Horses - 180
Radios - 24
Telephones - 35
Binoculars - 12

Ammunition:

Rifle and MG - 220,800 Rds.
Rocket - 80 Rds.
Machine Pistol - 32,000 Rds.
Mortar (50mm) - 4,940 Rds.
Arty. (88mm) - 1,077 Rds.
Mortar (80mm) - 4,200 Rds.
Mortar (120mm) - 60 Rds.
Puppchen - 20 Rds.
Arty. - 1,027 Rds.

Once again the officers and enlisted men of the Santa Fe received the gratitude and commendation of their Army, Corps, and Division Commanders:

HEADQUARTERS III CORPS
Office of the Commanding General
APO 303, U. S. Army

200.6 GNNCG
25 January 1945
SUBJECT: Commendation
TO: Commanding General, 35th Infantry Division, APO 35, U. S. Army.
1. The following letter from the Army Commander is quoted to all III Corps units which participated in the relief of Bastogne:


HEADQUARTERS
THIRD UNITED STATES ARMY
Office of the Commanding General
APO 403


20 January 1945
SUBJECT: Commendation
TO: Commanding General, Officers and Men of the III Corps, APO 303, U. S. Army.
"1. The speed with which the III Corps assembled, and the energy, skill and persistency with which it pressed its attack for the relief of Bastogne, constitute a very noteworthy feat of arms.

"2. You and the Officers and men of your Command are hereby highly commended for a superior performance.

"3. You will apprize all units concerned for the contents of this letter.

/s/ G. S. Patton, Jr.
/t/ G. S. PATTON, JR.
Lieutenant General, U. S. Army Commanding."

1. The Corps Commander is gratified to transmit the Army Commander's commendation to the units of Corps troops and divisions participating in the relief of Bastogne. The uncertainty of the enemy situation, and stubborn enemy resistance, the disregard for losses and the team work which all units displayed in gaining the goal of relieving Bastogne were the contributing factors that made the operation such an outstanding victory, and will be highly valued in the history of each unit.
2. The Corps Commander adds his commendation for the performance of this task well done.
3. The contents of this letter will be made known to all officers and enlisted men of your organization at the earliest practicable time.

/s/ John Millikin
/t/ JOHN MILLIKIN
Major General, U. S. Army
Commanding

330.13
1st Ind.
PWB/mla
HQ. 35th INF. DIV., APO 35, U. S. Army, 9 Feb. 45
TO: Unit Commanders, 35th Infantry Division.

1. From St. Lo to Bastogne the path of this Division is well marked by monuments to Victory. Your performance has been magnificent.
2. I desire that the above commendation be read to all of your officers and enlisted men. To it add my congratulations for this splendid achievement.

/s/ Paul W. Baade
/t/ PAUL W. BAADE
Major General, U. S. Army
Commanding

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