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Post Combat Interviews Regarding the 11th Armored Division

(Their activity from December 23, 1944 through the first week of 1945.)

 

Note: According to most combat reports the first major encounter the 11th Armored Division had with the German Army took place on December 30th, 1944; however, in interviews #3 and #4 the officers in charge indicate that it was on the 29th. This is how the original report was written; the only changes I made dealt with grammatical errors. Its up to the reader to decide which date in more likely to be correct. daHoward.

 

#1 Interview with Colonel J.J. Betherun Williams, Chief of Staff, 11th Armored Division, January 27, 1945. Interviewed by Captain K.W. Hechler, 2nd Information & Historical Service (VIII Corps).

 

The 11th Armored Division was initially given the mission of patrolling the Meuse River from Givet to Sedan; this was a switch from the previous SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force) orders that had extended the area from Namur all the way down to Verdun. For this mission, CCA was given a strong force composed of the 41st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, the 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion, and elements of engineers, ordnance and medical troops.

 

#2 Interviews with Lieutenant Colonel Herbert M. Foy, Jr, Commanding Officer, 41st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron; Major Michael Joseph Greene, Executive Officer, 41st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, and Major George Falvella, S-3, 41st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.

Interviewed by Captain K.W. Hechler, 2nd Information & Historical Service (VIII Corps), January 28, 1945, vicinity of Villeroux, Belgium.

 

Under orders from Brigadier General Holbrook, Commanding General of CCA, the 11th Armored Division and the 41st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron was charged with the role of patrolling the Meuse River line. According to Colonel J.J.B. Williams, Division Chief of Staff, the division had been told not to go east of the river, but it was felt that the only way to patrol effectively was to find out where the enemy actually was and in what strength.

Accordingly, late on 23 December, the Squadron was ordered to cross the Meuse. At 0600 on 24 December, advance elements moved out, and at 1000 the squadron crossed the Meuse from Givet to Sedan, three troops abreast. A Troop crossed at Givet, B at Charleville and C at Sedan. The operation proceeded slowly on the 24th with no contact with anyone but retreating friendly troops. On the morning of the 25th of December orders were issued withdrawing C Troop from the southern sector of the patrolling since that area was being covered by the 6th Cavalry Group and elements of the 28th Division. Commanding from Squadron headquarters in Gedinne, A Troop then pushed east to Tellin and Maissin, while B Troop advanced as far east as Smuid. Elements of the 9th Armored Division were contacted in that area, but there was no contact with the enemy beyond a few scattered shots exchanged with unseen patrols.

At mid afternoon on December 25th, the squadron was ordered to withdraw west to the Beauraing - Bouillon road and contact Task Force Wortham, the 9th Armored Division, in Gedinne. Troop A was left in Gedinne to reinforce Task Force Wortham; Troop C relieved Troop A in this mission on the 26th of December, and Troop B was withdrawn to Fumay (France) on the Rocroi road (France).

Lt. Col. Foy states that information was Very confused and virtually nonexistent during the days when the squadron was patrolling the Meuse. He was called out of bed at 2330 on December 23rd and informed by General Holbrook as follows:

Enemy Situation: there had been a breakthrough that was heading toward the Meuse, but the situation was so fluid that nobody knew exactly where the enemy was.

Mission: to patrol from Givet to Sedan and make sure that the engineer general service regiments had prepared all the bridges for demolition.

During the period of patrolling, B Troop advanced the farthest east, coming within 1.5 miles of St. Hubert without contact.

 

#3 Interview with Major Frederac M. Comins, S-3, CCA, 11th Armored Division. Buret, Belgium. January 25, 1945.

 

After marching 85 miles over ice covered roads, CCA launched an attack on the 29th of December at 0730, without going into assembly areas for briefing, from the vicinity of Lavaselle and Remience. This attacking force was composed of Task Force Blue which included all of the tanks of the 42nd Tank Battalion, and Task Force White which utilized the 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion. The objective was the road net at Remagne.

The men of CCA at the time of this attack had been on the road for 5 days. The only sleep was cat-naps taken at infrequent halts. They were tired and worn out. They knew absolutely nothing about what they were going into or anything about the terrain. The maps of the area had been given to the S-3 at 1530 the day before and there had been no chance to do anymore than give them a map.

Task Force White, the 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion, under the command of Lt. Col. Brady, jumped off first, followed by the tanks. The attack moved ahead rather slowly, feeling its way against small arms fire and some mortar fire. In the early afternoon, with two tanks that were ahead of the main body, Task Force White reached the high ground at (395-538). In the words of Lt. Col. Arhee of the 42nd Tank Battalion, All Hell Broke Loose. The two tanks were knocked out by 88 fire and infantry were stopped by everything from small arms to rockets. The infantry dug in and the tanks remained to the rear of the hill and protected the flanks. They remained in this area that night, the 30th and 31st, fighting off counter-attacks by the Germans. On the 1st of January the 17th Airborne Division started to relieve them. This relief was completed on the afternoon of January 3, 1945.

There were several conflicting orders as to where they would go and what they should do. One plan was that they would fight their way across country from Rondu, Chanet, La Damselle, La Hache and turn north. This plan was abandoned and at 1700 on January 3rd they started out to an assembly area in the vicinity of Sibret, via Wideumont, Bercheux, Vaux-les-Rosieres and closed into assembly areas around Sibret on January 4, 1945.

From the 4th to the 12th of January they remained in assembly areas in the vicinity of Sibret. Then, with two hours notice, moved up and along with Task Force Bell and Task Force Stubbs, launched an attack from Longchamps with the mission of taking Bertogne, Compogne, Mabompre, and the high ground south of Houffalize. TF Bell and TF Stubbs consisted of two battalions of the 17th Airborne Division.

Task Force Brady, the 63rd AIB, moved in on Bertogne and Task Force Stubbs, the 17th Airborne, moved north to Compogne from Longchamps. Bertogne was cleaned out without any trouble and held there that night. Task Force Stubbs and one company of tanks were unable to move completely through the woods at Bois du Nom de Falize that day. The next morning (the 15th) Task Force Brady and Task Force Stubbs closed in on Compogne with the aid of the tanks and captured many POWs. Company B of the 42nd Tank Battalion proceeded northeast to the high ground south of Houffalize to occupy and defend, but not go into, the town. Task Force Stubbs moved in later that afternoon against Very light small arms fire and occupied the southern half of the objective. On the 16th and 17th they occupied and defended the high ground, and on the evening of the 17th of January the 17th Airborne commenced to relieve the 11th Armored Division.

In the preceding action the greatest hindrance to rapid use of the armor was the ice and snow. This caused many tanks to slide off the road thereby reducing the strength of the command. Snow slowed down the advance of the infantry, and in working with the 17th Airborne, their lack of signal equipment hampered the rapid execution of orders and movement. In many cases the only means of communication was by Line Officers and foot messengers.

 

#4 Interview with Major Carl Sheely and Executive Officer Captain Clarence A. Rechter, 63 AIB, 11th AD. Battalion Command Post, Buret, Belgium. January 25,1945.

 

The 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion, A Company of the 42nd Tank Battalion, 1 platoon of the 56th Armored Engineer Battalion, 1 platoon of the 602nd Tank Destroyers, and 2 platoons of 575 Armored Anti-Aircraft comprised Task Force White in the initial attack on Remagne on December 29th. This force, led by the 6th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, acting as a screen, jumped off at 0730, in the vicinity of (395-519). B Company was on the right, C Company on the left, TDs on the left flank and the AAA platoon in the rear. The attack proceeded due north cross-country encountering Very light small arms fire. At 0943 one tank leading B Company reached the high ground at (396-543). This tank was knocked out by German artillery. Artillery, mortar fire, and automatic weapons stopped the attack cold. The fighting was so heavy that the Battalion suffered about a hundred casualties in about 30 minutes. The men were ordered to dig in and defend. The Task Force stayed in that position throwing back company strength counter-attacks that night and all during the 30th of Dec. At 2300 on December 30th the Task Force was ordered to withdraw to Rondu.

That night the order was given for the Task Force to move to an assembly area at (475-513) in preparation for an attack to the north with the objective as Lavaselle with the line of departure as Copon. In this attack, the positions of the Task Force White and Task Force Blue were reserved. The tanks of Task Force Blue led the attack with Task Force White, under the command of Lt. Col. Brady, following to mop up enemy resistance which had been bypassed by the tanks. An air strike of nine P47s and massed artillery reduced whatever German resistance was in Lavaselle and the 63rd AIB moved into the town and organized it for defense without opposition. On January 1st the Battalion moved north and outposted Brul and Houmont for the Reserve Command of TF Blue. Patrols were sent out to the east and northeast but no contact was made. On the night of January 3rd the Battalion was relieved by the 17th Airborne Division and returned to an assembly area in the vicinity of Sibret. Here the Battalion had a general support mission of the 17th Airborne. Routes were reconnoitered to forward areas but no contact was made with the enemy.

At noon on January 12th the Battalion moved to an assembly area at Longchamps and relieved the 502nd Airborne Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division. On the morning of the 13th the Battalion attacked along the Longchamps Bertogne road with their objective as the CR at Au Caille. The 17th Airborne and tanks were to pass on through this and the 63rd AIB would clean up what was left and then they were to turn east and clean out the Pied du Mont woods.

The 63rd AIB moved out and by 1200 was at the CR and occupied it very easily. Two half-tracks were destroyed, one from hitting a mine and another from artillery fire. The Reserve Command was to clean out the woods, Bois du Nom de Falize, and move across the open ground to the Pied du Mont. They had done this, but during the night of the 13th, fire was received from this direction so on the morning of the 14th, A Company tanks were detached and the Battalion, less A Company, had to move to the south and attacked to the northeast through the woods. An enemy artillery outpost and about 50 POWs were taken and some were killed. Late in the evening Company C was attached to Company A of the 42nd Tank Battalion and they attempted to take Vellereux. They moved into the town all right but the Germans counter-attacked and they were ordered to withdraw. Companies A, B, and D were in support for the 193rd Regiment of the 17th Airborne. That night the Battalion outposted Compogne and Rastade and furnished infantry protection for the tanks assembly area. The next day (the 15th) the Battalion was in a general support mission to assist the 193rd Regiment on their attack to the northeast along the highway to Houffalize. The 17th Airborne moved ahead slowly and the 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion had Very little contact during the 15th. On the morning of the 16th they moved out ahead of the 17th Airborne and followed the 42nd Tank Battalion, but the German resistance had folded up by now. Their only encounter with the enemy was some sniper fire until they reached the high ground to the south of Houffalize. B Company of the 42nd Tank Battalion had preceded them and as C Company of the 63rd AIB started up the hill, heavy automatic weapons fire broke out. They then waited until a company could come up on their right flank and clean out the woods at (602-712). This engagement lasted only a few minutes and then both companies moved on to the top of the hill. They dug in along the north, northeast, and east crest of the hill and at 2000 that night the 17th Airborne moved up and relieved them. The Battalion returned to an assembly area in the vicinity of Longchamps and had no further contact with the enemy.

 

Summary of Operations (29 Dec 44 4 Jan 45)

 

Von Rundstedts mid-December counter-offensive drove a 50-mile-long wedge into the allied lines and isolated many American units in the Bastogne area. Allied forces were rushed with unprecedented speed to hold and contain the flanks of the mighty thrust. The 11th Armored Division, after a 350-mile march across France, was given command of the forces guarding the Meuse River from Givet to Verdun. The Meuse River line was held from December 23rd to the 27th, and the Division made another march of 85 miles to the vicinity of Neufchateau, Belgium, on December 29th. The 4th Armored Division had opened a corridor to the American units which had been isolated at Bastogne, but the enemy was now moving heavy concentrations of troops to the southwest of Bastogne in order to cut off the only highway leading out of the city (the Bastogne-Neufchateau road). In some places the enemy was not over 1000 yards from the road. The mission of the 11th Armored Division was to attack to the north, relieve the threat to the highway and push forward in its sector toward the objective north of Bastogne. The original plan was for an attack with the Combat Commands abreast, with CCA on the left. In order to concentrate strength for a more powerful and decisive thrust, the original plan was changed. A more powerful thrust on the second day of operations would provide for a shoring up of the east flank of CCB, the west flank by Reserve Command, and a direct northward breakthrough by CCA down the Rechrival Valley.

Combat Command A (CCA) Under the command of Brigadier General Holbrook, CCA was composed of the 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion, the 42nd Tank Battalion, elements of the 575th Armored Anti-Aircraft, the 41st Cavalry Squadron, the 602nd Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 81st Medical Battalion. On the morning of December 30th the 63rd AIB and elements of the 42nd Tank Battalion contacted the enemy and advanced to a point 1500 yards south of Remagne, encountering heavy automatic weapon and 88 fire. After dark, CCA moved to a new concentration area to the east. The Divisions left boundary had been shifted to a point east of Remagne, leaving the town in the sector of the 87th Infantry Division. An attack was launched on Rechrival and the town was taken by the 42nd Tank Battalion while being reinforced by elements of the 63rd AIB. Heavy mortar and artillery fire was received that night. The following day, CCA launched an attack from Rechrival northward toward Hubermont. After repulsing heavy German counter-attacks, the attacking forces approached Hubermont, and on Division command consolidated in Rechrival. Here, defensive positions were held under intense artillery and mortar fire until January 3rd when CCA was relieved by elements of the 17th Airborne Division.


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