The cutting edge of this powerful armored strike force was the 12th SS Panzer Division , which was allotted three of the five rollbahns allocated to the 1st SS Panzer Corps through the Ardennes forest, the major choke point of the entire drive east. The German th Volksgrenadier Division was composed for the most part of recent, inexperienced and poorly trained infantry conscripts. They were the first German infantry force to advance on the twin villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath, just southeast of Elsenborn Ridge.
Their immediate objective was to break through the defending line of the inexperienced U. This advance was intended to cut off most of the 2nd Infantry division, and control access to the twin villages of Rocherath-Krinkelt. The Germans intended to clear the Americans from the twin villages to the high ground of Elsenborn Ridge. Their goal was to seize Elsenborn Ridge and control the roads to the south and west and ensure supply to the German troops.
The th overran the forward U. They also drew a rapid response from U. The artillery rained fire on the exposed advancing Germans while the U. Large numbers of German infantry from the 12th Volksgrenadier Division followed the barrage and attacked, beginning the ground offensive west towards their eventual goal of Antwerp.
The 99th Division and its three regiments, the rd, th, and the th, were on the northern shoulder of the German offensive and in the towns and villages to the east and south of the Elsenborn Ridge. Intelligence that reached them was spotty and contradictory.
Battle of Elsenborn Ridge - Wikiwand
General Lauer, commanding officer of the 99th, ordered Col. Robertson to stay put until at least the next morning when more orders would be forthcoming. Robertson told his men to hold and he also prepared them for an orderly withdrawal in the morning. The main drive against Elsenborn Ridge was launched in the forests east of the twin villages on the early morning of 17 December.
By , this attack had driven units of the U. These units were joined by forces of the U. Tanks from the U. Fortunately for the defense, three tank destroyers of the U. These reinforcements were put to good use when the 12th SS Panzer Division launched a powerful tank and infantry attack on the twin villages. Same crossroads as above, photo taken from different angle to show Losheimergraben junction. Immediately southeast of Elsenborn, the 1st SS Panzer Division , spearhead of the entire German 6th Panzer Army , a critical element in the German offensive, was held up for all of December 16 along its Rollbahn to the west by a single Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon of the th Infantry Regiment.
Dug in on a slight ridge overlooking a village of about 15 homes, in the vicinity of the Losheim Gap , the 18 man platoon, led by a year old lieutenant Lyle Bouck Jr.
They seriously disrupted the entire German German Sixth Panzer Army schedule of attack along the northern edge of the offensive. He moved his headquarters from Wirtzfeld, south and west of the twin villages, to Elsenborn, just west of the ridge line. Robertson also informed General Leonard T. Gerow , commander of V Corps , that he intended to hold the twin villages until troops east of the villages had retreated through them to the ridge line, which then would become the next line of defense.
This defensive line was intended to safeguard the key high ground on Elsenborn Ridge from the German advance. Only some radio communications between front line and the heavy weapons company remained intact. Twenty minutes after the barrage was lifted, at , German infantry from the rd Volksgrenadier Regiment , Heeresgruppe B , attacked the th in the dark in strength along five different points. The Volksgrenadier were new units formed within the German army in the fall of They were formed by conscripting boys and elderly men, men previously rejected as physically unfit for service, wounded soldiers returning from hospitals, and transfers from the "jobless" personnel of the quickly shrinking Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe , usually organized around small cadres of hardened veterans.
The German attack concentrated in the battalion's center, between I and K Companies. Another German force attempted to penetrate the Monschau area, immediately north of the Battalion's extreme left flank. Without radio communications between the front-line artillery liaison officer and th Field Artillery, their guns could not be brought to bear on the German assault until communication was restored in the midst of the battle at The th initially pushed the Germans back with machine guns, small arms, mortar fire, and hand-to-hand combat.
Without any significant armor support, the th stopped the German advance cold. It was the only sector of the American front line on the Battle of the Bulge where the Germans failed to advance. By , the Germans withdrew, except for a group of the rd Volksgrenadier Regiment who penetrated the Battalion's center. They were soon repulsed. Just after noon, at , the Germans launched their attack again, and they were pushed back by artillery and mortar fire. His Army had been allocated the bulk of the German Army's armored strength for the attack.
The German plan was to conserve armor by penetrating the American lines with infantry, followed up by the armored regiments. Dietrich had planned five Rollbahnen, battle routes, through the sector to Antwerp. By the afternoon of December 17, the th Regiment realized that the day's action was part of a much larger offensive.
The American's direct rifle and mortar fire failed to dislodge them from the buildings they occupied. The th Tank Destroyer Battalion brought their 57mm anti-tank guns to bear directly on them. Follow up attacks with white phosphorus grenades finally caused the remaining 25 Germans to surrender, while 75 were found dead within the buildings. The German attack on the U. Despite the fierce onslaught, the battalion was able to hold onto its reserves, which in any case only consisted of one platoon of forty men from L Company.
American Heavy Artillery, mm 9. The casualties inflicted by the th Infantry Regiment , 99th Division, on the Germans are reflected by the disproportionate numbers of dead and wounded. The th hit the Germans with such terrific small arms and machine gun fire that they couldn't even remove their dead and wounded in their rapid retreat. During the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, the 3rd Battalion took 19 prisoners and killed an estimated Germans.
Accurate estimates of German wounded were not possible, but about 20 percent of the th Volksgrenadier Division were lost. The th's casualties were extremely light: four dead, seven wounded, and four men missing. On another day, the 3rd Battalion took 50 Germans prisoner and killed or wounded more than Germans, losing only five dead and seven wounded themselves.
As the battle ensued, small units, company and less in size, often acting independently, conducted fierce local counterattacks and mounted stubborn defenses, frustrating the German's plans for a rapid advance, and badly upsetting their timetable. By December 17, German military planners knew that their objectives along the Elsenborn Ridge would not be taken as soon as planned. The 99th as a whole, outnumbered five to one, inflicted casualties that devastated the attacking Volksgrenadier formations. German losses were much higher.
In the northern sector opposite the 99th, this included deaths on a scale that routed the attacking infantry, and included the destruction of many tanks and assault guns. This performance prevented the Sixth Panzer Army from outflanking Elsenborn Ridge, and resulted in many commendations and unit citations for the 99th. The organized retreat of the U. Kampfgruppe Peiper was forced to choose the more difficult rollbahn D to the south in its drive west to the Meuse River.
Battle East of Elsenborn & the Twin Villages, The
Kampfgruppe Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division chose an alternative route west, bypassing Elsenborn Ridge to the north, but later bogged down on the only available road, plagued by overcrowding, flanking attacks, blown bridges, and lack of fuel. The cost of this relentless, close-quarters, intense combat was high for both sides, but the losses for Germany were irreplaceable. An exact casualty accounting for the Elsenborn Ridge battle itself is not precise. Army's 2nd and 99th Infantry divisions later revealed their losses, while only the German's armored fighting vehicles losses are accounted for.
To the south of the 12th SS Panzer Division, the 5th Panzer Army led by Hasso von Manteuffel advanced over more accessible terrain and enjoyed much greater initial success. This initial attack with relatively non-mobile and relatively expendable troops was intended to clear major roads for use by the SS Panzer divisions, which would then rapidly move to capture bridges on the Meuse river for the final drive to Antwerp. These armored divisions were employed in a much more organized and controlled fashion, and with better leadership, than was the standard in U.
The German concept of the armored division involved independent units that carried with them all their supporting elements, making them more mobile, flexible, and able to concentrate greater force at the point of attack. Shock and high speed would overwhelm resistance, as did the first drive from the Ardennes in These tactics made up what was referred to in the press as the blitzkrieg , or lightning war.
This evolution of mechanized attack was more sophisticated than tactics used by the American army. It was expected that the allied high commands would take weeks to adjust to the impact.