» James D. Branch
» Medal of Honor recipient William A. Soderman.
» Medal of Honor recipient Jose M. Lopez.
» Medal of Honor recipient Truman Kimbro
» Medal of Honor recipient Richard Eller Cowan.
» Back to the introduction page

The remains of German pillboxes close to the Wahlerscheid area.
The 2nd Infantry Division, a crack outfit, had begun attacking through the 99th's lines along a two-mile corridor on December 13 to seize two key dams on the Roer River before Bradley's main offensive kicked off. Aided by two battalions of the 99th, by the evening of December 15 the 2nd Division had slugged forward barely one mile, at a cost of 700 infantrymen.
On the night of 16--17 December the enemy counterattacked at Wahlerscheid. Actually the number of enemy troops available for use against the 2d Division was very small, too few for any telling maneuver out of the West Wall position. The bulk of the 272d Volks Grenadier Division, holding the sector, had been thrown in to stop the American 78th Division farther north. The 326th Volks Grenadier Division was already engaged in a costly attempt to penetrate the American lines at Monschau and Höfen. As a result the defense at the Wahlerscheid road junction had been conducted on a catch-as-catch-can basis by troops farmed out for brief periods prior to commitment in the counteroffensive. On 15 December, for example, elements of the 990th Regiment (277th Volks Grenadier Division) were relieved by a reinforced battalion of the 751st Regiment (326th Volks Grenadier Division), which, during the night of 15--16 December, was in the process of being relieved by the Replacement Battalion of the 326th. By coincidence the 2d Division attack on the night prior to the 16th engaged and detained troops which both the 277th and 326th expected to use elsewhere on the first day of the counteroffensive.

On the afternoon of 16 December Maj. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow, commanding the V Corps, concluded from the fragmentary reports coming out of the main battle area that the 2d Infantry Division might soon find itself in a difficult situation. He asked the First Army commander, General Hodges, for permission to call off the attack at Wahlerscheid and move the 2d Division to the natural defensive line offered by the ridge running north and south of Elsenborn. This was refused. Late in the evening the deputy corps commander (Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner) cautioned General Robertson to keep the unengaged troops of his division in hand for a quick change of plan, despite the order to continue the attack. By this time the three battalions of the 9th Infantry and two of the 38th were committed. On the morning of the counteroffensive's second day, with the American position in the 99th Division and VIII Corps sector rapidly deteriorating, Gerow renewed his request. The First Army commander was unwilling to give orders for a withdrawal but authorized the V Corps commander to act as he saw fit. Gerow phoned Robertson; it was now about 0730.

For the first time the 2d Division commander learned that the enemy had broken through the 99th and that his own division was in danger of being cut off. Gerow's order was to set up a defensive position on the Elsenborn ridge---but first the 2d Division had to withdraw from the exposed Wahlerscheid sector. The immediate task confronting Robertson was that of gathering what troops he could to defend the single road back through Krinkelt-Rocherath to Wirtzfeld, while at the same time holding open the one-track road between Wirtzfeld and Elsenborn. Two-thirds of his reserve, the 23d Infantry, would be attached to the 99th Division. The rifle strength of the two regiments around Wahlerscheid had been reduced by nearly 1,200 men. The 1st Battalion of the 9th Infantry, for example, had begun the Wahlerscheid attack on 13 December with 35 officers and 678 men; on the morning of 17 December the active roster was 22 officers and 387 men. All of the original company commanders and most of the platoon leaders were casualties. Fortunately, the tank and tank destroyer strength attached to support the 2d Division attack had been held in reserve well to the south in order to prevent a jam on the single communicating road during the infantry phase of the operation and so constituted a readily available reserve. But the appearance of German armor early on 17 December would force some piecemeal distribution to meet this threat.

Even before the withdrawal order reached the 2d Division command post at Wirtzfeld on the morning of the 17th, German tanks had been spotted moving on Büllingen, the main division supply point. General Roberts ordered the headquarters commandant to prepare a defense at the division command post (a few hundred yards north of Büllingen) and sent his only free rifle battalion, the 2d of the 23d Infantry, south from the Rocherath area. After the capture of Büllingen the German column turned away to the southwest, but a reconnaissance party composed of a tank platoon and a few riflemen in half-tracks continued in the direction of Wirtzfeld. They had been anticipated by only a few minutes with the arrival of a self-propelled gun platoon from C Company of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. When the Germans reached the ridge south of Wirtzfeld they were momentarily profiled against the sky line. Two of the American tank destroyers and a 57-mm. gun accounted for three of the panzers and a half-track. For the time being the threat to the southern terminus of the 2d Division line of withdrawal was ended. The 2d Battalion, 23d Infantry, and additional tank destroyers from the 644th soon arrived and deployed in the deep snow south of Wirtzfeld on the slope facing Büllingen, there to watch the 1st SS Panzer Regiment as it filed southwest.