A Command Ops Christmas Special No. 7 – Patton’s Favorite

December 22, 1944

George Patton requires little introduction. I’ll let MacDonald do so anyway:

By late 1944, George Smith Patton, Jr., at fifty-nine years of age, was already something of a legend in the United States army and a darling of the American press. It had not always been so. After word had leaked out that in Sicily Patton had slapped two American soldiers whom he suspected of malingering, newsmen had gone for his jugular. An impolitic remark before a ladies’ club in England before the invasion had set the jackals to howling again, but General Eisenhower had stuck by Patton, confident of his ability on the battlefield.

His dash across France from the Normandy beachhead in late summer appeared to justify Eisenhower’s loyalty; and a fickle press, suddenly adoring his posturing, his profanity, his flashy uniforms, glistening helmet, pistols on each hip, nicknamed him “Old Blood and Guts” and turned him into an idol of the American public. […] Nobody loved the profession of arms more than George Patton.

Like the 21st, the 22nd was not a quiet day, but not an eventful one as it relates to Bastogne. Patton had three divisions for his relief effort: the 26th and the 80th Infantry Divisions, which were to attack northward in the vicinity of Wiltz to secure that flank, and the 4th Armored Division. The 4th Armored had a long history with Patton, and as I recently wrote, was commanded by Hugh Gaffey, formerly Patton’s chief of staff. The relief of Bastogne was to be his first battle with a division-sized command.

Patton had two choices for the line of advance for the 4th Armored: along the highway from Arlon or along the highway from Neufchâteau. The latter option was three miles shorter (nine miles against twelve), and the known German opposition along that route was lesser in strength. Arlon had the advantage that it would squeeze the Germans south of Bastogne around to the west, cutting them off from supply and leaving the 4th Armored well-placed for a drive eastward toward St. Vith. Patton settled on Arlon, a choice that was to prove less-than-ideal over the next few days.

The 26th and 80th Infantry Divisions did well on the 22nd, meeting German march columns and inflicting heavy losses. The 4th Armored’s CCA was delayed until the 23rd by blown bridges; CCB reached Burnon, seven miles from Bastogne, before nightfall, but it wasn’t until the next day that they were able to replace the bridge there and continue toward Bastogne.

Now the fun part begins. It’s D1 (December 22nd), 2300 hours, and Combat Command B of the 4th Armored Division is assembled at the bridge just south of Burnon. Obviously, an hour isn’t much time to see anything done, but I can at least speak to my plans for the scenario.

Maybe I should have turned off the objective markers. The highways to Arlon and Neufchâteau are marked in red. CCB has arrayed itself from Fauvillers, under the secured objective marker in the far south, to Burnon, the next directly above it. CCB will attack north through Burnon toward Chaumont (the next two objective markers), and will set up blocking positions along the river and railway. CCA and two battalions of the 318th Infantry Regiment will arrive at the south end of the Arlon highway during the afternoon of the 23rd. The two battalions of the 318th Infantry will take up CCB’s blocking positions, while CCB and CCA will press on to Clochimont (along the road north out of Chaumont). If the situation looks good when I’ve gained Clochimont, I’ll leave CCB and one battalion to block between Clochimont and Chaumont, while a reinforced CCA tries to reach Sibret. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if that takes me until the 25th, when CCR arrives. The Neufchâteau road should hopefully be clear by then (I’ll have to send some light tanks to be sure on the 24th, to leave me time enough to clear it if it isn’t), and CCR can join CCA for a final push into Bastogne (perhaps aided by forces in Bastogne proper).

There’s not much to say about my plans for Bastogne, beyond don’t yield the town. I don’t believe that the Germans have sufficient force to break through the perimeter, and I was able to create a small mobile reserve in the town center from the remains of Team Cherry and a few platoons of armored engineers. At midnight on the 22nd/23rd, the 4th Armored’s CCB has pushed into Burnon, and will hopefully evict the company of German defenders by morning.

Also December 22, 1944

I nearly forgot the most iconic story to come from the siege of Bastogne: at around noon on the 22nd, two German officers under a flag of truce approached the line around Bastogne near the Arlon highway. They brought an ultimatum from the German commander, threatening an artillery bombardment that would destroy the town, the American troops defending it, and the civilians still in the city. The tale played out at McAuliffe’s command post, as Ned Moore, McAuliffe’s chief of staff, read the ultimatum:

“What does it say, Ned?” asked McAuliffe.
“They want you to surrender,” said Moore.
“Aw, nuts!” said McAuliffe.

When McAuliffe got around to composing a reply to the ultimatum, he was at a loss as to what to say.

“That first crack you made,” said his G-3, Harry Kinnard, “would be hard to beat.”
“What was that?” asked McAuliffe.
“You said, ‘Nuts!'”

With a pen, McAuliffe wrote: “To the German commander: Nuts! From the American commander.”

When it came to cleanness of language, McAuliffe was Patton’s opposite. Indeed, “Nuts!” was sufficiently idiomatic that it confused the Germans, one of whom spoke excellent English. They asked for clarification from Colonel Harper, commander of the 327th Glider Infantry.

“The reply,” answered Harper, “is decidedly not affirmative, and if you continue this foolish attack, your losses will be tremendous. If you don’t understand what ‘Nuts!’ means, in plain English it is the same as ‘Go to hell!’ And I will tell you something else; if you continue to attack, we will kill every goddamn German that tries to break into this city.”

Not quite as clean-speaking as McAuliffe, nor quite as succinct, but definitely clearer.

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