A Command Ops Christmas Special No. 8 – Resupply from the Sky

December 23rd, 1944

The 4th Armored Division continued its charge toward Bastogne on the 23rd. CCA didn’t make it into the fight until late in the evening, and CCB bore the brunt of the fighting that day. They passed through Burnon without meeting the enemy, and only once they reached Chaumont did they encounter a company from the 5th Fallschirmjäger Division. They made their attack in mid-afternoon, but the slopes above the town had turned soft in the sun, and the tanks bogged down. The 10th Armored Infantry Battalion evicted the paratroopers from the town.

Early that morning, important news had come to both the American Ninth Air Force headquarters in Luxembourg City and the headquarters of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division east of Bastogne. To the Germans came a platoon of Ferdinand tank destroyers (Tiger chassis with long-barreled 88mm cannons in fixed turrets), seemingly by accident. The Ferdinands hailed from a battalion recently pulled from Italy; headed for Alsace, five of them had ended up in the Ardennes by accident. (The mental image of a German tanker scratching his head with his hat and saying, “Wir haben 200 Kilometern zu weit gefahren!” makes me chuckle.) Colonel Kokott, in command of the 26th Volksgrenadiers, didn’t really care where they had come from. With their support, paratroopers from the 15th Fallschirmjäger Regiment were able to retake Chaumont.

The news for the Americans was to have a much greater impact: the weather had finally broken. P-47s and P-38s in vast numbers hit the Germans around the Bastogne perimeter, flying about 250 sorties that day. The total number of sorties flown on the 23rd was north of 1,300 when counting bomber missions, escort flights, and supply drops to Bastogne:

Shortly before noon came the unmistakable hum of vast numbers of motors, then the big C-47 transport planes lumbered into view, looking for all the world like pregnant geese against the sky, and the hum became a thunder. As the big planes slowly plowed through the air at little more than a thousand feet above the ground, out of their bellies plunged para-packs with parachutes of red, yellow, orange, blue, and white.

Men watched in awe from their foxholes, others from windows and the streets of the town, and crowds of civilians emerged from their catacombs for what seemed to be a miracle, “resupply coming from the sky.”

95% of the supplies had dropped inside the American lines, and General McAuliffe’s G-3, Colonel Kinnard, allowed as to how that was “close enough for government work.” The drop on the 23rd didn’t meet all the defenders’ needs (in particular, ammunition for the 75mm howitzers was still in short supply, and medical supplies were urgently required), but it was a start.

Kokott ordered attacks on Bastogne on the 22nd, hitting the town from the northwest with a fresh regiment of the 26th Volksgrenadiers, and a regiment of Panzergrenadiers attacked from the southeast. Neither attack made significant progress, and Kokott, von Lüttwitz, and von Manteuffel all did not expect to make that sort of progress without major reinforcement. Supplies would continue to be problematic for the defenders of Bastogne, and the 4th Armored Division’s drive remained critical to the survival of the 101st Airborne Division.

Alas, I am forced to play without the patch to fix an irritating bug in the Command Ops engine, wherein units are often caught in a loop of halting and reassessing whenever enemy troops are nearby; attacks that should be over relatively quickly can take two or three times as long as they should. Given that one of the major advantages of mechanized troops is alacrity of action, this has the potential to be troublesome.

Oddly, though, it hasn’t actually been that yet. The battle through the 23rd has progressed relatively well. Unlike the real CCB, I ran into moderate-to-heavy opposition in Burnon: first a single company of the 15th Fallschirmjäger Regiment, then reinforced by a good deal of the rest of that regiment. Fortunately, heavy fighting between the Our River and Bastogne had worn the 5th Fallschirmjäger Division down; the units I’ve had to deal with so far are generally at about half strength.

Bastogne was under heavy attack the whole day, in regiment-plus force from Neffe, just easy of the perimeter. Air strikes, bombardment from the defending artillery units, and the stalwart paratroopers prevented the Germans from penetrating the defensive line, although the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment took 20-30% losses. Attacks in the south came from the Villeroux area and Remoifosse; the 1st Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry, less a company which helped plug the gap between the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 501st Parachute Infantry, had been held in reserve, but I committed it to meet those attacks. Team Cherry was committed to the Rouette area in the northwest to meet a light attack there.

CCA trickled in from about 2:00 p.m. to 3:30. The cavalry reconnaissance squadron encountered a company of paratroopers in Warnach. The whole of CCA fell on top of them, driving them off to the east, and the cavalry reconnaissance squadron forced them to surrender in the early evening. My orders to CCA were to move up the highway to the base of the arrow, then to attack toward CCB.

It took them four hours or so to organize . My pathing orders (I asked them to take the quickest path) made them take the highway up all the way to Chaumont, but to my surprise, it turned out alright: CCA encountered only light opposition on the road, and reached Chaumont by midnight. At about 10:00pm, I ordered the 10th Armored Infantry Battalion to attack Chaumont, and with the 10th Armored Infantry in Chaumont and CCA freed to attack to Clochimont, I may end up somewhat ahead of schedule. Tomorrow, two battalions of the 318th Infantry Regiment will arrive, which I can use to shore up the line at Burnon and Chaumont, freeing more of CCA and CCB for clearing a path for CCR.

West of CCB’s headquarters, B Troop of the 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron and B Company of the 24th Armored Engineer Battalion are placed to at least warn against attacks from the northwest, which looked possible earlier in the day.

At Bastogne, the defense is stable. The attack from Neffe, which tailed off early in the night, is now back and being pounded by artillery once again. I’m going to swap D/506th PIR with C/501st PIR, and I might try to find two more companies to take the places of A/501st and A/506th, both of which took fairly heavy losses while blocking the Neffe highway.

As the arrow with the giant question mark suggests, I’m worried about that regiment of German infantry off to the west. It’s only opposed by a battalion, and I’m probably going to scavenge a few more troops to shore up that line, possibly a platoon of engineers from Team Cherry, E Battery of the 81st Airborne AA Battalion (it’s a roughly company-sized unit with six Browning .50-caliber machine guns), and the assault gun and mortar platoons from the 54th Armored Infantry Battalion. I may also pull B Company of the 54th Armored Infantry Battalion off of the front line at Rau de Harzy and use it as a reserve along the road from Neffe; the Rau de Harzy region is not well-suited to attacks.

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