We Fight and Die Here No. 3

The 20th was another relatively quiet day around Bütgenbach in the Ardennes in 1944. On the night of the 19th, the rest of the 12th SS Panzer Division’s tanks, along with some surviving tanks from Krinkelt, under one Colonel Zeiner arrived in Büllingen. Soon after, ten of them plus a regiment of paratroopers and Panzergrenadiers headed toward Dom. Bütgenbach.

As one of the Germans later noted, “exceedingly heavy mortar artillery and mortar fire” erupted. (By that time, all four of the 1st Division’s artillery battalions were in place, along with a battery of 90mm antiaircraft artillery, a corps artillery battalion with 155mm howitzers, another 4.5-inch guns, a battery of 8-inch guns, and a battalion of 4.2-inch chemical mortars.)

I noticed the chemical mortar battalion when I was playing earlier, and it was nifty to see it mentioned in the book. Anyway, the first attack faltered, and the Germans tried again…

…with eight Panthers in the lead. A shell from some source knocked out the company commander’s Panther, setting it on fire, and three more fell victim to artillery fire.

Several tanks nevertheless broke into Company E’s position. [Hey, Company E! I mentioned them specifically earlier.] By the light of flares fired by 81mm mortars, the crew of a 57mm antitank gun put four rounds into one of them, sending it up in flames. The light from the flames enabled the gunner, Cpl. Henry F. Warner, to put four more rounds into a second tank, knocking it out; but after the fourth round, the breech block on the gun failed to open. As a third tank approached, heading directly for the gun, all the crew but Warner dived for foxholes.

Staying with his piece, Warner tried desperately to free the breech block. When the tank was but a few feet away, the turret opened, and the head and shoulders of the German tank commander appeared. Firing his .45-caliber pistol, Warner dove into a foxhole. Still the tank advanced on an apparent collision course with the 57mm piece and the foxholes of the crew; but just as it reached the first hole, it stopped and went into reverse. Stealing a quick glance, Warner could see the commander slumped over the rim of the turret.

One of my favorite facets of A Time For Trumpets is the attention which MacDonald pays to individual stories; a lot of histories get into the heads of the generals, but not as many look to the boots on the ground, and much of A Time For Trumpets’ immediacy and visceral impact stems from MacDonald’s preference for that perspective.

The real Germans made those two attacks against Dom. Bütgenbach and left it at that for December 20th; mine was a little more exciting. For instance, here’s what I saw as the sun rose.

Overnight, at least a battalion snuck around the north end of 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry. The two tracks through the woods north of Schoppen have been pretty heavily traveled. Besides the mortar platoon between them, there’s armor on the eastern one, and I suspect there are more fallschirmjäger on the western one.

3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry never made it through Bütgenbach; they’re still there bulking up. I end up spending most of the day in putting out fires and trying to secure the area behind my main line at Dom. Bütgenbach. Artillery fire and stout defense ends up pushing the paratroopers away toward the eastern approach to Bütgenbach.

All is not well, though. Overnight, I had to dispatch B and C Companies, 26th Infantry to help out at Schoppen, and without that outpost, a few German units have swung around to the west. On the eastern track through the forest, the armor I knew was there has revealed itself, and Task Force Davisson is in a bit of a tight spot—engaged heavily enough that it can’t extricate itself to form a better defensive line. Fortunately, earlier in the day, the 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment arrived, and it’s en route to take up a position between Task Force Davisson and 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry at Dom. Bütgenbach.

The artillery, rather than firing in support of the defense of Dom. Bütgenbach, has been firing to help clear out my supply lines, and I’ve lost a few hundred meters there over the course of the day—E Company, after a heroic stand at the patches of forest between the lines, had to retire toward Dom. Bütgenbach.

My frantic efforts throughout the day have paid off a little: Task Force Davisson, exhausted after two and a half days of fighting, has taken up a defensive position to the west, where it’ll be a little quieter, I hope. 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry has reached its defensive positions, and is trying a probing attack into the woods. The paratroopers south of Bütgenbach have been replaced by SS units of some kind; probably Panzergrenadiers and maybe some tanks. The infantry in Bütgenbach are well-supplied with bazookas, though, and between that and the tank detachments in the town, I’m not too concerned. Once the Panthers show themselves, they ought to be relatively easy pickings.

The Germans are still sneaking around the north end of the lines north of Dom. Bütgenbach, but I can’t get 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry free of Bütgenbach to take up blocking positions there, and Task Force Davisson, my go-to unit for running all over the map, badly needs a few hours of rest tonight.

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