Battle of Elsenborn Ridge

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Battle of Elsenborn Ridge
Part of World War II, Battle of the Bulge
US Gun Position on Elsenborn Ridge.jpg
Discarded artillery shell casings litter a U.S. Artillery position on Elsenborn Ridge.
Date 16 – 26 December 1944
Location The Ardennes
50°26′47″N 6°15′51″E / 50.44639°N 6.26417°E / 50.44639; 6.26417Coordinates: 50°26′47″N 6°15′51″E / 50.44639°N 6.26417°E / 50.44639; 6.26417
Result American victory
Belligerents
 United States  Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
United States Omar N. Bradley
United States Walter E. Lauer
United States Walter M. Robertson
Nazi Germany Sepp Dietrich
Nazi Germany Hugo Kraas
Units involved
1st Infantry Division
2nd Infantry Division
9th Infantry Division
99th Infantry Division
12th SS Panzer Division
3rd Panzergrenadier Division
277th Volksgenadier Division
12th Volksgrenadier Division
246th Volksgrenadier Division
Strength
28,000 men 56,000 men
Casualties and losses
5,000 men killed or missing 114 tanks and vehicles,
Unknown, but high personnel losses
Map depicting the northern shoulder of the Battle of the Bulge, or Ardennes Offensive, in which the German Sixth Panzer Army attacked the United States' 99th Infantry Division, but could not dislodge them. The 99th Division's effective defense of the sector prevented the Germans from accessing the valuable road network and considerably slowed their timetable, allowing the Allies to bring up additional reinforcements.

The Battle of Elsenborn Ridge was the only sector of the American front lines during the Battle of the Bulge where the Germans failed to advance.[1] The battle centered on the Elsenborn Ridge east of Elsenborn, Belgium in the Ardennes forest. West of Elsenborn Ridge, near the cities of Liège and Spa, Belgium, was a vast array of Allied supplies and the road network leading to the Meuse River and Antwerp. The Germans planned on using two key rollbahns or routes through the area to seize Antwerp and force a separate peace with the United States and Britain. [2] Capturing Monschau and the nearby village of Höfen, and the twin villages of Rocherath-Krinkelt just east of Elsenborn Ridge, were key to the success of the German plans, and Hitler committed his best armored units and infantry troops to the area, including the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend.

The green, untested troops of the 99th Infantry Division had been placed in the sector during mid-November because the Allies thought it was an area unlikely to see battle. Their soldiers were stretched thin over a 22-mile front, and all three regiments were on line, with no reserve. In early December, the 2nd Infantry Division was assigned to capture a vital crossroads marked by a customs house and a forester’s lodge named Wahlerscheid, at the southern tip of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. They transitioned through the 99th division's lines and after a deadly, costly battle, capturing the crossroads. But the Germans counterattacked in what the Americans initially thought was a localized spoiling action, but was actually a leading element of the Battle of the Bulge. The 2nd ID consolidated their lines, pulling back into Hünningen, and then to the twin villages of Rocherath-Krinkelt, and finally at the dug-in positions held by the 99th ID at Elsenborn Ridge.

In a fierce battle lasting 10 days, the American and German lines were often confused. During the first three days, the battle was for the twin villages of Rocherath-Krinkelt, during which American G.I.s were at times isolated in individual buildings surrounded by German armor. Attacking Elsenborn Ridge itself, the Germans, although superior in numbers, were stopped by the Americans' well-prepared and deeply dug-in defensive positions. The German attack plans were not well coordinated and frustrated by the rugged terrain, built-up areas around the twin villages, and massed American artillery firepower positioned behind Elsenborn ridge. U.S. artillery batteries repeatedly pounded the German advance. While the Germans employed an effective combined arms tactic and penetrated the U.S. lines several times, the Americans called in indirect fire on their own positions, pushing the Germans back. U.S. reserve forces consisting of clerks and headquarters personnel were rushed in at one point to reinforce the 395th Infantry Regiment's lines. Although the Germans possessed superior armor, they were held in check by the innovative American tactics including better communication, coordinated time on target artillery strikes, new proximity fuses for artillery shells, and superior air power.

The Sixth Panzer Army was unable to break through and advance to its immediate objectives on the Meuse River. The stubborn American resistance forced Kampfgruppe Peiper to choose an alternative route well south of Monschau and Elsenborn Ridge. As a result, the German forces were strung out over miles of winding, single-track roads, unable to concentrate their armored units. Peiper's units were repeatedly stymied by U.S. Army Engineers, who blew essential bridges along their route of advance. One column of roughly 40 tanks and support vehicles was destroyed on 17 December when they were discovered by an L4 air observer of the 62nd AFA Bn, assigned to the 102nd Cavalry Group. They were attacked by the 62nd's 105 howitzers mounted on M7 SP's, Corps 155's and Army 240's.[3] The Panzers finally reached the Ambleve River, only about halfway to the Meuse River, but could not advance when they ran out of fuel. Food and ammunition also ran low. After 10 days, the German forces had been reduced to an ineffective strength and withdrew. The Americans had about 5,000 casualties; while exact German losses are not known, they included significant amounts of armor. While the Americans had considerable supplies and enough troops to re-equip their forces, German losses couldn't be replaced.

Lead up to the Battle of the Bulge[edit]

Monschau lay on the very northernmost sector of the German offensive. Capturing it, the nearby town of Höfen, and the twin villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath were critical to the success of the German offensive because of the road network that lay to their west. The Germans had planned a seven-day campaign to seize Antwerp, and they were counting on the road system to the west of Monschau and Elsenborn Ridge to help them achieve that objective. The Battle of Elsenborn Ridge became a decisive component of the Battle of the Bulge when the U.S. Army was able to stop and deflect the strongest armored units of the German advance.[4] Portions of both sides' forces had little battle experience, and both employed newer, more lethal weapons and tactics. This gave the battle a brutal intensity and impact, resulting in high casualties and traumatic memories and experiences for the participants.[5]

From Monschau highways led north and south, and east and west. A key road led directly northeast 27 kilometres (17 mi) to Eupen where the V Corps headquarters was located. That same road continued on 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) further to Liege where General Courtney Hodges maintained the First Army Headquarters. On December 16 the only combat unit guarding the highway to Eupen was the 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.[5]

German plans in the north[edit]

Walter Model, Gerd von Rundstedt and Hans Krebs plan for the Ardennes Offensive (Battle of the Bulge) in November 1944.

"We gamble everything!" were the words used by Gerd von Rundstedt, commander-in-chief of the German Western Front,[6] to describe Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein ("Watch on the Rhine"). Adolf Hitler first officially outlined his surprise counter-offensive to his astonished generals on September 16, 1944. The assault's goal was to pierce the thinly held lines of the U.S. First Army between Monschau and Wasserbillig with Army Group B (Model), cross the Meuse between Liège and Dinant, and seize Antwerp and the western bank of the Schelde estuary.[7] The Germans had designated four rollbahns or routes through the sector near Elsenborn which would give them direct access to the road network leading to the valuable port of Antwerp, splitting the allied American and British armies. Hitler believed the attack would inflame rivalries between the Americans and the British.[8] He felt certain the two countries would negotiate a peace as a result. His generals tried to persuade him to set a less ambitious goal, but he was adamant.[9]:216 As they had done in 1914 and 1940, they planned to attack through the Losheim Gap in Belgium.

German units and plans[edit]

The German's original plan for the Wacht Am Rhein Offensive called for the LXVII Armeekorps to capture the area north and south of Monschau.

Adolf Hitler personally selected for the counter-offensive on the northern shoulder of the western front the best troops available and officers he trusted. The lead role in the attack was given to Sepp Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army, while the 5th Panzer Army was to attack to their south, covering their flank.The 6th Panzer Army was given priority for supply and equipment and were assigned the shortest route to the ultimate objective of the offensive, Antwerp.[10] The 6th Panzer Army included the elite of the Waffen-SS, including four Panzer divisions and five infantry divisions in three corps.[11][12] Hitler personally designated a group of 70 short tons (64 t), 128mm Jagdtiger tank destroyers from the 653rd Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion to assist with the attack, although their rail transport was held up by American air attacks.[13]

The German troops holding the region around Monschau were part of the LXVII Armeekorps led by General der Infanterie Otto Hitzfeld. They had been placed under the command of the Sixth Panzer Army in preparation for Wacht Am Rhein. The LXVII Armeekorps sector covered about 32 kilometres (20 mi), from a point just south of Vossenack 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) northeast of Monschau, to a point southeast of Camp d’Elsenborn in the south. Although it occupied a critical junction, Field Marshal Walter Model forbid German artillery from firing on the resort village of Monschau, known for its ancient timbered buildings and a site for honeymooners and artists.[13]

The Sixth Panzer Army was set to attack in two waves. The first wave included the LXVII Corps and the newly organized 272nd Volksgrenadier and 326th Volksgrenadier Divisions. Also part of the attack the I SS Panzer Corps, with the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and 12th SS Panzer Division, the 12th Volksgrenadier Division and 277th Volksgrenadier Division, and the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division. The 150th Special Brigade and a parachute contingent would seize terrain and bridges ahead of the main body after the two corps broke through the American defenses.

Dietrich planned to commit his third corps, the II SS Panzer Corps, with the 2d and 9th SS Panzer Divisions, in the second wave. The Sixth Panzer Army's 1,000-plus artillery pieces and 90 Tiger tanks made it the strongest force deployed. Although Dietrich's initial sector frontage was only 23 miles, his assault concentrated on less than half that ground. Relying on at least a 6:1 troop superiority at the breakthrough points, he expected to overwhelm the Americans and reach the Meuse River by nightfall of the third day.[14]

According to Dietrich's plan, the LXVII Corps would secure the Sixth Panzer Army's northern flank. By sidestepping Monschau to seize the poorly roaded, forested hills and upland moors of the Hohe Venn, the LXVII's two divisions would block the main roads leading into the breakthrough area from the north and east. Simultaneously, the I SS Panzer Corps to the south would use its three infantry divisions to punch holes in the American line and swing northwesterly to join the left flank of the LXVII Corps. Together, the five divisions would form a solid shoulder, behind which the panzers of the I and II SS Panzer Corps would advance along the Sixth Panzer Army's routes leading west and northwest.[14]

The plan also included Operation Stößer, a paratrooper drop deep behind the American lines in the High Fens at the Baraque Michel crossroads 7 miles (11 km) north of Malmedy. The drop was set for 03:00 on 17 December and they were to hold the crossroads for 24 hours until the arrival of the 12th SS Panzer Division.

The LXVII Armeekorps was composed of the 326th and the 246th Volksgrenadier Division. The 326th was designated to take the area north and south of Monschau, which Field Marshal Walter Model had directed should be spared destruction. The 246th was tasked with taking Höfen and Monschau and nearby villages and then driving northwest to seize the Eupen road.[9] The Germans hoped to preserve their armor by attacking the American lines with infantry, followed up by the armor.[15]

The I SS Panzer Korps included the 1st SS Panzer Division and the 12th SS Panzer Division. The 1st had been formed from Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard regiment. It had the primary responsibility for breaking through the Allied lines and reaching the Meuse River and then Antwerp, Belgium. Major General Engel’s 12th SS Panzer Division was composed of junior officers and enlisted men who had been drawn from members of the Hitler Youth, while its senior NCOs and officers were generally veterans of the Eastern Front. The I SS Panzer Korp was given the critical role of breaking through two east-west roads in the northern sector of the Ardennes, code-named Rollbahn C and D.[9]:216

The II SS Panzer Corps was to be held in reserve. Once I SS Panzer had broken the American lines, the II SS Panzer Division would exploit the opening. Among the thirty-eight Waffen-SS divisions, it was an elite Waffen-SS unit, including the 9th SS Panzer Division, an armored division formed of 18-year-old German conscripts led by a cadre of experienced staff from the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Only minor units of the II SS Panzer Corps were involved in the initial assault and the rest of the corps was committed to major action near St. Vith on 21 December 1944. When the northern assault stalled, the corps was transferred south to help take Bastogne, where it suffered heavy losses.[9]:216

The armoured units were preceded in the attack by troops, including the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division. The 277th Volksgrenadier (Infantry) division was given the vital role of pushing the Americans out of the twin villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath in the north. This would allow the 12th SS Panzer to attack west over Rollbahn C. To the south, the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division and the 12th Volksgrenadier Division were in charge of opening the way to Rollbahn D for Kampfgruppe SS Standartenführer Joachim Peiper's 1st SS Panzer Division.[9]:216

Initial Allied positions[edit]

Vehicles of the 99th Division moving through Wirtzfeld en route to Elsenborn.

The American defenders around Elsenborn had six weeks to prepare their defensive positions, but they were covering a very large area closely following the International Highway from near Monschau, Germany, south nearly 19 miles (31 km) to Losheimergraben, Belgium, with meager forces. There were insufficient troops to prepare defensive positions along the entire line, and some gaps in the line were only patrolled.

Monschau to Höfen

In early November, the 102d Cavalry Group and the 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, about 900 troops each, attached to the 102nd Cavalry Group, were assigned to defend the front lines to the north of Elsenborn Ridge from Monschau to Höfen, Germany. The 38th Cavalry was responsible for about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) of the front lines from Monschau to Höfen. Some of the 38th Cavalry Squadron's positions lay within about 200 yards (180 m) from the German bunkers on the Siegfried Line. Stretched thin, they had no reserves.

Hofen to Büllingen

To the south of the 38th Cavalery, the 99th ID held a line stretching 35 kilometres (22 mi) stretching from Höfen, Germany, to Losheimergraben, Belgium, in the south. The 99th Division and its three regiments, the 393rd, 394th, and the 395th, had not yet fired their weapons in battle. They were arrayed in towns and villages to the east and south of Elsenborn Ridge.[16] Next to the 38th Cavalery, the similarly-sized 3rd Battalion, 395th Infantry, 99th Infantry Division, occupied a 1,000 yards (910 m) front on the eastern side of the village of Hofen.

With such a long front to watch over, Maj. Gen. Walter E. Lauer found it necessary to place all three regiments on line. The 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 395th Infantry Regiment in the north, about 600 front-line infantry men, held a position about 6,000 yards (5,500 m) long and had no units in reserve.[17] The infantry at Höfen lay in a long line of foxholes along a 910 metres (2,990 ft) front on the eastern side of the village, backed up by dug-in support positions. These would later prove instrumental in defending themselves from the attacking Germans and in protecting themselves when their own artillery fired on or just in front of their own positions, which happened at least six times over the next few weeks.[17]

The 99th ID used the relative quiet of the front to prepare an extensive defensive system, including redundant lines of communication, precise positioning of weapons to provide interlocking grazing fire, and aggressive patrols that kept the Germans off guard. They also carefully integrated artillery support that was planned and registered on likely targets based on the squadron's obstacles and likely enemy approaches.[5]

The 393rd Regiment held the center and the 394th watched over the south. The lines of the 394th were more than 800 metres (2,600 ft) from the German lines. Each regiment was responsible for protecting approximately 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) of front, roughly equivalent to one front-line infantry man every 91 metres (299 ft).[17] There were many gaps in the line. Lt. Col. McClernand Butler, commanding officer of the 395th, later wrote:

A camouflaged pillbox in the forest served as a regimental command post.

Butler held a single platoon of 40 men from Company L in reserve. In the event of an emergency, the battalion headquarters and company administrative personnel, including clerks and motor-pool staff, were to join the platoon, creating a small reserve force of about 100 men. If the Germans penetrated Höfen, the U.S. soldiers would have to withdraw several miles to the next defensible position.[19]

On December 14, the veteran soldiers of Company A, 612th Tank Destroyer Battalion, dispersed its twelve towed 3-inch guns throughout the defensive system of Butler's Regiment around Höfen. They prepared firing positions against any forces approaching the road network and the village of Rohren, northeast of Höfen, which lay in the path of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division's planned line of attack towards Wahlerscheid and from which they anticipated a counterattack. The guns were sited well forward and covered in sheets as camouflage and for protection against the falling snow. The cannons could fire both high-explosive anti-personnel and armor-piercing shells.[16]

By mid-December, the troops were well dug in and had wired their positions with trip flares and barbed wire. The weather was unusually calm and bone-chilling cold. Between 19 December 1944 and 31 January 1945, the average maximum temperature on the front lines in Europe was 33.5 °F. (0.83 °C.), and the average minimum temperature 22.6 °F. (-5.2 °C.).[20]

Battle of Heartbreak Crossroads[edit]

The Battle of Heartbreak Crossroads, part of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest and the attempt to capture the Roer River dams, was fought at a vital crossroads near a forester's cabin named Wehlerscheid, astride the West Wall that ran along the Hoefen-Alzen and Dreiborn ridges, about 5.6 miles (9.0 km) north of Krinkelt-Rocherath.[21]:610 In early December, the U.S. V Corps trucked the experienced 2nd Infantry Division from positions it had held in the south to Krinkelt-Rocherath, twin villages near the southern tip of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. On the eastern side of the West Wall was an excellent road network leading to the Roer River dams a few miles to the northeast and the Allies' next goal. The Americans were assigned with capturing the crossroads with the goal of destroying the dams, or failing that, force the Germans to blow them up.[22] The dams were important to the Germans because they could be used defensively to control the flow and depth of the Roer River, blocking and delaying Allied advances.[23]

German attack[edit]

The spearhead of the attack, SS Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich’s German Sixth Panzer Army, was led by Kampfgruppe SS Standartenführer Joachim Peiper's 1st SS Panzer Division consisting of 4,800 men and 600 vehicles, including 117 tanks, 149 half-tracks, 18 105mm artillery, 6 150mm artillery, and 30 anti-aircraft weapons. His unit was assigned responsibility for the key route on the northern part of the offensive, attacking roughly along the line of the Albert Canal from Aachen to Antwerp. The iron fist of the northern assault was the I SS Panzer Corps, composed of two SS Panzer divisions, and supporting units. 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 west.[24]

German main line of advance[edit]

On the morning of December 16, a snowstorm blanketed the forests and the temperature dipped to 10 °F (−12 °C).[25] The attack opened with a massive artillery bombardment along a 100 miles (160 km) wide front just before 5:30 AM Saturday, December 16, 1944. The advance was also supported by an array of searchlights that lit up the clouds like moonlight allowing the inexperienced German infantry to find their way. These clouds and the snowstorms to follow would prevent intervention in the battle by superior Allied air forces. When the Germans began their barrage that morning, U.S. commanders initially believed that the German attack was a retaliatory assault in response to the American threat to the north at the Wahlerscheid crossroads.[26]

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. Intelligence that reached them was spotty and contradictory. 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.

Fighting for Höfen[edit]

The 3rd Battalion, 395th was positioned about 5 miles (8.0 km) to the north of Elsenborn Ridge near the towns of Höfen and Monschau. From 0525 to 0530 on 16 December, the battalion's positions "in and around Höfen received a heavy barrage of artillery and rockets covering our entire front line."[18]:173 The enemy artillery, Werfers, and mortars fire cut all land-line communication channels between the front-line units and headquarters. Only some radio communications between front line and the heavy weapons company remained intact.

Twenty minutes after the barrage was lifted, at 0555, German infantry from the 753rd Volksgrenadier Regiment, Heeresgruppe B, attacked the 395th in the dark in strength along five different points. The Volksgrenadier were new units formed within the German army in the fall of 1944. 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 196th 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 0650. The 395th initially pushed the Germans back with machine guns, small arms, mortar fire, and hand-to-hand combat. Without any significant armor support, the 395th stopped the German advance cold. U.S. artillery had registered the forward positions of the U.S. infantry and rained fire on the exposed advancing Germans while the U.S. soldiers remained in their covered foxholes. It was the only sector of the American front line on the Battle of the Bulge where the Germans failed to advance.[1]

By 07:45, the Germans withdrew, except for a group of the 753rd Volksgrenadier Regiment who penetrated the Battalion's center. They were soon repulsed. Just after noon, at 1235, the Germans launched their attack again, and they were pushed back by artillery and mortar fire. The result of the first day of what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge were 104 Germans dead "in an area 50 yards (46 m) yards in front of our lines to 100 yards (91 m) behind the line, and another 160 wounded counted in front of battalion lines."[18]:173 The 3rd Battalion lost four killed, seven wounded, and four missing. "We learned from a German Lieutenant prisoner of war that the enemy's mission was to take Höfen at all costs."[18]:173 The northern shoulder of the counterattack was the key to three of the German Sixth Panzer Army, commanded by Oberstgruppenführer der Waffen-SS Josef ("Sepp") Dietrich. 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 395th Regiment realized that the day's action was part of a much larger offensive.[27] At one point in the middle of the next night, a German company commander marched his company of about 200 men up to a house that he thought was unoccupied, and next to a ditch in which an infantryman with a BAR was dug in.

Withdrawal from Wahlerscheid[edit]

Fortunately for the defense of Elsenborn ridge, Gerow, the commander of the American 5th Corps recognized the magnitude of the attack. He ordered the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division to stop its attack toward Wahlerscheid and pull back to the high ground of Elsenborn Ridge.[29]:221 Robertson, Commander of the 2nd Division, was skillful enough to make this difficult maneuver, and consolidate a defense line that held the line before the ridge.

During the night of the 16th and dawn of the 17th, General Walter Melville Robertson, Commander of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, consolidated his and other forces that had only a day before captured the vital crossroads at Wahlerscheid. To the east of Rocherath and Krinkelt, the Germans had made a deep penetration and were liable at any moment to come bursting out of the forest. The U.S. had to hold the twin villages to allow the 2nd ID with its heavy weapons and vehicles to reach positions around Elsenborn intact. The 99th Division had already put its last reserve into the battle. The 2nd ID with the attached 395th were left to defend the endangered sector of the corridor south.Cole, Hugh M. (1964), "The German Northern Shoulder Is Jammed", The Ardennes:Battle of the Bulge, Office of the Chief of Military History Department of the Army 

The 9th Infantry Regiment pulled back to another crossroads in the forest at Baracken, about 5 miles (8.0 km) to the south of the cross roads at Wahlerscheid.[30] The other units moved south through the area near the twin villages. Robertson 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. Another important contribution was that of Colonel Oscar A. Axelson, who released the proximity fuse for immediate use by the artillery, despite its secret status. This technical edge made U.S. artillery much more effective than it would have been. From the standpoint of leadership though, the fact that General Robertson was willing to undertake the responsibility of holding the line, and stand that line himself seemed to tip the balance of victory on Elsenborn Ridge.

Battle of Lanzerath Ridge[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Battle of Lanzerath Ridge.

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 394th 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 20-year old lieutenant Lyle Bouck Jr., inflicted 93 casualties on the Germans during a 20-hour-long fight at a key intersection southeast of Krinkelt-Rocherath. They seriously disrupted the entire German German Sixth Panzer Army schedule of attack along the northern edge of the offensive.[31] The entire platoon was recognized with a Presidential Unit Citation, and every member of the platoon was decorated, making it the most highly decorated platoon of World War II.[31]

Attack on Krinkelt-Rocherath[edit]

American soldiers of Company G, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, U.S. First Army, take refuge in doorways during mortar barrage laid down by Germans after Yanks seized one of their forest strongholds camouflaged as a two-story residence.

The German 277th Volksgrenadier Division responsible for capturing Krinkelt-Rocherath 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. Rocherath to the north and Krinkelt to the south share the same main street.

The German plan of advance included Rollbahn A passing through a crossroad in the center of Rocherath and Rollbahn B skirting the southern edge of Krinkelt and continuing on toward Wirtzfeld. The German's first objective was to break through the defending line of the inexperienced U.S. 99th Infantry Division and positions of battle-hardened 2nd Infantry Division. Once they cleared the Americans from the twin villages, they needed to seize Elsenborn Ridge so they could control the roads to the south and west and ensure supply to the German troops.[23]

The 277th overran the forward U.S. positions guarding the trails to the villages, but their attack swiftly bogged down against the heavy small arms and machine gun fire from prepared positions of the American 99th Infantry Division on their flanks.

At Krinkelt, T/5 Sgt Vernon McGarity wounded by the early morning artillery barrage. After his wound was treated, he refused to be evacuated and returned to his squad. He and his squad repulsed four German tanks and their supporting infantry, and McGarity repeatedly braved direct fire to secure ammunition and rescue wounded soldiers. McGarity and his squad held the German forces back for a full day and were only captured on the morning of 17 December when they ran out of ammunition.[32] The German forces also drew a rapid response from U.S. artillery, who had registered the forward positions of their infantry. The artillery rained fire on the exposed advancing Germans while the U.S. troops remained in their covered foxholes.

The main drive against Elsenborn Ridge was launched in the forests east of the twin villages on the early morning of 17 December. This attack was begun by tank and Panzergrenadier units of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. By 11:00, this attack had driven units of the U.S. 99th Infantry Division back into the area of the twin villages. These units were joined by forces of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division moving into the villages from the north. Tanks from the U.S. 741st Tank Battalion supported the withdrawal but were quickly destroyed by German Panther tanks advancing with the Panzergrenadiers. The U.S. withdrawal was hastened by an increasing shortage of ammunition. Fortunately for the defense, three tank destroyers of the U.S. 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion arrived with a good supply of bazookas and anti-tank mines. These reinforcements were put to good use when the 12th SS Panzer Division launched a powerful tank and infantry attack on the twin villages.[33] The U.S. forces responded with a powerful artillery barrage supported by mortar fire, bazooka rockets, and anti-tank mines that repelled the German attack by midnight.[34] The German attack failed to clear a line of advance for the 12th SS.

12th Volksgrenadier troops strip boots and other equipment from the bodies of three dead U.S. soldiers at the crossroads at Honsfeld, west of Losheimergraben.
Same crossroads as above, photo taken from different angle to show Losheimergraben junction.

Field Marshal Model and Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt that Elsenborn ridge be captured and the advance of Sixth Panzer Army resume had been pouring down the chain of command into 12th SS Panzer Headquarters.[35] General Hermann Priess, commander of the 1st SS Panzer Corps, ordered Waffen-SS Obersturmbannführer Hugo Kraas, Commander of the 12th SS Panzer division, to take command of all forces facing Elsenborn ridge, and capture it.[36]

On 19 December, on the third day of the offensive, a group of about 100 Germans opened a wedge in the American lines about 100 yards (91 m) by 400 yards (370 m) and seized four stone buildings in the village of Höfen. The American's direct rifle and mortar fire failed to dislodge them from the buildings they occupied. The 612th 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.S. extreme left flank was repulsed by artillery and rifle fire. 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.[18]:173

Troops cross an open field near Krinkelt.

At 17:30 on December 19, the 393rd and 394th Infantry Regiments of the 99th withdrew from their positions around the Baracken crossroads, just north of the twin towns of Krinkelt and Rocherath, and retreated along a boggy trail about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) toward Elsenborn Ridge. American lines collapsed on either side of the Regiment. "We were sticking out like a finger there", Butler said.[28] Increasingly isolated, the unit was running low on ammunition. A resourceful platoon leader found an abandoned German ammo dump. "We stopped the tail end of that push with guns and ammunition taken off the German dead", Butler said.[28]

Fighting over twin villages[edit]

Captured teenage youth from the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Jugend".

On 18 December, German infantry and armor resumed their attack on the twin villages. They were supported by the German 560th Heavy Antitank Battalion equipped with the state-of-the-art Jagdpanther tank destroyer.[37] The Jagdpanther was armed with the 88mm cannon and the German leadership expected it to be the decisive element of the battle. The battle opened on the morning of the 18th with both sides targeting the village area with repeated artillery strikes, and German armored vehicles advanced into the twin villages. All that day and night, the battle raged, with SS tank and assault guns hitting the villages from the east, supported by a barrage of Nebelwerfer rockets. These forces were met in turn by a hailstorm of U.S. heavy artillery shells with proximity fuses and the Sherman tanks of the U.S. 741st Tank Battalion advancing from the north.

The narrow streets of the town made effective maneuver difficult. Bazooka rounds fired from rooftops and artillery air bursts caused by proximity fuses created a lethal rain of splinters. Unable to plow swiftly through the rubble to the open country of the ridge line, the SS Panzer armor was stopped by artillery, anti-tank rockets, and mines. In this maelstrom of death neither side was inclined to take prisoners, and the losses on both sides were catastrophic.[38] During the German attack, Sgt. Jose M. Lopez, single-handily manned a heavy machine gun. Falling back several times, he ignored enemy tank fire and falling artillery rounds, he killed more than 100 enemy infantry attempting to flank his unit, allowing them to successfully withdraw.[39] By the time the fight for the villages ended, six U.S. troops had earned the Medal of Honor: Sgt. Lopez, Sgt. Richard Cowan, Pvt. Truman Kimbro, Vernon McGarity, and two others.

U.S. withdrawal to Elsenborn Ridge[edit]

While this action raged, troops from the U.S. 1st Infantry Division and 9th Infantry Divisions moved into position to fortify Elsenborn Ridge. During the day on 19 December all forces abandoned the rubble of the twin villages, and General Robertson ordered the American forces to withdraw to defensive positions along the ridge line. Troops from the 99th Infantry Division also used this time to withdraw to Elsenborn ridge and fortify positions on it. They found it required dynamite to blow holes in the frozen ground.[40]:258 On the German side it was decided to shift the main axis of the attack to the south. On the dawn of the 19th, a new armored attack by the 12th SS Panzer Division, and supported by infantry of the 12th Volksgrenadier Division, was launched on the position of Domäne Bütgenbach, south east of Bütgenbach, to expose the right, or south end, of the Elsenborn Ridge defense line.[41]

Operation Stößer fails[edit]

Main article: Operation Stösser

The German's Operation Stößer to use paratroopers to seize a key crossroads behind the American lines leading to Antwerp, led by Oberst Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte, was a complete failure. The inexperienced German pilots dropped the paratroopers over the German rear lines, over Bonn, and a few hundred in widely scattered locations behind the American lines. It was the German paratroopers' only nighttime drop during World War II. Most of the paratroops had little training. Of the 112 Ju 52 transport planes that took off with around 1,300 Fallschirmjäger, some landed with their troops still on board.[42]:161 Strong winds deflected many paratroopers whose planes were relatively close to the intended drop zone and made their landings far rougher. Only a fraction of the force landed near the intended drop zone. Since many of the German paratroopers were very inexperienced, some were crippled upon impact and died where they fell. Some of their bodies were found the following spring as the snow melted.[43]:218

The mis-drops led to considerable confusion among the Americans, as Fallschirmjäger were reported all over the Ardennes, and the Allies believed a major division-sized jump had taken place. The Americans allocated men to secure the rear instead of facing the main German thrust at the front.[44]:88 By noon on 17 December, von der Heydte's unit had scouted the woods and rounded up a total of around 300 troops. With only enough ammunition for a single fight, the force was too small to take the crossroads on its own.[44]:89

Allied artillery response[edit]

American Heavy Artillery, 240 mm (9.5 inch) Howitzer, one of the "Black Dragons".

This attack also was met by a deluge of American artillery and anti-tank gun fire from units of the American 1st Infantry Division, as was a second attack on the 20th. This attack was supported by an attack by the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division, hitting the left or north side of Elsenborn ridge. This attack was made against 99th Infantry Division troops with the attack coming from the Schwalm Creek valley.[45] All these attacks were repelled with heavy losses.

On 21 December, the 12th SS Division made an even heavier attack, but the U.S. 613th Tank destroyer Battalion equipped with the M36 tank destroyer stopped that attack also. On 22 December the Germans attack on the right of Elsenborn ridge for the last time this was also smothered by heavy American artillery fire, which fired 10,000 rounds in one day. The U.S. Army Air Forces made a spectacular return to the skies of the ridge on 23 December, along with the support of a heavy artillery battery of M1 howitzers. The defenders cheered wildly at the return of clearer weather and much heavier support.[40]:323 On 26 December, the 246th Volksgrenadier Division made a final, forlorn, attack on the Elsenborn ridge against units of the U.S. 99th Infantry Division. This attack by more infantry conscripts was mowed down by artillery fire virtually at the moment of its start. The vast artillery concentration of an entire American army corps made the Elsenborn Ridge position virtually unassailable.[46]

Malmedy massacre[edit]

A GI surveys the scene of the Malmedy massacre. The victims' bodies were preserved under the snow until Allied forces recaptured the area in January 1945.

The high ground of Elsenborn Ridge and two of the three roads to Antwerp remained solidly within American fortified defense zones.[4][29]

Unable to dislodge the Americans from Elsenborn Ridge, Kampfgruppe Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division were forced to choose the more difficult rollbahn D to the south in its drive west to the Meuse River.[47] When Peiper was assigned the alternative route, he examined the narrow, at times unpaved route on a map, and exclaimed that it was "suitable not for tanks but for bicycles!"[48] At 07:00 on 17 December, his unit seized a US fuel depot at Büllingen, where it paused to refuel before continuing westward.

At 12:30, near the hamlet of Baugnez, on the height halfway between the town of Malmedy and Ligneuville, Peiper's Kampfgruppe encountered a convoy of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, US 7th Armoured Division.[49][50] After a brief battle the Americans surrendered. Along with some other Americans captured earlier (127 men total), they were disarmed and sent to stand in a field near the crossroads, where the Germans shot them en masse with machine guns and pistols.[51] Of the 84 men killed, 41 were killed by a pistol shot to the head at close range and six were killed by having their skulls bashed in.[52] After feigning death in the field for a couple of hours while the Germans moved among them shooting survivors, a group of about 30 men escaped.[53] There is no record of an SS officer giving an execution order,[54] but such shootings of prisoners of war were common by both the Germans and the Soviets on the Eastern Front.[55] Researchers Michael Reynolds and Danny S. Parker believe that Peiper or one of his subordinates made the deliberate decision to kill the prisoners, as the Kampfgruppe was under orders to proceed with maximum speed towards Meuse and could not spare the manpower or the time to tend to prisoners of war.[56] News of the killings raced through the Allied lines.[57] Captured SS soldiers who were part of Kampfgruppe Peiper were tried during the Malmedy massacre trial following the war for this massacre and several others in the area. Many of the perpetrators were sentenced to hang, but the sentences were commuted. Peiper himself was imprisoned for eleven years for his role in the killings.[56]

Germans halt their advance[edit]

Memorial to the Wereth 11

Peiper entered Stavelot on 18 December but encountered fierce resistance from the American defenders. Unable to defeat them, he left a smaller support force in town and headed for the bridge at Trois-Ponts with the bulk of his strength, but by the time he reached it, retreating US engineers had already destroyed it. Peiper pulled off and headed for the village of La Gleize and from there on to Stoumont. There, as Peiper approached, engineers blew up the bridge, the American troops were entrenched and ready. Peiper's men were cut off from the main German force and supplies when the Americans recaptured the poorly defended Stavelot on 19 December. As their situation in Stoumont was becoming hopeless, Peiper decided to pull back to La Gleize where he set up his defences, waiting for the German relief force. Since no such force was able to penetrate the Allied line, Peiper decided to break through back to the German lines on 23 December. The men of the Kampfgruppe were forced to abandon their vehicles and heavy equipment, although most of the men were able to escape.

The poor road network required the Germans to advance on a single, narrow road. Their forces were plagued by overcrowding, flanking attacks, blown bridges, and lack of fuel.[29]:463 The Germans were unable to repeat the rapid advances they achieved in 1940, when General Heinz Guderian’s panzers swept from the Ardennes to the English Channel, virtually unopposed.[58]:115

At sunrise on December 27, 1944, Sepp Dietrich and his 6th Panzer Army were in a difficult situation.[59] The 12th SS Panzer Division, 3rd Panzergrenadier Division, and its supporting Volksgrenadier divisions had beaten themselves into a state of uselessness against the heavily fortified American positions on Elsenborn Ridge.[4] Out of fuel and blocked by blown bridges they could not cross, Peiper ordered the approximately 800 remaining soldiers to abandon their vehicles and infiltrate through the American lines back into Germany.

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.[60] Despite more rapid advances, and inflicting more losses on the Americans, the 5th Panzer Army also bogged down before crossing the Meuse.[61]:340 Isolated, but strong pockets of resistance, traffic jams, supply problems, and American air power eventually stopped this arm of the offensive also.[29]:463

Impact of the battle[edit]

Today's monuments to the battles in the "Twin Villages" of Rocherath-Krinkelt.

The organized retreat of the U.S. 2nd and 99th Divisions to the Elsenborn Ridge line and their subsequent stubborn defensive action blocked the 6th Panzer Army's access to key roads in northern Belgium that they were counting on to reach Antwerp. It was the only sector of the American front line on the Battle of the Bulge where the Germans failed to advance.[1] Historian John S.D. Eisenhower noted, "...the action of the 2nd and 99th divisions on the northern shoulder could be considered the most decisive of the Ardennes campaign."[29]:224

In the area to the west of Elsenborn, the First Army had established its command post surrounded on every side by service installations, supply dumps, and depots. Liège, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Spa, was the location of one of the largest American supply centers in Europe. Only 11 miles (18 km) from Spa lay Verviers, an important and densely stocked railhead. Had the Germans been able to capture any portion of these supplies, the outcome of the battle might have been much different.[citation needed]

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. The U.S. Army's 2nd and 99th Infantry divisions later revealed their losses, while only the German's armored fighting vehicles losses are accounted for.[4]

Disproportionate German casualties[edit]

The casualties inflicted by the 395th Infantry Regiment, 99th Division, on the Germans are reflected by the disproportionate numbers of dead and wounded. The 395th 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.[62] The accurate fire from the twelve 3-inch guns of A Company, 612th Tank Destroyer Battalion, was instrumental in keeping German tanks from advancing. During the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, the 3rd Battalion took 19 prisoners and killed an estimated 200 Germans. Accurate estimates of German wounded were not possible, but about 20 percent of the 326th Volksgrenadier Division were lost. The 395th's casualties were extremely light: four dead, seven wounded, and four men missing.[63]:vii :51

On another day, the 3rd Battalion took 50 Germans prisoner and killed or wounded more than 800 Germans, losing only five dead and seven wounded themselves.[28] On more than one occasion, BAR gunners allowed German troops to walk within feet of their positions before opening fire, with the objective of increasing the odds of killing the attacking Germans. "In two cases, the enemy fell in the BAR gunners' foxholes."[18]:173 On at least six occasions they called in artillery strikes on or directly in front of their own positions.[64]

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.[26]

The 99th as a whole, outnumbered five to one, inflicted casualties that devastated the attacking Volksgrenadier formations. The 99th lost about 20% of its effective strength, including 465 killed and 2,524 evacuated due to wounds, injuries, fatigue, or trench foot. 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.[17]

Media attention[edit]

The 2nd, 395th, and the 99th Infantry Divisions defending Elsenborn Ridge, along with the 1st Division to the south and the 78th Division in the north, were the only Allied units that completely stopped the German's main axis of advance during the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans were denied access to three of five planned routes of advance across their northern sector of the battle and required to significantly alter their plans, considerably slowing their advance in the north. This success allowed the Americans to maintain the freedom to effectively maneuver across the north flank of the German's line of advance and continually limit the success of the German offensive.[23]

But other actions during the Battle of the Bulge received much greater attention from the press. This was due in part because during early December 1944, Bastogne was a rest and recreation area for many war correspondents. The rapid advance by the German forces that resulted in the town being surrounded, the spectacular resupply operations via parachute and glider, along with the fast action of General Patton’s Third U.S. Army, all captured the public's imagination and were featured in newspaper articles and on radio. But there were no correspondents in the area of Saint-Vith, Elsenborn or Monschau.[65] The static, stubborn resistance of troops in the north, who refused to yield their ground in the cold snow and freezing rain despite the heavy German attacks, didn't get a casual observer excited. The image of supply troops trying to bring and ammunition and cold food, crawling through mud and snow, to front-line troops dug into frozen foxholes around Montjoie, Elseborn and Butgenbach was not exciting news.[66]

After the war, Baron Hasso von Manteuffel, Commanding General of the Fifth Panzer Army, wrote that the German counteroffensive " "failed because our right flank near Monschau ran its head against a wall."[67]

The Battle of the ‘Bulge’ was not fought solely in Bastogne. Here in the northern sector of the Ardennes, elements of tragedy, heroism and self-sacrifice exerted a great influence upon the result of German intentions. Battles are won in the hearts of men, not only by the combinations of fire and movement, but also by working together. Teamwork is decisive, as was shown in the northern part of the Ardennes.[68]

General Courtney Hodges, Commanding General of the First U.S. Army, wrote the commanding general of the Indianhead Division, "What the Second Infantry Division has done in the last four days will live forever in the history of the United States Army."[11]

Weapons and tactics[edit]

German combined arms[edit]

American halftrack and infantry near Bütgenbach

The force and mobility of the attack depended on the commitment of Germany’s latest weapons and armored fighting vehicles. At the beginning of World War II, the German army had led the world in mechanized warfare tactics, overwhelming enemies repeatedly with their rapid blitzkrieg attack. Late in the war, the Germans had developed a number of advanced armored vehicles and they planned to use them to beat the Americans, despite not having won a major offensive battle against them since the Kasserine Pass in early 1943. These vehicles were armed with the most powerful weapons used in the course of the war. The Tiger II, Panther tank and Jagdpanther were armed with newer high velocity cannon, the 8.8 cm KwK 43 L/71 cannon, and the 7.5 cm KwK 42. Due to their flat trajectory and greater armor penetration and the fact that thicker armor was used to shield them, German tanks enjoyed a definite superiority to any American vehicle in use. These units were supported by new Volks-Werfer Brigades, artillery units firing masses of 150 mm and 300 mm rockets. Although lacking in accuracy, a barrage from these units could cover greater areas with more high explosive. For more infantry firepower, SS panzergrenadiers were equipped with the new Sturmgewehr 44 (assault rifle model 1944). This was the world’s first assault rifle and more advanced than any other military rifle in the world. Another addition to the firepower of the German infantry was the Panzerfaust 100, an improved short range anti-tank rocket grenade that could penetrate any armor fielded by the American army.[69]:154–61 Despite their superiority, the advanced German armor were fewer in number and often experienced breakdowns.

German infantry in half-tracked armored personnel carrier

German tactics for the offensive involved an initial intense artillery barrage, followed by an immediate infantry attack by the Volksgrenadier divisions supported with light assault guns like the Sturmgeschütz IV. 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.S. armies. 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 1940. 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.[61]:334, 340 Hitler however failed to consider the constricted, winding, often unpaved roads of the northern Ardennes.[70] The Sixth Panzer Army's assigned rollbahn included narrow, in many places single-track, roads which would force units of the Kampfgruppe to tail each other for several miles, preventing them from concentrating their force which was their most effective use.[71]

American innovations and tactics[edit]

Aiming the 4.2 inch mortar with a direct sight. An excellent weapon for close support with a respectable range due to its rifled tube.

On the American side, the defense depended on field fortifications, and innovative use of light anti-tank weapons like the bazooka and anti-tank mines and the support of a formidable array of indirect fire. American tanks and anti-tank guns were considered ineffective against the newer German fighting vehicles. This was compensated to some extent by use of the 76 mm (76.2 mm) M1A1 gun, designated as the 3-inch cannon, mounted on the Sherman tank and the M18 Hellcat tank destroyer. The British had also designed high velocity anti-armor ammunition for the 57mm anti-tank cannon, which gave this gun a new lease on life against the new heavier German units. American gunners were quick to trade for whatever their allies wanted for this highly effective ammunition.[72] The Americans also adapted the 90mm anti-aircraft gun as an anti-tank cannon, the 90mm cannon, and mounted it on an open turret on the Sherman tank as the M36 Jackson tank-destroyer. This was another innovation effective against German heavy tanks.[73]:167

Since the invasion of Europe, the American army had suffered greater than expected losses, and found slashing German armored counter-attacks particularly difficult.[69]:11 Learning from this, overall American tactics began to include a defense in depth, using mobile armored cavalry squadrons with light tanks and anti-tank guns to screen defensive positions behind them. When attacked, these cavalry units would delay the Germans for a short time, then retreat through stronger positions to their rear. These positions consisted of fortifications set around terrain choke points like villages, passes, and bridges. In the area of Elsenborn Ridge, the twin villages and the area of Domäne Bütgenbach proved to be the best areas for defense. Machine gun and infantry positions would be protected by barbed wire and mine fields. Anti-tank mine "daisy chains" were also prepared. These were composed of a line of mines lashed in a row. This chain of mines would be dragged across a road with a rope when a column of German tanks threatened to advance down the road. This defensive line would be backed by bazooka positions in buildings, dug-in anti-tank guns, and tank destroyers firing from covered positions further in the rear.[69]:20–1

As German mobile units stacked up against these defenses, the Americans would call into play their superior communications and artillery tactics like "time on target", a sequence of firing so that all shells impacted on the target simultaneously, to rain specially fused shells upon them with indirect fire. This allowed vast arrays of artillery pieces, distant from the battle to concentrate unprecedented firepower on concentrations of German attacking units. This defense would also involve abundant tactical air support, usually by P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bombers. These "flying tanks" were armed with air to surface rockets which were very effective against the thinly armored upper decks of German armored vehicles. The snowstorms of December forestalled this dimension of the defense. The U.S. Army was also lavishly supplied with the self-propelled artillery, aircraft, and the ammunition it took to make these firepower based tactics successful. If effectively employed and coordinated, these attacks negated the advantage of superior German armor and armored tactics, although at a cost paid by the U.S. infantry, for saturation indirect fire tended to destroy both friend and foe alike.[74]

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  73. ^ Crismon, Fred W. (1992). U.S. Military Tracked Vehicles. Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers. ISBN 0-87938-672-X. 
  74. ^ MacDonald 1985, p. 396.

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