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Battle Of The Bulge

702nd Tank Battalion, Red Devils

 

Just before Christmas, 1944, in attacking the southern flank of the German Ardennes Offensive, commonly called "The Bulge", because it resembled a bulge of the front lines on the map, the 702nd Tank Battalion Red Devils lost many tanks in combat, while costing the Germans many tanks, men and equipment.  Thanks to a Historian friend in Luxembourg, we have the following photos of Red Devil and German tanks that were knocked out in battle.  These photos were shot by Luxembourg civilians during the war, before the wrecks were hauled away to the scrap-metal yards of Europe to be melted down.  Thanks to the good people of Luxembourg, we now have a record of something only remembered by a few people who still live.  Soon, even they will be gone, and no other record will exist of what happened 64 years ago.

 

After reaching Luxembourg City, the 80th Division moved north to engage the enemy.  Since part of the 318th Infantry Regiment had been attached to the 4th Armored Division for the relief of Bastogne, and to rescue the 101st Airborne Division, who was encircled there by German forces, the remainder of the 318th was short-handed.  To the 318th, fell the task of capturing and holding the road-net at Etllebruck.  B Company, 702nd Tank Battalion played a vital role in holding that sector.  The 319th Infantry Regiment with C Company, 702nd Tank Battalion was sent up the left flank towards Heiderscheid.  The 317th Infantry Regiment with A Company, 702nd Tank Battalion supporting, went nearly due north through the valley leading to Welscheid, Scheidel and Kehmen.

 

Area of operations for the 317th Infantry advance

 

"December 24th , at Neiderfeulen. 'A' Company [702nd Tank Battalion Red Devils] was attached to the Second Battalion, 317th Infantry and was told they were to attack and try to take the town of Scheidel. The Third Platoon with four tanks attacked at 4:00 A.M., through the woods. All four tanks were lost when the terrain became impossible for tanks to continue. One tank was knocked out by bazooka fire.  On the 25th the company was attached to the Third Battalion and was to attack the town of Kehmen. The town was not taken when the American infantry couldn't advance under the heavy German fire. After this action, the company went into a defensive position with the infantry, on the hill above Kehmen. The attack was resumed in the morning, with no further success. Two tanks made the edge of town, but ran out of ammunition. The company returned to their defensive position, and remained there, except for two days for the rest of the month. They were relieved by 'B' Company on those days and performed some much needed maintenance."

 

 

From the "D" Company [702nd Tank Battalion's Light M-5 tanks] Diary: 23 December;

 

"1st Platoon: Moved out of Mersch at 2:00pm, with "A" Company in an attack. This was our first night attack, and we didn't fare so well. Four "A" Company tanks were lost because of the driver's inability to see the deep ravine in his way. The crews were not injured.

 

2nd Platoon: Got up around 3:00am, had chow of hot pancakes. It was raining and snowing out. Platoon Sergeant was shot in the ankle when we proceeded to Mersch, where we picked up the infantry. We then proceeded to attack the area.  Enroute, the column got lost and confusion reigned.  After an hour's delay, the column moved on toward the objective of Ettlebruck.  We received enemy fire approximately one mile from the objective.  The infantry deployed, but were pinned down by small arms fire.  Tanks could not deploy due to the hilly terrain.  A direct fire weapon was encountered, which knocked out Sgt. LaFortune's 42 ton tank [This was one of the so-called "Jumbo" Sherman tanks.]  LaFortune was seriously injured [He later died of his wounds].  A heavy weapon started firing on the column's flank. "Bull" [The transcriber of "D" Company's Diary, Milton Still, believes that "Bull" refers to Capt. Grimm, "D" Company's Commander.  However, this Writer believes that this is in reference to 1st Lt. Wm. B. "Bull" Miller, Commanding Officer of "B" Company, of which 2nd Platoon was attached.] gave lights (tanks) permission to pull back.  Lights went up a small trail with a platoon of tank destroyers.  Our doughboys were encountered on the trail.  The Heinies tried to make an encircling movement, but were caught by our infantry.  The enemy lost heavily.  Lt. Zoril captured six prisoners here.  "Bull" called the platoon back around 4:00pm.  We stayed at a small farm.  Here we experienced our first "screaming meemies (nebelwerfers).  The "Bog", "Bull" gave us, was wounded when a direct hit was made on the roof of the barn.  It was a grazing wound, not serious.  We were given the next day's operation [plans].

 

3rd Platoon (1st Section): At 6:00am, we moved out again to clean out the town of Mertzig.  This time we, and the infantry did a good job.  During the night, our infantry had slept next door to the Heinies.  There were some anti-tank guns in town, but our boys had machine guns covering the roads, likewise, the enemy had our boys so they couldn't move forward.  The medium tanks moved forward, and did some nice work with their 75's [75mm tank cannon].  They really go off when they let loose on a building.  A building used to store ammunition was set ablaze, and there really were some fireworks.  There were about five houses ablaze in the village.  There were 213 prisoners taken this morning, five of them officers.  The enemy was preparing to move out when we came up.  Horses were hitched to the guns, and ready to roll.  There were plenty of dead Heinies left in the town.  Some of those captured were wearing American uniforms.  We reorganized in Mertzig and proceeded to Oberfeulen, which was in our hands.  We then headed north to Heiderscheid.  Around 4:00pm, "K" and "L" Companies of the 319th Infantry, plus mediums, lights, and tank destroyers set out to take the town of Tadler.  There was no resistance taking the town. It was quite dark when the tanks moved in.  We stayed there that night.  All meals were skipped this date, as we had no time to do any cooking.  We did find a crock of eggs in Mertzig, and we carried them with us.

 

3rd Platoon (2nd Section): The second section was to give support to an infantry company, who were to take the town of Kehmen.  Number 14 tank threw a track, which kept the lights (tanks) out of action for awhile.  Meantime, the infantry tried to go up Heide Hill, but were fired on from the northeast.  The tank destroyers pulled up and knocked out three enemy tanks.  The mediums reached the hill and ran into eight enemy tanks.  The 735th Tank Battalion was called upon for help, and they sent ten men to replace Lt. Schroeder's three tanks.  Lt. Schroeder then supported the infantry in Kehmen.  Tracks on the lights were fixed by 4:00pm, and they rejoined the mediums in Kehmen."

 

The US Approach to Welscheid.  The red dot near the bottom represents a German Stug III that was knocked out.  The two blue dots just above that, represent one A Company tank and one tank destroyer that were lost.  The dot to the left is the A Company tank, a new Jumbo model with the 76mm High Velocity cannon.  This tank was knocked out from a German 88mm Armor Piercing round fired from the German artillery emplacements northeast of Welscheid.  The light red curved line northeast of Welscheid represents the line of German artillery emplacements.  The blue line shows approximately the 317th Infantry and 702nd Tank Battalion A Company line of approach.

 

This map shows the hill south of Welscheid where four A Company tanks went off the cliff sliding in ice & snow, when they became separated from their infantry road-guides.  The four blue dots are where the tanks ended up.  The town of Welscheid, is highlighted in red, as are the German artillery position on the bluff overlooking Welscheid to the northeast, and another German position due north of the town.

 

This photo shows the area that the Americans approached from, moving towards Welscheid.  This photo was shot from the position where the German artillery was located on the hill northeast of Welscheid.  The road visible in the distance, just left of top-center is the road the Americans came up.  The wooded hill in the center of the photo is the hill that the tanks slid off of.  From this vantage point, the approaching Americans were completely within the German gunners' sights, and it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel!  The German artillery position was later taken out in a bombing raid by US fighter-bombers. From the eye-witness account of Virgil Myers, Co. G, 317th Infantry:

 

"G Co. was in that ruckus on the night of Dec. 23rd-24th when the four tanks went over the steep incline. We were told we were to secure the road junction at the bottom of the valley to keep the Germans from transporting supplies on to the area of Bastogne. We started out about midnight from our positions south of Welscheid, going around the hill to where we were to go down the mountain to the valley. It was about between 1 and 2 in the morning when we left the top of the hill to go down to the valley. We had been told the Tiger (tank) patrol had been in the valley in the afternoon and there were no Germans there. So we thought it was to be a walk in the dark. As we went through the hedgerow following the tanks, (we thought they were T.D.'s in the dark) the tanks began to slide down the steep hill like bobsleds in the 8 or so inches of snow. You could hear the trees snapping off as the tanks hit the frozen trees like ice-cicles. We couldn't keep up with the tanks as they slid down the steep hill. One turned over part way down the incline but the other three got to the bottom. They were trying to right themselves to go on down, and by that time we were behind them. At the bottom of the hill, it looked as there was a building, and from there, the Germans started firing their Panzerfausts, and knocked all three tanks out in one minute, and started firing on we GIs who were following the tanks. We saw men getting out of the tanks and by that time Capt. Damkowitz, the Co. Commander of G Co. was screaming. "We are in an ambush, an ambush! Back up the hill, back up the hill!" We started on that mission with 149 men that night and when Capt. Mike told us to count our men at about 5 am, we had 59 left after we pulled back to the top of the hill. We lost 90 men there. 32 were captured but they were found alive just east of Ettlebruck. That night has been a mystery to me for all these years for I couldn't find anything in our records to verify what happened that night. I thought I was nuts and maybe had my dates mixed up. Capt. Mike told 1st Sgt. Percy Smith and me, about a week after that night, that the maps everyone was using for that mission were over 50 years old and showed that the terrain was a gradual slope down to the valley. Instead it turned out to be a very steep hill. For when we tried to climb back during the attack we had to climb back on our hands and knees because the hill was so steep we couldn't climb it standing up. That was a nightmare of a mission; one that I can't forget. -Virgil Myers G. Co- 317 Regt."

 

 

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