Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Battling Bastards of Bastogne

Greetings, Programs:

73 years ago yesterday on December 16th, 1944, at 0530 (German Time, or about 2330 EST the night before on 15 December) the Germans launched the first winter offensive by the Germans since Fredric the Great through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg, towards the end of World War II. Nobody, virtually, nobody thought that this could be done.  The surprise attack caught the Allied forces completely off guard. American forces bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war.
(Most quotes are from

My Uncle Bill, SSgt William L. Leach in the 82nd Airborne, was in London at the time of the offensive and had to march to Bastogne (or ride if he got lucky) in winter with little preparation and not much in the way of winter uniforms.  I found out most of this after he died. Some of this is covered in the movie "Band of Brothers" that focuses on the 101st Airborne but the "Battling Bastards of Bastogne" were all in it together.  Also it is covered in detail in the movie "Patton" with some high degree of accuracy - Patton really did have his men prepare three different plans of attack before the meeting with Eisenhower and the other generals so that he and his men could move 90 degrees in the dead of winter with no hot food, no sleep and engage the enemy in a major battle to relieve the men at Bastogne by Christmas.  (Patton actually got there a day later than he planned but considering everything that winter and the lack of supplies threw at him, he did a helluva of a job!)

Anyway, back to the story - the following paragraph is a direct quote from the Wikipedia account of the 19 December meeting of the General Staff meeting of Allied Command: "Gen. Eisenhower, realizing that the Allies could destroy German forces much more easily when they were out in the open and on the offensive than if they were on the defensive, told his generals, "The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster. There will be only cheerful faces at this table." Patton, realizing what Eisenhower implied, responded, "Hell, let's have the guts to let the bastards go all the way to Paris. Then, we'll really cut 'em off and chew 'em up." Eisenhower, after saying he was not that optimistic, asked Patton how long it would take to turn his Third Army, located in northeastern France, north to counterattack. To the disbelief of the other generals present, Patton replied that he could attack with two divisions within 48 hours. Unknown to the other officers present, before he left Patton had ordered his staff to prepare three contingency plans for a northward turn in at least corps strength. By the time Eisenhower asked him how long it would take, the movement was already underway.[94] On 20 December, Eisenhower removed the First and Ninth U.S. Armies from Gen. Bradley's 12th Army Group and placed them under Montgomery's 21st Army Group.[95]"

At 0200 Christmas morning, CCB marched thirty miles west to the 4th Armored Division's left flank. At 0700 the 37th jumped off from Bercheaux and swiftly took Bauxles-Rosieres, Nives and Remoiville. At dawn on 26 December 1944, the 37th struck again, taking Remichampagne, and then seizing the high ground near Chochiment, only three miles from Bastogne. Announcing the plan to relieve the surrounded 101st Airborne Division, LTC (Lt. Col) Abrams (After whom the Abrams tank is now named), commanding the 37th, made the undramatic statement, "We're going in to those people now."[3] The lead vehicle in that attack was a Sherman tank nicknamed "Cobra King"[4] and commanded by 1st Lt. Charles Boggess Jr., of Greenville, Illinois. Boggess was the commanding officer of Company C, 37th Tank Battalion. There were but eight other tanks in Company C when the "move out" order came, but at 1515 hours all nine sets of sprockets turned, leading the 37th northward to the embattled 101st Airborne Division.  Remember, most of this was done without HQ "approval" except with coordination with General Patton who told them "GO!".

If you have not seen the movie "Patton", watch it soon.  The part about Bastogne alone is worth the whole two-hour movie.  Highly accurate and thoroughly to the point of showing the military genius of General George S. Patton.  The point is, that winter offensive by the Germans damned near worked.  If Bastogne has fallen, it would have split the Allied forces and, possibly, would have given the Nazis some much-needed gasoline and/or diesel from several captured depots.  The combination of the clearing weather, American P-47 Thunderbolts, The Battling Bastards of Bastogne with General Anthony McAuliffe, General George S. Patton and the 3rd Army, and the British XXX Corps in the North combined to finally stop the assault.  Otherwise, it is quite possible that all of us would be speaking German as our native tongue today.

Be grateful this Hannukah and/or Christmas.


1 comment:

James Owen said...

Just checking on comments