From Bastogne to Vielsalm

The last part

We continue our tour towards Vielsalm. First stop is Manhay
and through some villages ride into Vielsalm.

After our visit to Grandmenil we continue our journey to Manhay.

Crossroad Grandmenil heading to Manhay, Then and Now

Manhay was an important crossroad which was the target for the 2th SS Panzer. This unit moved on December 24 from Odeigne to Manhay. One unit of the 1130th Regiment tried to enter Freyneux from the north, but was thrown back by the American Task Force Kane. Another group made a move through Lamormenil, but also to no avail because of the American defence. Meanwhile Task Force Brewster was waiting at the crossroad of Manhay. Opposite of them came the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade who were determent to take Regné, coming down on N 89 from Salmchâteau. They opened the way with their panzers for the 4th Panzer Grenadier. Their job was to free the western sector at Fraiture from the 2nd Battalion of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. The 325th GIR took up a new position that run from Trois-Pont to Manhay. There was support south of Manhay from the 3rd Armored and the 7th Armored Division. In the night of 24-25th December Germans lay in hiding beneath a clear dark sky before they would commence their attack. At the front of the German column drove a so called Judas Geit Sherman tank. Their job was to confuse the Americans. In some cases they succeeded in a very dramatic way. Units of the 7th Armored were careless and let the Germans come too close which cost them dearly when Germans destroyed in a fast sweep a couple of American Shermans.

Manhay, Then and Now

The American troops retreated fast to the north and Manhay was taken by the Germans. American tanks drove northwards searching for a safe place. Everywhere were Germans popping out of hiding to put leading tanks out of action. Roads became blocked with vehicles. American commanders ordered the stricken tanks crews down the columns to leave their tanks behind and to move by foot to reach friendly lines.

Manhay, to the right a destroyed Sherman, left a German Panther up side down

But help was on the way when CCB of the 30th Division came down from La Gleize. Task Force McGeorge arrived that same afternoon west of Granmenil. This Task Force was preparing an attack, when suddenly eleven P-38 Lightning fighter-bombers of 430 Squadron dived in for an air strike. Task Force McGeorge was mistaken for German troops and in this disastrous assault 39 members were killed. But even this ‘friendly fire’ did not stop CCB the planned attack on Granmenil at 20.00 hours that same evening. But the German defence held the Americans of. Most important, the Americans managed that the German were slowed down in their effort to breakout to the river Maas. Every time 3. Panzer Grenadiers were trying to breakout to the west or south, they were relentless bombarded by the fighter-bombers and artillery. Also, the fighting around the crossroad of Manhay was going up and down

An M36 Jackson, 3rd Armored Division near Malempré
(3 km south of Manhay)

The fighting on December 26 at Granmenil and Manhay was draining the German 2. SS Panzer Division of strength. The reinforcements were delayed because the roads were cramped with vehicles, running and broken down. Not to mention the constant threat from the sky. 4. Panzer Grenadier tried an outbreak from the woods east of Manhay. But this failed when they run into troops of the 82nd Airborne Division at Tri-le-Cheslaing. An encirclement of the village failed because one Sherman tank managed to hold them off.

General Ridgeway sent a fresh unit, the 3rd Battalion, 517th PIR of the 82nd to Manhay. In the morning of December 27 these troops fought their way into Manhay. To remove the Germans from this village, it cost the paratroopers 10 death and 14 wounded.

Propaganda for the 82nd Airborne Division in the 1970’s

Despite the thin defence of the 82nd over a stretched front (it was one division against three German divisions), the Germans could not make a breakthrough.

To Vielsalm

In the night of December 24 and 25, A and B Company of the 508th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division were deployed near the destroyed bridge at Vielsalm. When the Germans had ‘repaired’ the bridge during that night, an artillery barrage rained down on the 508th followed by the attack of the German 19. Regiment. 508th was forced to pull back to Odrimont. Later that night, the German 19. Regiment attacked Villettes and Erria, but here the attackers were stopped when two artillery battalions came into action. The counter attack by the 3rd Battalion at the German line at Erria and Villettes was a success. Later, a body count of more than 100 killed Germans were made.

The Sherman at Vielsalm

At the road (N 675) towards Recht (via Poteau), a Sherman with a 76mm gun stands a monument for the 7th Armored Division who fought between December 17 and 23 a brave battle to keep St.Vith free from Germans. The actions by the 7th Armored was important so that the American forces could strengthen their defence west of St.Vith.

South of Vielsalm lies the village of Bihain next to the N89. As you may notice in the pictures below, in more than sixty years hardly anything has changed.

Bihain, Then and Now

How it all ended, 'The Sad Sack Affair'

On December 28 the German 6. Panzer Armee made a last attempt for a breakthrough in the area around Sadzot (500 yards south of Briscol on the road between Erezee en Granmenil). The 12. SS Panzer deployed the 25. Panzer Grenadier with units of the 2. SS Panzer. During the dark night parts of the 25.Panzer Grenadiers managed to slip through a hole in the defence of the 289th and to enter Sadzot. General Hickey at once deployed the 509th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division into the area. They made an encirclement around Sadzot. The Germans tried with artillery to stop the troopers advance, but because of communication failure, the shells were dropped between their own troops. When daylight emerged the 509th PIR deployed their own artillery. At 11.00 hours it was over and the door was closed around Sadzot. But their still remained a hole in the line and it was not until the end of the day that the last fighting died down. It was the final act by the German attackers. Field Marshall Model ordered Sepp Dietrich to go from attack to defence. But it gave the Germans no respite or rest. From January 3 1945, the American divisions squeezed from the north and south to nip the bulge near Houffalize (see start of this tour).

The Panther in Houffalize

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