20 December, 2011

20 December 1944

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
Germany
20 December, 1944       0855

My dearest darling –

I was lying in bed last night trying to get to sleep and as always, dear, I was thinking of you. For some reason or other you seemed clearer to me in my vision of you and that was a real treat. Even a picture seems so inadequate, darling, and the Lord knows I look at yours every hour of the day. I don’t know exactly why – but I see you most often just inside your doorway looking out at me. And then I see myself coming thru the doorway, taking you into my arms and hugging you tightly – but quickly – with a quick glance towards the street to see if anyone is watching. That’s the way it was, wasn’t it, dear? It’s a long time ago – but it seems to me that was the way it went. Another thing I think about a great deal is where you’ll be when I get back. I mean what the circumstances will be; Where will we land, where will people be able to meet us – where will you be when I hit town? One of the things I don’t think about is whether I’ll take a quick glance back to see if anyone is watching when I take you in my arms once again and hug and kiss you and well – hug and kiss you, dear.


Am I being premature, sweetheart? I suppose so – but it's so damned easy and pleasant to think about – you can’t exactly blame me. Of course – I still think as intently as before about what comes after that – our plans for marriage and getting set in Salem, but the more time goes by – the more I think about the minute details – such as how we’ll act the first few hours I’m home, how much I can be alone with you the first few days to talk over a million and one things. What a thrill, darling, when all that finally comes! It seems so damned far off – but after a year – I guess we’re enured enough to take it no matter how long it will be. One thing I’m aware of is that I don’t tell you often enough how much I appreciate your ability to take all this and still keep a stiff upper lip through it all. Whether I mention it or not, sweetheart – always know that I’ll be forever thankful for your fine spirit and courage – both of which have helped me more than I can say, dear.

Gosh I almost forgot to thank you for a second package I received from you, darling. I had forgotten that you had written you had sent two and it came as a complete surprise. It came in perfect condition and the contents were well chosen, I thought. I haven’t opened any of the cans as yet – but I’m looking forward to it, I’ll tell you. Our diet is good here – but of course it can’t include such delicacies as saltines, anchovies and sardines – and every now and then of an evening we get a bit hungry for something unusual. That will fill the bill excellently. Thanks again – dear.

In one of your letters you mentioned something about postcards etc and saving them and that reminds me of something awful. I had 4 more rolls of film taken since we hit Germany and I sent them in to a Belgian city to have them developed. Everyone has been doing it. But one day – G2 of Corps or Army came thru town, visited all the photo shops and confiscated all films on hand. Boy was I and am I still mad! But there’s not a damned thing I can do about it. They’re just gone and that’s all. I had some swell pictures too – although I couldn’t have sent them all to you right now for they included pictures of parts of the Siegfried Line etc. Well – I’ve got plenty more rolls and I’ll just keep taking pictures and holding on to them until war’s end.

Well – darling – I started this early to get ahead of sick call and I’ve done pretty well so far. Right now I’ve got several patients waiting for me – so I’ll have to stop. Be well, dear and take good care of yourself for me. My love to the folks and for now – so long.

My everlasting love, dear –
Greg

* TIDBIT *

about The Siege of Bastogne

[CLICK TO ENLARGE]


The goal of the German offensive was the harbor at Antwerp. In order to reach it before the Allies could regroup and bring their superior air power to bear, German mechanized forces had to seize the roadways through eastern Belgium. Because all seven main roads in the Ardennes mountain range converged on the small town of Bastogne, control of its crossroads was vital to the German attack. Bastogne was defended mainly by the 28th Infantry Division, which had seen continuous fighting from 22 July-19 November, before being assigned to this relatively quiet area. The Allies believed only an infantry division was present opposite the 28th Infantry, and they believed any attack along this sector would be limited in scale.

The commander of the 5th Panzer Army gave the XLVII Panzer Corps the responsibility of capturing Bastogne, before crossing the Meuse near Namur. The plan was to attack a 7 mi (11 km) front with three divisions: the 26th Volksgrenadier and the Second Panzer would lead the assault, with the Panzer-Lehr-Division behind them. Opposing this significant force were two battalions of the 110th Infantry Regiment (the third was held back as a division reserve), responsible for a 9 mi (14 km) front along the Our River.

The Allied forces were gathered into small groups at major villages, with outposts along the river manned only during the daytime. With forces too thin to maintain an even battle line, they focused on the four roads that crossed the Our River. Due to heavy rain preceding the German attack, only the northernmost road, which crossed the Our at Dasburg on its way to Clerf and Bastogne, was in good enough condition to be used as a crossing point. The 2nd Panzer Division crossed the river along this road, while the 26th Volksgrenadier Division constructed a bridge near Gemünd for its crossing. The Panzer-Lehr Division pushed forward toward Bastogne as soon as the other troops had crossed the Clerf River.

On the evening of 15 December, the 26th Volksgrenadier established an outpost line on the west bank of the Our. The German artillery began bombarding the American positions, knocking out telephone lines, as the infantry started to advance. The Germans attacked swiftly, their advances made possible by sheer weight of numbers. German engineers completed bridges over the Our before dark on the 16th, and armor began moving to the front, adding to the Germans' vast numerical superiority. Still, the Germans were significantly delayed by the American defenders — their plan to cross the Clerf River by nightfall on the first day was delayed by two days.

By the end of the second day of battle, it became apparent that the 28th Infantry was near collapse. Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton, commander of VIII Corps, ordered part of his armored reserve, Combat Command B (CCB) of the 10th Armored Division (United States) to Bastogne. Meanwhile, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered forward the SHAEF reserve, composed of the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne at Reims. These veteran troops had served with distinction since the parachute drops in Normandy and were resting and re-equipping after two months of combat in the Netherlands. The 82nd—longer in reserve and thus better re-equipped—moved out first. The 101st left Camp Mourmelon on the afternoon of 18 December, with the order of march the division artillery, division trains, 501st, 506th and 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), and 327th Glider Infantry.

The 101st Airborne was routed to Bastogne, located 107 mi (172 km) away on a 1,463 ft (446 m) high plateau, while the 82nd Airborne took up positions farther north to block the critical advance of Kampfgruppe Peiper toward Werbomont. The 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion was ordered to Bastogne to provide anti-tank support to the armorless 101st Airborne on the 18th and arrived late the next evening. The first elements of the 501st PIR entered the division assembly area 4 mi (6.4 km) west of Bastogne shortly after midnight of 19 December, and by 09:00 the entire division had arrived.

Approaching Bastogne
20 December 1944

On 19–20 December, the 1st Battalion of the 506th PIR was ordered to support Team Desobry (Maj. William R. Desobry), a battalion-sized tank-infantry task force of the 10th Armored Division assigned to defend Noville, north-northeast of both Foy and Bastogne just 4.36 mi (7.02 km) away. With just four M18 Hellcat tank destroyers of the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion to assist, the paratroopers attacked units of the 2nd Panzerdivision, whose mission was to proceed via Monaville (just northwest of Bastogne) to seize a key highway and capture, among other objectives, fuel dumps necessary for the Germans to continue moving on their counter-offensive. This action destroyed at least 30 German tanks and inflicted 500 to 1,000 casualties on the attacking forces in what amounted to a spoiling attack.

The heavy losses inflicted by the tank-destroyers induced the German commander into believing the village was being held by a much stronger force and he recoiled from further attacks on the village, delaying the German advance and setting the stage for the Siege of Bastogne just to the south by giving the 101st Airborne Division enough time to organize defenses around the city. By the time the 1st Battalion pulled out of Noville on the 20th, the village of Foy, half-way to Bastogne center, had been captured from the 3rd Battalion by a separate attack, forcing the 1st Battalion to then fight its way through Foy. By the time 1st Battalion made it to the safety of American lines, it had lost 13 officers and 199 enlisted men, out of about 600 troops, and was assigned as the division reserve. Team Desobry lost a quarter of its troops and was reduced to just four medium tanks when it passed through the lines of 3rd Battalion.

The 101st Airborne formed an all-round perimeter using the 502nd PIR on the northwest shoulder to block the 2nd Panzerdivision, the 506th PIR to block entry from Noville, the 501st PIR defending the eastern approach, and the 327th GIR scattered from Marvie in the southeast to Champs in the west along the southern perimeter, augmented by engineer and artillery units plugging gaps in the line. The division service area to the west of Bastogne had been raided the first night, causing the loss of almost its entire medical company, and numerous service troops were used as infantry to reinforce the thin lines. CCB of the 10th Armored Division, severely weakened by losses in delaying the Germans, formed a mobile "fire brigade" of 40 light and medium tanks. Three artillery battalions—including the all-black 969th Field Artillery Battalion—were commandeered and formed a temporary artillery group. Each had twelve 155 mm (6.1 in) howitzers, providing the division with heavy firepower in all directions restricted only by its limited ammunition supply. Colonel Roberts, commanding CCB, also rounded up more than 600 stragglers from the rout of VIII Corps and formed Team SNAFU as a further stopgap force.

As a result of the powerful American defense to the north and east, the XLVII Panzer Corps commander decided to encircle Bastogne and strike from the south and southwest, beginning the night of 20/21 December. German Panzer reconnaissance units had initial success, nearly overrunning the American artillery positions southwest of Bastogne before being stopped by a makeshift force. All seven highways leading to Bastogne were cut by German forces by noon of 21 December, and by nightfall the conglomeration of airborne and armored infantry forces were recognized by both sides as being surrounded.

The siege was on.

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