FIRST UNITED STATES ARMY
006/71 (AGM) 24 December 1944
TO : Corps, Division and Separate Unit Commanders
The following message from the President will be disseminated to military personnel within your command exclusive of ill and wounded:
"TO: The men and women of the Armed Forces:
On behalf of a grateful nation, I send to the men and women of our Armed Forces everywhere warm and confident good wishes this fourth Christmas of war. On Christmas Day more than on any other day, we remember you with pride and with humility; with anguish and with joy. We shall keep on remembering you all the days of our lives. It is, therefore, with solemn pride that I salute those who stand in the forefront of the struggle to bring back to a suffering world the way of life symbolized by the spirit of Christmas.
R. S. MOURSE
The morning of 23 December had broken clear and cold. "Visibility unlimited," the air-control posts happily reported all the way from the United Kingdom to the foxholes on the Ardennes front. To most of the American soldiery this would be a red-letter day-long remembered-because of the bombers and fighter-bombers once more streaming overhead like shoals of silver minnows in the bright winter sun, their sharply etched contrails making a wake behind them in the cold air.
In Bastogne, however, all eyes looked for the squat planes of the Troop Carrier Command. About 0900 a Pathfinder team dropped inside the perimeter and set up the apparatus to guide the C-47's over a drop zone between Senonchamps and Bastogne. The first of the carriers dropped its six parapacks at 1150, and in little more than four hours 241 planes had been vectored to Bastogne. Each plane carried some twelve hundred pounds, but not all reached the drop zone nor did all the parapacks fall where the Americans could recover them. Nevertheless this day's drop lessened the pinch-as the records of the 101st gratefully acknowledge.
Airdrop to Resupply Bastogne
The airdrop on the 23d brought a dividend for the troops defending Bastogne. The cargo planes were all overwatched by fighters who, their protective mission accomplished, turned to hammer the Germans in the Bastogne ring. During the day eighty-two P-47's lashed out at this enemy with general-purpose and fragmentation bombs, napalm, and machine gun fire. The 101st reported to Middleton, whose staff was handling these air strikes for the division, that "air and artillery is having a field day around Bastogne."
The German attack on the 23d was mounted by the 26th Volks Grenadier Division and the attached regiment left behind by Panzer Lehr. Lacking the men and tanks for an assault around the entire perimeter, General Kokott elected to continue the fight at Senonchamps while attacking in two sectors diametrically opposite each other, the Marvie area in the southeast and the Flamierge area in the northwest. The Germans were becoming desperate.
On both sides of the line daylight of the 24th was spent in regrouping, punctuated with heavy gusts of artillery and mortar fire whenever the opponent showed signs of movement. Once again, however, a beautiful flying day gave the Americans an edge. P-47 's belonging to the 512th, 513th, and 514th Squadrons of the XIX Tactical Air Command worked around the Bastogne perimeter. At one point, the bombing was so close to the airborne lines that the 101st sent frantic word to the VIII Corps asking that the flight leader be told to call off the mission.
Early in the afternoon the VIII Corps relayed a message from General Patton and the Third Army: "Xmas Eve present coming up. Hold on." But there were more tangible items to lessen the nostalgia and depression of the surrounded garrison on Christmas Eve. The second day of air resupply had been "a tremendous morale booster" - so reported CCB and most of the regiments. Allied air activity on the 24th had heartened the men on the ground. When night fell they could see the fires left as aftermath of the fighter-bomber strikes blazing all the way round the perimeter. Less obtrusive but of considerable impact was the confidence that the commanders and the troops had in each other; a lesson for future commanders may be read in the considerable effort put forth by McAuliffe, Roberts, and the regimental commanders to apprise all the troops of the "situation."
Christmas Eve in the German headquarters brought forth some cognac and a few "Prosits" but in the main was devoted to preparations for a major attack on Christmas Day. The XLVII Corps had been informed that the 9th Panzer Division and 15th Panzergrenadier Division would come under corps control on 24 December, and the 3d Panzergrenadier Division would arrive later, but the Fuehrer had other ideas. Earlier in the day the Fifth Panzer Army commander posed a question which finally reached Jodl and Hitler: should he turn to finish off Bastogne or continue, with the bulk of his divisions, toward the Meuse and seize the Marche plateau in an attempt to widen the German thrust? Hitler's answer, finally relayed by Model, was that the attack to seize the Marche plateau should be continued with all available forces. This answer did nothing to relieve Manteuffel's worries about his thin and endangered southern flank. To leave Bastogne as a sally port onto his left rear made no military sense to this experienced soldier. Therefore, Manteuffel ordered that Bastogne be taken on 25 December.
During the night of 24 December, German combined arms and infantry attacks by pessimistic commanders and uninspired soldiers were uncoordinated and failed. Twice during the night of 24 December, however, the Luftwaffe retaliated with very damaging bombing sorties on Bastogne and the surrounding area, killing a Belgian nurse and a score of wounded paratroopers.
|Street in Bastogne After Luftwaffe Strike|