With the U.S. Third Army, Jan. 4 As details of fighting in the early stages of Field Marshal Karl Von Rundstedt's breakthrough emerge from a shroud of secrecy imposed by disrupted communications and censorship, it becomes more and more apparent that the initial impetus of the German drive was broken by isolated American units which chose to fight to the last cartridge against overhwhelming odds.
It was such a last ditch fight by Major General Raymond O. Barton's 4th Infantry Division and part of Major General William H. Morris' 10th Armored Division which kept the Germans from capturing the City of Luxembourg and its road network over which Lieutenant General George S. Patton later moved his divisions to launch a counterattack. And it was that kind of American resistance that centered around Berdorf, 17 miles northeast of the city of Luxembourg.
ARMOR SPLIT UP
The 10th Armored Division was the first Third Army unit rushed north to help stem the German tide. By forced march the 10th Armored Division reached Luxembourg on December 17, the day after the attack opened. There it was split, one part being scattered to the northeast to bolster various units, while the rest rushed toward Bastogne.
Incidentally, it was the 10th Armored Division which met the German drive head on outside Bastogne, threw it back on its heels and saved the city. The 10th Armored repulsed attack after attack in eight hours of continuous battle before the first elements of the 101st Airborne entered the city and joined in its defense. Ironically, the 101st got credit for the defense of Bastogne because censorship permitted it to be mentioned before the 10th Armored Division.
Berdorf was nearly encircled the morning of December 18 when two platoons of tanks and two of armored infantry from the 10th drove through heavy artillery fire to reinforce two companies of the 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Division, which had been holding out there.
Then for three days this force of about 250 men commanded by Captain Steve Lang of Chicago, threw back the best the Germans had to offer, killing 350 of the enemy and destroying large numbers of German tanks and armored vehicles, while losing only four dead and one medium tank.
All during the day of the 18th Lang attempted to attack, but the German pressure and artillery fire was too heavy. That night he set fire to a house at the edge of town, and the light prevented the Germans from infiltrating in the dark hours. The next morning the Germans attacked twith artillery and rockets, but in the face of this Lang managed to advance about 350 yards.
TANK CHIEF BATTERED
That day Lieutenant John F. Gaynor of Ocean Avenue, Freeport, L.I., platoon commander of the 11th Tank Battalion, wore most of the fur off his rabbit's foot. His tank was hit by bazooka fire, setting his machine gun ammunition ablaze, and artillery cut his last machine gun.
But under the cover of tanks commanded by Sergeant John Shea of 29 Sullivan Place, Bronx, and Sergeant Francis J. Cleary of Roxbury, Mass., Gaynor pulled back and removed machine guns from a knocked out tank to replace his own.
No sooner were the guns in place when another bazooka shell struck his turret.
All that day the Germans attacked and were beaten off. At 4:30 the next morning the Germans massed for a surprise attack. Three times they tried. Three times they were pushed back.
Later that morning the Germans struc northeast and west under heavy artillery fire. For an hour and a half the defenders beat back the Germans, and then just as American ammunition was running low the enemy pulled back to reform.
HALF-TRACKS COME THROUGH
When Lang called back for supplies and ambulances to evacuate his wounded he was told he had been cut off from the rear, but later in the day Sergeant James C. Halligan of Rutherford, N.Y. broke through with two medium tanks and three half-tracks loaded with supplies. With the half-tracks he evacuated the wounded.
And at four that afternoon Lang ordered a withdrawal if possible. He divided his tanks, guns and half-tracks into four units which left at eight-minute intervals under cover of artillery fire, which also covered the noise of his retreat.
He got his entire force out of town without the Germans knowing it, leaving demolitions and mines to delay the enemy further.
HEAVY GUNS GO TO WORK
The Germans didn't discover Berdorf had been evacuated until the next morning, for as soon as Lang had pulled out, the artillery kept pounding it for hours.
By the next morning, however, other American units had dug in on high areas back of the town, further blocking the Germans.
The defense of Berdorf and Echternach, three miles to the southwest, by the 12th Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division stopped the left flank of Von Runstadt's drive, preventing him from swinging south and grabbing the rich prize of the City of Luxembourg before stronger units could be thrown into line.
Reprinted from THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS January 5, 1945.
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