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October 2018
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US Army

The 17th Airborne in the Battle of the Bulge

The 17th Airborne in the Battle of the Bulge 
 
The 17th U.S. Airborne Division was stationed at Camp Chilsedon, England. It had become part of XVIII Airborne Corps of the First Allied Airborne Army, comprised of American, British, French, and Polish units.  On December 19, the 17th Airborne Division was put on alert, and by the next day it was ordered to begin its movement to the Battle of the Bulge. 
 
On December 20, the troops began moving to the marshaling area. Here they were briefed on the situation on the Continent, sewed small American flags on their combat jackets, and readied themselves for tactical air-landing in France.  Word was rampant at that time about German infiltrators in American uniforms and paratroops dropped behind the lines.  Although the reports were exaggerated, the real threat was there and the 17th troopers were on the alert.
 
The men, equipment, and supplies were flown across the English Channel to several air strips in the area of Mourmelon, France.  On December 25 - 27, they were taken by the truck loads to Charleville, France, to guard against a possible thrust by the Germans to cross the Meuse River.  The weather during this movement was extremely cold and clear. "It was a hell'uve way to spend Christmas". 
 
On January 1, the 17th Airborne Division was reassigned to XVIII Corps (Airborne) and attached to Pattons's Third U.S. Army. Orders were issued on January 1 to begin movement from Charleville, France, to Neufchateau, Belgium, and to relieve the 28th U.S. Infantry Division. The 17th Airborne Division Command Post was established at the war-torn town of Morhet, Belgium. The weather was very cold, and visibility was poor. 
 
The German forces were making one last desperate stab at shutting down the Bastogne corridor by attacking fiercely from the northwest, not far from the remaining shambles of Bastogne. The best panzer SS grenadiers and armor were being used by the Germans in this drive. They were elite units, with first class equipment, well able to withstand the rigors of winter an sustained periods of battle. Supplies captured with these elite soldiers included such things as mustache cups and manicure sets. One grenadier had eight pairs of eye glasses. 
 
The Allied forces were ordered into position just outside of Bastogne to rebuff this German effort. Orders were given for the Allied forces to attack at 0815 hours on January 4th. Three U.S. divisions were being used: the 101st Airborne Division on the right, the 87th Infantry Division on the left, and the new-to battle 17th Airborne Division in the middle. 
 
The 17th was hit hard by the crack German units. The battle was fierce. Casualties were extremely high. Some battalions lost nearly half their men. This was no longer training maneuvers; this was the real thing. This battle pitted raw courage and human flesh against the hard metal of the panzers. 
 
The cold was penetrating. Men suffered extreme frost bite during the freezing nights. They soon learned that in order to survive, instead of wrapping up in their blankets, they needed to cover the top of their foxholes with their blankets. Their warm breath was trapped under the blankets, raising the temperature in the foxholes. They kept their trigger fingers warm and nimble enough to use by holding their hands under their armpits. Blankets were also cut up and used a sliners in jackets and to wrap their boots to keep their feet from freexing. Still, the men spent much time stamping their feet to keep the circulation going. 
 
The men of the 17th Airborne Division dug in in the rear slope of what can to be known as "Dean Man's Ridge." It was a narrow strip of road that climbed from the village of Monty to Flamierge, about one-half mile in length along a ridge.
 
The Germans and Americans attacked and counterattacked from January 4 - 9, in what has been remembered as the Battle of Dead Man's Ridge. Weather played a major role in this battle. It was terribly cold, cloudy, and unsuitable for air support. Men on both sides suffered frostbite and frozen feet. Snow was knee-deep, and the men faced ice, cold and wet, day after day. Forward scouts wrapped their hand weapons in white cloth to camouflage their positions from the enemy.
 
In this, the first actual battle the 17th Airborne participated in, the men fought with courage, valor, and style, depicting the long arduous training they had undergone. After suffering severe casualties during the first three days, much of the time on the defensive, on January 7th at 0900 hours, units of the 17th Airborne Division struck out at the towns on the high ground. Lightening their loads by shedding their packs, overcoats, and over shoes, they stumbled up the hills in knee-high snow yelling "Geronimo" until they were hoarse, showing total disregard from the heavy barrages of enemy fire.
 
Source: Scions of the 17th Airborne Division. (Website)
By Lt Col Bart HAGERMAN

 

 

193rd Glider Infantry Regiment

 

17th Airborne Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium