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US Army

These unknown heroes of the Battle of the Bulge


These unknown heroes

Of the Battle of the Bulge

20 & 21 December 1944.
The surprise effect of the offensive started on December 16 is somewhat dispelled, the Allies organize a summary defense with the meager troops who are stationed in Belgium.  We are here with the 299th American Engineer Battalion as well as Martelange resistance fighters who are in charge of holding Martelange and destroying the bridges over "La Sure", if the enemy tries to cross.  Indeed, Martelange is a major crossroads that would directly open the road to Middelton's Headquarters located in Neufchâteau to the west, and towards the bivouac area of the 4th Armored Division which had freshly arrived in the area of Arlon-Habay to the south. 
Around 3.00 pm on December 20, 1944, the enemy closes in and reaches the N4 road (Route National 4).  A dozen tanks accompanied by German paratroopers enter the village and open fire on the small force of defenders.  The order is given to blow the bridges which is carried out just under the nose of the Germans.  Despite the destruction, the paratroopers infiltrate Martelange and settle on the south shore.  They manage to cross tanks during the night.  The American survivors and some resistance fighters come back with the bad news. 
The order is immediately given to take back the village! The 1278th Combat Engineer Battalion is immediately assembled in the region of Witry and Fauvillers. From 1am a large force is directed towards Martelange but already enemy patrols slow the movement in Wisembach and Radelange. It was in the early morning that the Americans stormed Martelange. 
The GIs are left and right of the main road (see map below) and advance to the heart of the village. 
Arrived at about 100 yards from "La Sûre" the paratroopers, accompanied by tanks, trigger a firefight that nails the Americans on the ground.  Soon the first soldiers fall, including our hero Horrace H. Derrickson, and the GIs take shelter in the hedgerows, the mill and the villa Kuborn (see photos).  
Despite several brilliant attempts, the assault is a failure!  Nevertheless, the GIs need to hold the line until the arrival of the 4th Armored Division.  A last defense is established in the woods south, overlooking the village. The many Germans make the position very quickly untenable, the order of general withdrawal is given but the road to Fauvillers is cut.  In small groups the defenders evacuate through the Forest of Anlier.  It is at this moment that our second hero Paul L. Mailliard is shot down by one of his brother of arms mistaking him as part of an enemy patrol. 
Once arrived at Habay our survivors put on alert the 4th Armored Division which will move in the region on December 22 & 23, 1944, ready to put a final stop to Hitler's last offensive.  
Source: Pascal Kerger, Cedric Toucheque, Henri Rogister, November 28, 1944

by Jérémie CHENOT





Battle of the Bulge,