US Army

80th Division Takes Heights in Ardennes

 

80th Division Takes Heights in Ardennes
 
 (The following article was taken from the newsletter of "The Blue Ridger," the publication of the 80th Infantry Division. This article was written by Lee McCardell and was sent to us by Paul PLASTER.)
 
With the United States Third Army, January 7, 1945.  The fire-clad hills rise to a height of more than 1,500 feet where the main highway from Ettelbruck to Bastogne crosses the Sure River in the heart of the Ardennes.  The river flows through a narrow gorge.  The road zigzags down one steep side of the gorge, crosses the river on a high, double-arched stone bridge and forks, just before it begins to climb again. 
 
The right fork zigzags up a steep mountain side, then strikes off across a high plateau to ward Wiltz.  This plateau commands the high ground of the battle area in that sector.  Captured yesterday by the 80th Infantry Division, it is held tonight by the same men who took it - troops commanded by two young Maryland officers.  The Germans counterattacked them fiercely at 3 o’clock this morning.  They shelled them again this afternoon.  The snow was black and grimy from the smoke of the exploding shells.  From the hills you could look down into the deep river gorge and see the complete pattern of shell bursts, black against snow.
 
Little Other Activity
 
Little other activity was reported in the Third Army zone.  West of Bastogne, our infantry had advanced about one mile north ward on a 3-mile front near the village of Flamierge.  Southwest of Bastogne, the 35th Infantry Division had thrown back a counterattack by a German battalion with twenty tanks, knocking out six of the tanks near the village of Harlange. 
 
But the Sure River crossing was the day’s big news.  We peered out to look at it.  The icy roads were still burdened with snow and sleet.  More sleet was falling in fine, white, frozen pellets.  It reminded us of pictures we used to see of the Russo- Finnish War. 
 
Preparations for the river crossing began the day before yesterday.  Engineers sanded the icy zigzag road leading down to the bridge whose two high stone arches, had been blown by the Germans.  They took up the mines which our infantry had planted this side of the bridge as a protective measure in the early days of Field Marshal von Rundstedt’s winter offensive. 
 
 Started to Build a Bridge
 
When it first became dark the night before last, a company of engineers commanded by Lieutenant Joseph Lelevich, of Kulpmont, Pennsylvania, began putting a Bailey bridge across the first of the two broken arches of the old span.  Half an hour later the Germans began shelling the engineers and finally drove them back up the road from the bridge abutment. 
 
Most of the engineers were New Englanders, but there were a few Southerners, among them T/5 William G. Rose, of New Castle, Virginia, a bulldozer operator; Pfc Paul Rash of Pulaski, Virginia, a platoon runner; Pvt Charles Walls, of Narrow s, Washington, and Private Robert William s, of Charleston, West Virginia.
 
"It was pretty hot for a time". Rose said today. "I hit the ditch.  I guess we all hit the ditch”.  German artillery was zeroed in on the bridge site.  One shell hit the center pier of the ruined double arch.
 
Went Back Later
 
Later that night, the engineers, went back to the river with steel tread way for another type of bridge.  They thought the construc­tion of the tread way would be less noisy than the building of a Bailey bridge.  But the Germans kept dropping time fire in the bridge site.  They were still shelling the site this afternoon.  The Sure River isn’t very wide here, not more than 90 feet, but it’s deep and swift.  And it looks mighty cold down there in its gorge. 
 
Meanwhile two infantry forces, one commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hiram Ives, of Baltimore, and the other by Lieutenant Colonel Elliott B Cheston, of Annapolis, had rendezvoused in the village of Hederscheid, 2 miles south of the river. They were scheduled to cross the Sure at 4 yesterday morning. They crossed about two minutes late. 
 
Used Secondary Road 
 
Ives’ infantry climbed the opposite heights, using a narrow, secondary road whose hairpin turns make it a series of steep switchbacks.  So narrow was the road and so sharp its turns that some of the American tanks which tried to follow the infantry slipped over the edge.  One had to be abandoned. 
 
A mile beyond the river is the village of Goesdorf.  It was Ives’ original plan to deploy his force when approaching the village and enter it only after the American artillery , firing from below the river, had worked it over. 
 
"But it was getting late," Ives said today. "It was almost 7h30 when we reached the point where we were to deploy on either side of the road.  We talked it over and decided to try to slip in without any artillery preparation.  Luck was with us.” 
 
Move In From West
 
 "Our force moved around and in from the west side of the town.  The rest of us went up the main road, entered the town, turned east on the crossroad at the village church and had almost reached the eastern edge of the town before a single shot was fired.  The other force drew fire as they entered.  It took us about two hours to clean out the Germans from the place." 
 
Of the force of about 50 Germans in the village proper, Ives men killed eight or ten and took most of the remainder prisoners.  From the talk of the prisoners we later learned that the American attack came at a time when the Germans holding that sector of the enemy line were being relieved by other troops.  As a result, there was considerable confusion and disorganization. 
 
While Ives’ force was advancing on Goesdorf, Cheston’s infantry was moving parallel to the Bastogne road, up the narrow stream’s valley along the foot of the wooded hills.  A mile or two upstream it turned north east, climbed the snow -covered cliffs and struck out for the village of Dahl, one mile north of Goesdorf. 
 
 Took Germans by Surprise
 
"It was a little rough making that climb in the dark," Cheston admitted today.  "But we spread out when we reached high ground and took the Germans in the village by surprise.  The villagers told us there were only 36 Germans in the town itself and when we finally counted up the dead wounded and prisoners, we had exactly 36."
 
Five German tanks or self-propelled guns north of Dahl were destroyed by American artillery fire.  Our infantry had neither tank s nor tank destroyers with them in the initial assault.  The only road by which armored vehicles could follow our troops was under enemy observation, and they caught one tank destroyer.
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle February 2003

By Lee Mc CARDELL

War Correspondant

Baltimore Sun 

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium