Dec, 1944: US Employment of Armor in the Ardennes

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Yank_Lurker, Sep 13, 2009.

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  1. Currently reading MacDonald's "A Time for Trumpets", and am particularly riveted by the accounts of the last stand and surrender of Company E, 12th Inf, in the town of Echternach. For several years as a kid I actually lived in Germany just a few miles upstream from Echternach, and within 300 meters of the Sauer River. Most likely assault crossing points for the Volksgrenadiers were within a stone's throw of my home. I was never aware that fighting had been so intense where I lived, though.

    Anyway--after his account of the isolation and surrender of Co. E, MacDonald makes this statement:

    Comments? Having served in Light Armored Reconnaissance myself (USMC, not US Army), I tend to believe that MacDonald is a bit hard on the tankers, esp given the specific circumstances in the Echternach fight--night time, house to house fighting, and of course the Germans had Panzerfaust as he pointed out. The tankers refused to enter the town at night, instead planning to wait until morning for the relief effort--by which time it was too late. I don't think any armor crewman would be enthused about driving unescorted into a built up area infested with man portable AT weapons, at night, esp in the age before night vision was available.

    MacDonald wrote another autobiographical book, "Company Commander," in which he speaks of his own role as CO of an infantry company in the Ardennes during Wacht Am Rhein. I believe his experiences and natural prejudices color his judgement of the performance of armor at this point in the battle.
  2. 9th Armored was spread thinly covering an area from St Vith down to Wilz. Opposing 9th Armoured was TWO Panzer armies - 5th & 6th - hardly surprising they were 'timid'.

    Sending Armour into a town defeded by infantry with Panzerfausts and PAK 43s would be sucide.
  3. My sense as well; granted at 12 years old I was hardly capable of forming a tactical appreciation for the town, but my memories of it 28 years on are that it would hardly have been a place into which I'd like to drive a tank, at night, with enemy dismounts swarming about.
  4. the_boy_syrup

    the_boy_syrup LE Book Reviewer

    Don't forget also that at that point in the war the Germans where probably the best at defending a rubble strewn town with Panzerfaust and light weapons given their experience on the Eastern Front

    Look how much armour the Russians lost when they charged into towns
  5. Towns/Cities in rubble ate Armour.
    Stalingrad taught that.
    And the Assault gun was perhaps at 'Home' in such an environment.
  6. I like Echternach having spent a holiday there when young. I have not looked at the ground since then, but recall a lot of wooded slopes and a charming town in a river valley. Its not mexactly good tank country.

    According to the US Army official history , the only reason 10th Armoured Division was committed to counterattack in the 4th Inf Div area was because Middleton misread the main German effort and thought the offensive was to threaten Luxemburg.

    The official history says that the battalion sized TF Riley did make contact with Company E from Echternach on the 18th and 19th and offered to extract them,. However Co E refused on the basis of “no retreat orders issued on the 16th and did not receive any of the subsequent orders to withdraw. The commander of CCA is stated as making the decision not to risk armour after dark in Echternach on the evening of the 19/20th .

    I don’t think anyone can blame Macdonald for continuing the heroic defence, even if it isn’t the finest example of thinking two levels up, nor the tankies for complying with theirs. There is also the question of whether Middleton was right to commit 2/3 of 10 Armd Div on the subsidiary axis, or for the US to fragment their armour into battalion sized TFs.

    Macdonald wasn’t the only infantry commander to accuse Allied armour of timidity. British and US Armour had a bit of reputation for finding reasons not to support infantry when the going got tough. (see John Ellis Monte Cassino and sharp end of war – the Guards armoured on the road to Arnhem etc)
  7. Actually MacDonald wrote the book, but he was with the 2nd ID up defending Rocherath/Krinkelt against 277 VG Div and 12th SS Pz Div. Given his experience of holding for 3 hours against determined infantry attacks only to see his command evaporate (and his 1st platoon all but exterminated) under German armor attack, one might understand his feelings regarding the (in)action of 10th Armored to save Co E in Echternach. His own autobiographical story does relate frustrations in coordinating with supporting tanks, including at Rocherath/Krinkelt--when in fact two supporting Shermans continually fell back from his position, only at the last giving battle to 5 Panthers, and achieving 2 kills for 2. Not bad, considering it was 5 Panthers vs 2 Shermans...

    According to MacDonald, Co E had been ordered the day of the 19th to withdraw, but apparently did not receive the order. Their rationale for staying was that, in addition to lack of orders, they did not feel their position was terribly threatened. They were in a strong position and had not felt terribly much pressure. These men were veterans of the Hurtgen Forest, sent to Echternach to rest and refit after being gutted up north, so they did have some combat experience and judgement. Unfortunately for them, Gen. Sensfuss of 212 VG Div essentially took their continued presence in Echternach as "impudent" and something of a personal affront. He took a personal interest in eliminating the American presence in Echternach.
  8. From MacDonald again: