In the town of Bastogne the 101st Airborne Division was dug in fighting a determined stand against an increasingly frustrated German spearhead. The Americans had identified elements of four Panzer Divisions, two Infantry Divisions and two Parachute Divisions amongst the forces surrounding them.
Th Battle for Bastogne had begun with the hasty arrival of the 101st, whose immediate spoiling actions had blunted the German attack. Alongside the 10th Armored Division and the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion they were now consolidating their positions to hold onto the town.
With their ammunition running short, no air support available because of the low cloud, and no prospect of relief in the the midst of confused fighting across the Ardennes, the 101st’s position might be thought to be becoming vulnerable.
December 22 1944
To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne
The fortune of war is changing. This time the the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units.
There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. Troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.
If this proposal should be rejected the German Artillery Corps and six heavy A.A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the USA troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hour’s term.
All the serious civilian losses caused by this Artillery fire would not correspond with the well known American humanity.
The German Commander
The reply was not long in coming
To the German Commander
The American Commander
22 December 1944
It was fortunate that the US had had a number of experienced battle hardened units to push into the battle for the Ardennes. The two Airborne Divisions were both to make significant contribution.
While the 10st Airborne stuck it out in Bastogne, elsewhere, in a less remembered battle the 82nd Airborne, were engaged in the struggle for another critical town – Cheneaux.
Corporal George Graves, the 504th Regimental S1 recorded serious casualties amongst the 1st Battalion, with many men lost in fierce hand to hand fighting with the 1st SS Panzer Division on the 21st December .
On the 22nd he wrote:
About noon the 2nd Bn left their entrenched positions to relieve the 1st Bn in the town of Cheneux, now completely occupied. The shattered remnants of the 1st Bn came straggling listlessly down the road, a terrible contrast to the happy Battalion which had only two days before gone up the same road wisecracking and full of ﬁght.
They were bearded, red—eyed, covered with mud from head to foot, and staring blank-faced straight to the front. No one spoke. What few ofﬁcers there were in the columns, half of what had started for Cheneux, were indistinguishable from the men except for the markings on their helmets. They carried their riﬂes any way that seemed comfortable, some in Daniel Boone fashion.
They had written a page in history that few would ever know about. Already there was talk of a Presidential Citation to record for posterity what was plainly written on their faces that morning.
To millions of Americans at home, the name Cheneux was meaningless. In the swirling holocaust of ﬁre and fury which descended on the peaceful valley of the Ambleve River in Belgium, it might not even be mentioned in the newspapers, such was the confusion of places, units, and deeds being churned around in the “witch’s brew” which was the present battle of the Ardennes.