A frozen Christmas Day in the Battle of the Bulge

The weather now cleared, enabling the Allied fighter bombers to join the Ardennes battlefield. Anti-aircraft gunners watching the aerial battle, December 25,1944.

The weather now cleared, enabling the Allied fighter bombers to join the Ardennes battlefield. Anti-aircraft gunners watching the aerial battle, December 25,1944.

The weather turned clearer but colder on Christmas Day, finally allowing the Allied fighter bombers to enter the battle. The Germans remained frustrated, not having made the progress they had sought, in several places they sought to make a final push, sensing that the Allied response was now gathering pace.

For tens of thousands of men the day was spent in a slit trench on the Belgium- German border

December 25, and a Merry Christmas to you.

Last night after chow we relieved a squad that had been on line for several days. So I spent Christmas Eve and will spend Christmas Day in a dugout facing the German lines. Ah there, Adolf! Frohliche Weinachten!

It was a beautiful and grim Christmas Eve. Shorty and I spelled each other on guard throughout the bitter cold night.

The cold I could endure, but an additional misery landed on me in the middle of the night. I got the GIs! That’s always a tragedy, of course — although in nonnal life, with the luxury of a civilized bathroom at hand, it would seem only an embarrassing annoyance – but this time the tragedy was of major proportions.

You see, our dugout is on the crest of a hill, smack in the middle of an open field and with never a bush or tree to provide cover. It’s not modesty that bothers us, you understand: it’s snipers.

We peer anxiously in the direction of the German lines, unbutton our pants in the dugout, hold them up with one hand while we clamber out, and get the business over in a hurry. We wipe on the run — our naked and chilled buttocks quivering in anticipation of a bullet — and button up again when we’re once more safe in the dugout.

A half-naked man crouching on a hilltop is a defenseless creature, unnerved by the constant sense of his nakedness framed in the sights of an enemy rifle. I winced and shook each time I dropped my pants, expecting every moment to be caponized by a German sniper who combined marksmanship with a macabre sense of humor.

The artillery fire was heavy until midnight. Then it died away, became sporadic. (Because it was Christmas Eve? I wonder.) In the strange silence, the war seemed remote, and I was several thousand miles from Belgium for a few moments.

We got no breakfast this morning, Christmas morning. Our squad leader forgot to send a messenger to tell us to come to chow. We waited and hoped and peered anxiously for sight of the runner until there was no longer any point in hoping. Except that it was Christmas morning, I didn’t mind the missed meal: my interior was worn out from my late tussle with the Gls.

Later in the morning I opened a can of C rations, made a little coffee, and ate two dog biscuits. Shorty opened a can of hash and ate it cold. Christmas breakfast! We munched in unhappy silence, and I brooded over the memory of our customary Christmas stollen (how ironically German!), so richly stuffed with raisins and nuts and citron.

See Raymond Gantter: Roll Me Over: An Infantryman’s World War II

The Allied Counter Attack 25 December 1944 - 28 January 1945: Belgian civilians carrying personal possessions flee as the Germans opened an artillery barrage against Langlir in an attempt to halt the American drive on Houffalize.

The Allied Counter Attack 25 December 1944 – 28 January 1945: Belgian civilians carrying personal possessions flee as the Germans opened an artillery barrage against Langlir in an attempt to halt the American drive on Houffalize.

Not very far away Russel Albrecht was having an even worse time of it:

Then the next day was Christmas Day, and that was the day I crawled into Malmedy. I had called on the phone and asked there was any way to get some aspirin for the pain in my chest – I couldn’t stand even a teaspoon in my pocket, it felt like it was too heavy against my chest. They called back and said, “You have permission but you don’t have to do it. If you want to get on your hands and knees and crawl into Malmedy” – which was probably a quarter or a half mile, a pretty good distance. “You have our permission because there are some doctors there. You can get something from them.”

Well, then about noon on Christmas Day, that’s when I decided to go into town. I just kind of lay flat in the snow and sneaked along staying behind whatever I could. I got in there and saw some smoke coming out of a house, and I went over there. Some tankers and TDs had plugged up the windows, and they had a stove going in there. I got some hot water and made a cup of coffee, some powdered stuff, I wrote a note to Lorraine and the girls and told them to mail it.

They told me that down about three or four houses some doctors had moved in. I went down there, went in, and the doc came out of the dining room. He had a turkey leg in his hand he was chewin’ on. That’s as far as the Christmas dinners got. He stuck a thermometer in my mouth and so forth.

I sat there and he went back in to chew down some more turkey, and then he came back in and looked and kind of frowned — he got some more equipment, started testing and pretty soon he told the guys, “You get a stretcher for this guy.” They got one and I had to lay on there and they pinned a tag on my jacket: “Bronchitis, Pleurisy, and Pneumonia.”

They wouldn’t let me even get up from the stretcher, let alone go back to the hole like I was going to.

I later learned when I asked some of our fellows about my buddy in the hole that the next day he got a direct hit and was killed.

See Russel Albrecht: Finding Foxholes

The besieged troops in Bastogne received their first re-supply by air on Christmas Day.

The besieged troops in Bastogne received their first re-supply by air on Christmas Day.

Sergeant John Opanowski of the 10th Armoured Division, emerges from a dug-out built under snow in the Bastogne area. The 10th Armoured Division and the 101st Airborne Division were pinned down in the Bastogne area by General von Manteuffel's crack Panzer Divisions - the 2nd and the 116th.

Sergeant John Opanowski of the 10th Armoured Division, emerges from a dug-out built under snow in the Bastogne area. The 10th Armoured Division and the 101st Airborne Division were pinned down in the Bastogne area by General von Manteuffel’s crack Panzer Divisions – the 2nd and the 116th.

In besieged Bastogne the 101st Airborne were to come under the last but most desperate attempt by the Germans to break through the perimeter. Schuyler Jackson was in the Champs area:

They hadn’t come at our area during the first days there. The temperature, though, was around zero. There were a couple of replacements who actually froze to death while on duty. I would always have two guys go out there to keep the men awake and prevent them from freezing.

When one of our planes was shot down, I took a fleece-lined jacket from the body of one of the crew. It sounds terrible but he had no more use for it.

There was a bridge in front of us. We had planted explosives but the detonatorfroze when they hit us on Christmas Day. Their infantry rode on the tanks and we were picking them off. I got mgself a bazooka and hit one in the motor. The crew came out fighting. They did not surrender. We had to shoot them.

We had originally put mines in the road but, because we expected the relief column, we pulled them off to the side of the road. When the German tanks came, some of the commanders must have thought the roads mined. They drove off on the side and exploded our mines.

We had enough ammoat our spot and stopped them cold. The last tank was turning back, and going up a rise. I fired the bazooka – and it was a one-in-a-million shot – dropped right down the turret. Except it didn’t explode. The loader had forgotten to pull the pin on the rocket. He got some fancy cussing from me. But the tank didn’t get away. Somebody else destroyed it.

This account is one of many to be found in Gerald Astor (Ed) A Blood-Dimmed Tide: The Battle of the Bulge by the Men Who Fought It

 German soldiers who attempted to storm the 101st Airborne command post in Bastogne, Belgium, lie dead on the ground after they were mowed down by American machine gun fire. The tanks, behind which they were advancing, were knocked out also. This photo was taken while Bastogne was still under seige (12/25/44)

German soldiers who attempted to storm the 101st Airborne command post in Bastogne, Belgium, lie dead on the ground after they were mowed down by American machine gun fire. The tanks, behind which they were advancing, were knocked out also. This photo was taken while Bastogne was still under seige (12/25/44)

The British 9th Royal Tank Regiment were awoken at 6.30 am on Christmas Day and half an hour later departed for Liege in France to strengthen the Allied lines. Sergeant Trevor Greenwood had the benefit of of lodgings in one of the surviving civilian houses – but it was neither comfortable nor safe:

Weather bitterly cold with heavy frost all day, but good visibility and dry. Plenty of our aircraft overhead.

Flying bombs too frequent for my liking — they seem to arrive every half hour. Usually preceded by ‘siren’ giving a few seconds warning. As soon as bomb motor becomes audible, the family in this house stand by the cellar door ready to dive down below, in case the thing heads for this locality. A beastly business, terrifying for everyone.

Slept up in bedroom, but spent a few uneasy hours listening for the ominous roar, and then waiting the crash as the engine cuts out…

See Trevor Greenwood: D-Day to Victory: The Diaries of a British Tank Commander

Sgt Sewell of 1st Rifle Brigade, 7th Armoured Division, adjusts the camouflage on a 6-pdr anti-tank gun, Nieuwstadt, 25 December 1944.

Sgt Sewell of 1st Rifle Brigade, 7th Armoured Division, adjusts the camouflage on a 6-pdr anti-tank gun, Nieuwstadt, 25 December 1944.

While 9 RTR was in reserve 3rd Royal Tank Regiment were fully engaged:

…the Black Bull tankies now had two medium gunner regiments on call and on Christmas Day went on the offensive. The Germans were running short of petrol and the objectives were the recapture of Sorrines, Foy-Notre-Dame and Boisselles. Sorrines was easy but the bag in Boisselles was substantial.

Then a squadron of US Lightning fighter-bombers ground strafed 3 RTR and again an hour later. Foy-Notre-Dame was ablaze and together with the US 2nd Armoured Recce Squadron, an allied combined operation, many Germans, vehicles and halftracks were captured.

In all the three villages at the ‘end of play’, an immediate search was made for wines and spirits. The Chateau cellar at Boisselle was productive and at 0130 the Americans were terrific, they produced wine, K rations and stories equally quickly.

An American Captain carried round gin, brandy and rum. It had been one of the most exciting Christmas Days of one’s life. The next two days saw devastating attacks by RAF Typhoons as the German Panzers withdrew, leaving scores of petrol-less tanks and AFVs behind them.

This account appears in Patrick Delaforce (Ed): Marching to the Sound of Gunfire: North-West Europe 1944 – 1945

Rifleman Corker of 1st Rifle Brigade enjoys Christmas lunch in his foxhole on the front line, Nieuwstadt, 25 December 1944.

Rifleman Corker of 1st Rifle Brigade enjoys Christmas lunch in his foxhole on the front line, Nieuwstadt, 25 December 1944.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Rod madocks February 16, 2017 at 1:40 pm

Thanks for keeping the Ardennes battles in memory especially the British contribution. My father’s unit, British 6th Airborne Div, 3rd Airlanding Antitank were part of 2nd Army and were rushed to the front to prevent a German breakout. My Dad drove up from Dinant on Christmas Eve 1944 past miles of retreating troops from Hodge’s army, He set up his 17 pounder anti tank guns at Foy-Notre-Dame and knocked out the first Panthers of the Viennese Division as they came squealing and clanking out of the winter woods early on Christmas Day. That was the furtherest point of the German advance. My father’s unit is not mentioned in the histories of the battle but he and his men knew what happened on that bloody Christmas Day at Foy.

Larry Meholick January 23, 2017 at 10:17 pm

My father, Steven, 101st Airborne, was hit by shrapnel there on Christmas Day while smoking a cigarette in a foxhole. Said it was the best Christmas present he ever got. He was in the hospital in London for three months and suffered from frostbite. He was interred at Arlington earlier this month 01/03/17.

Stephen Eldredge September 23, 2016 at 11:39 pm

I was born at 12;15 pm on 12/25/1944 in Utica, NY
Thanks to all the men and women who sacrificed for me, my children and my grandchildren.

Greg Underwood December 24, 2015 at 8:49 pm

Great war letters on Christmas day. A real find! I read “No Silent Night,” a very good book about the attack on Bastogne Christmas day and the heroic tank destroyer batallion that stopped the Germans in hard combat. My father fought in an unheralded battle central to the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of Selestat which is on the web. Heinrich Himmler was commanding the Colmar Pocket in Alsace. If the 36th division had been overrun…..and they took 2,000 casualties per regiment in December 1944, Patton would never have been able to head north to Bastogne. In fact 7th army to the north of the 36th had to stretch their lines tremendously to take over Patton’s positions in northern Alsace and Lorraine. The Americans were totally surrounded the entire division. At Selestat a batallion stood off elements of 4 regiments and 12 Nashorns of the 106th Panzer Brigade. So try to remember Colmar Pocket because the troops do. Dad was a 19 year old rifleman hit by German mortars December 17, 1944.

Ranger RGB3 November 25, 2015 at 7:00 pm

I still mail Christmas cards every year, and I always write a personal message rather than just signing my name. But, given all the woes I hear from people during the Christmas season, my plan is to take selected clippings from this website and enclose them with my cards. I have to make my enclosure short, since most people’s attention span is limited to half a page, but I will enclose many of these photographs.

I am a retired Infantry Airborne Ranger with the privilege of both an enlisted and commissioned service, that included assignments to both Ranger Battalions in my tenure. Although I never had to endure the elements as did these men, I have experienced enough hypothermia to possess a great frame of reference. These men and those of our history remain my American heroes, about whom I think after my concentration on my Lord.

Thank-you for this website as an abridged reminder of the price of our freedom.

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