Whether or not Hitler had admitted to himself that the gamble of the Ardennes offensive had failed, his Generals were discreetly trying to pull back and save some of their best troops from annihilation. Second tier troops were pushed into the battle to hold the line and cover the withdrawal of the SS, Paratroopers, and others.
These troops were not nearly as committed as those that had launched the offensive, and some were only serving in the Wehrmacht at gunpoint. The same situation had been encountered in Normandy. There was no way out for these men, just the hope that circumstances would allow them to surrender. Often it did not.
James Megellas, an officer with the 82 Airborne Division, describes the situation at this time, and the progress of an attack made on the 7th January:
The enemy we were encountering now offered only sporadic resistance, bearing little resemblance to the elite SS units we had faced earlier. What we saw now were poorly trained and led German soldiers, a hodgepodge of service troops, conscripts from satellite countries, and young and old recruits scraped from the bottom of the manpower barrel. They did little more than slow our advance and certainly posed no serious threat to our reaching our objectives. However, German artillery was having an effect and continued to be a factor to contend with.
In addition to the casualties from German artillery and snipers, the severe Belgian winter was taking a toll on our ranks. Men were being sent to the medics with swollen feet, barely able to walk. Some of the least affected were kept overnight, treated at the aid station, and returned to their units. The more serious cases were hospitalized.
Many men lost toes; in some cases amputation of feet was necessary. If frostbite was not quickly and properly treated, gangrene set in, requiring amputation. During the Battle of the Bulge, about 45,000 U.S. combat soldiers most susceptible to the cold were removed from the line because of trench foot.
On 7 January, we, accompanied by two supporting tank destroyers (TDs) , moved out to seize Petit Halleaux and control of the high ground overlooking the Salm River. Along our entire front line, only a few enemy units made a determined effort to impede our advance.
Sergeant Charles Crowder recalled: “We had walked about four or five miles through two feet of snow and had taken up positions on the high ground overlooking Grand Halleaux. . . . At daybreak, I left with three men — Albert Tarbell, Andy Kendrot, and Joe Ludwig — to return to our starting point and escort a jeep carrying ammunition and rations to our lines. On the way back, we encountered no opposition; but about halfway back to the Company, we ran into small arms fire.
We dispersed and returned fire, and in about 10 minutes, it was over. Five enemy were killed and one who was talking in a language I did not understand was badly wounded. Someone said he was speaking Polish and wanted help, that he was in terrible pain. One of our men said, ‘I’ll help him,’ pulled out his pistol, shot him in the head, and said, ‘Now he’s not in pain.’
Four of these men were wearing American fatigue clothes underneath a German overcoat and cap. I believe now that these were Polish men we found on this patrol with two Germans behind them. They opened fire on us but hit no one. I believe they would have surrendered if they had a chance.”
Technical Sergeant Eddie C. Heibert, H Company, was a rifleeman in Murphy’s platoon. The following is his account of that action: “One of our two supporting TDs struck a Teller mine and was knocked out about 800 yards from the town. Six of our men were killed or wounded. At this point, enemy machine guns opened up on us and we were pinned to the ground. I saw Lieutenant Murphy crawl forward for about 50 yards under a curtain of murderous machine gun fire and call for the remaining TD to come up to him. The TD silenced two of the enemy machine guns.”
Private First Class David E. Ward Jr., a rifleman in Murphy’s platoon, added the following to Heibert’s statement: “Lieutenant Murphy then returned to us and organized us into two squads and led our attack on the town. When we reached the town, Lieutenant Murphy ran from house to house, under heavy enemy fire, firing his Thompson submachine gun and throwing hand grenades, forcing many of the enemy to surrender.”
The Germans sustained heavy casualties before over 200 men surrendered, the remnants retreating over the bridge from Petit Halleaux to Grand Halleaux.