The struggle to contain the German attack in the Ardennes continued. US Army units from all over northern France and Belgium were being urgently summoned and pushed into the front line in haste.
Amongst their number was Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, later to become widely known as the ‘Band of Brothers‘.
The regiment were already veterans of parachute drops in Normandy and Eindhoven. The following account of the day comes from the Regimental History, and appears to follow the 1st Battalion. :
On the morning of the 19th we detrucked and went into assigned areas to rest from the long journey. In the early hours of morning it was dark and misty. This did not add to our chances of getting any rest until daybreak.
Not long after, the outfits assembled and struck out for Bastogne – two miles ahead …
Little was known of the situation because of the speed of the German counter-offensive. Few realized even now that we were headed for combat. That was the last thought in any man’s mind because of the scarcity of our equipment, and little if any ammo.
Finally we reached Bastogne, an important city. A deserted city, silent, with deathly atmosphere.
The few people remaining in Bastogne handed us hot coffee as we rounded the corner and headed for a little town called Noville. It lay approximately five miles ahead.
All the countryside had the appearance of sadness, quiet and dangerous. Along the road were ruins of various military vehicles of destruction. Some American, some German.
We passed the villages of Luzery and Foy. These little villages looked like the rest of the countryside, with the same deathly atmosphere about the buildings. All this while the same thought was running through every man’s mind. Where is the ammunition? It was certain, now, we were going right in with the enemy. It had to be that way because there were no roads but the one leading forward.
The long range guns were discharging their power and destruction. In the far distance were the faint bursts of small arms fire.
Armoured vehicles stood along the road. The drivers and crew stood beside them and gave what little ammunitidn they had to the men in the Company. These men had the look of defeat in their eyes. Their faces had the appearance of grave sorrow. They gave us words of encouragement and approval for help in a grave and dangerous situation.
The column moved onward and more cautiously because it was getting closer and closer to the enemy. In the minds of many there was still that repeated question! Where is the ammunition?
The strike of the heavy, long range guns beat louder. The small arms fire echoed through the hills.
Onward the column of concentrated minds pushed. Little conversation was carried on in the column.
But then our question was answered, for there in the middle of the road was the supply of ammunition laying on the ground beside a parked jeep. The men looked more relieved at this sight and thoughts of something to throw back at the enemy.
As the column passed, the ammunition was picked up and distributed sparingly among the men in the Company.
Onward, closer and closer the winding column pressed to the enemy. Like a vicious snake on the move to attack one of its dangerous enemies. Then the order was passed down for the column to halt. The troops lay in the ditches and rested. Some took handsful of snow that lay in small piles all over the countryside. The snow satisfied that dry taste in the mens’ mouths and the want of water.
As the Company lay there spread out the whining of our artillery could be heard as it passed overhead.
Beyond the hill, the last hill, lay the town of Noville, smoking and flaming. A machine gun began its familiar chattering. Mortar rounds could be heard striking the hillside. With all the confusion and noise, the valley, hills, and the village all bore the same atmosphere …. sadness, death and destruction.
The Company Commander went forward to the Battalion Commander’s position to get his orders and the Company’s Mission. At this time the Company was putting together bits of information gathered throughout the day.
The Company Commander came back to the Company and called the Platoon Leaders forward. The C.O. Gave the plans and order of attack to the Platoon Leaders. The Platoon Leaders went back to ther Platoons and gave the troops the information and plans.
Then the signal came for the march forward to meet the enemy. Shells evenly spaced cracked the surface of the earth in the village. The loud challenge of the bursting shells echoed off the hills to either flank. Onward in this volley of shells the company moved, then swung off the road into a field which lay in the valley.
Across the valley into a wooded hill, and there the Company halted. The other Companies of the Battalion went into their respective areas and waited for the order to go into the attack. Mortars went into position and concentrated fire was laid down on various targets. Then the signal …
The forward element of the Company went from the woods into the open field. Across the field and marsh, through a stream, into more woods and up into a hill. On the reverse side the enemy waited.
Machine guns, small arms, and long guns, continuously spread pellets of destruction swishing and whining through the trees. Onward went the Company, now scattered out and tired from the steep climb upward. Up and up! Over rocks, and along crevices, through woods, and finally … the enemy.
The enemy lay there watching, waiting for the men in the company to expose themselves.
The skirmish line was rapidly formed along the edge of the woods facing the enemy. Enemy …. and there it was! Seven heavily armoured Tiger tanks. What an enemy! Tanks of the best of armour against men of courage and small arms weapons. There was a Tiger Royal burning and the smoke swirled up into the heavens in a cone shaped column.
Bullets, shrapnel ripped by. Loud bursts of artillery and mortars vibrated the earth. Machine guns chattered, ours and the Germans. Men of the company were being hit, men groaned, and men shouted orders. But then came the order to withdraw!!
[Note : Such a surprising decision could only come in the face of the unknown, and overwhelming force of the enemy. A decision to organize and hold a strong point in that town to insure contact, relay necessary information, and screen actions of Division.]
The men withdrew in a sort of disorderly, lazy-like manner, wounded were limping and carried by their buddies. Some were left behind dead.
The Company was tramping a weary path in the soft plowed fields as they crossed. Not far was the burning and smell of the village of Noville. The acrid smell stung the nostrils.
In the mind was the hated word of all the Company – defeat -, yes, it was defeat. Defeat of man against steel and the best of armour. But the defeated had more than steel, they had courage. And they had patience.
On the way back to the town of Noville small groups of men began to organize into larger. Artillery began to bark at their heels as they entered the edge of town. Darkness had fallen as the majority of the company reached town.
Men were left at appointed posts to guide any others who might find their way back. Orders came out to hold the village at all costs. Strong points were lined around the northern section of the village. In buildings and good protection the men of the Company built their strong points.
Artillery pounded all night long. Set fire to many of the buildings and vehicles. Armour flamed a dark red against the reflected pink sky.
Men came in in ones and twos. Things didn’t seem so bad when the missing began to return. Many did not – never will.