[b]THE BATTLE BEGINS AT 5:30 AM -[/b]
The first thunderclap of the massed German guns and Werfers at 0530 on 16 December was heard by outposts of the 394th Infantry as "outgoing mail," fire from friendly guns, but in a matter of minutes the entire regimental area was aware that something most unusual had occurred.
Intelligence reports had located only two horse-drawn artillery pieces opposite one of the American line battalions; after a bombardment of an hour and five minutes the battalion executive officer reported, "They sure worked those horses to death." But until the German infantry were actually sighted moving through the trees, the American reaction to the searchlights and exploding shells was that the enemy simply was feinting in answer to the 2d and 99th attack up north.
In common with the rest of the 99th the line troops of the 394th had profited by the earlier quiet on this front to improve their positions by log roofing; so casualties during the early morning barrage were few.
The German infantry delayed in following up the artillery preparation, which ended about 0700. On this part of the forest front the enemy line of departure was inside the woods. The problem, then, was to get the attack rolling through the undergrowth, American barbed wire, and mine fields immediately to the German front. The groping nature of the attack was enhanced by the heavy mist hanging low in the forest.
The 2d Battalion, on the north flank, was more directly exposed since a road led into the woods position from Neuhof. At this point, close to the regimental boundary, the battle was carried by a fusilier company attached to the 990th Regiment of the 277th Volks Grenadier Division. The fusiliers succeeded in reaching the 2d Battalion lines about 0800 but were driven off by small arms fire and artillery.
In midafternoon the 12th SS Panzer Division, waiting for the infantry to open the road to the International Highway, apparently loaned a few tanks to carry the fusiliers into the attack.
Behind a smoke screen the tanks rolled out of Neuhof. An American sergeant spotted this move and with a sound-powered telephone brought friendly artillery into play. High explosive stopped the tanks in their tracks. A few infantry-men got through to the forest positions occupied by the 2d Battalion.
There an unknown BAR man atop a log hut "raised hell with the Krauts" and the attack petered out. The 2d Battalion, during this day, never was really pressed. The chief enemy thrusts had gone to the north, where the right flank of the 393d Infantry was hit hard by the 277th Division, and to the south, against the center and refused right flank of the 394th.
No word of events elsewhere on the 394th front reached the 2d Battalion command post, but the appearance of German infantry in the woods along the northern regimental boundary gave a clue to the penetration developing there, and the left company of the 2d Battalion was pulled back somewhat as flank protection.
The initial enemy action along the 394th Infantry center and south flank was intended to punch holes through which the panzer columns might debouch onto the Bullingen and Honsfeld roads. The prominent terrain feature, in the first hours of the fight, was a branch railroad line which crossed the frontier just north of Losheim and then twined back and forth, over and under the Bullingen-Malmedy highway westward.
During the autumn retreat the Germans themselves had destroyed the bridge which carried the Bullingen road over the railroad tracks north of Losheim. To the west the highway overpass on the Lanzerath-Losheimergraben section of the International Highway had also been demolished.
The crossroads at Losheimergraben would have to be taken if the German tanks were to have quick and easy access to the Bullingen road, but the approach to Losheimergraben, whether from Losheim or Lanzerath, was denied to all but infantry until such time as the railroad track could be captured and the highway overpasses restored.
The line of track also indicated the axis for the advance of the left wing of the 12th Volks Grenadier Division and, across the lines, marked a general boundary between the 1st and 3d Battalions of the 394th Infantry. When the barrage lifted, about 0700, the assault regiments of the 12th Division already were moving toward the American positions. The 48th Grenadier Regiment, in the north, headed through the woods for the Losheimergraben crossroads. Fallen trees, barbed wire, and mines, compounded with an almost complete ignorance of the forest trails, slowed this advance. The attack on the left, by the 27th Fuesilier Regiment, had easier going, with much open country and a series of draws leading directly to the track and the American positions.
The 3d Battalion (Maj. Norman A. Moore), to the south and west of the 1st Battalion position at Losheimergraben, first encountered the enemy.
About 0745 L Company, at the Buchholz station, had taken advantage of the lull in the shelling and was just lining up for breakfast when figures were seen approaching through the fog, marching along the track in a column of two's. First thought to be friendly troops, the Germans were almost at the station before recognition brought on a fusillade of American bullets. The enemy scattered for the boxcars outside the station or sought shelter in ditches along the right of way and a close-quarters fire fight began. A 3-inch tank destroyer systematically worked over the cars, while the American mortar crews raked the area beside the track.
A few Germans reached the roundhouse near the station, but Sgt. Savino Travalini, leader of the antitank platoon, went forward with a bazooka, fired in enough rounds to flush the fusiliers, then cut them down with his rifle as they broke into the open. (Sergeant Travalini was awarded a battlefield commission as second lieutenant.)
K Company, ordered up to reinforce the outnumbered defenders at the station, arrived in time to take a hand in the affray. By noon the Germans had been repelled, leaving behind about seventy-five dead; L Company had suffered twenty-five or thirty casualties.
As a result of the stubborn stand at the station, some of the assault platoons of the 27th Fuesilier Regiment circled back to the northeast and onto the left of the 1st Battalion (Lt Col. Robert H. Douglas).
Here one of the battalion antitank guns stopped the lead German tank and the supporting fusiliers were driven back by 81-mm. mortar fire thickened by an artillery barrage.
- continued -