19 December: Terminus Stoumont

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Battle of the Bulge Day by Day

Peiper’s options to reach the Meuse were now rapidly dwindling, and so were his supplies – especially fuel. In the early morning the attack was launched on Stoutmont, a village just west of La Gleize. A rearguard still defended Cheneux and some troops plus Westerhagen’s Tigers remained behind in and around La Gleize.

Early in the morning, a company of the 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th US Infantry Division had already arrived at Stoumont to establish a defensive line. Peiper’s first attack at dawn was repulsed, and the Americans even launched a counterattack on the flank. However, due to a dense, low-hanging haze, visibility became very limited, and the American anti-tank gunner failed to repel a subsequent attack by Panther tanks going at full speed. Despite solid fighting and the arrival of tanks from the 743rd Tank Battalion, US troops had to retreat under cover of a smoke screen at the end of the morning.

Map of the Amblève river valley. source: oldhickory30th.com

After consolidating their position, the Kampfgruppe advanced through the village of Targnon and still further until they reached the Stoumont railway station, about 3 kilometers west of Stoumont.

In the nick of time, the Americans managed to bring in more tanks (740th Tank Battalion) and infantry to set up a blocking position on the way from the station. As the valley became narrower again at this point, with a densely wooded slope on one side and the Amblève river on the other, it lent itself well as a defensive position. At 16:00, a US counterattack knocked out another three Panther tanks, which became a bit of a road block themselves.

Tigers at La Gleize

For the Tigers at La Gleize, the day went by without much action. At 15:00, a probing attack took place from the direction of Francorchamps in which Tiger 223, stranded just before La Gleize, destroyed a Sherman of the 743rd Tank Battalion and drove away other attackers.

Bridge at Stavelot

Meanwhile, the remainder of Stavelot threatened to fall into the hands of the 117th Infantry Regiment. The entire northern part of the town had already been taken, apart from some houses towards Trois-Ponts. Kampfgruppe Sandig (SS-Pz.Rgt. 2) was ordered to attack through Stavelot to link up with the elements of Kamfpgruppe Peiper and Knittel north of the Amblève. Some Tigers of the 501st that had fallen behind provided fire support to the infantry during these attacks, as did Panzer IVs of the 6th and 7th Companies arriving from Wanne. Among others, Sowa’s Tigers number 222 and Lötzsch’s (233) were present during these actions.

Men of 823rd TD Bn with their M10 at Stavelot Abbey
Men of the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion with their M10 at Stavelot (near the Abbey).

As the column left the cover of the houses near the access road to the bridge, several tanks were hit. They were shelled by mortars, and shot at by anti-tank guns and light weapons. When, around 13:00, Sowa’s Tiger left the shelter of the buildings to cross the 100 metres to the bridge, it received several hits from an M10 tank destroyer in the side armour. Amazingly, the tank did not catch fire and the crew stayed inside and fled when the coast was clear.

Two Tigers from 3rd Company, including 312, reached the heights southeast of Stavelot. When they were fired upon from across the valley by tank destroyers of the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, they were damaged. One of the tank destroyers was nevertheless knocked out by a direct hit. The Tigers could later be salvaged and were repaired later.

Ritter’s 312 was recovered from Stavelot and was knocked out at Goronne on 7 January 1945.

Attack from the west

Knittel, as mentioned before, had already crossed the Amblève and had set up his headquarters in a large farmhouse “Ferme Antoine“, along the Stavelot – Trois-Ponts road. When on their way to Trois-Ponts, the tanks of Brandt (132) and Wendt (133) attached to schnelle Gruppe Knittel. At some point during the day, Tiger 008 of battalion adjutant Kalinowski was also attached to Knittel, but specifics remain unknown. It had suffered mechanical problems the previous day, along Rollbahn E at Born. It was later found disabled near Ferme Antoine.

The tanks of 1./501 supported the attack near the outskirts of Stavelot, but got no further as the road was mined. Small gains were made, but had to be abandoned again when an artillery bombardment was launched against the advancing German troops. Knittel ordered Wendt to guard his headquarters, while Brandt was sent further west to the footbridge at Petit-Spai to secure Knittel’s rearguard.

The Stavelot bridge remained heavily contested, but after darkness fell, men of the 105th Engineer Battalion managed to blow up the bridge over the Amblève under heavy fire. Peiper was now cut off from the rest of his division.

Stavelot after the war
Stavelot in ruins, after the war. This photo shows the blown-up bridge as well as Tiger 222.

Apart from the 119th and 117th Infantry Regiments of the 30th Infantry Division in Stoutmont and Stavelot respectively, Peiper now had to fear 3rd Armoured Division from the north, as well as the 82nd Airborne Division that had already advanced as far as Rahier. The net around Peiper’s Kampfgruppe slowly began to tighten.