22 December: Fortress La Gleize

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Battle of the Bulge Day by Day

Last night, Peiper mustered his troops in the small village of La Gleize. They occupied four defensive positions around the town, near Les Montis and Hassoumont to the north and Wérimont and Dinheit to the south. The Kampfgruppe suffers from serious shortages. In addition, radio contact with the rest of the division could only be made sporadically, leaving him in the dark about the overall tactical situation.

Pre de Froidecour
Half-tracks of Peiper’s engineer battalion in the Pré de Froidcour orchard

Because of fuel shortages, most of the tanks that made it into the village were driven to their final positions. Only a few were kept running as mobile reserve brigades. The now redundant half-tracks were parked in an orchard in the valley Pré de Froidcour, located between La Gleize and Ferme Wérimont. The troops in La Gleize were constantly bombarded, so they had mostly retreated into cellars around the village. Peiper was now completely surrounded; the day’s success was determined by whether Kampfgruppe Hansen’s evacuation attempt succeeded.

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Château de Froidcour

The US 119th Infantry Regiment and TF Jordan were still unaware of the German retreat, and attacked Stoumont at the end of the morning. The Sanatorium, which had been the scene of fierce fighting the previous two days, was now taken without a fight. Some Panzergrenadiere had remained in the town, but there was no seriously organized opposition, and around 15:00, Stoumont was completely retaken. Immediately, patrols of the 119th Infantry Regiment were sent towards La Gleize. They arrived at Château Froidecour, where they found 50 German and a dozen American wounded, cared for by a German medical officer of I./SS-Pz.Rgt 1 and two American medics.

At the end of the day TF Jordan and the 2nd and 3rd battalions of 119 IR took up attack positions for their attack on La Gleize the following day.

Situation at La Gleize

The defenders at La Gleize were still an opponent to reckon with, about 1100 men strong and well-equipped. The previous day, blocking group Mill had moved to the heights near Ferme Wérimont, southeast of La Gleize. Besides Hantusch’s King Tiger 221, it now consisted of Dollinger’s Tiger 213 and a couple of Panther tanks. They had an excellent view from this position, and could see everything that moved towards La Gleize from Trois-Ponts over the N33 main road.

In the morning, Peiper’s only offensive action took place, aimed to the north. Two platoons of 2./SS-Pz.Pi.Btl. 1 advanced along the road towards Spa. The infantry was joined by Tiger tank 334 and at least three Panzer IV tanks of 6./SS-Pz.Rgt 1. Near Bourgomont, the infantry bumped into the tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion. When the tanks were near Les Tchéous, heavy artillery fire followed. In the end, the German engineers made no headway, and the supporting tanks were knocked out. Tiger 334 took out a Sherman, but was immobilized by a shot to its right sprocket. It now stood motionless in the middle of the road towards Bourgomont. The bulk of the Tiger attracted artillery attention, and around 14:15 the crew decided to bail.

The only serious US attack on La Gleize that day came from McGeorge. On the 21st, his Task Force had bumped into the German blocking position at Moulin Maréchal several times, but had retreated south towards Trois-Ponts. This morning, they were able to advance to the junction near Roanne-Coo without any problems.

Around 14:00 the launched their attack, after a 30-minute artillery bombardment. About 15 of McGeorge’s tanks advanced along the N33 towards La Gleize, their left flank protected by a smoke screen. At least two Shermans fell prey to Möbius’ Tiger 204, located at the eastern edge of the village, near Peiper’s headquarters. At long range, the Tigers and Panthers near Wérimont also fired at the Shermans, but without landing any hits. The numerical superiority and directed fire from the Shermans knocked out both Tigers are Wérimont. Afterwards, both tank commanders took refuge in the basement of the nearby farmhouse.

Tiger 213 still stands at La Gleize to this day. Read more about this Tiger here.

Tiger 213 at La Gleize

Enter Kampfgruppe Hansen

Kampgruppe Hansen was one of the combat groups of the 1st SS Panzer Division ‘Leibstandarte‘. Hansen’s group was famously depicted by a Kriegsberichter after their ambush on an American convoy near Poteau on 18 December.

After an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Salm river, Hansen ordered his 1st battalion together with a company of Jagdpanzer IV (1./SS-Pz.Jg.Abt. 1) to cross the Amblève at Petit-Spai to join remnants of schnelle Gruppe Knittel. Together, they were to clear Stavelot of enemies and finally relieve Peiper.

However, things turned out quite differently. When around 11:00 the Panzergrenadiere of 1./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt 1 crossed the bridge at Petit-Spai, Holst, the commander of Jagdpanzer Company also tried his luck with his Jagdpanzer. However, the bridge was in no way capable of handling Holst’s approximately 25-tonne heavy tank destroyer. Just before the Jagdpanzer reached the other side, the bridge gave way under the weight. Now there was no bridge at all.

Engineers of the SS-Panzer-Pioniere-Battalion 1 tried to build a new bridge upstream, but eventually the attempt was noticed, and the construction site subjected to artillery fire. Due to increasingly high losses of both engineers and equipment, the attempt was eventually abandoned.

In the meantime, Brandt was still providing support around Knittel’s headquarters with his Tiger 133. He was sent out to relieve a group of Knittel’s men trapped in Stavelot. During his second attempt, the turret ring was hit by a stray shell. The round killed his radio man and damaged the steering mechanism’s hydraulic lines, slowly rendering the tank uncontrollable. On the way back, the tank drove itself into a ditch near the now broken bridge at Petit-Spai.

Nothing came of the planned evacuation operation that Hansen and Knittel had planned on the west bank of the Amblève. Hansen still managed to advance with his 1st and 3rd battalions towards Ster and Petit-Coo, respectively. Although the 3rd Battalion was initially successful, it too had to abandon its advance due to lack of heavy weapons. The blockades put up by TF Lovelady and the superiority of the 117 Infantry Regiment and US artillery were simply too great. Knittel’s men, now little more than a single company, had to give everything to hold on to their existing positions on the outskirts of Stavelot.

Attempted Air Drop

In the evening, around 8, there was a glimmer of hope on the moonlit horizon for Peiper, as 20 Luftwaffe transport planes were spotted. The presence of the planes was accompanied by an almost constant firing of white flares by the German troops at La Gleize. When the first parachutes appeared in the sky, reports of paratroopers were made by Americans, but when there was no sign of the alleged paratroopers by 21:30, it became clear that this was an aerial supply operation. However, many of the supplies (rations, ammunition and fuel) ended up in enemy hands or in no-man’s land. It is said that only a tenth of the supplies ended up in German hands.

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One of the canisters used to air drop supplies