24/25 December: Breakout

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

In the early morning of the 24th, Peiper was to break out of La Gleize on foot with his remaining men. The secret sign was the phrase “merry Christmas”. The wounded would stay behind, as would a small rearguard who had to intermittently blow up the remaining equipment, making it look as if the explosions were part of the American shelling. The wounded and the rearguard together numbered about 127 men.

At 2 in the morning, Peiper broke out with 800 men of his Kampfgruppe stilll fit enough to complete the exercise. Their road started at the Wérimont heights and continued via a footbridge over the Ambléve near the railway viaduct at La Venne.

viaduc de vennes troisponts1900.be
Footbridge over the Ambléve near La Venne. Source: troisponts1900.be

The long chain of soldiers on foot was virtually silent in the night. Their commanders went down the row to speak words of courage. These men eventually completed a 36-hour journey over rough, mountainous terrain past Trois-Ponts to the Salm valley. It was already starting to get light as they waded across the Salm river, all other crossings being strictly guarded. So they arrived at their own lines near Wanne on Christmas morning. They had managed to cover 20 km, under the loss of only 30 men.

The battle in the Ardennes for Kampfgruppe Peipers had been fought, their advance had proved a flop, and fortunately so. Meanwhile, the 119th Infantry Regiment and Task Force McGeorge had opened the attack on La Gleize on the morning of the 24th. They had expected a fierce battle, but encountered only a rearguard. They liberated their POW comrades, finding large quantities of equipment.

According to a report by Captain Ferris, the following heavy equipment was captured:

The 7 King Tigers mentioned in above report are probably 104, 204, 213, 221, 223, 304 and 332 or 334. Below I will treat a couple of these Tigers in more detail.

The Fate of Tiger 104

Tiger 104 had been abandoned in an alley next to the main road, called Chemin Vieille-Voie (present-day Rue de l’Eglise). Apparently it had suffered some malfunction or was out of fuel. Photos show one of the tracks laying behind the tank. 104 was originally Frenzl’s tank, but after 105 drove into a building in Stavelot on the 18th, Wessel switched to this tank. The ins and outs of this tank thereafter are unknown, but it is certain that it was eventually found abandoned on this side street in La Gleize on the 24th. Interestingly, none of the photos actually show its number, but instead the underlying Balkenkreuz is visible. Possible, the tank never had a number painted-on, but a similar fading of the number is seen on Sowa’s Tiger 222 that was knocked-out at Stavelot on the 19th. Close by, Panther number 213 was also abandoned.

In January 1945, the tank was used for Panzerfaust target-practice by members of the 82nd Airborne Division. A video and photos show the battered frontal armour, but none of the anti-tank shots could pierce it.

Tiger 204 Joy-ride

After Tiger 205 of Company commander Möbius broke down, he took command of 204. This vehicle was found in working condition in La Gleize at So l’Hesse. After being fuelled, American soldiers tried to drive it down to Spa. They managed to drive it onto Route 106, before it gave up the ghost between the villages Ruy and Neuville. Apparently unable or unwilling to fix the tank, it remained along the road. A white flag was planted on top of its turret, possibly to indicate the tank was not a threat and/or cleared of booby-traps.

End note and Bibliography

This article marks the end of my ‘Ardennes day-by-day’ series. While elements of s.SS-Pz.Abt 501 continued on fighting even into the new year, my coverage stops here. It was only in the last week of November that I took up the challenge to write this series; 10 articles in a span of 10 days. I thoroughly hope you’ve enjoyed reading the series. And although I was not able to cover everything in as much details as I’d liked, I hope it has given some idea of Peiper’s advance and the events that caused his ultimate defeat.

Below you’ll find a list of sources. I recommend checking them out, as I’m sure mistakes have crept in my rushed writing. When studying these sources, I have noticed that some clearly contradict each other on specifics or simply miss information. Especially Schneider’s Tiger im Kampf and Walden’s Tigers in the Ardennes contain some outdated information or miss newly discovered facts, otherwise present in the excellent Duel in the Mist (Although published later, the core of Walden’s book is based on his almost unaltered website dating from ~2008). On the other hand, the former books contain other valuable information not covered by the latter.

Beevor, Antony. Ardennes 1944. Penguin UK, 2015.

Cooke, David, and Wayne Evans. Kampfgruppe Peiper. Pen and Sword, 2014.

Haasler, Timm, Simon Vosters, and Hans Weber. Duel in the Mist 3. Panzerwrecks, 2014.

Marriott, Leo, and Simon Forty. The Ardennes Battlefields : December 1944–January 1945. Havertown, Pa: Casemate Publishers, 2017.

Walden, Gregory A. Tigers in the Ardennes : The 501st Heavy SS Tank Battalion in the Battle of the Bulge. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2015.

Wolfgang Schneider. Tiger Im Kampf. Vol. 2. Uelzen: Schneider Armour Research, 2001.


2 responses to “24/25 December: Breakout”

  1. Thanks for the series. This was very interesting to read and very educational, even after having visited the December ’44 museum in La Gleize.
    Peipers force surely seemed fairly capable, although I am not convinced that the operation would have been a success with all the American presence in the area, even if logistics had been on point. Although with proper supplies the push would have been quicker and surprising, instead of needing to dig in. They surely tried, and lost a whole lot in the process.

    1. Melcher Stikkelorum

      Glad you liked the series, Corjan! It was quite the experience trying to cover all the events on a day to day basis. I think what you say is right. The element of surprise and momentum was almost lost entirely after the battle of the Losheim gap. Furthermore, something I have not discussed in this series are the actions of 12th SS, which were supposed to cover Peiper’s right flank. They failed to breach the defenses at the twin villages Krinkelt-Rocherath. The US forces took up effective blocking position at the Elsenborn ridge. This caused Peiper’s movements to be far more restricted, and, of course also made it possible for various Taskfroces to creep up on him, eventually cutting his spearhead from the body of the Kampfgruppe.

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