Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Will the real Americans please stand up?

At the start of the Battle of the Bulge on the 16th of December 1944 several freezing, scared, ill-supported engineers were manning a roadblock at Malmedy. The sounds of war had picked up over the last few hours and troops fleeing from in front of them had brought tales of a massive German attack. During the day they passed a straggler though, it was a single Jeep with three or four men in it. Unbeknownst to the engineers the men in the Jeep were Germans. They were a reconnaissance team from the now almost mythical Panzer Brigade 150. This team reported back how lightly defended Malmedy was to their commander Otto Skorzeny.
VisMod Stug III as used by the Germans.
After the failure of the original plan due to a massive traffic jam which held up Panzer Brigade 150, Skorzeny convinced his superiors that his force could attack and defeat the scratch defence at Malmedy. He was given the go ahead. Panzer Brigade 150 was again held up by traffic jams, and this delayed their ability to marshal for attack until the 21st. In between the 16th and the 21st the defenders were reinforced by four battalions of infantry (one armoured), with support from two platoons of M10 tank destroyers. In the intervening days the engineers had also began mining and booby trapping the area. One of the leg infantry battalions was the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), it consisted of Norwegian-American soldiers, and all were fluent in Norwegian. Compare if you will to the German attempts at assembling English speakers in Panzer Brigade 150, where you had just ten who were fluent in "American", thirty odd who spoke fluent English and some two hundred with moderate English skills. The Germans had some US equipment, although in this battle they only used the vehicles. By a strange turn of fate the mortars on the US side ran out of ammunition early on in the battle, so to keep the guns firing they took 8cm German rounds from a nearby captured dump and fired them at a risk of a round detonating in the tube.
So you had Norwegian-Americans using German weapons to fight off Germans using American equipment!

Some of that captured US equipment was rattling down the road toward Malmedy at 0300 on the 21st of December. On one flank a German formation led by a halftrack drove through a dense forest and wound its way along a road hacked into the side of a steep hill. As they approached Malmedy the lead halftrack hit a mine and became a bright fireball, the Germans reacted with an immediate assault towards the US lines, yelling, in English, for the US soldiers to surrender. The US mortars and their base of fire put down such a withering hail of fire it slowed the German assault to a crawl and then the artillery joined in. US artillery of World War Two had some problems, one was a somewhat slow time on target approach, where using carefully timed charges and elevations at the guns they could have multiple rounds in the air from one tube, all of which would arrive at a target at the same time. This meant the opening salvo of a US unit could often be devastatingly massive compared to other nations, but it did take some time to calculate. However it would arrive without warning. Now the firepower of six battalions of artillery, and even two of anti-air, fell on the flank force. This in effect removed them from the battle.
Waiting a mile away in a small hamlet above Malmedy was the main assault force of Germans, with two companies of infantry and four Ersatz M10's (Panther tanks disguised to look like M10 tank destroyers). While the sounds of the battle rumbled across them they maintained their positions ready for the attack. At 0530 they started their offensive planning to take the US forces by surprise. Almost instantly their hopes were dashed as they hit several tripwires linked to flares and other pyrotechnics which stripped the cover of darkness from their attack. One of the Ersatz M10's hit a mine as it charged down the road towards a flanking position with some infantry as they tried to capture a railway embankment.

Four other Panthers, and a mass of infantry assaulted directly towards Malmedy. In the foggy darkness the four Panthers found themselves looking in a mirror as they faced four M10 tank destroyers. Unsurprisingly the four Panthers won the short fight and forced the American line to bend back, with the US defences congealing at the Paper Mill. Here they met Private Francis S. Currey. His Medal of Honor Citation reads:
He was an automatic rifleman with the 3rd Platoon defending a strongpoint near Malmedy, Belgium, on 21 December 1944, when the enemy launched a powerful attack. Overrunning tank destroyers and antitank guns located near the strong point, German tanks advanced to the 3rd Platoon's position, and, after prolonged fighting, forced the withdrawal of this group to a nearby factory. Sgt. Currey found a bazooka in the building and crossed the street to secure rockets meanwhile enduring intense fire from enemy tanks and hostile infantrymen who had taken up a position at a house a short distance away. In the face of small-arms, machinegun, and artillery fire, he, with a companion, knocked out a tank with 1 shot. Moving to another position, he observed 3 Germans in the doorway of an enemy-held house. He killed or wounded all 3 with his automatic rifle. He emerged from cover and advanced alone to within 50 yards of the house, intent on wrecking it with rockets. Covered by friendly fire, he stood erect, and fired a shot which knocked down half of 1 wall. While in this forward position, he observed 5 Americans who had been pinned down for hours by fire from the house and 3 tanks. Realizing that they could not escape until the enemy tank and infantry guns had been silenced, Sgt. Currey crossed the street to a vehicle, where he procured an armful of antitank grenades. These he launched while under heavy enemy fire, driving the tankmen from the vehicles into the house. He then climbed onto a half-track in full view of the Germans and fired a machinegun at the house. Once again changing his position, he manned another machinegun whose crew had been killed; under his covering fire the 5 soldiers were able to retire to safety. Deprived of tanks and with heavy infantry casualties, the enemy was forced to withdraw. Through his extensive knowledge of weapons and by his heroic and repeated braving of murderous enemy fire, Sgt. Currey was greatly responsible for inflicting heavy losses in men and material on the enemy, for rescuing 5 comrades, 2 of whom were wounded, and for stemming an attack which threatened to flank his battalion's position.

The Germans now devastated and beaten began to withdraw, and the Battle of Malmedy was over. Soon the Panzer Brigade would be replaced in the front line, and then disbanded. The 99th Infantry stayed in the area until January then was replaced in the line and undertook several other rear area duties until the end of the war.

Sgt. Currey survived the war, and is still alive today. In 1998 he was awarded another accolade, he had an Action Man (yes I used "Action Man" because I'm British. In the US it was called G.I. Joe) figure modelled on him.

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