Wargame Wednesday: Battle of the Bulge. Cannae in the Schnee Eifel.

Wednesday , 27, February 2019 Leave a comment

The title from today’s post taken from Hugh Cole’s The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge.  In the previous post, the Germans have taken the village of Bleialf and have driven the 14th Armored Group back to Andler.  In this post, the two pincers of the German advance snap shut at Schoenburg, cutting off the 106th Infantry Division’s 422nd and 423rd Regiments and sealing their fate.

For those new to this series of posts here is the index of links along with a review of Shenandoah Studios Battle of the Bulge game.

Andler to Schönberg

After the German assault on the Losheim Gap, 14th Cavalry Group’s Troop B (from the 32nd Recon Squadron) was holding the southern end of a fall back line at Andler.  At daybreak on the 17th the Germans advanced on Andler with infantry supported by Tiger tanks. The Tigers were from the 506th Panzer Battalion which actually belonged to the Sixth Panzer Army and were sent south to find a road (and bridges) that would allow them to continue west. Overwhelmed, Troop B withdrew to Schönberg while the Tigers went lumbering off to the northwest. This withdrawal made the rest of the fall back line untenable to defend and the 32nd Cavalry Squadron at Herresbach was given permission to fall back to Meyerode.  Herresbach can be seen on the next page’s map, just to the west where the 14th Cavalry units are located on the top.

The remaining forces of 14th Cavalry Group’s 32nd Recon Squadron were now split in two, divided by the thick forests and lack of north / south roads.

Once in Schönberg, Troop B was attacked by the 294th Volks-Grenadier Regiment and before being overwhelmed retreated westwards towards St. Vith.  They found a good defensive position just west of  Schönberg at a sharp bend in the road near the village of Heuem. According to Hugh Cole:

“Here, while other American troops streamed through from the east, the cavalry deployed its six armored cars and ten machine gun and mortar jeeps. When the first German vehicle, a tank or assault gun, rounded the bend two of the armored cars opened up with 37-mm. guns which did no damage but induced it to withdraw. Then, for nearly two hours, the troopers’ light machine guns and mortars repelled every attempt that the advance guard of the 294th made to move forward. Finally at 100 the 14th Cavalry Group sent radio orders for Troop B to withdraw through St. Vith and rejoin the 32d Squadron northeast of that city. This move was part of a general withdrawal which Colonel Devine had ordered on his own initiative after scouts sent out by the 18th Squadron at Wereth reported seeing German troops to the west (probably the advance guard of the 3d Parachute Division moving in the direction of Malmédy)”.

The game map below shows Troop B’s route from Andler to its defense of Heuem.  Once Schönberg was taken the fate of the two trapped American regiments were sealed.

Screen shot of game play during the morning of 17 December. The historical position of Bravo Troop of the 32nd Recon Squadron in Andler is shown along with their route to Schonburg then Heuem. St. Vith is off map to the left and Bleialf due south.

Scenario Update

My opponent has decided not to defend Andler and instead started garrisoning Schönberg with surviving units from and assigned to the 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments.  Instead of a split in 14th Cavalry Group forces my opponent has kept all his recon units in the vicinity of Herresbach (14th Cav on the map). During the clear weather turns the armor was able to harass my advancing infantry with long range, HE fire.  My Tigers approach from the east to even things up (506th on the map).

The major difference between the game situation and historical events is that, in the game, the 422nd and 423rd instead of being surrounded, are about to be destroyed by a battle of attrition, . As mentioned in prior posts, this is due to the way the scenario designer has set up the game.  To summarize:

  • Villages in the Losheim Gap are garrisoned by 422nd infantry units. Historically, the 14th Cavalry Armored Group was responsible for the defense for all of the gap.  The Germans were able to push through quickly and cut off the 422nd from the north before they could adequately respond.
  • A gap in the front lines between the 14th Cav and the 422nd which the Germans exploited was not recreated.
  • Germans start a couple of miles east of Bleialf instead of beginning the scenario assaulting this vital position to the south.

Game wise, I’m doing well and this scenario can still serve as a vehicle to explore the historical battle. That being said, the connection between the scenario and history is becoming more tenuous and I’ll probably end game coverage if or when St. Vith is captured.

The 423rd Infantry Regiment.

Early morning on 17 December, 106th Division Headquarters received a radio message that the Germans had overrun Bleialf and at 0905 hrs more bad news was received that the Germans in Bleialf had pushed the 423rd Infantry Regiment, along with most of the Bleialf garrison back to the northeast (i.e. away from friendly forces and into the pocket) and had joined hands with the forces at Schönberg.

Some units that didn’t bear the brunt of the German assault were in a position to escape. They reached Schönberg just in time but had a nerve racking experience:

But on the extreme right flank of the regiment, south of Bleialf, elements of Company B, 81st Engineer Battalion, were overrun and Troop B, 18th Cavalry Squadron, was left isolated. Unable to reach the 423d, the troop was given permission to try the Schönberg exit. About dark Troop B started north, followed by a part of the 106th Reconnaissance Troop which had become separated from the 424th Infantry. Keeping to the west of the enemy-occupied Bleialf-Schönberg road, the cavalry column reached the edge of Schönberg. (By this time the situation was so confused that a Volkswagen full of grenadiers moved into the column just ahead of an armored car-whose gunner promptly destroyed the intruding vehicle and its occupants.)

Because Schönberg was known to be in German hands, the 3rd Platoon moved in to determine the situation. The platoon had crossed the Our bridge and was at the north end of the village when there appeared a column of American trucks, but filled with Germans carrying arms. The three armored cars, forming the point of the platoon, wheeled over to the side of the road and raced toward the head of the column, firing their machine guns and 37-mm. cannon as they passed the yelling Germans. Suddenly a Mark IV tank slipped out of a side road. Only one of the American armored cars got away. When informed by radio of this engagement the 423d Infantry instructed Troop B to “make your own decision.” Unsuccessful in finding any passable secondary road, the troopers destroyed their vehicles and broke up into small groups for the journey toward St. Vith. Hiding by day and traveling by night some fifty reached the St. Vith lines. The 106th Reconnaissance Troop had become completely disorganized while following Troop B, and one platoon was left in Grosslangenfeld (a heavily wooded area south of Bleialf) with neither orders nor word of the withdrawal.  Most of the officers and men surrendered the next morning without a fight

When darkness came on 17 December, some eight or nine thousand Americans were effectively bottled up west of the Schnee Eifel. Their story henceforth has little connection with events outside the pocket.

 

The 422nd and 423rd Attempt to Break Out

Location of the three battalions of the 423rd and the 422rd Infantry Regiments prior to their attempts to break out.

 

  • I have superimposed information from a map on page 106 of Battleground Europe’s St Vith US 106th Infantry Division onto the game map.
  • Note the location of 88 Corner, just north of Bleialf. It received its name as the intersection on the Bleialf / Schönberg highway was under enemy observation and any traffic would draw fire. The map shows the hex as a village hex but think that this is incorrect. Just north is the Engineer Cut Off, allowing American troops a different route, out of line of site. Neither site plays a role in the scenario, especially in which most of the turns are played in foggy conditions.
  • The positions of the 3 battalions of the 423rd Regiment on the morning of the 18th.
  • On the right edge of the map the location the two columns of the 422nd met up.  They thought they were only one mile from Schoenburg. On the 19th, elements of the 422nd managed to reach the ridge line above the paved road between Andler and Schönberg.
  • At this time, the Germans hold Schönberg and elements of the 18th VG Division are approaching from the south and east.

On the 18th, the 423rd Infantry Regiment did try to organize an attack to break out of the trap but while trying to concentrate their forces German artillery blasted the American positions along Hill 526’s ridge line with direct fire. Immediately afterwards, German infantry closed in overrunning many units. The Americans were still able to try their assault, and two rifle companies actually reached the outskirts of Schönberg but they were driven off by anti-aircraft fire.  With the failure of this assault the 423rd surrendered just before dark on the 19th.

Units of the 422nd Infantry Regiment were never able to link up with the 423rd just to its south. Earlier in the battle there was an exchange of friendly fire between a battalion of the 423rd and elements of the 422nd who mistook their comrades for Germans attempting a flanking maneuver.  The commanders of the 422nd and 423rd were able to coordinate their breakout attempt with the 422nd organizing to:

..advance in column of battalions (i.e. two columns), the axis to the northwest in the direction of Schönberg. Excess equipment was destroyed, the wounded were left with an aid man, the regimental cannon company fired its last smoke rounds into Auw (as a slight deterrent to enemy observers), then spiked the pieces. In two columns-one made up of foot troops lugging all portable weapons, the other made up of regimental vehicles-the movement encountered nothing but small groups of the enemy.“.

Unfortunately, reconnaissance for this movement was only by the map and when the the columns met up in the evening:

A wood had been selected on the map as a suitable assembly area from which to launch a coordinated attack against Schönberg, this about one and a half miles from the village. In fact, however, the regiment had bivouacked northeast of Oberlascheid in a wood about three miles from its objective-nor apparently was anyone the wiser.“.

Preparations were made to attack at daylight on the 19th.

At daybreak the three battalions moved out abreast, advancing in approach march formation toward the objective-Schönberg-believed to be little more than a mile distant. The leading troops were just crossing the Bleialf-Auw road when they were hit by machine gun and tank fire.”

The Germans kept the 422nd’s battalions pinned down though some units made it to their objectives overlooking the road from Andler to Schönberg. Around 1400 hrs the sound of tanks approaching from the north gave the Americans hope that help had arrived. The Americans looked down to see the road packed “bumper to bumper” with vehicles. Unfortunately, the vehicles belonged to the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade. The Americans were soon spotted and the ridge line saturated with fire from halftracks mounted with AA guns. One American company began to score hits with mortars and machine guns but German fire was too strong and accurate and the Americans soon sought cover on the reverse slope. Initially, the 422nd’s commanding officer tried to set up defensive positions but with supplies of ammunition about to run out, hungry troops without food and wounded that needed care, the decision was made to surrender, which happened around 1600 hrs.

A group of 400 Americans attempted to escape to the southwest but after becoming trapped they surrendered on the 21st.  Another group traveling with most of the vehicles tried to break out through Bleialf but was stopped by a mine field on the village outskirts and forced to surrender. In the end, no more than 150 men from the 422nd escaped.

 

The path to St. Vith is now wide open.

 

Misc.

Photos, some in color, taken during the Bulge.  None, I can identify are specific to the St. Vith sector, though some may be.

 

 

 

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