by T/Sgt. Chris CHRISTENSEN
Company G, 505th PIR
82nd ABN. Div.
The defense of Grand-Halleux
This story will begin Dec. 16,1944, while not over in the Ardennes where the Battle of the Bulge had just begun, but in England. Here some of us troopers who had been wounded in Holland (Market Garden) had been evacuated to. On my release from the hospital where I had been treated, I would return back to Quorn, where part of our rear echelon still were. The main body of the 505PIR had by now been relieved after continuous fighting in Holland (63 days). They would now be quartered at Suippes, France, in Army Reserve.
Before preceding further, I will attempt to familiarize you with the T.O. “Table of Organization” of a parachute regiment. A, B, C Companies, Ist Battalion. D, E, F. 2nd Bn. G, H, I, 3rd Bn. These will all be light rifle companies. Also each battalion will have a Headquarters Company. There will also be a Reg, HDQ. and a Service Company. The T.O. of these 142 men companies will be, 3 platoons plus Company Hdq. Three squads make up a platoon. I was in the 3rd plt. of G Co.
The next day being a Sunday and with the day off, I had ventured out into town to visit my favorite pub. Here I hadn’t much more than got settled in when some 505 officer enters with the instructions that all passes had been canceled and to report back to camp. Here we were told to get packed as we would be moving out that evening.
Later about 50 of us veterans along with about the same number of rear echelon service troops would take a train down to Southampton. There we would board a LCT (Landing Craft Tank) for our journey across the channel. From there we would be trucked down to Suippes. About now we would being hearing some rumors about the German break through. On arriving at the camp it was only to find the regiment had pulled out a couple of days prior, heading for the Ardennes. None of us had any equipment, so the rest of the day and into the night was spent being resupplied from the meager supplies available.
Early the next morning would find us boarding trucks again and heading out to rejoin our regiment, Much later in the day we would finally reach our destination where we would be split up and would join our companies.
On reporting in to my company where I was a Squad Leader (S/Sgt) I was finally able to find out what was happening. It seemed the Germans had mounted a huge offensive along a broad front in this lightly defended area. The 505 would be in a defensive position and dug in along the Salm River. G Company had the responsibility of guarding the bridge separating Petite and Grand Halleux. No way was this small wooden bridge to fall intact into the enemies hands. Of course these two villages were also our responsibility also if possible. The entire regiment would be stretched out very thin. Mostly where it was thought the enemy might be crossing were we able to guard.
The deployment of the company would be, one platoon across the river in Grand Halleux with an outpost further up the hill, in the outskirts of town on the road leading toward Wanne. The other two platoons would be dug in on the Petite side of the river. As a safeguard, some of the 307 Engineers had placed charges to blow the bridge. On taking over my squad, I would find it dug in a line running parallel and about 50 yards above the railroad leaving town. Further back up the hill would be the mortar squad and off to the left would be an machine gun section from the 3rd Battalion Hdq. Co. Also attached to the company would be a TD (tank destroyer) set up to fire down the road and over into Grand-Halleux if the enemy got this far.
The Salm River, although narrow and shallow was a natural barrier for both tanks and vehicular traffic with its steep banks and questionable ground being solid enough to support the weight. Furthermore, most roads somewhere would be going through dense forests, so to move the Germans would have to control the roads.
For the next couple of days things were relatively quiet. You could hear the big guns in the distance and at night the muzzle flashes. These you could see were moving ever closer to your position, also when you began hearing small arms fire, you knew Jerry wasn’t to far off.
A little after dark on the night of Dec 23-24 we begin to take a few small caliber mortar shells into our position. This is telling me a couple of things. He knows where we are dug in and that infantry is close by and get ready as an attack is about to happen.
Shortly afterward this shelling would let up and there can be heard rifle fire in the vicinity of where our outpost is. When only Jerry’s weapons can be heard, you knew the outpost had been overrun.
Earlier in the day I have reminded my squad about our troops across the river over in Grand Halleux, so don’t fire until I give the signal. About now it is hard to withhold your firing as Jerry has made a charge into town as you can tell by the intense firing and them screaming to the top of their lungs as they advanced. They were out to take this bridge at all costs. While all this was going on we were still holding our fire until by prearranged plans the platoon in Grand Halleux would pull back across the river. When the bridge was blown, it was the signal to open up. The ones who hadn’t made it back by now probably wouldn’t be coming. When we finally opened up, I think everything started firing at the same time. I had never seen anything before or after that could equal such a concentrated wall of fire that we laid down on them that evening. There was fire coming from support groups I wasn’t even aware we had. After awhile the firing stopped almost as quickly as it had started. At this time there was a hush that fell over the valley that was real eerie. There wasn’t a sound from either side for a few moments. When the silence was broken you could hear them screaming in pain, begging for help, moaning, pleading, some I even remember cussing us in English. We must have massacred them. I can’t believe Jerry would make such stupid mistakes as he has made tonight. Over the years, I have given this a lot of thought and the only solution I have come up with was, he thought he was facing some green troops and this would scare them into breaking and running.
Shortly after the fighting had stopped, I was given orders to move my squad out of my present position and set up a defensive line between the railroad track and the river running parallel in between. I had the men dig in about 50 foot apart and I stayed in the center with my assistant down on the far end. We hadn’t much more than got dug in when our artillery starts shelling. Luckily this doesn’t last too long as I am not too sure we aren’t getting as much as Jerry. Anyway, things quieted down for the rest of the night. You can still hear them on the other side of the river tending to their wounded and carting them out. A lot of vehicular traffic also. In this present position, it feels like you can darn near reach out and touch them. To make things more eerie, there is now a fog beginning to settle in. I can’t see much, but sound sure travels. All night I am thinking about this exposed position and the trouble we will be in come daylight, but I am sure we will be pulled out before then. As things start to get a little lighter, I begin to get concerned. The Jerry’s on the hill at Grand Halleux are going to be looking right down our throat. If not picking us off, he could at least keep us pinned down. The fog is beginning to lift and I realize it is now or never. I send word, passing it down the line from man to man for them to stay down. I am going to try and break out and get help. My hope is Jerry will get caught napping. My luck runs out just about two thirds the way from where there is some cover. One guy opens up on me, but his aim is off and I am able to jump in a hole with one of my men who is dug in there. I stay here in this position as long as I dare and I try to make it the rest of the way. Either luck was with me or he was a bad shot, because I made it to cover without getting hit.
Alex Jones in the next hole sees me make it out, so he tries the same stunt. He doesn’t go ten steps before he is hit and is down. I crawl back as close as my cover allows and call out to him. Getting no response, I do not know if he is alive or dead. About this time I look over to the railroad embankment and I see one of our medics “Chris Perry” standing on top holding a Red Cross Flag. One man starts firing at him, but his aim is off and the bullets kick up dust at Chris’s feet. He stands perfectly still and the guy quits firing. Chris then walks down off the embankment and over to Jones. He rolls him over and patches him up. He then precedes to get Jones to his feet and helps him off the field into the house where the platoon C.P. is. I can’t believe the Germans letting him get away with this. I suppose we let them get their wounded out last night, so maybe they were returning the favor. About this time I made it up to the C.P. Col. Kaiser, the battalion commander is on his way. He no more than comes in when he sees and understands my predicament. He will call in some smoke. I was told to go back and alert the men what to expect and to get ready. I hadn’t much more then gotten back when I could hear the shells coming. It was a perfect drop. Anyway, that was the night of the 23rd and morning of the 24th “Christmas Eve.”
After the last ordeal, we would move back to our original positions. Nobody had slept last evening, so most were catching a few winks. All day there had been rumors circulating that we are pulling back that night. This I do not pay much attention to. Anyway, this one proves true. The company is to pull out very quietly at midnight so as not to alert Jerry and move to a new position. In fact the entire regiment is pulling back. It seems the whole front in our area is over extended. A short time later I get called down to the C.P. and am given some special instructions. After dark I am to move my squad back to the position we had just gotten out of this A.M. Furthermore, when the company moves out at midnight, we are to stay until 5 o’clock the next morning, acting as the rearguard for the company. I was also briefed on where we were to meet the next day. On returning to my squad, I got them all together and explained everything I knew, putting special emphasis on where the company would be and how to get there in case we become separated.
That evening about 8 o’clock or so, we resumed our positions down by the river for what we knew was going to be a long night. On schedule at midnight you could hear the company pulling out. I immediately changed things around. One man I pulled out of line and placed on the street in front of the house where the platoon C.P. was. I didn’t want any surprises coming from that direction. I moved out in back of the C.P. From here I thought I could control things better. I knew in my mind if we got hit down here that I would pull them back to our old positions. There I thought we could hold them off for awhile at least. Down here we wouldn’t last five minutes.
The company had been gone only an hour or so when I started hearing heavy firing from the direction they would be traveling. From the sound of things this did not sound like an isolated pocket of the enemy either. This went on for awhile and then finally faded out. There was also big guns firing, which seems from every direction. My position remained quiet though until about 3:AM when one of my men came up and told me he had just heard Jerry crossing the river just below him. On further questioning, he said it was only a small group, so I knew it could only be a reconnaissance patrol. This I knew wouldn’t give us any trouble unless they turned around and came back into the town from the other end and found it empty. I knew Jerry would then move in and occupy it. I hoped they would wait until after daylight, as we would be long gone. The rest of the night proved uneventful. Promptly at 5 AM we vacated our positions and started out. I had already briefed the men to stay well spread out and we would be moving at a brisk pace, also we would stay on the road. Up until now I don’t remember any snow, but the weather is getting colder. It must have rained or hailed sometime during the night, because the road in places was icy. Along this route I felt at anytime we would be ambushed, but we lucked out. It was sure a welcome relief when I pulled into the new position where the company was now dug in. I reported to my C.O., Capt. Isaacs and the first thing he said when he saw me was “I didn’t expect to see you again.” The Germans the battalion had encountered last night he thought I would run into this morning. “Pleasant thought.”
Copyright © 2001-2011 Weathley T. CHRISTENSEN & Eddy LAMBERTY
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