History #8 - Battle History from 16 December to 22 December 1944
by: James Burke
299th Engineer Combat Battalion from 16 December to 22 December 1944
HEADQUARTERS, 299th ENGINEER COMBAT BATTALION
SUBJECT: Battle History-299th Engineer Combat Battalion from 16 December to 22 December 1944.
TO: Commanding General, First United States Army, APO 230,
Thru: Commanding Officer, 1128th Engineer Combat Group.
The 299th Engineer Combat Battalion was attached to the 1128th Engineer Combat Group who in turn was in support of VIII Corps. The 299th Engineer Combat Battalion had been completely committed in an extensive lumber cutting program which was a part of the First Army's Winterization program. The battalion was bringing their lumber quota to a close and had for several days been making defensive plans for protection of rear areas against enemy paratroopers.
The first enemy action concerning the battalion came on 16 December 1944 with the shelling of the town of Diekirch, Luxembourg, where the battalion was operating a sawmill. The sawmill was evacuated of all personnel and equipment.
At 0130 17 December 1944 the battalion was alerted, all observation posts were manned according to plan and Company "A" was placed on alert. All the battalion personnel and equipment forward of Corps rear boundary were assembled at their respective CPs, located at that time at Hachy and Habay, Belgium.
The enemy threat grew worse on the 18th and Company "B" was ordered out at 1825 to establish and man a barrier line running northwest from Martelange and generally along N46 to its junction with N15, a frontage of about twelve miles.
Company "B" opened their CP at Witry, Belgium at 0055 on the 19th and started immediately to establish a barrier line, which they completed by noon that day.
Company "A" was ordered out at 1150 to establish a 15 mile barrier running northwest along N46 in extension of the one given to company "B" to the junction of N26 and from there, along the Ourthe River to a point north of N4. This lined up with the barrier line being established by the 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion which extended on, northwest, to La Roche. Company "A" moved out, and established a CP at La Vacherie at 1415 and went to work immediately on their barrier line. First priority was given to a Bailey Bridge on N4 in the vicinity of Ortheuville and other bridges in that vicinity. It had been reported that tanks were in the immediate vicinity.
At 1500 Company "C" was ordered to move to Vaux, and remain in support of Companies "A" and "B". They opened their CP at Vaux at 1725.
Company "A" completed the preparation for demolition of six bridges in their sector at 2029. The southern portion of their sector having been taken care of by elements of the 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion. A patrol sent out from Company "A" to prepare a bridge at P487646 for demolition met an enemy armored column of fourteen vehicles advancing on them. They engaged the enemy possibly knocking out one tank. The patrol abandoned two trucks and the men scattered into the woods when capture was imminent. The patrol leader returned to the Company CP alone at 0145. Enemy action early the 20th of December along the northwest end of Company "A" barrier caused them to blow all bridges except the Bailey Bridge on N4. Security of the Bailey Bridge was reinforced by eight tank destroyers.
Company "A" was to be relieved at daylight of all blocks north of N26 by elements of the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion and all blocks south of N26 and N15 by Company "C" 299th Engineer Combat Battalion who was still in reserve at Vaux. Company "C" moved to Morhet opening their CP at 1600. Due to enemy action, second platoon Company "A" was not relieved by elements of the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion.
The enemy attacked the Bailey Bridge at 1930 on 20th December. In the ensuing fight, the tank destroyers knocked out an enemy tank on the end of the bridge thus making it an effective obstacle. A counter-attack by the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion with elements of Company "A" 299th Engineer Combat Battalion attached, secured the bridge, destroyed an enemy armored vehicle and pushed the enemy back, opening N4 to Bastogne. The second platoon Company "C" 299th Engineer Combat Battalion arrived and relieved the second platoon of Company "A" on the Bailey Bridge about noon. Company "A" less two squads still missing in action assembled at the Battalion CP at Hachy and went into reserve.
On the evening of the 19th the battalion submitted plans to Group Headquarters for a barrier line from Martelange southeast to Arlon, and east of N4 a frontage of about fifteen miles. The task of preparing and manning the barrier was given to elements of the 341st Engineer General Service Regiment, at Arlon, on the 20th, who had come under control of the 1128th Engineer Combat Group. The 299th Engineer Combat Battalion was to supervise the barrier and coordinate it with their barrier to the north. The executive Officer was sent out at noon to check the barrier. He returned about 1800 with information that the barrier was weak due to possible bypasses of bridges and fording of streams. He also reported that a pitched battle was going on just north of Martelange at about 1500 hours. This was confirmed by reports from Company "B" that they blew the two bridges in Martelange at 1720 and that enemy tanks and infantry had moved into the town under the protection of heavy gun fire.
All barriers in the vicinity of Martelange were soon blown and all personnel not cut off by the enemy returned to the Company CP at Witry. Company "B" was given orders to stand by at Witry as long as possible.
At 1745 on the afternoon of the 20th, the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion received orders to retake Martelange. Company "C" 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion, less one platoon and 140 riflemen of the 341st Engineer General service Regiment were attached to the battalion for the mission. Two forces were organized. Captain Manion, 299th Engineer Combat Battalion was to meet Captain Sullivan (C.O. Co "C" 1278th Engineer Combat Bn.) in Habay and take element of his company to Witry where he was to pick up remnants of the first platoon of Company "B" 299th Engineer Combat Battalion who had been on the bridges in Martelange and to attack the town from the west. This force was to be known as Company "B's" force. Lt. Jenkins 299th Engineer Combat Battalion was ordered to proceed to RJ Rt9 and N4 where he was to meet Captain Oldenberg with 140 riflemen. This force-was to be known as "Buick" force and was to attack Martelange from the south with N4 as an axis for the attack.
At 2000 hours Major Kohler (battalion executive officer) was sent to CP at Witry to coordinate the two attacks. He arrived there at 2230 and found that Company "B" task force had not yet assembled.
Captain Manion arrived at Witry at 2330 hours with approximately one platoon of Company "C" 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion. The convoy had become separated in moving forward and it was expected that the rest of the company would follow.
Company "B" task force was immediately organized consisting of: a provisional platoon of Company "B" 299th Engineer Combat Battalion, with Captain Steen (company commander) in charge, and the two officers (Lt. Donahoo and Lt. Seibert) accompanying him. A provisional platoon of Company "C" 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion with Lt. Christie in charge accompanied by Lt. Zelanzy.
Captain Manion moved out in charge of the task force ar 0112 hours with the mission of establishing a defensive position on the outskirts of town and sending patrols into town to obtain strength and disposition of the enemy. He was not to attack the town before dawn. No contact was made with "Buick".
"Buick" force had moved up N4 to the southern outskirts of town and were preparing to send night patrols into town. This they accomplished very successfully, obtaining information of strength and disposition of the enemy. They did not attack.
The remainder of Company "C" 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion arrived just as the task force Company "B" was moving out. They were joined by Captain Sullivan Company Commander, Company "C" 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion at 0210 hours and moved forward under his command at 0247 with strength of about a platoon less one squad. The squad led by Sgt. Bernsten having been sent out by Major Kohler to patrol the road blocks to the northwest along N46 and to establish contact with Lt. Russell, second platoon, Company "B" who was in charge. The patrol returned about 0830 the next morning reporting that everything was quiet.
Contact was made with elements of the 552 Engineer Heavy Ponton Company who were along N45 in the vicinity of Trainmont. The 552 Engineer Heavy Ponton Company had a barrier line from Trainmont northwest to N15, and agreed to stand by their barriers as long as elements of the task force were forward of them. Close communication was maintained between task force headquarters at Witry and the 552 Heavy Ponton Company.
Lt. Zelanzy arrived at the CP at Witry with Lt. Christie who had been injured in a jeep accident. Lt. Christie was evacuated to Battalion CP at Hachy. Lt. Zelanzy reported that everything was quiet. Patrols had been sent into town and only one patrol had been fired upon. one man of the patrol being slightly injured when a bullet cut his cheek. The man had not been evacuated. A patrol had been sent out to contact "Buick",
Chow, medical supplies and a SCR 284 with operators from the 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion was sent forward with Lt. Zelanzy abour 0730. Although contact was made with the radio on two occasions for short intervals, no messages were able to be transmitted or received, and all personnel sent forward at this time are still missing in action. It was later confirmed that these men never contacted the forward CP.
Company "C" was ordered out of their barrier line on the afternoon of the 20th by officers of the 28th Division who had occupied the area. The division did not want barriers constructed in front of them that would interfere with their advance. Company "C" less the second platoon assembled at the CP at Morhet and turned in for rest. About 0200 on the 21st Company "C" was ordered to reinforce the task force at Witry with all available men.
At 0830 Captain Bunting arrived at the CP at Witry with approximately one platoon of Company "C" 299th Engineer Combat Battalion to reinforce the task force. The Company convoy less one platoon had been cut by enemy action while moving from the CP at Morhet the night before. Lt. Koenig and one squad had been dispatched when the convoy reached Vaux, to pick up stragglers. The second platoon under Lt. Husch was attached to the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion and was guarding the Bailey Bridge on N4 at Ourtheville. They remained there until ordered to evacuate. The second platoon Company "C" supported by elements of the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion fought off several enemy threats, putting one enemy machine gun out of action. Lt. French had been sent back to contact them.
Lt. Russell reported at the CP at Witry at 0930 with four enemy paratroopers that had been captured in the vicinity of a road block at Remoiville about 0800. Lt. Russell was given the mission of blowing all obstacles along N46 and concentrating his force at the road block at the junction of N46-N15 and to fight a delaying action. He left the CP about 0900.
Upon the approach of German infantry and tanks, he blew the craters at RJ N15-N46. His men stopped one tank with a bazooka and killed at least six of the German infantry with rifle fire. He then withdrew to Rosiere Le Petit where he was attached to the 28th Division defending the town. on 21st December his men participated in repulsing a German infantry and tank attack. They were again attacked by infantry and tanks at 1800 hours the same day. At 2030 hours the division issued orders to withdraw to Neufchateau.
The platoon reorganized less eight men, who were attached to the 110th Infantry, did engineer work with the division engineers for three days. At 1500 25 December all men were detached from the 28th Division and proceeded back to the Battalion CP at Malonne arriving there about 1930 hours.
The first sergeant Company "C" 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion reported in at 0930 21 December that there were enemy paratroopers at Fauvillers cutting the task force off at Martelange.
Captain Bunting and elements of Company "C" 299th Engineer Combat Battalion then present were sent forward to break through to the task force at Martelange and keep the road open. Company "C" engaged the enemy at Fauvillers at 1005 cleaned out the town, killing at least two and taking four prisoners. They continued their advance toward Martelange. About one half mile outside Fauvillers the enemy pinned them down with heavy machine gun and mortar fire. The advance point had been cut off. When the enemy started closing in the flank the company withdrew to the RJ of N45-N46 where they reinforced the road block with half a squad, the rest returned to the CP at Witry.
Orders had already reached the CP at Witry to evacuate and return to Battalion CP at Hachy. A message was sent to Battalion CP that the task force had been cut off in Martelange and that armored vehicles were needed to break through and get them out. In the meantime, an officer from the 552 Engineer Heavy Ponton Company had come forward to the CP to check on the situation and stated that all was secure behind us and that he had gotten two tank destroyers to support his road blocks. Captain Bunting was sent back to try to get the two tank destroyers to support his company, which now amounted to two full Platoons (the stragglers having arrived), in the attack on Martelange, in an effort to break through and get the task force. The tank destroyers refused to assist without orders from their headquarters.
Major Kohler ordered everyone to withdraw and return to their respective CPs. The convoy was assembled and a patrol was sent back to pick up the rear guard. In addition to the rear guard they picked up the first sergeant of Company "C" 299th Engineer Combat Battalion and two men who had been cut off just east of Fauvillers along with two men from the forward truck area who had escaped an enemy attack. The two men who escaped from the forward truck area reported that they had been surrounded that morning about daylight and all the vehicles had been captured before they could destroy them.
The remnants of the task force left Witry at 1420. At 1100 hours on 21 December the Battalion Headquarters received word to assemble all personnel and proceed to St. Cecil.
Company "A" moved out and relieved "Buick" forces at 0600 on 21st. They took up defensive positions at a road block just south of Martelange on N4 and remained there until word was received to disengage and return to Bn CP. Company "A" reblew the crater on N4 to increase its effectiveness. They returned to Battalion CP at 1500 hours. Executive officer arrived at the battalion CP with remnants of Company "B" and Company "C" about 1500. Three squads of Company "B" had returned from obstacles in the vicinity of RJ N15-N46. Lt. Russell and 19 enlisted men were still fighting on N15 in the vicinity of their road blocks.
At 1630 the Battalion convoy moved out from Hachy arriving at St. Cecil at 2030 hours where the battalion was billeted in two hotels. Major Perry remained at Hachy to pick up stragglers and later went to Neufchateau to get Lt. Russell and men released.
The battalion departed from St. Cecil at 1030 on the morning of the 22nd and arrived at destination at Malonne, Belgium at 1660.
Lt. French arrived at Battalion CP at Malonne at 1830 24 December after having been picked up by elements of the Fourth Armored Division entering Fauvillers on the 22nd of December.
Major Perry arrived at Battalion CP at Malonne about 1930 25 December with Lt. Russell and nineteen enlisted men.
Captain Steen arrived at CP at Malonne about 2000 25 December with Lt. Donahoo and Lt. Seibert. The survivors of Captain Steen's task force had been taken prisoner at Martelange on the 21st of December and evacuated to Bigonville. They were liberated when elements of the Fourth Armored Division retook Bigonville on the 24th of December. Captain Steen reported that First Sergeant Bowers, Company "B" and approximately 25 men were on their way back having been cleared thru the Fourth Armored Division.
A check on the 26th of December revealed that 41 men were still missing in action and two were wounded in action.
Milton A. Jewett
"A" Company: Lyle Corlette
Battalion Journal from 16 Dec 1944 to 22 Dec 1944
HEADQUARTERS 299TH ENGINEER COMBAT BATTALION
SUBJECT : Battalion Journal from 16 Dec 1944 to 22 Dec 1944
16 December 1944
Town of Diekerch shelled today by German heavy artillery. Shelling began 0530 hours lasted until 0800 hours- again at 1000 to noon- 1300 hours until 1500 hours. Schrapnel cut power line supplying our sawmill in town. One enemy shell landed In gate to sawmill. Germans using instantaneous fuse. No damage. German ai rcraft seen over town in afternoon. No personnel of this command Injured.
17 December 1944
All observation posts manned in accordance with security plan. Sawmill operation forward of Corps rear boundary discontinued. All battalion equipment forward of this boundary returned to battalion CP. Enemy reported in Diekerch. 158th Engineer Combat Battalion manning a barrier line east of Bastogne running north-south from Wiltz to Asselborn. Enemy has broken front line in vicinity of Clervaux and heading in direction of Bastogne. Paratroopers reported to have landed in vicinity of Wiltz. Enemy tanks in Wiltz.
18 December 1944
Strong enemy attack v1cinity Martelange-Bastogne, with use of tanks. VIII Corps and Army Headquarters moving out.
19 December 1944
CP Company "B" opened at Witry (P475422) at 190055 A Dec. 44. CP Company "A" opened at LaVacherie (P408638) at 191415 A Dec. 44. Both companies will occupy barrier line extending from Martelange NW to LaRoche in conjunction with 158th Engineers. 158th Engineers on left flank, 299th Engineers on right flank.
Situation report 1810 hours;
1725 - Company "C" to support "B" and "A" Companies in barrier line. Company "C" CP at Vaux.
20 December 1944
0145 - Platon Sergeant third platoon Company "A" reported that attempt to demolish bridge at P487646 was impossible because of enemy action. Lost two 2½ ton Dump trucks.
21 December 1944
0025 - Road block south of Martelange blown by "B" Company because of tank and tank destroyer south of the bridge.
22 December !944
1200 - Battalion convoy reached Givet picked up advanced party and proceeded to destination Malonne (J9108).
Copyright © 2006 / All rights reserved.