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ed to bypass Wiltz on 19 December with his entire division but now found that he could not get his regiments back in hand. The 5th Parachute Division commander had already experienced great difficulty in maintaining control of his units in action. His staff and regimental commanders, appointees of Generaloberst Kurt Student, had formed a clique against the previous commander and were hostile to Heilmann. [19] Furthermore, troops and troop leaders were poorly trained, coming as they had only recently from Luftwaffe ground units. Even on the first day of the offensive one of Heilmann's regiments had been lost for several hours. This experience, events would show, had borne little fruit.


On the morning of 19 December the headquarters of the 28th Infantry Division transferred from Wiltz to Sibret, southwest of Bastogne. The provisional battalion which had been recruited from the headquarters staff remained in Wiltz. Meanwhile General Cota had ordered Colonel Strickler to move in the 3d Battalion, 110th Infantry, from Nocher. The battalion, perhaps 200 strong, arrived in Wiltz about noon and Strickler assumed command of the forces in the town. During the morning the 26th Volks Grenadier Division engaged in desultory action, moving troops around to the north. Since the Wiltz bridge had not been destroyed, the American assault gun platoon was ordered back to Erpeldange, covering the northeastern approach to the bridge and the engineer outposts. Four of the 707th tanks that had been crippled the previous day were drawn up on the ridge east of Wiltz to give what help they might as more or less stationary artillery. The Americans were not too worried by the flanking move because tanks of the 10th Armored Division were expected momentarily.


The German infantry on the north side of town aligned for the assault about 1400. A sharp attack drove a provisional platoon, made up from the 28th Division band, off the high ground to the northwest, thus exposing the engineer line. The 44th was hit from the northeast and east by infantry armed with machine pistols charging in alongside single tanks. As American riflemen and machine gunners cut down the German assault teams, they saw their own ranks thinning. In this fight the crossroads near Erpeldange changed hands four times. The assault gun platoon gave good support wherever the line was threatened, but by the end of the afternoon its fuel and ammunition were nearly gone and the gunners, after four days of nearly continuous action, were approaching complete exhaustion. When darkness finally came, the 44th withdrew with the assault guns into Wiltz, having lost four officers and 150 men. This time the bridge was blown. On orders, the three remaining assault guns went back to cover the wrecked structure. Their fate is unknown.


While elements of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division were attacking on the north side of the Wiltz, detachments of the 5th Parachute Division struck the American perimeter on the south and southeast. This timing might seem to


[19] The so-called Parachute Army had developed originally as a partisan and personal creation of Goering. As a result it was ridden with politics. The account of Heilmann's difficulties is in MS # B-023, 5th Parachute Division, 1 December-12 January 1945 (Generalmajor Ludwig Heilmann).