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The 109th Infantry Defense on the Sauer and Our Rivers 16-20 December


The 109th Infantry, led by Lt. Col. James E. Rudder, a former Ranger commander, was close to full strength, although, like the rest of the 28th Division, its rifle companies were filled by replacements with limited experience and training. The division commander had considered that the enemy might make a "distracting" attack toward Diekirch and Ettelbruck, in an attempt to cut the road and rail lines running north from the city of Luxembourg, and had disposed the 109th accordingly. On the division south flank, the 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. Jim H. McCoy) was allotted a four-mile front, but had concentrated men and weapons in an almost continuous 3,000-yard defense line along the heights in the triangle formed by the Our and Sauer Rivers which overlooked the valley road west to Ettelbruck. On this road the 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. H. R. Williams) lay in reserve at Diekirch, with two field artillery battalions, the 107th and 108th, emplaced close to that town. The 2d Battalion sector to the north was over five miles in width. In this weak portion of the line, defense was based on two strongpoints of rifle company strength, one on a ridge road about a mile and a half west of Vianden and the Our River, the other at Fuhren about a mile from the river. These strongpoints were nearly two miles apart; behind them the third rifle company was located in reserve at Brandenburg with one howitzer battery to give support. Some distance back from the river the 2d Battalion (Maj. William J. Maroney) maintained a series of seven outposts watching the German fortifications on the eastern bank.


During the two nights prior to 16 December the 5th Parachute Division moved its regiments into these east bank fortifications and the extensive woods which lay just to the rear. The 5th Parachute Division had its full complement of officers and men, but lacked its antitank battalion (which had lost much equipment to air attack en route from Holland) and its mortar battalion. Colonel Heilmann, who had recently taken over the division, was not too sanguine as to its ability or state of training as a unit. He relied on the 15th Parachute Regiment, the 5th Parachute Engineer Battalion, and the attached 11th Assault Gun Brigade, which were well trained and motorized, to furnish the main striking force. The division artillery lacked the motors to accompany a rapid advance, and fire support would be given by the assault guns and a regiment of Volks artillery. The latter was horse-drawn but expected to motorize with captured American vehicles.


Only a few days before the attack Heilmann warned Model that the 5th Parachute Division was only a Class IV outfit, but Model, who by now must have been surfeited with complaints on lack of equipment and insufficient training, merely replied that success would be won by the paratroopers' "usual audacity."