Page 379


At dawn mortar and small arms fire suddenly gave notice of the enemy. Despite casualties and confusion a defense was hastily set up by the executive officer of the 23d Armored Engineer Battalion (Maj. Jack W. Fickessen), engineer trucks were driven out to block the roads, and bazookas and machine guns were distributed for a close-in defense of the town. Taking advantage of the woods that came right up to the eastern edge of Hotton, four or five enemy tanks rumbled forward to lead the assault. The two American tanks east of the river were knocked out at once; but on the opposite bank a 90-mm. tank destroyer "appeared from nowhere," got a direct hit on a Panther and perhaps a second German as well. The enemy infantry were able to take about half the buildings on the near bank but were checked short of the bridge by the rifles, bazookas, and machine guns in the hands of men on both banks of the river. (A "hailstorm of fire," say the Germans.) The engineer squad guarding the footbridge south of Hotton was overrun, apparently by Germans wearing American uniforms, but fortunately this bridge could bear no vehicles.


By the middle of the morning the defenders, now recovered from their initial surprise, were holding their own and the vehicles in the town were evacuated to the north along with most of the medical personnel and ambulances. Two or three more German tanks were destroyed by bazookas (one was even chalked up to the account of the 37-mm. antitank gun). For some reason the enemy had not thrown all of his tanks into the battle at once, a fortunate circumstance. By 1400 the tanks still in town joined those on the hill east of Hotton against the counterattack which Colonel Howze had launched along the Soy road. About this time Howze was able to get a small group of tanks and infantry around to the north of the attackers and into Hotton, redressing the balance somewhat. As yet it was impossible to bring any friendly artillery to bear, and the foot troops continued to rely largely on their own weapons for the rest of the day.


General Rose, as already indicated, had at his immediate disposal a very limited reserve. Although he had ordered Howze to counterattack with the entire force of the Combat Command Reserve it became apparent as day wore on that this would be insufficient. The ground over which the counterattack from Soy had to move gave every advantage to the Germans. Maneuver was restricted by the cuts through which ran the Hotton road, by a stream bordering the road on the south, and by the German position atop the nose of the hill between the two towns which gave observation and fire over the barren ground to the north. Since General Rose had been promised the use of a battalion from the 517th Parachute Infantry, he decided to hold up the drive from Soy until it arrived. Also it appeared that the defenders of Hotton would shortly be reinforced by part of the leading RCT of the 84th Infantry Division, moving via Marche under orders from Ridgway to secure the Ourthe River line south of Hotton.


This help was slow in coming. As early as 0900 the 51st Engineer Battalion commander had asked the 84th to send aid to Hotton but the staff of the latter seem to have taken rather skeptically reports of the enemy strength in-