returned to the United States for rest and recuperation, General Patton named his own chief of staff as Wood's successor. On 10 December the 4th Armored Division came out of the line after five months of incessant fighting. The last phase of combat, the attack in the Saar mud, had been particularly trying and costly. Replacements, both men and materiel, were not to be had; trained tank crews could not be found in the conventional replacement centers-in fact these specialists no longer were trained in any number in the United States. When the division started for Luxembourg it was short 713 men and 19 officers in the tank and infantry battalions and the cavalry squadron.
The state of materiel was much poorer, for there was a shortage of medium tanks throughout the European theater. The division could replace only a few of its actual losses and was short twenty-one Shermans when ordered north; worse, ordnance could not exchange worn and battledamaged tanks for new. Tanks issued in the United Kingdom in the spring of 1944 were still operating, many of them after several major repair jobs, and all with mileage records beyond named life expectancy. Some could be run only at medium speed. Others had turrets whose electrical traverse no longer functioned and had to be cranked around by hand. Tracks and motors were worn badly: the 8th Tank Battalion alone had thirty-three tanks drop out because of mechanical failure in the l60mile rush to the Ardennes. But even with battle-weary tanks and a large admixture of green tankers and armored infantry the 4th Armored Division, on its record, could be counted an asset in any operation requiring initiative and battle know-how.
The Ezell Task Force
It is obvious that the Third Army could never have put troops into the Luxembourg area as quickly as it did without a wholesale scuttling of "paper work" and "channels"; that improvisation and reliance on the field telephone as a medium for attaining clear understanding have inherent dangers is equally clear. A bizarre adventure that befell CCB of the 4th Armored in its peregrinations typifies the period of "piecemeal reaction," as some of the participants style it, when Middleton's VIII Corps was trying to plug the yawning gaps in its front with rifle platoons of engineers and mechanics, and before an American riposte could be made in force.
Bradley had told the VIII Corps commander on the night of 18 December that reinforcements were coming up from the Third Army. Sometime later Middleton learned that the 4th Armored Division was heading northward, led by CCB and apparently under attachment to his dwindling command. Another tank command from the Third Army (CCB, 10th Armored Division) had just arrived on the scene, but this Middleton had committed at once to shore up the crumbling defenses between Bastogne and Wiltz. At noon on the 19th (before the VIII Corps had passed to the Third Army) General Middleton telephoned the First Army commander and asked if he might use CCB of the 4th Armored on its arrival. Uncertain of the command situation Hodges referred the request to Bradley, who told the VIII Corps commander that he could employ CCB but only if necessary to hold his position.