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dorf rose well above the undulating ridges and there was no higher ground to lend itself to a wider flanking movement.


Forty-five minutes after midnight the two rifle companies started to climb the highest of the three hills on which the town stands, this being the south side. The night was cold and clear, and a full moon was out. As the attackers tramped forward, long, grotesque black shadows followed on the glittering snow. For the first few minutes all was quiet, ominously lovely and peaceful; then, as the first line reached the crest, all hell broke loose. The German rifle line lay along the reverse slope, the grenadiers in white capes and sheets blending unobtrusively with the panorama of snow. Burp guns and rifles cut loose at the splendid targets the Americans provided. In face of such a fusillade the attack wavered, then fell back. Three tanks, all that Hamilton had, churned to the fore through the snow but were checked by a little creek, extended by an antitank ditch, about 300 yards from the nearest building.


A hurried call by Hamilton, who wanted reinforcements to cover his flanks, brought no reply from the division headquarters except "Take Eschdorf." There was little choice but to continue with frontal tactics. At 0400 a second assault started, this time with the tanks and Company G forming the center under orders to drive straight into Eschdorf without pause. Company G got only as far as the crest; the tanks went as far as before, and no farther. But the Germans facing the center were kept occupied long enough to start the wing companies moving. Firing as they went the two companies reached the village. Instead of marching past and around, the men closest to the buildings drifted inward, seeking the shadows and some kind of cover, dragging the two companies in with them.


What then happened cannot be recorded with any certainty. The story of Christmas Day inside Eschdorf was one of confusion at the time and recrimination later. Members of the 104th Infantry subsequently claimed to have captured Eschdorf and believed that no part of Task Force Hamilton held on in the town. Officers and men of the task force, somewhat closer to the scene, have a different story. [16] The men of the two companies that had reached Eschdorf on Christmas Eve were stranded there in the houses while German armored vehicles jockeyed about, firing at doors and windows. In the meantime the bulk of the enemy infantry gathered in the southeastern corner to meet any attempt to reinforce the attackers. When day came the commander of Company E, Capt. Vaughn Swift, took his chances in the gauntlet of bullets and ran out to the American tanks. By some miracle he reached the Shermans alive and led them into Eschdorf. Two were knocked out there, but not before they had quieted the enemy armored vehicles. (Captain Swift was given the DSC.)


As the day went on the two company commanders tried to sort out their men and resume the drive to cut through to the roads entering Eschdorf from the north. Whether this was accomplished remains a matter of debate. Finally, in the late afternoon, the division headquarters responded to Hamilton's urging and instructed the 104th Infantry to send its 1st Battalion and envelop Eschdorf. The instructions were followed. Company C entered the village an hour or so after daylight on 26 December and by 0800 reported Eschdorf clear of the enemy.


Throughout Christmas Day corps and division artillery beat the northern approaches to Eschdorf, hoping to isolate the uncertain dogfight within the town. As it turned out, the Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade had no intention of intervening there but was slipping north through the woods and ravines, while a few rear guard detachments fought on to form a new bulwark to defend the Sure River line. As early as the afternoon of 24 December the 3d Battalion, 104th Infantry (Lt. Col. Howard C. Dellert), had reached Heiderscheid, there secured guides from the 319th, and had gone on to relieve the two companies of the 319th on the river at Heiderscheidergrund. [17]


While the 104th put troops along the river, its sister regiment made a march of three and a half miles over rough


[16] The Eschdorf fight is well covered in the combat interviews held shortly after the event. The orders and counterorders given Hamilton are found in the 26th Division G-3 journal and the 104th Infantry journal. The journal of the 104th records that Company F was driven out of Eschdorf (at 0835 on 25 December) and seems to have been interpreted as meaning that none of Hamilton's force was in the town. However, no part of the 1st Battalion, 104th Infantry, was committed in this fight until after the air strike on the afternoon of 25 December.


[17] There seems to have been some initial confusion as to the exact status of the troops already in that village, for in one of the rare changes made in an official periodic report that of the III Corps was amended to read that the 26th Division "relieved two companies of the 80th Division" in place of "liberated two companies of the 80th Division."