Moving along the road to Bastogne, the troop of experienced soldiers seemed grateful for a brief break in heavy fighting. Even if it was only for a day or two, it was a change of pace that everyone anticipated and enjoyed. Caution could not be thrown carelessly to the wind though since the threat of German soldiers in the area was always a possibility. But to briefly allow the mind to focus on other things for even a small amount of time was a blessing.
Arriving at their destination, the commanding officer looked for the billet or housing quarters where the soldiers would stay during the time when they would attack the enemy viciously. It was going to be a long time before the Allies could relax since the enemy still infiltrated much of the area outside Germany. Hitler was a difficult leader and his chosen men were as equally determined to overcome the Allies as much as the Allies wanted to defeat the Axis powers. The fate of the world depended upon exactly who persevered and won the fierce battles ahead. The commander certainly hoped that his men would work together and push the enemy back further into Germany.
The rolling hills and peaceful countryside were covered with a thin blanket of snow that looked like it had just fallen from the sky. An occasional gust of wind blew through the valley making everyone feel a slight chill. As charming as the picturesque post card scene seemed, this area would soon be under attack. The reality of the war would march into this town just like a tornado could stealthily creep into an unsuspecting area and twist and turn causing complete devastation. There was always some uncertainty before each encounter with the Germans. While some men speculated verbally over what would happen other men just pondered in their minds the war and how much they missed their families what was going to happen next. Communications had alerted everyone that the town was an extremely critical part of the war.
The bugle sound of reveille came at 4:30 AM. Rested or not it was time to get up and prepare for the long day ahead. Soldiers showered, dressed, and gathered for breakfast. Instructions from the commanding officers reviewed the German threat and the need for the Allies to control the intersection. Specific areas that needed attention were pointed out and strategies for how to handle the engagement were discussed. After being dismissed by their commanders, the alert men organized into groups and moved into position for the day. They had been fortunate to arrive before the Germans. This little fact meant that the Allies had the advantage since they were able to scope out the area before the Germans arrived.
It was cold, not just cold, freezing cold. Staring out the barrack window in the early morning hours the men already knew that a layer of frost had covered the window pane. The tiny town was covered in four inches of snow by 6:00 AM. Large white flakes of snow were still falling and if it kept up all day it could make things extremely difficult. Snow and freezing weather were not the ideal conditions for battle. It was just plain hard to ignore the cold air and not feeling warm made it hard to focus on the task. Mentally it was a challenging condition. If there was a job to be done, then there was no questioning the orders. No one ever stopped fighting in war just because the weather conditions were not favorable.
The troops settled in for the day at their assigned positions. Thirty minutes later the fighting began with a volley of bullets whizzing throughout the air. Some bullets found their target and a soldier died. At other times the bullet would miss the mark and a soldier was spared, at least for a while. As the day wore on the weather continued to stay cold. The heavy fall of snow had stopped but the temperature hovered around freezing. The icy air whipped through the usually warm jackets and the gusty wind stung and nipped at the face of men who were already beginning to experience fatigue.
For the Axis powers the crossroads were used for moving heavy military equipment into other sectors of Germany. Cities along the Rhine River that needed supplies for production depended on loaded trucks getting through. Keeping up with manufacturing enabled the German army to be prepared and ready to face any confrontation. There was no way that the Germans wanted to let the Allies gain control of this important region. German domination was the main purpose of Hitler and without Bastogne the Axis’ troops would lose a major advantage.
For the Allied forces there was one main purpose to this effort. Gain access to the routes into and out of Bastogne in order to restrict the movement of supplies into the interior of Germany. With seven paved roads intersecting together like the spokes of a wheel meet at the center or hub of a wooden wagon, Bastogne would benefit the Allies. If they could win the victory here they would be able to cut off the supply route and slow down German manufacturing. The crossroads would provide an easy route for other groups of Allied soldiers to move easily into the interior of Germany. Gaining access to the waterways would also limit the ability of the Germans to keep control of land on the other side of the Rhine River. It was a win-win situation.
At the end of the first day it was hard to tell exactly who had the advantage. The Germans were not to be thwarted and they blasted away with explosive mortar fire. Boom! Boom! Boom! Over and over again the Allies heard the deafening sounds come from all over the area next to them. Deep pits marked the soil where the mortar had landed.
“Oh, so you think you can just get away with that. Well, here’s to you. Let’s see exactly how you like this, “yelled Ron. Rat, tat, tat, tat. sounded off the long Browning automatic rifle poised in his hand. Again and again Ron shot until he had to take time to reload.
Not so far away, the gun crew turned loose with a volley of machine gun roar. “Let’s see how you like this one.” yelled Mark from on top of the turret. The shelling of the small town continued into the late afternoon hours. The worn soldiers were beginning to feel so cold that their fingers were having trouble staying on the rifle firing mechanism. Gratefully the day grew dark and everyone could enjoy a few hours of rest. Tomorrow would be another day.
Back at the housing quarters the weary soldiers sat down and talked about the events of the day. Stories. Stories about targets that were hit and stories of men who barely missed getting shot by a German were exchanged. The cold weather was discussed with hopeful expectations that tomorrow would be warmer. The informal atmosphere helped everyone to unwind and the fatigue began to seep away. Before long it was time for “lights out” and inside the once noisy room the ticking of a clock and the sound of a few men snoring was all that could be heard.