Battle of Grand-Halleux (2)

Battle of Grand-Halleux (2)

Cpt Jack R. ISAACS†

20-25 December 1944

An account of the activities of Company "G" 505th Parachute Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division

I was the Company Commander of the company and had been since June 15, 1944. I had served with "G" Company since the summer of 1942. My rang was Captain and I was 22 years of age during this battle. "G" Company was part of the 3rd Battalion, 505th Regiment and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James L. Kaiser.

We detrucked in the vicinity of Werbomont and our first defensive assignment was in the village of Basse-Bodeux. From these positions we sent out patrols in an effort to locate the enemy.

On the 20th of December we were ordered forward to Grand-Halleux with orders to hold the bridge on the Salm River; if we could not hold it we were to destroy it. We established our defensive positions with one platoon (30 to 40 men) east of the river in Grand-Halleux. We also a three men outpost on the high ground east of Grand-Halleux with communication there to. My remaining two platoons were on the west bank of the river in Petit-Halleux. They occupied positions on the high ground immediately to the west. Because of the chaos created by the German breakthrough there were scattered elements of other units in our general area. Colonel Kaiser had commandeered a wandering section (2) of 90mm tank destroyers and my company had found an abandoned quad mount (4 barrels) 50 caliber A.A.gun which my men could operate. The two tank destroyers were placed on the road leading to the west from Petit-Halleux, about half way up the hill and behind some houses for concealment. The quad 50 was also in this area but across the road to the north from where it could fire onto the river and Grand-Halleux. I also had on call, if needed, the Battalion 81mm mortars and a battery of artillery from division. I also had my own 60mm mortars (3). I established my company headquarters in the red brick building, which still stands, just west of the railroad on the north side of the road. We maintained patrol contact with our outpost to the east, and beyond, but made no contact with the enemy.

On the evening of December 21, we heard small arms fire to the east, in the vicinity of our outpost. From our Company Headquarters I made contact with Sergeant Ariasi, the commander of the post, and he informed me that there were many Germans attacked our main line with a tactic that I had not seen before; in spite of experience in Sicily, Italy, Normandy and Holland. They came charging down that hill-screaming and shouting and trying to dislodge us. We thought then and still do, that it was a Battalion of S.S. troops, so we would have been outnumbered about seven to one. I immediately went to the bridge site and found my platoon in Grand-Halleux being driven back across the river with Germans in hot pursuit.

The bridge had been prepared for demolition by our engineer battalion and was manned by a detachment from that unit. The bridge was blown with Germans on it. At the same time I called for our artillery and mortar support fire which was delivered promptly. Also at this time the quad 50 came into action with devastating results. The Salm was no barrier to foot soldiers and there were Germans attempting to cross the river by wading it. The quad 50 and our other supporting fire brought the German advance to a halt at the river's edge. To my knowledge, not a single German soldier reached the west bank, nor was any further attempt made by them to do so while we were in these positions. We subsequently learned from prisoners that the screaming attack had worked on less experienced units and some of them had broken. We had not. Inadvertently we had left one of our men on the east side of the river. During the night he had made his way as close to the river as he could and near dawn he shouted to our side that he was coming across. He made a mad dash for our side and surprisingly drew no fire from the Germans. He survived this ordeal only to die a few weeks later in another battle.

 

 

From the top windows of my headquarters building I could see the whole area.

Daylight of the 22 December revealed five enemy tanks to our front, on the hill and at the edge of the woods. The section of tank destroyers was called into action and one of them fired three rounds, hitting two of the tanks and setting one of them afire. The others withdrew into the woods but not before returning fire and wounding one of the crewmen of the tank destroyer. I subsequently learned that it was customary for a T.D. section to withdraw if it lost a crewman; therefore we lost this heavy anti-tank defence. I thought this a strange practice, if true, because we manned our weapons until there was no one left to man them. Other than sniping there was no further enemy action at this position.

On the night of December 23 we heard the unmistakable sounds of "SILENT NIGHT" in German, emanating from the German positions in Grand-Halleux. After eighteen months of combat with the Germans I did not take kindly to the serenade. I ordered five rounds each from my three 60mm mortars. The singing stopped. To this day when I hear "SILENT NIGHT" I remember that night.

On the morning of December 24 we were advised by Colonel Kaiser that we would withdraw from these positions during the night of December 24-25. We were dismayed at this order because we had never given up a position before and since we had stopped the Germans on December 22 we thought we could do so again. Nevertheless the order was given and preparations made to withdraw. Standard procedure called for leaving a rear guard in position to protect the withdrawing force and this was done. It was also customary for a senior officer to command this rear guard. In this case it was the Captain James T. Maness. At some time during these events a freezing rain had fallen and the road west out of Petit-Halleux became a problem.

As parachutists we had no vehicles so we were required to carry whatever we had or needed. As we were preparing to withdraw we decided to use a local inhabitants sled and horse to carry our heavy equipment. All went well until the horse went down on the ice and could not get up. Nor could we get it to it's feet, so we had to abandon our idea, the horse and the sled. We did manage to carry our own equipment but had to disable the quad 50 and leave it. We took up new positions at the edge of the woods and at the foot of the hill running along the Basse-Bodeux - Trois-Ponts highway. From these positions we participated in the counter attack that took place in early January 1945 in the direction of Fosse. I have revisited this area three times; 1969, 1994 and 1996.

Captain Jack R. Isaacs (deceased November 23, 2003)