Harlange Pocket

December 29, 1944 

– 

January 11, 1945.

When on December 19, 1944, the forward elements of the 5. Fallschirmjäger Division entered the Luxembourg village of Harlange, little would the inhabitants of that village know that they would be swept into the turmoil now known as the Ardennes Offensive. The German paratroopers were on their way to Lutremange. Preceding them were the battered elements of the American 28th Infantry Division and 9th Armored Division which taken the first hit from the German offensive and were retreating towards Bastogne, Sibret and Neufchâteau.

Oberstleutnant Kurt Gröschke’s Fallschirmjäger Regiment 15 assembled in and around Harlange on December 22, 1944. This unit would soon prove to be a very tough nut to crack.

Although “Fallschirmjäger” (Paratroop) only in name, as many troops were replacements from Luftwaffe ground personnel and other units, the 5. Fallschirmjäger Division (Generalmajor Ludwig Heilmann) had plenty of anti-tank weapons (Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck) as well as assault rifles (Sturmgewehr 44).

In support were the assault guns (Sturmgeschütze III) of Fallschirm-Sturmgeschütz-Brigade XI (Oberstleutnant Georg Hollunder).

When on December 26, 1944, the 4th Armored Division broke through the German encirclement of Bastogne, General Patton’s Third Army started to widen the corridor. Harlange would find itself right on the frontline very soon …

After crossing the Sure (Sauer) River and taking Baschleiden (just north of Boulaide, Luxembourg), the 320th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Infantry Division had advanced north along the road (the current CR309) to Harlange and approached it from the south and the east.

On December 29, 1944, its 2nd  Battalion was hit hard by fire coming from a group of farm buildings (i.e. Fuhrman Farm[1]) about 1 km southeast of Harlange.

[1] Now gone.

Despite bitter fighting and heroic actions like K Company’s Staff Sergeant Harry L. Luther who earned the Distinguished Service Cross[1] for eliminating German positions and fencing off an assault, the 320th would not advance any further.

[1] Headquarters, Third US Army, General Orders No. 38 (February 14, 1945).

That night the 320th reported that it was “locked in a bitter battle” at the farmstead and in the neighboring woods. A German counterattack on December 30 even solidified the positions till January 1, 1945.

In addition to the stiff resistance displayed by the enemy paratroopers, heavy snow and bitter cold began to take its toll of men on both sides through constant exposure and frostbite. Adequate winter clothing was lacking, especially on the German side.

The situation in the morning of January 1, 1945, was as follows:

Spread thin on a 15 km V-shaped front from Marvie to the vicinity of Villers-La-Bonne-Eau to Bavigne, the 35th Infantry Division had the 134th Infantry Regiment fighting on the left, the 137th Infantry Regiment in the center, and the 320th Infantry Regiment on the right. On the left of the 35th Division was the 6th Armored Division and on the right the 26th Infantry Division.

Fallschirmjäger Regiment 15 (5. Fallschirmjäger Division), some elements of the 26. Volksgrenadier Division and attached units were almost entrapped on the other side of this V-shaped line. Next to them was the 9. Volksgrenadier Division.

An assault by the 320th Infantry Regiment (less 1st Battalion) around 1230 hours against the well-defended farm southeast of Harlange resulted in only slight gain but with heavy losses.

January 2, 1945, again the 320th Infantry Regiment encountered very heavy resistance from the farm and the nearby woods as it once again tried to take the area. During the afternoon P-47 “Thunderbolts” appeared and bombed and strafed enemy tanks and infantry in the area north of Harlange. That night the 320th got some pleasant news; nine tanks (735th Tank Battalion) were on their way to join the attack.

Hopeful news for the Germans as well, but short-lived. The 276. Volksgrenadier Division was destined to reinforce the Fallschirmjägers’ position, but this unit was so beaten up after the fighting in the Echternach sector, reducing it to 1/3 of its strength, that is wasn’t capable of moving up to reinforce them. The 9. Volksgrenadier Division however did manage to bring some relief as they had halted the advance of the 328th Infantry Regiment of the 26th Infantry Division on the right flank of the “Harlange Pocket”.

Once again the 320th Infantry Regiment assaulted the enemy at the farm southeast of Harlange on January 3, 1945, and once again its attacks were thrown back by the Germans. C Company of the 735th Tank Battalion was attached to the 320th Infantry Regiment.

Finally on  January 4, 1945, with the aid of Sherman tanks of  C Company of the 735th Tank Battalion, the 320th Infantry’s 2nd Battalion captured the farm which the enemy had so bitterly defended. With the 3rd Battalion, the 2nd Battalion then advanced to the woods north of the farm to clear out the remaining enemy troops there. From there E Company, supported by tanks, attacked Harlange and seized several houses on the eastern edge of the village. At 1730 hours, however, a heavy German counterattack drove the E Company and its supporting tanks back out of the village.

The 320th  Infantry Regiment continued its bitter fight in the so-called “Harlange Pocket” on January 5, 1945. During the afternoon its 2nd Battalion repelled a counterattack of three tanks (probably assault guns of Fallschirm-Sturmgeschütz-Brigade XI) and infantry and spent the remainder of the day reorganizing its battered positions. The 3rd Battalion’s attack through the well-defended woods east of Harlange gained little ground as well.

January 6, 1945. In the 320th Infantry Regiment’s zone, the 2nd Battalion held its positions while the 3rd Battalion was being relieved by the 1st Battalion of the 101st Infantry Regiment, (Task Force Scott) of the 26th Infantry Division. This was the start of relieving the entire 320th Infantry Regiment (less the 1st Battalion, which remained attached to the 134th Infantry Regiment) so it could be attached to the 6th Armored Division, operating on the left of the 35th Infantry Division.

US .30 cal machinegun position in the Harlange area, January 1945.

After the remainder of the 101st Infantry (Task Force Scott) and elements of the 6th Mechanized Cavalry Group relieved the 320th Regiment’s 2nd Battalion, the 320th Regiment moved to an assembly area in the vicinity of Bastogne, where it was to be attached to the 6th Armored Division on January 7, 1945.

The 101st Infantry Regiment and 6th Mechanized Cavalry Group were not the only new players, as on January 9, 1945, the 90th Infantry Division participated in an assault, together with the 35th Infantry Division, on the “Harlange Pocket”. In  this assault, the only remaining heavy weapon of the Fallschirmjäger, an 88 mm PAK 43 from Leutnant Teske’s Fallschirm-Panzerjäger-Abteilung 5, located on Hill 490, was knocked out by heavy American artillery fire. That day, Oberstleutnant Kurt Gröschke was awarded the Ritterkreuz for his leadership of Fallschirmjäger Regiment 15.

When on January 10, 1945, Task Force Fickett (the 6th Mechanized Cavalry Group reinforced with C Company of the 602nd Tank Destroyer Battalion[1]) on its own initiative stormed and took Betlange, Harlange and Watrange, German Command finally took the decision to evacuate the “Harlange Pocket” as the situation was already critical.

[1] Both units would receive a Presidential Unit Citation; General Order No. 40, April 26, 1946.

Elements of the 1. SS Panzer Division “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler”, consisting of three Panther tanks and two “Wirbelwind” Flakwagons, were ordered to secure the only road of evacuation; a small road leading out of Harlange towards Bohey about 8 kms to the northeast.

This little road was soon packed with troops and vehicles of elements of the 9., 26. Volksgrenadier Division and the battered 5. Fallschirmjäger Division. Their fate was sealed when the weather cleared up and soon P-47 Thunderbolts appeared and started to strafe the marching columns turning them into a panic-stricken mess with burning vehicles.

In the meantime, the three SS Panther tanks had engaged elements of the 712th Tank Battalion, keeping them away from the evacuation route. But as soon as the American planes appeared, they withdrew to the uttermost disgust of Generalmajor Heilmann who saw what was remained of his division (the 5. Fallschirmjäger Division) left to fight its way out on its own. Panic overtook the men and dispersed them into the nearby woods (Gros Bois) where they came under deadly American artillery and mortar fire. These woods were littered with dead and wounded. Meanwhile the 90th Infantry Division had positioned one of its regiments (the 359th Infantry Regiment) on the right flank of the “Harlange Pocket”. Thus pulling the noose even tighter.

Task Force Fickett captured Tarchamps on January 11, 1945 and moved to Sonlez where it encountered elements of the 90th Infantry Division, thus severing the “Harlange Pocket” in two. The 90th would close the “Harlange Pocket” completely the next day when it took Bras and made connection with the 6th Armored Division near Wardin. This would trap the remaining German troops in the area; most of them were men of the 5. Fallschirmjäger Division.

On January 15, 1945, the German troops, or rather what was left of them, would be back at their positions of December 16, 1944 (start of the Ardennes Offensive). As for the 5. Fallschirmjäger Division … this division virtually ceased to exist as a division as it had lost about 2 000 men killed and over 5 000 men wounded and/or prisoner of war. Its supporting assault gun unit, Fallschirm-Sturmgeschütz-Brigade XI, had barely a few assault guns left operational. But they had managed to hold off the American assaults for eleven days in the area that became known as the “Harlange Pocket”.

Field grave of a Fallschirmjager, Harlange area.

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