7th Armored Division Troops in the
Battle at Samrée, Belgium
December 20, 1944

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7AD Patch

Cole - Map 3 - Page 355 - Chapter XV
Click on the photo for a larger image.
NOTE ERROR: The unit marked as D/37 Rcn should be D/87 Rcn.
Task Forces shown are from 3rd Armored Division.


Contents Context
Published Accounts
7th Armored Division Accounts
Links to Other Sites

Context

The German Ardennes Offensive began December 16, 1944, along an 80-mile front. Now known as the Battle of the Bulge, it remains the largest battle ever fought by the United States Army. The Germans met with initial success in most parts of their central thrust, spearheaded by Battle Group Peiper. Their plan was for the central thrust (by Sixth SS and Fifth Panzer Armies) to have parallel thrusts to the north (Fifteenth Army) and south (Seventh Army), which would prevent American reinforcements from reaching the flanks of the main thrust toward Antwerp. However, the troops on the northern shoulder held most of their ground, thanks to the efforts of the 99th and 2nd Infantry Divisions. This allowed the U. S. 7th Armored Division to move, on the morning of December 17, from north of Aachen, Germany to the center of the front, at St. Vith, Belgium.

St. Vith was an extremely important town. The dense Ardennes forest had few roads that could carry heavy traffic, and what roads there were were canalized by the trees. But St. Vith was the easternmost major crossroads in the path of the central German armies. And St. Vith was the only place along the entire front where a railroad line crossed from Germany into the battle area. It was critically important to the German flow of supplies that they take St. Vith very early in the battle, which was their plan. However, the rapid movement of the 7th Armored Division into St. Vith upset their plans. The 7th Armored Division and attached troops (from the 106th and 28th Infantry Divisions and Combat Command "B" of the 9th Armored Division, as well as non-divisional units) created a defense that held up long against German assaults, even as other German units of the two central German armies drove far beyond St. Vith, to the north and south of the defensive perimeter.

On December 18, the day after 7th Armored Division moved into the Vielsalm-St. Vith area, 7th Armored Division Trains (the supply and maintenance and medical units of the Division) were ordered to move well to the west, where they set up in Marche and the area from there to Rochefort, with a battery of 203rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion at Marche (B/203) and one at Rochefort (D/203) to protect the Trains from aerial attack.

The road from the Trains to the main force of the Division went east from Marche to Vielsalm. The crossroads of north-south roads that intersected the line of supply thus became critical points to be defended. From west to east, the critical points were at La Roche (with the Ourthe River bridges), Samrée, and Baraque de Fraiture. 7th Armored Division forces were deployed to defend each of these crossroads.

The importance of Baraque de Fraiture had also been recognized by Maj. Arthur Parker of the 106th Infantry Division's withdrawing 598th Field Artillery Battalion, and he set up the initial defense there. Troop D of 7AD's 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron and Battery D of 7AD's 203rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery both were in the defense of the crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture. (Click here for the web pages on the 7th Armored Division's role in the defense of the crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture, which was called "Parker's Crossroads" by the GIs.)

The two crossroads to the west, La Roche and Samrée, were defended by units of 7th Armored Division Trains. These were men whose usual job was supply, maintenance, cooking, and other support tasks. But the fact that the Germans had penetrated far to the west on the right (southern) flank of 7th Armored Division's zone meant that 7AD had a front line that stretched from St. Vith [more than 20 miles to the east of Samrée] to La Roche [5 miles west of Samré'e] and units all the way to Rochefort [25 miles west of Samrée]. they were now front line troops.

On December 19, German troops reached the area of La Roche and found that their path was blocked by the destroyed bridge over the Ourthe River and American troops.

On December 20, two German divisions (20,000 men or more) attacked, with the main force directed at the 7AD Trains forces in Samrée, at which an entire regiment of German tanks was the directed. The defenders held out until mid-afternoon, when they were finally overwhelmed by the vastly superior German force.

Reinforcements were sent to all three crossroads on December 20. But they came too late for the defenders of Samée. Three task forces of 3rd Armored Division were sent south to La Roche, Samrée, and Baraque de Fraiture. The task force headed for Samrée ran into strong German forces at Dochamps, north of Samrée and split into three forces, one of which circeld to the west and then south to Samrée but by the time they had reached the town, in fact probably before they even reached Dochamps, the Germans had overrun Samrée and were solidly in control, so that no attempt to re-take the crossroads succeeded. Two of those attempts were by 7th Armored Division troops. D/87 was sent west from Salmchâteau through Baraque de Fraiture, but they could come no closer to Samrée than one mile to the east. A small force with 2 tanks and a tank destroyer was sent east from La Roche, but the commander was killed and the force was not heard from again.

So who were those men who held Samrée on December 20, 1944 until they were overwhelmed by vastly superior forces? And what were their experiences in the defense of Samrée?

Units of Men in the Defense of Samrée
(all from the 7th Armored Division.)
  • half of the 3967th Quartermaster Truck Company
  • the quartermaster section of Division Headquarters
  • part of the 440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion's Service Battery
  • two sections of D Battery, 203d Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion, armed with quadruple-mount machine guns,
  • a light tank and a half-track from the 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron
  • a tank of Headquarters Company, 17th Tank Battalion
    The presence of this tank has not been recognized in the published histories of the battle, since the only record that it was there is from the records of the effort to find the crew of the tank, who were last reported as having been at Samrée on December 20.
  • a light tank of Headquarters Company, Combat Command B
    The presence of this tank has not been recognized in the published histories of the battle. The tank arrived in Samrée on the morning of 20 December 1944, before the German attack. The commander was killed just before they entered the town. The tank did not remain in the town but was sent to 23 AIB trains via Dochamps.

This web page is about these men of the 7th Armored Division and their role in the battle. There has been an absence until now of detailed material about this crucial battle, and this web page is intended to provide that detail, to bring to light the men and events of this little-known but critical battle, which became the first crack in the 50 mile-long zone of 7th Armored Division's salient -- a salient that on a map resembled a thumb stuck down the throat of the German advance.


Published Accounts
  1. Hugh M. Cole's "The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge"
    This is a volume of the official U. S. Army in World War II series. The Center for Military History has put the complete text and the in-text maps on the internet. (Click here for the Table of Contents.) The map at the top of this page is from page 355 of this book.

    Here is a complete list of all index references to and maps including Samrée, as live links to the text. NOTE: These links are mostly to the first page of a section, so that you will have to scroll down to the correct page or else use FIND to search for "samr".

    • Chapter 15 "The German Salient Expands to the West"
      • Page 353 - December 20 - route of Task Force Tucker (3rd Armored Division)
        (see also the map on page 355 - same as map at top of this page)
      • Page 354 - December 20 - 3AD TF Tucker meets Germans at Dochamps, one of three sub-forces of TF Tucker circles west and then south to Samrée and finds 7AD troops defending the town, late in the afternoon these 3AD tanks are knocked out and Samrée is taken by Germans, 3AD Col. Yeomans ordered to retake town [not able to be done - see later reference]
        (see also the map on page 355 - same as map at top of this page)
      • Page 355 - December 18-20
        Note: This is a separate section, and some of the actions in this section took place before the 3AD actions described on pages 353-354.
        • TEXT - December 18 - 7AD Trains ordered to set up defense in La Roche area - December 20 - 7AD Trains move large amount of stores to Samrée [see page 356 for details and reasons]
        • MAP - map showing 3rd Armored Division troops discovering the defenders at the crossroads on December 20 -- NOTE: There is an error on the map. The "D/37" route westward on the map should read "D/87" as the text correctly reads (p. 359).
      • Page 356 - December 19 - German forces approach defenses manned by small American detachments are in place at La Roche and Samrée, lead elements of German LVIII Panzer Corps reach 7AD roadblock at destroyed Ourthe River bridge at La Roche; expecting attack on La Roche from the west, 7AD Trains moves large amount of stores east to Samrée, so as to continue to supply 7AD main force in St. Vith-Vielsalm area -- December 20 -- transfer of stores to Samrée is completed by early morning of December 20
      • Page 357 - December 19 - Late in the day, finding other routes less available, German LVIII Panzer Corps commander reroutes 116th Panzer Division to Samrée - December 20 - by noon German 116th Panzer Division, followed by portion of 560th Volksgrenadier Division, is moving out of Houffalize toward Samrée
      • Page 358 - December 20
        • Main effort of German attack will be tank regiment of 116th Panzer Division attacking Samrée; German scouts report American tanks at Samrée, though there is only one tank recorded as being there [the D/87 light tank -- but there were actually two tanks, since a HQ Co/17th Tank Bn tank was sent to the rear for repairs, and its crew were last reported seen at Samrée]
        • 7AD defense at Samrée identified as "half of the 3967th Quartermaster Truck Company, the quartermaster section of the division headquarters, part of the 440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion's Service Battery, two sections of D Battery, 203d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, armed with quadruple-mount machine guns, plus a light tank and a half-track from the 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron" [again, the HQ Co/17th Tank Bn tank was not officially part of Trains and thus did not appear in their records of this action, even though attempts to find the remains of its crew later found that they were at Samrée]
        • About noon, word comes that 3AD is sending a task force to Samrée, leading to decision not to destroy the stores there
        • About 1430, "fire fight quickened"; 7AD QM drives north to Dochamps to meet 3AD Task Force
        • By 1500, "the Germans swarmed in under a sharp barrage of rocket fire. By this time the one tank [the one tank recorded on the records of Division Trains, which did not include the HQ Co/17 Tank Bn tank that was last seen there on that day] was out of ammunition, the machine gunners manning the .50-caliber weapons on the quartermaster trucks were also running low, the antiaircraft outfit had lost three of its weapons and fired its last round, and the division Class III officer had ordered the units to evacuate. A majority of the troops got out with most of their trucks and the remaining artillery ammunition, but 15,000 rations and 25,000 gallons of gasoline were left behind."
        • Shortly after Germans took the town, "the detachment sent from [3AD] Task Force Tucker appeared. Two armored cars, at the point, entered the north edge of the town, but the six medium tanks following were quickly destroyed by German armor coming in from the east. During the shooting the armored cars were able to pick up the surviving tankers and escape to La Roche."
        • 7AD HQ receives word of the fight at Samrée and sends two medium tanks and a self-propelled tank destroyer from La Roche to Samrée. This force was never heard from again. [Force commander 1st Lt. Denniston Averill was killed in the action.]
      • Page 359 - December 20 - D Troop of 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron sent from Salmchâteau through Baraque de Fraiture Crossroads to Samrée but are not able to get closer than one mile to the east of Samrée
        (see also the map on page 355 - same as map at top of this page - which mis-labels this unit as D/37 instead of D/87)

        "The action at Samrée had delayed Krueger's corps [German LVIII Panzer Corps considerably. But the gasoline stores captured there had refueled all the vehicles of the 116th Panzer Division; despite assurances by American prisoners that sugar had been mixed with the gasoline the enemy drivers reported that it suited the German motors very well."


7th Armored Division Accounts

Division Trains and Division Quartermaster

3967th Quartermaster Truck Company (Negro) - half of the company

440th Armored Field Artillery Battalion's Service Battery - part of the battery

203rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery (Automatic Weapons) Battalion - two sections of Battery D
UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Note that D/203 was also engaged (with B/203 and elements of 7th Armored Division Trains) in the December 20 action at Samrée (to the west of Baraque de Fraiture), for which there are B/203 combat interviews (which mention D/203). The defense of Samrée should not be overlooked. While the location at Samrée was not as strategically significant as the Baraque de Fraiture crossroads, the defense of the town did have a bearing on the defenders of Baraque de Fraiture.
Note also that D/203 was involved in the December 18 action at Stavelot, Belgium against German Kampfgruppe Peiper, for which there is a separate combat interview.

87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Mechanized - light tank and half-track
The identity of the light tank and half-track of 87 Rcn have not yet been established.
UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Note that D/203 was acting separately from the rest of the 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Battalion, whose units were distributed in different areas of the fortified goose egg, under different commands.

17th Tank Battalion Headquarters Company - tank

Combat Command B Headquarters Company - light tank


Links to Other Web Sites

7th Armored Division in the defense of Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium ("Parker's Crossroads")

The Heroic Defense of the Aisne Valley by Gerard Roggen of CRIBA - 3rd Armored Division's task force defends Dochamps (north of Samrée) after the fall of Samrée


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