Date: Saturday, the 19th of November 2011
Title: Day trip around several battlefields of the Belgian Ardennes
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Some of my family and friends enjoyed a weekend break in the Belgian Ardennes to relax in Villa Otium near the town of Manhay.
On a very sunny day in November 2011 a delegation embarked on a “Tour du Bulge” I put together the night before. I’ve been in the region before and know most of the battlefield highlights. Since daylight was limited the decision was made to visit the following sites:
- Sd.Kfz. 171 Panzerkampfwagen V Panther Ausführung G in Houffalize
- Monument of the 101st Airborne Division in between Foy and Bizory
- Foxholes in Le Bois Jacques near Foy
- German Military Cemetery in Recogne
- Place Général McAuliffe in Bastogne
- Mardasson Memorial (the Bastogne Historical Center was closed due to renovation)
- Baugnez 44 Historical Center
- Malmedy massacre memorial
- Königstiger 213 in La Gleize (next to the December 1944 Historical Museum)
First stop was in Houffalize. While wandering through some kind of fair we came across the former abbey, Saint Catherine’s church. At the side of it stands a monument for the civilian victims of Houffalize in the period 1944 – 1945 during the Von Rundstedt Offensive also known as The Battle of the Bulge.
A couple of hundred meters further down south grim reminders of this period showed up. The Sd.Kfz. 171 Panzerkampfwagen V Panther Ausführung G accompanied by two bombs.
The two bombs refer to the Allied bombardments which destroyed the town in January 1945. This Panther tank belonged to the 16th Panzer Regiment of the 116th Panzer Division (“Windhund-Division”) which was under the command of Gerhard Tebbe. After the recapture of the town in January 1945 Panther 111, now 401, lay helplessly upside down in the river Ourthe.
Uncertain is how the vehicle ended up in the river. Panther 111 was recovered by engineers from Namur on the 20th of September 1948.
Considering this tank has been battling with the elements for over sixty years it’s in reasonable condition. Some of the inner wheels have been moved to the outside to resemble a complete track. This tank really deserves better treatment, it’s literally rusting away.
Foy / Bizory
Next stop on our day trip was the monument for the 101st Airborne Division on the Foy / Bizory road. This site is especially dedicated to the men of “E” (Easy) Company, 506th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment), 101st Airborne Division, known to many from the Band of Brothers series on HBO.
Only Easy Company is mentioned on the monument where multiple other units from the 506th fought in this area. Fourteen names of fallen comrades mark the left side.
Le Bois Jacques
Just a couple of hundred meters north towards Foy, numerous foxholes can be found inside Le Bois Jacques. Easy Company fought here between December 1944 and January 1945 against German forces in Foy.
After the liberation of Bastogne on the 26th of December 1944 a plan to break out to the north was devised. The 101st Airborne Division moved up to the east and south of Foy on the 3rd of January 1945. Slowly but surely the town of Foy was encircled. It took until the 9th of January 1945 to clear Le Bois Jacques from enemy troops. On the 13th of January 1945, 2nd Battalion of the 506th PIR would engage in a frontal attack on Foy with the capture of Noville as the final objective.
Although the Germans displayed tough resistance Foy was taken swiftly and the Germans had to retreat to Noville. The next day a counterattack followed and Foy switched back into axis hands. This however was short-lived. That same morning the 101st Airborne Division recaptured Foy and progressed towards Noville.
To the northwest of Foy lies Recogne. Here we visited the German Military Cemetery where almost seven thousand German casualties are buried. The ages of these “men” shock many visitors.
Next stop was Bastogne where we had lunch on Place Général McAuliffe.
The main attraction of this square is of course the Sherman M4A3 tank with the 76 mm cannon and .50 Browning machinegun. Nicknamed “Barracuda” by its crew this Sherman was part of the 41st Tank Battalion, B Company of the 11th Armored Division. It was disabled on the 30th of December 1944 near Renuamont, several kilometers west of Bastogne. On the left and rear you can still see where the tank was hit by German fire. Nowadays the tank is in good shape after a thorough restoration in 2007. See also this link to get to know more about the history of “Barracuda”.
Of course we couldn’t miss out on the Mardasson Memorial to the northeast of Bastogne so this is where we headed next. Unfortunately the Bastogne Historical Center was closed due to renovation. Still we were able to check out the M10 Wolverine “Achilles” tank destroyer which is placed outside on the parking lot.
The Mardasson Memorial honors the memory of more than 76,000 American soldiers who were wounded or killed during The Battle of the Bulge. The monument was designed by architect Georges Dedoyard and was dedicated on the 16th of July 1950. The monument is twelve meters high and shaped like a star with five points, each point thirty-one meters long. It resembles the symbol of the American army. Engraved in gold lettering, the story of The Battle of the Bulge can be read on the walls of the open gallery. A walkway situated at the summit is accessible via a spiral staircase and offers the visitor a panoramic view of the defensive positions held during the siege of the town. There is also a superb ornate mosaic by French artist Fernand Léger, which is completely dug into the rock. The crypt shelters three altars that celebrate the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religions.
Baugnez / Malmedy
While the sun was already setting we made our way to Baugnez to visit the Baugnez 44 Historical Center.
This impressive museum is dedicated to The Battle of the Bulge and the Malmedy massacre in particular. The Malmedy massacre was a war crime in which 84 American prisoners of war were murdered by their German captors. The massacre was committed on the 17th of December 1944 by members of Kampfgruppe Peiper (part of the 1st SS Panzer Division) during Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein. In memory of this tragic event the Baugnez 44 Historical Center has been built on the site of the actual massacre.
Last stop of this long day was La Gleize to check out the Königstiger 213 which was left behind by Kampfgruppe Peiper on the 22nd of December 1944. The tank was commanded by SS-Obersturmführer Dollinger of the Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501. It was positioned near the Wérimont farm where it was hit several times. After one of the hits sheared off the frontend of the gun tube the crew abandoned the tank.
And so concluded a day filled with the Ardennes battlefields. Tired yet fulfilled we engaged in a copious barbecue and enjoyed our freedom on a chilly night in Lamormenil. For an image of the route of the full tour, please see this link.