The attack on Belle Haie

Belle Haie” is nothing more than the name of the road leading from Baraque de Fraiture to Manhay, with woods and farmlands. A single house on the right side of the road is the only house you will see, when you are going to Baraque de Fraiture. The crossroads just before the house was another major keypoint in the battle for Manhay and Grandmenil.

On december 22 Combat Command A (TF Doan and TF Richardson) had a

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meeting with 3rdAD Major General Maurice Rose in Manhay. Rose, terribly tired of earlier fightings, ordered TF Richardson to detach from CCA and stay in the Manhay area. Because TF Richardson was already on its way, a runner was sent to let them return. Lack of communication slowed everything down and nobody knew where the Germans and where their own troops were.
On the other side, in the Petite Taille- Chabrehez area, 2nd SS Von Manteuffel, set up his HQ in the castle of “Bois Saint Jean”. This magnificent castle was bombed by allies late 1944 and rebuild after the war.

On december 23:
Let’s take one step back: to the moment Major Goldstein, who was in charge of the defense of Baraque de Fraiture, got to Manhay by jeep to search for some extra tanks.

After seeing that the crossroads was overrun, they reported what they had seen to Captain Cobb, company commander of H comp/ 32rdAR and Captain Ernest T. Siegel of A comp/ 509thPIB.  Richardson ordered a medium tank company and an infantry company from Erezée to move to Manhay.
TF Brewster was sent to Baraque de Fraiture with the direct order to retake it. From the beginning it was clear that this task was impossible. Brewster had 6 shermans, H company/32nd AR, led by Captain Cobb and about 150 men of the 509thPIB/ A company, led by Captain Siegel.  On its way to Baraque de Fraiture and bypassing the Malempré/ Odeigne crossroads, the lead tank was hit by a panther tank. Brewster chose to go in defensive positions, because of the terrain and woods. During the night there was no activity and Brewster made improvements on their defensive positions. The tank that got hit was repaired.

December 24 1944
A lot of events were going on this day. In the morning of december 24th, German motorcycles and armored cars tried to penetrate Brewster’s lines. The attack was halted, destroying several German cars and without any losses on US side.
With the help of an artillery observer, they could take the German troops under fire, halting any further attack. Also air support was available during the morning and three P-47’s knocked out nine tanks. Several attempts were made by the 509th/ A company to go forward, all attempts failed.
Around noon Brewster was getting help from C company of the 75thID/ 290th regiment. According to Brewster, the captain of C company “moved his company out across an open snow covered field as if on parade. They were cut down and I had to call off the attack. The captain (Walsh) was one of the first wounded and when they got him back to my C.P.  I found out that they had just arrived from the States and had never heard a gun fired in anger.”

That’s true: The men of the 75th Infantry Division just had arrived from France.

Lt. Joe Colcord

We have statements of several men of C company/ 290th/ 75thID, thanks to the websites of Jay Pucket and Henri Rogister. The statements are from S/Sgt Nathan H. Gillie, Pfc Daniel W. Kupsche, Cpt. Harold Walsh, 2nd Lt. Mike Eberle and Lt. Joe Colcord.
It is Cpt. Harold Marsh who remembers how the whole operation started: without a map, compass, clueless about how many enemy troops, no other units involved, no medics and no extra ammo.
“I was not going to take C Co on such a suicide mission.” was his first reaction. But he went anyway. In half tracks they went to Belle Haie but were forced to go on foot because of 88mm shells coming in. Walsh met Brewster and is not too positive about the Majors attitude.
Lt. Sasin: “I have no idea what Brewster’s orders were, but he ordered us to attack while his tanks and the paratroopers of A company/ 509thPIB just sat there and watched  as we attacked troops of the 2nd Pz division.”
Colcord: “The situation was described as a single German tank at a firebreak, protected by a squad of infantry on the right side of the road. My platoon (2nd) was to circle through a field on the left side and block the tank and squad from retreating out of the fire-break.”
S/Sgt Nathan H. Gillie: “We did not know at the time but we were up against one of the elite SS troops, they were part of the 2nd SS Panzer Division.”
Walsh sent out two platoons: one platoon, led by Lt. Eberle on the right side of the road and one platoon on the left side, led by Lt. Colcord. He held the platoon of Lt. Parks and the weapons platoon of Lt. Sasin in reserve. (Sasins platoon later was placed on the right side of the road)

The attack started around 17.00hrs. (According to Colcord it started at 15.30hrs), with the firing of three (!) artillery rounds.
Walsh joined Eberle’s platoon. They cleared the west side of the road.
Daniel W. Kupsche: “I was the first scout  of the 1st platoon. We moved to a point behind the jump off location and removed our combat packs. Our starting point was on the right of the road , several hundred yards before a dense pine forest. To the left (in fact: right) was a house, across the road were 5 tanks. In front of the farmhouse was Capt. Walsh and HQ personnel. Lt. Eberle gave the order to me to move out in lead, after an artillery barrage. The Lt’s words really hit me: “Fix bayonets, no prisoners, move out!” The first artillery barrage rounds landed 15 feet in front of us. The platoon moved forward and intense fire came in.”
Lt. Eberle: “We marched through the open field for what I remember as being a couple of hundred yards without a shot being fired in our direction before we entered the wooded area, preceding the crossroads.”
Colcord: “The 1st Platoon (Lt. Mike Eberle) made good progress, killing a number of dug-in German Infantry and wiping out several machine gun positions. They continued for perhaps 200 yards until they reached the fire break where the Germans brought in a tank that stopped the attack. My platoon (2nd) advanced across an open field until we came under fire from the woods. We ran into a very stiff, high fence and through the use of the illicit wire cutters were able to cut holes in the bottom of the fence and crawl through and advance to the edge of the woods where fire increased and we were pinned down with several men wounded. I was hit in the face by a concussion grenade, a portion of the rim embedded itself in my right cheek below my eye and as is often the case with head wounds, bled profusely. I tried to get someone to return to company headquarters and report the heavy concentration of fire on this side of the road where no one was supposed to be. The messengers were wounded and I decided that the Captain must be informed, so under fire I zigzagged back across the field, dove under the fence and reported the situation to Captain Walsh.”
Kupsche saw a German tank coming down the road and he thought the bazooka man behind him would take care of it, but there was nobody there. It was destroyed by one of the tanks of Brewster. Later another german tank passed by and shot at the tanks but hit the farmhouse, killing 4 or 5 guys of the 509th.

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A knocked out Pz IV at Belle Haie

Kupsche went too far ahead and was alone in the front and had a couple encounters with German troopers. Eberle also showed up, but returned to his men to check how they were doing.
Eberle and his men proceeded and entered a gully. They saw a German panther tank on the side of the road and Eberle wanted to take it out with a phospherus grenade. On hands and knees they went on, till they came at a point where the gully had collapsed. Sticking his head out, he looked straight into the barrel of a machine gun. Eberle tossed a hand grenade to the MG crew, but they ran off. Eberle fired a couple of rounds at them.
Proceeding toward the tank, he waded through a pond when he was seen by another MG crew. One of the Germans started shooting at him with a pistol. Eberle dropped in the pond and the shooting stopped. He then tossed his last grenade to the MG crew, with success.
Kupsche reached as one of the first the crossroads of Baraque de Fraiture. He heard multiple German vehicles and several tanks starting up. Intense machine gun fire came in and Kupsche retreated, running into two men of his unit. He asked for a couple of handgrenades, got one and returned to the place where the machine gun fire came from. He threw in a grenade, silencing a couple of German soldiers.
A bit later, he was called back to the CP with Eberle and tried to dug in in the hard soil.
The third platoon of Lt. Parks flanked the position of Colcord and met no resistance in the beginning. They went forward until they ran into intense enemy fire from camouflaged and dig in positions. Most of the 3rd platoon got killed, including Parks, wounded or captured.
During the night the order came in to retreat because the troops were getting surrounded.
Colcord could not proceed very well because of enemy fire and terrain that covered with barbed wire and fences. He got wounded by shrapnel in his cheek.
While regrouping, they cleared the road and Walsh was expecting that Brewster would join in with his tanks. But Webster told him he did not get any clear orders.
According to Kupsche, company C lost 50% of their men.
Just before dark, around 16.00hrs, Sasin’s troops pulled back and dug in at the edge of the wood. Every once a while a German motorcycle tried to get through the lines, without success.

The battle-hardened 2nd SS Das Reich division was to strong for the US troops. According to Brewster, there were many US troops in the area uncoordinated. In fact, 3rdAD and 82ndAB units later were ordered to move back to Manhay without informing Brewster and left his roadblock all by itself.
The Das Reich division was building up for the attack, but Brewster’s little roadblock held them up. It gave medics the chance to evacuate wounded men. Rumors that reinforcements were going to help him out came in several times and Brewster finally saw movement of armor coming from the North. This must have been the 40thTB of the 7th AD. This was around 16.30 hrs.

The overall situation at Belle Haie, around 22.00hrs, dec 24 1944

Let’s focus on them. CCA of the 7thAD reached Harzé area on the 23rd of december at 21.15 hrs after their retreat from the St. Vith area.
In the afternoon three companies, A, B, and C of the 7thAD, 40th tank battalion came in from the North. All three companies were coming from the Poteau- Rodt region and endured some heavy fighting. Five tanks of D company (Walter D Hughes) stayed in reserve in Manhay, but were later added to the position of company B of Captain Emmerson Wolfe. They were placed forward in the direction of Fraiture, but had to retreat back to the B company lines, because of enemy patrols, MG fire and bazooka fire from Weidingers 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment “Der Fuhrer”. Wolfe had some serious fights during the days before in the Poteau area and could retreat without the single loss of a tank.
A company, led by Cpt. Malcolm Allen,  set up their tanks with infantry C comp/ 48thIR around the crossroads Odeigne-Malempré around 16.30hrs. One platoon of the 517thPIB was attached to the company. Captain Allen told that Odeigne would be attacked and defended by friendly troops that night, but the attack never started (because German troops arrived at Odeigne, driving the troops out). In the afternoon they received four rounds, coming from the west and Allen decided to pull back his tanks to the edge of the woods. In that position they could see Odeigne, which already was occupied by German troops. With the taking of Baraque de Fraiture, a part of the 4th companie/ SS Panzer regiment 2 (SS Hauptsturmführer Ortwin Pohl) drove in the direction of Samrée and took the road to Odeigne. The 4 fired shells might have been some incoming friendly artillery fire, coming from the Freyneux area. The village Freyneux came under attack by SS troops of Fritz Langanke. I will write an extra story about that attack. In the timeline it is important to know that the attack on Freyneux, in an attempt to reach Grandmenil via Oster/ Lamormenil, took place before Belle Haie was overran.

4th company commander Ortwin Pohl got surprised by General Walter Kruger in his assembly area. Kruger ordered him to attack Manhay immediately, even if it was during daylight, with the chance that the Germans troops got attacked by US airplanes, because they were running behind schedule. Pohl suggested to talk first with his regimental commander, Rudolf Enseling.
In the German HQ, situated in the church of Odeigne, Enseling ordered Pohl, who was there with his aide Ernst Barkmann,  to attack and seize Manhay and then turn West towards Grandmenil, and following the road to Erezée. The time of attack was set on 22.00hrs. During the day the troops prepared for the attack. The plan was to attack together with the “Deutschland” Regiment. The 3rdBn “der Führer” and 7th Pz Company were going to attack Belle Haie. Ortwin Pohl’s 4th company would move from Odeigne to the US lines. The attack was going to be led by Hauptscharführer Franz Frauscher, in command of the 3rd Platoon. Right behind him was tank 402 of Pohl and tank 401 of Ernst Barkmann, followed by Platoons 2 of Lt. Alfred Wissman, followed by platoon 1 of Heinrich Knocke.  In total 17 tanks of the 4th company were involved. Beside that Pohl had the support of the exhausted and battle weary troops of Hargesheimer company 2, who had battled in the Freyneux area. Only 6 tanks were left of this company. These were place behind Knocke’s tanks.

In Manhay, around 18.00hrs instructions were given to tell the three tank companies A,B and C to withdraw. The order were to be given by Cpt. William Power. Around 19.30 he left Manhay and found companies B and C immidiately. But he could not find A. Several attempts were made to find the men of this company, but failed and so company A never knew of the planned withdrawal.
At 21.30hrs the first troops of CCA started to retreat, it was Company D of Walter Hughes who pulled back to Manhay. The others had to wait till 22.30 hrs. It was reported that it was possible that 3rdAD tanks were going to retreat through their lines.
At the crossroads Allen had seen figures and moving vehicles in front of him. At first he thought they were retreating 3rdAD vehicles. Then machine gun and semi automatic fire came in and A company was attacked by infantry armed with panzerfausts. Five tanks were almost simultaneously knocked out by bazooka fire. More enemy fire came in. From the right flank German troops rushed in. The confusion among the troops was spreading and the 2nd and 3rd platoon 48thAIB withdrew without permission. Four enemy tanks showed up, coming from the road towards Odeigne, led by Frans Frauscher. Crossing a road ditch, his tank was fired upon, and the left track got seperated.
We tried to figure out where this happened exactly. It was before he got on the N-15. Right after this event, a sherman got knocked out and one of Frauschers other panthers got disabled. Out in the open and without proper protection, A company started to retreat in the Manhay direction. With the German attack temporarely halted, Frauscher left his disabled tank and ordered the commander of another panther to get out and Frauscher took over the command of that tank.
Pohl saw the attack stalling an gave the radio order to commence quickly.
And then something really peculiar happened.
In the mayhem and confusion Ernst Barkmann by accident took over the lead and bypassed Frauscher. He went on the N-15 road towards Manhay, not realizing that he cut of Brewster’s small force in Belle Haie. Later the Americans said they thought the first tank was a (captured) sherman.
Barkmann thought he was still behind Frauscher.
A bit further down on the road, he saw a tank on the opposite (right?) side of the road. Assuming it was Frauscher standing in the cupola, Barkmann orders his driver to stop next tot he tank and shut off the engine. All of a sudden the turret hatch of his neighbour is shut and also the driver closes the hatch. But, Barkmann catches a glimpse of the light in front of the driver. They are red. Barkmann realises he is standing next to a sherman tank. The Panther has green lights. The Sherman was one of the A company tanks, with gunner Frank Ostaszewski in it and stood on the side of the road because of engine failure. Barkmann gave the ordered his gunner to take it out. The turret was turned to the right and slammed right into the turret, jamming it. Driver Unterscharführer Grundmyer quickly started the engine and reversed the panther. Gunner Poggendorf fired a shell right in the middle of the rear of the turret, took out the sherman but without killing the crew.
I have been trying to find the exact location where this strange incident happened. Apparently Barkmann was already ahead of the rest. So, my guess is this happend where the woods starts on the right side of the road.
While proceeding towards Manhay, C company/ 48thAIB moved through the woods on his left side. After the sherman tanks had left hastily, the men of C company were left alone, but got permission to pull out, with German panzergrenadiers on their tail.
While withdrawing his men, Lt. Richard T. Johnson/ 48thAIR, saw that one of the TD’s, positioned close to the N-15, got destroyed by Panther 401. According to Barkmann he saw two enemy tanks coming from a clearing on the right (Grand Gotta), and fired on them, taking one tank out and stopping the other. At this moment Barkmann realised he was alone. Frauscher was just entering the N-15 and it is estimated that he was approximately 15 minutes behind panther 401 and thus could not give any support to Barkmann and his crew. Barkmann could not contact Frauscher or Pohl by radio, because he was, probably, out of their range.

While entering an open area, Barkmann spotted nine enemy tanks in a meadow on the right. He ordered his driver to keep moving, hoping the Americans would think he was a friendly.  When his side got exposed, he turned the turret to three o’clock and to his surprise the Americans bailed out of their tanks and ran to the woods. Barkmann decided not to fire one shot, so he would not expose himself and drove on. He knew that he was in the lead now and he knew Frauscher should be right behind him.
Before we follow Ernst Barkmann’s ride to Manhay, let us focus on the German troops, who were behind him.

Although Barkmann reported that tank crews left their tanks, many crews did not bail out but stayed in their position, when they saw panther 401 bypassing. Earlier they saw remnants of A company passing by, after they heard a lot of fire coming from the crossroads. C company/40thTB just waited for their time to withdraw.
Frans Frauscher’s column, minus two tanks, drove over the N-15 and was spotted by a sergeant, who was on the southeast side of Malempé and reported his findings back to Emmerson Wolfe, commander of B company/ 40thTB. According to Frauschers statement, he fired his machineguns with short bursts and fired the cannon sporadically.
Frauscher arrived at the open meadow and saw about 15 US tanks.

Knocked out sherman of Sgt. Don Honsdorp, 40thTB, C company. In the background Malempré

“I immediately gave the order to stop the tank, turn the turret to three o’clock and prepare for battle. The long gun, however, got stuck in the road side trees. There upon I ordered the driver of the tank to back up and turn the heavily armored front to the enemy. In that moment, the nearest Sherman fired at me. The shell missed my tank and passed over me, for in the darkness (behind me stood a high spruce forest) the target through the sight was difficult for the gunner to make me out. For me to remain inactive was dangerous, so I took my handy flare pistol and fired a white star shell over the enemy tank. This burned over the target and lit the meadow almost like daylight.”
The gunner fired at a sherman and shot it in flames. The rest of the column drove in and started firing at the shermans. Frauscher knocked out 5 tanks. The rest of it started to pull out and came under fire. All nine tanks were destroyed.
In the meantime, Major Emerson Wolfe of B company heard the panic of his fellow men over the radio and he saw the fighting going on on Grand Gotta.

Emerson Wolfe

He could do nothing. “If we took the column under fire, the chances of hitting our own troops was as good as hitting Germans.”
The road to Manhay lay wide open.
Emerson Wolfe himself got into a critical position. With Brewster surrounded, A company withdrawn and C company totally destroyed, he was alone. He contacted Lt. Col. Brown in Manhay and told him what had happened. Brown ordered him to retreat at once.
The sign for immediate withdrawal was given, but they had to choose another route. Following the road into Malempré, they switched to the road, leading into the hamlet of Hoût-si-Ploût, entering the road that should lead them straight back to Vaux-Chavanne and Manhay. But unfortunately, the bridge over the small stream was blown up and only the infantrymen of A company could get over it. The tanks of B comp/ 40thTB followed a small wood trail towards Bra. While the infantrymen of the 48thAIR reached the road leading into Manhay, they bypassed a long column of vehicules, tanks and AA units of the 14thTB/ 9thAD, who were heading in the other direction. Among them were stragglers of C comp/ 48thAIR, with 20 paratroopers and 10 infantrymen of the 106thID, around 170 men in total.
About 1000 yards they came under direct fire form machine guns from the tanks. An attempt was made to reach Manhay, but around 01.00hrs the men withdrew. According to the statement of Oliver Ousdahl, the men went to Harzé. But this also could be Harre. (which is much closer) They arrived there around 03.00 hrs.
Wolfe’s B company followed the trail through the woods to Bra and contacted 82ndAB troopers. He then followed a road leading to Werbomont and came back to Manhay. Wolfe did not lose one tank during those days and was placed in reserve (Combat Command Reserve) on the hill, on the north side of Manhay.

Later that day Brewster reported to Richardson that enemy armor bypassed his right flank via the Odeigne road, this was around 21.00hrs, but Richardson ordered him to stay in place.  Then things started to go wrong: his radios went dead and his rear was cut off. In the meantime troops from the 3rdAD (TF Kane) had to retreat from Odeigne (will tell you this story later) and  9thAD and elements of the 82ndAB were retreating from Malempré. Brewster was not aware of that, nor was he informed about it.
Colonel Richardson told him to stay in the defensive position and informed if all was well on regular basis.

December 25 1944
In the early morning of december 25, 03.00hrs,  Brewster finally got the message to withdraw. But he was told not to use the same road as he went up. With the tanks on the road and infantry on the sides of it,  Brewster moved to Malempré, hoping to connect with friendly forces. Company C of the 75thID were the last to pull out and were to cover the withdraw.
When he was in reach of the town, the first tank was hit by enemy fire, coming from Malempré. About the same time, the two tanks in the lead were hit and machine gun fire came in. Brewster thought it was friendly fire and sent out a patrol to ask them to cease fire. But he was wrong: it were German troops. Because of the muddy terrain, Brewster could not move his tanks through it. With a blanket over his head an a flashlight he checked his map to see the best possible way out, which seems the way to Bra. (Not realising that Emerson Wolfe of the 40thTB/ C company did the same). He asked Richardson for some advice, but he could not help him, because he was in trouble himself between Manhay and Grandmenil.
The situation got worse because of all the firing. Brewster gave the order to destroy all his vehicles and retreat on foot, giving the message to Richardson that this was his last one. This was around 03.00hrs in the morning. (German troops were already halted in Trou du Loup by the 75thID/ 289th Regiment). According to Kupsche there were several trucks with wounded men in it behind the destroyed tanks. They were left behind with medics for the Germans to capture.
It was at this moment that Captain Walsh and his men of 75th’s C Company choose to go in another direction an not to follow Brewster and his men. According to Walsh they walked the rest of the night and arrived, just as Brewsters men, in Bra where they met the 504th Paratroopers.

Around dawn, Brewster entered Bra, finding the men of the 504thPIR/ 82ndAB. After some discussion, the commanding officer was willing to bring Brewster and his men to the Corps baundary (Bomal?). Here he met 33rdAR major Nathan Duffy who was on his way to division headquarters in Barvaux.

In Barvaux, Brewster was ordered to come to the office of Maurice Rose, who was outrageous that he destroyed his tanks, leaving fuel and ammunition. Brewster was placed under arrest “for misbehaviour before the enemy.”
On january 2nd 1945, Brewster was put back into action. He got wounded in Sart and was sent to Paris.

The events in Belle Haie delayed the German attack more and more.
Years ago, I received an email form one of the the men of C company, 20th/ 75thID. He asked me if I was going to write down their story what happened in Belle Haie. The reason for his question, is one I will never forget.”If nobody is going to write down that story, we wil be chopped liver.”
We can conclude that the men of C Company, 290th Regiment/ 75thID did a hell of a job and  slowed down the German troops who came from Barack the Fraiture.
Lets not forget what they did!

Used sources and credits:
– Manhay, the Ardennes Christmas 1944, eo; George Winter
– La Bataille des carrefours; Eddy Monfort
– 40th tank battalion, december 1944, combat interviews and related records; W. Wesley Johnston
– Battle of the Bulge memories
– Sons of the Reich- Michael Reynolds
– Personnel statement of Franz Frauscher (thanks to Dave Wolfe, brother of Emmerson Wolfe)
– After Action Reports, Morning reports, interviews, etc of the 48thAIR & 40thTB, 509thPIB, 75thID/ 290th..
– Armor Battles of the Waffen SS, Will Fey
– The Battle of the Bulge, Hugh M. Cole
– Many thanks to Footstepsresearchers , Eddy Monfort (BE), Frans Nooy (NL), Jurg Herzig (SUI) and Kristof Nijs (BE)!

Coming soon: The Attack on Manhay and the tank battle at Freyneux!

© Bob Konings

Extra pictures:

A drone video of the Malempré area: