The fall of Manhay

With the seizure of Belle Haie, the 2nd SS smashed a hole in the defensive lines of the Americans. Their next objective, Manhay,  lay only 1,8 kilometer further away. With Ernst Barkmann up front, in an unwanted role of spearheading the attack, the 2nd SS Das Reich proceeded.

Around 22.00hrs:
Captain Walter Hughes arrived back in Manhay after their withdrawal from Malempré with five light tanks from D company. While waiting for orders, other retreating troops came in and reported to CCA HQ.
Lt. Col. Brown was fully aware of the disaster that had taken place with company A and C.

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Roadblock in Chene Al Pierre

New defenses were set up in Manhay. Captain Allen’s (A comp/ 40thTB) sherman was positioned on the left side of a house, overseeing the terrain where the Germans were coming from. Sgt. Whittaker’s sherman, with a damaged turret mechanism, was placed in the northern sector.
Around the crossroads several other tanks were placed. (see map)
The whole road was filled with tanks, jeeps, trucks, halftracks and ambulances.
Totally unaware of what was going to happen, the US troops were preparing a further withdrawal.
In the evening elements of combat group B of the 9th armored division, stationend around Vaux Chavanne pulled back through Manhay in the direction of Werbomont. The communication halftrack of S-3 Carl M. Corbin was also ordered to withdraw.
At that same moment a heavy German artillery barrage was launched on the crossroads.
There were the 4 tanks of Lt Col John C. Brown, together with some survivors of company A /40thTB, who escaped from their positions at the crossroads of “Fond de la Justice”. To the 4 tanks of his unit, some elements of the 3rd armored division under the orders of Lt. Col. Walter B. Richardson were added. This officer maintained radiocontact with Major Brewster at Belle Haie who reported that the Germans crossed the junction at the rear of his position.

When Barkmann drove towards the village he bypassed retreating infantrymen on both sides of the road.

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When he came out of the woods, he suddenly saw houses appearing, he was in Manhay. Nobody recognised Barkmann’s tank as being German, despite Barkmann was standing in his turret hatch.  “In front of a lit café there was a brisk activity, probably a staff. Soldiers rushed about. We drove right through them as they even stepped aside.”
Reaching the crossroads, Barkmann wanted to give the order to turn left, in the direction of Grandmenil when he saw the shapes of three 3rdAD sherman tanks coming from that direction. Avoiding a confrontation, Barkmann drove past the crossroads.
T/5 William F. Oliver, company H/ 32rdAR/3rdAD,  19 years old at the time, was standing at the Manhay crossroads with his Sherman tank who had some technical problems: “We were told that 6 tanks would bypass our position. We greeted each tank that passed by until we saw a seventh tank bypassing! When the last tank had crossed the crossroads in northern direction, I contacted my tank commander, Sergeant Parkinson, and indicated to him that there should normally be only 6 armored vehicles in this column. My commander was of the same opinion as me and he went to ask the senior officers what it was. Not a single one seemed interested in this remark. Shortly afterwards, we heard a shot behind us and all hell broke loose. The commander of the German tank was really daring or crazy to do this but it was dark and, under a half moonlight, everything looked the same.”

Barkmann: “To the right toward the crossroads stood enemy tanks one after the other. All shermans of the heaviest class, always in groups of nine or twelve, behind one another in company formation.” Barkmann counted and estimated about eighty US tanks.
Then, Barkmann’s driver spots a jeep. “A jeep rolled towards us! Standing in it was , probably an officer, who wildly  waved a signaling disk. The man was was either brave or insane.” Barkmann ordered to drive over the jeep.
Morris W. Powell, driver of a halftrack for the S-2 of CCA: “We heard a noise to our right and knew it was a tank at full throttle. There was a big flash  and collission and the largest tank I think I had ever seen, and I presume an 88 as long as a telephone pole. A jeep had pulled up with two people and it vanished under the monster.” Powell did not know the sergeant who escaped the collision, but he was sure he was screaming “Tiger royale!!”.
Hitting the jeep, Barkmann’s 401 got out of control for a second an hit a parked sherman.  “I was almost thrown from the turret, my headphones rolled across the turret roof and hung down the side of their cord. My cap remained as a souvenir to those outside.” The panther got stuck in the sherman track. Pulling his headset back in, Barkmann ordered his driver to start the tank. After a couple of attempts, the engine started and the panther drove carefully backward.
The 401 radio-operator and machine and gunner Hans Ulrich Wilke, 19 years old: “Being locked in a tank, the opportunity for a radio operator to observe and understand the situation is very limited. Surely I remember that during the course of the battle we drove on a road in the direction of Manhay and crossed the retreating American infantry and vehicles. We continued our advance to the village of Manhay by sneaking through this group. In Manhay, we drove over a jeep hit a Sherman tank. While the tank reversed, I hit my face against the back of the machine gun and I got a slight wound under the left eye. We rotated our tank, freeing ourselves from the sherman and then we left the village.”

In the street , Bill Goldie of B company/ 40thTB just had his meeting with Lt. Col. Brown and walked out of the house when he saw Barkmann’s 401 driving by. “I stepped back into the house and told the colonel that a German tank just went down the road. About that time we heard a tank gun firing. The colonel alerted all to be prepared to move now. They did and I did too….”

In contradiction to some stories, the 401 did not fire one single shot during his drive to the town.
Barkmann: “As the only tank, I did not fire in Manhay to avoid betraying myself. Only after I was past the American tank column did I shoot at the retreating vehicles.”
Reaching the Northern edge of Manhay, the gunner turned the turret to six o’clock and fired high explosive shells in the direction of the village. Gunner Poggendorff knocked out three stuart tanks of D company, a halftrack and another sherman of the 3rdAD.
The commander of the 40thTB, Lt. Col. Brown, standing on his tank, was knocked off by one of the shells. Just before passing out, he shouted to his men to get the hell out of Manhay. When Brown retook control, he was with elements of the 3rdAD and around 03.00 hrs 25 december he was in contact with the 40thTB again.
In the total chaos, US vehicles tried to get out of the village, moving into muddy fields and getting immobilized.
Barkmann was feeling he was running out of luck and because of smoke was getting into the compartment of the 401, he decided to maneuver his tank off to the left side of the road in the dense woods and hid it on a small side trail. It was the end of his journey for that moment. “As the noise of the battle came closer, we heard the clear cracks of the Panzer guns, They sounded like music to our ears. Our company was attacking Manhay.”
Hans Wilke, radio-operator: “The transmission was damaged when our tank clashed with the sherman. Apparently a moving part has been twisted, causing to overheat the gearbox.  The lubricant in the transmission vaporized and the smoke spread inside. As it was one of the missions of the radio operator, I fought the fire with a fire extinguisher. The smoke from the oil and the fluid from the fire extinguisher made me dizzy so I had to open the hatch above my head to breathe fresh air. We then turned into a forest road and we hid there while awaiting the continuation of the events.”

At Belle Haie: Leaving the hot spot with destroyed tanks, Frauscher did not engage any other US troops while he was approaching Manhay. From the south the rest of the German column approached Manhay, bypassing the Belle Aire farm. He drove past platoons of B companies 48thAIB.
When he entered Manhay slowly and cautiously, he came under fire. The hidden sherman of Captain Allen hit his tank on the left front side and disabled it.

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Capt Allens tank, on the upper left Frauschers (turned over) panther “431”

Allen’s gunner Nicholas Kosowsky: “We waited until the first tank came by the house and knocked it out, but the second one behind him shot up a flare and hit us in the left front sprocket.” Shrapnel broke the driver’s legs. The crew got the driver out and took off. In a later moment Captain Allen got separated from his crew and got captured, while he was hiding in a cellar during an artillery barrage. He later escaped his guards during another artillery barrage on Christmas day on Manhay and hid in a ditch. While eating an apple with an unarmed panzergrenadier he waited out the barrage and escaped. He reached friendly lines two days later.
Frauscher saw a second tank in the street leading towards Grandmenil and the crew fired on it. It was Frauscher’s sixth tank that he had taken out that day. Because his tank got disabled again he had to abandon his tank and took over the command of another panther. Of his platoon, only two tanks remained.

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Note: On this map only a few vehicles are shown.

In the northern part of Manhay, Barkmann was followed slowly by the retreating American column. In the southern part of Manhay, more of Ortwin Pohl’s panthers arrived and fought with several 3rdAD  tanks and knocked them out. In the town only three tanks of A company of the 40thTB remainend with the crews still in it. Firing on the German Panthers would reveal their positions and destroying their own tanks would have the same outcome. So, the crews left their tanks silently and withdrew to friendly lines.
Sgt. Cletus W. McGinnis, HQ 40th Tank Battalion, 7th Armored Division: “All other tanks of the 40th in town were overrun and destroyed as the Germans charged into town. Their surviving crews retreated to the same defensive position that we arrived at and dug fox holes. My tank was the only tank to make it out of Manhay intact that day that I know of.”

Manhay had fallen.
The Germans now focussed their attention on their next objective: Grandmenil.

From the woods Ernst Barkmann and his crew saw the column turn westward. He returned to Manhay.

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“Not a single German tank met us at the village entrance, instead only wedged and deserted tanks and vehicles of the Americans. The abandoned Sherman tanks stood in front gardens and between and in back houses. We counted twenty.”
 While entering the town, a group of the 3rdBn “Der Fuhrer”/ 9th company was blocking their way. For a moment they thought Barkmann’s 401 was a US tank that was approaching.

General Matthew Ridgeway about the attacks:
“What remained of A, C, and D of the 40th TB continued to flee up the Manhay highway towards Liege until they reached a roadblock just north of the town established by LTC Robert L. Rhea and the 23rd AIB. Here, General Hasbrouck rallied the Division around CCB 7th AD which rushed tanks into the area. The roadblock and the confusion combined to keep the 2nd SS in Manhay.”
Ridgeway, who later termed the conduct of the 7th on 23 December “exemplary,” described the Manhay battle as a “fiasco.”

Many thanks to Footstepsresearchers, Eddy Monfort, Frans Nooij and Kristof Nijs for editing the text! .

Used sources:
– Armor Battles – Will Fey
– La Bataille des Carrefours – Eddy Monfort
– Panthers rampage in the Ardennes – George J. Winter
– Manhay the Ardennes, winter 1944 – George J Winter
– Personnal testimony of Frans Frauscher
– The Bulge Bugle, november 1993
– AAR 40thTB
– AAR 32nd AR/ 3rdAD
– AAR 48thTB
– Les témoins d’acier – Wenkin/ Dujardin