Trou du Loup

Trou du Loup is a curve in the road of “Route d’Erezée”. It used to be a small part of the original road between the villages of Grandmenil and Briscol. Years ago, the road was diverted as it is now.
On Christmas day 1944 one of the most important events during the Battle of the Bulge took place in this spot, which turned the tide of the German attacks.
It is also the place  where some of the companies of the green and newly arrived 75th Infantry Division/ 289th regiment had their baptism of fire.
Before telling the whole story: Do not forget to watch the drone video of Trou du Loup and surroundings. It gives you a good idea of the terrain. You will find the video below!

The 289th Infantry was attached to Combat Command B of the 3rd Armored Division, and was given the mission of seizing, organizing and defending a frontage of approximately 10.000 yards in the very heavily wooded area running south and east from Grandmenil to Erezee. The regiment was ordered to attack at 0800 on 25 December, with battalions abreast. While dismounting from trucks in the assembly area on the eastern flank of the Regiment, the 3rdBn was hit by German tanks which had succeeded in breaking through elements of the 3rd and 7th Armored Divisions east of Grandmenil. A bazooka man from company K scored a hit on a German tank and stopped this attack.
(Excerpt from Bill Schiller’s “75th Infantry Division: Ardennes, Central Europe, Rhineland”)
It is just a couple of lines about the baptism of Fire of the 289th regiment, just outside of Grandmenil.
But, there is more to say. Much more.

On the German side: 
According to Frauscher, after driving a few kilometers it became clear that this attack towards Erezée, with only a few tanks without the support of infantry, was going to be a failure. And thus he grabbed the radio and spoke with the commander and platoon leader of 2nd company, Hargesheimer, and decided to form a hedgehog as defence in the woods. “All commanders returned to their tanks to form a position. Suddenly Hargesheimer spotted 2 GI’s lying in a roadside ditch. He drew his pistol and shouted ‘hands up’. In an instant the crack of two shots were heard and Hargesheimer fell, shot through the shoulder. The two GI’s fled in the darkness into the thick woods.” Hargesheimer was put on the tank and then driven to the west side of Grandmenil.
No words about Trou du Loup. Nothing about a confrontation with newly arrived US troops in the woods. No words of a knocked out tank, blocking the whole Panther column. Nothing.

The advance of the “Das Reich” division.
But first: Let’s go back to the troops of the 2nd SS, who were deliberating their next step in house number 27 on the Route d’Erezée, just outside of Grandmenil!
After the debacle in the minefield, the 2nd SS “Das Reich” was facing their next objective: Erezée, an 8,3 km road where the first part was characterized by a 5.3 km long drive on a small descending road with a lot of sharp curves, steep ravines and ending in the small hamlet of Briscol.
During the attack on Grandmenil, Ortwin Pohl got severely wounded and Fischer’s tank was destroyed at the Grandmenil crossroads. Frauscher had to decide if he would continue the attack towards Erezée. Because he was the only one left in his platoon, he could not lead the attack and he was aware of the great risk they were facing.
It was now clear to me that a further advance to Erezee involved great risk. We were now only with a few tanks and found ourselves in the middle of enemy territory without infantry support. We had our orders and after a short consultation began our march to Erezee.”
Let’s count the Panther tanks. If I am correct, these were still left:
– Ortwin Pohl’s “402”: although Pohl  got severely wounded, his tank could still drive.
– Frauscher’s “435”: his Panther was the only one left of his platoon.
– 5 Panthers of Knocke. He had lost no tanks during the attacks from Belle Haie to Grandmenil.
– 2 tanks of Wissman: I presume 3 tanks were lost in the minefield. It is also possible however that he had 3 tanks left and Hargesheimer lost one extra tank in the marshy grounds.
– Hargesheimer still had 4 tanks (or 5 if Wissman lost one extra.)
So, in total there were 13 Panther tanks left for the next battle.

It is not clear which Panther drove in front of the column, and that is something I really would like to know.
According to Frauscher, Alfred Hargesheimer’s platoon led the column, probably followed by the tanks of Wissman.
In the George Winters article: “Knocke’s tanks joined Frauscher and continued toward Erezée, some five miles distance.
Frauscher said: “The advance went first along the road, then continued through a forest meadow without pause. Nearing the village the column halted again, this time to link up with Hargesheimer and his 2nd Company tanks.
This is surprising: Frauscher is suggesting he took another road, instead of following Hargesheimer. And: from Grandmenil to Briscol there are no forest meadows. This point in the story took me a lot of time: I researched every source I had. I knew Frank Maresca, F company/ 289th, talked about a tank attack in the midst of the woods  at “Entre les Deux Fagnes” in his book. For years I thought he made a mistake in timing and location. But with the words of Frauscher, I decided to reinvestigate this matter with the following question: Did Frauscher and Hargesheimer split up the tank column while advancing towards Erezée? It would answer some very interesting questions.
A short part of Frank Maresca’s statement:

Ten to twelve tanks left Grandmenil in the direction of La Fosse. After entering La Fosse they turned North and headed towards Briscol, following narrow dirt roads through heavily forested areas.  After a couple of kilometers the column reached a curve in the road and the tank commander noticed shadows, which turned out to be a motorised column coming up the road towards him. If it were Germans, they went into the wrong direction. In doubt, the tank commander hesitated. One of the other tank commanders noticed that the column had several jeeps. On the other side, one of the drivers in a GMC noticed the German cross of St. George and started to punch the leg of  the machine gunner who was standing in the turret ring. Irritated by the punching, the gunner dropped down and the driver whispered there were German tanks right in front of them.
The gunner wheeled his MG towards the tanks, pulled back the lever and started shooting at point blank. The German commanders dropped down in the turret and closed the hatches. The Panther tanks drove forward, straight into the  jeeps, ambulances and trucks. Seeing what was going on, the US men jumped out of their vehicles and left behind all of their gear. After the destruction of the complete column, the Panther tanks turned around and headed back to Grandmenil…

On november 10th 2020 I went to the spot, marked by Maresca, armed with my metal detector. Besides a gigantic piece of shrapnel and a really old pocket watch, we found nothing. I would have expected a lot of crushed (small) vehicle parts of the column. So Frank Maresca probably had the wrong location.
Thus: It remains unclear where Frauscher went on that so-called forest meadow.
And so we have to stick to the information that we have. From German side it is very brief.
According to their reports they headed in the direction of Briscol, found out they did not have a good chance because they only had a few tanks, turned around and formed a hedgehog defense just outside of Grandmenil, conveniently forgetting to mention that they got their ass kicked between Grandmenil and Briscol.

The road leading to Trou du Loup. Left the ditch where men were hiding.

During the years we tried to find out where the men of the 75thID/ 289th regiment were when the 2nd SS Das Reich rushed in. Based on our many finds, they were on both sides along the road, leading towards Grandmenil. I can already reveal that this was the only time that German troops passed on this road. As soon as the tanks showed up, the men of the 3rd Battalion (company I, K and L) started to shoot at the tanks, with their Garands, 30 cals, .50 cals, and grease guns. Others were taking cover and ran down the hill.

click to open for bigger version

According to Frauscher, they encountered US-jeeps during their drive to Briscol:
Twice jeeps came toward us, pulled up abruptly, looking at us in apparent surprise and drove away again. Further on at the side of the road were a knocked out supply truck and a tank destroyed by us.
The mentioning of the jeeps is great information.

In september 2019 I met Bob Amsler and his son, who were travelling in Europe and wanted to  know where his father fought in the Ardennes. 1st Lt. Edward Amsler, 289th regiment; Battalion S-2 was leading a reconnaissance mission with two jeeps and arriving on the top of a hill, when they saw the Panthers. Amsler, in the second jeep, saw how the first jeep drew fire from two tanks. The fire missed the jeep, but it slid off the road, hitting a tree, ejecting the soldiers. Amsler picked up the remaining crew and took off. Mission accomplished they knew German tanks were coming.
Most of the statements said the column, consisting of around 8 Panther tanks, was led by a captured Sherman tank, which was used as a distraction. It is strange that Edward Amsler did not see nor mention this leading Sherman tank, which again gives me the idea that Frauscher took another road, or was a few kilometres behind Hargesheimer.
There have been many discussions about that Sherman and many people think it wasn’t there.
I disagree.

One of the most genuine stories comes from Cyril Rosenblatt, company L, who was on his way with his company when friendly shells came in, exploding all around him. He dropped on the ground and started to crawl to a ditch he saw a few yards in the distance.

Cyril: “An American Sherman tank came around the bend in the road and for the moment I was relieved, but to my dismay I saw him speed past, followed by a German Tiger Tank. Another tank with its long nozzle reaching for the sky followed and then another. In all, this lone Sherman tank, the only survivor of a tank battle of a few moments before was trying to dodge eight German Tiger tanks!”
 So, according to Cyril this Sherman was trying to escape from eight pursuing German tanks.
Cyril continues: “The Germans did not know that they were in the middle of a company of American Infantrymen and would never have found out if some GI had not opened fire with his M-1 rifle. The tanks halted and from my position in the ditch, I saw the tank turret slowly turning and then it started, all eight tanks opened fire almost simultaneously which made it seem like the whole world was on fire. I crouched lower in the ditch only praying that the turret would not open in the tank closest to me, for if it did and the Germans could use their machine guns mounted on the tanks, we could all be slaughtered…[…]..If we stood up to fire at the Germans handling the machine guns, we would not have lasted a second, so I crouched there in the ditch and all we could do is pray. And brother I prayed more than I ever did in my whole life.

Ted Breeden, I company/ 289th, also saw the tanks. He was on the crest of the hill, when he also was strongly bothered by incoming shells and shrapnel flying in all directions. 
“With things quieting down we scrambled up the bank on our right and quieter side. A few of us rose to start down and gather on the road. George Morrow and I (light-machine gunners) were coming down the back and were about 30 feet from the road when a Sherman tank and several German tanks came up the road from the east, spraying bullets as they passed. George and I dropped into a depression in the ground, our heads facing the road, and though we thought we were shoulder to shoulder, bullets still struck between us and neither of us were hit. I should mention that I was carrying the machine gun and where the tripod and ammunition was I’ll probably never know. With the sound of the tanks disappearing over the rise, a handful of us gathered in the road to get our bearings and we started back up the road following the tank treads. After walking about 50 yards we came to the crushed American jeep with its 50-caliber machine gun and what later appeared to be Christmas mail crushed into the dirt. […] We were startled to hear the tanks returning. This time we scrambled to the low side of the road with the intention to seek cover to see what the situation was. My defense was still only a 45-Colt. One of our tall gangly boys was in a panic and running in a circle. Three of us pounced on him and held him on the ground as the German tanks passed us heading back down to Grandmenil.”

Other statements:
From the “Dolphin Blue Diary”. The 3rd Bn, 289th is arriving at the line where they have to set up the defensive positions. “All evening elements of an armored division had been pulling back through me, warning of the proximity of the German spearheads. Another Sherman tank rumbled out of the darkness, more of the armored people I thought, they certainly must be taking a shellacking. But no, the silhouette that followed the Sherman was a stranger, an enemy. In close succession, eight Tiger tanks overran my position. To make a long story short, I caught hell that night. Those tanks shot us up pretty badly, several of my boys were killed and a large number wounded.”

A statement from one of the men of K company, 289th:

At the town of Briscol we detrucked; and, after what seemed like an endless wait, we started up the road. After passing a column of tanks, we reached an area where our artillery was passing over our heads and bursting close to the road on the hillside to our right. […] At length we stopped just before a bend in the road. We all lay down in the ditches to rest. Further, there was no sense in standing up because we were hitting the ground every thirty seconds anyway. After some wait we heard some activity in I Company ahead of us. We thought we were moving out, but soon the call of “Tanks!” was whispered back along the column. The first tank that rounded the bend was a Sherman but it was followed closely by many Tigers, and the company dispersed in the woods. The order was given to open fire with bazookas and rifle grenades, and the woods were soon filled with explosions. […] Right there, a lot of us learned about foxhole religion. It seemed as an act of God that we were not all hit that night. […] At length the silence was broken by a badly wounded man calling for a medic and soon the forest was filled with the cry as other wounded men took it up.”

John K. Shelton, Jr, K company/ 289th: John is also mentioning the friendly fire coming very close while he is underway. First he sees about ten Sherman tanks roaring by, coming from the Grandmenil direction. (We could not find that amount of tanks back in our papers). A few minutes later, he hears more tanks coming in his direction. “ Suddenly, someone ahead shouted back that German tanks were coming down the road. We thought they were kidding but nevertheless my squad got off the road. Some went down the hill to the left, while others, along with myself, went up the hill to the right. In a matter of seconds, eight Tiger tanks came into view. Some of the guys were still on the road. The tanks stopped within a few yards of us and opened fire with machine guns. Selda, my assistant gunner, and I ran further up the hill away from the tanks. It was dark and they could not see us but they heard us and opened up with their 88’s. We hit the ground and huddled together. Suddenly there was a terrific explosion as a shell exploded above us. The blast lifted me completely into the air. I felt a sharp pain in my back and knew that I was hit. However, we hugged the ground and did not dare to move. Soon the tanks moved on down the road, crushing the jeeps that were on the road, and spraying the area with machine gun fire. As they moved out of range, I ran to the road to locate the guys in my section. Lying on the road and all around the area were the wounded and dead. There was general confusion as the air was filled with the groans of the dying and cries of the wounded for medics. I started helping as much as I could but there was so much excitement that I could do but little. A boy and I were trying to fix up a guy hit in the leg when a shell from our artillery landed very close to us and badly wounded the fellow assisting me. We were still trying to help the wounded when we heard the tanks coming back. We hid the best we could. They passed by without seeing us. I noticed that one tank was missing.”

Beaunnous E. (Bob) Walk, 1st Mortar Squad, Mortar Section 4th Platoon,K Company 3rd BN,289th Inf. Regt: He is also mentioning the bypassing Sherman tank.When reaching the crest of the forest, he is taking a rest on the left side of te road with his mortar squad. Reading his story: he must have been in Trou du Loup when he witnessed the following:  

The knocked out Panther in Trou du Loup

“We had been there only a short time when another Sherman tank was coming in our direction. It stopped among us. Other tanks were following, but stopped farther back. We could not see, but found out later they were German Tigers. The tank commander was standing in the turret talking on the radio. One of our lieutenants was standing on the road near the tank, where he picked up the voice as speaking German. He yelled, “Germans, Germans in the tank!” Then all hell broke loose! […] Then artillery shells started coming in exploding in the treetops, spraying shrapnel down on us. Captain Conway was hit by shrapnel about 10 ft. from me; I don’t know how bad he was wounded. A medic helped him into a jeep and the driver took off down the road that we had just come up. Lt. Donald Applegate of the 4th Platoon took charge of the Company. The artillery coming in was friendly fire, not knowing our Company had advanced that far. Contact by radio was made with the commander of the artillery unit, thereby stopping the barrage. Some other men were wounded too.” 

An unknown account stated: “Dino Argentini relates that once recognized as the enemy, the tanks became targets for “many, many” bazooka rockets aimed at them by the men of the 3rd Bn. But none exploded, because in their haste and inexperience, they had neglected to arm their rockets by pulling the safety pins. However, one soldier from K Company remembered to arm his. Dino remembers that the soldier “got behind the lead Panther tank and put a rocket right into one of the two tool boxes hanging on the stern of the tank. The rocket went right into the engine disabling it.”

Trou du Loup

Click on the picture for a bigger version

As the tanks entered “Trou du Loup” a firefight broke out. Some men were running away from the tanks and incoming shells and machine gun fire. Other started to fire their weapons, like the bazooka team of K company. According to the witnesses, most bazookamen forgot to arm their weapon and many rockets did not explode. Statements of survivors said the men of K company felt trapped with on the right side a deep ravine and on the left side a steep hill. One man did arm his bazooka and fired the rocket right in the rear part of tank, disabling the engine. And there, this huge beast stood in het middle of the road blocking the passage on that narrow road. The following tank tried to push the Panther off the road, but without success. With all the firing going on, the remaining Panthers had only one option left: retreating back to Grandmenil. The advance of the 2nd SS “Das Reich” was finally stopped by a brand-new Regiment that had their first baptism of fire, with the divisional nickname “the Diaper Division”.
According to the 75th Infantry Division history it was for a long time not clear who fired the shot on the first Panther tank.
Back in the days, during one of the Veteran meetings, this subject was brought up again by one of the veterans who was there with a historian. Together with all the veterans they tried to figure out who the man was that took out the leading Panther tank. After a short while one of the veterans came up with a name: Corporal Richard F. Wiegand. According to a witness he was KIA by machine gun fire of the same tank he had just taken out. The mystery of who shot the leading tank was solved.

In 2016 I met Donna Fennessey and her son Bobby. I had been corresponding quite some time with Donna and at that time her father, David, was still alive and wanted to talk with me about this event. David was here and witnessed what happened. Due to health issues the conversation never took place and unfortunately he passed away. But, in 2016, Bobby and his school made a trip through Europe. Belgium was also on the list: the school would visit the Bastogne War Museum for a total of three hours. It gave me the chance to pick up Donna and Bobby and bring them to Trou du Loup.
On that summer day I was explaining what happened here. Bobby could help me out with some of the details we were missing, because his grandfather had been telling this story over and over again.
It is suggested in the drawing that Richard Wiegand was in the ditch on the right side of the road, together with others.
But David told Bobby a different story.
Corporal Wiegand was one of my guys. He was standing in front of me when the German Panthers came in. I was standing next to another soldier, with my back to my foxhole. Wiegand loaded his bazooka, aimed at the back of the tank and just before he fired it, I realized we were in great danger. I grabbed the arm of the guy next to me and we fell back into the foxhole. The bazooka shot knocked out the Panther, but it also killed Richard Wiegand.
David was also at the veteran reunion, but according to Donna, who was also there, he did not want to stand up to correct the story that was told at that moment. “He was a shy man and did not want to show off. Besides that, it was so long ago, he wanted to leave all the memories behind.

Years ago I had ordered the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) of Richard Wiegand and had to wait for over two years to obtain it. When it finally came in, I discovered that, when his body had arrived at Henri Chapelle (at that time temporary cemetery) the Graves Registration Service medical examiner Robert C. Mallory had notated that, beside severe injuries, both his arms and legs were disarticulated. This did not match with the story that Wiegand was KIA by machine gun fire of the Panther tank. Listening to the story of David Fennessey, it matched much better. Not the machine gun fire but the blast and impact of the shot must have killed Richard Wiegand. It is also possible that Wiegand got killed by another shot by one of the Panther tanks.

For a long time I have been trying to find out how many men perished in this battle and this question is a tough one…. Because this event occurred in the early morning of December 25th and it was the start of a long day with battles, we cannot be certain who was killed where. Some names, like Earl Naumann, I can affirm. I will keep working on this list.

In 2010 I made contact with the family of Richard Wiegand and they provided a picture of him. It was an incredible moment to finally see this man, who managed to block the entire 2nd SS Division “Das Reich”.  A couple of months ago I found another picture.
This story was forgotten in time, unfortunately. Although Richard Wiegand has his own monument in Trou du Loup since 2010, not many people know the story.
It’s our duty to write his story down and tell it to the public.
This event, just a small and short one, was one of the major reasons why the Battle of the Bulge failed. By blocking the entire 2nd SS Das Reich division, the midsection of the Battle of the Bulge was stalled.
May we never forget the heroic actions of these men.

What about that Sherman tank, used as a distraction ?
Yeah…that is a good question. Each time I was on a battle tour in Trou du Loup, people asked me the same question.

But the Sherman tank disappears out of the story. Nobody knew what happened to it. We could only guess where it went. For a long time I thought the German crew got out of it and escaped through the woods, leaving the tank behind somewhere.
According to Beaunnous E. (Bob) Walk: The Germans in the Sherman tank closed the hatch and proceeded down the road following the jeep.  The left treads were making a loud clanking noise! I later heard the left tread came off about a mile down the road and then the tank went over an embankment at right side of the road down into the woods; the Germans had abandoned it!” (If Bob is correct this must be the left side of the road)
According to another veteran, the Sherman tank had almost reached the town of Briscol and decided to turn around. On its way back to Trou du Loup it was taken out by a bazooka shot or an Anti-tank gun.

A couple of years ago I had John and Dee Rodgers from Spokane/Washington in our guesthouse. They wanted to know what happened to John’s uncle, John. T. Rodgers, 75th ID, 289th regiment, C company, KIA January 6th 1945. During my research I stumbled on a short testimony of Eugene Broadhurst, S/Sgt. 2d Squad 3d Platoon C Co 275th Engr. Bn, attached to the 75th Infantry Division:
“On December 28, 1944 I received orders to take my platoon to a burned out Sherman tank that had been hit and was on a narrow road that was cut into the side of a steep hill. It was impossible to get equipment to it and get it off the road. I climbed down into the turret section and discovered four or five bodies  there, almost destroyed by fire and also two bodies in the driver section. We had no equipment with which to remove them so we loaded the turret with 500 pounds of TNT, lit the fuse and took off. I am sure whatever remains of the tank is still down the side of the mountain in the deep ravine alongside it. I never got back to the site to find out. It was not until August, 1991 the “Bulge Buster” came out with a story. This tank had been captured by the Germans and turned around and used against us. Up to this time I had great remorse thinking the bodies were American.  Now that I know they were Germans I do not feel so bad. Cpl Richard Wiegand K Co 289th RCT stopped the lead Panther of a German tank column, 2d SS Panzer Division on a narrow road which edged a high cliff. He was killed after firing, 25 December 1944.”
It is the only source we have, stating what happened to that Sherman.
The Sherman story will be continued when we find more information.
I have more stories about Trou du Loup. One of them, told by Bryan Sperry, I will tell you later.

During the years we did find many items related to Trou du Loup. There are two item very special to us: a thick plate of armor, coming from the knocked out Panther tank and one of the Jerry cans of the same panther.

A last word I want to give to James Wheeler, who was in Trou du Loup with K company. He survived the war and went home. But he never spoke about it. His son Jim heard some of the stories from his grandmother and aunts: “He described the fightings on 24th 25th 26th as pure hell. He had just turned 19 three months earlier. As far as Trou du Loup he had told them that the night of the 24th was terrifying and complete chaos with tanks using machine gun fire everywhere. He was wounded on the 26th with a head wound artillery explosion. Was passed over several times as being dead. He could hear but could not move or talk. Someone finally noticed one of his eyes flicker.
James Wheeler lost his watch on that night in Trou du Loup.
We hope to find it back, one day.

We remember:
Richard F. Wiegand
Earl G. Naumann
Joseph A. Libretti
Leo T. Hunt
Rod Gaiennie
Robert H. Marlowe

Thoms F. Dressler

Pictures of the knocked out Panther tank in trou du Loup

Interesting documents

The road leading to Trou du Loup

Findings in Trou du Loup and direct surrounding

The inauguration of the monument, dedicated to Richard F. Wiegand in 2009

Drone video about the area of Trou du Loup, made by Tom Konings.

A documentary about the events in and around Grandmenil by Joey van Meesen, Florent Plana and myself.

Used sources:
– After Action Reports 289th regiment.
– Morning Reports of various companies of the 289th regiment..
– “The operations of the third battalion 289th Infantry/ 75th Infantry Division”etc – Captain Wilbur S. Hilton; Battalion Operations Officer).
– History of the 1stBn (Dolphin Red) – Lt.Col.Henry Fluck.
– Statements from Jay Puckets website 75th My Dad.
– A Soldier Odyssey – Frank W. Maresca.
– SS Das reich, the history of the second SS division 1941-45; Gregory L. Mattson.
– Das Reich, the military role of the 2nd SS Division; James Lucas.
– Battle of the Bulge memories website.
– La Bataille des Carrefours; Eddy Monfort
– Manhay, the Ardennes Christmas 1944, George Winter
– Panthers rampage in the Ardennes, George Winter
– Memoirs of Frans Frauscher, 2nd SS Das Reich.
– Memoirs of Cyril Rosenblatt, Company L, 289th regiment/ 75thID.
– Combat history of the 3rd Battalion, 289th Infantry 75th Division, 1st Lt. Edward A. Amsler

-Many thanks to: the family Wiegand, Vernon Brantley, Donna & Bobby Fennessey, Marty Rosenblatt, Bob Amsler, James Wheeler, Michael Pretty/ Family Wolfe, Saul Anderson, Victor Piret, Jean Hacken, Iwan Niewerth, Jurg Herzig, Tolga Alkan, Andrey Zubkov, Footsteps Researchers Team and Tom Konings for the drone footage.
And: many thanks again to Kristof Nijs who read the text and edited the whole story. Thank you!