The Battle of the Bulge

The offensive

Sent from southern France on December 7, 1944, the men of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team are stationed in Soissons. On December 16, 1944, the Germans launch Operation Wacht am Rhein, leading to a buildup of several units in the Ardennes Forest bulge. Unlike other Allied units, notably the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions quickly put on alert and sent to the front, the 517th PRCT is not immediately dispatched to Belgium.

On December 18, 1944, the XVIII Airborne Corps alerts the Combat Team to prepare to depart soon. For two days, the Combat Team remains on alert until being informed on December 21 of an immediate departure to Namur, Belgium. However, most soldiers do not know where the Ardennes Forest is located and only learn where they are fighting several days later.

On December 22 at 04:00 am, the convoy reaches Namur. The 1st Bn. is sent to the Soy area and attached to the 3rd Armored Division, while the rest of the Combat Team is sent to the Werbomont region and placed in reserve of the XVIII Airborne Corps, spending the night near the tiny Belgian hamlet of Habiemont. Contacts between the Combat Team HQ and the 1/517th will be few or non-existent. All radio communications will be directed to the Combat Command R HQ of the 3rd Armored Division.

On December 23, the G Company, under Capt. John Pysienski, is relieved from the command of the 517th PIR and directly attached to the XVIII Airborne Corps as secutiry guard. Similarly, the 517th RCT is relieved from the command of the XVIII Airborne Corps and attached to the 30th Inf. Div. It is then directed towards the Mont and Xhoffraix region to organize and occupy the surrounding terrain with the mission of reinforcing the defenses of the 30th ID line. The unit is moved there in a motorized convoy, and the HQ is set up in Xhoffraix.

On December 24, the day is spent in the vicinity of Mont and Xhoffraix to prepare and occupy defensive positions.

On December 25, the 517th RCT is once again relieved from the command of the 30th ID and reattached to the XVIII Airborne Corps before moving to Ferrières with the mission of organizing and occupying the nearby terrain.

The 1st Battalion will be involved in the battles of Soy & Hotton and those of Lamormenil & Freyneux, while the 3rd Battalion will participate in the recapture of Manhay. The 2nd Battalion will remain in reserve for the remainder of December.

The counter-offensive

On January 1st, 1945, the 1st Battalion, now assembled and located in Harre, five miles north of Manhay, begins its march towards Basse-Bodeux. The 517th officially comes under the control of the 82nd Airborne Division.

On December 28th, the 2nd Battalion had moved north of Manhay to the vicinity of Mont Derrieux on the road from Manhay to Liège, acting as a reserve force in case the Germans attempted another breakthrough. It will then move near Brume.

The 3rd Battalion, under Major Forest Paxton, is relieved only on January 2nd by elements of the 75th Infantry Division at Manhay, and the battalion is trucked to an assembly area north of Basse-Bodeux, in Brume, where it arrives on January 3rd.

For the counteroffensive on January 3rd, 1945, the 1st and 2nd Battalions will participate in the battles along the Salm by retaking Trois-Ponts, St. Jacques, and Bergeval. The 3rd Battalion will take Grand-Halleux.

Returning to reserve in Stavelot, the Combat Team will later participate in the combats along the Ambleve valley from January 13th to 21st, 1945, the date of its relief. During this time, the 2nd Battalion will participate in the battles for the recapture of St. Vith.