In picturesque Monschau– famous for its slate-roofed half-timbered houses–  exhausted Fallschirmjäger desiring to surrender to U.S. forces sought out towns people. Better to give up to fellow Germans than risk being shot when surrendering to the enemy. This gained new import with rumors from the Latrinenparole that SS men– Kampgruppe Peiper– had murdered surrendering Americans just south of where they had landed. Between 21 and 24 December, over a hundred Fallschirmjäger gave themselves up to civilians in the town. “Sometimes we went out to take the paratroopers into custody,” remembered Paul Henze with its military government, “but usually we told the tactical troops of the MPs where the paratroopers were located and they went to pick them up. Nearly all were suffering from exposure and trench foot.”

by Danny S Parker  author of FATAL CROSSROADS  & HITLERS WARRIOR    

Also read Operation Stösser: Kampfgruppe Von der Heydte in the Ardennes (Part I) 

The American military government officials knew nothing of the extent of the parachute operation– many estimating it to contain several thousand men that might suddenly rise up confront the unwary. The military government had made its headquarters in the Hotel Horchem– the finest of the twelve hotels in the town, disproportionately endowed as Monschau was a famous destination for honeymooners. Captain Robert A. Goetscheus, the head of the military government and a lawyer from Indianapolis, could not be too sure that his otherwise complacent citizens might suddenly revert to their previous sympathies.

The relationship of the 2,600 natives of Monschau to the early occupation had been uneasy since the Americans had taken over in September. Food, medical supplies and clothing had been short all autumn and many citizens were bored, unable to freely come and go and limited by curfews. Several locals made the observation that the Nazi government had never been this oppressive. However, the worst had come in October when, the members of Combat Command B of the 5th Armored Division–  whose commander was wildly anti-German–  had suddenly forcibly evacuated all the residents of nearby Kalterherberg and proceeded to loot the town. Even in Monschau there was a huge problem with thievery, GIs making off with furniture, radios, stoves and even cars. Then too, the non-fraternization policy was a total failure and by November, every willing German woman in Monschau had been seduced.

For weeks, the U.S. V Corps worried that sympathizers in the town were feeding information to the Germans, but the local government did not dwell of that certainty– as it was, enemy forces– known to include the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division– were on the sharp ridge line that looked right down into the town’s narrow cobble-stone streets. They could see everything and sometimes would even send artillery cascading into the town. Indeed a 15-man German patrol came into the town on 1 October and threatened the Burgomeister at pistol point at his own home for cooperating with the Americans.

The danger of living with the enemy so close became clear to the American occupational forces on Saturday, 16 December. That morning Monschau and the towns on either side, became the northernmost objective for Dietrich’s 6. Panzer Armee assault charged to the LXVII Armeekorps. In the German plan, the Vorausabteilung– the single partly-motorized detachment of the 326. Volksgrenadier Division built around 4 assault guns and the fusilier company was to strike through Monschau and push along the Eupen road to possibly help link up with Kampfgruppe von der Heydte. The northern talon of the German assault would unhinge the American forces defending in the Elsenborn area. Hitler himself had personally called for a super-heavy Jagdtiger Battalion (s. Panzerjäger Abteilung 653) to be participate in the advance on Eüpen, but delayed by the air power-pulverized German rail system to the rear, the single available company of 80 ton monsters had not arrived on the eve of the offensive. Still, very heavy artillery support was assigned: 405.Volksartillerie Korps and the 17. Volkswerfer Brigade turned tubes to the west for a massive barrage to help blast the infantry companies forward.

However, word had it that Genfldm. Model, himself had expressly forbidden artillery fire on Monschau, the fairy-tale resort and a favorite destination for honeymooners. Thus, the town largely escaped the pounding barrage that hit both the sectors to the north and south at 5:30 AM. One of the few shells to fall into Monschau a dawn struck right outside the Hotel Horchem spraying the dining room of the U.S. headquarters with shrapnel and sending everyone leaping under tables.

Thirty minutes later, a surprise attempt by the 326. Volksgrenadier Division to rush into Monschau along the winding Rohren road– materialized when the German infantry attempted to cross the road block on Rosenthalstrasse. Alerted by the shelling, troopers of F Company, 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron fired lethal canister from M5 Stuart light tanks at close range. The brazen German infantry pulled back with heavy losses. A second attempt, to enter the town at 8:30 AM from the “snake road” leading from Imgenbroich to the north and nearby wooded draws was also punished by American artillery, with the columns retreating in disarray. Meantime, unsophisticated human-wave assaults south of the town against the 3rd Battalion of the 99th Infantry in Höfen were similarly destroyed. These offensive jabs were so costly to Genmaj. Erwin Kaschner’s grenadiers– 20% casualties– that the division would make no further real contribution to Wacht Am Rhein. The Volksgrenadier mission to link up with Kampfgruppe von der Heydte never got started.

Back in the German village of Monschau, everyone was shaken. Over the succeeding nights, “artificial moonlight” eerily lit up the Monschau skyline. The illumination came from lines of searchlights on the German side, intended to help nighttime infantry assaults move forward. Enemy artillery barrages fell to the north and south upon nearby Mützenich hill and Höfen. Meanwhile, scores of German aircraft passed directly overhead on the night of December 17th while strong infantry assaults eddied back and forth against Höfen and Mützenich. The German assault followed on each of the following two days. These incursions were only turned back by the U.S. forces with great difficulty and the mood in town was somber.

With electricity out, on the night of 18 December, Capt. Goetcheus and his staff, has supper inside the Hotel Horchem under the light of Hitler Jugend torches that had been discovered in the basement. They were under pressure from V Corps to evacuate the town, but managed to resist this notion at least partly due to the certainty that Monschau like Kalterherberg would have been roundly pillaged. “One shooting; two looting,” went the joke. 9th Infantry Division, now arriving in town, had shown that tendency.

Von der Heydte wounded-captive

Still, with reports of a large-scale German parachute operation in the vicinity, by 20 December, the nervous tension in Monschau reached a fever pitch for both panicked civilians and the military government alike. Elaborate searches began of the woods and swamps between the town, Eupen and Malmédy. The operation to flush out von der Heydte’s men in hiding consumed the 18th Regiment of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division and a Combat Command B of the 3th Armored Division. “American soldiers were seeing German paratroopers behind every bush.” In Monschau itself a fruitless house-to-house search began on the night of the 21st. Even if none were immediately found, that disappointment was not to last.

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