|Borgoumont and the Battle of the Bulge
As told by Dr. Bastin in 1951
Translated by Benno Deckers of La Gleize in 2005
Monday 18th December 1944
In the middle of the night the American soldiers who were staying in the village and attending a dance party had been suddenly placed on alert. Since daylight we knew that German paratroopers had been taken prisoner. All our soldiers packed and went to Liege.
At 08.00 in Borgoumont we heard that the Germans have reached Stavelot. All the young men prepared to escape.
At the sanatorium where I brought this news, I felt ridiculous. Here the night had been quiet, nobody had heard about the paratroopers, nor about the living of the auxiliary troops. We all agreed about keeping silence to the sick people and to the personal. I decided to go to La Gleize to learn more about it.
The village was full with lorries and cycles, soldiers and anxious civilians. Most of those people were coming from Stavelot. They had been caught under fire and they had seen the Old Castle burning. Soon people from Trois-Ponts and Coo were coming. The people of La Gleize were also going away. At about midday there were less people passing through, the military vehicles were full, the soldiers were walking along with their luggage.
At 02.00 an armoured column is coming from Roanne-Coo to La Gleize. It’s hardly difficult to recognize the Germans. Lorries are following the tanks, all are driving very slowly. No fire at all. The head of the column is already in La Gleize when the last lorries crossed the little bridge on the Roannay in the bottom of the valley. We didn’t suspect the drama which was happening in La Gleize. Afterward we would learn that the first tank had machine-gunned the houses while penetrating the village. Two young girls and a man were killed before they had time to see that the coming vehicles were enemy. (Mr. Mathias, Ms Dumont and Ms Collard)
The column left the headway and progressed to Cheneux and Rahier. Planes appeared in the sky. The Germans stopped and fired first. From Roanne-Coo to La Gleize and further, hundreds of fireballs were flying to the planes. There were seven of them. They were following the Roannay valley. They fired first on the head of the column, then the centre of La Gleize and the queue of the column still on the headway. The two last explosions in the fields under my house destroyed all my windows. A plane took fire and tried to fly to Francorchamps, but his left wings and the engine were on fire.
A month later we could read in the “Stars and Stripes” the story of this event and how important it had been just the day before the American counter-attack. “It’s Sergeant Brookleen, patrolling in his Thunderbolt who, by impossible weather, identified, attacked and stopped 10 km from Stavelot, the armoured column that had crossed the American front line during the night.”
It was right that the firing of those seven planes immobilised the German column till the end of the afternoon. But it’s not right to say that 160 armoured vehicles had been destroyed or damaged, because none of those 30 or 40 grenades (?bombs?) reached the road.
At about 04.30, the last plane had just disappeared. Joseph Leroy was coming back from Lincé to the sanatorium with his motorbike. He told us to have passed along a column of American tanks coming to meet the Germans from Remouchamps to Targnon.
In front of the first American tanks the road was free, even in La Gleize were there is nothing to see at the crossroad Café Renard. But the night is falling. The German tanks in the other part of the village are hiding under the trees and against the houses. I could see them, very large with their long gun. The King Tigers!
In the evening the car of the sanatorium, coming from Verviers through Stoumont crossed the village of La Gleize without problem and without imagining that the Germans were not far from there.
At midnight the Germans were taking all they could in the houses from the Americans: cigarettes, tins and uniforms…
The gunfire was to hear since the early morning hours and the darkness made it sound more horrible. Lightning could be seen from the direction of Stavelot from where the firing seemed to come. A first grenade (artillery shell) exploded further the village to La Venne. It will last the whole week on.
Every two minutes two guns fired a pair of grenades on the village. Apparently those firing were meant to condemn the La Gleize crossroads.
Tuesday 19 December 1944
American soldiers at my door! And what about the Germans? The jeep stopped just in front of my door. The three soldiers inspected the entrance of the village. I showed them a German tank which is trying to hide. They knew enough and drove straightaway to Spa.
In Borgoumont the people were still ignoring that the Germans were in La Gleize. But they were going to see them soon. Against 11.00 from the balcony of the sanatorium we saw six vehicles coming along: two amphibious vehicles and four armoured vehicles.
Those Germans crossed Cour and were going to fell under fire one km further on the Fagne.
In fact for two months the woods were hiding huge amount of gasoline. Black soldiers were guarding them at Géronstère. Fifteen white soldiers from the radio-post were living under tents at La Grande Vecquée. The day before, they saw the German column on the Amblève road. Waiting to withdraw they had set an anti-aircraft gun to fire to Cour. It’s our friend, Sergeant Charlie Dinney, who fired the only grenade against the German patrol.
He didn’t know if he really caught them but the Germans turned round and drove back to La Gleize. It was his first round and his biggest emotion since Saint-Lô. Near La Gleize the Germans were nervous. I heard them shouting on the road to Trois-Ponts. The engines were growing. Against midday no more noise. Grenades were flying against us and felt on the Stoumont road, just outside of La Gleize. Each grenade raised smoke behind the houses and showed that they were not suffering under the bombing.
My wife, who gave birth to our baby ten days ago, had a look through the window: the engines were turning again and the Germans were shouting more and more. Something was going to happen. Retreat? We dared to hope it. The lorries were driving to Trois-Ponts. My wife counted 52 lorries and three motorcycles. But not a single panzer! We couldn’t help to be optimistic at the beginning of the afternoon. We didn’t know nothing about what happened further of La Gleize. It was only much later that we would know how the Americans coming from Remouchamps and La Reid had been rejected from Stoumont and that the German tanks had reached the Lienne at Forges and following the Amblève had crossed Quareux not far from Remouchamps.
At 03.00 the village of Roanne had been crossed by a column of Shermans coming from Francorchamps. The tanks had the big purple fluorescent canvas showing them to the observer plane. This one was hanging there above the Roannay. The American tanks tried to hide against the houses and opened fire against the German posts along the headway above. It was very funny the gun firing of a tank. It was banging, then the fireball flied to the valley and then we heard nothing more.
A German gun answered from the bottom of the village. It was firing horizontal, crossing the valley of the Roannay, the grenades came upon the roofs of Roanne and felt in the countryside of Moulin du Ruy. After twenty rounds the German firing stopped. But another gun began to fire from the houses of Hassoumont. The first grenade achieved nothing, the second one reached a farm and the third one reached a tank which caught fire. At that moment all the German anti-aircraft machineguns opened fire on this burning tank whose flames and smoke covered the withdrawing of the four other tanks.
The night was coming and the gun began again to fire. This time, everywhere. The valley to Stavelot was burning. Stoumont was caught under fire coming from the west. In La Gleize it was hell. From my windows I could see the rounds reaching that or this house before the explosion. Little grenades were also falling straight on the village. The biggest ones were not making so much noise but they reached the valley and raised terrific echoes that human ears had never heard. It’s impossible to describe.
All the hills seemed to explode, hours long there was not a single second of silence, each round was approaching both German tanks that I was observing for two days. Both tanks moved slowly and went a little bit further as the grenades hit the bush they had just left.
Wednesday 20 December 1944
The Americans arrived just in front of Borgoumont, first five tanks coming from Cour against 10.00. At midday I found them at the entrance of the village. As I saw many things the last three days, the men kept asking questions: number of the Germans tanks, calibre of the guns, SS or Wehrmacht? The officer was easier. He’d like to recognise on the map the points from where the Germans fired with machineguns. This officer told me that Stavelot and Trois-Ponts were in American hands and that the armoured German vehicles were cut from their base.
Back home I learned that a German soldier had taken my sister outside. She came back covered with mud… she had shouted. The Kraut had hidden and she managed to escape in the fog. I didn’t need to speak much to convince my family to leave the house just staying in fact in the middle of both camps. We decided to go to Borgoumont or to the sanatorium.
Against 02.00 the Americans decided to penetrate into La Gleize. They invited me to join the column to show the ground to the soldiers: little footpaths, creeks and the machinegun nests. There were 25 tanks, 200 men and a dozen of F. I. from Spa whose commander was Mickey Decerf. They had bad equipment but those courageous young boys were marching before the tanks. After one hour we approached the village, the Villa Closset was hidden in the thick fog. We lied on the ground and the head tank fired a grenade in the front of the house. I though it was better to go back as high as the second tank. We stayed up and went further. A new stop because a machinegun was firing in the fog. A soldier had been caught at the leg. Dead leaves were flying everywhere around us. Two feet from my left shoulder the earth had suddenly been raised by the bullets. I knew enough. I won’t go any further. But everybody was thinking the same and the word passed around “We go back”.
Something exploded just in the front of the tank where I was lying. I didn’t understand at once it was a mine. The Sherman was not damaged and went back further. As I came back to the Nononruy, the head tank which was also driving back hit a mine at the same place. The rubber of the tracks was burning. The men jumped out of the burning tank which exploded soon after.
The soldiers were not so happy, they are going to go on recon. Mickey and his men seemed to feel good and disappeared in the woods. The tanks went away to hid under cover of the trees between the bridge of Nononruy and the hotel of the Tchéoux. In the fog all were well camouflaged. But in the evening the wind chased the fog and I saw a German from my window firing a grenade which burned the tank. This one is still there today, hundred meters from the Tchéoux above the field.
The following day we learned the result of the recon at the entrance of the village: one prisoner. It was very easy, the man had surrendered! They discovered him hundred meters from Borgoumont as he was digging a hole at the bottom of a haystack.
Then the drama of the Chenay happened. The American soldiers penetrated in the lonely farm and found the corpses of two men. We would later learn they were the owner, Mr. Istasse and Mr. Arthur Delvenne (82) who took refuge there the day before. Mrs. Istasse badly wounded in the belly laid on the first floor but had been only founded on the 24 December. Nothing was discovered about the details of this drama.
The evening is coming. The gun, which had stopped firing in the afternoon, fired again. We get used to all those things and I felt asleep, partly reassured by the friendly troops hanging around the countryside.
This day of Wednesday seemed desperate to all. But the soldiers were happy to have taken the advantage without any resistance.
On the other side of the battle sector the results were not so bad. From Trois-Ponts the road of the Amblève had been retaken till further than Roanne-Coo. The Moulin Maréchal at the bottom of the hill to La Gleize, which had been taken since Monday 12.00, had been delivered forty hours later. At the two further points, Targnon and Forges (Chevron) the Germans were also on defensive positions. They didn’t stop in Rahier and occupied in fact only La Gleize, Stoumont and Cheneux.
Thursday 21 December 1944
It was the day of the impatience. We won’t learn anything about the operations, we won’t understand the movements of the troops. Most of the tanks would leave Borgoumont and through Andrimont they would come back to Roanne to come into the valley beyond La Gleize. The fighting took now place at the other side of the German pocket. The American troops had penetrated Cheneux. And we saw the grenades falling on the village of La Gleize.
From now on our really bad time began. Before this Thursday evening the houses had not suffered a lot. No one burnt. But at that moment the surrounded Germans took refuge in La Gleize with all their material and at the same time the American artillery intensively fired from everywhere. Battery of 24 had been set in Nonceveux, La Reid and Nivezé. All those guns were firing at La Gleize and Stoumont.
Friday 22 December 1944
I spent the night at Dumez house in Borgoumont. For the first time since the beginning of the week it had been raining. I came back home in the early morning to have a look home and to learn news. The first line was along the Nononruy, 300 meters from my house. At the entrance of Borgoumont the sentry thought I was a man of Mickey Decerf and I was allowed to pass the check point.
The Germans were waiting for me home. They asked me a lot of questions and left me in the cellar. At that moment a new part of the battle was happening.
The Americans coming from Desnié had retaken Stoumont and Froidcour. The Germans concentrated in La Gleize were searching a way to withdraw. To my knowledge they hoped to reach Borgoumont to find a way through the woods to Roanne and Stavelot.
At 10.00, they had brought in the fields around my house a certain number of tanks that I heard passing along from my cellar. The American tanks were only 300 meters from there. Both sides began to fire at each other. This time a German tank had been touched and exploded just when the artillery began to fire at the villas. It would last till late in the night. The Germans tanks withdraw at about 03.00. At 05.00 the guns were firing further and La Gleize was taking all the grenades. It was during that night that all the houses were burning. In the morning the civilians had been chasing from their houses and had taken refuge in the church or in La Venne (a little hamlet one km from La Gleize) where more than 80 persons had hidden. Those who had to leave Hassoumont this morning saw all the tanks driving to Borgoumont.
Albert Delvenne and his wife who escaped through the woods came in Borgoumont at about 10.00 and brought the news of four days.
Grenades were falling by day as by night. Grenades and mines felt on the roads, on the walls, everywhere. The village had been bombed till the Sunday when the American soldiers came in.
No civilian had been killed but the collapsing of the tower and of the walls of the church made wounded people amongst the refugees and the American soldiers who the Germans had kept prisoners in the church. Leaving his house, an old man, Mr Jules Legros, eldest man of La Gleize, had been badly wounded and died two days later in La Venne. An old woman Mrs. Delvenne died alone in his house. The Germans had chased her children and she was not able to go with them.
This Friday had been the most dramatic day of the week because of the firing, the burned houses and mostly because of the panic of the Germans just before their counter-attack.
Saturday 23 December 1944
This Saturday would see the last offensive from the Germans. They had stayed the whole night in the villas quarter and had withdrawn at the Tchéoux. About 10.00 friendly patrols approached my house just been left by the latest plunderer ?. At 02.00 I was free : a young man from Spa, one of those courageous boys of Mickey Decerf entered first my house. He was wearing an American uniform. The corporal with him was Johnny, a big man with red hear and beard. He immediately wanted to know how old my sister was and her name. In the evening I met him at the Red Cross post, he was wounded in the face. I only saw two big eyes in blood. The American doctor who was taking care of him, Doctor Bastin too, was very optimistic. The bullet went through his cheeks, breaking the teeth… But he was wearing a beard, nobody would notice it!
The view of La Gleize had changed since two days. At first I saw that the church had disappeared… but I could then see pieces of burnt walls and smoke around them. But it was not time to inspect the horizon, I had to be careful. I look ones more back to my poor wounded house. How is it possible that it was not more damaged? During the firing I often thought that it would be completely destroyed afterwards. I was laughing !
In Borgoumont I recieved cigarettes and congratulations. The men found my story pleasant. The sentry who didn’t manage to stop me had to pay 80$ punishment. It didn’t help me. The sentry was just as lucky as the others and he was laughing as I offered him to pay the half.
Afterwards we heard about the final assault. I was still doubting as I remembered Wednesday and the Germans coming!
But I heard that the enemy was really surrounded : parachuted ammunitions and gasoline felt last night into our lines. Everybody was becoming nervous, the soldiers more than the civilians. At 05.00 they went off to La Gleize just as the artillery fired the Tchéoux area. In fact the Germans had come back with their tanks. Just as the day before, the firing of the guns stopped the tanks and the men. The American assault was becoming a counter-attack. We won’t know more about it this Saturday. This last German offensive was making us sad and during the whole night we were scared.
Sunday 24 December 1944
As we were looking to the planes fighting in the blue sky, we heard that all was finished in the village. Most of the German soldiers had disappeared and as the friendly troops entered the village, there were only friends in it. We could hear “OK OK”.
What happened? Against 02.00 in the morning the Germans took two men in La Venne to be their guides through the forest to the Mont des Brumes, Bodeux and Trois-Ponts. There were more than 1000. The day before they had been fighting late in the night, then came back to the village, disbanded and without weapons. I understood… I saw their foxholes by the Tchéoux, their shelters, everywhere things left, broken weapons. In the holes there was blood on our cushions, our blankets all they took in our houses to protect themselves. It was good to see the blood of those Krauts in their holes. And their dead body too!