Battle of the Bulge 1944 (1)
As the remnants of the 3/23rd Infantry and 3/393rd Infantry were pulling back from the forest line, about 600 men of Lieutenant Colonel William McKinley’s 1/9th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division had been moved behind them and set up defensive positions near the Lausdell crossroads on the outskirts of Rocherath. The crossroads covered the trails leading into the northern end of Rocherath from the woods. The battalion had suffered nearly 50 per cent casualties in several days of fighting at Wahlerscheid in the Roer Dams operation, and even after Co. K, 3/9th Infantry was added, the battalion was still under-strength. McKinley, the grandson and namesake of the former US president, organized bazooka teams and had his troops lay anti-tank mines along the road. The first German probe by four Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyers and infantry exited the woods after dark in the midst of a snow squall, and they evaded the Lausdell roadblock, reaching the town square in Krinkelt. A confused fight began with a handful of M4 medium tanks and M10 tank destroyers, and house-to-house fighting erupted between the Panzergrenadiers and GIs.
Subsequent German columns were brought under fire by American artillery, directed by McKinley’s units at the crossroads. But in the dark and fog, some German units continued to infiltrate past the defenses into the villages. Confused fighting engulfed Lausdell but the US infantry disabled a number of German armored vehicles with bazookas and chains of mines pulled in front of advancing German columns. The German commander reinforced his spearhead and launched a concerted attack against the crossroads at 2230hrs. The Lausdell position was so vital to the American defense that all the available artillery, numbering some seven battalions with 112 howitzers, was directed to break up the attack even though radio communication with McKinley’s battalion had been lost. After a pulverizing artillery concentration fell on all the roads leading into Lausdell, the German attacks finally bogged down around 2315hrs. McKinley’s defense of the Lausdell crossroads on 17 December allowed the 2nd Infantry Division to move its 38th Infantry Regiment into Krinkelt-Rocherath to defend the approaches to the Elsenborn Ridge. It was reinforced by companies from the 741st Tank Battalion and the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
To finally overcome the American roadblock, Kraas committed the remainder of his Panzer regiment to the fray in the early morning of 18 December along with another Panzergrenadier battalion. Colonel McKinley had been ordered to withdraw back to the villages before dawn, but the Germans struck first. In the early morning drizzle and fog, Panther tanks overran the forward defenses, firing point-blank into the trenches with their guns. One infantry company called in artillery fire on its own positions, which stopped the German attack but only a dozen GIs survived the barrage. McKinley’s decimated battalion held its ground, and most of the German forces bypassed the crossroads to the south and charged directly into Rocherath. McKinley’s force was finally extracted at 1115 when an artillery barrage was ordered to shield it from any further attacks from the woods while a local counterattack by four M4 tanks cleared a path into Rocherath past the Panzers. Of the original 600 men, only 217 returned to US lines. Charles B. McDonald, present at the battle as a young company commander with the 23rd Infantry and later a senior US Army historian, wrote: “for all the defenses of many other American units during the German counteroffensive, probably none exceeded and few equaled McKinley’s battalion in valor and sacrifice”.