The Siege of La Gleize

(Refer to the scenario on page 27 of the RF Battle of the Bulge book and additional wargames photos on the rear cover.)

The village of La Gleize, scene of Kampfgruppe Peiper’s last stand, sits on the slopes of the Ambleve Valley, one of the areas of the Ardennes most deserving of the description ‘mountainous’.

Looking back from La Gleize down the Ambleve Valley towards Coo and Trois Ponts it is evident that this restricted terrain wouldn’t have been Peiper’s first choice as he rushed towards the Meuse , but it was the only possible route after the bridge at Trois Ponts had been demolished by US engineers.

La Gleize is built on a saddle of land around a twisting network of roads that lead in almost all directions, making it an important local route centre and a good vantage point for defenders.

Referring to the battle map on page 32 both shots above are looking south from the right centre of the northern table edge. Note the prominent Pre de Froidcour in the centre of the village and the ‘hump’ of the Dinheid feature behind. Out of sight in the dip between the two lies the orchard where most of Peiper’s Sdkfz 251 APCs were abandoned. Between the Dinheid and the mountainous terrain behind it twists the steep-sided Ambleve Valley and its fast-flowing river.

The village had celebrated its liberation only the night before Peiper’s arrival. In the following days it was almost entirely destroyed by American artillery fire as they pounded the German troops. The village today has been largely re-built, as can be seen in the shot above looking north from the road just west of the church, but some of the original buildings remain, including George’s Farm, with its characteristic monogrammed gates.

Georges Farm was photographed on our first research trip, which combined patchy snow with bright sunshine. Jo – chief navigator – stands across the road from the old farmhouse. The gates (not necessarily the originals – but sporting the same prominent ‘G’ in wrought iron) feature to the right of a well-known shot showing US troops testing their bazookas against a Tiger II. The tank had been abandoned in the sunken lane that separates George’s Farm from the Pre de Froidcour. Although unmarked on the battle map my George’s Farm is the building to the immediate north of the church and can be seen in the photo on page 30. I used a Scaledale ‘ruined cottage’ to approximate the half-timbered farmhouse.

The Pre de Froidcour sits on its own walled island opposite the Town Hall and the December 1944 Museum and is surrounded by roads. In 1944 its crypt provided shelter for civilians, and cellars throughout the village sheltered families, occupying SS troops and US prisoners alike during the American bombardment. Peiper allegedly had one of his grenadiers shot for desertion against one of the walls of the church.

The church sustained severe damage during the battle and according to the diorama of the wartime village displayed in the museum, appears to have lost its tower. The church was rebuilt in 1951. The evergreen hedge was copied for my model, but I have no idea if it was a feature of the churchyard in 1944. My model church – pictured on the back cover of ‘Battle of the Bulge’, was scratch built from balsa and coated in ceramic tile cement, on which I carved the stonework with an electric model drill.

Directly opposite the church, on the other side of the village ‘square’ is the December 1944 Museum, hard to miss thanks to the Tiger II sitting outside. The museum houses a superb collection of items gathered and lovingly displayed by its founders Philippe Gillain and Gérard Grégoire and a cinema screens a film that explains the events of December 1944 through archive footage.

The Tiger II is number 213 that was disabled defending Werimont Farm and was ‘bought’ for a bottle of cognac from salvaging GIs by the local innkeeper’s wife, thus saving it for posterity. The Museum holds an impressive collection of equipment and 89 uniform-dressed dummies, most displayed in glass-fronted diorama cases. Of particular interest to wargamers is the small scale model of the village as it was when recaptured, showing ruined buildings and the positions of abandoned vehicles. As well as Peiper’s force, other combatants in the Ardennes fighting are also represented in the museum’s displays and although there were relatively few parachutists fighting in La Gleize there is good coverage of Fallschirmjager uniforms and equipment.

It is interesting that in this and other museums in the Ardennes Fallschirmjager are shown wearing blue grey Luftwaffe trousers and not the field grey that uniform experts tell us were issued to parachutists. For what it’s worth, my opinion is that by this stage of the war, with many Fallschirmjager being recruited from ground crew and other Luftwaffe branches, the standard grey blue trousers were issued out of convenience, or just came with the personnel. Many Fallschirmjager were also equipped with standard Luftwaffe steel helmets due to shortages and large numbers wore Luftwaffe greatcoats instead of, or as well as, parachutist’s smocks.

In this display we see a representation of a mortar crew, albeit with one crewman and an artillery officer. Other full-size dioramas include US paras and German tank and signals troops. Note the close-fitting winter ‘balaclava’ and reversible winter suit of this army (not SS) mortar crewman. The officer’s sheepskin jacket could have been a left over from service on the Eastern Front where Peiper’s older hands had recently served. He also wears the brown leather and felt winter boots that had been developed for service in Russia.

Leaving the centre of the village we now head for the high ground to the north east. Referring to the battle map we are at the junction of the road from Hassoumont and Borgoumont and the Nabonruy Stream. The stream is crossed by a narrow but sturdy stone bridge that may well be the original which carried defenders and attackers over this small but significant watercourse.

As with most real natural features represented on wargames maps you really have to see them to appreciate the effect they had on movement during a battle. The Nabonruy Stream is narrow but deeply cut, with boggy or wooded ground bordering its banks, making it impossible for armour to cross under winter conditions. The sign announcing La Gleize is followed by a sharp left hand bend providing ideal ambush conditions for the Tiger II and supporting troops that blocked Task Force George’s route from Borgoumont (entry point US 5 on the battle map). To the left the stream tumbles down the hillside to flow beneath the road (to Ruy) that is marked on the battle map as entry point US 4.

Now shifting to the west of the village, this shot from the N33 (leading to Stoumont and entry point US 2 on the battle map) shows the view of the village that greeted Task Force Jordan and 3 rd Battalion, 11 9 th Infantry as they emerged from the cover of roadside woodland on December 23rd.

Behind the building to the right lies the Dinheid, from where a Panther and Mk IV dominated the N33. Led by TF Jordan, the 119 th Infantry were also held up by a road block and mines, whilst more infantry advanced through the difficult boggy woodland on the high ground to the north (entering from US 1 on the battle map). Eventually they managed to link up with elements of CCB advancing from Borgoumont, but a fierce defence kept the US forces out of the village proper. In the middle distance is the lower road that continues westwards to Cheneux (or entry point US 3 on the battle map). Cheneux lay on the other side of the Ambleve, high on a shoulder of the valley side. It was defended by a company of panzer grenadiers and flak wagons against US paratroops from 82 nd Airborne who had advanced from Werbomont (see page 62).

Like many prominent battlefield locations in the Ardennes , La Gleize is well worth a visit, its museum alone providing a powerful reason to linger. Although many of the buildings have been rebuilt – a common necessity for all the villages that saw fighting in 1944 – the layout and surrounding countryside are little changed. It is also very close to Stoumont (see page 20), so the real terrain behind two Battle of the Bulge scenarios can easily be examined in one trip.