Battle of the Bulge Tour Day 5 – Northern Shoulder October 18, 2017

First Stop – The small chapel in Grosslagenfeld that has been maintained by Antia’s family for many years (Reusch Family). In the entry there’s the usual stone memorial with a list of the names of the local boys who died in service to Germany in both World Wars. It’s a long list for such a small town; the current population is only slightly over 100 people (as of 2017).

The chapel is dedicated to St. Lawrence who was martyred by being slowly roasted alive on a grill. He’s said to have told his torturers to turn him over as he was done on one side. Hence the reason there’s a grill on the crest for the town. He’s on the high alter. The other part of the crest has a grape vine because there’s an annual (highly attended; like standing room only and spilling out the door) ceremony at the church to bless the wine. Folks come from all around to get their wine blessed.

It’s a lovely chapel as you can see from the photos. Sadly all the old stained glass windows were broken out during the War. They have been contemporarily replaced in probably in the late 60’s or early 70’s I’d guess from the style. But, the sun still shines through them though and makes lovely patterns on the stucco walls. The high alter is really quite spectacular for such a small chapel with gold paint and beautiful reliefs.   Anita is rightfully proud of it, and it has pretty good acoustics, too. Doug kindly played the piano and I sang (inappropriately) Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Notwithstanding it’s inappropriateness, it sounded lovely despite my very rusty singing voice.

From there we walked to the memorial placed by Anita’s father Josef Reusch. It commemorates the fighting that took place in the town between the German 67th Volksgrenadier Div and the 106th Recon Div (assigned to the 424th Division). Based on Carl’s website ( the village was almost entirely destroyed. The memorial was erected by Josef 60 years after the end of the War, and the plaque was replaced in 2015. At Carl’s website you can see the old plaque, and in my photos you can see the new one. The new one says:

A Monument to Friendship – in remembrance of the battle fought in Grosslangenfeld on 16-17 December, 1944. – The 164th & 190th Regiments of the German 62nd Volksgrenadier Division engaged the American 106th Infantry Division Reconnaissance Troop. – There were several hundred casualties, 17 building burned to the ground. – 60 years of Peace ~ 16 December 2004. (there is a photo with caption: Grosslagenfeld native and German 560th Volksgrenadier Division veteran Josef Reusch (R) & his wife Maria (L) with good friends and 106th Infantry Division (“Golden Lions”) veterans John Gatens (2R), John Schaffner (M) and Div. Assoc. member Dave Ford (2L) in 2007.) – 16 December 2014 ~ Commemorating 70 Years of Peace 106th Infantry Division Association ~ Bulge Chapter ~ In memory of Josef Reusch & the Golden Lions.

There’s a piece of mortar shrapnel attached to the stone the plaque is on. The Millers found an unexploded mortar in their hedge, and that hangs out at the memorial too. I’m not sure the caliber of the round, but it’s surprisingly heavy!

Here is a like to a soldier’s recollection of the fighting in Grosslagenfeld:

And another from a soldier of the 106th Recon (with thanks to Doug Mitchel for providing it):

Captured at Grosslagenfeld (1)

Here is a link to Josef’s story (or part of it anyway – he never finished it so far as Anita or Doug know…)

Second Stop: The Dragons Teeth in Grosslagenfeld. They snake around fields and across roads with no real consideration of how the locals were supposed to get around them to get through their villages and into their fields.

The Westwall was built between 1938 and 1940 to run opposite to the Maginot Line in France. The Westwall is a line of over 20,000 bunkers, tunnels and Dragon’s Teeth intended as a defensive line to prevent invasion of Germany across the border. They literally run from the intersection of the the are around Basel, Switzerland all the way through Germany 940 miles to the town of Kleve on the border with the Netherlands. It actually encircles an area starting on the Schnee Eifel and extending to enclose the city of Aachen. Here is a link to photos of the fortifications near Aachen.

After the Dragon’s Teeth were built there were plenty of locals that just moved earth to cover them so they could move about. In fact, roads are still built over them now in the same fashion. The Teeth have grid foundations below ground level to hold them all together so they’re very difficult to remove short of bulldozing, jackhammering them out. There were a few different varieties of fortifications and different periods of building them that occurred prior to and during WWII. Parts were built by private companies and some were a government work project. It employed as many as 500,000 Germans, and used up some estimated 20% of Germany’s scarce building materials in the building. Doug mentioned that the amount of wood for the concrete forms was staggering.

As the work crews moved along the line doing construction, there was a boost to the local economies along the way – although that benefit lasted only as long as the workers were present – so though there was a very short-term gain for the citizens in the area of the building they were left with the Dragon’s Teeth blocking roads and access to fields.

After the War many (most?) of the bunkers and pillboxes were destroyed or made unusable with explosives (by the French?) and over half of them have been removed entirely according the this article. Often explosives were put on the on the ceiling, then the bunker was filled with water, and blown up. The water would concentrate the blast upwards and concussion would force the walls out allowing the ceiling to fall into the fortification. It’s pretty effective.

After being exploded, if they were remotely located, they just left them alone, a tangled dangerous mess of concrete and rebar. Some were eventually encircled with fencing as a minimal nod to safety. If they were not difficult to get to (for example in the middle of a farmer’s field) they were covered with earth. The earthen covered bunkers are an unusable wart on the landscape that then starts to sprout local foliage and shelter local fauna. There are literally reminders of Germany’s history everywhere!

There are some that are still intact (never blown up), and some that were just damaged enough to be unusable in the future but if you’re willing to hike a little, you can go exploring inside.

Third Stop: Pfarkirche St. Marien Bleialf. There is battle damage on the outside, and the church was used as a POW Assembly point for allies captured by the Germans and before they were shipped off to POW camps. There is a pew with a bullet hole, and one with a bayonet hole. It’s a very fancy church, and again, the windows are all contemporary replacements. There is a part of the chapel that is very old with original period fresco that appear to be pre-Renaissance (with the S curve in the female form as well as no perspective). The garden on the grounds is very pretty with roses and a stone wall and the obligatory cemetery with a stone memorial to all the local boys that died in WWI & WWII.

Fourth Stop: from Bleialf we drove to Brandsheid (about 3km away to the West Wall line) and to Ormont to see Bunkers. Ormont is located in the notch between two lines of additional fortification of the West, Schill and Scharnhorst, that encircle Aachen. The bunkers of various construction sizes and types were mostly destroyed and fenced off and melting back into the woods that have grown up around them with saplings growing out of the rubble and moss covering the remains of the concrete.

West Wall Bunker near Kehr, Hellenthal, Germany

Fifth Stop: Large somewhat intact bunker at Kehr, Hellenthal, Germany. I was able to enter this one. Mom sat on her campstool outside while Doug and I went in. It was very close and had small lime stalactites hanging down from the ceiling. There was a lot of debris on the floor from the partial destruction and decay over the years. This bunker was apparently very large –with the remains of a turret gun position (looks like a well from above). There were still scars on the forest floor around the bunker from the battles that took place there (either foxholes or mortar round craters).

Sixth Stop: The meeting place in the woods where the Schill and Scharnhorst lines meet. Here we see the various styles and sizes (from different construction times) Dragons’ Teeth coming together and merging before one of the lines continues on alone. These lines encircled Aachen for extra protection of this ancient city. This spot is the southern termination of the extra part constructed to get around it.

Seventh Stop: Across the middle of the Losheim Gap passing the point of departure for German troops with Rommel in 1940 and Pieper in 1944. Stopped at the Old Smuggler for lunch and a break from history and battles with shopping and Belgian Chocolates.

Eighth Stop: We then travelled across to the North end of the Losheim Gap through Losheimergraben. The intent of the Kampfegrouper Pieper and the Germans to cross their tanks into Belgium at this point is that it’s a small land bridge between 4 riverheads. Getting through at this point would have allowed the Germans to avoid any river crossings on their way West heading for Antwerp (the goal of the German attack). This is also the far South end of the 99th Infantry Line.

We stopped in Lanzerath, a tiny village in the Gap that has a long story of heroism. 18 men of the 99th Infantry Division, 394th Regiment, I&R, held up the entire Advance of the 1st SS Panzer Division for over 20 hours on December 16, 1944. They were led by young, 20-year old, Captain Lyle Bouck Jr. The I&R unit was ordered to hold the hilltop over Lanzerath at all costs and that help would be coming. That help never arrived, and eventually the small I&R unit was captured by Pieper. The German advance never recovered from the 20-hour delay that Brouck and his 18 men had imposed on the Germans helping ensure their eventual loss of the War. Bouck felt that he’d failed in his duty to hold the ridge above Lanzerath resulting in the capture of his men. Their brave holding action was never recognized because after being liberated from the Stalag, Bouck never filed a combat report due to malnourishment and hospitalization for many months later. Eventually, through the work of Capt. Bouck and one of his men, the entire unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

The monument to the fight reads:

The snow covered the field to the front of the I&R Platoon, 394th Infantry, and extended 200 yards down to the first house in Lanzerath. The field was bisected by a farm fence about four feet high, creating a main line of resistance. The two- and three-man fox hold bunkers were covered with six to eight-inch pine logs. Fresh snow had fallen several times and camouflaged the positions beyond detection. A bitter cold had temperatures ranging from the teens at night to the twenties and low thirties during the day. Snow was two to four inches deep in the fields and drifting. The sharp wind gusted from the north and forced a freezing fog to roll over and across the platoon area.

The action of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon of the 394th Regiment, 99th Infantry Division, an 18-man outfit led by 20-year old lieutenant named Lyle Bouck, Jr, was one example of the kind of dedicated stand which sidetracked the German offensive on 16 December 1944. The I&R Platoon had occupied their positions since 10 December 1944. This handful of soldiers was positioned outside Lanzerath, on a hilltop in the northernmost part of the Losheim Gap. On 16 December 1944, after a heavy artillery bombardment and the retreat of the nearby friendly tank destroyer section, Bouck’s men obeyed their orders to hold at all costs.

Lt Lyle Bouck Jr., commander of the I&R Paltoon: “Suddenly, without warning, a barrage of artillery registered at about 05.30 hours and continued until about 07.00 hours. The artillery was relentless and frightening, but not devastating. Much landed short, wide and long of our position, and mostly tree bursts. At any rate, our well-protected cover prevented casualties. The telephone lines were knocked out, but our one radio allowed us to report to regiment. I called regiment and told them, ‘the TDs are pulling out, what should we do?’ The answer was loud and clear: ‘Hold at all costs.’

“The next hour or so, nothing happened. Then suddenly we spotted a column of troops marching towards Lanzerath. This was reported to regiment, and I asked permission to withdraw and engage in a delaying action. Regiment said; ‘remain in position and reinforcements from the 3rd Battalion will come to support you (they never arrived). When the German paratroopers marched along the road, suddenly a young girl came out from the corner of a house, on the right, and talked to the German soldiers, pointing in our direction.”

The German soldiers deployed and attacked up the hill, but the heavy fire of Lyle Bouck’s men made it impossible for the Germans to get up the hill, and they retreated.

Lt. Lyle Bouck Jr.: “Sometime in the mid-afternoon, a second attack was made and repelled, but left its mark on the I&R Platoon. The communications were out, ammunition was running low, the wounded increasing, and apprehension running high. Our evaluation was not impressive. A third attach was directed on the platoon later in the afternoon; this was also repelled. Our ammo was not out, but it was low.

“All of a sudden and no one knows from what direction, our entire platoon was infiltrated with Germans. Some firing, screaming, and running. As I ducked back into the hole, automatic small arms fire ripped into our emplacement. Just then the end of a burp bun barrel pointed into our hold. At this time, everything seemed quiet, with just small amounts of sporadic rifle fire. A voice asked calmly, ‘Who is the commandant?’ I informed him it was ‘me’. He wanted to know what my men were going to do. I told him I would call them from their positions if he would have his men stop firing. This was accomplished and we were searched.” 

The Battle for Lanzerath was over. The men of the I&R Platoon left about 60 dead and wounded paratroopers on the fields surrounding the tiny hilltop.

For 18 hours the Americans held off an entire German parachute battalion (1st Battalion of the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Parachute Division); not until their ammunition was exhausted, their radio had been destroyed, and Bouck himself and most of his men wounded, did the GIs capitulate.

Thus, a small group of men, including four men of the 371st Artillery Forward Observation Team that had earlier been in the town and helped Lyle Bouck and his men, was responsible for holding off a 500-man strong battalion a whole day. This I&R Platoon was later decorated for valor: the Presidential Unit Citation….

This is, unfortunately, is all I can transcribe as my photo cuts off the rest of the monument. (highly suggested reading).

Ninth Stop: We then backtracked and followed the 99th Infantry Division line over to Weisser Stein where Doug and I climbed the viewing tower overlooking the entire area.

Tenth Stop: we then continued to the Hollerather Knie hiking trail. It’s a 13+ km round trip hike, so obviously we didn’t do the hike, but we did see the monument to the 99th Infantry and the 277th Volksgrenadier Division and the numerous foxholes still in these woods. The monument was erected by local citizens and notes the deaths of both American and German soldiers.

At this point began, in the early morning of 16.12.1944, the Germans Ardennes offensive. Soldiers of the 277 VGD and the 99th US ID met here in bloody fights. This common memorial stone recalls the victims on both sides.

Eleventh Stop: From there we continued North to Monschau, a lovely town full of half-timbered old homes. This town was virtually untouched by the War as Walter Model, a German Commander, did all he could to preserve it, as he was particularly fond of the town. We wandered around in this very lovely picturesque town and had coffee at the café of the Hotel Monschau overlooking the Rohr River, which cuts through the town. The patio was directly across the river from the Rotes Haus (Red House), and a small church (Evangelishe Stradtkirche Monschau) that looked very Protestant!

Refreshed and recharged with coffee, we then headed back cross-country towards the B&B to Wereth (through Butgenbach).

Twelfth Stop: Wereth, Belgium. This is the site of the Massacre of the Wereth 11. On 12/17/1944, 11 black soldiers from the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion (various battalions) who avoided death or capture, headed across country hoping to rejoin American lines. They were taken in by the Langer family in the small town of Wereth, and fed.

Unfortunately, this area of Belgium had formerly been German until WWI. The Americans were not looked upon as liberators to all of the inhabitants of Wereth. The Langer family and the soldiers were betrayed by a neighbor who was a Nazi sympathizer. The German SS took the 11 black soldiers out of the Langer house and marched them across some fields a short way from town. There the soldiers were brutalized and then killed. The inhabitants of the town were afraid to move or report the deaths, and the 11 soldiers remained in the field until January, when the townspeople reported the site to the 99th I&R Division. A photographer documented the massacre and an investigation was made, but since the SS troop that killed them couldn’t be identified (and because the soldiers were black) the matter was buried. The families were simply told their loved one’s had died in action.

On the 50th anniversary of the massacre, the young son of the Langer’s, who remembered the soldiers coming to his home, erected a small cross in the field where the 11 men were killed. The memorial was obscure and hard to find, going largely unnoticed. Eventually, gaining some attention in 2001, the tiny memorial in the corner of the field was expanded upon and dedicated in 2004.

I recommend the documentary Wereth 11 (2011).

It was a sad and sobering stop in the twilight hours of the day thinking of the frightened 11 men who were killed on that spot so long ago.

Thirteenth Stop: Altes Backhaus for dinner. There was (I think) an Alfa Romero parked in front and I had a lovely Krones Eifler Landbier. It was a long and exhausting day of touring.

Altes Backhaus and Krones Eifler Landbier,+Germany/54608+Brandscheid,+Germany/Ormont,+Germany/Kehr,+Hellenthal,+Germany/Lanzerath,+Belgium/Wei%C3%9Fer+Stein,+Hellenthal,+Germany/Hollerather+Knie+Car+Park+-+Start+of+Walking+Tour,+Luxemburger+Stra%C3%9Fe,+Hellenthal,+Germany/Monschau,+Germany/Wereth,+Belgium/Bleialf,+Germany/@50.3889341,6.0499478,10z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m62!4m61!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bf8d9470de7d2b:0xae5c382667fa9ae0!2m2!1d6.2850846!2d50.23852!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bf8d7dee667f8d:0x422d4d510db0850!2m2!1d6.3094454!2d50.221331!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bf97415cabb705:0x422d4d510db3c30!2m2!1d6.4425947!2d50.3260487!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bf90a1e8e75e9f:0x29b5d3234652e94d!2m2!1d6.4090625!2d50.3345571!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bf854c9de9aa7b:0x906634a4ebfbc269!2m2!1d6.33564!2d50.35712!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bf9b438e70aeef:0x675d7145e7953eb3!2m2!1d6.373502!2d50.4096868!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bf9cdb38c648c1:0x672215c16b20a93!2m2!1d6.3782676!2d50.4538758!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bf7ed59e1b0df1:0x42760fc4a2a7850!2m2!1d6.2426261!2d50.5563349!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bf8f5562bad4bb:0xace619dc16d5bb54!2m2!1d6.2393!2d50.34552!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bf8d9470de7d2b:0xae5c382667fa9ae0!2m2!1d6.2850846!2d50.23852!3e0

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