These are the minutes of a presentation by Mr. Jean Milmeister, “the” contemporary Mr. Battle of the Bulge of Luxembourg, made during the general assembly of the CEBA, a Luxembourgish research group about the Battle of the Bulge. He is analyzing with back and forth arguments and using as main source the writings of the post-war BOB expert Dr. Joseph Maertz, if the Sherman actually standing in the outer courtyard of the Castle of Clervaux is in fact the same one as pictured in some historic pictures standing outside the walls of the castle.During this analyze he also tries to lift the last mysteries about the identity of this Sherman and the general whereabouts’ of all the Sherman’s in action around Clervaux during those fateful days of Dec. 16-18 1944.
The report was published in 2003 by the CEBA in their periodic “The Bulge” and is also freely accessible in the archives of the National Library of Luxembourg. The report is Multilingual. Mr. Milmeister’s text is written in Luxemburgish, the citations from Mr. Maertz are taken out of his German written book and there are a few citations from German and American soldiers, written in their respective native language, German and English.
I have the explicit permission from the CEBA to put this translation online!
The translation is my work, except of course the english citations which I left untouched. The German text of Mr. Maertz and the one from the German soldier is very unpolished, in post war style calling the adversaries often simply either “der Deutsche” (the German) or “der Amerikaner” (the American). You will also notice the differences in situation analysis regarding basically the same spot and action, depending on the side who writes it. The excerpts used by Jean Milmeister are written in Italics.
This map from Clervaux shows some of the most prominent spots mentionned in this report, a few of them with old pictures. The situation of the 5 Sherman tanks of the 9th AD is also displayed. Zoom out to get a map showing the more distant villages mentionned. Please notice that the street layout in the centre of the village has changed since the war.Clervaux Sherman on the map Click to open bigger in a separate window or zoom out directly here
A post war view of the situation on Dec.16-18 1944. Modern time views offering this perspective are difficult to get because the only viewpoint would be the tower of the monastery. Well recognizable are the different hotspots mentionned in the article. You notice the three sharp bend's in the road with the Sanatorium on the right above the first bend and the cemetery in between
The German army on the road coming from Marnach, just a few kilometers away from Clervaux.
Report originally published by the "Study Group on the Battle of the Bulge", the CEBA
The memorial monument for the GI's who fought the Clervaux battle
Identifying the Clervaux Castle Sherman
Last year, Mr. Camille Kohn, president of the CEBA, faced his fellow members of the executive with a photo published by Pierre Eicher in the trimestrial regional magazine “de Cliärrrwer Kanton”. The photo showed a Sherman M4A3, apparently featuring the same tank as the one standing now in the Outer courtyard of Clervaux Castle but without a gun and, only recognizable with a magnifier, bearing the markings 9∆ 2∆ B.
The Sherman in the courtyard is marked 707∆ A-10! Has he been incorrectly assigned?
The dilemma did not ease when the responsible for the repainting, Fernand Zens, presented prove of his doing with a few pictures clearly showing the markings 707∆. The assembly thus entrusted me with the task to determine the correct identiy of the Clervaux Sherman. I scoured a dozen publications, but was not able to find any specifics.
Charles B. MacDonald for example is writing in “A Time for Trumpets”
“Before daylight on December 18, a Sherman –from where and what unit, nobody inside the château knew- took up position in the outer courtyard. After daylight, as German tanks shoved aside the destroyed Mark IV on the road above the town and began descending the hill, the Sherman opened fire. From the road, the Sherman was difficult to spot, but somebody eventually picked it up. A first round merely scratched the armor plate, but a second entered between the turret and the hull, blowing off the gun.” (p. 279) So, his thesis, the Sherman was shot twice on this morning of December 18 1944 at the location where he still rests today. He doesn’t spend a word on the Sherman’s unit.
On that fateful December 17 1944 at least 30 Sherman tanks had been in action in and around Clervaux, separating them wasn’t an easy task. Some came from A Company of the 707. Tank Battalion, assigned to the 28th Infantry division (Commander : Bruce M. Hostrup), others came from B Company of the 9th Armoured Division Commander: Robert L. Lybarger)
Where do those two units have exactly seen action?
The historic accounts of the 2nd German Panzerdivision, responsible for the attack together with Battalion Monschau of the 2nd Panzergrenadierregiment, two platoons of Panzer IV of Panzerregiment 3 and a platoon of the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 38, are saying:
“During our advance to Clervaux - the accompanying pioneers and marching Panzergrenadiers followed us only very reluctant – two Stug’s where shot, the crews only suffered light injuries. The advance was now stuck until dawn. Only at that moment I noticed the American tank well hidden in the bend near the village entrance. He was probably responsible for the two hits. The crew then probably flew and we were able to apprehend the Sherman intact without a fight. During the day, the unit “Wildt” was able to win a strategic heighten position above the town and those consequently limit the movements of “the American”. With the assistance of heavy grenade launcher’s a few enemy tanks were shot or disabled (p.181)
“On Sunday morning American tanks took position on the road to Marnach. The foremost stood right in front of the entrance of the Sanatorium, covering a huge stretch of road. Unfortunately he managed only to make a few shots before a German grenade pierced his amour plate and set him on fire.
The long column of German panzers, arrived the day before from Marnach, was now able to slowly progress into the valley of Clervaux. The first bend near the Sanatorium was not an obstacle anymore with the first Sherman already put out of action. The column slowly advanced past the cemetery and approached the second bend. Here lay, low and well covered, the second “American”.
Suddenly the first German fired, only a second after the American. The “American” was hit and so the second bend was cleared. Only one remained at this point, the third one .” These were the 5 Sherman tanks of 2nd Platoon Comp. A of the 707th TB, under the orders of Lt. Stevens. At 9.30 a.m., this Dec. 17, they were part of the reserve in Clervaux and went into position near the cemetery and the three hairpin curves.
During this first fight, four German and three American vehicles were shot down. With his two remaining Sherman tanks Lt. Stevens withdraw in direction of Drauffelt. The destroyed tanks were pushed into the ditch. Two of them still lay there after the war, one Sherman and one German Sturmgeschütz.
“A few American tanks were already lost, but others already rolled in from the Drauffelt road. The steep embankment right under the Sanatorium protected them from German artillery and Panzerfaust and they were also out of sight from the attackers. The first German tank drove along the high cemetery wall and right into the third bend to force the fight. He had barely approached the junction when an “American” quickly came out of cover and shoothim in flames. The crew escaped and the remaining German tanks quickly withdraw behind the protecting second bend.
Soon after, the GI’s noticed some German soldiers bringing the feared small Pak’s in position, right above them, just at the foot of the Sanatorium. German Infantry, armed with Panzerfaust, also crawled slowly nearer. The Americans would not take a chance and withdraw back along the Drauffelt road.”
This group of 5 Sherman belonged to 1st Platoon, A company of the 707th TB, under the command of Lt. Raymond E. Fleig.Colonel Fuller (see his after action report) earlier called them back from Münshausen. They took the road through the valley who leads to and ends right into the third bend. Lt. Fleig shot the first Panzer IV who came down the road and thus blocked the road from Marnach to Clervaux, at least for some time. 1st Platoon withdraw then to Drauffelt.
We can summarize and assume that the tanks from 707th TB had been put to action near the cemetery and the three bends.
“Armored Reinforcements for the troops in Clervaux came during the morning from the west. The first Sherman drove the old lane up to the castle’s main gate and went into position there. Others did the same near the post office to block the space between the two castle’s. (note from me: Opposite the old castle a big mansion has been build and is called the “New castle”) The main entrance of the castle did not offer good protection for the first Sherman. He was an easy target from the Marnach road. Two German reconnaissance units already lurked not far away also. He was very vulnerable and it did not take long before he was knocked down.
Meanwhile the second Sherman noticed a German gun firing from behind the “new” castle. He came out of cover and with a few well placed shots he silenced the gun quickly before hurrying back into cover. The road to Marnach was definitely lost on the afternoon. A single German tank rolled down with high speed down the road to Clervaux, over the bridge and along the nice hotels and positioned himself right under the witch chapel, in a slight bend in the road and just in front of the American barrage between the two castle’s, but well covered because of a protruding house corner. The American tank stood only 100 meters away, near the Post office. He had to rearm after the fourth shot and that was just the moment the German waited for. He came out of his cover, shot and hit the American tank.
A few hundred meters back in direction of the railway station and near a hotel, other American tanks waited for the Germans. They did not have to wait long before there fate was sealed. Advancing from Reuler to Clervaux through the steep and wooded ridges, a German advanced troop, equipped with Panzerfaust, was able to approach the American tanks as near as 100 meters. They quickly crossed the stream, aimed and shot down the tanks.”
These 5 Sherman tanks belonged to Company B. 2nd TB, 9th Armored Division under the order of Capt. Robert L. Lybarger. He was ordered back from the Antoniushaff, where he was supposed to put up a road barrage together with Company C from the 52 Armored Infantry Battalion (Task Force Rose). Lybarger was ordered to report to Col . Fuller , who split up the B Company and send the 1st Platoon to Heinerscheid, the 2nd Platoon to Reuler and kept the 3rd in Clervaux.
Around 11 a.m. the 1st and 2nd Platoon drove up the road to Urspelt. The 1st Platoon continued to Heinerscheid where two Sherman got shot. The other three withdraw to Reuler in the afternoon. The 2nd platoon went immediately to Reuler. Capt. Lybarger was part of it. His tank got hit but he managed to get out and replaced the unlucky commander of another Sherman who was shot standing in the turret. Capt. Lybarger was then called to take over the command of the 2nd Infantry battalion from the 110th regiment in Reuler and he handed over the command of the 2nd Sherman Platoon. This 2nd platoon was left with two Sherman’s when they were joined with the three tanks from the 1st platoon coming from Heinerscheid. Around 11 PM those 5 tanks withdraw to Urspelt where they met German tanks and PAK. They tried to cut through the meadows and escape through Clervaux. Three of them got track problems and were destroyed with thermit grenades, the other two have also been destroyed after they got stuck into the wet meadow. The 3rd Platoon of B Company under the command of Lt. Scully stayed in Clervaux and all 5 Sherman tanks took defending positions in the main road of the town.
On Dec 17 at 3 PM the 2nd German Panzerdivision attacked Clervaux from the south with Panzer IV from the 3rd Panzerregiment, Stug’s from the Panzerjägerabteilung 38 and with parts of Panzergrenadierregiment 2. From the Northeast they attacked with Panther’s from the 3rd Panzerregiment, the Panzerpionierbatallion 38 and parts of the Panzerregiment 2. At 5 PM, Lt. Scully send out a last message saying: “We’re surrounded and can’t get out. They’re closing in and we’re fighting like hell. Guess this is it!” According to the after action report of the 2nd TB, the 3rd Platoon still had three tanks at that moment.
The 5th Sherman, the last one in the convoy, was already shot down when they passed the main street to go into position. From the 5 men crew, one dead, one got injured and three could flee. According to Joseph Maertz, the Sherman got hit by a Panzerfaust near the Headquarters of Col. Fuller in the Hotel Claravallis and burned down right there blocking the way back for the remaining of the convoy.
It was around 6 PM when a Panther tank drove in front of Col. Fuller’s HQ at Hotel Claravallis and shot right into it. Fuller and most of his man were able to get out of the house through an iron railing leading from the back of the house into the rocks right behind the hotel. (note from me: He was caught later that night) Because of the burning Sherman but also because it was meanwhile dark outside, the German advance was temporarily stopped and the three remaining Sherman tanks trapped in the village survived this night. On Dec 18, at sunrise, the Germans pushed forward into the main street, the Panzer IV from the south and the Panthers from the railway station.
The 2nd Sherman stood near the shop “Bazar Kopp”. The book “Die Ardennenschlacht 1944-45 in Luxemburg” features a description of Hans Hejny, member of the Panzerpionierbatallion 38 who progressed through the forest and along the Loretto Chapel on the opposite ridge right up to the front of the castle. He describes how the 2nd Sherman was destroyed:
The Sherman stood ablaze 50 meters away. Members of the crew tried to flee from the heat and thick smoke, but a lot of gun’s were already pointed at them. The machine gun ammunition inside the Sherman started to explode, making it even more unsafe to stay there. They couldn’t stay there any longer! A massive explosion shook the street and blasted the windows from the surrounding houses. A terrible hot tempest forced me back into my cover, suffocating and coughing. I slowly creeped back forward, the grenades exploding now in the Sherman making the situation even worse. There! I saw the first GI jumping out of his position. I silently wished him good luck. Unfortunately, he did not came far when guns and machine guns fired and struck him down. His comrade, ignoring the danger, jumped out to help him but the moment he was reaching him he went down also,hit by a rain of deadly bullets.
The 3d Sherman was standing near the post office. He shot a few times and always withdraw immediately behind the corner of the house. The gunner of this tank was Donald C. Fink. He wrote me in a letter that a German tank shot at the house and the falling stones immobilized the Sherman. He then destroyed himself the gun with a thermite grenade.
Sherman No. 4 was shot near the Hotel Wagner.
The Sherman B-2 came to Clervaux with the 3rd Platoon of the 2nd TB around 11 AM on Dec 17 and went into defending position right in front of the Castle’s gate.
From there he shot at the columns of German vehicles (Panzer IV, Stug’s and reconnaissance vehicles) staying on the opposite ridge on the road coming from Marnach. They head of the German column was stuck there because of the fights ahead of them in the three bends near the cemetery against the 707th TB.
After every shot he withdraw behind the corner of the house “Kratzenberg” a little bit down the slope.
Together with Henri Trierweiler and Fernand Zenz I analyzed closely this Sherman near the castle. He had traces of three hits:
- One hit above the socket of the gun and above the turret
- One hit between the turret and the main body
- One graze shot on the left side of the turret
In which order was he hit? A report from Donald Fink, who was in the Sherman near the post office, clarifies this. He wrote:
“A shell had bounced off the front of it, and the crew had deserted it intact. That night before the enemy could get to it, Lt. Scully wanted it brought back to bolster our position. I would have thought he would order it’s crew to bring it back, but instead asked for three volunteers. I was not one readily volunteer for anything, but could see the importance of its fire power. Three of us sneaked out of the door and crawled along the wall. We were almost to the tank, when a Very light lit up the whole area. A machine gun opened fire on us. The fact that the bullets were climbing was all that saved us. One bullet grazed the top of my helmet and scared the hell out of me. We went back into the building as fast as we could. I wonder if I could crawl that fast again.”
Around noon on Dec 17 a grenade grazed the Sherman B-2 and the crew flew. Around 5 PM, Lt. Scully, commander of the 3rd platoon, radioed that he was surrounded and still had three tanks. This was then followed by the events described by Donald Fink (view above).
This proves that at this moment the gun was still on the Sherman. It would have been useless to retrieve the tank otherwise. The gun and the gun shield were blown up by a hit between the turret and the body, leaving also a hole of 7-8 cm . If the crew would have stayed in the tank, this would have meaned there certain dead. So this was certainly not the first shot hitting the tank. But which one of the hits caused the crew to flee? It was one of the two smaller hits, but this is impossible to determine now.One point is certain: On Dec 17, around noon, the Sherman B-2 was grazed by a grenade. The tank was still intact and tried to reverse but hit the corner of the house “Kratzenberg” and the crew made off. The tank was ”out of action” at this point. The turret still stood in the same position it was during the last shot. This is obvious when looking at the two half’s of the grenade hole now, with the gun at normal position. The half’s do not fit! They fit again when turning the turret at 33 degrees to the left. This corresponds also to the direction of the road coming from Marnach, the target having been the columns stuck there.
The 9th Tank division said that Capt. Robert L. Lybarger, commander of Company B, was in the Sherman B-2. This can’t be the case, because:
- General Leach, commander of 37 TB, 4th Tank division, confirmed me that he, as a company commander, was in the Sherman B-1. Lybarger should also have also been in B-1.
- Capt. Lybarger’s tank got shot down around noon on Dec.17, at the same time B-2 got his graze shot in front of the castle!
- It does not sound credible that Capt. Lybarger would have abandoned the Sherman after the first graze shot
So he wasn’t in Sherman B-2. Donald Fink said that it was a tank of the 3rd platoon from Company B and the commander was a certain William Murtah. It looks like there was one tank missing in platoon 3 from B-company, so Sherman B-2 was dispatched here to fill the platoon up to 5 tanks. The Sherman M4A3 with 76 mm gun now standing in the outer court yard of the Castle is identical with the Sherman on the picture having the 9∆ 2∆ B2 markings.
- Because he has the same graze shot markings on the left side of the turret
- Because Company A of 707th TB was in action near the cemetery outside the village and Company B of the 2nd TB in Clervaux town
- Because the 707th TB was equipped with M4A1 75 m gun Sherman’s and the 9th Tank division with M4A3 76mm Sherman tanks
The Sherman stood at the corner of House Kratzenberg till 1956! Only then was he pulled inside the courtyard of the castle with two vehicles of the Luxembourg Army. One of the hits disabled the turret, so this one was welded down and repositioned correctly. The gun and all entrance had been closed for security and the marking 5∆ had been written on it, because it was the 5th tank division who liberated Luxembourg in Sept. 1944. Later, Pierre Eicher arranged for the markings 707∆ , because the local painter Lutgen told him that he saw the markings “707 America” on the tank. He was obviously wrong.The markings should now be adapted to the historical truth and be rewritten ∆ 2∆ B2