By Mike Hicks
In the fall of 1944, Adolph Hitler had come to realize that desperate times call for desperate measures. The Allied armies of the United States and Britain were pressing toward the western border of Germany and the Soviet Army was nearing the German frontier from the east.
Hitler knew that something must be done to reverse these fortunes, or all would be lost for Nazi Germany. The plan that Hitler envisioned to change the strategic balance was a winter offensive that became known as The Battle of the Bulge.
On December 16, 1944, German Panzer (tank) spearheads struck a thinly held stretch of the American front called the Ardennes Forest. This was a hilly, forested region that spanned the German and Belgian border, and Allied commanders did not believe that an offensive could be launched from such an area, in winter, with the resources believed to be available to the German Army at this point in the war.
This is precisely what Hitler had hoped for, and his forces struck out of these forests with two major spearheads, lead by the 6th German Army on the north portion of the front, and the 5th German Army on the southernmost route. Hitler’s intentions were to strike the American front, in poor winter weather, and rush his spearheads across the Meuse River, then continue his attack on the Belgian port of Antwerp which had recently been captured by the Allies, thus splitting the British Army and the American Armies, and stopping the flow of much needed supplies to both armies.
Hitler believed that this split would allow the Germans to destroy the British and American alliance at best, and, at the least, buy him time to turn on the Soviets on his eastern border and deal them a decisive blow, or perhaps even the leverage for a negotiated surrender that would leave Germany in tact. It was a great risk, but he saw this plan as his last, best hope of a successful settlement in World War II.
This entire plan hinged on speed and maneuver. Hitler must overcome American resistance and rush his spearheads to their objectives before good weather and Allied airpower could be brought into play to stop this last desperate gamble.
This is where the ingenuity and drive of the American soldier came into play. All across the front, small units of the American army refused to be overrun, and stood their ground and fought.
These special traits of the American soldier in World War II were personified by two men from Marshall, Texas. Both Ray Allen and Bob Yates had served together in the Texas National Guard prior to the war, and were personal friends. They had served with the Headquarters Company of the 72nd Infantry Brigade of the 36th Division, Texas National Guard. When this Division was called to active duty, these two Marshall soldiers were ultimately reassigned to different units as they prepared for combat. Ray Allen transferred from the Adjutant General Corps to the Infantry and Bob “Bull” Yates to the Corps of Engineers.
By the time of the Battle of the Bulge, Bob Yates was a Major, and Executive Officer of the 51st Combat Engineers, and Ray Allen was commanding the 1st Battalion of the 401 Glider Infantry regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. For these two Marshall men, the Battle of the Bulge was a time when “Preparation met Opportunity” and both of them found a place in our country’s military history.
On the northern front of the Bulge, Yates, with a portion of the 51st Engineers, was rushed to the small Belgian village of Trois Points, arriving on Dec. 18th. Strategic bridges were about to be seized by the German spearhead lead by Jochen Peiper’s 1st SS Panzer Division. Yates deployed his 140 men into position as the Germans approached the vital bridges, and with the assistance of a single anti-tank gun, scored a first round hit on the German lead tank, taking it out and giving his engineers just enough time to blow up the vital river bridges, literally in the German’s faces.
Cursing the American engineers, the German commander was forced to turn his entire strike force to the north in search of another route to cross these rivers and try to continue his drive on Antwerp. The time the Germans lost at Trois Points could not be regained, and this spearhead was cut off, and ultimately destroyed well short of the Meuse River crossings.
Meanwhile, on the southern portion of the front, Ray Allen’s glider troops were ordered to a crossroads intersection just north of the town of Bastogne in Belgium, known only as “Crossroads X”. The German 2nd Panzer Division had attacked through this intersection the night before (night of Dec. 20), and had overrun the 101st hospital set up at this crossroads.
Ray Allen sent his Company “B” to the crossroads and they proceeded to destroy the roadblock set up by the Germans, and then ambushed attacking columns of the German 2nd Panzer Division as they tried to continue their advance toward the Meuse River and ultimately Antwerp.
This battle-tested but under-strength Glider Company held up the advance of the 2nd Panzer Division for three days and helped lead to the ultimate German defeat, still short of the Meuse River, and far from their ultimate goal of splitting the Allied armies.
Two East Texas men from Marshall, who had no idea each other was anywhere in the area, had contributed in a strategic way to the defeat of Hitler’s last great gamble to try to win World War II for Nazi Germany—one on each end of the “Bulge”. Both of these men were highly decorated heroes in World War II. Both of them had children who were friends with each other in Marshall High School at the time they were fighting to win the “Battle of the Bulge”.
Robert Yates and Ray Allen taught Adolph Hitler a lesson that everyone in Harrison County now already knows…”Don’t mess with Texas!”
Editor’s Note: The author, Mike Hicks, is Ray Allen’s grandson, and a real student of this grandfathers exploits in World War II. We appreciate him writing this article for us, and Bob Yates son, Bob, for his help with information about his Dad and the 51st Engineers.
By Mike Hicks