The 406th Occupier

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Bastogne And 101st Division (continued)

D uring these five days the reports continued to come in indicating the seriousness of the situation; ground personnel worked day and night readying all the available aircraft and the pilots and staff pestered the weather man incessantly and worriedly hung around the ready rooms. The guard protection of the base was doubled, all were alerted to ferret out enemy saboteurs reported being dropped in the are and every conceivable precaution was taken to prevent a surprise attack. With the arrival of first light and clearing weather on the morning of 23 December 1944 there began the most intensive period of activity and destruction in the history of the organization.

For five successive days from sunup to sunset there never was a time when planes of the 406th Fighter Group were not over the beleaguered 101st garrison in Bastogne, making attack after attack within a 10-mile range of the town. This Group alone flew over 519 sorties during those hectic days and despite almost insurmountable difficulties caused by the fluid front lines, the use of friendly equipment by the enemy, and the most intense light flak ever encountered, as well as a rejuvenated enemy air force, run up a record of destruction against the enemy that was staggering and materially aided in blunting his drive in addition to relieving the 101st.

We lost 10 pilots in those days and of the 60 odd aircraft assigned over 40 suffered battle damage but the attack was unrelenting until stopped by weather. These five days were almost a period in and of themselves, but their effect and the task of beating the enemy back into the Siegfried line from which he had come lasted well into January. Even then the organization underwent constant air and ground alerts every night. By day they flew mission after mission, searching out enemy armor and M/T and gradually the tide was turned. The weather was bitter that month and the constant freezing and thawing made of A-80 a quagmire. By the middle of January one good final thaw made A-80 impossible to operate from and before Y-34 at Metz, to which we were slated to move could be made ready, we were forced to move the planes to Y-79 near Reims some eight miles to the north and operate them from there. It was in such a divided state, living at Meurmelon and working at Rheims, that this brief but distinctive phase in the organization's history was brought to a close. The 406th's part in the winter battle of Bastogne is its best claim to a place on the longtime record of the Army Air Forces for which a presidential unit citation was awarded.