Army Quartermaster Museum -
Fort Lee, Virginia
89th Quartermaster Railhead Company in the Battle of the
On the thinning western flank of the Ardennes Forest, jammed against the
Belgium-Luxembourg border, is the village of Gouvy.
Gouvy, straddling the Bovigny-Bastogne rail line which was swallowed up
by the initial German success in the Battle of the Bulge was, from October 24th
to December 22nd, the site of a Quartermaster truck-head. But from December
18th, when the pounding Germans broke through at St. Vith to the northeast,
until December 22nd, when the village was finally evacuated, Gouvy was the scene
of stubborn, last-ditch defensive action typical of the American doggedness
which checked, held, and turned the Nazi tide.
Garrisoned chiefly by truck drivers, clerks, and laborers of the 89th
Quartermaster railhead company which manned its ration dump, Gouvy held out
against artillery fire, tank attacks, and infantry sorties for four days.
Although constantly under enemy fire, the men never ceased to issue rations to
all units whose trucks were able to enter Gouvy, and most of them alternately
passed out ration cans and small-arms fire.
While only two Americans of the "bastard battalion" sustained
injuries in the four-day engagement, and eight were reported missing,
approximately seventy Germans were killed, twenty-two captured, and an unknown
First warning of the peril of their position came to the men and officers
of the railhead company early on December 18th, when American units retreating
from the line before St. Vith began to pass through to the rear. Ration issues
became erratic before noon as the tension grew.
At noon, telephone lines from the company to its Corps headquarters went
dead, and shortly thereafter sporadic machine-gun fire could be heard to the
front and on the right flank of the Quartermaster unit’s positions.
A decision to evacuate was made, and ration dumps were fired in
preparation for the movement. Two hundred yards from the railhead, as the troops
were moving in convoy to the rear, its leading elements observed ahead of them
another column whose three front vehicles were burning and completely blocking
the road-the only route westward to safety. Only one course was open-a return to
the railhead site, and preparation for the defense of Gouvy. That launched the
four-day ordeal of the "garrison of Gouvy."
Arriving back at their blazing ration dumps, men of the company were
ordered to beat out the flames and resume food distribution operations. When
this had been done, investigation disclosed that little damage had been caused
by the fires, so brief had been the period between the railhead company’s
attempted evacuation and return.
Still other members of the company, plus personnel of an Ordnance platoon
and the battalion headquarters whose vehicles had been knocked out on the road
to the rear, and assorted individual soldiers separated from their units, took
up defensive positions against the German tanks and infantry swarming around the
Two road-blocks, defending both entrance and exit of Gouvy's only road,
were established, and all available personnel, save for a central reserve of
thirty men, were circled about the tiny hamlet in two-man foxholes. At daybreak
on December 19th a patrol was sent to the town’s outskirts to determine
whether Germans had infiltrated that portion of the village outside the night
defense perimeter. They had-but all who had entered were cleaned out of the two
buildings they occupied.
Ration issues continued all morning, despite occasional German fire, and
shortly before noon a message was received from the Commanding General of the
Seventh Armored Division, directing the town's resistance at all cost resistance
which rested entirely with the motley crew of service troops.
Two light American tanks, out of contact with their parent party, skirted
the village that morning. One of them was immediately knocked out by fire from
the Germans, who nearly surrounded Gouvy, but the disabled vehicle was hauled to
the defense circle by a wrecker of the Ordnance group also beleaguered in the
hamlet, and installed on one flank of the defense line, where its guns, which
still functioned, could offer supporting fire.
Clashes continued throughout the day, and questioning of a group of Nazi
prisoners disclosed that strong units of a German division, established less
than three miles away, had been charged with the capture of Gouvy. The attackers
were seeking not only possession of the town and of the rations held by the
Quartermaster railhead company but access to the north-south railway line and
the single roadway to the west, which culminated ten miles away in the Allies'
principal supply route.
Throughout the night of the 19th, American artillery fire passed over
Gouvy, destined for the attackers to the east and south, and early on the
morning of December 20th the railhead company’s commander set out to report
his situation to the First Army Quartermaster. He found that it was impossible
to leave the Gouvy area.
Ration issues, meanwhile, continued. Some 15,000 daily rations were
distributed to the scattered front-line troops which had sufficient force to
crowd aside the attacking Germans and reach Gouvy, as they set out for new
thrusts at the Nazis. German mortar fire fell repeatedly in the ration dump.
Support, originally promised twenty-seven hours earlier, arrived shortly
after noon on the 20th, when a group of light tanks came up seven miles to the
northeast-at Bovigny-as a mobile reserve. The tank task force’s commanding
officer reached Gouvy only after several hours, and informed the colonel
commanding its defense that his armor could be used only in the event of a grave
German threat, and that he could not enter Gouvy for its direct defense.
Before the arrival of the tanks another German effort to capture Gouvy
had been launched when some fifty Germans piled into two wagons, covered
themselves with hay, and succeeded in reaching the outskirts of the village.
Almost all of them were killed by the Americans.
Patrols from the Quartermaster combat troops established contact with
roving German bands that night, causing casualties. On the following morning
orders were received to turn over all remaining rations to the Seventh Armored
Division. This enabled the railhead troops to devote all their attention to the
skirmishes at hand.
The Germans made several attack attempts on the 21st, each of which was
repulsed, with German casualties.
At 6 :00 A.M. on December 22nd, the garrison of Gouvy was
ordered to evacuate in five minutes. That the order was issued none too soon,
was established by information that within two hours after the evacuation the
village was occupied by a sizeable force of German armor.
For two more days after their evacuation the Quartermasters of the Gouvy
garrison continued to function as infantrymen in coordination with American
tanks in the area. They rode reconnaissance cars, cowboy style; flushed German
raiding parties from hiding, and serviced the guns of light tanks.
On December 24th the 89th Quartermaster railhead company reached First
Army Headquarters-a proud bunch of guys! They had earned their right to the name
of fighting Quartermasters.
since 28 May 2001