Col. Biggio represents 99th at Capitol event years ago
Questions asked and answered
It was a great pleasure to discuss old times with Grant Yager at the recent 99th Division convention. Discussions like that make the reunions so much more enjoyable for me.
Questions asked and answered
Grant and I discussed several subjects pertaining to the Battle of the Bulge. He raised several questions for which I did not have ready answers and I told him I would research them and get back to him.
Question 1: American veterans of WWII invariably refer to incoming German artillery rounds as "88s." Were most of the German artillery units in the 99th's sector armed with the famous 88mm gun?
Answer: No. The artillery Order of Battle of the 6th Panzer Army in December 1944, lists only 18 pieces of 88s in 6th Army — (atch to the 388th Volks Artillery Corps). However, there also were 18 88s in the Flak Bn. of the 1st SS Panzer Division for flak protection against U.S. aircraft. Pallud says these weapons also were used in a ground role. The 6th Panzer Army had approximately 996 artillery pieces assigned for the offensive — hence, the 88s comprised only a small percentage of the total.
The artillery of a German VG Division (infantry) was quite comparable to that of a U.S. Infantry Division, i.e., mostly with 105mm howitzers and a battalion of 150mm howitzers. (155s for the U.S.). The 88mm gun was originally designed to be an anti-aircraft weapon and was widely used for that purpose. However, the 88 made its famous reputation as an anti-tank weapon in Russia and in North Africa. However, it was never the weapon of choice for general prupose use against infantry on the battlefield — primarly because the shell was too small at only 20 pounds.
Question 2: Many men of the 99th reported encountering German Tiger tanks during the Battle of the Bulge. Are these reports generally accurate?
Answer: Many of these reports were inaccurate. There was indeed one battalion of Tiger tanks in Peiper's Kampfgruppe, but these were the only Tigers which operated in the 99th's sector.
Danny Parker, one of the finest students of the Bulge, made a careful tally and reports only 87 Tigers were employed in the entire German Ardennes Offensive — and only 30 of these operated in the 99th's zone.
There were no Tiger tanks in the Hofen area on the 99th's left flank. At Krinkelt-Rocherath there were many reports of Tiger sightings — however, both Danny Parker and Joe Doherty agree there were no Tigers in the Twin Villages.
Doherty's two volumes, The Shock of War, give a superb and highly detailed account of the fighting in the 99th's sector during the Bulge. On pages 92 and 115 of Volume II Doherty provides excellent data on German armor.
The Tiger tanks in Peiper's KG all were in the 501st SS Panzer Battalion — which became the most famous Tiger unit in the entire Ardennes offensive. The 501st had 30 Tigers operational on Dec. 17. They were placed at the tail end of Peiper's column because they were slow and very heavy at 70 tons. The 501st lost 13 Tigers during Peiper's breakthrough — and the battalion had only 13 Tigers when transferred to the Russian front on Jan. 27 (Parker).
The men of the 99th who would have seen Peiper's Tigers were on his route of advance: i.e., Lanzerath, Buchholz Station, Honsfeld, and Bullingen. Peiper then veered south toward Modersheid, and was no longer in the 99th's sector.
So why did so many men of the 99th think they saw Tiger tanks in Krinkelt-Rocherath? The panzer unit which attacked the Twin Villages (KG Muller of the 12th SS Pz Div) included 41 Panther Vs, which at 44 tons, were larger than the U.S. Shermans and 41 Jagdpanther V (tank hunter) which was 45 tons. Many Americans tended to call everything larger than a Sherman a Tiger.
Question 3: Yager asked which of the American weapons in a division caused the greatest number of casualties during WWII? And what percentage of casualties were caused by the field artillery? I have not yet been able to determine the answer to those questions and will have to get back to you on those.
Charles P. "Carlo" Biggio Jr.
Col. USA-Ret. C/372