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The Battle of Achouffe, 13-15 January 1945

Battle of Achouffe over the Bridge

I am grateful to Chris Bauweraerts – co-founder of the Chouffe brewery in Achouffe – for supplying me with this story.

The story takes place during the Battle of the Bulge, a key battle during the Second World War. In early January 1945, German high command realized that the advance of the Allied forces in Belgium was inevitable. They gave the order for a systematic retreat of the furthest advanced divisions from the Ardennes, back into Germany.

The Germans tried to evacuate as many troops and equipment as possible. Some groups received the order to remain where they were and provide defensive cover. Combat units, supported by tanks, were assembled to defend the territory across which the retreat was to take place. Lengthy columns of all sorts of vehicles moved towards one of the last places which offered a passage eastwards. One of these evacuation routes led through the village of Achouffe. Its bridge over the Ruisseau de Martin-Moulin, a tributary of the River Ourthe, became the focus of both the German and American armies.

The Bridge at Achouffe, pre-1945
The Bridge at Achouffe, pre-1945.

The strategic importance of Achouffe

The roads leading to Achouffe were icy and snow covered. Working parties were hastily deployed to spread grit on the roads. Vehicles which had broken down or crashed had to be repaired and hauled away.

The retreat of the German Army
The German Army retreating in wintry conditions

The allied air forces were unable to intervene due to bad weather. All available artillery was deployed in defence of the insignificant but now strategically important bridge at Achouffe. Disjointed combat units leaving the Bulge via Achouffe chose the shortest route back to Germany. The military convoys began the steep climb towards the village of Mont, which led to the N30, and eventually to the N827 near Aux Chéras. They avoided going through Houffalize which was heavily targeted by the allies.

German Army retreats January 1945

The battle for the bridge

On 14 January, Oberstleutnant Helmut Zander of the 60. Panzergrenadier-Regiment – part of the 116. Panzer-Division – was given the responsibility of defending the bridge at Achouffe and blowing it up at the last possible moment. The next day a strong American force advanced towards Mont and Achouffe. Around 11 o’clock Task Force “A” of the US 66th Armored Regiment arrived in Achouffe. The last remaining troops of the German rear-guard blew up the old bridge and retreated.

However, by the end of the afternoon the American engineer corps had repaired the crossing, using 13-meter long rails. The German defence forces had used up their meagre resources to enable a maximum of troops to make their retreat. The remains of four tank divisions and combat units managed to escape through the bottleneck of Achouffe and avoided being trapped in Houffalize.

Battle of Achouffe: repairing the bridge
The repair of the bridge by American army engineers.

An eye-witness remembers

Mr. Yvon Delacolette, born and raised in the area, was ten years old in January 1945. He remembers the battle of Achouffe between American and German troops and tanks between 13 and 15 January 1945. He recalls coming across frozen bodies of German soldiers. Later, 200 were removed from the battlefield and taken to the German cemetery in nearby Recogne for burial.

Recogne German war cemetery
The German war cemetery in Recogne, near Bastogne, Belgium, contains the graves of 6,807 German soldiers of the Second World War. 

American casualty

The only known American casualty of the Battle of Achouffe is a fighter pilot. On 13 January 1945 an American P-47D Thunderbolt (42-27230), which had taken off from Y-29 Asch, Belgium, was shot down and crashed in Achouffe. It had been flying at low altitude to identify suspected enemy vehicles on the road near Gouvy.

The pilot was Major Joe C. Earley from the 366th Fighter Group/389th Fighter Squadron. Joe C. Earley was born in Iowa in 1920, and was a resident of Jefferson County, Iowa. He enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 27 December 1940 at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Joe was single and had completed three years of college. Before joining up he had working as an actor. He is buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery.

Major Joe C. Earley, Battle of Achouffe casualty
Last resting place of Major Joe C. Earley

Thanks Chris for this interesting bit of history from your lovely region of Wallonia. If you are interested in visiting Achouffe, why not drop in at Chouffe Brewery? You can sign-up for a tour and a taste!

2 thoughts on “The Battle of Achouffe, 13-15 January 1945”

  1. Nice story. I’m researching about a 1st Lt who’s KIA on 13th Jan. 45. in the Achouffe Area. He was in the 702nd Tank Destroyers that are attached on the 2nd Armored Division. Could it be that they gave support to the 66th regiment ?

    Thanks in advance.

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