The following account was drawn from a book written in 2006 by Robert K. McDonald, called, The Hotton Report. It tells of the importance of this road during one of the most important struggles between the Allied and Axis armies. The picture above depicts a peaceful scene in the village of Hotton, that was disrupted violently by the epic Battle of the Bulge.
How could the Allied Expeditionary Forces, engaged in many months of planning the highly successful D-Day invasion of Normandy, be completely caught sleeping by the mid-December surprise German offensive through the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg? Tens of thousands of Allied troops scrambled to the front to plug gaping front line holes the Wehrmacht was punching through with their classic blitzkrieg? It was a successful pattern the German Army deployed earlier in this war and 30 years earlier in WWI.
Shocked by the strength of the assault, the elite 3rd Armored Division found itself in the fight of its’ life without the firepower of two-thirds of its’ combat commands.
Sent into the breach on a fluid line, the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team was tasked with rescuing a 3rd Armored Division command trapped in Hotton and surrounded by the mechanized onslaught.
Hotton is a small village straddling the Ourthe River on the southwestern slope of the Belgian Ardennes, twelve miles downstream from the old city of LaRoche and thirty-three miles from the German frontier. Between LaRoche and Hotton, the north-flowing Ourthe carves a meandering path through the high craggy hills of the Ardennes forest rendering it largely uncrossable except by footbridge. At Hotton, the green canyon cliffs of rock and trees, mostly fir, pine and oak, abruptly give way to a wide rolling plain and a network of roads leading west to the Belgian coast and south into France.
Yet for all its rustic charm, lush backdrop of brooding hills and meandering river, Hotton was known principally for its access to other places. It was a cross-roads.
Hotton’s longest-standing bridge, built in 1770 during the reign of Austrian monarch Maria-Therese and nostalgically depicted in the village coat-of-arms, was a muscular structure of wide arches and limestone cut from a nearby quarry. Condemned in 1895, it was replaced with an iron bridge in a grudging bow to the industrial revolution that also produced the Eiffel Tower. Locals never warmed to its busy architecture, deriding it as a masterpiece of inelegance until in 1940 it was blown up by the Belgian Army in an attempt to slow the thundering advance of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. German engineers promptly hauled off the twisted steel and constructed a timber bridge in its place, only to blow it themselves 4 years later in an attempt to slow the American advance to the Motherland.
Within days, American combat engineers put up their own two-way timber bridge sturdy enough to support anything on wheels or tracks up to 70-tons, thus reuniting the village once again and establishing a secure supply route into the German front.
Three roads converged at the bridge. Entering the village from the northern town of Barvaux and proceeding southwest across the bridge to the city of Marche was the main highway. A second road on the north bank dropped down from the densely wooded hills to the east and nearby village of Soy, past a square stone-walled cemetery where it curved sharply toward the river and an ancient grain mill, then continued west beyond the bridge to the village of Melreux. The third road, on the south bank, hugged the rock cliffs along the Ourthe from Hotton to LaRoche.
In December 1944, with their new bridge and shot-up church undergoing repairs, les Hottohnnais were feeling cautiously optimistic about the future. The Germans, or les Boches as they were known, had been gone three months, replaced by the seemingly relaxed troops of the 3rd Armored Division’s 51st Engineer Combat Battalion.
Hopeful the war was behind them, villagers busied themselves in preparation for Christmas. Early on the morning of December 16, the German Army came pouring out of the Ardennes forest and struck a severe blow to the American defensive line in Belgium.
Next Up: Wild Bill Boyle