History of Christmas Eve and the Battle of the Bulge: 75 Years Ago
On Christmas Eve, 1944, my father, Staff Sergeant John Petro, had arrived in Strasbourg with the 42nd “Rainbow” Infantry Division. Eight days earlier, the Battle of the Bulge had begun, and the 42nd Division, along with others, supplied much-needed reinforcements to the biggest and bloodiest battle of World War II involving American forces.
The German Wacht am Rhein “Watch on the Rhine” offensive had begun a week before my father arrived. By Christmas Eve, the American troops at the Battle of the Bulge had taken heavy casualties, and reinforcements were very much needed. The bad weather had weakened the American supply lines. The winter of 1944 was one of the coldest in recorded history; temperatures averaged 20 degrees. Frostbite was rampant.
Of all the uniformed American troops in the world at that time, 1/8th participated in the Battle of the Bulge
The town of Strasbourg, located on the French-German border, had just been liberated from Nazi control by the French 2nd Armored Division forces only a month previously.
It had been occupied and transformed into a German town for four years, from 1940–1944. The French had begun evacuating it in 1939 when war was declared upon Germany by France and England following the German attack on Poland.
42nd “Rainbow” Infantry Division
My father was 23 years old at the time he arrived in Strasbourg on that Christmas Eve in 1944. The 42nd Division had landed at the French port of Marseilles on December 8 or 9 from America. They were called Task Force Linden, under the command of Brigadier General Henning Linden, and they marched from the coast up to the German-held French region of Alsace as part of the 7th Army. The 42nd Division took up a 31-mile sector along the Rhine River defensive lines. They exchanged machine-gun fire with the Germans on Christmas Day. The Germans tried to send a boat across the river but were turned back by automatic weapons fire.