FEATURE STORIES - The Battle for Parker's Crossroads
On 20 December 1944 a skeleton headquarters and a three gun battery of light howitzers, the remnant of the once prestigious 589th Field Artillery Battalion, halted at the crossroads of Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium. Holding this highground plateau was key. An early loss would mean disaster for the Allies.
Baraque de Fraiture is the crossing of the main north-southbound road from Bastogne through Houffalize to Liège. Another road runs westward from Vielsalm through La Roche en Ardennes. Loss of the road junction would permit the German troops to move in three directions to flank the entire First Army defenses.
Major Arthur C. Parker III knew the score. As acting commander he ordered his forces to organize and defend the crossroads against the German armored spearhead which had punctured the Allied lines in an attempt to cross the Meuse River and capture the vital port installations of Antwerp.
His holding action of a vital road crossing forced the enemy to expend significant amounts of men, material and especially time, while friendly forces were able to regroup and fight.
Parker knew enemy forces were reported four miles west at Samrée. Noises indicating armored attackers were heard coming up the road from the south. His only supply route to Vielsalm, which lay some 11 miles due east, was now also cut-off. If the road to Manhay was cut, the crossroads would be a trap for Parker and his men.
The perimeter was dug in, howitzers emplaced and machine guns set up. A string of mines was laid on the road while observers and outposts linked back to battalion headquarters in a stone barn about 100 meters from the junction. Major Parker had request help from the 82nd Airborne and received a company of glider infantry of the 325th.
During the next two days, two infantry attacks were repulsed with significant losses by the Germans. On the 21st, Major Parker was wounded by a mortar shell, slipped into consciousness and was evacuated. Major Elliot Goldstein, the original battalion executive officer (but actually junior to Parker) assumed command. He later went to Manhay to request reinforcements and was not present during the final stand at the crossroads.
The Germans attempted several attacks to breach the perimeter of the crossroads. These attacks failed. The final assault, a coördinated attack by two battalions of Volksgrenadiers supported by Panther tanks was preceded by a fierce artillery preparation and eventually overran the defense of the crossroads.
All things considered, the 'Alamo Defense' of Parker's Crossroads proved a splendid success. The 82nd Airborne Division was able to covered the gap while the 3rd Armored Division organized a delaying action just south of Manhay. Even though German armored units eventually took the Manhay crossroads, their advance north was halted.