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.

Parker's own unit consisted only of three 105mm howitzers and a conglomerate of personnel of the unit's original three firing batteries. The 589th, originally equipped with twelve howitzers, had supported the 422nd Infantry Regiment in the Schnee Eifel until they were ordered to withdraw to St. Vith in face of the German attack. One battery had been destroyed in position, when overrun by German troops. The other two firing batteries, headquarters and service units had narrowly escaped being captured themselves when confronted with another German attack on the morning of 17 December 1944. Loss of materiel and men was devastating however, with the loss of five other howitzers and the Battalion commander, who became cut-off from the rest of the unit. 

The three surviving pieces were led into position at Baraque de Fraiture by Major Parker. This was to be the unit's last stand, and his actions later became known in history as the "Alamo Defense of the Ardennes."  His command was a mixed force, composed of troops from various units. In addition to his own 589th Field Artillery Battalion, several half-tracks of the 203rd AAA Battalion with .50 caliber quad mounts, a few Armored Field Artillery observers with Sherman tanks, a 76mm tank destroyer platoon, one rifle platoon of the 509th PIR, a platoon of the 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron and later a rifle company of the 82nd Airborne Division- in all less than 300 men.

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 three available howitzers were laid for direct fire down the three main roads leading to Samree, Houffalize and Vielsalm. Meanwhile Captain Arthur Brown of Battery "B" had rejoined the battalion after being separated at Schönberg. He was put in charge of the howitzers along with Captain George Huxel, the assistant Battalion S-3.

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.

The remnants of the 589th Field Artillery, already badly decimated in the Schnee Eifel, were destroyed at Baraque de Fraiture. Only a few officers and men were able to get back to friendly lines. All materiel and the remaining personnel were captured. The 589th was written off by First Army and its survivors were transferred to the 592nd Field Artillery. In June 1945 the unit was reactivated in France, where Major Parker - now recovered from his wounds- became Battalion commander.

The 589th Field Artillery Battalion was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for its action at Baraque de Fraiture. Major Parker and Captain Brown were both given the Silver Star Medal.

Even 72 years after the action, the crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture is still known as "Parker's Crossroads", as a testimony to the valiant commander and the men who fought there in December 1944.