By Christopher Miskimon Few festivities occurred on Christmas Eve, 1944, in the Ardennes Forest. Thousands of soldiers struggled to attack or defend positions, or to simply survive. On this evening, troops of the German 2nd SS Panzer Division advanced toward the town of Manhay. So far, the Ardennes Campaign had been rough going for the Germans; despite the gains they had made, the Americans were putting up stiff resistance in many places and the operation was badly behind schedule. At 2200 hours, a column of Panther and Panzer IV tanks moved out toward Manhay, led by a captured American M4 Sherman. The Germans hoped any American gunners seeing the Sherman’s high, distinctive outline in the dark would mistake the column for a friendly force and hold their fire until it was too late. “Bright moonlight flooded the Ardennes landscape covered in deep snow,” recalled SS Technical Sergeant Ernst Barkmann. “Above us a full moon in a clear starry night unveiled all the contours ahead. Everything was going according to plan.” Barkmann commanded a Panther tank, hull number 401. His unit, the 2nd SS Panzer Regiment, had reequipped with the Panther at the beginning of 1944, and he was a decorated veteran of the Eastern Front and Normandy. Panther 401 moved slowly ahead in the darkness, approaching Manhay. Elements of the U.S. 3rd and 7th Armored Divisions held the line around Manhay, and fears of friendly fire mistakes did cause them to hold their fire. Supporting panzergrena

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