PROJECT : Commandos Wallons in the Battle of the Bulge
During our investigation on the wartime period of Albert Thill, the commander of Region X of the the Secret Army, we spended almost a year in collecting as much as possible evidence and documents on his actions during the war and his influence in the years after. A profound research, taking us from the archives of the Cegesoma in Brussels to the Luxemburg borders, like his homevillage of Ennal ( Grand-Halleux ), covering the last remains of testimonies and looking for genuine closure on several historical facts, he claimed to have organised and participated in. Albert Thill wrote his wartime memoires in a book , he published in 1983. “ L’insaississable patriote des Ardennes “ is an autobiography, on how he experienced the early days of war in 1940, how he founded the resistance movement “ Commandos Wallons” with his cousin Emile Wollvert on the “ Roches d’Ennal “ in  June 1941. He became the master of false indentities and the commander “A.13” of the Groupe Thill - Commandos Wallons. Collaborating with Group G and Service Hotton, the Commandos Wallons, occupying the maquis in the woods in Ennal, Baclain and Langlire, will execute heavy sabotages in Gouvy and Trois-Ponts during 1943 and 1944. Also the execution of German collaborators were on their list.... A part of his book is dedicated to his participation with several other maquisards in the events of december 1944. Hitler started his last offensive on Dec 16, 1944 - entering Belgium once again, creating a battle between Allied forces and his SS troops reenforced by young and older men, know as the Volkssturm. Albert claims that fact that several of his former friends in combat made contact with him to occupy the maquis once again, like George Lemaire and Jean Gustin from Grand-Halleux. But they didn’t... Instead, Albert got in touch with a “Captain Sanders “ at their rendez-vous point called le Croix d’Ennal “ on December 18,1944  just outside Ennal on the road to Grand- Halleux. This 82nd Airborne Captain Sanders will play a uge role in this piece of history we reconstructed, on the events of Dec 23 and Dec 24, 1944. A collaboration between the resistance and the US forces, right during a time things got worse and chaos was complete.
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1. Origin of the project
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2. The 1947 letter from Albert Thill
The recovery of this typed letter was the key to the whole research. By it’s appearance, it’s a draft letter, typed on March 10, 1947 by Albert Thill. Several corrections are made and at the end of his typing, the letter is not signed - indicating it wasn’t mailed at all. Being a draft letter, we have no certainty that the official letter was typed or being mailed towards it’s recipient in Brussels... Albert is answering to several questions posed by the National Commander of the Secret Army in Brussels, in a letter he received on February 26, 1947. An inquiry towards any form of collaboration with the Allied/US forces during the Battle of the Bulge was conducted. Albert responded to this matter, stating copies of his daily journals were mailed to the Resistance Office, 1st Section. Adding to his writing, he makes notice of the list his received from the Resistance Controle Commision in Stavelot. According to him, this list was not complete. “ Do not forget the isolated resistants members, without a Secret Army registration number ! Albert is indicating the Russian refugees from the Charleroi coal mines “ La Campine “, who arrived in his region and the Baclain maquis. They were disciplined and showed endurance. Also when the German offensive unfolded, several of them offert service again to help the Allies under the command of Pol Remacle and himself. And here things are getting very interesting !! He claims to mail a copy along with this letter, of a list of the sixteen Russians that arrived in Baclain on April 7, 1944. But he also confirmes the death of two of these men, being Alexis Gvosdarieff and Wil Kapoustin, reported to him by Jean Gustin. These men died during the execution of their mission in Manhay, passing to Erezée on December 24, 1944. Jean Gustin himself got wounded and survived by hiding under the chassis of a jeep at “Belle-Haie “.
On the second page, he’s getting more into the details of the mission these men were executing. At the moment he’s typing, he still doesn’t know what happened to the bodies of the two men. Their mission was imposed by Captain Sanders, a US officer from the 82th Airborne Headquarters in Grand- Halleux. They got obliged as “garde de route” - roadguards, to guide the massive civilian evacuations. On this December 23, 1944  - a lieutenant from the 203th “D” battery suggests they should follow the semitracks towards La Bar aque. Jean however decides to make a detour passing Fraiture and Malempré. At first glance, the facts Albert Thill is detailing are extraordinary. A US officer offers a jeep to three maquisards with a mission to become guidesmen in an evacuationcyclus, in a region about to be flooded by German forces, once again. In his book, Albert Thill makes notice of his contact with this Captain Sanders. He himself, is taking the road towards Werbomont on the same day - offering the same service as his three friends.  
3. Analysing the 1947 Thill letter
The “1947” letter discribed in chapter 2 is an unique document, offering a toolbox of information for our research. To make a good analysis, the several pieces of information have to be separated and investigated in the same way. This testimony has been written two years after the facts, a part of it is also a testimony of Jean Gustin, so not an experience of the writer himself. We deceided to fuse our own research with the archived US military journals dating from the conflict, to create a grid to check the facts for possibility and reliability. After all, some facts are controversial at first glance.
“ The list created by the Controle Commision of the Resistance in  Stavelot is not complete. Do not forget the isolated resistance members, without an immatriculation number of the Secret Army. Russians, evaded from the Campine coal mines (Charleroi ), disciplined and with a remarkable endurance. Also when the German offensive enrolled, some of them took arms again under my command and the one of Pol Remacle.”
3.1 Identity of the Russian maquisards Alex Gvosdarieff and Wil Kapoustin
“ In my copy, you will find the list of 16 men that arrived on March 7, 1944 in the ‘Camp of Baclain’. I can confirm the death of Gvosdarieff Alexis and Kapoustin Wil, by the rapport of Jean Gustin. They perished in Manhay, on their way to Erezée,  while executing their mission to initiate the civilian evacuations over there. “
Historical analysis In his book ‘ L’Insaissible Patriote des Ardennes ‘, Albert Thill renders a highly detailed discription of these 16 refugees. They arrived on April 7, 1944. The commander of the group was Alexis Gvosdarieff.  Albert provided a picture for the “Patriote Illustré “ edition of May 5, 1946 with all the 16 men, taken at the time of the liberation of september 1944.
A : Alexis Gvosdarieff, born in Riga in 1912. His last known address was:       street of Malayapouchkarskaya, number 28 appartement 26 in Leningrad. B : Wil Kapoustin, born in Leningrad March 14, 1924. His last known address was :       street of Tcheykovsky, number 20, chamber 42 in Leningrad.
In his book “ Agent for the Resistance “, Herman Bodson gives a good description of the value and capabilities of these Russian refugees. Herman was in the maquis of Baclain, until the moment things got wrong when the camp got compromised in June 1944. Constant Pivaroff , soldier in the Russian artillery section, was a real expert in explosives, he was also the one preparing the charges for the sabotages on the Gouvy station and Trois-Ponts. These men were soldiers. Herman chose 2 of them to be his bodyguards, because he said : “ they know what they are doing “. Alexis Gvosdarieff was a officer in the criminal department of the Russian army, before they became prisoners of war and drafted to the forced labour in the coal mines of “La Campine “, Charleroi. After the liberation period, most of them stayed in the region, until 1946. Several stayed in the vecinity of Vielsalm and Stavelot, among which Alexis and Wil, who didn’t survive the Battle of the Bulge.  The habitants of Baclain gathered enough money in 1946, to offer the others a bustrip back to Leningrad and they returned to Russia. However, it is claimed that they were arrested at their arrival and sentensed to death under the Stalin regime, convicted for treason by working for the Germans ! 
“ On Dec 24, 1944 in the center of Manhay, they perish during the German artillery barage. Jean Gustin is wounded, but he survives by hiding under the chassis of the jeep at the site called Belle Haie.”
“ Their mission was part of the assignment from Captain Sanders (US - 82 Airborne - Command Post at Grand-Halleux), as ‘roadguards’ to guide the civilian evacuations. On Dec 23, 1944 the lieutenant of battery D, 203th (ACAPO ) offers the possibility of following the armored semitracks to La Baraque, but Jean decides to make a detour, passing Fraiture and Malempré.”
Historical analysis
The assignment came from a certain Captain Sanders, from the Commant Post at Grand-Halleux, the date reference is December 23, 1944. A cross reference of Albert Thill’s testimony in his book and letter, and the after action rapports of the related US 505th PIR companies at that time, offered a determination of this Captain Sanders. Already on Dec 21, 1944 - Captain Sanders was looking for Albert Thill in Ennal, just outside of Grand-Halleux. The captain had no idea of the amount of maquisards that were still in the region, because on December 23, 1944 he asked for 150 men, to help in the evacuation process. Most of the former resistance members in the region went hiding again, only a few of them got in contact with Albert to take action. ( page 224, L’Insaissible patriotte des Ardennes, Albert Thill ) On December 23, 1944, G and I company of the 3dr bat from the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James L. Kaiser, where defending Grand-Halleux and Petit-Halleux, combined with it’s outskirts and the bridge of the Salm River. The church in the center was a medical post. Higher upwards the road towards Ennal, a smaller chapel of Saint Ferdinand became the headquarters of the 3HHC.
Chapelle Saint Ferdinand at Grand-Halleux
According to the 2003 testimony of Captain Jack R. Isaacs (Company Commander of G Comp, 3th Bat, 505 PIR, 82nd ), as a PIR company, they had no jeeps at their disposal at their company command post, on the road towards Petit-Halleux, close to the small wooden bridge. This command post was installed on Dec 20, 1944 until they had the order to withdrawl on the night of Dec 24, 1944. ( An account of the activities of Company "G" 505th Parachute Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division by Capt. Jack R. Isaacs, 2003 )   This fact makes it impossible that the jeep that was issued to the 3 maquisards by G Company or it’s HQ in Grand-Halleux. Investigating the official roster of the 505th PIR enlisted servicemen util May 8 1945, the only officer with the rank of captain in the 3HHC (Headquarters Command ) at the chapel is filled in by : Sanders John Henry  ( 0-384914, 3HHC ) D=08-19-68* 1968 - Oakland Cemetery, Navasota, Texas  USA Captain - 1945 Albert Thill already made contact with the first security post of this headquarters on December 18, 1944 on the crossroads of the “Croix d’Ennal” ( 2 kms from the HQ itself ), where they already negociate a vehicle ( “auto blindé” ) !  (page 223, L’Insaissible patriotte des Ardennes, Albert Thill )
The complete HQ company of the 3rd Battalion, 505th PIR, picture taken at Fort Bragg in 1943. Captain Sanders is most right, out of the five officers in the center.
Next detail in Albert Thill’s letter is the possibility given to the 3 maquisards to follow the semitracks towards the direction of Baraque the Fraiture. In order to determinate this possibily and it’s correctness, there are 2 possible trails to follow : - we are consulting the after action reports of the 7th AD, still in the vicinity of Vielsalm and Lierneux at that precise timegrid, Dec 23 1944. - the presence and whereabouts of the lieutenant of the 203th Anti Aircraft Artillery Battery D in Vielsalm on the evening of Dec 23, 1944  3.2.1 The 7th Armored Division trail Extraction of the After Action Report HQ, Combat Command "B" 7th Armored Division Date: 1 January 1945 SUBJECT:After Action Report, from 16 to 31 December, 1944 NARA documents (1945)  ... “At 0456 hours 23 December 1944 instructions to withdraw to west of Vielsalm were received.  Later H-hour was set at 0600 hours 23 December 1944.  The plan of withdrawal was to withdraw Lieutenant Colonel Wemple and all other troops “ ... ... “A covering force under Lieutenant Colonel Boylan consisting of a tank company (medium), a tank destroyer company and an infantry company or its equivalent was to hold Hinderhausen until all other troops had left and then fall back with maximum delay.  This was done”... ... ”The troops of Combat Command were originally given instructions to assemble at Lierneux, but later other instructions were received and the assembly area was changed to the vicinity of Xhoris”... Conclusion of this trail : these reports offer the possibility of the 3 maquisards following the movement towards Lierneux. 3.2.2 The 203th AAA trail The 203th Anti Aircraft Artillery Battalion, Battery D joint in at Baraque Fraiture on Dec 20, 1944. Albert Thill mentions in his reports he’s already having contact with this lieutenant of the “D 203 ACAP “ on Dec 20,1944 in the vicinity of Grand-Halleux (page 223, L’Insaissible patriotte des Ardennes, Albert Thill ) The French “D 203 ACAP” stands for Battery D, 203th AAA. The one being part of the Baraque Fraiture cluster. The final long day of battle for them was December 22, 1944. However, the pressure from the Germans was so intense that all of the memoirs and reports of who were ingaged during that day are focused on what was going on with them personally and their very immediate area, so that there are no references to 203 AAA. The same is true of the memoirs of the events after the Germans had overrun the crossroads. Men were captured or escaped in small groups or by themselves, so that the memoirs make no mention of 203 AAA. In his 1947 letter, this lieutenant pops up again, but on Dec 23, 1944 - the day after all went wrong at the Baraque de Fraiture crossroads. Analysing the situation, this Battery D lieutenant has to be in Grand Halleux at the 3HHC of Combat Command perimeter around the moment that the 3 maquisards take off for their evacutation mission in the late afternoon.  Also the indication of the semitracks must be connected to the withdrawal of the other 7AD movements, because the original 203th battery D semitracks, were all engaged ( and the last one destroyed ) in the Baraque de Fraiture conflict during the evening of Dec 22, 1944, the day before the maquisards took off. (Elliott Goldstein, On the Job Training - The Battle of Parker's Crossroads, Battery "D", 203rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion page 62- 64, Incidents in Memoirs of Men of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion, 106th Infantry Division ) On the other hand, the testimony shows the intention to direct to the Baraque de Fraiture region! Was this movement still part of an order to recapture the crossroads ? Probably not. At that very moment, the last US roadblock was still at Regné, at 2 miles from the Baraque de Fraiture. Altough German forces were closing in with some skirmishes at that moment between Salmchateau and Regné , they could still drive to Regné on the evening of Dec 23, 1944. It also was a part of the 82nd Airborne “evacutation line “, so it had to be held as long as possible for the evacuations. Second fact to be plausible :  the 7th AD depot in Samrée. Were they trying to reach this depot to reenforce or evacuate ? Next to that, the several after action reports of the 589th FAB and the 82nd 505th PIR HQ do show the chaos of that moment and the evening of Dec 23, 1944. Troops got scattered in large ways. FINAL CONCLUSION : Following the “semi-chenilles “ or semitracks of the 203th AAA Battery D was impossible. The armored vehicles most have been from other 7AD companies or the Combat Command on their “18h00 - Order to Withdrawal” towards Lierneux. This adds up with our first conclusion of the 3.2.1 paragraph. This gives us a good time indication when Jean, Alexis and Wil took off ! We believe that the contact with German forces coming from Ottré on the route to Regné, made Jean take the initative to make the detour passing Fraiture and Malempré. Civilan testimonies render a detailed view on the situations. (Testimony of Joseph Petitjean and Joseph Gavroye , Battailles des Carrefours 1944/1945, Edition JAC, D/1994/431414/02 )
3.2 Captain Sanders and the road to Manhay
4. The horific end for Alexis and Wil, Jean survives...
The treesome never arrived in the village of Erezée. They must have reached Manhay on the evening or night of Dec 23, 1944 mainly following the 82nd Airborne evacuation line towards Fraiture, but we can only presume that. About the death of Alexis and Wil - there’s valid information, a very sad turn in history. What’s for sure, on Dec 24, 1944 Alexis and Wil were in the center of Manhay. They made contact with the 7th AD CCR commandpost and there things went wrong... Alexis and Wil were wearing american uniforms, but they didn’t speak English, a bit of French and Russian. During that period, there was great fear for German infiltration, with reason. The twosome didn’t have any validation of what they were doing : the paperwork from captain Sanders was in the jeep with Jean Gustin. As we know, he got held up at Major Brewster stand at Belle Haie, surviving the German crush under the chassis of a jeep... So, the men from CCR claimed them to be German spies.. On Dec 24th, 1944 in the afternoon, they were executed in the center of Manhay. A very sad ending for two men, who had faught the Germans for more then a year in the region of Baclain, Trois Ponts and Gouvy, and they were performing a mission once again ! There is a vivid testimony from Mme Mailleux, she and her family were fleeing Grand Menil towards Vaux-Chavanne on Dec 24th, 1944. When she passed the center of Manhay, she saw the execution taking place. “ The Americans were shooting two of their own ! “ she said. Later she found out that it were Germans in American uniform... but they weren’t.. The bodies were never found, we are still looking for traces where the men from CCR buried them. ( Testimony of Mme Mailleux, La Bataille des Ardennes , Les civils dans la guerre - Luc Rivet, Yvan Sevenans, 1984 , ISBN 2-87088-542-3 ) Jean’s story somehow makes sense in the idea of the local evacutations. He was on the road, alone. He survived under the chassis of the jeep in the vicinity of Belle Haie. Examinating the after action reports of O. F. Brewster ( Task Force Brewster ), holding the roadblock on the main road between Baraque de Fraiture and Manhay at Belle Haie, emergency US traffic was possible by this crossroad until 14h00. After that, influence of the SS 2nd and 12th Grenadiers became overwhelming, even to the point emergency retreat towards Malempré at 16h30 became the last resort. The major amount of vehicles and knocked out tanks were left behind, including a jeep. (Combat Interview by Captain Robert C. Healey NARA documents 1945 )  This is the point we believe Jean survived by hiding under the chassis of a jeep. There’s no indication of other civilians being there at that point, nore being transported by him.
Picture of Jean Gustin in 1946. After the war, he will open a garage and taxi service in Trois-Ponts.
Place where the vehicles were abandoned on Dec 24,1944 on the road to Malempré
John Henry Sanders in 1939