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The diagonal course of the Ourthe valley and the broken nature of the ground lying east of it posed an organization and command problem for both Germans and Americans.
Those elements of the 3d Armored east of the Ourthe, though belonging to Collins' VII Corps, were actors in the story of the XVIII Airborne Corps.
The same lack of neat accord between battle roles and order of battle listings was reflected on the German side of the line. There the LVIII Panzer Corps , forming the right wing tip of the Fifth Panzer Army , lay astride the Ourthe with its armor the th Panzer on the west bank and the bulk of its infantry the th Volks Grenadier Division on the east bank, echeloned in front of the incoming II SS Panzer Corps.
When, on the night of 22 December, the advance guard of Bittrich's II SS Panzer Corps first descended on the American-held crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture, General Bittrich had only one regiment of the 2d SS Panzer Division available for mounting this new Sixth Panzer Army attack.
On 23 December, when the Americans at the crossroads finally succumbed to superior numbers, Bittrich had nearly all of the 2d SS at his disposal and the advance guard of his 9th SS Panzer Division was nearing the east bank of the Salm.
Field Marshal Model had just wheeled the two infantry divisions of the LXVI Corps northward with orders to attack astride the Salm valley, thus bolstering Bittrich's right flank, now insecurely held by the decimated 1st SS Panzer Division.
General Bittrich had been promised still more forces for his attack to the northwest. The Fuehrer Begleit Brigade , re-forming after its battles in the St.
Vith sector, was en route to join the 2d SS Panzer at the Baraque de Fraiture crossroads. The 12th SS Panzer Division , so Bittrich was told, would be relieved in the Elsenborn sector and hurried to the new Sixth Panzer front.
Finally, Hitler himself would order the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division moved from the Elsenborn battle to the fight looming between the Salm and the Ourthe.
Bittrich has not recorded any gloomy suspicion of. The immediate objective was the Manhay crossroads five miles away. Once at Manhay the attack could either peel off along the road west to Hotton, there freeing the Fifth Panzer Army formations hung up at the Hotton-Marche road, or swing northwest to gain the main Ourthe bridge site at Durbuy.
On the left the th had driven a salient clear to Soy, a distance of eleven miles. On the right American stragglers from St.
This was the outline plan for 24 December. On the morning of 24 December the American troops between the Salm and Ourthe Rivers were deployed on a front, if so it can be called, of over thirty miles.
This, of course, was no flankless and integrated position. On the west wing in particular the American line consisted of small task forces from the 3d Armored, each defending or attacking a hill or hamlet in what were almost independent operations.
In the Salm sector the 82d Airborne Division faced north, east, and south, this disposition reflecting the topsy-turvy condition encountered when the division first came in to cover the deployment of the XVIII Airborne Corps.
The th Parachute Infantry Col. Reuben H. William E. Ekman over-watched the Salm from positions on the west bank extending from Trois Ponts south past Grand Halleux.
Roy E. The th Glider Infantry Col. Charles Billingslea held the division right flank and continued the westward line along the ridges looking down on the La Roche road; its wing was affixed to the village of Fraiture just northeast of the crossroads where the 2d SS Panzer had begun its penetration.
P RIME M OVER T OWING AN 8- INCH H OWITZER A LONG A R OAD N EAR M ANHAY. From Fraiture west to the Ourthe the American "line" was difficult to trace.
Two regimental combat teams from the as yet untried 75th Infantry Division were en route to help shore up the ragged 3d Armored - front but probably would not reach General Rose until the evening of the 24th.
There were some additional troops immediately at hand to throw in against the II SS Panzer Corps. All through the afternoon and evening of the 23d the St.
Vith defenders poured through the American lines. When the last column,. Aware of the increasing enemy strength south of Manhay, General Ridgway sent troops of the 7th Armored and the remnants of the th Division to extend and reinforce the right flank of the 82d Airborne.
Ridgway, however, recognized that the 7th Armored was much below strength and that the rugged, forested terrain on his front was poor for armor; so, on 24 December, he asked Hodges to give him an infantry division.
By dawn on 24 December Generalleutnant Heinz Lammerding, commander of the 2d SS Panzer , had brought his two armored infantry regiments into line north of the Baraque de Fraiture crossroads.
The zone on the west side of the road to Manhay was given over to the 3d Panzer Grenadier , that east of the road to the 4th Panzer Grenadier.
Both groups possessed small panzer detachments, but the bulk of Lammerding's tanks were left bivouacked in wood lots to the rear.
The terrain ahead was tactically negotiable only by small packets of armor, and in the past twenty-four hours the amount of POL reaching the westernmost German columns had been gravely reduced.
Lammerding had to husband his fuel for a short, direct thrust. The assault, however, was initiated by the right wing of the th Volks Grenadier Division , which had provided the cover for the 2d SS Panzer assembly.
During the previous night the th Regiment , now reduced to fewer than men, had slipped between the 3d Armored outposts manned by Task Force Kane at Odeigne and Freyneux.
The American outpost in Odeigne having been withdrawn, a German assault gun platoon supported by a company or two of grenadiers moved into the open to attack Freyneux.
About a dozen American tanks, half of them light, remained quiet in their camouflaged positions inside Freyneux. The German infantry entered the village while the assault guns closed in to give support; this was what the short-barreled Shermans needed.
They destroyed or crippled over half the guns, an American tank destroyer shelled the enemy infantry out of the houses, and the skirmish abruptly ended.
In this case the enemy first perched up on the heights, trying to soften the American detachment with long-range assault gun fire, but when the guns moved down into the village for the kill the American tankers promptly knocked out the leaders.
In any case the th had sustained such severe losses during the day. Kane's task force was not hit again and withdrew to the north under cover of fog and artificial smoke on the 26th.
It will be recalled that Task Force Brewster had established a roadblock position athwart the Manhay road late on the 23d.
During the night German infantry had filtered into and through the surrounding woods, taking possession of Odeigne-only 1, yards to the west-in the process, but Brewster's tanks and guns were deployed with enough infantry to hold the enemy riflemen at arm's length.
For any one of a number of reasons General Lammerding did not essay a tank assault in force to oust Brewster from the highway.
The Americans in part were masked from direct observation, the ground was poor, the German main force needed a wider corridor than possession of twenty-two feet of pavement would provide, the American fighter-bombers were exceedingly busy-whatever his reason Lammerding did no more during the morning than to probe at Brewster's position while waiting for elbow room to be won a mile or two on either side of the highway.
Hard on the heels of the German infantry, the point of the Fuehrer Begleit swung to take a hand against Fraiture. Here the 2d Battalion, "tired of attempting to stop armor with tired men and thin air," received permission about noon to withdraw a half-mile to the northeast.
The battalion fell back with almost no loss, although it had to take on one of the flanking detachments from the 4th Panzer Grenadier en route.
This village no longer had a place in the Fuehrer Begleit scheme. The brigade was shifting to Fraiture, and even before its columns could close new orders arrived from Marshal Model which would send Remer and his panzers hurrying posthaste to join the Fifth Panzer Army farther west.
During the morning of the 24th a series of somewhat un-coordinated and disconnected steps had been taken by the American commanders facing the threat posed by the II SS Panzer Corps.
General Ridgway had no direct authority over the 3d Armored Division troops, who belonged to the VII Corps, and the units which had just come out of the St.
Vith salient were scattered hither and yon without much regard to tactical unity or proper integration in the wire and radio command net earlier established for the XVIII Corps formations west of the Salm.
On the night of the 23d Ridgway had ordered Hasbrouck to collect a force from the 7th Armored sufficient to hold the Manhay junction and to tie this force to the 82d Airborne positions.
Hasbrouck selected Colonel Rosebaum's CCA, which had come through the withdrawal from St. Vith in fair shape. The first part of the 7th Armored mission was carried out in the early morning of the 24th when a task force outposted Manhay and its radial roads, but a reconnaissance detachment sent southeast to contact the 82d Airborne was halted by a blown bridge.
On the west wing coordination between the 7th Armored and the 3d Armored task forces would prove to be very complicated indeed. To give cohesion to the 3d Armored defensive battle east of the Aisne, General Rose recalled Brig.
Doyle Hickey, his CCA commander, from the 84th Division sector and placed him in command there. Early in the afternoon Hickey met Colonel Rosebaum, who had just brought the main force of CCA, 7th Armored Division, into Manhay, and.
E LEMENTS OF THE 3 D A RMORED D IVISION A DVANCING N EAR M ANHAY. Colonel Rosebaum's command took the rest of the daylight hours to carry out the planned deployment, but before Task Force Brewster could begin its retirement new orders arrived from the XVIII Airborne Corps.
Field Marshal Montgomery had visited Ridgway's headquarters in midmorning and had decided at once that the American front between the Ourthe and the Salm was too full of holes and overextended.
VII Corps flank at Ciney. He told the First Army commander, therefore, that the XVIII Airborne Corps must be withdrawn to a shorter, straighter line and that the VII Corps could be released from "all offensive missions.
The American line to be formed during the night of 24 December was intended to have a new look. The 82d Airborne would pull back to a much shorter front extending diagonally from Trois Ponts southwest to Vaux Chavanne, just short of Manhay.
A glance at the map will show how difficult the series of American maneuvers begun on Christmas Eve would be and how tricky to coordinate, particularly in the Manhay sector.
Yet it was precisely in this part of the front that communications had not been thoroughly established and that tactical cohesion had not as yet been secured.
As shown by later events, communication between the 3d Armored and the 7th Armored commanders and staffs failed miserably.
There had been so many revisions of plans, orders, and counterorders during the 24th that Colonel Rosebaum did not receive word of his new retrograde mission until The withdrawal of CCA, 7th Armored, and the elements of CCB, 9th Armored, south and southeast of Manhay was scheduled to begin at and most of these troops and parts of the 3d Armored would have to pass through Manhay.
Toward Manhay, on the night of 24 December, the main body of the 2d SS Panzer Division was moving. On the 24th the commander of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Regiment secured General Lammerding's approval to postpone a further advance until the German engineers could build a road through the woods to Odeigne.
By nightfall on Christmas Eve this road was ready-and the Allied fighter-bombers had returned to their bases. The 3d Panzer Grenadier. T ROOPS OF THE 84 TH I NFANTRY D IVISION D IGGING I N.
By , the hour set for the German attack, the column at Odeigne was ready. Christmas Eve had brought a beautifully clear moonlit night, the glistening snow was hard-packed, tank-going good.
About the time the German column started forward, the subordinate commanders of CCA, 7th Armored, received word by radio to report in Manhay, there to be given new orders-the orders, that is, for the general withdrawal north.
The commander of the 7th Armored position north of Odeigne held by a company of the 40th Tank Battalion and a company of the 48th Armored Infantry Battalion had just started for Manhay when he saw a tank column coming up the road toward his position.
A call to battalion headquarters failed to identify these tanks, but since the leader showed the typical blue exhaust of the Sherman, it was decided that this must be a detachment from the 3d Armored.
Suddenly a German bazooka blasted. Four of the Shermans fell to the enemy bazooka men in short order and two were crippled, but the crippled tanks and one still intact managed to wheel about and head for Manhay.
The armored infantry company asked for permission to withdraw, got no answer, and finally broke-the survivors turning toward Manhay.
A thousand yards or so farther north stood another 7th Armored roadblock, defended by an understrength rifle company and ten medium tanks which had been dug in to give hull defilade.
Again the Americans were deceived by the Judas Goat Sherman leading the enemy column. When almost upon the immobile American tanks the Germans cut loose with flares.
Blinded and unable to move, the ten Shermans were so many sitting ducks; most were hit by tank fire and all were evacuated by their crews.
The American infantry in turn fell prey to the grenadiers moving through the woods bordering the road and fell back in small groups toward Manhay.
It was now a little after , the hour set for the 7th Armored move to the new position north of Manhay. The covering elements of the 3d Armored had already withdrawn, but without notifying CCA of the 7th.
Thus far the headquarters in Manhay knew nothing of the German advance-although a quarter of an hour earlier the enemy gunners had shelled the village.
A platoon commander attempted to get two of his medium tanks into firing position at the crossroads itself, but the situation quickly degenerated into a sauve qui peut when the leading panzers stuck their snouts into Manhay.
In a last exchange of shots the Americans accounted for two of the panzers but lost five of their own tanks at the rear of the CCA column.
Thus Manhay passed into German hands. Working their way north, the road-bound tanks ended up at Werbomont while the riflemen moved cross-country to reach friendly lines about two thousand yards north of Manhay.
All this while Major Brewster and the task force astride the highway south of Manhay had been under fire, but the enemy had refused to close for a final assault.
It soon became apparent, however, that this small American force was on its own and that the Germans were in strength to the rear.
Since there was no other road, Brewster ordered his vehicles abandoned and released his men to reach the American lines on their own-most of his command made it.
Although the 2d SS Panzer had preempted a piece of the new American line, General Lammerding was none too pleased by the results of the Christmas Eve attack.
His tanks had bitten only a small piece from the tail of the "long American column" reported fleeing Manhay. Their inability to do better his officers ascribed to the difficulty attendant on bringing more than one or two tanks into firing position on the narrow roads.
Lammerding and the II SS Panzer Corps commander, General Bittrich, agreed that the 1st SS Panzer should continue the battle with shock tactics aimed at securing an enlarged maneuver space east and west of Manhay.
The 9th SS Panzer which had crossed the Salm River behind the withdrawing 82d Airborne was to align itself as rapidly as might be with Lammerding's division in an advance up the Lienne valley toward Bras, commanding the high ground northeast of Manhay.
The fall of Manhay roused considerable apprehension in the American headquarters. General Ridgway saw that his new corps defense might be split in the center before it could properly solidify.
By daylight on the 25th Colonel Rhea had amassed a sizable force on the hills north of Manhay, his own armored infantry battalion, reinforced by the 2d Battalion of the h Infantry, plus the tanks and stragglers that had worked their way past the enemy in Manhay.
The Germans scouted this position, then broke contact-probably discouraged by twelve P's from the th Squadron who claimed ten tank kills on this mission.
To the east General Gavin sent the 1st Battalion of Billingslea's glider infantry to secure his division's right flank at Tri-le-Cheslaing, a tiny collection of houses in the valley about 2, yards east of Manhay.
For some reason, perhaps the lack of coordination which had bothered Lammerding, the 4th Panzer Grenadier had not pushed forward and the village was unoccupied.
Although the time at which the II SS Panzer Corps commander received his orders is uncertain, it is known that by the small hours of 25 December Bittrich was embarked on a new mission assigned by General Kraemer, the Sixth Panzer Army chief of staff.
As a result, then, the major part of the 2d SS Panzer would turn away from the 7th Armored to engage General Hickey's troops from the 3d Armored.
Here Kane had his trains and a platoon of tank destroyers. It will be remembered that the new. Douglas B.
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This, however, was not the main mission assigned the advance guard of the 18th Volks Grenadier Division , for the original plan of advance had called on the Mobile Battalion to seize the high ground at Wallerode, northeast of St.
Vith, which overlooked the valley road from Schönberg. The bulk of the German advance guard, as. An opportunity had been missed.
Perhaps the German command did not realize the full extent of the gains won in the St. Vith area and was wedded too closely to its prior plans.
In any case the German armored reserve was not available. Tanks of the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade , theoretically attached to the LXVI Corps but subject to commitment only on army orders, would not be released for use at St.
Vith until too late for a successful coup de main. On the movement of the main body of the 7th Armored Division on 17 December hung the fate of St.
Behind the reconnaissance and advance elements the bulk of the division moved slowly southward along the east and west lines of march, forty-seven and sixty-seven miles long, respectively.
The division staff knew little of the tactical situation and nothing of the extent to which the German armored columns had penetrated westward.
It is probable that night-flying German planes spotted the American columns in the early hours of the 17th, but it is doubtful that the tank columns of the Sixth Panzer Army traveling west on roads cutting across the 7th Armored routes were aware of this American movement.
The western column made its march without coming in proximity to the west-moving German spearheads, its main problem being to negotiate roads jammed with west-bound traffic.
The division artillery, finally released in the north, took the east route, its three battalions and the d Antiaircraft Battalion moving as a single column.
The town square was a scene of utter confusion. Trucks loaded with soldiers and nurses from a nearby hospital, supply vehicles, and civilians of military age on bicycles eddied around the square in an attempt to get on the road leading out to the west; a battalion from a replacement depot threaded its way on foot between the vehicles, also en route to the west.
This, of course, was the panzer detachment of the 1st SS Panzer Division. The th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, unable to reverse itself, turned west to Stavelot and subsequently joined the western group on its way to Vielsalm.
Alerted by radio from the th, Maj. Scott acting in the absence of the artillery commander who had gone ahead to report at the division headquarters turned the column around in the square and to avoid the narrow and congested road led it back toward Eupen, cutting in to the western divisional route at Verviers.
This roundabout move consumed the daylight hours and through the night the gun carriages streamed along the Verviers-Vielsalm road. The main artillery column again missed the 1st SS Panzer Division by only a hair's breadth.
As Battery D, d Antiaircraft AW. Battalion, at the tail of the column, rolled through Stavelot about on the morning of 18 December, it found itself in the middle of a fire fight between the advance guard of the 1st SS Panzer Division and a small American force of armored infantry, engineers, and tank destroyers.
After an hour or so the battery turned once again and, taking no chances, circled wide to the west. It finally arrived in the division assembly area east of Vielsalm late in the afternoon.
The bulk of the artillery column closed at Vielsalm during the morning, although the last few miles had to be made against the flow of vehicles surging from the threatened area around St.
While the 7th Armored Division artillery was working its way onto the west road during the evening of 17 December, most of the division assembled in the St.
Vith area along positions roughly indicative of an unconsciously forming perimeter defense. From Recht, five miles northwest of St.
Vith, to Beho, seven miles to the southwest of the th Division headquarters, the clockwise disposition of the American units was as follows.
At Recht were located the command post of CCR and the rear headquarters of CCB, with the 17th Tank Battalion assembled to the southeast.
The disorganized 14th Cavalry Group was dispersed through the area between Recht and Poteau. East of Hünningen the 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron - had formed roadblocks to bar the northern and northeastern approaches to St.
To the right of the cavalry the most advanced units of CCB had reinforced the th Engineer Combat Battalion on the Schönberg road and pushed out to either side for some distance as flank protection.
During the night, CCB, 9th Armored Division, and the th Infantry withdrew across the Our River and established a defensive line along the hill chain running from northeast of Steinebrück south to Burg Reuland; these troops eventually made contact with the advance elements of CCB, 7th Armored Division.
Some six or seven miles west of Burg Reuland, CCA of the 7th Armored had assembled near Beho. West of St. Vith, in position to give close support, were located the th Armored Field Artillery Battalion Lt.
Roy Udell Clay and the remainder of CCB. The th, reinforced by the 16th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and three batteries of corps artillery, fired through the night to interdict the eastern approaches to St.
Vith; this was all the artillery support remaining to the American troops in this sector. The th Infantry, now beginning to fold back to the north as the center of the 28th Division gave way, was no longer in contact with the th Infantry, its erstwhile left flank neighbor, but the axis of withdrawal ultimately would bring the th Infantry to piece out the southern sector of the defense slowly forming around St.
While it is true that an outline or trace of the subsequent St. Vith perimeter was unraveling on the night of December, this was strictly fortuitous.
General Jones and General Hasbrouck still expected that CCB would. Vith on the morning of the 18th. The strength of the German forces thrusting west was not yet fully appreciated.
Information on the location of the enemy or the routes he was using was extremely vague and generally several hours out of date. Communication between the higher American headquarters and their subordinate units was sporadic and, for long periods, nonexistent.
Late in the evening of the 17th and during the morning of the 18th, however, the scope and direction of the German drive thrusting past St.
Vith in the north became more clearly discernible as the enemy struck in a series of attacks against Recht, Poteau, and Hünningen.
The 1st SS Panzer Division , forming the left of the I SS Panzer Corps advance in the zone north of St.
Vith, had driven forward on two routes. It was the first group in this northern column which CCR had unwittingly eluded and from which the tail of the 7th Armored artillery column had glanced at Stavelot.
The southern route, through Recht and Vielsalm, was assigned to a kampfgruppe of the 1st SS Panzer Division made up of a reinforced panzer grenadier regiment and a battalion of assault guns.
This group had been delayed by poor roads and American mine fields west of Manderfeld, and by the end of 17 December it was some hours behind the north column.
The headquarters of CCR, 7th Armored, opened in Recht in midafternoon of the 17th. At that time the combat command retained only the 17th Tank Battalion assembled to the southeast because its armored infantry battalion had been diverted to St.
About CCR got its first word of the Germans it had so narrowly missed when the driver for the division chief of staff, Col. Church M. Matthews, appeared at the command post with the report that during the afternoon he had run afoul of a large tank column near Pont and that the colonel was missing.
Fred M. Warren, acting commanding officer, sent the driver on to division headquarters to tell his story, and at the same time he asked for a company of infantry.
He then ordered the 17th Tank Battalion Lt. John P. Wemple to send a tank company into Recht. Warren and Wemple studied the road net as shown on the map and agreed to try to hold Recht through the night.
Stragglers came pouring through Recht in the meantime with rumors and reports of the enemy just behind them. The headquarters and tank company had little time to get set, for about the advance guard of the southern German column hit the village from the east and northeast.
Unwilling to risk his tanks without infantry protection in a night fight through narrow streets, and uncertain of the enemy strength, Warren ordered a withdrawal after a sharp minute engagement.
CCR headquarters started down. Made cautious by the collision at Recht, the German column moved slowly, putting out feelers to the southeast before the main force resumed the march southwest along the Vielsalm road.
Wemple and his tankers were able to repel these probing attempts without difficulty. CCR headquarters had meanwhile become ensnarled with the remnants of the 14th Cavalry Group and the residue of the corps artillery columns at the little village of Poteau, where the roads from Recht and St.
Vith join en route to Vielsalm. This crossroads hamlet had been the worst bottleneck in the traffic jam on 17 December; indeed the situation seems to have been completely out of hand when the CCR headquarters arrived in the early morning hours and succeeded in restoring some order.
On the afternoon of 17 December the 14th Cavalry Group commander had ordered the remnants of his two squadrons to fall back to Recht.
Through some confusion in orders both squadrons got onto the St. Vith-Poteau highway, although three reconnaissance teams did reach Recht and took part in the action there.
About midnight orders from the th Division arrived at the group headquarters which had been set up in Poteau: the cavalry were to return to Born, which they had just evacuated, and occupy the high ground.
By this time most of the 32d Squadron had threaded their way south through Poteau, apparently unaware that the group had established a command post there.
Shortly after dark Colonel Devine departed with most of his staff for the th Division command post, but this command group was ambushed near Recht Colonel Devine and two of his officers escaped on foot.
Early on the 18th, Lt. Augustine Duggan, senior of the remaining staff, intercepted elements of the 18th Squadron, part of Troop C, 32d Squadron, and the one remaining platoon of towed 3-inch guns from the th Tank Destroyer.
These were placed under the command of Maj. Mayes as a task force to comply with the orders from division. With great difficulty the task force vehicles were sorted out, lined the road, and then turned about and faced toward Recht.
Mayes's group moved out from the crossroads at first light on 18 December but had gone only some two hundred yards when flame shot up from the leading light tank and an armored car, the two struck almost simultaneously by German bazooka fire.
The glare thrown over the snow silhouetted the figures of enemy infantrymen advancing toward the Poteau crossroads. The task force pulled back into the village and hastily prepared a defense around the dozen or so houses there, while to the north a small cavalry patrol dug in on a hill overlooking the hamlet and made a fight of it.
By this time the last of the milling traffic was leaving Poteau; eight 8-inch howitzers of the th Field Artillery Battalion were abandoned here as the German fire increased, ostensibly because they could not be hauled out of the mud onto the road.
All through the morning the enemy pressed in on Poteau, moving his machine guns, mortars, and assault guns closer and closer.
At noon the situation was critical, the village was raked by fire, and the task force was no longer. Colonel Duggan finally gave the order to retire down the road to Vielsalm.
Three armored cars, two jeeps, and one light tank were able to disengage and carried the wounded out; apparently a major part of the force was able to make its way to Vielsalm on foot.
During the early morning Headquarters, CCR, set out from Poteau, heading down the valley road toward Vielsalm. At the small village of Petit Thier it was discovered that a lieutenant from the 23d Armored Infantry Battalion, separated from his column on the march south, had heard the firing at Poteau and had rounded up a collection of stray tanks, infantry, cavalry, and engineers to block the way to Vielsalm.
The German column at Poteau, however, made no attempt to drive on to Vielsalm. The main body of the 1st SS Panzer Division needed reinforcements.
The panzer grenadier regiment and the assault guns therefore were ordered off their assigned route and turned northeast to follow the column through Stavelot.
The 7th Armored counterattack from St. Vith to relieve the two trapped regiments of the th Division had been postponed on the 17th, not canceled.
During the early morning hours of 18 December preparation was completed for the attack on Schönberg by the 31st Tank Battalion and the 23d Armored Infantry Battalion, now brigaded under CCB.
This was risky business at best. The divisional artillery would not be in position to support the attack.
The similar effort by CCB, 9th Armored Division, had been called off and the American forces south of the d Infantry and d Infantry had withdrawn behind the Our.
That the German strength was increasing was made apparent by the events during the night of December, but the 7th Armored light observation planes were not available for scouting the enemy dispositions or movements east of St.
General Clarke was well aware of the chancy nature of this enterprise and, at , when reporting to Colonel Ryan, the division chief of staff, pointed out that General Hasbrouck still had the option of canceling the attack.
It would be the enemy, however, and not a command decision that forced the abandonment of the proposed effort. About the Germans launched a reconnaissance in force northeast of St.
Vith, advancing from Wallerode toward Hünningen. Here, only two thousand yards from St. Vith, two troops of the 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron and a few antiaircraft half-tracks offered the sole barrier to a thrust into the city.
Who made up the enemy force and its strength is uncertain-probably this was the Mobile Battalion of the 18th Volks Grenadier Division , making the preliminary move in the scheme to encircle St.
In any event enough pressure was exerted during the morning to drive the small American screening force back toward St. As the cavalry commenced its delaying action a hurried call went out to CCB, 9th Armored, for tanks and antitank guns.
Moving through St. Leonard E. Engeman and one from the th Tank Destroyer Battalion took over the fight. One company of Shermans circled in the direction of Wallerode, falling on the enemy flank while the tank destroyers contained the head of the German column on the Hünnange road.
Both American units were able to drive forward and the Shermans knocked out six light panzers or assault guns.
By this time the 7th Armored plans for the Schönberg attack were definitely off and a company from the 31St Tank Battalion joined in the affair.
American losses were small, the German foray was checked, and before the day closed the Hünningen position was restored, but it was clear that the enemy now was concentrating to the north as well as to the east of St.
Like the probing thrust at Hünnange, the German efforts on the road east of St. Vith during 18 December were advance guard actions fought while the main German force assembled.
The 18th Volks Grenadier Division , charged with the initial attack against St. Vith, actually was riding two horses at the same time, attempting to close up for a decisive blow at St.
Vith while maintaining the northern arc of the circle around the Americans on the Schnee Eifel. This tactical problem was made more difficult for the 18th Volks Grenadier Division and the LXVI Corps by the traffic situation on the roads east and north of Schönberg where columns belonging to the Sixth SS Panzer Army were swinging out of their proper one.
Although the corps commander, General Lucht, personally intervened to "rank" the intruders out of the area he seems to have been only moderately successful.
Then, too, the artillery belonging to the division had been turned inward against the Schnee Eifel pocket on 18 December; only one battalion got up to the Schönberg-St.
The attacks made east of St. Vith on 18 December were carried by a part of the th Infantry , whose patrols had been checked by the th Engineers the previous day.
Three times the grenadiers tried to rush their way through the foxhole line held by the 38th Armored Infantry Battalion Lt. William H.
Fuller and B Troop of the 87th astride the Schönberg road. The second attempt, just before noon, was made under cover of a creeping barrage laid down by the German artillery battalion near Schönberg and momentarily shook the American firing line.
But the armored infantry, rallied by their officers and aided by Nungesser's engineers, drove back the attackers.
The last German assault, begun after a two-hour fire fight, made a dent in the center of the 38th Armored Infantry line.
Again the th Engineers gave a hand, the bulk of the 23d Armored Infantry Battalion appeared to reinforce the line east of St. Vith, and by dark all lost ground had been retaken.
During this entire action the th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, emplaced along the Recht road northwest of St.
Vith, fired concentration after concentration against the enemy thrusting against the 38th and the engineers. Observation was poor-the 18th was a day of low-hanging fog but the nine hundred rounds plunging onto the Schönberg road did much to check the grenadiers.
Although the 18th Volks Grenadier Division was able, on this third day of the counteroffensive, to push some of its troops close in toward St. Vith, the 62d Volks Grenadier Division on the left had moved more slowly.
Despite the American withdrawal from the WinterspeltHeckhuscheid area and the promptings of the impatient commander of the LXVI Corps , the 62d only tardily brought itself into conformity with the forward kampfgruppen of the 18th Volks Grenadier Division.
The th Regiment , reinforced by engineers and assault guns, apparently took some time to re-form after its fight with the 9th Armored Division counterattack force on 17 December.
Although German patrols continued up the road to Steinebrück, attempting in vain to seize the bridge during the night, the attack was not pressed until after daylight on the following morning.
Two of the three Our bridges chosen for capture in the LXVI Corps ' plan now were in German hands, but the bridge at Steinebrück still had to be taken.
The bend in the Our River near Steinebrück necessitated a switch in the new American positions on the far bank; thus while the main frontage held by the th and CCB, 9th Armored, faced east, the line at Steinebrück faced south, then swung back until it again faced east.
In this sector Troop D, 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Battalion, plus a light tank platoon and an assault gun platoon, was deployed along the 3, yard stretch between Steinebrück and Weppler, its left flank in the air at the latter village, its right more or less secured by a provisional company from the th Infantry west of Steinebrück.
On the morning of 18 December General Hoge, CCB commander, was ordered to hurry to the th headquarters where he was told of the threat developing north of St.
When he sent back orders for the emergency task force from CCB to hasten north, the cavalry troop was included.
Covered by one reconnaissance platoon and the cavalry assault guns, sited near the bridge, the remaining platoons of Troop D had left their positions and started filing toward the Steinebrück-St.
Vith road when suddenly the movement order was canceled. The cavalry had been under fire since daybreak, and when the 2d Platoon attempted to return to its position on a commanding hill between Steinebrück and Weppler it was forced to move dismounted in a rain of bullets and shells.
At the Steinebrück bridge the enemy increased in number as the morning progressed, slipping into positions on the south bank under cover given by exploding smoke shells.
To counter this threat the light tank platoon moved into Steinebrück, leaving the American left uncovered. About the same time the provisional rifle company west of Steinebrück took off and one of the cavalry platoons had to be switched hastily to cover this gap.
Thus far the all-important bridge had been left intact, for there was still some hope that the d Infantry, at the least, might free itself from the Schnee Eifel trap.