History of the Second World War, Volume 5

and resume his advance along the north bank of the m ain branch. In the counter­ march he w ould lose 24 c ritica l hours. The I I Panzer D ivision, m eanwhile, bat­ tered against the defenders of N oville, fin a lly pushing the Am ericans aside d u ring the afternoon o f December 20. This division be­ longed to the X L V II Panzer Corps, com­ manded by General H einrich F re ih e rr von L iittw itz , whose responsibility included Bastogne. A lthough L iittw itz was preoccu­ pied w ith ta k in g the town, he had other troops to do i t w ith , including the Panzer Lehr D ivision. W hile these troops probed the Bastogne perim eter, encircling the tow n in the process, L iittw itz sent the II Panzer D ivision pushing on to the west. That n ig h t (the 20th) the d ivision’s recon­ naissance battalion got across the O urthe at O urtheville on a bridge th a t 116th Panzer had neglected to storm in the b e lie f the Am ericans w ould destroy it, as they had a ll others. Y et the A m erican dem olitions un­ accountably had failed, and the I I Panzer D ivision got across the O urthe dryshod. The Meuse now lay only 23 m iles to the west. B u t for a reason th a t seemed inex­ plicable at the tim e to the little bands of Am erican defenders who s till stood in the way, the II Panzer D ivision came to a halt. In the north, in the meantim e, the decision to send the 82nd A irborne D ivision s k irtin g the south flank o f Peiper’s trapped tanks to push up to the Salm riv e r behind the St V ith horseshoe proved to be exceptionally provident. A dvancing w ith o u t opposition, the airborne troops dropped off u nits along the w ay to face southward in the direction of Houffalize, thus affording some block should the 116th Panzer D ivision and ac­ companying in fa n try units swing northw ard. By the m orning of the 21st, the rest of the paratroops were in position along the Salm, facing the west, where d u ring the day the Germans were fin a lly to w rest the tow n of St V ith from the 7th Arm oured D ivision and the m ixed units th a t had held it for over five days. As n ig h tfa ll came on December 21, the battle from the Am erican view point s till was going badly: • St V ith and its roads was now open to the Germans, w ith Am erican w ith d ra w a l from the portion o f the horseshoe s till in th e ir hands inevitable. Peiper was s till dangerous, even though trapped; • The situation on the southern shoulder of the German penetration was s till fluid; • The delaying forces in fro n t of Bastogne were a ll b u t destroyed, leaving the lig h tly armed 101st A irborne D ivision, encircled in Bastogne, to m uster such support as could be salvaged to defend against an entire German corps; • One German Panzer division was across the O urthe riv e r 23 m iles from the Meuse, another was at H ouffalize presum ably pre­ paring to resume the tre k westward; • Ever since the sta rt of the German attack on the 16th, fog and low overcast had denied a ll but the most daring (and usually un­ productive) sorties by Am erican fighter- bombers. Yet, as is so often the case in battle, the other side saw the situation in another lig h t. As early as the th ird day, December 18, the German arm y group commander, Field- M arshal W alter Model, had come to the con­ clusion th a t the counteroffensive had fallen short. This m ay have been m erely an in itia l reaction of surprise and fru stra tio n th a t the opening blows had failed to penetrate the The price of violating the rules of war... ‘Scarface’ Skorzeny, Hitler’s master commando. His men, dressed in American uniforms, spread chaos and confusion behind the US lin e s -b u t those who were caught paid the inevitable price before the firing squads A m erican line as quickly as planned. Yet even H itle r had expressed at least ta cit con­ cern by cancelling a projected supporting a t­ tack by the X V A rm y against thinned A m e ri­ can lines near Aachen. B u t th a t was before the II Panzer D ivision achieved its spectacu­ la r gain across the O urthe river. So th rille d was the F iih re r w ith th is development th a t he afforded Field-M arshal von R undstedttw o divisions from the general reserve to be employed as Rundstedt him se lf decided. There were continuing problems on the German side nevertheless. The Americans at the northern corner on the Elsenborn Ridge s till held, a rock against w hich the V I Panzer A rm y could b u t batter in vain, re­ s trictin g D ie tric h ’s arm our to two of the four m ain roads intended for the advance westward, and one of those under heavy Am erican a rtille ry fire. T hat was w hy the rem ainder of the I SS Panzer D ivision was so slow to follow Peiper’s lead, and w hy Peiper had been trapped. He eventually lost 39 tanks and the rest o f his transport and equipm ent, w ith only 800 out o f an orig in a l force of 2,000 men at last in filtra tin g back to safety. N or could D ie trich ’s other three SS Panzer divisions be brought to bear through this narrow passage: a ll efforts to do so produced traffic spill-over into the zone of the V Panzer A rm y around St V ith . A t one point Field- M arshal Model personally helped direct tra ffic near St V ith and came upon General von M anteuffel doing the same thing. So c ritic a l was the ja m th a t Field-M arshal von Rundstedt on the 21st ordered two of D ie tric h ’s SS Panzer divisions transferred southward to M anteuffel, whose V Panzer A rm y henceforth w ould compose the Ger­ man m ain effort. A s h ift southward o f the boundary between the two armies, g iving St V ith to D ietrich, was p a rt o f the plan. For a ll the success of II and 116th Panzer D ivisions in bypassing St V ith to the south and stream ing westward between St V ith and Bastogne, the fa ilu re to capture these two road centres early in the fig h tin g had sharply restricted M anteuffel’s dash for the Meuse. A nd even after General von L iitt- w itz ’s spearheads had draw n up to Bastogne on the 19th, he had been slow to launch a comprehensive attack because thaw ing roads leading up from the eastern riv e r valleys slowed the a rriv a l of supporting a rtille ry . Shortages o f fuel crimped German opera­ tions everywhere, the most drastic shortage h ittin g II Panzer D ivision, preventing th a t fro n t-ru n n in g force from m oving at a ll on the 21st. The shortages developed p a rtly because the Germans had failed to capture any large A m erican stocks, b ut also because awesome tra ffic jam s plagued the steep, serpentine, icy roads behind the lines in the E ifel. One of D ie tric h ’s Panzer divisions used up its fuel battering against the Elsenborn Ridge. W hen on the 21st Rundstedt ordered two of D ie trich ’s divisions to be transferred to M anteuffel, there w ould n o t—for 36 hours —be enough fuel to allow one of the divisions to move. German commanders also had to keep looking over th e ir le ft shoulders, for how long w ould it be before Patton w ould throw his 3rd A rm y against the German southern flank? How long, too, before the fog and over­ cast parted to enable the deadly Am erican fighter-bom bers to jo in the battle? [ ¦ Charles B. MacDonald’s biography is in Vol 5, p. 2016.] 2240
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