of an infantry division of the same number which had escaped from the Falaise pocket, the 277th arrived in the west during early November. In the days before the counteroffensive the division screened the entire front behind which the I SS Panzer Corps was assembling, but on the evening of 15 December, while two new infantry divisions moved into the line, the 277th assembled on the north flank of the corps zone between Hollerath and Udenbreth. One reinforced battalion, on the far southern flank of the original sector, was unable to reach the division line of departure in time to join the attack.
The I SS Panzer Corps commander had decided to put the weight of his armored thrust to the south and thus avoid entanglement with the American force which, it was thought, could be gathered quickly on the Elsenborn ridge in the northern sector of the zone of advance. But the Elsenborn area had to be neutralized, if for no other reason than to erase the American artillery groupment located there. The 277th Volks Grenadier Division had the task of making the penetration on the right wing of the corps and driving obliquely northwest to take the Elsenborn ridge. As finally prescribed by the corps commander, the phases of the attack planned for the 277th were these: to break through the American line and open the forest roads to Rocherath and Krinkelt; capture these twin villages; seize the Elsenborn area and block any American advance from Verviers. The division commander had received this mission with qualms, pointing out that the wooded and broken terrain favored the Americans and that without sufficient rifle strength for a quick breakthrough, success in the attack could only be won by very strong artillery support. But his orders stood. On the night of 15-16 December
the 989th Regiment assembled near Hollerath, its objective Rocherath. To the south the 990th occupied the West Wall pillboxes near Udenbreth, poised for an attack to seize Krinkelt.
The artillery, Werfer, and mortar fire crashing into the American positions on the morning of 16 December gave the attacking German infantry the start the 277th commander had requested. The concentration thoroughly wrecked the American telephone lines which had been carefully strung from battalion to company command posts; in some cases radio communication failed at the same time. This preparatory bombardment continued until 0700.
The north wing of the 393d, held by the 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. Jack G. Allen), lay in the woods close to the German pillboxes from which the assault wave of the 989th, guided by searchlights beamed on the American positions, moved in on the Americans before they had recovered from the shelling. In the first rush all of Company K, save one platoon, were killed or captured. By 0855, when telephone lines were restored and the first word of the 3d Battalion's plight reached the regimental command post, the enemy had advanced nearly three-quarters of a mile beyond the American lines along the forest road from Hollerath. Colonel Allen stripped the reserve platoons from the balance of the 3d Battalion line in a futile attempt to block the onrush, but by 0930 the Germans had reached the battalion command post, around which Allen ordered Companies I and L to gather.