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indicate a coordinated attack. In fact it represented Heilmann's failure to gain control of his division, for the orders were to bypass Wiltz. The division advance guard from the 15th Parachute Regiment (supposedly on its way to capture Sibret) somehow became confused, wandered away northward, and about 1500 struck the 687th Field Artillery Battalion, whose batteries had displaced to a road angling southeast from the town. [20] Battery A met the tanks leading the German column with direct fire, disabled or destroyed them, and briefly slowed the advance toward Wiltz. But menaced as they were, the artillery commander could not risk his howitzers further. Battery B fired its few remaining rounds to cover the other batteries, the battalion assembling during the evening at a crossroad southeast of Harlange.


By nightfall the American perimeter had been pierced at many points and the defenders pushed back into the center of Wiltz. Most of the tanks and assault guns were out of action, there were insufficient machine guns to cover the final protective line, radio communication between the desperate units was practically nonexistent, searchlight rays glancing from the low clouds lighted the path of the attackers, and ammunition was running very low.


Attempts during the evening to send a task force of stragglers and trains forward from the 28th Division headquarters at Sibret were abortive; the roads east to Wiltz now were blocked every few kilometers by enemy infantry and self-propelled guns.


On the ridges which look down over Wiltz more Germans appeared in the early evening, apparently. eager to be in at the kill. The 14th Parachute Regiment, which had been moving slowly westward (the 5th Parachute Division commander ascribed its dilatory movement to the habit of attacking small villages in order to have billets for the cold December nights), entered the fight via a climb onto the eastern ridge overlooking the town. At least a third of the 5th Parachute Division was finally engaged at Wiltz contrary to Heilmann's orders.


Colonel Strickler decided to evacuate Wiltz by infiltration and regroup at Sibret, but with the Germans pressing in from all sides and no means of reaching his units except by runner the actual withdrawal would be difficult to control. It was his intention, however, to move the provisional battalion first, leaving the 3d Battalion to keep the escape exits open while the 44th Engineers acted as rear guard. The 687th Field Artillery Battalion pulled out to the southwest and the 3d Battalion also started to move, under the impression that this was the plan. When orders finally arrived to hold in place, the 3d Battalion had reached a trident crossroad southwest of the town. After a long wait the battalion commanding officer, Major Milton, went back into Wiltz to get further orders; when he returned most of his battalion had disappeared. With the few troops remaining, Milton successfully made his way cross-country to the west.


[20] The American infantry gave high praise to the 687th for its part in this fight. Colonel Strickler later said of the gunners, "a magnificent job by some magnificent men." Recognized as outstanding even in this band was S/Sgt. William J. Bennett of Battery C, who was awarded the DSC.