Page 245


reserves to the threatened left flank to block further penetrations and to reinforce and relieve the garrison villages in the north. The 212th Volks Grenadier Division took a shock company from the 316th Regiment, which was still held in reserve under Seventh Army orders, and moved it into the fight. The division fusilier battalion was committed against the 12th Infantry center in an attempt to drive a wedge through at Scheidgen while a part of the 23d Festung Battalion crossed the Sauer near Girst to extend the left flank of the German attack.


During the night of 16 December searchlights had been brought down to the river opposite Echternach to aid the German engineers attempting to lay spans on the six stone piers, sole relic of the ancient bridge from whose exit the people of Echternach moved yearly in the "dancing procession" on the feast of St. Willibrord. American shellfire finally drove the enemy away from the bank, necessitating a new effort in broad daylight farther to the north. The enemy infantry would outnumber the Americans opposing them in the combat area, but on 17 December the Germans in the bridgehead would meet a far greater weight of artillery fire than they could direct against the Americans and would find it difficult to deal with American tanks. The superiority in tanks maintained by the 4th Infantry Division throughout this operation would effectively checkmate the larger numbers of the German infantry.


Fighting on 17 December took place along the axes of three principal German penetrations: on the American left flank at Berdorf, Consdorf, and Mullerthal; in the center along the Echternach-Lauterborn-Scheidgen road; and on the right in the Osweiler-Dickweiler sector.


About three hours before dawn, General Barton, concerned over his left flank, dispatched the 4th Engineer Combat Battalion and 4th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop to Breitweiler, a small village overlooking the wishbone terminus of the Schwarz Erntz gorge and the ganglia ravine roads which branched thence into the 12th Infantry flank and rear. The Schwarz Erntz gorge lay within the 4th Infantry Division zone but in fact provided a natural cleavage between the 4th Division and the 9th Armored Division. Both units would therefore be involved in guarding the cross-corridors and ravines which stemmed from the gorge itself. The advance of the 423d Regiment across the Berdorf plateau on 16 December had reached the winding defile leading down into the gorge west of Berdorf village, there wiping out a squad of infantry and one 57-mm. antitank gun which had been placed here to block the gorge road. When the 4th Division reserves arrived in Breitweiler on the morning of 17 December the threat of a flanking move through the gorge was very real but the Americans had time to dig in.


At 0936 American observers reported a very large force moving along the bottom of the gorge, and at 1044, "5 companies counted and still coming." What had been seen were troops of the 987th Regiment, the reserve regiment of the 276th Volks Grenadier Division, then attacking in the 9th Armored Division sector. Company C, 70th Tank Battalion, now had eight tanks in running condition and these were hurried to Breitweiler to reinforce the cavalry and engineers. Two platoons from Company A, 19th Tank Battalion, which had just