Page 259


CHAPTER XI


The 1st SS Panzer Division's Dash Westward, and Operation Greif


The bulk of the fourteen divisions under First U.S. Army command on 16 December were deployed north of the Belgian Ardennes. Behind them, roughly in the triangle formed by the cities of Liege, Verviers, and Spa, lay the supply installations built up through the autumn to support the advance toward the Rhine. At Spa, which had served the German Emperor as headquarters in World War I, the First Army had established its command post surrounded on every side by service installations, supply dumps, and depots. Liege, twenty miles northwest of Spa, was one of the greatest American supply centers on the Continent. Verviers, an important and densely stocked railhead lay eleven miles north of Spa. (See Map V.)


General Hodges' First Army headquarters, set up in the declasse resort hotels and casinos of the once fashionable watering place, was remote from sound of battle on the morning of 16 December, but in a matter of hours the slashing thrust of the 1st SS Panzer Division roughly altered its ordered existence. The nature of the ground along which the Americans would attempt to defend the myriad headquarters and service installations, railheads, and depots, must be explained. Southeast of Spa runs the Ambleve River, the creation of a series of tributaries flowing south from the springs and swamps of the rugged Hohes Venn. The Ambleve, bending westward, is joined by the Salm, a north-flowing tributary, at the town of Trois Ponts, then angles northwest until it meets the Ourthe River and finally the Meuse at Liege. The Ambleve and the Salm are narrow and rather minor streams; the valleys through which they course are deep-cut, with long stretches