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if indeed he had any precise timetable in mind, the kampfgruppe of the 1st SS Panzer Division was making good progress and the element of surprise, as shown by the lack of any formal resistance, was working to German advantage. His path lay straight ahead, through Stavelot, Trois Ponts, Werbomont, Ouffet, Seny, Huy-a distance of some 50 miles, from where the head of the 1st SS Panzer Division column stood in Ligneuville, to Huy and the Meuse. Only a few short miles to the north lay Malmedy and the road to Spa and Liege. Malmedy and the Meuse crossing sites in the vicinity of Liege, however, were in the zone assigned the 12th SS Panzer Division. Peiper stuck to his knitting.


About 1400 the column resumed the march, taking some time to negotiate the sharp turns and narrow streets in Ligneuville. At the western exit the point of the column ran onto the trains belonging to CCB, 9th Armored Division, which was preparing to move east in support of the combat command then engaged in the St. Vith sector. A couple of Sherman tanks and a tank destroyer made a fight for it, demolishing the leading Panther and a few other armored vehicles. Peiper's column was delayed for about an hour.


Advancing along the south bank of the Ambleve, the advance guard reached Stavelot, the point where the river must be crossed, at dusk. Looking down on the town the Germans saw hundreds of trucks, while on the opposite bank the road from Stavelot to Malmedy was jammed with vehicles. Although the Germans did not know it, many of these trucks were moving to help evacuate the great First Army gasoline dumps north of Stavelot and Malmedy. March serials of the 7th Armored Division also were moving through Stavelot en route to Vielsalm.


The small town of Stavelot (population 5,000) lies in the Ambleve River valley surrounded by high, sparsely wooded bluffs. Most of the town is built on the north bank of the river or on the slopes above. There are a few scattered buildings on the south bank. Like most of the water courses in this part of the Ardennes, the Ambleve was no particular obstacle to infantry but the deeply incised valley at this point offered hard going to tanks, while the river, by reason of the difficult approaches, was a tougher than average tank barrier. Only one vehicular bridge spanned the river at Stavelot. The sole approach to this bridge was by the main highway; here the ground to the left fell away sharply and to the right a steep bank rose above the road.


Stavelot and its bridge were open for the taking. The only combat troops in the town at this time were a squad from the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion which had been sent from Malmedy to construct a roadblock on the road leading to the bridge. For some reason Peiper's advance guard halted on the south side of the river, one of those quirks in the conduct of military operations which have critical import but which can never be explained. Months after the event Peiper told interrogators that his force had been checked by American antitank weapons covering the narrow approach to the bridge, that Stavelot was "heavily defended." But his detailed description of what happened when the Germans attacked to take town and bridge shows that he was confused in his chronology and was thinking of events which tran-