spired on 18 December. It is true that during the early evening of the 17th three German tanks made a rush for the bridge, but when the leader hit a hasty mine field, laid by American engineers, the others turned back-nor were they seen for the rest of the night.
Perhaps the sight of the numerous American vehicles parked in the streets led Peiper to believe that the town was held in force and that a night attack held the only chance of taking the bridge intact. If so, the single effort made by the German point is out of keeping with Peiper's usual ruthless drive and daring. Perhaps Peiper accepted the word of his leading troops and failed to establish the true situation for himself. Perhaps he was interested at this moment only in closing up his third column, which in march formation extended for fifteen miles. Perhaps, as he says, Peiper was waiting for his infantry. Whatever the reason-and it never will be known-the German kampfgruppe came to a halt on the night of 17-18 December at the Stavelot bridge, forty-two miles from the Meuse.
During the night the First Army fed reinforcements into Malmedy, for it seemed impossible that the Germans could forfeit the opportunity to seize the town. As part of the defense being organized here a company of the 526th Armored Infantry Battalion and a platoon of 3-inch towed tank destroyers were ordered to outpost Stavelot. Maj. Paul J. Solis, commanding this detachment, began moving his troops into position just before daybreak: two platoons on the south bank of the river (with a section of tank destroyers at the old roadblock); one platoon with three 57-mm. antitank guns and the second section of tank destroyers in reserve around the town square north of the river.
Before the riflemen could organize a defense the German infantry attacked, captured the tank destroyers south of the river, and drove the two platoons back across the bridge. Taken by surprise, the Americans failed to destroy the bridge structure, and a Panther made a dash about 0800 which carried it onto the north bank. More tanks followed. For some while the Germans were held in the houses next to the river; an antiaircraft artillery battery from the 7th Armored Division wandered into the fire fight and did considerable damage before it went on its way. A company from the 202d Engineer Combat Battalion entered the town and joined in the fray. By the end of the morning, however, the German firing line had been built up to the point where the Americans could no longer hold inside the village proper, particularly since the hostile tanks were roving at will in the streets.
Solis ordered his detachment to retire to the top of the hill above Stavelot, but in the confusion of disengagement the remaining antitank weapons and all but one of the rifle platoons fell back along the Malmedy road. With German tanks climbing behind the lone platoon and without any means of antitank defense, Solis seized some of the gasoline from the Francorchamps dump, had his men pour it out in a deep road cut, where there was no turn-out, and set it ablaze. The result was a perfect antitank barrier. The German tanks turned back to Stavelot-this was the closest that Kampfgruppe Peiper ever came to the great stores of gasoline which might have taken the 1st SS Panzer Division to the Meuse River. Solis had burned 124,000