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gallons for his improvised roadblock, but this was the only part of the First Army's POL reserve lost during the entire Ardennes operation.


While the engagement in Stavelot was still in progress, Peiper turned some of his tanks toward Trois Ponts, the important bridgehead at the confluence of the Salm and the Ambleve. As Peiper puts it: "We proceeded at top speed towards Trois Ponts in an effort to seize the bridge there.... If we had captured the bridge at Trois Ponts intact and had had enough fuel, it would have been a simple matter to drive through to the Meuse River early that day." One company of Mark IV tanks tried to reach Trois Ponts by following a narrow side road on the near bank of the Ambleve. The road was almost impassable, and when the column came under American fire this approach was abandoned. The main part of the kampfgruppe swung through Stavelot and advanced on Trois Ponts by the highway which followed the north bank of the river. Things were looking up and it seemed that the only cause for worry was the lowering level in the panzer fuel tanks. Missing in Peiper's calculations was an American gun, the puny 57-mm. antitank weapon which had proven such an impuissant answer to German tanks.


Trois Ponts gains its name from three highway bridges, two over the Salm and one across the Ambleve. The road from Stavelot passes under railroad tracks as it nears Trois Ponts, then veers sharply to the south, crosses the Ambleve, continues through the narrow valley for a few hundred yards, and finally turns west at right angles to cross the Salm and enter the main section of the small village. A number of roads find their way through the deep recesses of the Salm and Ambleve valleys to reach Trois Ponts, hidden among the cliffs and hills. Most, however, wind for some distance through the gorges and along the tortuous valley floors. One road, a continuation of the paved highway from Stavelot, leads immediately from Trois Ponts and the valley to the west. This road, via Werbomont, was Peiper's objective.


Company C, 51st Engineer Combat Battalion, occupied Trois Ponts, so important in the itinerary of the kampfgruppe. Quite unaware of the importance of its mission, the company had been ordered out of the sawmills it had been operating as part of the First Army's Winterization and Bridge Timber Cutting Program, and dispatched to Trois Ponts where it detrucked about midnight on 17 December. Numbering around 140 men, the company was armed with eight bazookas and ten machine guns. Maj. Robert B. Yates, commanding the force, knew only that the 1111th Engineer Group was preparing a barrier line along the Salm River from Trois Ponts south to Bovigny and that he was to construct roadblocks at the approaches to Trois Ponts according to the group plans. During the night Yates deployed the company at roadblocks covering the bridge across the Ambleve and at the vulnerable highway underpass at the railroad tracks north of the river. On the morning of 18 December a part of the artillery column of the 7th Armored Division passed through Trois Ponts, after a detour to avoid the German armor south of Malmedy; then appeared one 57-mm. antitank gun and crew which had become lost during the move of the 526th Armored Infantry