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Battalion. Yates commandeered the crew and placed the gun on the Stavelot road to the east of the first underpass where a daisy chain of mines had been laid.


A quarter of an hour before noon the advance guard of Peiper's main column, nineteen or twenty tanks, came rolling along the road. A shot from the lone antitank gun crippled or in somewise stopped the foremost German tank, but after a brief skirmish the enemy knocked out the gun, killed four of the crew, and drove back the engineers. The hit on the lead tank checked the German column just long enough to give warning to the bridge guards, only a few score yards farther on. They blew the Ambleve bridge, then the Salm bridge, and fell back to the houses in the main part of town. In the meantime one of the engineer platoons had discouraged the German tank company from further advance along the side road and it had turned back to Stavelot. [7]


Frustrated by a battalion antitank gun and a handful of engineers, Kampfgruppe Peiper now had no quick exit from the valley of the Ambleve. With but one avenue remaining the column turned northward toward La Gleize, moving through the canyons of the Ambleve on the east side of the river. At La Gleize there was a western exit from the valley, although by a mediocre, twisting road. Nearby, at the hamlet of Cheneux, the Germans found a bridge intact over the Ambleve. This stroke of good luck was countered by bad when the weather cleared and American fighterbombers knocked out two or three tanks and seven half-tracks, blocking the narrow road for a considerable period. When night came the armored point was within some three miles of Werbomont, an important road center on the main highway linking Liege and Bastogne.


Then, as the Germans neared a creek (the Lienne) a squad of Company A, 291st Engineer Combat Battalion, blew up the only bridge. Reconnaissance north and south discovered other bridges, but all were too fragile to support the Tiger tanks which had come forward with the advance guard. During the evening one detachment with half-tracks and assault guns did cross on a bridge to the north and swung southwest toward Werbomont. Near Chevron this force ran into an ambush, set by a battalion of the 30th Division which had been sent to head off Peiper, and was cut to pieces. Few of the Germans escaped. Since there was nothing left but to double back on his tracks, Peiper left a guard on the bridge at Cheneux and moved his advance guard through the dark toward the town of Stoumont, situated on the Ambleve River road from which the abortive detour had been made during the afternoon. Scouts brought in word that Stoumont was strongly held and that more American troops were moving in from Spa. There was nothing left but to fight for the town.


All through the afternoon of the 18th, liaison planes from the First Army airstrip at Spa had been skidding under the clouds to take a look at Peiper's tanks and half-tracks. One of these light planes picked up the advance at Cheneux and called the Ninth Air Force in to work over this force. By the evening of 18 December Peiper's entire column, now spread over many miles of road.


[7 ]The ubiquitous 51st Engineer Combat Battalion will crop up at many points in this narrative. The battalion was awarded a Presidential Citation.