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Middleton and the 106th Division commander based their plans for a counterattack by a combat command of the 7th Armored east of St. Vith early on 17 December.


Although this failure to make an accurate estimate of the time of arrival in the battle area bore on the fate of the two regiments on the Schnee Eifel, it was merely a single event in the sequence leading to the final encirclement and lacked any decisive import. The business of computing the lateral movement of an armored division close to a front through which the enemy was breaking could hardly attain the exactness of a Leavenworth solution complete with march graphs and tables. None of the charts on traffic density commonly used in general staff or armored school training could give a formula for establishing the coefficient of "friction" in war, in this case the mass of jeeps, prime movers, guns, and trucks which jammed the roads along which the 7th Armored columns had to move to St. Vith. Also, the transmittal of the 7th Armored Division's own estimate of its possible progress was subject to "friction." This estimate was received at the headquarters of the VIII Corps at 0500 on 17 December, the first indication, it would appear, that the leading armored elements would arrive at 1400 instead of 0700 as planned. Thus far the Ninth Army had given Hasbrouck no information on the seriousness of the situation on the VIII Corps front.


The advance party sent by General Hasbrouck reached St. Vith about 0800 on 17 December, reporting to General Jones, who expected to find the armored columns right behind. Brig. Gen. Bruce Clarke, in advance of CCB, agreed with Jones's recommendation that his combat command be organized upon arrival into two task forces and committed in an attack to clear the St. Vith-Schonberg road. At Schonberg the 7th Armored task forces would turn south to join CCB of the 9th Armored Division, already engaged along the road to Winterspelt. If successful, the attack by the two combat commands would provide escape corridors for the beleaguered regiments of the 106th.


CCB of the 7th Armored had meanwhile been making good progress and arrived at Vielsalm about 1100, halting just to the east to gas up. Although Vielsalm was only fourteen miles by road from St. Vith, it would be literally a matter of hours before even the lightly armored advance guard could reach St. Vith. The mass of artillery, cavalry, and supply vehicles moving painfully through St. Vith to the west-with and without orders-formed a current almost impossible to breast. Although the mounted military police platoon in St. Vith had orders to sidetrack the withdrawing corps artillery when the armor appeared, the traffic jam had reached the point where the efforts of a few MP's were futile.


General Jones, beset by messages reporting the German advance along the Schonberg road, sent urgent requests for the armor to hurry. At 1300 German vehicles were seen in Setz, four and a half miles from the eastern edge of St. Vith. Half an hour later three enemy tanks and some infantry appeared before the 168th Engineer Battalion position astride the St. Vith road. Carelessly dismounting, one tank crew was riddled by machine gun fire; a second tank received a direct and killing blast