Page 289


German columns heading west. The 82d Airborne Division, it was estimated, would reach Werbomont (about the same distance northwest of Vielsalm) on the morning of 19 December, but it was apparent that in this area also the enemy barred any solid contact with the St. Vith defenders. At Bastogne the 101st Airborne Division was arriving to take over the fight at that critical road junction, but there were no additional reinforcements which General Middleton could employ in plugging the gap between St. Vith and Bastogne.


The problem of maintaining control over the heterogeneous formations in the St. Vith-Vielsalm area or of giving complete tactical unity to the defense was very difficult. Under sustained German pressure a wholly satisfactory solution never would be achieved. The piecemeal employment of lower units, made unavoidable by the march of events, resulted in most involved methods of communication. A tank company, for example, might have to report by radio through its own battalion headquarters, some distance away, which then relayed the message on other channels until it reached the infantry battalion to which the tank company was attached. The homogeneity of the battalion, in American practice the basic tactical unit, largely ceased to exist, nor did time and the enemy ever permit any substantial regrouping to restore this unity. It is surprising that under the circumstances control and communication functioned as well as they did. But the 7th Armored Division was a veteran organization; the general officers in the area dealt with one another on a very cooperative basis; and within the sub-commands established around the coalescing perimeter, the local commanders acted with considerable freedom and initiative.


Although all intention of attempting to breach the German ring around the two regiments of the 106th Division had been abandoned on 18 December and the mission no longer was counterattack, but rather defense in place, there still was a faint hope that the 422d and 423d somehow might be able to fight their way out through Schonberg as General Jones had ordered. During the early morning hours of 19 December messages from the 423d Infantry (dispatched at noon on the previous day) finally reached Vielsalm. From these Jones learned that both regiments had begun the attack westward, but no word on the progress of the attack followednor did the American outposts on the Schonberg road catch any sound of firing moving west. Finally, late in the evening, a radio message arrived from the VII Corps: bad weather had intervened; the supplies promised the entrapped troops had not been dropped. By this time the last bit of hope for the lost regiments must have gone.


There was one fortunate but unexpected event on the 19th. The exact location and strength of the 112th Infantry, somewhere south of the 424th, were unknown. [7] That a gap existed on the right of the 424th was known. Early on 19 December word reached General Jones by way of liaison officer that, as of the previous evening, the 112th Infantry was cut off from the 28th Division and had fallen back from the Our to the neighborhood of Weiswampach. A few hours later more information fil-


[7] See above, pp. 204-05.