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the remnants of Task Force Harper from the Allerborn roadblock, then turned off the Bastogne highway near the hamlet of Chifontaine and headed toward Bourcy and Noville. It was the 2d Panzer tanks which Task Force Booth had heard rolling in its rear on the night of 18-19 December and with which its rear guard collided on the 19th. Although Task Force Booth and the Germans at first missed each other, the subsequent American attempt to circle around the northwest and thus attain Bastogne threw Booth's column straight into the German path. Lauchert's advance guard had hit Noville but found it strongly held and was forced to withdraw. As a result a strong detachment moved north to Hardigny, before a flanking attempt against the Noville garrison, and here encountered and cut to pieces Booth's column.


The American troops defending in and around Longvilly were given a period of grace by Lauchert's decision to turn off on the Bourcy road. A second on-the-spot decision by another German commander added a few hours' breathing space. Bayerlein's Panzer Lehr Division was slowly climbing out of the Wiltz valley on the afternoon and evening of 18 December, en route to an assembly point at Niederwampach. The division had met little resistance but the roads were poor (the corps commander had caviled against the zone assigned the Panzer Lehr even during the planning period), and march control was further burdened by the fact that the 26th Volks Grenadier Division was marching two of its rifle regiments toward the same assembly area. Theoretically the mobile columns of Panzer Lehr now should have been ahead of the infantry division. In fact the foot troops of the 26th were making nearly as much speed as the armor. Horse-drawn artillery was mixed up with armored vehicles, the roads had been pounded to sloughs, and the German timetable for advance in this sector had gone out the window.


In the early evening Bayerlein himself led the advance guard of the Panzer Lehr (four companies of the 902d Panzer Grenadier Regiment and some fifteen tanks) into Niederwampach. On the march the advance guard had heard the sounds of battle and seen gunfire flaming to the north, "an impressive sight," Bayerlein later recalled. This was the 2d Panzer Division destroying the Allerborn roadblock defense. Bayerlein had two choices at this point. He could direct his division south to the hardsurfaced road linking Bras, Marvie, and Bastogne, or he could risk an unpaved and muddy side road via Benonchamps which would put the Panzer Lehr onto the main Bastogne highway at Mageret, three miles east of Bastogne. Bayerlein decided on the side road because it was shorter and he believed that it probably was unguarded.


A kampfgruppe (a dozen tanks, a battalion of armored infantry, and one battery) was sent on to seize Mageret and arrived there an hour or so before midnight. The Americans occupied the village, but only with a small detachment of the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion, which had been ordered in to block the road, and a few of the service troops belonging to CCR. Fighting here continued sporadically for an hour or two as Americans and Germans stumbled upon each other in the dark. By 0100 on 19 December the enemy had set up his own roadblock east of the village, for