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sents a less ordered picture, blurred by the fact that headquarters journals fail to square with one another and the memories of the commanders involved are at variance, particularly as regards the critical decision (or decisions) which brought the 101st to Bastogne and its encounter with history.


General Middleton, the VIII Corps commander, had his headquarters in Bastogne when the storm broke in the east. The city quite literally commanded the highway system lacing the southern section of the Belgian Ardennes. Middleton, having done all he could on the 16th and 17th to assemble his meager reserve of tanks and engineers in last-ditch positions on the roads entering Bastogne from the east, read the pattern of the enemy advance in these terms on the 17th. The number of German divisions and the speed at which they were moving would require the acquisition of a much larger road net than the Germans had thus far used. If St. Vith held and the V Corps shoulder did not give way, the enemy would attempt to seize the excellent highway net at Bastogne. Middleton therefore planned to hold the original VIII Corps positions as long as possible (in accordance with orders from General Hodges), and at the same time to build strong defenses in front of St. Vith, Houffalize, Bastogne, and Luxembourg City.


For the second stage of his plan he counted on prompt assistance from the First and Third Armies to create the defenses for St. Vith and Luxembourg, while the two airborne divisions-which Hodges had assured him would be forthcoming-took over Bastogne and Houffalize. Middleton reasoned that a strong American concentration in the Bastogne-Houffalize sector would force the enemy to come to him, and that in any case he would be in strength on the German flank and rear. At midnight on the 17th the VIII Corps commander had a telephone call from Hodges' headquarters and heard the welcome word that he probably would get the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions "immediately." Middleton's plan, it seemed, could be put in effect by the morning of the 19th.


Eisenhower's order to commit the two airborne divisions did not specify exactly how they would be employed. Bradley and Hodges were agreed that they would be thrown in to block the German spearhead columns, but Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, the SHAEF chief of staff,


[6] Combat interviews; VIII Corps AAR and G-3 Jnl; XVIII Airborne Corps AAR and G-3 Jnl; 101st Airborne Div AAR and 3 Jnl.