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makes its bid for recognition in history. That is all. A small group of stragglers suddenly become tired of what seems to be eternally retreating. Miles back they ceased to be part of an organized combat formation, and recorded history, at that point, lost them. The sound of firing is heard for fifteen minutes, an hour, coming from a patch of woods, a tiny village, the opposite side of a hill. The enemy has been delayed; the enemy resumes the march westward. Weeks later a graves registration team uncovers mute evidence of a last-ditch stand at woods, village, or hill.


The story of the units that were retained under tactical control and employed directly by General Middleton in the attempt to form some defense in depth in the VIII Corps center has been partially recorded and therefore can be narrated. The effect that these units had in retarding the German advances, a course of action evolving extemporaneously, must be considered along with the role played by the uncoordinated front-line formations in the haphazard sequence of their delaying actions from east to west. For convenience sake the VIII Corps action is recounted here in independent detail.


With the very limited forces at his disposal prior to 16 December the VIII Corps commander found it physically impossible to erect any of the standard defenses taught in the higher army schools or prescribed in the field service regulations. The best he could do to defend the extended front was to deploy his troops as a screen, retaining local reserves for local counterattack at potentially dangerous points. In effect, therefore, the main part of Middleton's reserve consisted of the battalions and companies assembled in or close to the villages which formed the strongpoints of the screen. Under the circumstances there could be no thought of an elastic defense with strong formations echeloned in any depth behind the forward positions. In the event of a general attack in great strength delivered against all parts of the corps front simultaneously, Middleton had little choice but to carry out the general directive to "defend in place." With four engineer battalions and one small armored combat command as the only corps reserve behind an elongated and brittle linear defense Middleton's commitment of this last reserve would turn on the attempt to plug a few of the gaps in the forward line, slow the enemy columns on a few main roads, and strengthen by human means two or three of the natural physical barriers deep in the corps rear area.


Middleton's First Moves


During the daylight hours of 16 December the direction of the German main effort and the weight of the forces involved was only vaguely perceived by the VIII Corps and higher commands. In the front lines the troops actually grappling with the enemy initially reported piecemeal and seemingly localized attacks. As the day progressed and the attackers appeared in greater numbers the changing situation duly was reported through the chain of command. By this time, however, communications had been so disrupted that the time lag as represented on the situation maps in corps and army headquarters was a matter of several hours. As a result CCR, 9th Armored Division, and the four engineer combat battalions received alert