orders and carried out assembly, but only the 168th Engineer Combat Battalion was committed and it had a string attached that restricted its free employment by the 106th Infantry Division. Of the three army engineer battalions in the VIII Corps zone under the 1128th Engineer Group, one, the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion, already was in the battle area. During the day its sawmills at Diekirch received a part in a First Army security plan, prepared a fortnight earlier. About one o'clock on the morning of the 16th the 299th was put on alert status with other units in the army rear area to meet expected landings of German paratroops. Through the first day of the counteroffensive, therefore, the 1128th had most of its men reinforcing the guards at rear area headquarters and installations or manning observation points.
During the night of 16 December communications deteriorated still further, particularly from regimental command posts forward. The outline of the German attack began to emerge, and the pattern tentatively pointed to Liege as the enemy objective and made the size of the German effort more or less apparent. But the growing hiatus in time between the initial contact with enemy troops at a given point and the ultimate "fix" in grease pencil on the acetate overlays in the higher American headquarters made any true and timely picture of the extent of the German penetrations impossible. Enough information filtered into the VIII Corps command post at Bastogne, nevertheless, to enable Middleton to formulate his countermoves. The defensive plan he adopted consisted of two phases: first, to defend in place along the corps front as long as possible, thus carrying out the existing First Army directive; second, to deny the enemy full and free use of the Ardennes road net by building the strongest possible defense, with the limited force at hand, in front of the key communications centers, St. Vith, Houffalize, Bastogne, and Luxembourg City. Although General Middleton counted on reinforcements from outside his own command to garrison these four key points, it would fall to the VIII Corps to deny the enemy access thereto during the hours or days which would pass before reinforcements could take over.
St. Vith and Bastogne appeared to be in the greatest immediate danger as cracks commenced in the linear defense on the 17th. Friendly armor was hurrying down from the north to bolster the 106th Division and St. Vith; so, having turned one of his engineer battalions over to General Jones, the corps commander directed his attention to the approaches to Bastogne, a natural thing in view of the dangerous condition of the VIII Corps center. Thus a pattern was forming in which the meager resources at Middleton's disposal would be committed to delaying actions in the southwestern part of the corps area while a vacuum formed south of St. Vith and to the rear of that sector. (See Map IV.)
By the afternoon German advances at the expense of the 28th Division center forced Middleton to deploy the bulk of his reserve along the road net east of Bastogne. The presence of enemy reconnaissance at the Clerf River indicated that the main crossings would be made near Clerf and Wilwerwiltz. From the Clerf bridgehead a main, hard-surfaced highway led into Bastogne. The Wilwerwiltz bridgehead gave entry to the