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north of Bastogne, a collection of antiaircraft, tank destroyer, ordnance, and engineer units moved to intersections and bridges along the Bastogne-La Roche road. In the latter bridgehead town the 7th Armored Division trains took over responsibility for blocking the roads which there united to cross the Ourthe River. East of this line lay Houffalize, one of the four key road centers designated by Middleton for defense, but the 82d Airborne Division was en route to the battle and the VIII Corps commander expected that it would be deployed in the Houffalize sector. The Germans were moving too fast. At 1400 on the eighteenth a radio message reached Bastogne that the enemy had overrun the rear command post of an engineer company at Steinbach, just east of Houffalize.


There remained the very real threat of a coup de main against Bastogne from the east. In the afternoon bad news from this sector came thick and fast: at 1405 a telephone call from the commander of CCR, 9th Armored Division, reported that his most advanced roadblock force (Task Force Rose) was "as good as surrounded"; at 1430 the Germans were reported advancing on the second road-block; at 1525 came confirmation that Task Force Rose had been overrun. On the Clerf highway, then, the enemy was less than nine miles from Bastogne. Troops of the 28th Division continued to hold the town of Wiltz, but they could not bar the valley corridor to the Germans. An officer patrol, in armored cars taken out of ordnance workshops, made an attempt to reconnoiter a proposed barrier line between CCR and Wiltz. Toward evening their report reached Bastogne: the Germans were west of the proposed line. The project was dropped.


As ordered by General Hodges, most of the VIII Corps headquarters moved during the day to Neufchateau, about eighteen miles southwest of Bastogne, but General Middleton and a small staff remained in the city to brief the incoming airborne and armored commander and to maintain what little control still could be exercised over the course of battle. The 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, headquarters guard, was more urgently needed east of Bastogne; at 1800 Middleton ordered the battalion to move in on the right of the 158th. With two battalions in line there was a screen, albeit very thin, extending from the Houffalize-Bastogne road to the Arlon-Bastogne road. Then, since the center of gravity for the corps was rapidly shifting to the southwest, Middleton took his last two engineer battalions, the 1278th and 299th, to establish a screen facing generally north between Libramont and Martelange. Behind this screen, southwest of Bastogne, he hoped to assemble the stragglers and broken units of his corps.


The situation as seen by Middleton and his staff on the night of the 18th was this. CCB of the 10th Armored had arrived from the Third Army and taken positions between Bastogne and Wiltz. Some part of CCR, 9th Armored, remained intact at Longvilly astride the Clerf road. The 101st Airborne Division was detrucking in its concentration area west of Bastogne. The Germans had achieved a clear penetration in the corps center and for all practical purposes the American forces in the St. Vith sector were separated from those under Middleton's immediate control. The deep and dangerous penetration made by the