Page 317


quired for a continuous defensive line along the Ourthe simply were not available. On the other hand the German columns would not hit the Ourthe line in a coordinated and general attack; furthermore their initial appearance could be predicted along the well-defined and major routes westward.


On the morning of 19 December reconnaissance troops of two German armored divisions, the 2d Panzer Division and the 116th Panzer Division, funneled through a narrow corridor, only two miles in width, between Noville and Houffalize. The southern wall of this corridor was formed by the American troops who had pushed the rapidly forming Bastogne perimeter as far out as Noville. In the north where the town of Houffalize had been abandoned the corridor wall was formed by nature, for Houffalize was a bridgehead on the east-west channel of the Ourthe River. The two corps whose armored divisions were leading the Fifth Panzer Army pack in the race for the Meuse were strung out for miles behind the foremost reconnaissance forces. The main forces of the two armored divisions, although relatively close to the reconnaissance teams, were still a few hours behind.


On the German left the 2d Panzer Division, leading the XLVII Panzer Corps, collided with the Noville defenses early on the 19th. Partly by chance and partly by design, for General Lauchert needed more road room in which to pass his division around Bastogne, the 2d Panzer Division column became involved in a fight which extended from Noville east to Longvilly and lasted all through the day and following night. Caught up in this fight the advance elements of the division did not push beyond the Houffalize-Bastogne road until darkness had fallen. On the German right the reconnaissance battalion of the 116th Panzer Division moved along the south side of the Ourthe swinging wide to avoid Houffalize (this before noon), then turning to the northwest with the intention of crossing the Ourthe and seizing the La Roche bridges from the rear. This advance, though unopposed, was slow. Shortly after noon a few light reconnaissance vehicles reached Bertogne, from which a secondary road led across the Ourthe and on to La Roche.


General Middleton had spotted Bertogne as one of the chief approaches to the Ourthe and La Roche. Having been promised the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, en route south from the Ninth Army, he ordered the battalion to erect roadblocks at both Bertogne and La Roche. The 705th, coming by way of Liege, was a few hours distant when the German scouts entered Bertogne. Across the river the commander of the 7th Armored Division trains had taken independent action to protect his trucks and supplies gathered in the neighborhood of La Roche by installing outpost detachments and roadblocks to the south and east. Someone (who is not clear) had blown the Ourthe bridge northwest of Bertogne. To prevent the reconstruction of this bridge Colonel Adams sent Company C, 129th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion, and a couple of antiaircraft half-tracks mounting 37-mm. guns to form a block on the near bank about a half mile from the village of Ortho.


It was midafternoon when the enemy reached the far bank. A selfpropelled gun at the head of the small German column got in the first blow, its shells knocking out the half-track crews. Capt.