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Robert E. Spriggs withdrew his company to a ridge overlooking the river and radioed for reinforcements. The enemy would not risk a daylight cross- ing, nor could the German engineers repair the damaged span while under direct fire. In the early evening five more half-tracks from the 203d Antiaircraft Battalion and a pair of self-propelled tank destroyers from the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion came up.


It must have been about this time that the 116th Panzer Division commander received the unwelcome news that he had no bridge on which to cross the western branch of the Ourthe. The forward combat teams of the division were west of the Houffalize-Bastogne road but not yet up to the river. They had defiled with difficulty on the limited road net north of the Bastogne outworks, and a part of the tank regiment had stopped by the way to aid the 2d Panzer Division at Noville. In the twilight reconnaissance troops who had pushed west along the Ourthe after the setback at the Bertogne crossing discovered a Bailey bridge, still standing, at Ortheuville. Whether the bridge could be captured in usable condition was yet to be seen, but as soon as this find was radioed to the 116th Panzer Division commander he directed the advance guard of the division toward Ortheuville.


The Ourthe River resembles a misshapen Y in which the down stroke runs east to west and the open arms extend toward the northwest and southwest. The bifurcation in this Y comes about five miles west of Houffalize. The west branch of the Ourthe, as Belgian hydrographers name it, was the obstacle confronting the German armored spearheads on the night of 19 December. All during that day engineers from the VIII Corps and First Army had toiled to make a barrier line of the two arms west of Houffalize, blowing bridges which were not on the main American supply lines, fixing charges for future destruction of others, planting antitank mines at possible fording sites, erecting and manning roadblocks on roads and in the villages along the main approaches to the river. On the north branch, that is the line Durbuy-Hotton-La Roche, the 51st Engineer Combat Battalion (Lt. Col. Harvey R. Fraser) was hard at work. [2] Only three companies were on hand to prepare this twelve-mile stretch of the river barrier, for Company C had been hurried northeast to Trois Ponts where it would administer a severe setback to Kampfgruppe Peiper of the 1st SS Panzer Division. South of La Roche, whose important bridges were outposted by the 7th Armored trains, the 9th Canadian Forestry Company had left sawmills and logging tracts to prepare demolitions and guard the crossing sites on a tributary of the Ourthe. The steps taken to bar the western branch of the Ourthe northwest of Bertogne and the initial reverse imposed on the enemy reconnaissance there have already been noted. Strung across the land neck between La Roche and the bridgehead at Ortheuville were a few platoons of the 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion.


At Ortheuville one of the main VIII Corps supply roads (Bastogne-MarcheNamur) crossed the western branch of


[2] The 51st held its main position for five days and was given a Presidential Citation. The Canadian Forestry Company which worked with the 51st pays high tribute to the battalion and its commander. See No. 1 Coy, Canadian Forestry Corps, Report of Operations, 16-21 December 1944.