through the Houffalize bridgehead, and away from the western branch of the Ourthe.
A flurry of enemy activity a little before midnight on the roads northwest of Bastogne masked the withdrawal of the LVIII Panzer Corps. Armored cars and half-tracks raced up and down the roads shooting up small convoys, sparring with American outposts, and engendering a flock of rumors which placed German spearheads in a half dozen spots beyond the Ourthe. In truth the only serious efforts to cross the west branch in the late evening were those made by roving reconnaissance elements of the 2d Panzer Division, whose main combat strength remained tied down in the fight for Noville. An hour before midnight these scouts did appear in front of a bridge at Sprimont, which crossed a tributary of the Ourthe south of Ortheuville; for their pains the American engineers blew the bridge in their faces.
A few engineers, ordnance troops, and antiaircraft and tank destroyer crews on 19 December had contributed mightily to the German decision which turned an entire armored corps from the road west and plunged it into profitless adventures in a side alley. Of all the disappointments suffered by the Fifth Panzer Army on this day, and there were many, perhaps the greatest stemmed from the reverses suffered in fact at the bridge beyond Bertogne and in anticipation at the Bailey span in Ortheuville.
While Krueger's corps turned in its tracks during the night of 19 December, General Luettwitz issued commands to his XLVII Panzer Corps, whose forward column was bunching up around Bastogne. Reports from the troops pressing onto the city from the north and east led Luettwitz to conclude that hard-hitting tactics in the coming day might break the will of the defenders, loosen their grip on the Bastogne road net, and give the armor of the 2d Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr a clear highway west. Luettwitz put a time limit on the attack prepared for the 20th, instructing his armored divisions to be ready to bypass Bastogne. His reconnaissance pushed around the city, meanwhile, both north and south, and tangled with the defenders of the makeshift, attenuated barrier lines.
At Ortheuville a lull developed shortly after midnight as the light armor screening the 116th Panzer Division finally pulled away. The engineers patrolled across the river along the Bastogne road but found no one except American wounded whose trucks had been shot up by German raiders earlier in the night. Just before dawn, light tanks and armored infantry from the 2d Panzer Division arrived to take their turn at the bridge. After some time spent probing the bridge defenses by fire, the German infantry rushed forward behind a careening scout car. As much to their surprise as to that of the American engineers the bridge remained intact. For some reason, perhaps the enemy shelling a few hours earlier, the demolition charges on the span failed to explode when the plunger went home. At the first shock the defenders had fallen back across the bridge to the houses by the river bank and started firing. They had only a few minutes to wait before a column of German vehicles led by a light tank appeared on the opposite bank. When the leader started across the span, one of the two American tank destroyers which had been run down