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Americans and Germans, then, were ready with the coming of day to do battle for Stoumont.


The 117th Infantry, first of the 30th Division regiments to be fed into the line, had been deploying on the morning of 18 December around Malmedy. Its 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. Ernest Frankland), under orders to occupy Stavelot, circled through Francorchamps to approach the town from the north. On the road Colonel Frankland met officers of the 526th Armored Infantry Battalion who told him that the enemy was in Stavelot. About this time word of the German success reached the V Corps headquarters, where it was assumed that the 1st Battalion would perforce abandon its mission. Frankland, on the contrary, kept on going. He made contact about 1300 with a rifle company of the 26th Armored Infantry Battalion remaining near Stavelot, then detrucked his battalion north of the still-flaming gasoline roadblock and started south toward the town.


All this while Peiper believed that the 3d Parachute Division was close behind his column. Expecting it to reach Stavelot by the evening of 18 December, he had left only a small holding force in the town. In fact, the 3d Parachute Division had been held up by a combination of jammed roads and unexpectedly tenacious American resistance. The Sixth Panzer Army therefore did not expect the advance guard of the 3d Parachute Division to arrive in Stavelot before 19 December. At this point the failure of communications between Peiper and rearward German headquarters began to influence the course of operations, to the distinct disadvantage of the Sixth Panzer Army. Although without artillery support, Colonel Frankland launched his attack at Stavelot. On the slope north of the town a platoon of 3-inch towed tank destroyers from the 823d Tank Destroyer Battalion made good use of positions above the Germans to knock out a brace of Mark VI tanks and a few half-tracks. The two leading companies of the 1st Battalion had just reached the houses at the northern edge of the town when ten hostile tanks, returning in haste from Trois Ponts, counterattacked.


It might have gone hard with the American infantry but for the fighterbombers of the IX Tactical Air Command and XXIX Tactical Air Command which opportunely entered the fray. During the afternoon the American planes had worked east from the La Gleize area, where the little liaison planes had first signaled the presence of German columns, and struck where-ever Peiper's tanks and motor vehicles could be found. Perhaps the trail provided by the rearward serials of Kampfgruppe Peiper led the fighter-bombers to Stavelot; perhaps the 106th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, which broke through the clouds to make one sweep over the town, tipped off the squadrons working farther west. Before the German tanks could make headway, planes from the 365th Fighter Group, reinforced by the 390th Squadron (366th) and the 506th Squadron (404th), plunged in, crippled a few enemy vehicles, and drove the balance to cover, leaving the infantry and tank destroyers to carry out the cleanup inside Stavelot on more equitable terms. By dark the two American companies held half of the town, had tied in with the 2d Battalion between Stavelot and Malmedy, and were