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Without the Ambleve bridge and a free line of communications through Stavelot there was no fuel for Peiper. Without Peiper the freeway to the Meuse which the 1st SS Panzer Division was to open for the following divisions of the Sixth Panzer Army remained nothing more than a cul-desac.


Could the 30th Division surround and destroy Kampfgruppe Peiper before German reinforcements from the east reopened the way to their now isolated comrades? Would the 30th Division, its rear and right flank partially uncovered, be left free to deal with Peiper? The latter question was very real, even with the 82d Airborne moving in, for on the morning of 19 December the V Corps commander had warned the 30th Division chief of staff (Col. Richard W. Stephens) that large German forces had slipped by to the south and were moving on Hotton. An additional question plagued the 30th Division: where was the 7th Armored? Patrols sent out toward Recht on the 19th could find no trace of the tankers.


While the 1st Battalion, 117th Infantry, was busily severing the lifeline to Kampfgruppe Peiper on 19 December, Peiper was engaged with the bulk of his troops in an attempt to blast a path through Stoumont, the barrier to the last possible exit west, that is, the valley of the Ambleve. Battle long since had been joined at Stoumont when scouts finally reached Peiper with the story of what had happened to his line of communications.


The kampfgruppe, whose major part was now assembled in the vicinity of La Gleize and Stoumont, consisted of a mixed battalion of Mark IV tanks and Panthers from the 1st SS Panzer Regiment, a battalion of armored infantry from the 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, a flak battalion, a battalion of Tiger tanks (which had joined Peiper at Stavelot), a battery of 105-mm. self-propelled guns, and a company from the 3d, Parachute Division which had ridden on the tanks from Honsfeld. The force had suffered some losses in its breakthrough to the west, but these were not severe. By now the critical consideration was gasoline. A few more miles on the road or a few hours of combat maneuvering and Peiper's fuel tanks would be bone dry.


When the 119th Infantry (minus the 2d Battalion) moved into the Stoumont area on the night of 18 December, the rifle companies of the 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. Roy G. Fitzgerald) deployed in a hastily established line north, south, and east of the town. The 3d was backed up by light 3-inch towed tank destroyers belonging to the 823d Tank Destroyer Battalion, two 90-mm. antiaircraft guns detached from the 143d Antiaircraft Battalion, and three battalion 57-mm. antitank guns. The 1st Battalion, it will be remembered, dismounted in an assembly area about three miles northwest of Stoumont, where Colonel Sutherland located the regimental command post. The moment patrols had established the proximity of the large German force Sutherland was alerted, and he promised a tank company as reinforcement first thing in the morning. For the rest of the night the troops around Stoumont dug foxholes, planted mines, and waited uneasily for day to break.


Stoumont and the American lines lay on a bald hill mass rising on the north bank of the Ambleve. La Gleize, the enemy assembly area, shared a simi-