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the artillery, broke the attack before it could make appreciable headway. When day broke, the Americans still held the roadblock position but the enemy had the sanatorium. In the night of wild fighting half the complement of Companies B and C had been lost, including five platoon leaders.


Despite the setbacks suffered during the American advance of 20 December on the Stoumont-La Gleize area, the net had been drawn appreciably tighter around Peiper. The German line of supply-or retreat-was cut by Task Force Lovelady and the Americans in Stavelot. The roads from Stoumont and La Gleize north to Spa were blocked by tank-infantry teams which had pushed very close to the former two towns. The 1st Battalion of the 119th Infantry had been checked at the sanatorium but nonetheless was at the very entrance to Stoumont and had the 2d Battalion behind it in regimental reserve.


Also, during the 20th, the 82d Airborne Division moved to close the circle around Peiper by operations aimed at erasing the small German bridgehead at Cheneux on the Ambleve southeast of Stoumont. The 82d had planned an advance that morning to drive the enemy from the area bounded on the north by the Ambleve River and by the Trois Ponts-Werbomont road on the south. The two regiments involved (the 504th Parachute Infantry on the left and the 505th on the right) marched to their attack positions east of Werbomont with virtually no information except that they were to block the enemy, wherever he might be found, in conjunction with friendly forces operating somewhere off to the north and south. The first task, obviously, was to reconnoiter for either enemy or friendly forces in the area.


Patrols sent out at daybreak were gone for hours, but about noon, as bits of information began to arrive at General Gavin's headquarters, the picture took some shape. Patrols working due north reached the 119th Infantry on the road west of Stoumont and reported that the countryside was free of the enemy. Civilians questioned by patrols on the WerbomontStoumont road told the Americans that there was a concentration of tanks and other vehicles around Cheneux. Working eastward, other patrols found that Trois Ponts was occupied by Company C, 51st Engineers, and that the important bridges there had all been damaged or destroyed. This word from Trois Ponts came as a surprise back at General Gavin's headquarters where the presence of this single engineer company at the critical Trois Ponts crossing site was quite unknown. [10]


The most important discovery made by the airborne infantry patrols was the location of the 7th Armored Division troops in the gap between the XVIII Airborne Corps and Bastogne. The whereabouts of the westernmost 7th Armored Division positions had been a question of grave import in the higher American headquarters for the past two days. Now a patrol from the 505th Parachute Infantry came in with information that they had reached a reconnaissance party of the 7th Armored in the village of Fosse, a little over two miles southwest of Trois Ponts, and that troops of that division were forming an outpost line just to the south of the 505th positions.


[10] The engineers were not unaware of their important role and the commanding officer showed this in his greeting to Colonel Ekman: "I'll bet you guys are glad we're here." Combat Interv with Col William E. Ekman.