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Once General Gavin had a moderately clear picture of the situation confronting his division he ordered the two leading regiments forward: the 504th to Cheneux, where the enemy had been reported, and the 505th to Trois Ponts. The 505th commander, Col. William E. Ekman, already had dispatched bazooka teams to reinforce the engineer company at the latter point and by late afternoon had his 2d Battalion in Trois Ponts, with one company holding a bridgehead across the Salm.


Acting under orders to reach Cheneux as quickly as possible and seize the Ambleve bridge, the 504th commander, Col. Reuben H. Tucker, 3d, sent Companies B and C of his 1st Battalion hurrying toward the village. The leading company was nearing the outskirts of Cheneux in midafternoon when it came into a hail of machine gun and flak fire. Both companies deployed and took up the fire fight but quickly found that the village was strongly defended. Ground haze was heavy and friendly artillery could not be adjusted to give a helping hand. Dark was coming on and the companies withdrew to a wood west of Cheneux to await further orders.


The 1st Battalion had not long to wait. New plans which would greatly extend the 82d Airborne Division front were already in execution and it was imperative that the German bridgehead on the north flank of the division be erased promptly. Colonel Tucker ordered the 1st Battalion commander (Lt. Col. Willard E. Harrison) to take the two companies and try a night attack. At 1930 they moved out astride the road west of Cheneux, two tank destroyers their only heavy support. The approach to the village brought the paratroopers across a knob completely barren of cover, sloping gradually up to the German positions and crisscrossed with barbed wire. The hostile garrison, from the 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, was heavily reinforced by mobile flak pieces, mortars, machine guns, and assault artillery.


To breast this heavy fire and rush the four hundred yards of open terrain, the two companies attacked in four waves at intervals of about fifty yards. The moment the leading American assault waves could be discerned through the darkness the enemy opened an intense, accurate fire. Twice the attackers were driven back, both times with gaping ranks. The first two waves were almost completely shot down. Company C ran into the wire and, having no wire cutters available, was stalled momentarily. Finally the two tank destroyers worked their way to the front and began to shell the German guns. With their support a third assault was thrown at the village. This time a few men lived to reach the outlying houses. In a brief engagement at close quarters the Americans silenced some of the flak and machine guns, then set up a defense to guard this slight toehold until reinforcements could arrive.


The West Flank of the XVIII Airborne Corps, 20 December


The general advance of the XVIII Airborne Corps on 20 December included the mission assigned to the 3d Armored Division of securing the Bastogne-Liege highway between Manhay and Houffalize, thus screening the right or western flank of the corps. The bulk of the 3d Armored was engaged elsewhere: CCA deployed as a defense for the Eupen area, CCB driving with troops of the