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have the services of the 9th Canadian Forestry Company, which took on the task of preparing the Ourthe crossings south of La Roche for demolition. From La Roche north to Hotton and for several kilometers beyond, the remaining two companies worked at mining passable fording sites, fixing explosives on bridges, and erecting roadblocks; but the extensive project was far from complete on 20 December. The sketchy barrier line on the Ourthe was extended toward Bastogne by the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion. [11] To the 7th Armored trains and the engineers were added little groups of heterogeneous composition and improvised armament, picked up by the nearest headquarters and hurried to the Ourthe River line in answer to rumors of the German advance over Houffalize. It is hardly surprising, then, that the 3d Armored Division began its advance unaware of efforts already afoot to delay the enemy.


While little American detachments worked feverishly to prepare some kind of barrier line on the Ourthe River and around La Roche and Samree, the north wing of the Fifth Panzer Army was coming closer and closer. Krueger's LVIII Panzer Corps pushed its advance guard through the Houffalize area on 19 December, while the rear guard mopped up American stragglers and isolated detachments on the west bank of the Our River. Krueger's orders were to push as far west as possible on the axis Houffalize-La Roche while his neighbor on the left, the XXXVII Panzer Corps, cut its way through Bastogne or circled past the road complex centered there.


The Reconnaissance Battalion of the 116th Panzer Division, several hours ahead of the main body of Krueger's corps, had reached Houffalize on the morning of 19 December, but because Krueger expected the town to be strongly defended and had ordered his reconnaissance to avoid a fight there the battalion veered to the south, then west toward La Roche. This brief enemy apparition and sudden disappearance near Houffalize probably account for the conflicting and confusing rumors as to the location of the Germans in this sector which were current in American headquarters on 19 December. Between Bertogne and La Roche the Reconnaissance Battalion discovered that the bridge over the west branch of the Ourthe had been destroyed. At this point the Germans had a brush with one of the roadblocks put out by the 7th Armored troops in La Roche and thus alerted Colonel Adams. [12] Adams had no other information of the enemy.


It seemed to Adams, as a result of the skirmish, that the German advance toward La Roche was being made on the northwest bank of the main branch of the Ourthe River and that the final attack would come from the west rather than the east. He therefore moved the 7th Armored dumps from locations west of La Roche to Samree, from which point he hoped to maintain contact with and continue supplies to the main body of the division at St. Vith. By early morning of 20 December the transfer had


[11] The combat operations of these engineer battalions would have some effect on the German advance against the western wing of the XVIII Airborne Corps, but since they are integral to the VIII Corps defense they constitute part of that story. See above, Chapter XIII.


[12] It was unusual during World War II for the division trains to keep a special narrative journal, but the 7th Armored did keep one that has proven a gold mine for this section.