One Threat Subsides; Another Emerges
The Attempt To Relieve Peiper's Kampfgruppe
The quick and cheaply won victories which had taken Peiper's armored kampfgruppe so close to the Meuse bridges in so short a time may have blinded the higher German staffs for a while to the fact that Peiper was in danger. By the 21st, however, the most strenuous efforts were being made to save the ground he had won north of the Ambleve and to rescue the men and materiel in his command. What happened to leave the kampfgruppe stranded and alone?
The 1st SS Panzer Division had begun its drive west in four march groups moving independently. The bulk of the 1st Panzer Regiment, a motorized battalion of armored infantry, a mobile company of engineers, and a battery of self-propelled artillery (as well as most of the gasoline available) had gone to Peiper with the expectation that the armored weight and the mobile character of this spearhead detachment would permit a quick breakthrough and exploitation even to the Meuse River. The balance of the division was to follow hard on Peiper's heels, provide reinforcement as required, and keep the line of communications open until such time as following divisions could take over and be prepared to re-form as a unit at the Meuse. By noon of 17 December Peiper's kampfgruppe was out of touch with the second and third march columns of the division and was racing alone toward the west. The strongest of the rearward columns, the fourth, which amounted to a reinforced armored infantry regiment, had been held up by mines at the entrance to its designated route' and in fact never made a start until 18 December. The student of first causes may wish to speculate on the fateful role of the unknown cavalry, engineers, and foot soldiers who laid the mines between Lanzerath and Manderfeld, thus delaying most of the 1st SS Panzer Division armored infantry for a critical twenty-four hours.
By 19 December, it will be recalled, Peiper was over the Hohes Venn highlands, had crossed to the north bank of the Ambleve River, and had secured the Stoumont-La Gleize area. At the same time he had almost completely drained his fuel tanks. On that same day radio communication of a sort had been re-established between Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division headquarters, so that his plight was known. The second march group, the mobile reconnaissance battalion, had come up and engaged the Americans at Stavelot, getting through some reinforcement to Peiper but failing in the larger task of keeping the door open behind Peiper. Meanwhile the third march group was moving slowly toward Stavelot while the