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the Ardennes, a small shelf or tableland at an elevation of 652 meters (2,139 feet). The roads which here intersect are important: N15, the north-south road, is the through paved highway linking Liege and Bastogne; N28, the east-west road, is classed as secondary but is the most direct route for movement along the northern side of the Ourthe River, connecting, for example, St. Vith with La Roche. The crossroads and the few buildings are on cleared ground, but heavy woods form a crescent to the north and west, and a fringe of timber points at the junction from the southeast. In the main the area to south and east is completely barren. Here the ground descends, forming a glacis for the firing parapet around the crossroads.


The tactical stature of the Baraque de Fraiture intersection was only partially derived from the configuration of roads and terrain. The manner in which the XVIII Airborne Corps had deployed its units in the initial attempt to draw a cordon along the northwest flank of the German advance was equally important. The mission assigned the three reconnaissance forces of the 3d Armored Division had been to close up to the Liege-Bastogne highway (with the crossroads as an objective), but it had not been carried out. East of the same highway the 82d Airborne had deployed, but with its weight and axis of advance away from the crossroads. Circumstance, notably the direction of the German attacks from 20 December onward, left the Baraque de Fraiture crossroads, and with it the inner flanks of the two divisions, to be defended on a strictly catch-as-catch-can basis.


On the afternoon of 19 December Maj. Arthur C. Parker III, led three 105-mm. howitzers of the ill-starred 589th Field Artillery Battalion on the crossroads. The rest of the battalion had been cut off on the Schnee Eifel or ambushed during the withdrawal to St. Vith. Parker's mission was to establish one of the roadblocks that the 106th Division was preparing behind St. Vith. The next day, four half-tracks mounting multiple .50-caliber machine guns arrived from the 203d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, now moving in with the 7th Armored Division to establish the defensive lines around St. Vith. That night, for the first time, vehicles were heard moving about to the south along the road to Houffalize. (They probably belonged to the 560th Volks Grenadier Division, which that afternoon had taken part in the capture of Samree.) Before dawn an 80-man enemy patrol came up the road from Houffalize, stumbled onto the American half-tracks, and was cut to pieces by streams of bullet fire. The dead and prisoners were grenadiers from the 560th, but among them was an officer from the 2d SS Panzer Division, scouting out the route of advance for his incoming division. In the afternoon D Troop of the 87th Cavalry Squadron, earlier dispatched by the 7th Armored to aid Task Force Orr in the projected counterattack at Samree, came in to join the crossroads garrison. The troop leader had gone to Dochamps to meet Orr but, finding Germans in the town, disposed his men and vehicles under orders from General Hasbrouck that the crossroads must be held.


Fog settling over the tableland in late afternoon gave the enemy a chance to probe the defense erected at the crossroads, but these jabs were no more than a warning of things to come. Meanwhile