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CHAPTER XVII


St. Vith Is Lost


The Defenders of St. Vith Pass to the XVIII Airborne Corps


On the morning of 20 December the Americans defending St. Vith held the easternmost position of any organized nature in the center sector of the Ardennes battleground. The most advanced elements of the German drive by this time were twenty-five air-line miles to the southwest of St. Vith. The St. Vith perimeter, now of substantial size, continued to act as a breakwater holding the LXVI Corps in check while other German units forged westward past its northern and southern extensions. As yet the enemy forces passing to the north and south had failed to coalesce to the west of the St. Vith perimeter. The northern penetration, represented at its tip by the 1st SS Panzer Division, remained narrow and road-bound. Well to the rear of the 1st SS the 9th SS Panzer Division, reinforced by the 519th Heavy Antitank Battalion, was toiling slowly westward on the single, free main road which served as the main supply route for two armored 4 and two infantry divisions. The advance guard had arrived near Recht the previous evening. The southern advance, which had carried a mass of German armor and infantry from the XLVII and LVIII Panzer Corps toward Bastogne and Houffalize, had the troops and the maneuver room to constitute a real threat to the southern and western sections of the St. Vith perimeter. The German successes in this area had already isolated the St. Vith forces from the remainder of the VIII Corps, although a slim connection remained between the 7th Armored Division rear installations at La Roche and the VIII Corps headquarters at Bastogne. Communication between the 7th Armored rear headquarters and the St. Vith command post (thirty-five miles by road) was extremely difficult. Communication between the VIII Corps headquarters and the St. Vith command post was almost nonexistent, even by radio.


The road to Spa and the First Army headquarters, albeit roundabout and hazardous, remained open on the morning of the 20th. Thither the 7th Armored Division commander sent a liaison officer (Lt. Col. Frederic Schroeder) with a letter to the First Army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. William B. Kean, and orders to explain that St. Vith was out of touch with the VIII Corps. The letter, safely delivered, gave the First Army its first definite picture of events in the far-removed St. Vith sector:


Dear Bill:


I am out of touch with VIII Corps and understand XVIII Airborne Corps is coming in.


My division is defending the line St. Vith-Poteau both inclusive. CCB, 9th AD, the 424th Inf Regt of the 106th Div and the 112th Inf Regt of the 28th Div are on my right and hold from St. Vith (excl)