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showed the ability to honor the fighting man which had endeared him to the


L hearts of the Desert Rats in North Africa: "They can come back with all honor. They come back to the more secure positions. They put up a wonderful show." The First Army commander, tired and worried from the strain under which he had lived since 16 December, agreed to the withdrawal. [6]


In the chain of command only General Ridgway demurred. He still hoped to counterattack and restore the line Malmedy-St. Vith. As an airborne commander thoroughly indoctrinated in the concept of isolated action by units cut off from friendly ground contact and supply he took a sanguine view of the ability of the goose-egg defenders to hold until the projected corps counterattack relieved them. This optimism, as the record shows, was not shared by the commanders in the ring itself. At 1500 a radio message from the XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters informed Hasbrouck that the "request of CG, 7 AD" for withdrawal had been approved.


With this concrete mission assigned, planning began for the extremely difficult job of disengaging from an enemy who might continue the attack at any moment. Even as a logistical exercise withdrawal presented a tricky staff problem. The roads to be used were few and in poor state, the troops and vehicles to be moved were so numerous that a thirtyminute gap in a column on any one of the roads would be serious. The 7th Armored Division, CCB of the 9th Armored, the remnants of the 106th Division, and the sizable attached units all would have to make their westward exit through a 3,000-yard-wide bottle-neck with only two bridges, those spanning the Salm River at Vielsalm and Salmchateau. To achieve the tight control needed in this type of operation General Ridgway ordered General Hasbrouck to take charge of all the troops in the ring, General Jones becoming assistant to the corps commander and General Hoge being named deputy commander of the 7th Armored.


The plan for withdrawal, slowly and carefully worked out by Hasbrouck and Colonel Ryan on the evening of the 22d, envisaged a progressive siphoning from the units farthest to the east in which these troops passed gradually into the main routes leading to the bridges while rear guard forces staged holding actions in echelon along the roads and trails. Originally three routes were chosen: a northern route along the Poteau-Vielsalm road; a center route from Commanster to the Vielsalm bridge (nothing more than a poor woods road); and a southern route via Maldingen, Beho, and Bovigny, thence north along the Salm valley road to the Salmchateau bridge and east along the Salmchateau- La Roche road by way of the Baraque de Fraiture crossroads, which at this time was still in American hands.


General Ridgway estimated that Hasbrouck's troops would have fourteen hours of darkness in which to make their getaway. But at least four hours were consumed in drafting the plan and dispatching liaison officers, who had to memorize the general plan and the


[6] The role played by Montgomery while in command on the north flank of the Ardennes is described in two of his books: Field Marshal Montgomery of Alamein, Normandy to the Baltic (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948) and The Memoirs of Field-Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Company, 1958). For the numerous visits to General Hodges see the Sylvan Diary.