middle of the afternoon at Bovigny some three and a half miles south of Salmchateau on the west side of the Salm River. To protect the valley corridor through which Task Force Jones would have to move some companies of the 112th Infantry were still left east of the river in the villages of Rogery and Cierreux.
When CCB of the 9th Armored, the 424th Infantry, and the larger part of CCB, 7th Armored, had peeled away in layers from the ring, the last two combat commands of the 7th Armored defending the Poteau-Vielsalm highway had to be drawn off. At Poteau, five miles from the river, CCA stood facing the enemy to north, east, and south. CCR maintained its cordon along the valley road. The Americans did not know that the troops of the 9th SS Panzer Division, who in past days had made raids from Recht southwest toward Poteau, were few in number and that only the day before the main body of the 9th SS Panzer Division had started on a forced march to the northwest in an attempt to break through to Kampfgruppe Peiper, now nearing the end of its tether. The German force left at Recht was no more than a screen, although under orders to maintain pressure on Poteau.
To the east of CCA, 7th Armored Division, however, some part of the 293d Regiment of the 18th Volks Grenadier Division finally had worked its way through St. Vith, arriving during the night of 22 December at Rodt. After some confusion in getting through the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade around Rodt on the morning of 23 December, the 293d continued along the road to Poteau. Again a confused command situation took its price. The infantry and assault guns in the 9th SS Panzer Division screen mistook the newcomers for a withdrawing American column and poured in heavy flanking fire. It was some hours later-and the Americans had decampedwhen the 293d finally entered Poteau.
Poteau lends itself well to defensive action. It stands at the entrance to the valley road which leads to Vielsalm, and mechanized attack from either Recht or Rodt had to funnel through the narrow neck at this crossroads, vehicle maneuver off either of the two approaches being almost impossible. Away from the crossroads the ground rises sharply and is cluttered with thick stands of timber. The formation adopted by CCA was based on a semicircle of ten medium tanks fronting from northwest to east, backed by tank destroyers and with riflemen in a foxhole line well to the front. About 1035 the blocking troops left by the 9th SS Panzer Division made an attack. Tank and artillery fire stopped the Germans just as it had on previous days. Perhaps the enemy would have returned to the fray and made the final withdrawal hazardous, but shortly after noon some P-38's of the 370th Fighter Group, unable to make contact with the 82d Airborne Division control to which they were assigned, went to work for the 7th Armored Division, bombing and strafing along the road to Recht. The enemy recovery was slow.
At 1345 Hasbrouck sent the signal for CCA to pull out. In an hour the armored infantry were out of their holes and their half-tracks were clanking down the road to Vielsalm. Forty minutes later the tanks left Poteau, moving fast and exchanging shots with German tanks, while the 275th Armored Field Artillery