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Panzer Division had righted itself, after the countermarch ordered on the night of 19 December, and had pushed the attack over Samree on the 20th. The order for the following day was to cross the Ourthe in the neighborhood of Hotton, just northeast of Marche, before the Americans could bring troops into the area, and thus open the road straight to the Meuse. The 116th Panzer had lost at least twenty-four hours by the counter-march on the 19th, for on that night its armored cars had been as far west as the Bastogne-Marche road. In the neighboring corps to the south, the 2d Panzer Division finally had taken Noville on the 20th and been ordered to head for Namur, disregarding the fight which had flared up from Bastogne. When its reconnaissance battalion seized the Ourthe bridge at Ortheuville, shortly after midnight, the road to Marche and Namur opened invitingly. Luettwitz, the XLVII Panzer Corps commander, ordered Lauchert to disengage the 2d Panzer Division north of Bastogne and speed for the Meuse.


Here, then, were two armored divisions from two different corps striking out for the Meuse, one in the possession of a crossing on the Ourthe, one expecting to seize a crossing in only a few hours, but both divisions with their flanks uncovered and both uncomfortably aware of the fact. Nonetheless the two corps commanders expected to thicken their armored thrusts within twenty-four hours: Luettwitz was trying to shake the Panzer Lehr loose south of Bastogne; Krueger had been promised that the 2d SS Panzer Division was on its way to the LVIII Panzer Corps. During the 21st, however, the Fifth Panzer Army's advance would be carried only by forward patrols of the 2d Panzer Division and the 116th, the two spearhead formations separated by the Ourthe River and, in ensuing days, fighting distinctly separate battles. [5]


The commander of the 84th Infantry Division set up his command post in Marche on the late afternoon of 21 December under order to assemble his division in this area. The enemy, so far as he knew, was some miles away. The only friendly troops he found in the neighborhood were those of the 51st Engineer Combat Battalion, whose command post was located in Marche. This battalion was part of the small engineer force which the VIII Corps had gathered to construct the barrier line along the Ourthe River. The engineer commander, Colonel Fraser, spread out his two companies at roadblocks and demolition sites all the way from Hotton, on the river, to a point just south of the Champlon crossroads on the Bastogne-Marche highway. This latter road-block was only three miles north of the Ortheuville bridge, which the 2d Panzer advance guard wrested from the detachment of the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion during the night of 20 December.


A few German patrols probed at the roadblock before dawn but no attempt was made to break through. The German reconnaissance troops bedded down in Tenneville, and batteries of the division flak rolled into position to guard the new bridgehead. For some hours this was all. Lauchert's tanks were waiting for gasoline and literally could not move. Although the 2d Panzer had captured enough American trucks,


[5] OB WEST TB, daily entries for this period.