Page 438


had learned the hard way about the reliability of flank protection promised by others. He had already begun to strip troops from both of his forward divisions for deployment on the shoulders of the thrust being readied for Dinant. The Panzer Lehr had most of one regiment (the 903d), as well as its antiaircraft and engineer battalions, strung all the way from Moircy (west of Bastogne) to the area southwest of Rochefort as cover on the left for the division attack corridor. Bayerlein had been forced to leave one regiment in the Bastogne battle; so his effective assault force on the 24th consisted of the division reconnaissance battalion, some corps and division artillery, and one reinforced regiment. All of the 2d Panzer Division was available to Lauchert, but the kampfgruppen of the division were widely separated and for every mile forward troops would have to be dropped off to cover the division north flank.


When daylight came on the 24th, the head of the leading kampfgruppe had advanced well to the northwest of the Marche-Rochefort road in considerable strength. In this kampfgruppe were the reconnaissance battalion, one battalion of Panthers from the 3d Panzer Regimen, the 304th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, two artillery regiments, a battalion of heavy guns, and two-thirds of the division flak, the whole extending for miles. The remainder of the 2d Panzer remained on the Harsin road southeast of Marche under orders from Luettwitz to protect the corps right shoulder.


The Main Battle Is Joined 24 and 25 December


Pitched battles and fumbling skirmishes flared up all along the VII Corps front on 24 December. But the VII Corps front was not a homogeneous line, and the German drive was not conducted by division columns whose units were contiguous to each other and flanked by overwatching screening forces on parallel roads. The opposing commanders by this time did have a fairly accurate idea of what formations were on "the enemy side of the hill," but neither Americans nor Germans were too certain as to where these formations would be encountered. The hottest points of combat on the 24th were Rochefort, Buissonville, and the Bourdon sector east of the Hotton-Marche road.


At Rochefort the Panzer Lehr commander began his main attack a couple of hours after midnight, but the defenders held and made a battle of it in houses and behind garden walls. Companies I and K of the 333d concentrated in and around a large hotel, dug in a brace of 57-mm. antitank guns and a section of heavy machine guns in front of the hotel, and so interdicted the town square. About 0900 on the 24th the 3d Battalion lost radio contact with the division, but four hours later one message did reach Marche: an order from General Bolling to withdraw. By this time a tree burst from a German 88 had put the antitank guns out of action. To disengage from this house-to-house combat would not be easy. Fortunately the attackers had their eyes fixed on the market place in the center of the town, apparently with the object of seizing the crossways there so that armored vehicles could move through from one edge of the town to the other. So preoccupied, they neglected to bar all the exits from Rochefort. Driven back into a small area