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many places where it is possible to wade across. (Plans actually were made for sending an assault party through the bitter cold stream, then wrapping the troops in blankets and thawing them out on the far bank.) The problem is to get down to the river and to get up the steep cliffs to the north bank. So twisting and tortuous is the river course and so blind are its bends that great care must be exercised in choosing a crossing point lest one have to cross the river twice. The approaches to the river, the meanderings of the river bed, and the exits on the north bank combined therefore to dictate where the 26th Division might cross. Whether the enemy was strong enough to dictate how the division had to cross remained to be seen. The lay of the ground gave three potential crossing sites in the 26th Division zone: from east to west, Heiderscheidergrund, Esch-sur-Sure, and Bonnal. All had stone arch bridges of solid construction-or did prior to 25 December 1944. Heiderscheidergrund normally would present the most attractive of the three crossings because it gave entrance to the main Wiltz road. But the fight for Eschdorf had slowed down the 104th Infantry and prevented a thoroughgoing exploitation of the 319th toehold at Heiderscheidergrund. Furthermore the enemy had first concentrated to defend this, the most obvious of the three crossings. What he was set to do to defend Eschsur-Sure and Bonnal remained to be tested.


The fragmented commitment of the Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade had resulted in heavy losses and blunted the fighting edge of this "elite" unit. By the very nature of its dispersed and staggered commitment the brigade had succeeded in creating a picture of strength quite out of keeping with reality. The 1st Battalion of the brigade, for example, had first appeared in front of the west wing of the 26th Division headed southwest, then had been turned around, had bumped back across the front of the 328th-fighting here and there in the woods as it went-and then had taken a hand against the 104th. Furthermore the Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade was an amorphous organization which accorded with none of the tables carried in the American handbook on German order of battle. Since its numbering and unit names fitted much of the description of the elder formation, the Grossdeutschland Panzer Division, the brigade had been first identified as the division. It would take much time and numerous prisoners before the 26th Division order of battle team could complete the true picture of the brigade.


When the Seventh Army commander ordered the Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade to withdraw to the Sure on 25 December, he intended the defense to continue on the south bank of the river. But the brigade's rifle regiment, much understrength as the consequence of the rough handling received at Arsdorf, Eschdorf, and in the counterattack at Heiderscheid, could no longer provide the necessary infantry. The bulk of the brigade had apparently crossed to the north side of the river by the morning of 26 December, forming a line-or what passed for a line-east and west of Esch-sur-Sure. The only German reserve in this sector was the army engineer brigade at Nothum, a 2 1/2-mile march north of the Bonnal crossing. But General Brandenberger was loath to employ any of his small engineer complement in the firing line except under the direst of circum-