U.S. Third and Seventh Armies was unlikely before 1 January, and that a "limited" intervention against the flanks of the Bulge probably could not be attempted before 28 December. OB WEST did recognize that the Allies might assemble a strong force northwest of the Meuse and assumed that they would be able to defend the Meuse in considerable force by 30 December. It appeared from this analysis that time still was on the side of the German armies, time to interject armor from the Sixth Panzer Army into the columns driving for the Meuse and to give the depth to the forces in the van which Rundstedt now regarded as absolutely essential. On the 23d a report that the advance guard of the 2d Panzer Division was only nine kilometers from the Meuse flashed to Model, Rundstedt-and Hitler. The Fuehrer replied with congratulations and, more to the point, released the 9th Panzer and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions for free use by OB WEST. That same evening Model phoned Rundstedt to tell of a strong American counterattack forming to relieve Bastogne which must be expected to strike on 24 December; he, Model, would have to retain a kampfgruppe of the 15th Panzer Grenadier for the expanding battle at Bastogne, but the remainder of this division and the new 9th Panzer would be rushed westward to assist the 2d Panzer.
On the morning of the 24th a note of urgency appeared in the orders coming out of Model's command post: the Fifth Panzer Army must take Bastogne at once and "lance this boil" in the southern flank. For this purpose Manteuffel would