midnight Companies A and K of the 334th Infantry and Company L, 333d Infantry, started along the woods trails and byroads to converge in a night assault against Verdenne. Moving in from the west, Company K took a wrong turn and suddenly bumped into a column of six or eight tanks. Sgt. Donald Phelps, marching at the point, went forward to check the lead tank. Suddenly a figure leaning out of the tank shouted, "Halt!" Phelps, recognizing the German accent, took a snap shot at the figure who screamed as the bullet struck. The German tanks opened fire with not only their machine guns but their main armament, and the American infantry file hit the dirt. Severely lacerated before it could break away, the remaining forty men of Company K joined the main assault against Verdenne an hour later.
The Germans inside Verdenne had been softened by an intense preparatory shelling and the American infantry succeeded in getting clear through the village-although fighting resumed in daylight with the dangerous task of house clearing. One enemy tank showed up during the night, but Sgt. E. T. Reineke killed the tank commander with a rifle ball, then tossed a grenade into the open turret. More American infantry arrived in the morning, and by the end of Christmas Day 289 Germans had surrendered.
The seizure of Verdenne cast a loop around the German tanks and infantry in the woods north of the village. At noon on Christmas Day a tank company from the 16th Panzer Regiment tried an assault in staggered formation against Verdenne but found Company B of the 771st Tank Battalion waiting and lost nine tanks-its entire complement. Waldenburg still had hopes that the detachment in the woods could be saved, for during the day the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade came in on his right, freeing the troops he had deployed to watch Hampteau and the Hotton approaches. More than this, Waldenburg apparently expected to use the wedge which would be created in reaching the pocket as a means of splitting the Marche-Hotton line and starting the major advance westward.
The area in which the Germans were hemmed posed a very neat problem in minor tactics. It was about 800 yards by 300, densely wooded, and shaped with an inner declivity somewhat like a serving platter. Guns beyond the rim could not bring direct fire on the targets inside, and tanks rolling down into the pocket would be exposed before they could train their weapons. Tanks inside the pocket would be in the same position if they moved up and over the edge. Assault by infantry could be met with tank fire whether the assault went into or came out of the pocket.
Just such an assault was the first tried by the 333d Infantry, which put Companies A and B into a predawn attack on 26 December. The American skirmish line, its movements given away by the snow crackling under foot, took a number of casualties and was beaten back, but it gave some test of the enemy strength, now estimated to be two rifle companies and five tanks. Actually most of the Germans in the 1st Battalion, 60th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, took part in the fighting at the pocket or in attempted infiltration through the woods to join their comrades there. One such relief party, led by a tank platoon, did cut its way in on the morning of the 26th. Now