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CHAPTER XXIII


The Battle Between the Salm and the Our: the 24 December-2 January


The Sixth Panzer Army had begun the Ardennes counteroffensive with two distinct missions in hand: the first, to cross the Meuse River between Liege and Huy as a prelude to the seizure of Antwerp; the second, to wheel a cordon of divisions onto a blocking line extending due east of Liege to cover the depth of the advancing army and to deny incoming Allied reinforcements the use of the highway complex southeast of Liege. Constricted by the American grip on the Elsenborn Ridge "door post" (as the German High Command called this position), the Sixth Panzer Army had bumped and jostled some of its divisions past Elsenborn and on toward the west, but had failed to achieve the momentum and maneuver room requisite to the assigned missions. The armored gallop for the Meuse had foundered on the north bank of the Ambleve River when Peiper's mobile task force from the 1st SS Panzer Division had run squarely against the 30th Infantry Division. The 12th SS Panzer Division, supposed originally to be running mate with the 1st SS Panzer, had become involved in a costly and time-consuming fight to budge the American "door post," failing thereby to keep its place in the German scheme of maneuver. Therefore, the task-and glory-of leading the drive across the Meuse had passed to the Fifth Panzer Army.


But General Sepp Dietrich's SS formations had failed quite as signally to achieve the second mission-to create the blocking line east of Liege. Left free to deploy along the proliferating highway system southeast of Liege, the Americans had been able to throw two fresh corps into defensive array along the Salm, the Ourthe, the Lesse, and L'Homme Rivers, thus still further obstructing the advance of the Sixth Panzer and, more important, endangering the exposed right flank of the Fifth Panzer as it maneuvered before the Meuse. (See Map VIII.)


By 24 December the westernmost armored columns of the Fifth Panzer Army had been slowed to a walk quite literally, for the OB WEST orders on that date called for the advance toward the Meuse "to proceed on foot." In part the loss of momentum arose from supply failure, but basically the slowing process stemmed from the failure of the Sixth Panzer Army to form a protected corridor for its neighbor to the south