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this potential plethora of riches, but as a veteran commander he no doubt recognized the many slips possible between cup and lip: the increasing poverty of POL, Allied air strikes against any and all moving columns, the poor state of the few roads leading back through the narrow Sixth Panzer zone of communications, and, finally, the pressing and probably overriding demands of the Fifth Panzer Army with one foot entangled at Bastogne and the other poised only a few miles from the Meuse.


The German attack plans, formulated during the night of 3 December as the 2d SS Panzer mopped up the last of the defenders around the Baraque de Fraiture crossroads, called for a continuation of the 2d SS Panzer attack northwest, astride the Liege highway on the 24th. The immediate objective was the Manhay crossroads five miles away. Once at Manhay the attack could either peel off along the road west to Hotton, there freeing the Fifth Panzer Army formations hung up at the Hotton-Marche road, or swing northwest to gain the main Ourthe bridge site at Durbuy. The II SS Panzer Corps attack base on the Salmchateau-La Roche road seemed secure enough. On the left the 560th had driven a salient clear to Soy, a distance of eleven miles. On the right American stragglers from St. Vith were fighting to escape northward through or around Salmchateau. The 82d Airborne Division still had an outpost line covering much of the road west of Salmchateau, but the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade was in position to roll back the Americans in this sector. In any case the 9th SS Panzer Division would, in a matter of hours, cross the Salm River in the Vielsalm-Salmchateau area and swing northwest to march forward at the right shoulder of the 2d SS Panzer. This was the outline plan for 24 December.


On the morning of 24 December the American troops between the Salm and Ourthe Rivers were deployed on a front, if so it can be called, of over thirty miles. This, of course, was no flankless and integrated position. On the west wing in particular the American line consisted of small task forces from the 3d Armored, each defending or attacking a hill or hamlet in what were almost independent operations. In the Salm sector the 82d Airborne Division faced north, east, and south, this disposition reflecting the topsy-turvy condition encountered when the division first came in to cover the deployment of the XVIII Airborne Corps. The 504th Parachute Infantry (Col. Reuben H. Tucker), on the division north flank, was bent at an angle reaching west and south from the confluence of the Ambleve and Salm Rivers, a position assumed while Kampfgruppe Peiper was on the rampage west of Stavelot. The 505th Parachute Infantry (Col. William E. Ekman) over-watched the Salm from positions on the west bank extending from Trois Ponts south past Grand Halleux. The 508th Parachute Infantry (Col. Roy E. Lindquist) held a series of bluffs and ridges which faced the bridge sites at Vielsalm and Salmchateau, then extended westward overlooking the La Roche highway. The 325th Glider Infantry (Col. Charles Billingslea) held the division right flank and continued the westward line along the ridges looking down on the La Roche road; its wing was affixed to the village of Fraiture just northeast of the crossroads where the 2d SS Panzer had begun