Page 606


CHAPTER XXIV


The Third Army Offensive Widening the Bastogne Corridor


When the 4th Armored tanks reached the Bastogne perimeter on 26 December, the contact between McAuliffe's command and the Third Army was dramatic and satisfying but none too secure. [1] The road now opened from Assenois to Bastogne could be traversed under armed convoy, and for the moment the Germans in this sector were too demoralized by the speed and sharpness of the blow to react in any aggressive manner. The two main highways east and west of the Assenois corridor, however, still were barred by the Seventh Army and such small detachments as could be hurriedly stripped from the German circle around Bastogne. Continued access to Bastogne would have to be insured by widening the breach and securing the Arlon highway-and perhaps that from Neufchateau as wellbefore the enemy could react to seal the puncture with his armor. (Map X)


The main weight of Gaffey's 4th Armored, it will be recalled, lay to the east of Assenois on the Arlon-Bastogne axis. On the right of the 4th Armored the 26th Infantry Division was echeloned to the southeast and on 26 December had put troops over the Sure River, but the only direct tactical effect this division could have on the fight south of Bastogne would be to threaten the Seventh-Army line of communications and divert German reserves. [2] The gap between the 26th Infantry and the 4h Armored Divisions, rather tenuously screened by the 6th Cavalry Squadron, would be filled by the 35th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Paul Baade), which had just come up from Metz and had orders to attack across the Sure on 27 December. [3] If all went well this attack would break out to the Lutrebois-Harlange road, which fed into the Arlon highway, and proceed thence abreast of the 4th Armored.


West of the Assenois corridor the left wing of Gaffey's command was screened,


[1] The 4th Armored attack toward Bastogne is described in Chapter XXI, pp. 523-32, 447-55.


[2] The earlier operations of the 26th Division on the right ank of the III Corps are discussed in Chapter XXI, pp. 540-47.


[3] The 35th Division had suffered heavily in the Lorraine battles (for which see Cole, The Lorraine Campaign, ch. XII, passim) and General Gay persuaded Patton not to throw the division into the Ardennes fight until other Third Army divisions in better condition had been committed. (The AAR's of the 35th Division in the early phases of the Ardennes are so abbreviated as to be practically useless. Fortunately the story is told in considerable detail in the combat interviews. The published histories of the division's activities are very good. See Miltonberger and Huston, 134th Infantry Regiment: Combat History of World War II (Washington, n.d.); Combat History of the 137th Infantry Regiment (Baton Rouge, 196); and The 35th Infantry Division in World War II (Atlanta, n.d.).