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The Two Attacks Collide


The grand tactics of the two opponents had been solved-at least on the planning maps-by set-piece attacks in the Bastogne sector which were scheduled to commence on or about 30 December. This date was firm insofar as the American Third Army was concerned. In the German camp the date was contingent on the caprices of the weather, traffic congestion on the roads running into the area, the damage which might be inflicted by the Allied fighter-bombers, and the uncertainty attached to the arrival of fuel trucks coming forward from the Rhine dumps. The two attacks nevertheless would be launched on 30 December.


The Forces and the Plans


Middleton's VIII Corps, scheduled to provide the American curtain-raiser thrust on the left wing of Patton's army, took control of the 101st Airborne Division and the 9th Armored Division the evening before the attack began. Although General Taylor's paratroopers and glider infantry would play no offensive role in the first stages of the Third Army operation, they had to hold the pivot position at Bastogne and provide couverture as the scheme of maneuver unfolded. Of the 9th Armored commands only CCA, already committed, could be used at the onset of the VIII Corps advance toward Houffalize. On the morning of the 30th, then, the corps order of battle (east to west) would be the 101st, CCA of the 9th Armored, the 11th Armored Division, and the 87th Infantry Division, with these last two divisions designated to make the main effort.


The 11th Armored (General Kilburn) had been hurried from training in the United Kingdom to shore up the Meuse River line if needed and had some cavalry patrolling on the east bank when Eisenhower turned the division over to Bradley. Late on the evening of the 28th General Kilburn received orders from Middleton to move his division to the Neufchateau area, and two hours after midnight the 11th Armored began a forced march, the distance about eighty-five miles. The heavy columns were slowed by snow, ice, and the limited-capacity bridge used to cross the Meuse, but CCA, in the van, reached the new assembly area a couple of hours before receiving the corps attack order issued at 1800. CCB and the remainder of the division were still on the road. Some units of this green division would have to go directly from the march column into the attack, set for 0730 the next morning. There was no time for reconnaissance and the division assault plan had to be blocked out with only the hastily issued maps as guidance.


The general mission given the 11th Armored-and the 87th as well-was to swing west around Bastogne, capture the heights south of Houffalize, and secure the Ourthe River line. The first phase, however, was a power play to drive the enemy back to the north in an assault, set in motion from the Neufchateau-Bastogne road, which would sweep forward on the left of CCA, 9th Armored. General Kilburn wanted to attack with combat commands solidly abreast, but the VIII Corps commander, concerned by the thought of exposing