Page 249

above the village. The three tanks which had come up the evening before, and very effective fire by American batteries, put an end to these German efforts. Thus both Osweiler and Dickweiler remained tight in American hands. Toward the close of day Company C of the 12th Infantry took position on some high ground between and slightly south of the two villages, thus extending the line here on the right.

General Barton's headquarters saw the situation on the evening of 17 December as follows. The 3d Battalion and its reinforcements had "a semblance of a line" to meet further penetration in the vicinity of Osweiler and Dickweiler. On the opposite flank things were temporarily under control, with Task Force Luckett not yet seriously engaged and the enemy advance thus far checked at Mullerthal. However, there was a present danger that the large German force might turn the 4th Division flank by a successful attack through the 9th Armored Division blocking position at Waldbillig. All that could be said of the 12th Infantry center was that the situation was fluid, for here the road junction at Scheidgen was in enemy hands and German detachments were on the loose.

Across the river at the headquarters of the 212th Volks Grenadier Division there was little realization of the extent to which the American center had been dented. General Sensfuss told his superiors that the 212th had made little progress beyond completing the encirclement of Echternach. Despite the complete surprise won by the 212th on 16 December, it had been unable to effect either a really deep penetration or extensive disorganization in the 12th Infantry zone. With the close of the second day it may be said that the German opportunity to exploit the initial surprise and attendant tactical gains commenced to fade.

On the morning of 17 December the 10th Armored Division (General Morris) had moved out of Thionville for Luxembourg, the first step (although at the time not realized) which General Patton's Third Army would make to intervene in the battle of the Ardennes. General Morris drove ahead of his troops and reported to General Middleton at Bastogne. The VIII Corps commander originally had intended to use a part of the 10th Armored in direct support of the 28th Division, but now he instructed Morris to send one combat command to the Bastogne area and to commit the remainder of the 10th Armored with the 4th Infantry Division in a counterattack to drive the Germans back over the Sauer. General Middleton regarded the German advance against the southern shoulder of his corps as potentially dangerous, both to the corps and to the command and communications center at Luxembourg City. There was, of course, no means by which the VIII Corps commander could know that the Seventh Army scheme of maneuver was limited to a swing only as far as Mersch, eight miles north of the city.

General Morris left Bastogne and met the 4th Infantry Division commander in Luxembourg. The two were of one mind on the need for counterattack tactics and arranged that CCA (Brig. Gen. Edwin W. Piburn), the leading combat command, should make an immediate drive to the north between the Schwarz Erntz gorge and the main Echternach-Luxembourg road. CCA made good speed on the 75-mile run from Thionville, but the leading armor did not arrive in the 12th Infantry area until late in the afternoon of 17 December. Apparently some troops went at once into the line, but the actual counterattack was postponed until the next morning. Then, so the plan read, CCA would advance in three task forces: one through the Schwarz Erntz gorge; one on the Consdorf-Berdorf road; and the third through Scheidgen to Echternach. The infantry to the front were alerted for their role in the combined attack and half-tracks with radios were moved close to the line of departure as relay stations in the tankinfantry communications net.

The counterattack moved off on the morning of 18 December in a thick winter fog. On the left, Task Force Chamberlain (Lt. Col. Thomas C. Chamberlain) dispatched a small tank-infantry team from Breitweiler into the gorge. The Schwarz Erntz, taking its name from the rushing stream twisting along its bottom, is a depression lying from three to five hundred feet below the surrounding tableland. At several points canyonlike cliffs rise sheer for a hundred feet. The floor of the gorge is strewn with great boulders; dense patches of woods line the depression and push down to the edge of the stream. In time of peace the gorge of the Schwarz Erntz offered a picturesque "promenade" for holiday visitors in the resort hotels at Berdorf and Beaufort, with "bancs de repos" at convenient intervals. In December, 1944, the gorge represented a formidable military obstacle, difficult of traverse for both foot troops and vehicles, capable of defense by only a few.

The entrance to the gorge was so