Page 313

Wiltz valley and a complex of secondary roads wending toward Bastogne. CCR, 9th Armored (which earlier had sent some tank destroyers to Clerf), drew the assignment of blocking the Clerf-Bastogne highway. One engineer battalion, the 44th, was ordered to reinforce the headquarters force of the 707th Tank Battalion for the defense of Wilwerwiltz, but events were moving too fast and the battalion was diverted to the 28th Division command post at Wiltz. There remained the problem of barring the way to Luxembourg City, east of which the 4th Infantry Division was having a hard time. Already in the area, the 159th Engineer Combat Battalion was attached to Barton's division in the late afternoon and headed for Consdorf.

Of what might be considered the formal reserve of the VIII Corps, General Middleton had left, by 1600 of 17 December, only the 35th Engineer Combat Battalion; he retained in addition a partial voice in the disposition of the 28th Engineer Group. The corps engineer officer, meanwhile, had proposed a plan for defending a line from Foy to Neffe which would screen the eastern entries to Bastogne. To form this screen the 35th and the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion, the latter taken from the 8th Group, assembled their companies, vehicles, and equipment. Both battalions had been dispersed in numerous working parties; their trucks were hauling road-building stores, timber, and the like. Weapons long in disuse had to be collected and checked-land mines and explosives had to be gathered. Furthermore the 35th had the responsibility of guarding the VIII Corps headquarters and could not be released immediately.

At the close of day other engineer units were on the move. Pontoon and light equipment companies pulled onto the roads leading west with orders to take their bridges, air compressors, graders, and other paraphernalia out of enemy reach. Some of these units, like the 626th Engineer Light Equipment Company, would find themselves directly in the path of the German advance. At Diekirch the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion, under orders to rejoin its group in the west, shut down the sawmills and entrucked under artillery fire. As yet no large numbers of foot stragglers had come from the front lines, but the roads to the rear were crowded with supply vehicles, medium and heavy artillery, service and headquarters trucks, jeeps, and command cars. Around the headquarters and installations farther to the west, clerks, mechanics, truck drivers, and the like stripped the canvas from truck-mounted machine guns, filled the ammunition racks on deadlined tanks, listened to hurried explanations of bazooka mechanisms, or passed in inspection before sergeants who for the first time in weeks were seriously concerned with the appearance of each carbine and pistol.

At daylight on 18 December the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion commenced digging on its designated position northeast of Bastogne between Foy and Neffe. In addition barriers manned in platoon strength were set up at Neffe, Mageret, and Longvilly on the Clerf highway. By dint of borrowing right and left 950 anti-tank mines could be used to strengthen the 158th position. At Bizory, northwest of Mageret, a part of Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion, had been loaned by CCR and during the morning dug in on the high ground facing