Page 323

Heilmann concluded that in the Martelange action "quite a few things had gone wrong," a conclusion which General Middleton could have shared.

The next engagement in the new VIII Corps sector took place at Sibret. As the enemy closed on Wiltz General Cota had withdrawn the 28th Division command post, setting it up in Sibret on the night of 19 December. A straggler line established around Neufchateau brought in some troops, and these were placed at roadblocks between Bastogne and Sibret. The 630th Tank Destroyer Battalion, having supported the 28th Infantry Division from 16 December on, took station at a road junction south of Sibret. The battalion, be it said, consisted of parts of Company B and the headquarters-but without their guns. North and west of Sibret a number of artillery outfits belonging to the 333d Field Artillery Group and the 28th Division had gone into firing positions from which to support the 101st Airborne troops around Bastogne. Some were intact, others were no more than headquarters batteries with a few pieces and a collection of cannoneers armed with rifles or carbines. Cavalry, tank, and tank destroyer units which had come back as the 28th Division center withdrew also were present with the artillery, but they too were remnants of battalion and company headquarters with few men and few weapons. In Sibret General Cota had perhaps two hundred men, mostly stragglers and strangers, for his headquarters and service people had been organized as a provisional battalion and thrown in to help hold Wiltz. There were three howitzers near the village, but the main antitank defense consisted of two bazookas which the assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. George A. Davis, ordered held "in reserve." Sibret, then, was a "strongpoint" in the VIII Corps screen but could be so considered only in relation to the surrounding roadblocks manned by squads and sections.

Renewed Drive Around Bastogne

Around the eastern arc of the Bastogne perimeter the events of the 20th had convinced the Fifth Panzer Army that no more time should be wasted here and that the westward momentum of the XLVII Panzer Corps must be revived. The command solution to the Bastogne problem called for the 2d Panzer Division to shake loose and hurry past the city in the north. This move, highlighted by the seizure of the Ortheuville bridge, began late on the 20th. Luettwitz divided the armor of the Panzer Lehr Division, one kampfgruppe to swing south of Bastogne and on to the west, one to stay behind for a few hours and aid the 26th Volks Grenadier Division in reducing the city. The latter division would be left the unpleasant and difficult task (as General Kokott, the commander, saw it) of containing the American forces in and around the city while at the same time shifting the axis of attack from the east to the south and west.

On the afternoon of the 20th General Kokott gave orders to set the first phase of this new plan in motion. The 39th Regiment, attacking on the south side of Bastogne, was told to continue across the BastogneMartelange highway and capture the high ground in the vicinity of Assenois. The 26th Reconnaissance Battalion would assemble, pass through