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The German Salient Expands to the West

The reaction of rifle companies and battalions to the German surprise attack on the morning of 16 December was an automatic reflex to an immediate threat. The speed of reaction in higher American headquarters was appreciably slower since the size of the enemy threat and its direction could be determined only when the bits and pieces of tactical information, ascending the command ladder echelon by echelon, began to array themselves in a credible manner. The fact that the German High Command had chosen to make the main effort on the north flank contributed to an early misreading of the scope of the attack, for in this sector of the Allied line there were two possible German military objectives which were tactically credible and compatible with the Allied preconception of a limited objective attack. These were, first, a spoiling operation to neutralize the gains of the 2d and 99th Infantry Divisions in the advance into the West Wall, and, second, a linestraightening operation to reduce the salient held by the 106th Infantry Division within the old West Wall positions. Either or both of these interpretations of the initial German effort could be made and would be made at corps and higher headquarters during the 16th.

The chain reaction during the early hours of the attack followed two paths, one via Gerow's V Corps and the other via Middleton's VIII Corps. The first report of enemy action on the 16th seems to have come to Gerow from the 102d Cavalry Group in the Monschau sector. The second report reaching V Corps was initiated by the 393d Infantry and was circumstantial enough to indicate a German penetration on the front of the 99th Division. By noon Gerow had sufficient information to justify a corps order halting the attack being made by the 2d and 99th. Although the First Army commander subsequently disapproved Gerow's action and ordered a resumption of the advance for 17 December, the American attack in fact was halted, thus permitting a rapid redeployment to meet the German thrust. Gerow's decision seems to have been taken before V Corps had any certain word from the 394th Infantry on the corps right flank. Neither Gerow nor Middleton was given prompt information that contact between the 99th Division and the 14th Cavalry Group had been broken at the V-VIII Corps boundary.

Since Middleton's corps had been hit on a much wider front than in the case of its northern neighbor, a somewhat better initial appreciation of the weight of the attack was possible. Even so, Middleton and his superiors had too little precise information during most