Page 378

post and installations of the 3d Armored Division were located. The immediate result of this threat was to nullify the reinforcement readied for dispatch from Soy, where the combat reserve held by Colonel Howie was located, to the Samree sector.

General Krueger, the LVIII Panzer Corps commander, had reason to congratulate himself at the close of the 20th for the decision to back away from the Ourthe River line northwest of Bastogne. In turning north his corps had crossed the east-west segment of that river without trouble, had discovered large stocks of gasoline at Samree, and had met so little opposition as to indicate a general retrograde move on the part of the Americans. Krueger determined to strike while the iron was hot, drive northwest at top speed to the bridgehead town of Hotton, recross the Ourthe River at that point, and concentrate his corps on the far bank before the Americans could establish a blocking line. Thus far Krueger's advance guard had fought only outpost or patrol actions with the 3d Armored Division and there was little reason, as Krueger saw it, to anticipate much resistance during the next twenty-four hours. He did know, from radio messages intercepted by OB WEST, that one combat command of the 3d Armored Division had moved into the Werbomont area on 19 December.

After the seizure of Samree, Krueger dispatched an armored task force (Kampfgruppe Bayer) from the 116th Panzer Division to gain control of the road between Soy and Hotton preliminary to seizure of the latter bridgehead town. During the night of 20 December this task force marched northwest along a secondary route parallel to and between the roads on which Task Force Hogan and Task Force Orr had made their advance during the day. Just at daybreak members of an American patrol operating out of the Combat Command Reserve headquarters at Soy were fired upon. They reported that they "thought" they had heard German voices. This was the first evidence that the enemy had penetrated to the 3d Armored rear. The next message from Soy to reach the division command post at Erezee came at 0850: "many enemy tanks" had debouched astride the Soy-Hotton road and were heading west toward Hotton. Actually the attack at Hotton had already begun.

The town of Hotton (about ten miles northwest of La Roche) is built astride the main channel of the Ourthe at a point where the valley widens. Here a series of roads converge to cross the river and proceed on the west bank to the more important junction center at Marche from which roads radiate in all directions. In the center of Hotton the river was spanned at this time by a class 70 two-way wooden bridge. In the buildings east of the river were installed about two hundred men from the service detachments of the division and CCR headquarters. There were, in addition, one light and one medium tank. On the west bank at the bridge exit a platoon of the 51st Engineer Battalion (Capt. Preston C. Hodges) was deployed, reinforced by two 40-mm. antitank guns, a 37mm. antitank gun, and a Sherman tank. A squad of engineers guarded a footbridge at Hampteau, two thousand yards south of the