Page 416

won partial control of Crombach and were sitting across the road in the rear of the American tanks and riflemen to the east of the village. But the assault guns which had pulled out of Crombach and gone-south during the night battle now came handily into play. At 0718 Wemple sent the guns blazing into the western side of the village in an attempt by smoke and shell to drive the Germans off the streets.

The enemy grenadiers and gunners refused to stay put. When the American tanks rolled in from the east, two of the leaders were hit by antitank fire and left helplessly blocking the road. Fate took a hand to save the rest of the column. During the night a quick freeze had hardened the ground just enough to allow the tanks and half-tracks from the east, covered with clinging foot troops, to swing cross-country and south to the Braunlauf road. Even so, a number of vehicles mired and had to be abandoned at the soft banks of a small stream. At Braunlauf the column found a company of the 424th Infantry in a fire fight with German infantry who had sneaked in during the night. The tankers, mindful of their passengers, could not use the tank cannon; so the column rolled through the streets with the infantry riders firing wildly in every direction. The Germans were somewhat disconcerted, but snipers accounted for two American officers. The rest of the journey behind Hoge's columns into the 82d Airborne lines was without incident. By noon most of the 424th Infantry and Wemple's force were across the Salm. Of the southern half of the original ring there remained only the rear guard and covering forces strung along the roads east of Salmchateau.

The bulk of CCB, 7th Armored Division, represented by Task Force Lohse (formerly Erlenbusch), commanded by Maj. Leslie A. Lohse, and Task Force Boylan, started to withdraw shortly after daybreak, Boylan's command acting as the division rear guard. Maneuver by these elements of CCB was rigidly constricted by the presence of the Fuehrer Begleit armor in the north around Rodt and by the German hold on Crombach. Access to the Poteau-Vielsalm route in the north or the Beho-Salmchateau route in the south was no longer possible. There remained a narrow, rutted trail running from Hinderhausen (around which Task Force Boylan was deployed) west through the woods to the crossroads at Commanster, from which a secondary road ran to the bridge at Vielsalm. This jeep trail-it was no more-had been reconnoitered by General Clarke on the 22d and designated (with much misgiving) as an emergency exit. The emergency had arrived, fortunately along with the sudden freeze that gave a surface hard enough to bear the weight of armored vehicles. Even so the one-way trail was a poor and precarious road to safety; a sudden thaw or one tank askew could trap both Lohse and Boylan.

While Boylan's men took positions to defend Hinderhausen against attack from Rodt, Lohse's heavy column formed to enter the trail at Hinderhausen. It consisted of four tank companies, two cavalry reconnaissance troops, a company of tank destroyers, and many foot soldiers hitchhiking on the vehicles. The move had no more than started when the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade descended on Hinderhausen. While Boylan took on the Germans, Lohse's column circled