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and Givet bridges, and would move on the morrow to reconnoiter the west flank of the VII Corps assembly area. Because another twenty-four hours would be needed to deploy Collins' divisions and get the corps artillery into position, Montgomery and Hodges agreed that the VII Corps counterattack on which so much depended would commence on Sunday, the 24th. The new corps front (officially assumed by the VII Corps at 1630 on 23 December) would reach from the Ourthe River on the left to the junction of the Lesse and Meuse on the right, approximately fifty miles. The 2d Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Ernest N. Harmon) was intended to flesh out the right wing of the corps when the attack began, the 84th already held the center, and the 3d Armored Division was expected to fight its way farther south and become the left wing. Since the 75th Infantry Division was as yet untried, it was to be kept in reserve.

The 2d Armored Division had small patrols scouting to the west of Marche on the 23d, but the bulk of the division assembled in three combat commands well to the north of Marche astride the main road to Huy. Its 70-mile road march (some units moved nearly a hundred miles) had been completed in twenty-two hours despite a cold rain, hazardous roads, and the delay normal to armored movement in column at night. All told the division had suffered some thirty damaged vehicles in traffic mishaps, including eight tanks. (Later one officer wryly remarked, "We lost more vehicles on the march down here than in the subsequent fighting.")

The 2d Armored assembly had been handled with all possible secrecy and the entire division was under radio blackout, for Collins counted heavily on the combination of surprise and shock in the forthcoming counterattack. Events, however, were racing on to shatter the hope that the VII Corps would be allowed to mount a planned and co-ordinated assault. Harmon was conferring with his commanders an hour or so before noon on the 23d, when a message arrived that one of the armored cars out on patrol had been shot up at a little hamlet near Ciney, which was a critical road center northwest of Marche from which main highways debouched for Dinant and Namur. Without waiting for orders, Harmon dispatched CCA (Brig. Gen. John Collier) to rush full speed for Ciney and cut off any German tanks found there. This proved to be a false alarm; British armored patrols were in the town and there was no sign of the enemy.

By now, however, reports of large enemy forces moving toward Ciney were pouring into the corps and division command posts. There was no longer any point in trying to hide the identity of the 2d Armored and it appeared certain that battle would have to be given without regard to the planned corps counterattack. Harmon started his whole division moving into line west of the 84th, displaced the 14th and 92d Field Artillery Battalions to support CCA, and ordered Collier to continue south on the Ciney-Rochefort road to seize Buissonville, where twenty heavy German tanks had been reported. CCA clanked through the darkness, led by a task force composed of the 2d Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, and the

[6] Sylvan Diary, appropriate daily entries.