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Waldenburg was low on fuel for his tanks but attempted to set the ball rolling by sending two rifle companies through the dark to infiltrate the American lines at the junction point of the 334th and 335th Regiments. The tactic-penetration along boundary lines-was a German favorite, attended by success in the initial days of the offensive. The two companies (dismounted troops of the division reconnaissance battalion) stealthily worked their way forward and at dawn were to the rear of the 334th. There they sought cover on a wooded ridge north of Verdenne. This village, outposted by the Americans, was the immediate goal of the attack planned for the 24th. Commanding the Marche-Hampteau road-roughly the line held by the left wing of the 84th Division-it afforded immediate access via a good secondary route to Bourdon on the main Hotton-Marche highway, and its possession would offer a springboard for the German armored thrust.

The 116th Panzer Division did not attack with daylight, for its fuel trucks had not yet appeared. Instead Waldenburg sent detachments of the 60th Regiment into the Bois de Chardonne, the western extrusion of a large wood lot partially held by the Germans southwest of Verdenne. Unusual movement in the Bois was noticed by the Americans during the morning, but this came into really serious light about noon when a prisoner revealed the presence of the two companies behind the 334th. General Bolling gathered the 1st Battalion, 334th, and three tank platoons of the 771st Tank Battalion to trap the infiltrators. It appears that his opponent, General Waldenburg, had postponed the German attack for an hour or so but that this order did not reach the two forward companies. When the American tanks suddenly appeared on the wooded ridge north of Verdenne, they ran head on into the enemy just assembling at the wood's edge in assault formation. The Germans broke and fled, some fifty were captured, and the woods were cleared.

But this was only the first act. An hour later five enemy tanks and two half-tracks carrying or covering a hundred or so grenadiers struck Verdenne from the south, engaged the second platoon of Company I in what Waldenburg later called "a bitter house-to-house battle," finally overwhelmed the Americans, and pushed on to a chateau a stone's throw north of the village. In a last assault at eventide the attackers drove this wedge deeper. Companies I and K of the 334th fell back to a new line barely in front of the crucial Marche-Hotton road, and German light artillery moved up to bring the road under fire.

Christmas Eve in the far western sector of the Ardennes Bulge found various shadings of uneasiness in the American headquarters and a pall of foreboding, silver-lined by the proximity of the Meuse, in the German. The attack planned for the VII Corps had turned into a defensive battle. On the east wing the 3d Armored (-CCB) was hard pressed and some of its troops were surrounded-indeed two regiments of the 75th Infantry Division were en route to help General Rose. The 84th Division, so far as then was known, had lost a battalion in Rochefort, might be driven out of Marche, and stood exposed to an armored exploitation of the penetration made at Verdenne. The 2d Armored Division had had a good day but was not yet securely linked to the 84th on the