south flank. All told there was a sizable motorized force for this venture: the reinforced reconnaissance battalion, the engineer battalion, and the 902d (as soon as it could be disengaged) from the Panzer Lehr; plus the reconnaissance battalion and 39th from the 26th Volks Grenadier Division.
The immediate objectives seem to have been clearly stated. The Panzer Lehr spearheads were to advance via Hompre and Sibret to St. Hubert, while the units of the 26th would start the attack from an assembly point at Remonfosse on the Bastogne-Arlon road with the intention of stabbing into Bastogne from the southwest. In fact this night operation developed into a mad scramble in which the troops from the two divisions jockeyed for the lead as if they were in a flat race for high stakes.
Truly the stakes were high. Throughout this maneuver Luettwitz and his superior, General Manteuffel, had an eye single to shaking the armored columns of the XLVII Panzer Corps free for the dash to the Meuse bridges. Bastogne, sitting in the center of the web of hard-surfaced roads, was important-but only as a means to a geographically distant end. Bastogne had failed to fall like an overripe plum when the bough was shaken, but it could be clipped off the branch-or so the German High Command still reasoned-and without using Bayerlein's armor.
The enemy drive across the south face of Bastogne and on to the west during the night of 20 December did not immediately jolt McAuliffe's command; it was rather a disparate series of clashes with scattered and unsuspecting units of the VIII Corps. Central to the story at this point is the fact that by daylight on the 21st the German infantry following the armored troops were ensconced on both the main roads running from Bastogne south, while light forces were running up and down the western reaches of the Bastogne-St. Hubert highway. In the north the circle had been clamped shut during the night when the 2d Panzer seized Ortheuville on the Marche road.
Bastogne Is Encircled
Some of the Bastogne defenders recall in the saga of the 101st Airborne Division that their lone fight began on 20 December. "It was on this day, 20 December," reads the war diary of the 327th Glider Infantry, "that all roads were cut by the enemy . . . and we were completely surrounded." This is only hindsight. The picture of complete encirclement was built up in McAuliffe's headquarters only slowly on the 21st, nor did the ring at first seem to be hermetic and contracting. Doubtless the word passed among the regiments very rapidly-the 501st journal notes at 1030 that the last road is cut-but it was late afternoon before an armored patrol sent out by CCB affirmed that the way south certainly was closed.
What were the means available for defense of the Bastogne perimeter? The 101st Airborne was an elite, veteran outfit at nearly full strength, and well acquainted with isolation as a combat formation. Only five battalions from McAuliffe's four regiments had been seriously engaged in the fight thus far. Its four artillery battalions were reinforced by the 969th and 755th Field Artillery Battalions, armed with 155-mm. howitzers whose range was nearly