stances. There was little artillery to defend the line of the Sure; most of the guns and Werfers which had good prime movers and could be hauled along the crowded roads west of the Our were at work around Bastogne or firing in defense of the Bourscheid bridgehead. One advantage the defenders did have: good observation from the heights overlooking the separate crossing sites.
The morning of 26 December dawned bright and clear with the promise of air support for the 26th Division at the river. On the left the 101st Infantry had relieved the 328th and stood ready to attempt the crossing. The 101st was fresh and its ranks were full. After its first effort to reach the piers of the stone bridge at Bonnal was met by rifle fire, a patrol discovered a good site farther to the west where a river loop curled to the American side. Engineer assault craft reached the 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. James N. Peale) shortly before noon, but a rumor had circulated that the enemy was lying in wait on the opposite bank and the troops showed some reluctance to move. Col. Walter T. Scott, the regimental commander, took a single bodyguard and crossed the river in a rubber boat, returning without mishap. The battalion then crossed, the silence broken only by the sound of the paddles, an occasional hoarsevoiced command, and a few rifle shots. The 1st Battalion (Maj. Albert L. Gramm), closer to Bonnal, likewise made an uneventful crossing. The enemy, no more than a few stray pickets, did not loiter. Engineers started a Bailey bridge, using the supports of the stone bridge at Bonnal, while the two battalions, tired by their scramble up the steep banks, dug in along the edge of the bluffs. The few enemy planes that tried to strafe along the river were destroyed or driven off by alert fighter-bombers and the 390th Antiaircraft Automatic Weapons Battalion. Nor did a small German counter-attack during the evening have any effect.
The eyes of the Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade were fixed on Heiderscheidergrund where the German fighting vehicles and riflemen waited for the main American effort. Although one span of the stone bridge had been blown as a precautionary measure, the enemy threw a trestle over the gap, preserving the bridge as a sally port to the south bank. Twice German tanks and assault guns made a bid to recross and counter-attack the 104th Infantry. The first attempt was stopped short of the bridge by rapid shellfire. The second was more successful: four tanks and an assault gun rammed across the bridge but were abandoned by their crews when American guns and howitzers brought salvo after salvo of white phosphorus to sear the near bank. During the 26th, patrols operating in the 104th Infantry sector put their glasses on Esch-surSure. They reported that there was no sign of the enemy in the village, but Colonel Palladino could not risk an immediate crossing on his left while the Germans opposite his right held a bridge and still seemed willing to carry the fight back to the American side of the river.
The troops in the attenuated 101st bridgehead easily repulsed a minor counterattack on the morning of 27 December. As yet there was nothing to indicate an enemy shift to meet this threat to the Sure River position. By midmorning the Bailey bridge was open and tanks and tank destroyers crossed to