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hard battle with the 1st SS Panzer Division around Trois Ponts and Cheneux, in order to reinforce the opposite flank of the division, which extended from Salmchateau west to Fraiture, at Fraiture dangling in the air. The danger now was that the German armor already on the west side of the Salm River would speed to turn this open flank and crush the 82d Airborne back against the Salm, or at the least-make a powerful jab straight along the west bank to dislodge the American hold on the two bridgehead towns. Kampfgruppe Krag, as already recounted, did succeed in doing exactly that at Salmchateau late on the 23d and entrapped part of Task Force Jones and the last column of the 112th Infantry on their way back from St. Vith.

The 9th SS Panzer Division, charged in the enemy scheme with breaking across the river at Salmchateau and Vielsalm and here rolling up the 82d Airborne south wing, failed to arrive at the Salm on schedule. As a result General Gavin was faced with one major threat against his position, on the night of 23 December posed by the 2d SS Panzer and the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade at Fraiture, rather than two as the II SS Panzer Corps had hoped. By midday on the 24th, however, the Germans had patrols across the river at Vielsalm. This covering force came from the 19th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, recruited from Germans living in the Black Sea area, and it had earned a reputation as the elite regiment of the 9th SS Panzer Division. The rest of the 9th SS Panzer either had been detached on other missions or was straggling to the east-indeed, the divisional tank regiment did not reach the Salm sector until the first days of January. American identification of this new armored division, however, added to the list of factors that resulted in the decision to withdraw the 82d Airborne and shorten the XVIII Airborne Corps line.

Early on Christmas Eve General Gavin met with some of his officers in the command post of Ekman's 505th. He knew that his division was faced by elements of at least three German divisions, his right was overextended, the support which might be expected from his right wing neighbor was problematical, and a large German force (the remnants of Kampfgruppe Peiper) was actually in his rear somewhere near Trois Ponts. Gavin now had to decide whether he should divert some of his troops to hunt out and fight the enemy in his rear or proceed with the planned withdrawal. The main problem, Gavin concluded, was to put his division in an organized position, dug in with wire and mines in place, to confront the attack of "several" panzer divisions on the morning of the 25th. He held, then, to his plan for withdrawing the 82d Airborne. [14]

Gavin's plan was to bring back the bulk of his regiments under cover of night; he would leave small detachments from each as covering shells until the early morning. About 2100 the division moved out for the new Trois Ponts-Manhay line. Christmas Eve was crystal clear and the moonlight on the

[14] For this phase of the action, the most useful materials are W. G. Lord, History of the 508th Parachute Infantry (Washington, 1948); 82d Abn Div, Chronology, Dec 44; 82d Abn Div, The Story of the Bulge: The Division Commander's Report; and especially the combat interviews.