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Vith, a vital road junction, presented the main challenge for both von Manteuffel's and Dietrich's forces. The defenders, led by the 7th Armored Division , included the remaining regiment of the th U. Infantry Division, with elements of the 9th Armored Division and 28th U.
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Infantry Division. These units, which operated under the command of Generals Robert W. Hasbrouck 7th Armored and Alan W. Jones th Infantry , successfully resisted the German attacks, significantly slowing the German advance. At Montgomery's orders, St. Vith was evacuated on 21 December; U. By 23 December, as the Germans shattered their flanks, the defenders' position became untenable and U. Since the German plan called for the capture of St. Vith by on 17 December, the prolonged action in and around it dealt a major setback to their timetable.
To protect the river crossings on the Meuse at Givet, Dinant and Namur, Montgomery ordered those few units available to hold the bridges on 19 December. This led to a hastily assembled force including rear-echelon troops, military police and Army Air Force personnel. The British 29th Armoured Brigade of British 11th Armoured Division , which had turned in its tanks for re-equipping, was told to take back their tanks and head to the area. British XXX Corps was significantly reinforced for this effort.
Unlike the German forces on the northern and southern shoulders who were experiencing great difficulties, the German advance in the center gained considerable ground. The Ourthe River was passed at Ourtheville on 21 December.
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Lack of fuel held up the advance for one day, but on 23 December the offensive was resumed towards the two small towns of Hargimont and Marche-en-Famenne. Hargimont was captured the same day, but Marche-en-Famenne was strongly defended by the American 84th Division. Although advancing only in a narrow corridor, 2nd Panzer Division was still making rapid headway, leading to jubilation in Berlin.
The narrow corridor caused considerable difficulties, as constant flanking attacks threatened the division.
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On 24 December, German forces made their furthest penetration west. A hastily assembled Allied blocking force on the east side of the river prevented the German probing forces from approaching the Dinant bridge. By late Christmas Eve the advance in this sector was stopped, as Allied forces threatened the narrow corridor held by the 2nd Panzer Division. For Operation Greif " Griffin " , Otto Skorzeny successfully infiltrated a small part of his battalion of English-speaking Germans disguised in American uniforms behind the Allied lines.
Although they failed to take the vital bridges over the Meuse, their presence caused confusion out of all proportion to their military activities, and rumors spread quickly. Checkpoints were set up all over the Allied rear, greatly slowing the movement of soldiers and equipment. American MPs at these checkpoints grilled troops on things that every American was expected to know, like the identity of Mickey Mouse 's girlfriend, baseball scores, or the capital of a particular U.
General Omar Bradley was briefly detained when he correctly identified Springfield as the capital of Illinois because the American MP who questioned him mistakenly believed the capital was Chicago.
The tightened security nonetheless made things very hard for the German infiltrators, and a number of them were captured. Even during interrogation, they continued their goal of spreading disinformation ; when asked about their mission, some of them claimed they had been told to go to Paris to either kill or capture General Dwight Eisenhower. Because Skorzeny's men were captured in American uniforms, they were executed as spies.
Skorzeny was tried by an American military tribunal in at the Dachau Trials for allegedly violating the laws of war stemming from his leadership of Operation Greif, but was acquitted. He later moved to Spain and South America. These agents were tasked with using an existing Nazi intelligence network to bribe rail and port workers to disrupt Allied supply operations.
The operation was a failure.
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Further south on Manteuffel's front, the main thrust was delivered by all attacking divisions crossing the River Our , then increasing the pressure on the key road centers of St. Vith and Bastogne. The more experienced US 28th Infantry Division put up a much more dogged defense than the inexperienced soldiers of the th Infantry Division. The th Infantry Regiment the most northerly of the 28th Division's regiments , holding a continuous front east of the Our, kept German troops from seizing and using the Our River bridges around Ouren for two days, before withdrawing progressively westwards.
The th and th Regiments of the 28th Division fared worse, as they were spread so thinly that their positions were easily bypassed. Both offered stubborn resistance in the face of superior forces and threw the German schedule off by several days. Panzer columns took the outlying villages and widely separated strong points in bitter fighting, and advanced to points near Bastogne within four days. The struggle for the villages and American strong points, plus transport confusion on the German side, slowed the attack sufficiently to allow the st Airborne Division reinforced by elements from the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions to reach Bastogne by truck on the morning of 19 December.
The fierce defense of Bastogne, in which American paratroopers particularly distinguished themselves, made it impossible for the Germans to take the town with its important road junctions. The panzer columns swung past on either side, cutting off Bastogne on 20 December but failing to secure the vital crossroads. In the extreme south, Brandenberger's three infantry divisions were checked by divisions of the U. VIII Corps after an advance of 6. Eisenhower and his principal commanders realized by 17 December that the fighting in the Ardennes was a major offensive and not a local counterattack, and they ordered vast reinforcements to the area.
Within a week , troops had been sent. General Gavin of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived on the scene first and ordered the st to hold Bastogne while the 82nd would take the more difficult task of facing the SS Panzer Divisions; it was also thrown into the battle north of the bulge, near Elsenborn Ridge.
Senior Allied commanders met in a bunker in Verdun on 19 December.
By this time, the town of Bastogne and its network of 11 hard-topped roads leading through the widely forested mountainous terrain with deep river valleys and boggy mud of the Ardennes region was under severe threat. Moreover, the sole corridor that was open to the southeast was threatened and it had been sporadically closed as the front shifted, and there was expectation that it would be completely closed sooner than later, given the strong likelihood that the town would soon be surrounded.
Eisenhower, realizing that the Allies could destroy German forces much more easily when they were out in the open and on the offensive than if they were on the defensive, told his generals, "The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster.
There will be only cheerful faces at this table. Then, we'll really cut 'em off and chew 'em up. To the disbelief of the other generals present, Patton replied that he could attack with two divisions within 48 hours. Unknown to the other officers present, before he left Patton had ordered his staff to prepare three contingency plans for a northward turn in at least corps strength.
By the time Eisenhower asked him how long it would take, the movement was already underway. Armies from Gen. Conditions inside the perimeter were tough—most of the medical supplies and medical personnel had been captured. Food was scarce, and by 22 December artillery ammunition was restricted to 10 rounds per gun per day. The weather cleared the next day and supplies primarily ammunition were dropped over four of the next five days.
Despite determined German attacks the perimeter held. The German commander, Generalleutnant Lt. Anthony McAuliffe , acting commander of the st, was told of the Nazi demand to surrender, in frustration he responded, "Nuts! One officer, Lt. Harry Kinnard , noted that McAuliffe's initial reply would be "tough to beat.
Both 2nd Panzer and Panzer-Lehr division moved forward from Bastogne after 21 December, leaving only Panzer-Lehr division's st Regiment to assist the 26th Volksgrenadier-Division in attempting to capture the crossroads.
Because it lacked sufficient troops and those of the 26th VG Division were near exhaustion, the XLVII Panzerkorps concentrated its assault on several individual locations on the west side of the perimeter in sequence rather than launching one simultaneous attack on all sides. The assault, despite initial success by its tanks in penetrating the American line, was defeated and all the tanks destroyed. On the following day of 26 December the spearhead of Gen.
Patton's 4th Armored Division, supplemented by the 26th Yankee Infantry Division, broke through and opened a corridor to Bastogne. On 23 December the weather conditions started improving, allowing the Allied air forces to attack. They launched devastating bombing raids on the German supply points in their rear, and P Thunderbolts started attacking the German troops on the roads. Allied air forces also helped the defenders of Bastogne, dropping much-needed supplies—medicine, food, blankets, and ammunition. A team of volunteer surgeons flew in by military glider and began operating in a tool room.
By 24 December the German advance was effectively stalled short of the Meuse. The Germans had outrun their supply lines, and shortages of fuel and ammunition were becoming critical.