Joachim Peiper was getting a bit frustrated, because he was getting further and further behind schedule. Operation Watch on the Rhine (which we know so well as the Battle of the Bulge) had gotten off to a good start for him and his German compatriots. Having achieved complete surprise with a 30-division offensive in the dead of winter in the Ardennes Forest, the Allied forces (comprised mostly of American troops in this area) were forced to retreat in the face of the onslaught.
The German objectives were simple. Reach Antwerp, create a divide in the British and American forces, and hope for a peace deal. Once that was accomplished, the German High Command could move all its arms and men eastward and try to slow down the Russians.
But the American troops hung in desperately, in many places fighting with a tenacity that surpassed even that of the desperate Germans. And Peiper was seeing the results of that first-hand. The offensive was just two days old, and already he was running late. His final objective, the Meuse River, was taking too long to reach.
Peiper had lost time as he neared the village of Malmedy. The next town on the road, Stavelot, had seen resistance slow him even more. On December 18, 1944, he arrived at the village of Trois Ponts, which presented him with a chance to make up some lost time. If he could cross the Ambleve River using the town’s three bridges (hence the name…Trois Ponts), there was good road ahead, which would allow his tanks to rip through the Belgium countryside and reach the Meuse in a just a couple of hours.
The Americans, however, had other plans.
As Peiper’s lead tanks rolled toward the bridges, they were met by opposing tanks. The two enemies had barely begun their engagement when, to Peiper’s dismay, the sound of a blast and the rumble of a bridge falling into the Ambleve was heard. Shortly after, the second major bridge at Trois Ponts was detonated.
This was disastrous. The German commander now had to move his charges north to the bridge at Cheneux (a tiny village near La Gleize), which meant yet another delay and more precious fuel wasted.
An exasperated Peiper finally reached Cheneux in the last light of day. He rounded the bend and watched in horror as, just two hundred yards away, the bridge (this time crossing the Lienne River) disappeared in a flash and a crash.
Joachim Peiper’s advance to the Meuse had been stopped.
The Battle of the Bulge, from a German perspective, was all about advancing and covering tons of ground in a very short time. The German war machine had precious little fuel to use, so rapid movement and the capture of enemy depots was vital before the weather cleared and the Allies’ unbelievable advantage in the air could be used to its fullest.
The dedication of American engineers and sappers, like the ones Peiper faced, played a key role in blunting the German advance and eventually turning the German advance into a retreat and rout.
Recommended Reading: The Longest Winter