The first to go into action was the 501st Regt. of Inf. Para, of Lieutenant-Colonel Julian Ewell, who was ordered on the 18th to leave Bastogne the following day at 06:00, to try to make contact with American outposts in the east and deal with the situation.
These outposts, belonging to the 9th and 10th Div. armoured, were already in the process of retreating under the strong thrust of the Panzer Lehrdivision which had overtaken some of them. The Germans were aware of the arrival of the 101st Div. at Bastogne and hoped to destroy it before an adequate defense could be organised.
However, of the three Divs. German troops advancing towards Bastogne, only two were directly interested in the city:while the 2nd Panzer Division had the bridges of the Meuse as its objectives, the Panzer Lehr was to attack Bastogne from the east and the 26th Volksgrenadier Division from the north. The Germans had a problem, however, in that this last division had exhausted itself trying to keep up with the mechanized elements of the Panzer Lehr and had to wait for the arrival of its rear echelon before it could participate in the attack. planned attack on the American stronghold.