Lee informed the group that he was assigning men to defensive positions on the different floors and rooftop of the castle. He then placed the Sherman (nicknamed ‘Besotten Jenny’) in front of the main gate to command the road. It was an oddity never seen in the war, as German and Americans seemed united for the first time in a common effort. As for the French, since they were more politician than soldier, Lee wanted them to sit this one out, and assigned them to the cellar in case a battle erupted.

Finally, his plans completed, darkness arrived. Moonlight provided enough illumination to discern outlines, but little else. From the castle’s windows, nervous eyes stared over a blackened landscape where roamed so much uncertainty, made all the more frightening by the fact that heightened senses played tricks with the mind. They never knew the edginess was justified because by now, a few hundred yards away, more than one hundred weapons of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division pointed steady at the castle, with eyes squinting down sights and fingers starting to curl back on triggers.

At around 11 p.m. a hail of tracers leaped from a tree line, raking over Itter’s sides. Pops and stutters following the distant flashes were unmistakable as German small arms. Lee, Blasse and Gangl shouted commands, which sent the rest of the defenders to their stations. They honed in on the distant fire and returned volleys of their own. One of Gangl’s light machine guns sang along in tune with the slower guns of the tank, their cones of tracer whipping like twin serpent’s tails back and forth into the darkness.

The exchange lasted for about ten minutes, and then all of a sudden it stopped. Lee debated with himself whether the enemy really wanted the castle, or whether they saw the tank and were offering up some sort of token anger before moving on. He hoped the latter, because he knew they didn’t possess enough ammunition to hold off a sustained attack, and the lack of follow-up shots and any detectable movement outside the walls as the hours passed convinced him they would probably wait until daylight to try something serious.