General Patton of the Third Army was "just a little envious" of the First Army's Rhine crossing at Remagen.1 Yet there was little he could do immediately--once the 4th Armored Division had turned away from the Rhine--to emulate it. The Third Army was obligated to assist in a pending drive to eliminate the last German position west of the Rhine, and Patton himself was eager to expand his army's part in that operation from support to major effort.
The position to be erased had become known to American planners and commanders, after the political entity that made up the bulk of the area, as the Saar-Palatinate. Lying south of the Moselle, the area embraced more than 3,000 square miles and included the Saar industrial region, the old Bavarian Palatinate, part of the provinces of Rhineland and Hessen, and a belt of French territory along the Franco-German border in the northeastern corner of Alsace. Near the southern base of the region stood the West Wall, there stronger than anywhere else. On the western edge, General Walker's XX Corps, having cleared the Saar-Moselle triangle and captured Trier, had already pierced the West Wall; the rest of the Third Army, having conquered the Eifel, was in behind the German defenders.
To the Allies, the Saar-Palatinate had been an important goal since preinvasion planning days. The Saar was second only to the Ruhr as a source of Germany's war-making muscle, and the region screened feasible Rhine crossing sites lying between Mainz and Mannheim. Both the Third Army and General Devers's 6th Army Group needed access to those crossing sites to assure their logical roles in the final broad-front advance into the heart of Germany.
From the German viewpoint, the Saar-Palatinate was important both for its economic significance and for the military obstacle it posed to Allied armies. Based on the nearby iron ore of Lorraine and on extensive coal fields in the Saar River basin around Saarbruecken, the heavy industry of the Saar contributed 10 percent of Germany's iron and steel capacity. Coal production totaled 7,000,000 tons annually. Despite the proximity of Allied troops and almost daily raids by Allied planes, the Germans in early March still were shipping twelve trainloads of coal daily to plants east of the Rhine, and the foundries of the Saar continued to operate. At Homburg, northeast of Saarbruecken, stood one of the comparatively few synthetic oil plants still producing in the Reich; and at Ludwigshafen, across the Rhine from Mannheim, some
40 to 50 percent of the nation's entire output of chemicals was centered in an I. G. Farben plant. The industry of small cities such as Kaiserslautern, Speyer, and Worms also was important.2
As a military obstacle, the Saar-Palatinate drew strength not only from the West Wall but also from the built-up industrial region, from deep stream valleys, and from mountainous terrain. Along the northern boundary twists the deep valley of the Moselle, backed by the Hunsrueck Mountains, higher than the Eifel. Along the western and southern boundaries, the Saar and the Lauter Rivers pose similar barriers, the former also backed by the Hunsrueck Mountains, the latter by the densely forested Haardt or Lower Vosges Mountains, rising as high as 2,300 feet. Between the Hunsrueck and the Haardt lies the Pfaelzer Bergland, or Palatinate Highland.
The watershed between the Pfaelzer Bergland and the Haardt Mountains is high and narrow but also relatively flat and traversed by a good highway leading from Saarbruecken through Kaiserslautern to the Rhine in the vicinity of Worms, thus constituting a small corridor with considerable military utility. This corrider has become known as the Kaiserslautern Gap. A northeastward extension of the Metz Gap in Lorraine, it is one of only two logical passages through the Saar-Palatinate for sizable military forces. The other, the Wissembourg Gap, whence the Prussians debouched against France in 1870, opens a way from the northeastern corner of France into the valley of the Rhine.
The man responsible for defending the Saar-Palatinate was General Hausser, who had assumed command of Army Group G near the end of January after recovering from a wound incurred while commanding an army in France the preceding summer. In addition to the First Army, which long had held the Saar front, Hausser's command at first had included the Nineteenth Army, formerly a part of that anomaly called Army Group Oberrhein; but as the Nineteenth Army in early February withdrew under pressure from the Colmar pocket to the east bank of the Rhine, one by one its combat divisions had been commandeered for more active fronts. In early March, as the drive by Patton's Third Army threatened to riddle the Eifel and expose the long line of the Moselle, thereby prompting OB WEST to shift the Seventh Army in the Eifel to Hausser's command, the Nineteenth Army passed to direct control of the Commander in Chief West.
In most ways, the shift was a case of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Yet Hausser's responsibility for the Seventh Army meant that his point of main danger shifted from the Kaiserslautern and Wissembourg Gaps to the winding trench of the Moselle facing the Eifel.
Unless additional units could be sent to bolster the Seventh Army, Hausser notified OB WEST, successive withdrawals back to the Rhine was the best Army Group G could hope to accomplish. "Otherwise," Hausser warned, "envelopment
The Saar-Palatinate Triangle
12-21 March 1945
and annihilation of First Army will be imminent."3
The answer from Field Marshal von Rundstedt, acting out his last days as Commander in Chief West, was succinct, uncompromising.
Hold the Saar-Palatinate.
For the Americans, clearing the Saar-Palatinate would be a return to unfinished business that the Third and Seventh Armies had been conducting in December when forced to retrench to help defeat the Ardennes counteroffensive and Operation NORDWIND, the secondary counteroffensive in Alsace. Both armies had reached the West Wall guarding the Saar-Palatinate in December. The Third Army had forged two bridgeheads into the fortified line, one of which, at Saarlautern, remained intact. The Seventh Army had cleared northeastern Alsace and jumped the Lauter River at two points to confront the West Wall, but the necessity to spread out in order to free Third Army units for the Ardennes and to recoil before Operation NORDWIND had forced withdrawals, in some places as much as nineteen miles. Through most of February the Seventh Army had staged limited objective attacks to straighten lines and gain favorable ground for a major offensive against the Saar-Palatinate. Nevertheless, by the end of the first week in March, most of the northeastern corner of Alsace still was in German hands. The front departed from the Saar River near Sarreguemines and extended almost directly southeast through Hagenau to the Rhine.4 (Map IX)
Anticipating early completion of operations to clear the west bank of the Rhine north of the Moselle, General Eisenhower on 13 February had told his two American army group commanders, Bradley and Devers, to begin planning for a joint drive to sweep the Saar-Palatinate. Assigned a target date of 15 March, the offensive was to begin only after the 21 Army Group had reached the Rhine. It was to be designed both to draw enemy units from the north and to provide an alternate line of attack across the Rhine should the principal Allied drive in the north fail. The main effort, SHAEF planners contemplated, was to be made by the 6th Army Group's Seventh Army, which was to be augmented by transferring one armored and three infantry divisions from the Third Army.5
During the first week of March, General Devers at 6th Army Group approved a plan (Operation UNDERTONE) prepared by General Patch's Seventh Army. Three corps were to attack abreast from Saarbruecken to a point southeast of Hagenau. A narrow strip along the Rhine leading to the extreme northeastern corner of Alsace at Lauterbourg was to be cleared by a division of the First French Army under operational control of the Seventh Army. The Seventh Army's main effort was to be made in the center up the Kaiserslautern corridor.6
GENERAL DEVERS. (Photograph taken in late 1945.)
Approving the plan in turn, General Eisenhower noted that the objective was not only to clear the Saar-Palatinate but also to establish bridgeheads with forces of the 6th Army Group over the Rhine between Mainz and Mannheim. The 12th Army Group (i.e., the Third Army), he also noted, was to be limited to diversionary attacks across the Moselle to protect the 6th Army Group's left flank.7
Eisenhower approved on 8 March, the same day that General Patton obtained approval from General Bradley for the plan prepared by the Third Army staff for a major attack across the Moselle.8
The 12th Army Group commander in turn promoted the plan with General Eisenhower.9 Noting that the Germans had given no indication of withdrawing from the West Wall in front of the Seventh Army and that General Patch thus might be in for a long, costly campaign, Bradley suggested that the Third Army jump the Moselle near Koblenz, sweep south along the west bank of the Rhine to cut the enemy's supply lines, and at the same time press from its previously established Saar-Moselle bridgehead near Trier to come at the West Wall fortifications from the rear. General Eisenhower approved the plan without qualification.10
While the proposal to employ the Third Army in the Saar-Palatinate was based on sound tactical considerations, Bradley and Patton both also saw it as a way of getting the Third Army involved, thereby obviating loss of divisions either to Montgomery's 21 Army Group or to Devers's 6th Army Group.11 Yet the stratagem proved unnecessary as far as the 21 Army Group was concerned, since General Eisenhower told Field Marshal Montgomery that if ten U.S. divisions went north to help the 21 Army Group, Bradley's 12th Army Group headquarters would also move north to command the First and Ninth Armies. That may have played a part in silencing Montgomery on the subject of
additional American divisions to exploit his Rhine crossing.12
The stratagem only partially succeeded with the 6th Army Group; Bradley at last felt compelled to relinquish two divisions, the 4th Infantry and 6th Armored, the latter already designated as SHAEF reserve. Although he agreed to part with a third, impending arrival of the last serials of a new division from the United States made it unnecessary. As the target date for the Saar-Palatinate campaign neared, the 6th Army Group had eleven infantry and three armored divisions in the Seventh Army, plus the First French Army. The Third Army retained twelve divisions, four of them armored.
Although General Devers was briefly reluctant to endorse Third Army operations south of the Moselle lest the two forces become entangled with their converging thrusts, he too in the end approved the plan. He and Bradley agreed on a new boundary that afforded the Third Army a good road leading northeast from Saarlautern to headwaters of the Nahe River, some thirty-five miles northeast of Saarlautern, thence along the valley of the Nahe to the Rhine at Bingen. This boundary gave the Third Army responsibility for clearing the northwestern third of the Saar-Palatinate. Bradley and Devers also authorized the commanders of the two armies, Third and Seventh, to deal directly with each other rather than through their respective army group headquarters. Patton and the Seventh Army commander, General Patch, agreed in turn that once operations were
under way, Patton's right corps and Patch's left might also deal directly.13
Facing the undented fortifications of the West Wall, the Seventh Army commander planned a set-piece attack, preceded by an extensive program of aerial bombardment. Before the attack could begin, supplies had to be accumulated, division and corps boundaries adjusted, some units shuffled, and new divisions joining the army fed into jump-off positions.14 This meant to General Patch
that the Seventh Army could not attack before the target date, 15 March.
General Patton, on the other hand, based his entire plan for participation in the Saar-Palatinate on exploiting disorganization in German ranks resulting from his Eifel drive. The sooner he could start the better his chances for far-reaching results. He saw no point in waiting for the Seventh Army.
That was part of the reasoning behind Patton's preoccupation with bridges over the Moselle which resulted in shifting the 4th Armored Division away from the Rhine on 9 March.15 When the attempt to capture a bridge intact across the Moselle failed, Patton turned to a deliberate attack to be opened with a strike by the XX Corps on 12 March.
While the 76th Division, transferred from the XII Corps, took over an earlier assignment given the XX Corps to clear a narrow sector along the north bank of the Moselle, the rest of the XX Corps was to drive east from the Saar River bridgehead south of Trier, the bridgehead established as a corollary of the operations to clear the Saar-Moselle triangle. As soon as regrouping was complete, General Eddy's XII Corps was to jump the lower Moselle near Koblenz and head for Bingen, at the juncture of the Nahe and the Rhine, and for Bad Kreuznach, a few miles upstream on the Nahe. Walker and Eddy thus were, in effect, to make converging attacks that, if unaltered later, would join along the Nahe River. General Middleton's VIII Corps, meanwhile, was to hold the west bank of the Rhine above Koblenz, finish the mop-up in the Eifel, and eventually reduce Koblenz. If, in the process of its watch on the Rhine, the VIII Corps saw a chance to jump the river, Middleton was to allow it to do so.16
Those were the written orders. While they conformed to the established boundary with the Seventh Army along the Nahe River, General Patton from the first intended that the boundary impose no restrictions on his maneuver. Orally, he told his corps commanders that the objective was to establish bridgeheads over the Rhine in the vicinity of Mainz, Oppenheim, and Worms--the same sites he had picked the preceding summer, long before the detour to Bastogne and through the Eifel.17 All three sites lay in what was then the Seventh Army zone. Patton clearly anticipated a swift breakthrough and rapid exploitation that would impel further boundary adjustment.
As indicated by the warnings of the Army Group G commander, General Hausser, that his forces could hope to accomplish no more than a fighting withdrawal from the Saar-Palatinate, the German situation conformed to Patton's expectations. Even had the problem remained merely to defend the old First Army front from Trier to the Rhine, most of it bolstered by West Wall fortifications, Hausser's units would have been hard put to hold. As it was, Hausser had to thin already dangerously stretched
First Army units in an effort to strengthen his new charge, the Seventh Army, along the Moselle.18
In the retreat from the Eifel, General Felber's Seventh Army lost not only thousands of soldiers but a corps headquarters, the LIII Corps. Split away from the rest of the army by the U.S. 4th Armored Division's plunge to the Rhine, the corps commander, General Botsch, and some of his staff had escaped across the Rhine, while the bulk of those in the Seventh Army who got away were falling back behind the Moselle. To take the place of this corps, the Army Group G commander, General Hausser, called on the LXXXIX Corps under General der Infanterie Gustav Hoehne from the extreme left wing of the First Army. Leaving behind its assigned divisions to be absorbed by the neighboring corps, the headquarters of the LXXXIX Corps arrived at the Moselle on 9 March.
To General Hoehne went the task of defending some twenty-five miles of the Moselle from Koblenz to a point upstream from Cochem. As everywhere along the Moselle, the snakelike convolutions of the river added to the actual length of the front and created dangerous re-entrants. To defend such a serpentine obstacle with any real hope of success would have required either enough troops on the north bank to stop the re-entrants or sufficient reserves to hit any crossing quickly. The LXXXIX Corps and the Seventh Army had neither.
As the LXXXIX Corps moved into position, General Hoehne assumed command of Kampfgruppe Koblenz, a 1,800-man local defense force whose only fire support was from stationary antiaircraft guns, mostly east of the Rhine, and the 276th Infantry Division, which had escaped from the Eifel with the equivalent of two infantry, two engineer, and two light field artillery battalions. Withdrawn from the First Army as a first step in providing a reserve for the Seventh Army, a third unit, the 159th Infantry Division, had to be used instead to augment Hoehne's corps. A force of fairly presentable strength, the 159th took over the left wing.19
By further stretching the First Army defenses, the Army Group G commander had freed another unit, also scheduled originally for the Seventh Army reserve--the 6th SS Mountain Division, perhaps the most combat-worthy division remaining in Army Group G. Yet on 5 March, in a belated reaction to the U.S. 10th Armored Division's capture of Trier, OB WEST had ordered that division to counterattack across the Ruwer River south of Trier to sever the American armored division's line of communications. Striking the U.S. 94th Division, the mountain division the next day had cut the main highway into Trier from the south.20
It was a Pyrrhic victory. In the attack and against the American counterattacks that followed, the flower of the 6th SS Mountain Division's manpower fell. Two days later, as OB WEST finally gave in to Army Group G's protestations, the remainder of the division began to withdraw, but for lack of gasoline one
regiment had to stay behind. Although General Hausser decided, reluctantly, to give the division to the LXXXIX Corps rather than hold it in reserve, only the reconnaissance battalion would reach the corps before the Moselle front erupted.
Hausser had only one other hope for a reserve. For more than a week he had sought to withdraw the 559th Volks Grenadier Division from a salient extending beyond the West Wall south of Saarbruecken; but since that would involve abandoning some West Wall positions, authority had to come from Hitler himself. The permission finally arrived but, as events were to prove, too late. The first contingents of the division became available to assist the Seventh Army only on 15 March.
On the left of the LXXXIX Corps, responsible for another twenty-five miles of steep, rocky, vine-clad river bank, stood General von Oriola's XIII Corps, consisting of remnants of three volks grenadier divisions and the 2d Panzer Division. None of the divisions could be classed as more than a Kampfgruppe and the panzer division, though somewhat stronger in numbers than the others, had only a few tanks. The rest of the Moselle front to the vicinity of Trier, thence southeast along the Ruwer River to a point of contact with the First Army three miles south of the Moselle, belonged to General Beyer's LXXX Corps. Beyer commanded remnants of three volks grenadier divisions.21
Despite the withdrawals to aid the Seventh Army, Army Group G's other major component, the First Army under General der Infanterie Hermann Foertsch, remained the considerably stronger force. Having benefited by transfer of a number of the Nineteenth Army's divisions following withdrawal from the Colmar pocket, the First Army had seen little major fighting in recent weeks except that in the Saar-Moselle triangle and the limited objective attacks in Alsace launched by the American Seventh Army in February. Yet the weakest point of the First Army front was at the same time the most threatened, and the necessity of giving up divisions to the Seventh Army meant that General Foertsch could do little about it.
The point in question was the bridgehead beyond the Saar River and the West Wall south of Trier established by the U.S. XX Corps. There stood the LXXXII Corps under General Hahm, part of which earlier had been driven from the Saar-Moselle triangle. Until 10 March, the corps still had only three divisions, two of which had been roughly treated in the triangle. The third, the 2d Mountain Division, was also seriously understrength following its futile, piecemeal counterattacks against the bridgehead over the Saar. On 10 March command of the remnants of another division passed from the Seventh Army's LXXX Corps to the LXXXII Corps, but with it came responsibility for defending an additional three miles of front close to Trier. With this addition, General Hahm's line ran from a point east of Trier southeast to the other American bridgehead over the Saar at Saarlautern. Somewhat less than one-half of this line
benefited from West Wall fortifications.22
Containing the Saarlautern bridgehead was one of the responsibilities of the LXXXV Corps, commanded by General der Infanterie Baptist Kniess. The corps had three divisions, all nearly at full strength; but one, the 559th Volks Grenadier, was destined for transfer to the Seventh Army.23 Unlike the commander of the adjoining LXXXII Corps and those defending the Moselle, General Kniess was confident his troops could hold against frontal attack, for the West Wall in his sector was in considerable depth. It was concern about American breakthrough from the rear that plagued both Kniess and the commanders of two other corps that extended the First Army line southeast to the Rhine. Although these two corps, the XIII SS and the XC, would no doubt be driven back from their advanced positions in Alsace, they would gain strength by retiring into the West Wall.
When the new Commander in Chief West, Field Marshal Kesselring, paid his first visit to First and Seventh Army headquarters on 13 March, the army group commander, General Hausser, and the two army commanders used the occasion to emphasize how sterile and potentially disastrous they considered the policy of all-out defense west of the Rhine. It could only result, they insisted, in wholesale losses, perhaps annihilation. The latter, General Felber of the Seventh Army pointed out, seemed highly likely, because the U.S. 4th Armored Division was apparently concentrating along the lower Moselle near Cochem for a quick thrust that could cut the entire army group off from the Rhine.
Yet Kesselring, true to his charge from his Fuehrer--whether he believed in it or not--refused to sanction either withdrawal or a deliberate delaying action. "The positions," Kesselring said, "have to be held."24
Through the Hunsrueck
General Patton's plan of attack was admirably designed to capitalize on German weaknesses. Striking first, Walker's XX Corps might attract any available reserve, whereupon Eddy's XII Corps was to jump the Moselle at one of the defenders' weakest points, the sector of Hoehne's LXXXIX Corps. Quick convergence of the two drives well might trap the other two corps of the Seventh Army, and a logical extension of Eddy's thrust southward alongside the Rhine could, as the German General Felber feared, trap all of Army Group G.
For the opening attack, General Walker had an outsize corps of four infantry divisions, two cavalry groups, and an armored division. One cavalry group, the 3d, started the fighting during the afternoon of 12 March with a diversionary attack in a loop of the Moselle near the confluence of the Moselle and the Ruwer. After nightfall, as a drizzling rain showed signs of diminishing, troops of three infantry divisions moved toward lines of departure along the periphery of the Saar bridgehead south of Trier. At 0245 on 13 March an impressive total of thirty-one divisional and corps field
artillery battalions opened fire. Fifteen minutes later, the infantry moved through the darkness to the attack.
The 94th Division (General Malony) on the left headed east toward the crossroads town of Hermeskeil, ten miles beyond the Ruwer; the 80th Division (General McBride) in the center drove southeast toward Weiskirchen and Losheim, approximately seven miles away. Capture of these objectives would put the XX Corps through the most densely wooded portions of the Hunsrueck and open the way for armor. The 26th Division (General Paul) meanwhile attacked almost due south in a narrow zone close to the Saar to roll up the West Wall. After daylight, a regiment of the 65th Division (Maj. Gen. Stanley E. Reinhart), new to combat, staged a diversionary, limited objective attack in the Saarlautern bridgehead.25
Nowhere was the going easy. The terrain--high, fir-covered hills, deep draws and ravines, and a secondary roadnet already churned into mud by German vehicles--was enough in itself to see to that; but the German regiments, seriously depleted in numbers, could take advantage of the difficult ground only at isolated points rather than along a continuous line. In the darkness, the attacking battalions stumbled onto some enemy positions, ran into minefields, and drew heavy small arms and mortar fire, but more often than not, a sideslipping to left or right brought quick relief and continued advance. The action was more an infiltration than an attack, with reserve companies and reserve battalions taking out the strongpoints after daylight came.
By early evening of 13 March, the 94th and 80th Divisions both had firm holds on the first ridgeline beyond the original bridgehead, as much as two miles from the jump-off points, and bridges were in place across both the Ruwer and a feeder stream that cut the 80th Division's zone.26 Unlike the other two units, the 26th Division in the pillbox belt near the Saar came in for frequent local counterattacks, but that division also advanced as much as two miles.
The next day, 14 March, the drive slowed down. The Germans, wherever encountered, fought back defiantly, giving no indication of general withdrawal. This was particularly true among the pillboxes faced by the 26th Division, where a combination of concrete-reinforced resistance and rough terrain brought advances that had to be measured in yards rather than miles. A counterattack by the regiment of the 6th SS Mountain Division that had been left behind by its parent division for want of gasoline slowed the advance of the 80th Division.27 When the weather cleared in the afternoon, planes of the XIX Tactical Air Command got into the fray in strength, but because it was hard to pinpoint advance positions in the thick fir
forests, the strikes had to be confined to targets well in front of the infantry.
Visiting all three division command posts during the day, the Third Army commander was disturbed at the slow pace. General Patch's Seventh Army, General Patton knew, was to begin its offensive the next morning. Patton was concerned lest Patch beat him to the Rhine.28
Patton need not have worried. On the third day, 15 March, no general German collapse developed, but the signs were there. The 94th Division's 302d Infantry plunged forward four miles and reached a point less than three miles from the division objective of Hermeskeil. A battallion of the 80th Division's 318th Infantry fought its way into Weiskirchen, one of that division's objectives, there encountering a veritable hornet's nest of opposition. The battalion nonetheless achieved a sizable gain and was on the edge of more open country. Another battalion made an even deeper thrust farther south. Although the 26th Division had the usual hard time with pillboxes, the 26th's attack was a subsidiary operation that nobody looked on as the bellwether of the drive.
To the XX Corps commander, General Walker, the time for exploitation seemed at hand. Although air reconnaissance found no evidence of wholesale German withdrawal, this report merely reinforced Walker's determination to commit his armor. A swift strike by tanks might trap the Germans before they had a chance to escape.
Just after midnight Walker told the 10th Armored Division, already on one-hour alert, to jump off before daylight on the 16th to pass through the 94th and 80th Divisions. The goal was the Nahe River, some twenty-five miles away.
Across the Lower Moselle
Playing a large part in Walker's decision was the situation in the zone of General Eddy's XII Corps on the lower Moselle. There, before dawn on 14 March, two infantry divisions had set out to cross the river.
The terrain along the lower Moselle is forbidding at the river line itself--precipitous, forested slopes rising to a thousand feet, with egress from the river bottom by steep twisting roads--but only a mile or two from the river most of the roads emerge onto open, relatively flat-surfaced ridgelines broad enough for military maneuver. Thus the XII Corps commander, General Eddy, anticipated that once his infantry had reached the crest of the ridgelines, armor could quickly take over and drive the remaining thirty miles to the Nahe River. Although he ordered his infantry divisions to attack toward the Nahe as soon as they had established bridgeheads over the Moselle, he alerted the 4th Armored Division for rapid commitment and urged corps engineers to begin building bridges capable of handling tanks even as the infantrymen were crossing the river in assault boats.29
Concealed by darkness and a heavy fog, two regiments of the 90th Division (General Earnest) and one of the 5th (General Irwin) began to cross the Moselle at 0200, 14 March, behind a 30-minute artillery preparation. A second regiment
of the 5th Division--arrival of its assault boats delayed by traffic-jammed roads--crossed two hours later. Only an occasional inaccurate burst of fire from restless German machine gunners interfered with any of the crossings.
On the far bank, the infantrymen found resistance centered almost exclusively in the towns and villages. In Treis, riverside nexus of several good roads leading southeast and six miles downstream from Cochem, contingents of the enemy's 159th Division held a battalion of the 5th Division's 2d Infantry at bay until after nightfall when opening of a treadway bridge across the Moselle enabled tanks to help mop up. It took a battalion of the 90th Division's 357th Infantry until noon to clear other troops of the 159th Division from the town of Brodenbach, while in another town just over a mile downstream the 6th SS Mountain Division's reconnaissance battalion held out until midafternoon.
In the meantime, the other battalions of both the 5th and 90th Divisions had been occupying the high ground between and behind the villages. By nightfall some units had pushed more than two miles beyond the river; casualties in the two divisions together totaled less than a hundred. At first concealed by fog, then by smoke, and hampered only by a swift current and sporadic, ineffective German shelling, engineers soon after nightfall opened treadway bridges to serve both divisions.
The comparative ease of the crossing early prompted the 5th Division commander, General Irwin, to alert a regiment for a fast motorized advance the next morning, 15 March, aimed at the corps objective along the Nahe River. The corps commander, General Eddy, was similarly impressed. When Irwin asked for trucks to transport his infantry, Eddy cautioned that he intended to commit the 4th Armored Division (General Gaffey) early the next day. To Irwin's protest that his infantry could reach the objective while the armored division was sorting itself out after crossing the river, Eddy insisted that the exploitation was a job for armor.30
To the German LXXXIX Corps commander, General Hoehne, it was equally apparent that the American bridgehead was firmly established and soon would explode. While he knew that the main body of the 6th SS Mountain Division probably would arrive the next day, he also recognized that the division was too depleted from the futile counterattack south of Trier and the loss of a regiment to General Hahm's LXXXII Corps even to postpone the inevitable. As the division began to arrive piecemeal early on the 15th, Hoehne committed it against the left flank of the U.S. 90th Division, hoping thereby at least to hold open an escape route eastward to the Rhine.31
General Hoehne's preoccupation with the American left flank became manifest on 15 March in the pattern of American advance. On the left, in the relatively narrow triangle of land between the Moselle and the Rhine, the 90th Division's 357th Infantry absorbed two sharp counterattacks, one supported by two tanks, another launched by newly arrived troops of the 6th SS Mountain Division. At the forest-cloaked village of Pfaffenheck, midway between the Moselle and the Rhine, a hundred SS troopers
supported by a lone tank fought furiously and successfully against the 357th Infantry's 2d Battalion to hold a road leading to the Rhine. Although a platoon of Company E forced its way into the village in early morning, the Germans cut off and captured the riflemen before reinforcements could arrive.
Attacking down parallel roads to the southeast, the 90th Division's other two regiments expanded the bridgehead line six miles beyond the Moselle before the 4th Armored Division's Combat Command A passed through in the afternoon. The armor almost immediately ran into stubborn resistance built around four antitank guns and extended the line only a little more than an additional mile before coiling for the night.
On the right wing of the XII Corps, where the enemy corps commander soon lost all communications with his 159th Division and presumed the unit doomed, similar resistance failed to develop.32 The advance was spectacular. Passing through troops of the 5th Division at noon, the 4th Armored's Combat Command B quickly picked up momentum. Roadblocks at the entrance of each town, usually defended by no more than a cluster of riflemen and machine gunners, were about all that stood in the way. White sheets fluttered from upper-story windows, a now familiar sign that German civilians had divined the approaching end. Enjoying a bright, sunlit day, fighter-bombers of the XIX Tactical Air Command worked in close co-ordination with the armor and before night fell had flown 643 sorties to claim a new record for five groups in one day.33 In just over five hours, CCB moved sixteen miles beyond the Moselle, more than half the distance to the Nahe River. The tankers stopped for the night in Simmern, only a few miles from the Soonwald, the last big terrain obstacle short of the Nahe.
Convinced beyond doubt that CCB's deep thrust presaged a quick end to organized resistance, General Eddy attached motorized regimental combat teams from the 90th and 5th Divisions to CCA and CCB, respectively. In order to broaden the front and prevent other German units from turning against the penetration, he ordered the 89th Division (Maj. Gen. Thomas D. Finley), experiencing its first combat, to cross the Moselle beside the 5th Division early the next morning, 15 March. Shifted by General Patton from the VIII Corps, the 11th Armored Division was to follow on the 17th.34
With General Hoehne's LXXXIX Corps split by Combat Command B's thrust, the Seventh Army commander, General Felber, made the usual cry for help to his Army Group G superior, General Hausser. Noting that the first contingents (two infantry battalions) of the 559th Volks Grenadier Division had arrived in the army's sector during the afternoon, Hausser promised to do what he could to speed the rest of the division. He also ordered the First Army to release another volks grenadier division, but in view of the canopy of American fighter planes that spanned the Saar-Palatinate during daylight, neither division probably would be able to arrive in time to help.
For his own part, General Felber ordered General Hoehne to conduct a fighting withdrawal using those forces of
the LXXXIX Corps that were east of the American penetration. If compelled, Hoehne was to fall back across the Rhine. What was left of the 159th Division was to be attached to the XIII Corps (General von Oriola) and was to assume a bridgehead defense north of the Nahe River. The bridgehead was to be used as a reception station for the XIII Corps once approval for the corps to withdraw could be wrung from higher command.35
The German commanders had every reason to ask for withdrawal; two corps of the Seventh Army, the XIII and LXXX Corps, both still holding along the Moselle, were in danger of encirclement. The 4th Armored Division breakthrough was but one aspect of that danger. The German commanders also had to cast wary glances over their left shoulders at the attack of the U.S. XX Corps.
Plunge to the Nahe and Fall of Koblenz
In General Walker's XX Corps, combat commands of the 10th Armored Division (General Morris) began passing through infantry of the 80th and 94th Divisions before daylight on 16 March. Although the Germans of General Hahm's LXXXII Corps during the night had formed a new crust of resistance sufficient to deny genuine armored exploitation for another twenty-four hours, no doubt remained among either American or German commanders as the day ended that a deep armored thrust was in the offing.
When it came, the exploitation would possess added power as a result of a visit the Supreme Commander paid the Third Army commander in late morning of the 16th. Patton asked General Eisenhower for another armored division, the 12th, then in Seventh Army reserve, and Eisenhower agreed. Like General Eddy's XII Corps, Walker's XX Corps was to have six divisions.36
In the XII Corps, meanwhile, the exploitation involved no delay. Renewing the drive from Simmern, the 4th Armored's CCB took the obstacle of the Soonwald in stride and plunged almost unimpeded another fourteen miles. The head of the column reached the Nahe River at noon near Bad Muenster, two miles upstream from the corps objective of Bad Kreuznach, seized a railroad bridge intact, and quickly established a bridgehead.
Fighter-bombers of the XIX Tactical Air Command again were out in force, bombing and strafing anything German that moved on the roads. Ironically, it was the fighter-bombers that saved the German Seventh Army commander, General Felber, and his chief of staff, General von Gersdorff, from capture. In the process of moving their command post, the two officers had to take to the woods to escape strafing American planes. Minutes later tanks of the 4th Armored Division passed nearby, unaware of the prey the planes had forced into hiding. For an hour Felber and Gersdorff had to hide in the woods before they were able to escape over a back road.
It was but a short-lived respite for the two German officers. Even as they rejoined the rest of the Seventh Army staff in Gensingen, midway between Bad Kreuznach and the Rhine, the 4th Armored's other attacking combat command
was fast bearing down on them. Having run into stanch resistance near the north edge of the Soonwald from the 6th SS Mountain Division's reconnaissance battalion, Combat Command A again had found the going slower than had CCB; but once air and artillery support had helped overcome the opposition, CCA too began to roll. The head of CCA's column reached the Nahe opposite Gensingen before dark. Although all bridges over the river had been demolished, fire from the tankers' guns forced the Seventh Army staff again to flee.37
At the Moselle River, German miseries were compounded on 16 March in two places. Upstream from Cochem and the 5th Division crossing sites, General Finley's 89th Division before daylight sent two regiments across the river in assault boats against a modicum of resistance. As with the earlier crossings, fighting was restricted almost entirely to the riverside villages, and there the weak task forces of General von Oriola's XIII Corps could hope to hold only briefly. By the end of the day, the inexperienced 89th Division held a substantial bridgehead and was ready to receive the tanks of the 11th Armored Division.
German troubles also increased downstream near the confluence of the Moselle with the Rhine. There General Middleton, his VIII Corps reduced to but one division and cavalry group, sent his lone division, the 87th, across the Moselle to capture the city of Koblenz.38
The 87th Division commander, General Culin, planned to do the job with two regiments. The 347th Infantry was to cross the river before daylight on 16 March about five miles upstream from Koblenz. Through a narrow clearing in the high woodlands that feature most of the narrow triangle between the Moselle and the Rhine, the regiment was to drive southeast about seven miles to the Rhine, thus cutting off the defenders of Koblenz from any possible aid from the south. A second regiment, crossing the Moselle opposite Koblenz itself, was to reduce the city.
Aware from intelligence reports that the enemy's LXXXIX Corps had few troops for defending the little triangle other than weak contingents of the 276th Volks Grenadier Division and local Koblenz defense forces, General Culin anticipitated no major fight. The utter ease of the 347th Infantry's crossing nonetheless came as a surprise. Not a shot, not a round of shellfire, indeed, not a sign of the enemy met the two assault battalions. Dawn was fast approaching when the first opposition developed, a scattering of small arms fire in a village several hundred yards from the river.
The first really troublesome resistance came in the afternoon at Waldesch, midway between the Moselle and the Rhine. There recently arrived contingents of the 6th SS Mountain Division effectively blocked a little corridor of cleared land leading to the Rhine.
Noting the ease of the 347th Infantry's crossing, General Culin saw no need to repeat the process opposite Koblenz. Instead, he ordered a second regiment to cross in the 347th's sector, then swing northeast against the city. By the end of the day, 16 March, two battalions were in the southern fringes of the city and had cleared a new Moselle crossing site for the rest of the regiment.
To the German Seventh Army commander,
ENGINEERS OF THE 87TH DIVISION ferry a tank across the Moselle.
General Felber, advent of the new American force removed any rationalization that might have existed for the LXXXIX Corps to attempt to hold longer west of the Rhine. At noon on the 16th he told the corps commander, General Hoehne, to begin his withdrawal, though in Koblenz itself Kampfgruppe Koblenz was to fight to the last. As night came, a heavy fog favored the evacuation. Some 1,700 men, all that remained of Hoehne's LXXXIX Corps, made it to the east bank.39
Aided by deadly airbursts from high-velocity antiaircraft guns firing from beyond the Rhine, the 1,800-man Kampfgruppe Koblenz put up a stout defense the next day, 17 March, even though the outcome of the fight was inevitable. The last resistance was destined to fade early on 19 March with no more than half a hundred survivors escaping across the Rhine.40
Seventh Army's Deliberate Attack
All along the Moselle, from Koblenz to Trier, the German Seventh Army on 17 March was in peril, if not from direct attack, then from the flanking thrust against the right wing of the First Army by General Walker's XX Corps. Collapse of the Seventh Army clearly was but a question of time. Soon the German First Army, too, would be in dire straits, for the American Seventh Army two days earlier, on 15 March, had launched a power drive against General Foertsch's army along a 70-mile front from the vicinity of Saarlautern southeastward to the Rhine. Even if that offensive failed to penetrate the West Wall, it might tie the First Army troops to the fortifications while Patton's forces took them from the rear.
The U.S. Seventh Army traced its origin back to Sicily where General Patton had first led it into battle. An infantryman who had seen combat many months before on Guadalcanal, "Sandy" Patch, had assumed command for the invasion of southern France and a swift advance northward. Patch's chief of staff was an artilleryman, Maj. Gen. Arthur A. White, who had held a similar post under Patch on Guadalcanal.
The Seventh Army numbered among its ranks several relatively inexperienced units but retained a flavoring of long-term veterans. The VI Corps (Maj. Gen. Edward H. Brooks), for example, and three divisions--the 3d, 36th, and 45th--had fought at length in the Mediterranean theater, including the Anzio beachhead. The XV Corps (Maj. Gen. Wade H. Haislip) had joined the Seventh Army after fighting across France with the Third Army. A third corps, the XXI (Maj. Gen. Frank W. Milburn), was relatively new, having joined the army in January.
As the Seventh Army offensive began, the basic question was how stubbornly the Germans would defend before falling back on the West Wall. Only General Milburn's XXI Corps, on the Seventh Army left wing near Saarbruecken, was fairly close to the West Wall, while other units were as much as twenty miles away. Making the army's main effort in the center, General Haislip's XV Corps faced what looked like a particularly troublesome obstacle in the town of Bitche. Surrounded by fortresses of the French Maginot Line, Bitche had been taken from the Germans in December after a hard struggle, only to be relinquished in the withdrawal forced by the German counteroffensive. On the army's right wing General Brooks's VI Corps, farthest of all from the West Wall, had first to get across the Moder River, and one of Brooks's divisions faced the added difficulty of attacking astride the rugged Lower Vosges Mountains.
Two German corps and part of a third were in the path of the impending American drive. At Saarbruecken, the left wing of General Kniess's LXXXV Corps would receive a glancing blow from Milburn's XXI Corps. Having recently given up the 559th Volks Grenadier Division to the Seventh Army, Kniess had only two divisions, one of which was tied down holding West Wall positions northwest of Saarbruecken. Southeast of the town, with boundaries roughly coterminous with those of Haislip's XV Corps, stood the XIII SS Corps (SS Gruppenfuehrer and Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Max Simon) with three divisions. Extending the line to the
Rhine was the XC Corps (General der Infanterie Erich Petersen) with two volks grenadier divisions and remnants of an infantry training division.
Although the Germans worried most about a breakthrough in the sector of Petersen's XC Corps into the Wissembourg Gap rather than through Simon's XIII SS Corps into the Kaiserslautern corridor, the shifts and countershifts made in preceding weeks to salvage reinforcements for the Seventh Army actually had left the XIII SS Corps the stronger. In addition to two volks grenadier divisions, Simon's corps had the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, at this point not much more than a proud name, but a unit possessing considerably more tanks and other armored vehicles than were to be found in the entire adjacent corps. The American main effort thus aimed at the stronger German units, though at this stage of the war strength in regard to German divisions was but a relative term.41
As General Patch's Seventh Army attacked before daylight on 15 March, the apparent answer on German intentions was quick to come. Only in two places could the resistance be called determined. One was on the left wing, where the 63d Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Louis E. Hibbs) sought to bypass Saarbruecken on the east and cut German escape routes from the city. The fact that the 63d Division early hit the West Wall provided ready explanation for the stanch opposition there. The other was on the extreme right wing where an attached 3d Algerian Infantry Division (3e Division d'Infanterie d'Algerie) was to clear the expanse of flatland between Hagenau and the Rhine. There an urban area closely backing the Moder River defensive line and flat ground affording superb fields of fire for dug-in automatic weapons accounted in large measure for the more difficult fighting.42
Elsewhere local engagements sometimes were vicious and costly but usually were short-lived. Antipersonnel and antitank mines abounded. German artillery fire seldom was more than moderate and in most cases could better be classified as light or sporadic. That was attributable in part to a campaign of interdiction for several days preceding the attack by planes of the XII Tactical Air Command (Brig. Gen. Glenn O. Barcus) and by D-day strikes by both the fighter-bombers and the mediums and heavies of the Eighth Air Force. The latter hit West Wall fortifications and industrial targets in cities such as Zweibruecken and Kaiserslautern. The weather was beautifully clear, enabling the aircraft to strike at a variety of targets, limited only by range and bomb-carrying capacity. Among the German casualties were the operations officers of two of the three XC Corps divisions.43
Of the units of the outsized (six divisions) XV Corps, only a regiment of the 45th Division (Maj. Gen. Robert T. Frederick) faced a water obstacle at the start. That regiment had to cross the Blies River at a site upstream from where
the Blies turns northeast to meander up the Kaiserslautern corridor. Yet even before dawn men of the regiment had penetrated the enemy's main line of defense beyond the river. Aided by searchlights, they bypassed strongpoints, leaving them for reserves to take out later. As night came the 45th Division had driven almost three miles beyond the Blies to match a rate of advance that was general everywhere except in the pillbox belt near Saarbruecken and on the flatlands near the Rhine.
On the right wing of the XV Corps, men of the 100th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Withers A. Burress) drove quickly to the outskirts of the fortress town of Bitche. Perhaps aided by the fact that they had done the same job before in December, they gained dominating positions on the fortified hills around the town, leaving no doubt that they would clear the entire objective in short order the next day, 16 March.
The only counterattack to cause appreciable concern hit a battalion of the 3d Division's 7th Infantry. Veterans of combat from the North African campaign onward, the regiments of the 3d Division (Maj. Gen. John W. O'Daniel) were making the main effort in the center of the XV Corps in the direction of Zweibruecken and the Kaiserslautern corridor. Although a company of supporting tanks ran into a dense minefield, disabling four tanks and stopping the others, a battalion of the 7th Infantry fought its way into the village of Uttweiler, just across the German frontier. Then an infantry battalion from the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, supported by nine assault guns, struck back. The Germans quickly isolated the American infantrymen but could not force them from the village. Supported by a platoon of tank destroyers and the regimental antitank company organized as a bazooka brigade, another of the 7th Infantry's battalions counterattacked. The men knocked out four multiple-barrel 20-mm. flakwagons and seven assault guns and freed the besieged battalion.
On the Seventh Army's right wing, pointed toward the Wissembourg Gap, divisions of General Brooks's VI Corps experienced, with the exception of the 3d Algerian Division, much the same type of opposition. Although all four attacking divisions had to overcome the initial obstacle of a river, either the Moder or a tributary, they accomplished the job quickly with predawn assaults. The Germans were too thinly stretched to do more than man a series of strongpoints. On the corps left wing, the 42d Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Harry J. Collins) overcame the added obstacle of attacking along the spine of the Lower Vosges by avoiding the roads and villages in the valleys and following the crests of the high ground. Pack mules, already proved in earlier fighting in the High Vosges, provided the means of supply.
As with the 3d Division, a battalion of the 103d Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe) ran into a counterattack, but the reaction it prompted was more precautionary than forced. Having entered Uttenhofen, northwest of Hagenau, the battalion encountered such intense small arms fire and shelling from self-propelled guns that the regimental commander authorized withdrawal. When German infantry soon after nightfall counterattacked with support from four self-propelled pieces, the battalion pulled back another few
TROOPS OF THE 63D DIVISION cross dragon's teeth of the West Wall.
hundred yards to better positions on the edge of a copse.
In the sector of the 36th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. John E. Dahlquist), the day's fighting produced a heroic performance by a rifleman of the 142d Infantry, Pfc. Silvestre S. Herrera. After making a one-man charge that carried a German strongpoint and bagged eight prisoners, Herrera and his platoon were pinned down by fire from a second position protected by a minefield. Disregarding the mines, Herrera also charged this position but stepped on a mine and lost both feet. Even that failed to check him. He brought the enemy under such accurate rifle fire that others of his platoon were able to bypass the minefield and take the Germans in flank.44
The 3d Algerian Division meanwhile got across the Moder with little enough trouble but then encountered intense house-to-house fighting. Despite good artillery support made possible by the unlimited visibility of a clear day, grazing fire from automatic weapons prevented the Algerians from crossing a stretch of open ground facing the buildings of a
former French Army frontier post. A welter of mines and two counterattacks, the latter repulsed in both cases by artillery fire, added to the problems. As night fell, no Algerian unit had advanced more than a mile.
On the second day, 16 March, indications that the Germans were fighting no more than a delaying action increased everywhere except, again, on the two flanks. It seemed particularly apparent in the zone of the XV Corps, where all three attacking divisions improved on their first day's gains. Mines, demolitions, and strongpoints usually protected by a tank or an assault gun were the main obstacles. By nightfall both the 3d and 45th Divisions were well across the German frontier, scarcely more than a stone's throw from the outposts of the West Wall, and the 100th Division, relieved at Bitche by a follow-up infantry division, had begun to come abreast. Fighter-bombers of the XII Tactical Air Command again were out in force.
Even though the Germans appeared to be falling back by design, in reality they intended a deliberate defense. Although corps commanders had begged to be allowed to withdraw into the West Wall even before the American offensive began, General Foertsch at First Army and General Hausser at Army Group G had been impelled to deny the entreaties. The new Commander in Chief West, Field Marshal Kesselring, remained as faithful as his predecessor to the Hitler-imposed maxim of no withdrawal anywhere unless forced.45
As events developed, no formal order to pull back into the fortifications ever emerged above corps level. Beginning the night of 16 March, commanders facing the U.S. XV Corps simply did the obvious, ordering their units to seek refuge in the West Wall whenever American pressure grew so great that withdrawal or annihilation became the only alternatives. The next day commanders facing the U.S. VI Corps adopted the same procedure.
It became at that point as much a matter of logistics as of actual fighting before all divisions of the Seventh Army would be battling to break the concrete barrier into the Saar-Palatinate; but as more than one German commander noted with genuine concern, whether any real fight would develop for the West Wall was not necessarily his to determine. That responsibility fell to those units, decimated and increasingly demoralized, which were opposing the onrush of American Third Army troops from west and northwest into the German rear.
Along the Nahe River units of the Seventh Army's hard-pressed LXXXIX Corps got a measure of respite on 17 March as General Gaffey's front-running 4th Armored Division paused to regroup. Having established a bridgehead over the Nahe late on 16 March, Gaffey wanted time to service his tanks and to enable his reserve combat command and the infantry divisions of the XII Corps to come up. The ensuing delay in American attacks aided the LXXXIX Corps in its withdrawal, authorized the day before, to the east bank of the Rhine.46
Elsewhere in the German Seventh Army and on the right wing of the First
Army, there was no respite. As the recently transferred 12th Armored Division moved to reinforce General Walker's XX Corps early on 17 March, the 10th Armored Division drove eight miles and seized a bridge intact over the little Prims River, last water obstacle short of the Nahe. Bringing searchlights forward to provide illumination, the armor prepared to continue the drive through the night toward the Nahe itself at St. Wendel, eleven miles away. On the right wing of the XII Corps, the 89th Division expanded its Moselle bridgehead while the 11th Armored Division moved in behind the infantry as prelude to another thrust toward the Nahe at Kirn, twenty miles beyond the Moselle.47
Before daylight on the 17th, the Seventh Army commander, General Felber, sent two divisions of the XIII Corps to counterattack what appeared to be the most pressing of the converging American threats, the breakthrough of the 4th Armored Division. The effort proved futile. One division lacked sufficient transport even to assemble in time to counterattack, and the other, the 2d Panzer Division (reduced to 4 tanks, 3 assault guns, about 200 panzer grenadiers, and 2 artillery battalions), found its route blocked by antitank barriers prematurely closed by panicky German villagers.48
Both Felber and the Army Group G commander, General Hausser, had for several days been pleading with OB WEST for authority to withdraw the entire Seventh Army behind the Rhine. All requests drew the usual negative reply. With the collapse of Felber's two-division counterattack, it became obvious to those on the scene that in a few days, if not in hours, both the XIII Corps and the LXXX Corps would be encircled.
That was the prospect when on 17 March Field Marshal Kesselring issued an ambiguous order. While directing "the retention of present positions," the new Commander in Chief West added a qualification. "An encirclement and with it the annihilation of the main body of the troops," the order stated, "is to be avoided." Hausser seized on this as sufficient authority to pull back at least behind the Nahe.49
In the meantime, the swift Third Army advances had stirred higher commanders on the American side. Impressed by Patton's gains, the Supreme Commander on 17 March met at Lunéville, in Lorraine, with the 6th Army Group commander, General Devers, and the two Army commanders concerned, Patton and Patch. Noting the Third Army's gains and the obstacle of the West Wall still opposing the Seventh Army, General Eisenhower asked Patch if he objected to Patton's attacking across the northern portion of the Seventh Army's zone perpendicular to the Seventh Army's axis of attack. General Patch said no; the objective was to destroy
the German forces. "We are all," he added, "in the same army."50
As worked out in detail by Patch and Patton, the two armies split the area between the Nahe River and the Rhine almost equally, with a new boundary running just north of Kaiserslautern and reaching the Rhine south of Worms. Patton nevertheless intended to take Kaiserslautern himself and then turn one infantry and one armored division southeast, deeper into Patch's zone, to link with the Seventh Army's VI Corps along the Rhine. Thereby he hoped to trap any Germans who might remain in front of the Seventh Army in the West Wall. That accomplished, Patton "would clear out of [Patch's] area."51 The plan presumed, of course, that the Seventh Army at that point would still be involved in the West Wall, but in any event, Patch apparently accepted the agreement with the same good grace earlier accorded the Supreme Commander's proposal.
To General Patton's subordinates, the authority gained at Lunéville meant pressure and more pressure. Why, Patton railed to his XII Corps commander, General Eddy, had the 11th Armored Division failed to push through the 89th Division's Moselle bridgehead on the 17th? Nor was there any excuse for the 4th Armored Division to pause for any time at all at the Nahe River. "The heat is on," General Eddy told his own subordinates, "like I never saw before."52
It took another day before the effects generated by the heat began to show up on headquarters situation maps, but by 19 March a graphic representation of the Third Army's gains looked, in the words of Patton's colleague, General Hodges of the First Army, "like an intestinal tract."53 With the added weight of the 12th Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Roderick R. Allen), General Walker's XX Corps made the more spectacular gains. By midnight of the 19th, the 12th Armored was across the upper reaches of the Nahe and had gone on to jump a little tributary of the Nahe, more than twenty-three miles from the armor's line of departure of the day before. The 10th Armored Division stood no more than six miles from Kaiserslautern. Two of the infantry divisions of the XX Corps, their regiments motorized on organic transport supplemented by trucks from supporting units, mopped up behind the armor, while the 26th Division completed its onerous task of rolling up West Wall fortifications, then turned eastward in a drive that converged with a northeastward thrust from Saarlautern by the 65th Division.54
In the XII Corps, the 4th Armored Division on 18 and 19 March failed to regain its earlier momentum, partly because the division had to divert forces to clear Bad Kreuznach and partly because the Germans with their backs not far from the Rhine stiffened. In the two
days, the 4th Armored advanced just over ten miles beyond the Nahe.
It remained for the newly committed 11th Armored Division on the XII Corps right wing to register the more spectacular gains. Following its disappointing showing in the Eifel, the 11th Armored had a new commander, Brig. Gen. Holmes E. Dager. Under Dager's command, the division on 18 March raced twenty miles to the Nahe River at Kirn. The next day the armor streaked another nineteen miles to the southeast, reaching a point as far east as Kaiserslautern.55
When combined with the drive of the 12th Armored Division on the north wing of the XX Corps, the 11th Armored's rapid thrusts tied a noose around what remained of the enemy's XIII and LXXX Corps. As the efforts of those two corps to withdraw across the Nahe and form a new defensive line went for naught, the infantry divisions following the American armor mopped up the remnants of the 2d Panzer Division and three volks grenadier divisions. Little more than the headquarters of the two corps escaped.
From all indications, the Germans in the Seventh Army and on the right wing of the First Army (Hahm's LXXXII Corps) were destined for annihilation. As American armored spearheads appeared without warning, seemingly over every hill and around every curve, and as American planes wreaked havoc from the air, hardly any semblance of organization remained in German ranks. It was less withdrawal than it was sauve qui peut. Camouflage, antiaircraft security, dispersal--those were fancy terms from some other war, without meaning in this maelstrom of flight. Highways were littered with wrecked and burning vehicles and the corpses of men and animals. Roadblocks at defiles and on the edges of towns and villages might halt the inexorable onflow of tanks and half-tracks temporarily, but the pauses were brief and in the long run meaningless. Improvised white flags flying from almost every house and building along the way added a final note of dejection to the scene.
Yet German commanders, still denied the authority they begged to withdraw behind the Rhine, continued to build up new lines and to shift units here and there--mainly on paper. As night came on the 19th, the Seventh Army's General Felber might point to a new line running southwest from Mainz in front of the cities of Alzey and Kaiserslautern, but Felber himself would have been among the first to admit that it was less a line than a proliferation of improvisations.56
To the most optimistic German, the end was near. Events on 20 March underscored the fact. In late afternoon contingents of the 90th Division, on the left wing of the XII Corps, arrived on high ground overlooking Mainz and the Rhine. A short while later troops of the 4th Armored Division fought their way into Worms and began to clear a path through the city to the Rhine. Both the 10th and 12th Armored Divisions of the XX Corps still had to emerge from the
wooded hills of the Pfaelzer Bergland onto the Rhine plain, but they would be on the plain by nightfall of the 20th.
Tacit admission from the Germans that the campaign for the Saar-Palatinate was almost over came late in the day with long-delayed approval for the Seventh Army withdrawal. That night on ferries, rafts, small boats, almost anything that floated, General Felber, his headquarters, and headquarters of Oriola's XIII Corps began to make their way across the Rhine. General Beyer's LXXX Corps stayed behind, taking over all combat troops and being transferred to the First Army in an effort to forestall further American advances directly into the rear of the First Army.57
Thrust to the Rhine
As the breakthrough of General Walker's XX Corps developed in the direction of Kaiserslautern, concern had mounted in the First Army lest those units in the West Wall around Saarbruecken and Zweibruecken be trapped. Once Kaiserslautern fell, the only routes of withdrawal left to those troops led through the Haardt Mountains south of Kaiserslautern. Covered by a dense wood, the Pfaelzer Forest, the region was crossed laterally by only one main highway, by a secondary highway close behind the West Wall, and by a few minor roads and trails. The natural difficulties posed by these twisting, poorly surfaced routes already had been heightened by a mass of wrecked vehicles as American fighter pilots relentlessly preyed on hapless targets.
Using the authority granted by Kesselring on 17 March to pull back units threatened with encirclement, the First Army's General Foertsch authorized withdrawal by stages of his westernmost troops, those of General Kniess's LXXXV Corps. Over a period of three days, units of the corps were to peel back from west to east, redeploying to block the main highway leading northeast through the Kaiserslautern Gap.
Unfortunately for Foertsch's plan, the principal threat to the Kaiserslautern Gap came not from west or southwest but from northwest where Walker's XX Corps was pouring unchecked through General Hahm's LXXXII Corps. The 10th Armored Division's arrival at Kaiserslautern itself on 20 March meant not only that the gap was compromised by a force well in the rear of Kniess's formations but also that the only way out for both Kniess's troops and those of the adjacent XIII SS Corps was through the Pfaelzer Forest.
As Kniess's withdrawal progressed, it had the effect of opening a path through the West Wall for the left wing of the American Seventh Army. Despite a stubborn rear guard, the 63d Division of General Milburn's XXI Corps broke through the main belt of fortifications near St. Ingbert late on 19 March. Had events moved according to plan, Milburn then would have sent an armored column northward to link with Walker's XX Corps near St. Wendel; but so swift had been the advance of Walker's troops that all worthwhile objectives in Milburn's sector beyond the West Wall already had fallen. Milburn and his XXI Corps had achieved a penetration but had no place to go.
The Seventh Army commander, General Patch, seized on the situation to provide
a boost for his army's main effort, the attack of the XV Corps through Zweibruecken toward the Kaiserslautern Gap. In two days of hammering at General Simon's XIII SS Corps, the divisions of the XV Corps still had opened no hole through the West Wall for armored exploitation.58 Send a combat command, Patch directed the XV Corps commander, General Haislip, to move through the 63d Division's gap and come in on the rear of the West Wall defenders facing the XV Corps.
That the Americans would exploit the withdrawal was too obvious to escape the First Army commander, General Foertsch. During the night of the 19th, he extended the authority to withdraw to the west wing of the XIII SS Corps. Thus, hardly had the American combat command begun to move early on 20 March to exploit the 63d Division's penetration when the 45th Division of the XV Corps also advanced past the last pillboxes of the West Wall near Zweibruecken. During the night of the 20th, the rest of the SS corps also began to pull back, and the momentum of the 3d Division's advance picked up accordingly.59
The German problem was to get the survivors of both the LXXXV Corps and the XIII SS Corps through the Pfaelzer Forest despite three dire threats: one from the closely following troops of the American Seventh Army; another from the 10th Armored Division of Walker's XX Corps, which at Kaiserslautern was in a position to swing south and southeast through the Pfaelzer Forest and cut the escape routes; and a third from the Argus-eyed fighter bombers of the XII Tactical Air Command.
It was the last that was most apparent to the rank and file of the retreating Germans. Since speed was imperative, the men had to move by day as well as by night, virtually inviting attack from the air. Since almost everybody, including the troops of the motorized 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, had to use either the main east-west highway through the forest or the secondary road close behind the West Wall, American fighter pilots had only to aim their bombs, their cannon, and their machine guns in the general direction of those roads to be assured of hitting some target. An acute gasoline shortage added to the German difficulties. Almost every foot of the two roads soon became clogged with abandoned, damaged, or wrecked vehicles, guns, and equipment.60
The destruction in the Pfaelzer Forest was in keeping with the pattern almost everywhere. So long a target of both artillery and aircraft, the drab towns and cities in and close to the West Wall were
a shambles. "It is difficult to describe the destruction," wrote the 45th Division commander, General Frederick. "Scarcely a man-made thing exists in our wake; it is even difficult to find buildings suitable for CP's: this is the scorched earth."61 In Zweibruecken, with the entire business district razed, only about 5,000 people of a normal population of 37,000 remained, and they were hiding in cellars and caves. Fires burned uncontrolled, neither water nor fire-fighting equipment available to quench them. No local government existed. Thousands of released slave laborers and German soldiers who had changed into civilian clothes complicated the issue for military government officials. In more than one city, particularly Homburg, looting and pillage were rampant.
Running the gantlet of American fighter aircraft through the Pfaelzer Forest, the amorphous mass of retreating Germans faced still a fourth American threat--General Brooks's VI Corps, which had followed closely the German withdrawal from northeastern Alsace and on 19 March had begun to assault the West Wall on either side of Wissembourg. There General Petersen's XC Corps was charged with holding the fortifications and denying access to the flatlands along the Rhine.
In the Seventh Army's original plan, the attached 3d Algerian Division on the right wing of the VI Corps along the Rhine was to have been pinched out after it reached the Lauter River at the German frontier. The planners had not reckoned with the aspirations of the French and their First Army commander, General de Lattre. Assured of support from the provisional head of the French state, General Charles de Gaulle, de Lattre was determined to acquire a zone along the Rhine north of the Lauter in order to assure a Rhine crossing site for the final drive into Germany.62
As the Algerians matched and sometimes exceeded the strides of the American units of the VI Corps and reached the Lauter along a ten-mile front, de Lattre had no difficulty pressing his ambition on the 6th Army Group commander, General Devers. Using the 3d Algerian Division and a combat group from the 5th French Armored Division, again to be attached to the VI Corps, the French were to continue northward some twelve miles beyond the Lauter River, thereby gaining limited Rhine River frontage inside Germany.63
The adjustment meant that the West Wall assault by the four American divisions of the VI Corps was to be concentrated in a zone less than twenty miles wide. Since the German XC Corps had only the remnants of two volks grenadier divisions and an infantry training division to defend against both Americans and French, a breakthrough of the fortifications was but a matter of time. Yet just as had been the case in the zones of the XXI Corps and the XV Corps, it was less the hard fighting of the VI Corps that would determine when the West Wall would be pierced than it was the
rampaging thrusts of the Third Army's XX Corps in the German rear.
The divisions of the VI Corps had been probing the pillbox belt less than twenty-four hours when General Walker, leaving the task of gaining the Rhine to the 12th Armored Division and of actually capturing Kaiserslautern to an infantry unit, turned the 10th Armored Division south and southeast into the Pfaelzer Forest. By nightfall of 20 March, two of the 10th Armored's columns stood only a few hundred yards from the main highway through the forest, one almost at the city of Pirmasens on the western edge, the other not far from the eastern edge. A third was nearing Neustadt, farther north beyond the fringe of the forest. The 12th Armored meanwhile was approaching the Rhine near Ludwigshafen. Not only were the withdrawal routes through the Pfaelzer Forest about to be compromised but a swift strike down the Rhine plain from Neustadt and Ludwigshafen against the last escape sites for crossing the Rhine appeared in the offing.
In desperation the Luftwaffe during 20 March sent approximately 300 planes of various types, including jet-propelled Messerschmitt 262's, to attack the Third Army's columns, but to little avail. Casualties on the American side were minor. Antiaircraft units, getting a rare opportunity to do the job for which they were trained, shot down twenty-five German planes. Pilots of the XIX Tactical Air Command claimed another eight.64
In the face of the 10th Armored Division's drive, the word to the westernmost units of the XC Corps to begin falling back went out late on the 20th, and when the 42d Division, in the mountains on the left wing of the VI Corps, launched a full-scale assault against the West Wall late the next day, the attack struck a vacuum. Soon after dawn the next morning, 22 March, a regiment of the 42d cut the secondary highway through the Pfaelzer Forest. A column of the 10th Armored had moved astride the main highway through the woods and emerged on the Rhine flatlands at Landau. Any Germans who got out of the forest would have to do so by threading a way off the roads individually or in small groups.
By nightfall of 22 March the Germans west of the Rhine could measure the time left to them in hours. In the West Wall on either side of Wissembourg, Germans of Petersen's XC Corps continued to fight in the pillboxes in a manner that belied the futility of their mission. A breakthrough by the 14th Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Albert C. Smith) would nevertheless come soon. Both at Neustadt and at Landau, remnants of two divisions of the XIII SS Corps, including the 17th Panzer Grenadier Division, had held through the day, but early in the evening the defense collapsed. General Beyer's LXXX Corps, transferred from the Seventh Army to plug the hole from the north alongside the Rhine, had hardly anything left to prevent the 12th Armored Division from driving southward from Ludwigshafen toward Speyer. By nightfall of the 22d, a column of the 12th Armored stood only six miles from Speyer.
To forestall a second Remagen, the Germans by 19 March had blown all Rhine bridges from Ludwigshafen northward. Of three that remained upstream, the southernmost, at Maximiliansau, was
destroyed on 21 March when a round of American artillery fire struck a detonator, setting off prepared demolitions.65 A second, at Speyer, was too immediately threatened and too far removed from the main body of German troops to be of much use to any but the defenders of Speyer itself. It would be blown late on the 23d.66
Over the remaining bridge, at Germersheim, roughly east of Landau, as many vehicles and field pieces as could be salvaged began to pass during the night of the 22d. Still no orders for final withdrawal beyond the Rhine came from the Commander in Chief West. Headquarters of both the First Army and Army Group G still were west of the river.67
Some German officers were beginning to wonder if every last increment of the First Army was to be sacrificed when at last, on 23 March, authority came to cross the Rhine.68 While the bridge at Germersheim continued to serve artillery and vehicles, foot troops began to evacuate the west bank at three ferry sites south of the town. A smattering of infantrymen, an occasional tank or assault gun, and a regiment of antiaircraft guns operating against ground targets formed rear guard perimeters west of the ferry sites.
Although all divisions of the U.S. VI Corps achieved clear breakthroughs during 23 March, they came in contact only with rear guards and failed to affect the German evacuation materially. Because a German force in Speyer fought doggedly, contact between the 12th and 14th Armored Divisions was delayed. Both armored divisions early on 24 March sent task forces in quest of the lone remaining Rhine bridge, the one at Germersheim, but neither had reached the fringes of the town when at 1020 the Germans blew up the prize.69 Formal German evacuation of the west bank ended during the night of the 24th, while American units continued to mop up rear guards and stragglers through the 25th.
It is impossible to ascertain how many Germans escaped from the Saar-Palatinate to fight again on the Rhine's east bank, or how much equipment and matériel they managed to take with them. Yet German losses clearly were severe. "Tremendous losses in both men and matériel," noted the chief of staff of the First Army.70 The staff of the American Seventh Army estimated that the two German armies had lost 75 to 80 percent of their infantry in the Saar-Palatinate fight. The Seventh Army and its attached French units captured 22,000 Germans during the campaign, and the Third Army imprisoned more than 68,000.71 The Third Army estimated that the German units opposing its advance lost approximately 113,000 men, including prisoners, while the Third Army casualties totaled 5,220, including 681 killed. The Seventh Army, much of its fighting centered in the West Wall, probably incurred about 12,000 casualties, including almost a thousand killed.72
For all the inevitability of German
defeat, the Saar-Palatinate campaign had provided a remarkable example of offensive maneuver, particularly by the Third Army. It was also a striking demonstration of co-operation and coordination among units and their commanders at various levels, including air commands. There had been moments of confusion--in the XII Corps, for example, ambitious 5th Division units got astride the routes of attack of the 4th Armored Division, and on 21 March a column of the Seventh Army's 6th Armored Division got entangled with the Third Army's 26th Division--but in view of the number of units and the speed and extent of the maneuver, those moments were few. This was despite the fact that four of the American corps contained an unwieldy six divisions, which, in the words of the XII Corps commander, General Eddy, was "like driving six horses abreast while standing astraddle on the center pair."73
In view of the success of the campaign, criticism of it would be difficult to sustain. Yet it was a fact nonetheless that the German First Army--and to some extent the Seventh Army--for all the losses, conducted a skillful delaying action to the end in the face of overwhelming strength on the ground and in the air and never succumbed to wholesale encirclement, despite a higher command reluctant to sanction any withdrawal. In the process the Germans had withstood the clear threat of a rapid drive by some unit of the Third Army or the Seventh Army along the west bank of the Rhine to trap the German First Army.
Those contingents of both German armies that did escape would have to be met again on the east bank of the Rhine. To assure that the Germans would be at the utmost disadvantage in that meeting, the commander of the Third Army and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the commander of the Seventh Army had been thinking for several days in terms of quick crossings of the Rhine.
And already Patton had done something about it.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (11) * Next Chapter (13)
1. Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 254.
2. The Seventh United States Army Report of Operations, France and Germany, 1944-1945, vol. III, p. 695, a comprehensive three-volume work prepared with the assistance of historical officers attached to the Seventh Army (hereafter cited as Seventh Army Report). See also MS # B-600, Army Group G, Report of the Commander (Generaloberst Paul Hausser).
3. MS # B-600 (Hausser).
4. These actions are covered in Robert Ross Smith, The Riviera to the Rhine, a forthcoming volume in the UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II series.
5. SHAEF GCT/37057/Plans, Note on Early Concentration for Saar Offensives, 14 Feb 45, SHAEF files.
6. Seventh Army Report, pp. 698-99.
7. FWD 17655, SHAEF to Devers and Bradley, 081650 Mar 45, SHAEF SGS POST-OVERLORD Planning file, 381, III.
8. See above, ch. X; Gay Diary, entry of 8 Mar 45.
9. Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 516.
10. Ibid. A plan for a combined Third-Seventh Army thrust to clear the Saar-Palatinate had been prepared at 12th Army Group as early as February, when flooding of the Roer River appeared likely to delay Operation GRENADE indefinitely. See Col. Harrison H. D. Heiberg, Study of Future Operations, 12th AGp Miscellaneous Log 214.
11. Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 255.
12. Ibid., pp. 517-18.
13. Msg, 6th AGp to SHAEF, 081708 Mar 45, SHAEF SGS file, 381, III; 12th AGp Ltr of Instrs 17, 13 Mar 45.
14. In a local attack on 13 March to better positions for start of the offensive, T. Sgt. Morris E. Crain of the 36th Division's 141st Infantry provided exemplary leadership without regard for his own safety through much of the day, then stayed behind as a one-man covering force when a tank-supported counterattack forced his platoon to withdraw. Sergeant Crain died when German fire demolished the building from which he was fighting. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
15. See above, ch. X.
16. TUSA Opnl Dir, 10 Mar 45.
17. Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 254.
18. Unless otherwise noted, the German story is based on the following MSS: # B-238 (Hauser); # B-123 (Gersdorff); # B-831 (Felber); # B-600 (Hausser); and # C-020 (Schramm).
19. MSS # B-377, Fighting of the LXXXIX Corps From 10 to 16 March (General der Infanterie Gustav Hoehne); # B-831 (Felber).
20. 94th Div AAR, Mar 45.
21. MSS # B-052, XIII Corps, 18 February-21 March 1945 (Generalleutnant Ralph von Oriola); # B-082, The Final Fighting of the LXXX Army Corps From the Marne to the Danube (General der Infanterie Franz Beyer), p. 3.
22. MS # B-066 (Ingelheim).
23. MS # B-121, LXXXV Corps, 25 January-23 March 1945, Operations in the Saar (General der Infanterie Baptist Kniess).
24. Quotation is from MS # B-600 (Paul Hausser). See also MSS # B-123 (Gersdorff); # B-8 (Felber); # B-238 (Wolf Hauser).
25. For assignments, see XX Corps FO 18, 10 Mar 45. Unless otherwise noted, this account is based on official records of the XX Corps and its divisions.
26. Part of the success achieved by the 80th Division's 318th Infantry was directly attributable to the actions of one officer, 2d Lt. Harry J. Michael. He singlehandedly captured two machine guns and their crews, then led his platoon in a charge that carried an artillery position and seized three guns. A few hours later he individually captured 13 Germans, wounded 4, and killed 2, then again led a successful charge against German pillboxes. The next morning a shot from ambush cut Lieutenant Michael down. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
27. MS # B-066 (Ingelheim).
28. Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 259.
29. See XII Corps FO 16, 11 Mar 45. Unless otherwise noted, the tactical story is from official records of the corps and divisions.
30. The 5th Division telephone journals are a valuable source for this period.
31. MS # B-377 (Hoehne). See also MSS # B-123 (Gersdorff); # B-831 (Felber).
32. MS # B-377 (Hoehne).
33. XII Corps Opnl Dir 88, 16 Mar 45.
35. MSS # B-831 (Felber); # B-123 (Gersdorff).
36. Patton, War As I Knew It, pp. 259-62.
37. MSS # B-831 (Felber); # B-123 (Gersdorff).
38. VIII Corps FO 15, 14 Mar 45.
39. MSS # B-377 (Hoehne); # B-123 (Gersdorff); # B-831 (Felber). See also MS # B-124, 276th Volks Grenadier Division (Col. Werner Wagner, Actg Comdr.)
40. MS # B-377 (Hoehne).
41. For the German story, see MSS # B-071, XC Infantry Corps December 1944-23 March 1945 (General der Infanterie Erich Petersen); # B-711, Engagements of the XIII SS AK West of the Rhine (Waffen-SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Ekkehard Albert, CofS, XIII SS Corps); # B-121 (Kniess); # B-238 (Wolf Hauser); and # B-600 (Paul Hausser).
42. Unless otherwise noted, the account of Seventh Army action is based on official records of Seventh Army and subordinate units.
43. MS # B-071 (Petersen).
44. Private Herrera was awarded the Medal of Honor.
45. See, in particular, MS # B-711 (Albert).
46. Msg, CG 4th Armored Div to CG 5th Inf Div, 161820 Mar 45, 5th Div G-3 Jnl file, 16 Mar 45.
47. As an extension of an assignment to sweep the north bank of the Moselle downstream from Trier, the 76th Division the night of the 18th launched a limited objective attack across the Moselle alongside the 89th Division. In this attack, made by the 304th Infantry without active German opposition, a medical aidman, Pvt. William D. McGee, entered an antipersonnel minefield to rescue two men wounded by exploding mines. He carried one to safety but in returning for the other, he himself set off a mine and was seriously wounded. Refusing to allow others to risk their lives by coming to his rescue, he died of his wounds. Private McGee was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
48. MS # B-052 (Oriola).
49. Quotation is from MS# B-600 (Paul Hausser). See also MS # B-123 (Gersdorff).
50. Seventh Army Report, p. 720. See also General Devers's personal diary, lent to OCMH (hereafter cited as Devers Diary); Patton, War As I Knew It, pp. 262 and 265.
51. Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 265.
52. Msg, XIII Corps to 5th Div, and Telecon, CG XII Corps to CG 5th Div, both in 5th Div G-3 Jnl, 17 Mar 45; Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 264.
53. Sylvan Diary, entry of 9 Mar 45.
54. During the 65th Division's attack on 18 March, an aidman in the 259th Infantry, Pfc. Frederick C. Murphy, continued to minister to his comrades although wounded in one shoulder. Even after setting off a mine that severed one of his feet, he crawled about to help other wounded around him until at last he set off a second mine that killed him. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
55. When a rocket from a Panzerfaust hit a tank of the 41st Tank Battalion, wounding the platoon sergeant and prompting others of the crew to abandon the vehicle, the bow gunner, Pfc. Herbert H. Burr, stayed inside and drove the tank into the town of Doermoschel. Rounding a turn, he encountered an enemy 88. Alone, unable to fire while driving, Burr headed directly toward the muzzle of the 88, forcing the crew to flee and overrunning the piece. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
56. See MS # B-082 (Beyer) and other manuscripts previously cited for this chapter.
57. MSS # B-831 (Felber); # B-123 (Gersdorff); # B-600 (Paul Hausser).
58. For no lack of effort, as exemplified by heroic actions of two members of the 45th Division. On 18 March when eight men of the 180th Infantry were wounded while attacking a troublesome pillbox, the company commander, Capt. Jack L. Treadwell, went forward alone. Armed with a submachine gun and hand grenades, he charged the pillbox, captured 4 Germans in it, and went on to reduce singlehandedly five other pillboxes and to capture 14 more prisoners. In three days, culminating on the 18th, Cpl. Edward G. Wilkin, 157th Infantry, did much the same for his company. He too reduced six pillboxes singlehandedly, killed at least 9 Germans, wounded 13, and took 13 prisoner. Captain Treadwell received the Medal of Honor. Corporal Wilkin was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously; he was killed in a subsequent action before his special act of valor could be officially recognized.
59. For the German story, see MS # B-238 (Wolf Hauser).
60. MSS # B-507 (Petersen); # B-238 (Wolf Hauser).
61. Seventh Army Report, p. 738.
62. De Lattre discussed the matter with de Gaulle in Paris shortly before the Seventh Army's offensive began. See Marshal Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, Histoire de la Première Armée Française (Paris: Librarie Plon, 1949), pp. 407-14.
63. Ibid.; Devers Diary, entry of 18 Mar 45; Ltr, CG 6th AGp to CG's SUSA and First French Army, sub: Creation of Groupement Monsabert and Modification of Letter of Instructions Number 11, SUSA Oral Instructions file, 19 Mar 45.
64. Figures are from TUSA AAR.
65. MSS # B-507 (Petersen); # B-711 (Albert).
66. 12th Armored Div AAR, Mar 45.
67. See MSS # B-507 (Petersen); # B-238 (Wolf Hauser); # B-600 (Paul Hausser); # B-082 (Beyer).
68. MS # B-238 (Hauser).
69. VI Corps AAR, Mar 45.
70. MS # B-238 (Wolf Hauser).
71. The Third Army's figure is from 18 through 22 March only. See TUSA AAR, p. 315.
72. Seventh U.S. Army casualties are an estimate based on detailed figures found for the VI Corps only.
73. Dyer, XII Corps p. 344.