The XII Corps attack toward the northeast had slowed perceptibly at the beginning of the second week of the November offensive. The left wing of the corps had advanced some twenty miles; however, Darmstadt and the Rhine River crossings, the ultimate corps objective, lay approximately 110 miles beyond the farthest point attained by the American forward line. Weather and terrain hampered General Eddy's armored columns, throwing the burden of the attack more and more on the infantry and the rifle elements of the armored units. At the same time that replacements were bringing the ranks of the infantry divisions back to strength, the incidence of loss from exposure and combat fatigue was on the rise. The enemy divisions facing the XII Corps generally were weak--even the newly arrived 36th VG Division had taken a severe beating in the last American attacks west of Faulquemont. Nonetheless, the ground and the weather unquestionably favored the defense. Furthermore, the Germans now had been pushed back into rearward positions which had been given a measure of preparation during the October lull.
During the night of 17-18 November, the south wing of the First Army undertook a withdrawal to a new position roughly marked by the line Faulquemont-Bénestroff-Bourgaltroff, thus anticipating the renewal of the XII Corps attack by a few hours. The German formations in front of the XII Corps remained the same. The LXXXIX Corps, with two divisions, held a front which extended from the Marne-Rhin Canal to a point northeast of Morhange. The 361st VG Division, on the left, confronted the 26th Infantry Division and the 2d Cavalry Group in the Dieuze-Bourgaltroff sector. The 11th Panzer Division, which had sustained severe tank losses, held the LXXXIX Corps line on the right, with its armored infantry and remaining assault guns pushed to the fore.1 The XIII SS Corps, relieved of responsibility
Attack West and East of the Sarre
Right Wing, 18-30 November 1944
for the Metz defenses, faced the XX Corps with the bulk of its forces, while its left wing was drawn up west and south of Faulquemont.2 The Faulquemont position, based on the old works of the Maginot Line and a recently excavated series of antitank ditches, was manned by the 36th VG Division in the north and Kampfgruppe Muehlen in the south, the latter representing not more than the strength of one weak regiment. The only enemy reserves in the immediate neighborhood consisted of a small armored group drawn from the 11th Panzer Division.
After a brief reorganization, the XII Corps resumed the attack on the morning of 18 November. General Eddy had determined to use his infantry and smash straight through to the Sarre River on a relatively narrow front. Once bridgeheads were secured across the Sarre, the entire corps might then be put in motion to carry the drive on toward the Rhine. In this first phase the 26th Infantry Division and 35th Infantry Division were to advance abreast, while the 80th Infantry Division would be left to contain Faulquemont and block on the exposed north flank. According to the corps plan, the two armored divisions were to be used as opportunity offered, the 6th Armored on the left and the 4th Armored on the right.3 In actual fact, however, the armor was to have no respite but would continue the advance with the infantry.
The 26th Division Attack at the Dieuze-Bénestroff Line
On the south wing of the XII Corps the 26th Infantry Division started the new operation by launching an attack against the Dieuze-Bénestroff line, which Colonel Oden's 4th Armored column had penetrated briefly on 14 November.4 (Map XXXIV) The 101st and 104th Infantry, the assault regiments, had received nearly a full complement of replacements and had been given a brief recess during which the men had slept, dried their clothes, and cleaned their weapons. After an hour-long artillery preparation on the morning of 18 November the 101st and 104th began the new attack. The 101st (Col. W. T. Scott) passed through the 328th and drove at Guébling and
Bourgaltroff as the armor had done. The 104th (Col. R. A. Palladino), advancing on the left, started in the direction of Marimont-lès-Bénestroff and Bénestroff but was brought to a halt almost immediately at the Bois de Bénestroff, just east of the Bénestroff railroad line. The 101st was thus exposed to flanking fire as it attempted to fight its way across the rail embankment west of Guébling. Undoubtedly the earlier attack by Oden's column had alerted the enemy, who was dug in along the railroad. The 3d Battalion, on the left, hampered by a large number of raw replacements, faced the strongest section of the German line. Here the enemy had sited his machine guns on the embankment and in culverts along the right of way so as to furnish a wall of fire up and down the track. A short distance to the east German artillery observers and more machine guns were located on Hill 273, overlooking the approaches to the track. Farther north the Germans held a strong post among the rock piles surrounding a quarry on the southern edge of the Bois de Bénestroff. Against this position the 3d Battalion launched assault after assault, only to be repelled each time with heavy losses; L Company, more exposed than the other companies, lost its commander, Capt. D. D. Donahue, and all the rest of its officers.
The 2d Battalion, 101st, advancing on the right of the main road leading down into Guébling, was more successful, since it could be supported by tanks and tank destroyers. The Dordal Creek again was an obstacle, as it had been for Oden's tank column, but the engineers, working under artillery and small arms fire, were able to put in an infantry support bridge and a steel treadway. Company A, 761st Tank Battalion, essayed a direct attack but took severe punishment from the German guns and was forced to withdraw. Within an hour of the jump-off, however, the infantry were fighting at the northern edge of Guébling. Subsequently a platoon of tank destroyers and five tanks joined the infantry inside the village, where the fight continued through the afternoon.
While the body of the 2d Battalion fought at Guébling, F Company, commanded by a replacement officer in his first battle, had circled the town and forged far ahead of the other companies. About noon the battalion lost radio contact with F Company, after a last report that the company was being hit by flanking fire. The 2d Battalion was unable to shake itself free in Guébling until 1630; then the 1st Battalion took over the fight and the 2d launched an attack to reach the area where the lost company had been last reported. This
attack reached the edge of Bourgaltroff early in the evening5 but F Company was not heard from again, although an artillery plane reported American troops being marched to the rear of the German lines.6
Late in the day the 104th Infantry succeeded in breaking through the Bois de Bénestroff, thus easing the pressure on the 3d Battalion of the 101st. As darkness fell, Sgt. Sam A. Longbottom led the survivors of L Company in a desperate charge up Hill 273, knocking out the German machine gun crews with hand grenades and bazooka fire at close quarters.7 Meanwhile, the two companies on the left of the battalion fought their way forward past the quarry and sent patrols to meet the 104th in the southeastern part of the Bois de Bénestroff.
On 19 November the 104th and 101st continued the attack in an envelopment from north and south intended to encircle the road center at Marimont and seize Marimont Hill (Hill 334), lying just west of the village and overlooking the route along which the left wing of the 26th Division would have to advance.8 The brunt of the attack was borne by the 2d Battalion of the 104th, advancing in column of companies on the right flank of the regiment, and the 3d Battalion of the 101st, pushing toward the Bois de Marimont. Little progress was made this day because the Germans had retired from the railway line in good order and now were fighting stubbornly to cover a general withdrawal on the First Army front which had been ordered for the night of 19-20 November. About 1000 the 104th was briefly checked by a detachment of tanks from the 11th Panzer Division. The 3d Battalion of the 101st, already much weakened by the losses incurred the previous day, suffered heavy casualties from an accurate artillery shelling as it attacked with marching fire toward the Bois de Marimont. By 1100 the entire strength of the battalion was less than three hundred, and still more casualties were suffered in clearing
the Bois de Marimont. By the time the 3d Battalion entered the next woods, about 1,400 yards to the east, one rifle company numbered only nine men and another had been reduced to ten.9
About noon the 2d Battalion, 104th, reached Marimont and one rifle company entered the village, only to be driven out by an intense concentration of artillery and mortar fire. Actually the German artillery was engaged in covering the general withdrawal which had begun even before darkness came. During the night of 19-20 November the enemy in front of the 26th Division took up new positions between Mittersheim and Albestroff. The Americans re-entered Marimont on the heels of the retreating Germans and the 3d Battalion of the 104th Infantry Regiment occupied the important road center at Bénestroff.
During 19 November the 328th (Col. B. R. Jacobs), which had received some eight hundred replacements the previous day, moved south to take Dieuze and crack the hinge of the German line, thus opening the way for the 4th Armored Division to drive to the east. A German rear guard formation from the 361st VG Division held on stubbornly and halted the 3d Battalion, leading the assault, in the muddy plowed fields north of the town with accurate small arms fire and artillery air bursts. In the late afternoon tanks from the 761st Tank Battalion, pushing forward in support of the infantry, were checked by antitank fire from Dieuze. During the night the German garrison withdrew toward Mittersheim, and the 2d Cavalry Group and 328th Infantry, reinforced by the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion, 4th Armored Division, moved into the battered town. Raids by the American air force and last-minute demolitions by the German rear guards had destroyed most of the bridges in Dieuze, but one remained intact and would provide quick passage for any pursuit to the east.10
The Drive to the Honskirch-Altwiller Line
The collapse of the Dieuze-Bénestroff line enabled the 26th Division and the 4th Armored Division to drive ahead some six miles during the next few days. The enemy fought delaying actions in a few villages where terrain was
JEEPS DRIVING THROUGH DIEUZE with troops of the 4th Armored Division on their way to the front.
in his favor, but made no attempt to hold on a continuous front.11 Indeed, at many points the 26th Division completely lost contact with the enemy.
The main German force made its retreat in the northern part of the division zone of advance, using the road complex that ran toward Munster and Sarre-Union. On the night of 20-21 November the 3d Battalion, 101st Infantry, made a forced march in the rain to cut into the road net at the village of Torcheville, west of Munster. The battalion, which had received about one hundred replacements on the previous night, took the village and eighty-one surprised Gerrnans.12 On the left the 104th Infantry attacked during the morning of 21 November to take the village of Montdidier, situated on a long, narrow ridge overlooking the northern sector of the 26th Division zone. The 3d Battalion fought to get onto the ridge while the 1st Battalion bypassed to the south and continued in the direction of Albestroff. Mud, mines, and blown bridges slowed the Americans, and the German 88's and machine guns on the ridge maintained a constant and deadly fire. Even worse, liaison between the American artillery and the 3d Battalion failed, with the result that American shells poured in on the attacking infantry. Despite all this the 3d Battalion took Montdidier and organized a holding position in the woods to the northeast.13
The village of Albestroff presented a knotty tactical problem for the 26th Division. Five roads centered at this point and the village had to be taken in order to insure a firm hold on the approaches to the Sarre River. South of Albestroff the 101st Infantry was nearing the end of its strength and required additional replacements before it could be committed again in a major action. In any event further progress in the zone of the 101st would be most difficult. The road east of Torcheville was useless; the Germans had mined it thoroughly and blasted trees across it to form barricades. To the southeast the road via Lohr and Insviller was flooded by the waters of the Rode Creek, released when the Germans blew a dam in the valley. General Paul ordered the 328th Infantry into trucks and dispatched it from Dieuze to reinforce the 101st, but this move would take some time to complete and the outlook for a speedy advance along the Lohr-Insviller route was unfavorable. For these reasons,
the weight of the 26th Division attack shifted to the left wing, where the 104th Infantry faced Albestroff.
About 1625 on 21 November the 1st Battalion (Capt. L. D. Gladding) of the 104th reached Albestroff. During the early hours of the march eastward the battalion had been supported by B Company of the 761st Tank Battalion, but when four tanks were lost in a mine field the armor halted and the infantry went on into the village alone. The subsequent story of the 1st Battalion cannot be determined with any degree of accuracy: contact between the battalion command post, west of the village, and the three rifle companies inside Albestroff was cut off shortly after midnight. Apparently the leading company got as far as the eastern edge of the village before meeting the Germans in any force. Then troops of the 361st VG Division, reinforced by mobile assault guns and tanks, swept into Albestroff along the converging roads and closed on the Americans. Early the next morning Captain Gladding took the remaining troops of the 1st Battalion and made an attempt to reach the companies inside the village; but he met only Germans and had to abandon the effort in the face of superior numbers.
Colonel Palladino, commanding the 104th, immediately made plans to capture Albestroff by encircling the town. At 1000 on 22 November the 3d and the 2d Battalions jumped off on 500-yard fronts to bypass Albestroff on the north and south respectively. The 3d Battalion advance came under the German guns at Réning, a village some 2,500 yards to the north of Albestroff in the 35th Division zone. Enemy observers in the church spire at Réning and atop Hill 275 quickly brought down accurate artillery and rocket fire on the battalion, wounding the commander, Lt. Col. H. G. Donaldson, and inflicting a serious number of casualties.14 The 2d Battalion met less resistance, but when one company wheeled in toward Albestroff it met a storm of fire from the outlying buildings and had to fall back. Next, attempts were made to maneuver tank destroyers into positions from which the German tanks inside the town could be engaged, but no cover was to be had.15 The 104th
was in a precarious position and at 1305 General Paul ordered the regiment to hold where it was. During the night, however, the Germans evacuated Albestroff and the following day patrols from the 2d Battalion reoccupied the village.16
The 26th Division success in penetrating the German line on 18 November offered an opening for the tanks. The 4th Armored Division was in good shape for the attack. The troops had had a brief rest in dry billets, new tanks had replaced those lost in the fighting just past, and a few mine-roller tanks had arrived to head the armored columns.17 The plan now adopted called for Combat Command A (Col. W. P. Withers) to lead off in two columns, one advancing on the north flank of the 26th Division, the other following the infantry through Dieuze and striking out for the town of Mittersheim on the Canal des Houillières de la Sarre. Combat Command B (Gen. H. E. Dager) would be committed to support the southern column in the drive toward Mittersheim--the axis of attack advocated by the 4th Armored Division commander in September.
CCA jumped off on 19 November: Task Force Abrams returned to the Rodalbe sector, on the north flank of the 104th Infantry, and attacked in the direction of Insming; Task Force West moved up to Dieuze, waiting there for the 328th Infantry to force a passage. Abrams' column took Rodalbe, the scene of an earlier American reverse, but then was held up for some hours on the road north of the village while the engineers removed mines--911 were taken out in this one section. Toward the close of day the column swung over into the 35th Division zone to help the 3d Battalion of the 320th Infantry take Virming, a little village that controlled the roads forking out to the east. After a fierce shelling had set Virming ablaze, Task Force Abrams moved through and laagered on the road leading to Francaltroff. At Dieuze the infantry
attack had been checked during the day and General Wood ordered the southern column to switch to the north and follow Abrams. CCA continued toward Francaltroff on 20 November over a muddy road cluttered with mines and road blocks, and interdicted by rocket and artillery fire. Late in the day the armored infantry took Francaltroff in a dismounted assault and turned the village over to the 320th Infantry.
The general withdrawal by the left wing of the First Army and the obvious weakening of German resistance in front of the XII Corps on 20 November gave General Eddy the opportunity he sought to commit both of his armored divisions. The XII Corps Operations Directive18 issued that day ordered CCA, 6th Armored Division, to seize Sarre River crossings in the 35th Division zone, while CCB, 4th Armored Division, advanced in the 26th Division zone--via Mittersheim. Such a scheme of maneuver might permit concentration of the entire 4th Armored in one telling blow. Therefore General Wood recalled CCA and sent it into an assembly area near Conthil, preparatory to a shift to the south in support of CCB. This was a fortunate respite for Task Force Abrams, which now had come into a semiflooded area and was forced to spend 21 November winching two companies of medium tanks out of a miry tank park near Francaltroff. CCA did not close at Conthil until the following afternoon.
Meanwhile CCB was involved in a confusion of orders and counterorders, dictated in part by the lack of usable roads in the zone assigned the command on the right of the 26th Division, and in part by changes in the objective.19 Originally General Dager had been told to take his combat command by way of Dieuze and attack Mittersheim, which, by reason of its location at the apex of the impassable Dieuze-Gondrexange-Mittersheim triangle, was the anchor for the left wing of the German line facing the XII Corps. The enemy at Dieuze had delayed this move, but by the night of 21 November the head of the leading column (Major Churchill) was at Loudrefing, which had been reached without much opposition. Since there was no highway within the XII Corps zone going northeast out of Mittersheim, General Dager sent another column (Lt. Col. G. L. Jaques) into the 26th Division zone to seize
the road net centered at Munster. The roads in the region were rapidly deteriorating--and could handle only limited traffic in any case. A traffic jam occurred at Guinzeling, just as the 328th Infantry was coming up from Dieuze to aid the 101st Infantry, and the 26th Division commander ordered the armor to leave his area. The problem of armored movement was solved in part on 22 November when the 8th Tank Battalion, CCB, drove the German rear guard out of Mittersheim and crossed the Canal des Houillères de la Sarre.
The zone of attack assigned to the XII Corps narrowed as it approached the Sarre River. This fact, coupled with the successful operation just carried out by CCB on the right flank of the corps, induced the corps commander to conceive a new maneuver in which the 6th Armored Division and 80th Infantry Division, on the left, and the 4th Armored Division, on the right, would gradually pinch out the 26th and 35th Divisions. The order, issued on 22 November, did not foresee the future independent operation by the 4th Armored Division east of the Sarre River and called for that division to wheel north, rolling up the enemy in front of the 26th and 35th Divisions with an advance along the narrow corridor between the Canal des Houillères de la Sarre and the Sarre River.
Neither of the two infantry divisions that had been carrying the attack was taken from the line immediately. The 26th Division still had to close up to the canal. In front the enemy were deployed in strong positions on the west bank, with large field fortifications facing the 26th Division left and center at Honskirch and Altwiller, while the extensive Bois de Bonnefontaine provided a natural area for a stand opposite the American right. The unlucky battle at Albestroff had disorganized one battalion of the 104th Infantry and had immobilized the entire regiment. The last phase of the 26th Division advance, therefore, turned on the efforts of the 328th Infantry and the 101st Infantry, tired and depleted as the latter was. The 328th, committed between its two sister regiments on 22 November, quickly captured Munster.20 The following day, instead of relieving the 101st as had been planned, the fresh regiment took over the 104th sector and began a drive northeastward against the Vittersbourg-Honskirch-Altwiller line. This position consisted of bunkers and entrenchments in and around the three key villages, reinforced by large
mine fields and further strengthened by an extensive antitank ditch across the draw between Honskirch and Altwiller. Actually this German line was held rather weakly since the main enemy forces had withdrawn to the east side of the Sarre River. On 25 November the 328th broke through the north end of the line and took Vittersbourg. The next day a rifle company and eleven tanks attacked Honskirch. This first assault failed, with heavy cost to the Americans. A second assault, made in strength by the 1st Battalion, reached the double apron wire at the edge of the village but was checked there by strong small arms fire and the battalion withdrew under cover of a smoke screen.21 The fight at Honskirch proved to be a last rear guard action. On 27 November the 328th Infantry occupied Honskirch without opposition; the 101st Infantry finished the operation and entered Altwiller without a fight.
While the 328th fought in the north, the 101st Infantry had been driving slowly through the woods to its front, using the 2d Battalion to lead the advance. The Bois de Bonnefontaine was far too large for the efforts of one battalion, and the Germans had dug in with trenches, concertina wire, mines, and emplaced 20-mm. antiaircraft guns. During the night of 24 November E Company fought its way into a large château in the center of the Bois de Bonnefontaine which had been fortified as a strong point by the Germans; the lead platoon was cut off inside the château and forced to surrender. When G Company was sent in to support E it became disorganized, under fire from the woods, and was driven back. The next day tank destroyers were brought up and G Company returned to the attack, driving the enemy from the château. On 25 November Colonel Scott, the 101st Infantry commander, attached Company K to the 2d Battalion in order to make good the losses sustained in the fight for the château. Company K was dispatched to clear the northern edge of the Bois de Bonnefontaine, where it immediately encountered disaster. The Americans had just deployed to charge some self-propelled guns on Hill 262, about a half mile south of Altwiller, when a company of grenadiers from Altwiller appeared on the scene. The Germans caught Company K by surprise and in a quick charge with the bayonet drove the Americans back into the woods, killing the company commander and leaving about half the Americans as casualties.22 This was the last action in the 101st
zone and the main body of the regiment closed up to the Canal des Houillères de la Sarre. By 28 November the 328th Infantry was mopping up west of the canal in its area. Meanwhile the 4th Armored Division had widened the scope of operations and the XII Corps commander ordered the 26th Division to extend its front northward to take over most of the ground held by the 35th Division. At the same time he dispatched the 101st Infantry to Burbach, there to support the 4th Armored Division--east of the Sarre River--in an attack on the vital road center at Sarre-Union now scheduled for 1 December.
The 26th Infantry Division had suffered severely in its first major operation. The November drive by the XII Corps in the final analysis had devolved on the individual rifleman--88.8 percent of the total casualties in the corps were from the infantry23--and the 26th Division had lost more killed and missing than either of the other two infantry divisions. The 26th Division battle casualties for November totaled 661 killed, 2,154 wounded, and 613 missing, while nonbattle casualties from exposure, trench foot, and fatigue reached the high figure of 2,898 officers and men.24 In part the 26th Division casualty rate may be attributed to the fact that both officers and men were inexperienced. In the main, however, the losses taken by the division must be explained in terms of the rugged and readily defended terrain over which the 26th Division had to advance in the early phases of the offensive, a period during which the enemy morale still was high and his means of resistance still adequate.
The 4th Armored Division Operations on the Sarre
The mission given the 4th Armored Division when it crossed the Canal des Houillères de la Sarre on 22 November was originally limited by the canal on the west and by the Sarre River on the east. The area between formed a corridor about four miles across at the southern end, but this corridor narrowed so severely at Sarre-Union that little space was left for maneuver north of that point. The plan had been for the armor to drive north through the triangle and roll up the enemy line holding in front of the 26th Division. However, although two good roads cross the area laterally, only a few narrow logging trails run north through the triangle. These trails were bogged by the November rains and hardly could be used by heavy armored vehicles.
Instead of turning north, CCB headed straight east from Mittersheim, overrunning the weak security line manned by the 953d Regiment of the 361st VG Division. The enemy infantry, supported only by 20-mm. Flak guns, were in no wise prepared to meet an armored attack, and on 23 November Task Force Ezell captured Fénétrange on the west bank of the Sarre in a surprise assault. The 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron quickly turned south and crossed the Sarre at Bettborn, meeting there patrols from the 44th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. R. L. Spragins) of the XV Corps.25
The 4th Armored Division now was entering the Seventh Army zone of operations, for the interarmy boundary separating the XII and XV Corps extended diagonally northeast from Fénétrange. Subsequently this situation was regularized when General Eddy requested and received permission from General Haislip, the XV Corps commander, for the 4th Armored to operate inside the XV Corps area.26 At the moment, however, the 4th Armored plans were tentative and opportunistic. General Wood intended to attack to the north, in the rear of the enemy holding the east bank of the Sarre, and then re-enter the XII Corps zone of advance. Early on the morning of 24 November, therefore, Task Force Jaques began crossing the Sarre in force near Gosselming, while Task Force Churchill made a second crossing about six thousand yards to the north at Romelfing. The details of the scheme of maneuver could be none too definite, but in general the CCB commander intended to make an advance to the northeast in two separate columns, uniting his command in the vicinity of Bining--eleven miles northeast of Sarre-Union--in which position he could cut in on the German lines of retreat from Sarre-Union and Sarreguemines.27 Partly by accident and partly by design this plan of maneuver would benefit the XV Corps, whose left flank lay between the Sarre River and the Vosges mountains, and whose northernmost elements were disposed along a blocking position between Rauwiller and Bettwiller.
In a large-scale attack on 13 November the Seventh Army had thrown the XV Corps, which formed its left wing, into a drive to reach and cross the Vosges mountains in the vicinity of the Saverne Gap.28 This operation marked the beginning of a full-dress offensive in which General Devers' 6th Army
Group would attempt to breach the Vosges line, drive the German Nineteenth Army out of Alsace, and reach the Rhine River. General Haislip's XV Corps made a rapid advance south of the Marne-Rhin Canal. On 21 November its 2d French Armored Division broke out to the east, thrusting past the German forces concentrated around the cities of Sarrebourg and Phalsbourg. That same afternoon one of the armored columns outflanked the Saverne Gap by way of a secondary pass and descended into the Alsatian Plain.
The successful attack by the XV Corps had driven straight into the joint between the First and Nineteenth Armies. The maneuver on 21 November threatened to isolate and destroy the 553d VG Division and the weak Kampfgruppe of the 11th Panzer Division which constituted the extreme left-wing elements of the First Army and alone barred the westward approaches to the Saverne Gap. There were no reserves whatever behind the seam between the two German armies. Once the Americans and French had overrun the weak German forces in the Sarrebourg-Saverne area the tactical connection between the First and Nineteenth Armies would be broken--as in fact it was broken on 23 November. General Balck, who as commander of Army Group G was responsible for the two armies, had already begun fervid pleas for armored help on the morning of 21 November. Field Marshal Rundstedt and the staff at OB WEST could give no aid--reinforcements in any strength would have to come from the strategic reserve of OKW. Field Marshal Keitel and General Jodl were far removed from the needs of the battle front and greatly concerned with the necessity of maintaining intact the armored formations scheduled for the Ardennes counteroffensive. At noon OKW refused Balck's request. Meanwhile reports of the XII Corps advance in the sector west of Sarre-Union posed a new problem, leading General Westphal, OB WEST chief of staff, to predict an additional break-through on the left flank of the First Army. Finally, at 1545, OKW released the Panzer Lehr Division to the First Army, promising that the division would be concentrated in the vicinity of Sarralbe on the morning of 23 November and ordering that it be used to attack directly south against the American flank in a blow to "annihilate" the force advancing east of Sarrebourg.29
The Panzer Lehr Division had once been among the top-flight armored units of the Wehrmacht, although it was one of the last to be formed. Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein, who commanded the division, had won fame as
Rommel's chief of staff in North Africa and was an able and experienced soldier. The Panzer Lehr Division had been bled white during the Normandy campaign and, after fighting in the withdrawal across France, had been sent back to Germany for refitting under the Sixth Panzer Army in preparation for the Ardennes counteroffensive. The replacements there received by the division were of indifferent caliber; the new tank crews in particular lacked training. On 21 November the formation stood at about half its authorized strength in armored infantry and artillery; the tank regiment had approximately thirty-four Mark IV's and thirty-eight Panthers.30
The Army Group G commander counted on Bayerlein to make his armored thrust "deep" into the American (XV Corps) flank.31 But both Balck and the staff at OKW realized that additional support would be required to make good the Panzer Lehr effort and re-establish the connection between the First and Nineteenth Armies west of the Vosges. Bayerlein was ordered to make a co-ordinated attack with the 361st VG Division, which already was in position on the proposed axis of advance; and OKW temporarily assigned four artillery battalions of the 401st Volks Artillery Corps, in reserve near Sarre-Union, to support the two divisions. On the night of 22 November Balck dispatched a few of the Volkssturm to reinforce the 361st VG Division troops and cover the right flank of the Panzer Lehr attack--but these pitiable oldsters failed to halt the American crossings south of Fénétrange. In addition OKW ordered the 245th Infantry Division to start at once by rail from Holland, where it had been doing garrison duty, and released the main body of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division for Balck's use. These two infantry divisions, it was planned, would take over the ground won by the armor and restore the breach in the Army Group G lines west of Saverne.
The Panzer Lehr Division's 300-mile march from the Munster training ground brought the division into the Sarre-Union area on the morning of 23 November according to plan, despite gasoline failures along the way and green tank drivers who persisted in blocking the columns.32 Balck, who had reported to his superiors that he was "very happy" about this armored reinforcement, addressed a special order of the day to the Panzer Lehr Division saying that
"the fate of Alsace" depended on its efforts. The road net leading south to Sarrebourg was adequate for a tank attack, the American forces in the sector appeared to be only weak infantry detachments, the Panzer Lehr had a reputation as an elite armored unit (it had once been known as the "Parade Division"), and the Army Group G commander promised OKW that its intervention in the Saverne battle would bring "decisive results." The First Army commander, General Knobelsdorff, put himself on record, however, as predicting that the Panzer Lehr Division would recover none of the lost ground and probably would be fortunate to hold the sector north of Sarrebourg still in German hands.
Bayerlein formed his command into two columns south of Sarre-Union and by midafternoon of the 23d was ready to launch the attack, although two armored infantry battalions, two batteries of assault guns, and part of his reconnaissance battalion had not yet arrived at the concentration point. The easternmost column--the stronger of the two--had orders to attack via Eywiller and Schalbach. The route for the western column ran through Wolfskirchen, Postroff, Baerendorf, and Rauwiller. Its initial object was the seizure of the highway between Sarrebourg and Phalsbourg east of the former city. Bayerlein intended that the two columns would continue south to Hazelbourg, at the edge of the Vosges, and then turn north to free the troops around Phalsbourg. By dark the Panzer Lehr was driving in the cavalry outposts of the 106th Cavalry Group, north of Hirschland and Weyer, which screened the positions held by elements of the 44th Infantry Division. Balck instructed Bayerlein to continue the advance through the night, and at the same time ordered the LXIV Corps, which held the right flank of the Nineteenth Army, to send a Kampfgruppe north from the St. Quirin sector, some ten miles southwest of Hazelbourg, to implement a "concentric attack" against the American forces in the vicinity of Phalsbourg and Saverne.
During the night of 23-24 November the leading elements of Bayerlein's eastern column engaged part of the 114th Infantry and a few tank destroyers at Ischermuhl, just southwest of Weyer. The Americans held their ground against the first onslaughts and beat back the enemy. About 0400 the advance guard of the western column drove the American cavalry out of Hirschland, and an hour later the Germans were fighting the 2d Battalion of the 71st Infantry and a small force of cavalry and tank destroyers in Rauwiller. When the enemy main body came up, Rauwiller was quickly enveloped, but the 71st Infantry (Col. E. D. Porter) re-formed its lines south of the village. The
Panzer Lehr attack at this moment loomed large as a threat to the attenuated left flank of the XV Corps drive and General Haislip ordered the 114th Infantry (Col. R. R. Martin) to fall back on Schalbach, thus covering the exposed right of the 71st Infantry. In the threatened sector Haislip had the two regiments of the 44th Division, the 106th Cavalry Group, and three tank destroyer companies, plus the 157th Infantry of the 45th Division in reserve. The main body of the 45th Division was en route to the Saverne Gap, but General Haislip temporarily canceled this movement in order to provide additional reinforcements north of Sarrebourg if they should be needed.33
Two new factors, introduced on 24 November, radically altered the situation and wrested the initiative from the Panzer Lehr Division. General Eisenhower made a visit to the XV Corps headquarters at Sarrebourg and, after some study of the Seventh Army plans, directed that the XV Corps mission be changed from an advance eastward to an advance generally northward astride the Vosges mountains.34 This shift ultimately would permit General Haislip to go over to the offensive in the Sarrebourg sector. But intervention by CCB, 4th Armored, would provide a more important and immediate counter to the Panzer Lehr attack.
The Sarre River crossings through which CCB moved on the morning of 24 November lay approximately abreast of the forward points reached by the advance elements of Bayerlein's two columns. However, the eastern bank of the river was so weakly manned by the 361st VG as to permit the American armor some room for maneuver. Task Force Churchill, which crossed at the northern site, rolled with little opposition northeast to some high ground west of the village of Postroff. In this position the column could block while Task Force Jaques made the longer move up from the south. Jaques' command ran into a short, sharp fight at Kirrberg and then headed north to get onto the main road at Baerendorf--striking straight into the Panzer Lehr flank. The 53d Armored Infantry Battalion made a human chain to cross through the chilling waters of a stream west of the village and then, under cover of fire from the tanks and assault guns, took the high ground surrounding Baerendorf. Meanwhile a few tanks had been put across the stream and the assault force descended on the village, clearing it in a house-to-house battle with the 1st Battalion of the 902d Panzer Grenadier Regiment, reinforced by some engineers and reconnaissance troops. The enemy battalion had been
ordered to hold on until reinforcements could be brought back from the head of the German column. Later Bayerlein reported "very high losses" in the defense of Baerendorf. Actually the German armored infantry, most of whom were fighting in their first battle, did not offer much resistance--a symptom of the lack of training and poverty of personnel which at this time plagued many of the top-ranking German divisions. The fight at Baerendorf was characteristic of the ensuing engagements between the 4th Armored Division and the Panzer Lehr Division. The November mud limited tank maneuver to the roads--which soon went to pieces when used by two armored divisions. Slugging matches between tanks, like those which had taken place around Arracourt during September, seldom would occur. The armored infantry and engineers would be the final arbiters of the field, while the tanks would be relegated more and more to the role of accompanying artillery.
Bayerlein employed his strong eastern column to continue the main attack southward on the early morning of 25 November, at the same time turning his western column from its course in an attack toward Fénétrange designed to catch the American armor in the flank. Just before dawn the German tanks and infantry launched a counterattack from the north and east against Baerendorf. Here the 53d Armored Infantry Battalion had been disposed in a perimeter defense around the village, while beyond the eastern edge of Baerendorf a tank company from the 8th Tank Battalion held an outpost position guarding a bridge across a small creek. The enemy surprised one of the platoons east of the bridge, and a few of the American crews deserted their tanks. But when the Panthers incautiously came down to the bridge they were met by direct fire from other American tanks, several were destroyed, and the rest were forced to turn back along the road to Hirschland. On the north side of the Baerendorf perimeter the 53d engaged in a bitter melee in the dark. Although both sides lost heavily, the heavy machine guns manned by the 53d finally checked the assault and the enemy retired.35
While Task Force Jaques fought at Baerendorf the 2d Battalion of the 114th Infantry and the 106th Cavalry Group were hit by the eastern column of the Panzer Lehr Division advancing against Schalbach. An Alsatian deserter had given warning of the impending attack, but the troops in Schalbach were uncertain as to the whereabouts of the 4th Armored Division, and their supporting artillery had orders to withhold fire. The enemy attack was
almost in the 2d Battalion lines when Lt. Col. Charles L. Haley, commanding the 17th Field Artillery Battalion, gave orders, on his own initiative, to open fire. This act broke up the first German attempt. About ten o'clock an air observer saw a long line of tanks and vehicles coming down the road from Hirschland. This time the American artillery was free to intervene. The 17th and 961st Field Artillery Battalions poured in a withering fire which continued for nearly an hour and a half. So deadly was this shelling that many German crews deserted their tanks and sought shelter in ditches and farm buildings, others ran their vehicles into defilades in front of the 2d Battalion positions, and the main body turned hurriedly back to Hirschland. At least seven enemy tanks and four armored cars were destroyed in this fight. The losses sustained by the German armored infantry probably were high.36
The events of 25 November blasted the optimistic hopes which the higher German commands had pinned on the Panzer Lehr Division. That evening Rundstedt gave orders halting the attack and Bayerlein was told to go over to the defensive. The Panzer Lehr Division immediately began to withdraw northward to positions along the lateral road linking Wolfskirchen, Eywiller, and Durstel, which Bayerlein had selected as his main line of resistance.
The American attack to reduce this position would be made by the 4th Armored Division, while the body of the 44th Infantry Division carried the advance forward on the right and the 121st Cavalry Squadron threw out a protecting screen in the northeast. On 25 November General Wood sent the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion, from CCR, and all of the 4th Armored Division artillery to reinforce CCB. General Dager reorganized his command, grouping the 51st with the tank companies of the 8th Tank Battalion which Churchill held at Postroff, and in the late afternoon resumed the advance toward the north--the armored infantry leading through the mud. Next morning CCB began a co-ordinated attack in which Task Force Churchill struck at Wolfskirchen and Task Force Jaques attempted to disrupt the new German line by seizing Eywiller. Scant gains were made in this first day of attack. The ground in front of the Americans was interlaced with small streams--now flooded--and slowed all maneuver to the foot soldiers' pace. The German artillery, using the massed fire of the Panzer Lehr batteries and the 401st Volks Artillery Corps, maintained extremely heavy shelling to curtain the approaches to the new line of defense. Additional American troops were arriving, however,
to add weight and some flexibility to the 4th Armored drive. CCA moved east of the Sarre River on 26 November, passed across the rear of CCB, and then fanned out in an extension of the American line toward the right, opposite the left flank of the Panzer Lehr Division.
The attack on the second day was pushed home by the entire 4th Armored Division and broke through the Panzer Lehr positions. Wolfskirchen, the western anchor for the German line, was wrested from a detachment of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division which had been sent in to strengthen Bayerlein's division. The 51st Armored Infantry Battalion initiated an attempt to bypass to the east of the village but received such a hot flanking fire from Germans in the village that it became necessary to direct an assault into Wolfskirchen. A company of light tanks accompanied the armored infantry and the combined force quickly cleared the village, inflicting severe punishment on the German garrison. Eywiller was harder to crack. During the morning the 53d Armored Infantry Battalion, maneuvering to flank the village on the west, was checked by fire from a small wood. American fighter-bombers eventually neutralized the wood by an air strike, but a detachment of German Panthers continued to hold Eywiller until late afternoon when the capture of Gungwiller by a task force (West) from CCA made their position untenable. Gungwiller was taken after several hundred shells were fired into the village. The tanks then bypassed on one side and the tank destroyers on the other, while the infantry went through the main street clearing houses and cellars with grenades and flame throwers. The Germans had stripped Gungwiller in order to reinforce their flank at Durstel, where Task Force Oden, employing most of CCA, had begun an attack in midmorning. The approaches to Durstel were mined and covered by a large number of antitank guns, making armored maneuver most hazardous. The enemy infantry fought stubbornly, and during the afternoon were reinforced three times by additional tanks coming in from the north. When night fell the Americans gave up the contest and withdrew to the south.
The next three days were spent in a slow and difficult operation to clear the villages on the hill mass which lay east of the Drulingen-Sarre-Union highway, and which had to be wrested from enemy hands before the 4th Armored Division could continue the advance to the north and east. Numerous small watercourses made a jigsaw puzzle of the ground. Visibility during the day was increasingly poor. The roads, churned up by both American and German armor, had become almost impassable. The enemy relied chiefly on
his artillery during this period, but the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division (Colonel Arnold Burmeister), which had relieved the Panzer Lehr Division, fought a succession of small delaying actions.37 On 28 November CCB took Berg, overlooking the main road, and with it some bridges over a small stream that earlier had held up the advance. On the right CCA was forced to build its own bridges under artillery fire, but on 29 November Durstel finally fell. Next day the Americans captured the high ground overlooking Mackwiller, ending the fight for the hills and putting 4th Armored patrols from the south within four miles of Sarre-Union.38 The XII Corps commander now gave orders that on 1 December the 4th Armored Division was to attack Sarre-Union in conjunction with an advance on the city from the west by the 26th Infantry Division.
The 35th and 6th Armored Divisions Advance Toward the Sarre
The target date for the resumption of the drive toward the Sarre River, in which the 35th Division and 26th Division would lead off for the XII Corps, was set as 18 November. In accordance with this new plan the 35th Division would extend its front to the north, pinching out the 80th Division--which remained in position to contain Faulquemont--and advancing northeast with its left flank initially covered by the XX Corps. The main weight of the 35th Division attack would be put on its right wing. The division objective was designated in general fashion as the high ground on the eastern side of the double loop made by the Sarre River south of Sarreguemines.39
The XII Corps commander intended to support the two-division attack by sending in a part of his armor at the earliest possible moment. The initial plan provided for the concentration of the entire 6th Armored Division south of the Rotte; then CCB would join the 35th Division in the Morhange area and CCA would revert to corps reserve. But congestion was so great on the few usable roads that only CCB (Col. G. W. Read) crossed over the Rotte,
Operations West of the Sarre
Left Wing, 18-30 November 1944
moving on 17 November toward Morhange, where the 137th Infantry was clearing the roads and where the further development of the drive eastward would begin. Meanwhile, on the same day, General Grow conferred with General Baade, the two arranging for CCB to give direct support to the 137th Infantry. CCB, hard against the flooded tributaries of the German Nied, could in no event advance directly to the east.
On the morning of 18 November the 35th and 26th Infantry Divisions swung into the attack. (Map XXXV) After the supporting artillery had fired for seventy-eight minutes the 35th Division jumped off. The first hours of the advance east of the Metz-Sarrebourg railroad met little opposition, for the left wing of the XIII SS Corps had been withdrawn during the previous night. The 320th (Col. B. A. Byrne) and 137th (Col. W. S. Murray), on the right and left respectively, advanced at marching speed. Late in the morning the 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. A. M. Butler) of the 137th Infantry came under fire from Bistroff, a village that lay at the southern end of an impassable area marked by lakes and flooded streams. By this time the marching infantry had outdistanced their supporting heavy weapons. Nonetheless, the battalion forded an icy stream and attacked straight into the village, clearing it after a sharp house-to-house battle. The enemy made several attempts to retake the village and so check the American advance around the flooded area. Lacking antitank guns or tank destroyers the battalion had to rely on the mines it carried, but these proved sufficient to cripple the German tanks; rifle and machine gun fire accounted for the enemy infantry.40
At the close of the 18th the right wing of the 35th Division was east of Vallerange and the left was near Bistroff. General Eddy decided that the moment was opportune to commit the armor and ordered Grow to put CCB through the left wing of the 35th Division. Since resistance seemed to be light, the corps commander told Grow that he should be prepared to pass the entire 6th Armored through Baade's division, in accordance with a plan on which the three commanders had agreed earlier. General Grow promptly ordered Colonel Hines to ready a combat team for dispatch from CCA to CCB, preliminary to switching CCA to the south and onto the left of CCB when the bottleneck northeast of Morhange was broken. Meanwhile Colonel Read moved CCB into position to carry the attack from the 137th Infantry lines on 19 November.
On the second day the attack reached the main German positions, a series of fortified villages strengthened by antitank ditches and sprawling mine fields, the whole supplemented by much antitank and medium artillery. The German troops were an ill-assorted mixture: the remainders of the 48th Division and 559th VG Division, plus fortress units and a handful of armored vehicles from the 1559th Tank Destroyer Battalion, all now organized as a Kampfgruppe under the commander of the 559th, General Muehlen. Although a motley force, Kampfgruppe Muehlen was still capable of a determined fight and small groups of defenders held grimly to the villages and any high ground.41 Mud made cross-country maneuver virtually impossible and forced the American attack into channels previously prepared for defense. On the north wing Combat Team Lagrew from CCB, followed by the 1st Battalion, 137th Infantry, attempted to move via the Morhange-Gros-Tenquin road, but found the going very difficult. West of Bertring the armor was brought to an abrupt halt by an antitank ditch, beyond which were deployed antitank guns, infantry, and tanks. A brisk engagement ensued in which Combat Team Lagrew lost seven medium tanks and incurred sixty-five casualties, while five German Panthers were knocked out. Time fire finally drove off the last defenders; the American infantry crossed the ditch and began the reduction of the block houses on the edge of Bertring. About 1400 the antitank ditch was bridged and a tank platoon entered Bertring, ending the fight for the village. Progress thus far had been slow; the daylight hours were running out and plans were hastily made for a co-ordinated attack on Gros-Tenquin, a crossroads village a thousand yards to the northeast. At 1630 nineteen battalions of field artillery fired a TOT, fighter-bombers flew over to strafe and bomb, and mortars set the village ablaze with white phosphorus. Then the tanks moved in with the infantry attack to give direct fire support. There was no fight in Gros-Tenquin. The survivors--"quaking with fear," as the Americans reported--surrendered, and the infantry passed to the east, clearing the mortar crews and machine gunners off the hills. Muehlen's Kampfgruppe was about at the end of its tether, but during the night the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, which had been pulled out of the Metz sector, began to arrive in the German line opposite the 35th Division.
ANTITANK DITCH WEST OF BERTRING on Morhange-Gros-Tenquin road.
During 19 November the 4th Armored Division had switched some of its tanks north into the 35th Division zone and there had lent a hand to the 320th Infantry in the capture of Virming. On 20 November the 320th followed CCA of the 4th Armored while the latter attacked and took Francaltroff. On the left of the division the 137th Infantry added its weight to the 6th Armored column, which had been reinforced by a combat team from CCA. This combat team, built around the 69th Tank Battalion (Lt. Col. Bedford Forrest), led the advance along the road to Hellimer. The Germans were deployed in and around the Bois de Freybouse, astride the highway. Their force was composed of a number of Panther tanks and self-propelled tank destroyers which had been dispatched early in the morning from the 11th Panzer Division to halt the American drive on Hellimer. Forrest lost six light tanks and four mediums in the fight for the section of highway in the woods, but claimed a total of ten German tanks, three armored cars, and three antitank guns destroyed. The 2d Battalion, 137th Infantry, which had helped to clear the way through the woods, received a sudden and violent
shelling when it emerged on the eastern edge, there losing six officers and a score of men. The resultant disorganization among the infantry and the tank losses suffered by Forrest halted the advance for the remainder of the day.42
The attack in the 35th Division zone had slowed to what the armored officers ruefully reported as "an infantry pace." Progress was limited to a slow advance on a narrow front, in which each successive village had to be assaulted and reduced. Such frontal and bludgeoning tactics inevitably would result in an inordinate rate of attrition. On 21 November, therefore, the American armor and infantry began to widen the front preliminary to attempting envelopment tactics. On the left wing Combat Team Wall and the 3d Battalion of the 137th turned north to take Frémestroff. Mines, mud, and antitank fire made a speedy move impossible. At the edge of the village a blown bridge forced Wall's armored vehicles to deploy off the road--where they promptly bogged down. The infantry, dismounting, continued the assault and took the village despite very strong resistance.
In the meantime Combat Team Forrest and the 2d Battalion, 137th, fought to capture Hellimer. The commitment of the 11th Panzer Division Kampfgruppe on the previous day had been only a stopgap measure. Balck wished to re-form the 11th Panzer Division as his army group reserve and had therefore sent in a part of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division (Colonel Hans-Joachim Deckert) to bolster the line. These fresh troops held the Hellimer crossroads. Early on the morning of 21 November, American field guns, close behind the 2d Battalion, struck the German artillery positions and pillboxes around Hellimer with very accurate shelling. At 1000 two companies of infantry began the assault under cover of a smoke screen laid down by mortars but, when about five hundred yards from the town, were driven back by a withering fire. Five German tanks now came forward, took cover behind some houses in the northwest part of the village, and proceeded to engage the American tanks and tank destroyers in a long-drawn fire fight. About 1500 an infantry platoon made a dash across the open and reached the shelter of a couple of houses; from this position the Americans worked their way toward the German tanks, disabling one by firing antitank grenades, killing the tank commander in another, and driving the rest out of Hellimer. Once freed of the enemy armor the town was quickly cleared.43
The lengthy battle for Hellimer had repercussions on the right, where the 320th Infantry was moving cross country in the direction of Grening. The left flank of the regiment came under fire from the German guns positioned near Hellimer and as a result was held immobile until that village was taken. The next morning the artillery set to work to soften up the enemy in Grening. Seven TOT's were fired on the village, followed by a salvo of "Safe Conduct" pamphlets. The German garrison, estimated to be an infantry battalion and five or six tanks, was apparently not impressed. When the 2d Battalion moved in to attack, enemy fire met and checked every advance. Colonel Byrne brought up his regimental reserve, the 3d Battalion, but the German tanks, supported by riflemen, counterattacked and held the Americans at bay. When tank destroyers were brought forward to engage the enemy tanks they found them sheltered in defilade and protected by extensive mine barriers. Attempts to guide the tank destroyer crews to their targets with low-flying artillery observation planes were unsuccessful. But toward the middle of the afternoon a patrol from L Company penetrated inside the village and seized a building next to the church. This building was held through the night, and with the Americans inside the village the enemy finally evacuated Grening.44
The armor-infantry attack in the north had continued on 22 November, CCB still maneuvering to widen the front and avoid the heartbreaking business of a headlong advance on the main road. Beyond Hellimer, CCB and the 1st Battalion, 137th, swerved north and made a surprise flank attack in which Leyviller45 and St. Jean-Rohrbach were captured, the latter in what the journal of the 137th Infantry called "a vicious battle." Once the tide had turned, the Germans took to the open and fled across country to the east, giving the American artillery and tank gunners a field day.
That afternoon General Baade received new instructions from the XII Corps.46 The 35th Division would close up to the Maderbach, a stream about eight miles west of the Sarre River, and there--with the neighboring 26th Division--would be pinched out by General Eddy's two armored divisions and the 80th Infantry Division. The successful armored thrust on the 35th Division
left had driven a narrow salient into the German position west of the Maderbach, but the American center and right still had about six miles to go. General Grow ordered CCA, 6th Armored, to come south into the 35th Division zone,47 and General Baade brought up the 1st and 3d Battalions of the 134th Infantry (Col. B. B. Miltonberger) from reserve to provide the additional infantry increment for the armor so necessary in this late autumn fighting.
While the 6th Armored Division was regrouping on 23 November, the 1st Battalion, 137th Infantry, advanced on Hilsprich, just southeast of St. Jean-Rohrbach, to widen the salient extending toward the Maderbach and secure a forward assembly area for CCB. Hilsprich was held by infantry from the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment and a few tanks. This German force was deployed with strong outpost positions sited to give cross fire on any approach to the village. About 0900 the attack jumped off with A Company on the right and C Company on the left. When the infantry reached a small hill north of Hilsprich they could see five German tanks and numerous antitank guns. In response to the 1st Battalion's call four tank destroyers were sent forward but were driven back by the enemy guns. The two companies making the attack suffered considerably in the first phase of the advance and the commander of one company was killed. After their tank destroyer support had withdrawn, the infantry re-formed and made a final assault--across some eight hundred yards of open ground. The drive carried them into the northeast corner of Hilsprich, but at high cost. In the early evening five German tanks and about fifty riflemen blocked off both ends of the main street and methodically began to reduce the houses held by the Americans. The one remaining American officer, 1st Lt. Merrill H. Lyon, gathered about sixty survivors and led them through the enemy and back to St. Jean-Rohrbach.48
Possession of Hilsprich was essential to the success of the 6th Armored Division attack. General Grow intended to use CCB to capture Puttelange and the knot of roads and bridges it controlled; the seizure of Hilsprich would provide room for the CCB maneuver and cover the exterior flank of the combat command during the drive to the Maderbach. CCA, on the left of CCB, was to be employed farther north in an attempt to extend the American front and outflank the Puttelange crossings. Hilsprich was finally taken
late on the afternoon of 24 November after a terrific shelling had nearly demolished the village, the successful attack being made by the 1st Battalion of the 134th Infantry and the 737th Tank Battalion.
On 25 November the 6th Armored Division and its attached battalions from the 134th Infantry were in position to begin what was expected to be the last phase in the attempt to reach and cross the Maderbach. The weather had become progressively worse and the armor was roadbound in consequence. Indeed, even the roads presented a problem. Near the frontier they were more poorly constructed, cratered by demolitions, and interdicted at frequent intervals by antitank ditches. In addition the advance was entering the old fortified zone of the Maginot Line, which though no longer a first-class military barrier provided gun emplacements, pillboxes, and antitank obstacles to slow down the attack. Under these conditions the armor could do little toward carrying the assault. In slow and painful progress the infantry, both armored and attached, had to fight to clear every foot of road, as well as to establish "bridgeheads" wherever an antitank ditch intervened. As a result the number of sick and combat fatigue cases mounted rapidly, even though officers did all that they could to provide dry socks and warm clothing for their men. Rifle strengths dwindled; as one example, Combat Team Britton (the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion reinforced) lost only four killed and two wounded on 25 November, but found it necessary to evacuate twenty-six sick and ninety-three combat fatigue cases.
On the night of 24-25 November armored infantry and engineers threw a bridge across an antitank ditch intersecting the west road into Puttelange, along which CCB intended to attack. Next day the 15th Tank Battalion crossed the bridge. It had hardly started rolling on the opposite side when a huge crater halted the move. The leading tankers took their vehicles off the road to circle around the crater--and sank into the mud. Five medium tanks were lost here to the German antitank guns, and the 15th fell back. Farther to the south the 737th Tank Battalion (Lt. Col. F. M. Kroschel), which had been attached to CCB, also failed to make headway against mud, mines, and artillery fire. However, two rifle companies of the 134th Infantry, attached to the 737th, managed to reach the flooded Maderbach at Remering, where they were joined by armored infantry. CCA, not yet abreast of CCB, likewise found itself involved in a foot-slogging infantry battle on the left flank. At Valette fighter-bombers from the 377th Squadron dropped 500-pound bombs close to the German positions. Then the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion
(Britton) charged up a slippery slope with fixed bayonets and cleared the German position in a hand-to-hand fight reminiscent of warfare thirty years earlier. On the following day the 69th Tank Battalion attacked through the Forêt de Puttelange in an effort to bypass the main enemy force. All went well until the tanks debouched from the eastern side of the woods. Then the enemy opened up from positions in the Maginot Line works to the east. The tanks could not maneuver through the mud and the combat team commander, Colonel Forrest, withdrew his troops to forestall any attempts at ambush in the woods. Colonel Forrest was killed by a mortar shell while checking his positions for the night.
CCB now was in position facing the Maderbach. General Grow ordered the left to hold and sent Colonel Miltonberger's 134th Infantry to clear the west bank by an advance from Hilsprich. This mopping-up operation was successful, but attempts to move the tanks forward through the mud were of no avail. Finally, on 27 November, the 80th Infantry Division, again in motion on the north wing of the XII Corps, forced the enemy to begin a wholesale withdrawal across the Maderbach. So the month of November ended, with the 6th Armored Division deployed along the west bank of the Maderbach49 and the 35th Infantry Division--now in corps reserve--resting and training replacements.50
The 35th Division and the 6th Armored Division had driven the enemy lines back twenty-seven miles during the November operation. The 35th had taken 2,309 prisoners; its own losses totaled 349 killed, 1,549 wounded, and
115 missing.51 The 6th Armored Division had lost 94 tanks--of which at least two-thirds could be repaired--but had accounted for 73 German tanks and assault guns, plus an estimated 202 pieces of artillery. Battle casualties suffered by the 6th Armored numbered 162 killed, 725 wounded, and 47 missing.52
The 80th Division Attack in the Faulquemont Sector
On 17 November the 80th Division went on the defensive after 102 days of continuous contact with the enemy. The 80th now assumed a blocking role on the left flank of the XII Corps, interdicted the enemy escape routes east of Faulquemont by fire, filled its depleted battalions with replacements, and put its men into dry clothes. It is characteristic of the extreme care now required of commanders who were struggling--under General Patton's critical eye--to reduce the increasing incidence of immersion foot (or trench foot) that most of the messages entered in the 80th Division Journal for these days deal with dry socks, laundry facilities, and the like.
This pause in operations on the north wing of the XII Corps gave the 36th VG Division, which had taken a very severe beating in the fighting southwest of Faulquemont, an opportunity to reorganize and take some defensive measures before resumption of the battle. On the night of 16-17 November General Wellm, the 36th VG Division commander, sought permission to withdraw his weakened division across the Nied Allemande River and occupy a new position on the hills north and northeast of Faulquemont, where the Maginot Line works offered the possibility of an organized defense. Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Max Simon, commanding the XIII SS Corps, quickly gave assent since he feared that the American attack would be continued and would shatter his left flank. Wellm's retreat across the Nied Allemande was carried out as scheduled, but the German commander left a reinforced company of the 165th Regiment in Faulquemont to retain a bridgehead. The French inhabitants of Faulquemont, encouraged by the imminence of "liberation" and the obvious weakness of the German garrison, soon became threatening and on 18 November Wellm removed the small bridgehead force.53
KEEPING WARM AND DRY was a major problem as cold and rain increased the incidence of trench foot.
During the brief lull the Third Army commander visited General McBride and casually asked why the 80th Division did not take Faulquemont and the heights beyond. Prompted by this "question" General McBride suggested to the XII Corps commander that the 80th Division be sent up against the Faulquemont position. General Eddy was surprised but gave his consent. Meanwhile, reports from the 80th Division patrols, scouting along the Nied Allemande, indicated that this river line was not strongly held. On 20 November, therefore, after the combined attack by the 35th Division and the 6th Armored had begun moving on the right flank of the 80th, General McBride set in motion a reconnaissance in force to secure bridgeheads north of the river at Faulquemont and Pontpierre.54 The German rear guard had neglected to destroy the bridge at Faulquemont, and the two leading regiments quickly seized a foothold north of the Nied Allemande. This hold was widened the
following day against slight opposition, for as yet the 80th had not encountered the German main battle position, and a tenuous contact was made with the XX Corps.55
The Faulquemont position (Falkenberg Stellung), in which the 36th VG Division had deployed, extended along the north side of a deep draw--marked by the villages of Haute-Vigneulle and Bambiderstroff--about three miles beyond the Nied Allemande; it then angled southeast through Tritteling and Téting, the latter barring the road to St. Avold. Much of the enemy line was based on the Maginot fortifications, but these works were now in a poor state of repair and had a few pieces of usable artillery. In any case the Germans had been given little time to familiarize themselves with the Maginot system and had been unable to strengthen the line with more than a modicum of field entrenchments and wire. The 36th VG Division was still considerably understrength, although an infantry battalion or two had been borrowed from the 347th Division, just to the north.
On 25 November, after a five-minute artillery concentration, the 80th Infantry Division attacked with all three regiments, supported by the 702d Tank Battalion, the 610th and 808th Tank Destroyer Battalions, and with the 42d Cavalry Squadron screening its left flank. By 1300 all the main works were in American hands and the fight had dwindled to a progression of mopping-up actions in which the infantry cleared the woods and heights while the tank destroyers methodically blasted the last pillboxes and bunkers at point-blank range.56 In all, the 80th took about six hundred prisoners. In a subsequent report General Wellm attributed the collapse of the 36th VG Division on this day to the incessant "drum fire" by the American artillery and the coolness displayed by the American infantry, who advanced calmly through the thickest fire "with their weapons at the ready and cigarettes dangling from their lips."57
The broken enemy fell back from the 80th and 5th Divisions, which had made contact, but during 26 November desperate rear guard detachments fought on to cover the retreat. A battalion of the 318th Infantry, on the American north flank, repulsed five counterattacks made by the remnants of the 2d Battalion, 165th Regiment; then, as if tiring of the matter, nine field artillery
battalions laid a TOT on a sixth counterattack--ending both the attack and the enemy battalion. In the center the 319th Infantry in hard fighting drove to within 1,500 yards of St. Avold;58 the 317th Infantry, coming up from the southwest, reached the high ground overlooking the town. The next day the 318th (Col. Lansing McVickar) and 319th (Col. W. N. Taylor) marched into St. Avold but found none of the enemy: during the night the XIII SS Corps had withdrawn to a new line west of the Sarre River.59
With the seizure of St. Avold,60 General McBride turned the 317th (Col. W. M. Lewis) to the northeast on 27 November, in a pursuit calculated to regain contact with the retreating Germans. "Only the infantry could surely get through," reported the regimental commander, and, leaving trucks and half-tracks behind, the 317th moved on foot through the mud. Toward twilight, while marching in column of battalions, the regiment regained touch with the enemy near Seingbouse, about six miles east of St. Avold. Colonel Lewis ordered the 317th to deploy and sent his leading battalion, the 3d, to attack in the direction of Farebersviller while the 1st and 2d Battalions moved forward to go south and north, respectively, of that village.
About 0900 the next morning the 3d Battalion succeeded in getting a foothold in Farebersviller and began a house-to-house fight that went on all through the day. In the village were some two hundred Germans, troops of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division who had been thrown in piecemeal to hold a section of railway that here formed the new XIII SS Corps line. At the far end of Farebersviller a railway embankment ran north and south, providing cover under which a tactical reserve, composed of grenadiers from the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment and some light Flak tanks belonging to the 17th SS Reconnaissance Battalion, was able to mass for sorties into the village or against the American battalions bypassing Farebersviller. During the afternoon, Companies A and C of the 1st Battalion crossed the railroad
south of Farebersviller and gained the wooded ridge that lay beyond. About 1600 seven German tanks and a company of infantry sliced in between the advance companies and the rest of the battalion. During the night some of the survivors, who had run out of ammunition and medical supplies, found their way back across the railroad. Company B patrols were sent forward into the woods and there surprised a group of enemy guards who were taking thirty walking wounded to the rear. The patrols killed the guards and freed their prisoners.
After the successful foray against the 1st Battalion the German shock troops gathered behind the railroad to drive the 3d Battalion out of the west half of Farebersviller. About 2000, three or four tanks and two or three hundred yelling grenadiers charged the Americans; the latter held on, despite serious casualties, and refused to be driven from the village. On the morning of the 29th friendly tanks and tank destroyers came up and began to shell buildings designated by the infantry. Shortly after noon the 3d Battalion was able to report that it was beginning "to creep forward again," although the largest company had only thirty-five men and one company numbered but sixteen.61 The Germans, however, had strengthened their force inside the village. When night came the enemy had complete possession of Farebersviller; the remnants of the 3d Battalion were dug in about a thousand yards west of the village. During 29 November the Germans diverted some troops and tanks to deal with the 2d Battalion in the north, launching counterattacks at the beginning and end of the day; they were stopped on both occasions by a curtain of artillery fire.62 That night General McBride ordered in the 318th Infantry to relieve the 317th Infantry, thus ending the November operations of the 80th Division and an advance--since 25 November--of nearly eighteen miles. During the month the division combat losses had been 513 killed, 2,215 wounded, and 373 missing, a total comparable to the 80th Division casualty list in the heavy fighting of September.63 But the division had taken 3,943 prisoners.
The November offensive had won very substantial gains for the Third Army in both the XII and XX Corps sectors, but without effecting any penetration of the West Wall or materially hastening the advance on the road to
the Rhine. Nonetheless the Third Army had taken heavy toll of the enemy. At the close of November the German First Army continued to carry eight infantry divisions and four panzer divisions on its troop list, but this was a paper order of battle only. In fact the combat strength of the First Army had been reduced to four and a half guns for each mile on the front line and one battalion to each four-mile sector.64
1. The 11th Panzer Division must have been reduced to a mere handful of tanks, for the First Army "collective tank strength" on 15 November totaled 5 Mark IV's, 18 Mark V's, 4 Mark VI's, and 26 assault guns. Army Group G KTB and Anlagen, 15 Nov 44. On 14 November the 11th Panzer Division had an effective strength of only 800 men. OB WEST KTB, 14 Nov 44.
2. On 16 Nov Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Max Simon assumed command of the XIII SS Corps, relieving Priess, who had been selected for an armored command in the forthcoming Ardennes counteroffensive. MS #B-412 (Einem).
3. XII Corps Operational Directive No. 38, 17 Nov 44. CCB, 4th Armored Division, was designated as the XII Corps reserve.
4. See Chap. VII, pp. 333-36.
5. During the attack at Bourgaltroff four German tanks opened fire on E Company. Sgt. Albert E. McPhee left his already depleted platoon and advanced alone with a bazooka. He hit two of the tanks and forced all four to retire. Sergeant McPhee was awarded the DSC.
6. A subsequent investigation, cited in the 101st Infantry Journal, reported eight dead on F Company's last position. Apparently the company had taken cover in some farm buildings, had been blasted out by direct artillery fire at very close range, and then had surrendered en masse.
7. Hist Div Combat Interviews; 101st Inf Jnl, 18 Nov 44.
8. Pfc. Augustine Silva, G Company, 101st Infantry, on this day killed the entire crew of a German tank with only hand grenades and his rifle. He received the DSC. Cpl. John L. Farrell, aid man with the 101st Infantry, also was awarded the DSC for the rescue, under fire, of a wounded officer. Corporal Farrell himself was wounded in reaching the officer.
9. Hist Div Combat Interviews; WDGO No. 109 (1945). In recognition of its performance in the fighting between 18 and 21 November the 3d Battalion of the 101st was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation.
10. 26th Div AAR, 19 Nov 44; 3d Bn Jnl, 19 Nov 44; 26th Div G-2 Jnl; 2d Cav Gp S-3 Rpt, 20 Nov 44; 328th Inf AAR, 20 Nov 44.
11. 26th Div AAR, Nov 44.
12. Ibid., 20 Nov 44.
13. 104th Inf Jnl, 21 Nov 44. The reports on this action are confused: the 26th Division After Action Report even cites "the well co-ordinated maneuver and heavy artillery concentration" as notable.
14. During this action a platoon from L Company, led by 2d Lt. Howard E. Myerle, was immobilized by heavy fire and could not evacuate its large number of wounded. Lieutenant Myerle, although painfully wounded himself, ran forward alone and killed a German machine gun crew that had brought the platoon under direct fire. He received the DSC.
15. The American pressure on Albestroff diverted the attention of the German defenders and allowed nearly all the members of the 1st Battalion to escape from the cellars where they had barricaded themselves and return to the 104th lines. During the day about 60 men from A and B Companies got out, followed by 17 men from C Company who had reached the eastern edge of Albestroff. The bulk of the battalion reached the American lines during the night and the following day. In one such withdrawal Sgt. Algy C. Shameklis led most of B Company, which he had taken over two days before when all the company officers had become casualties, out of the village--despite severe wounds suffered when a German tank blew in the walls of a house he and his men were defending. Sergeant Shameklis was awarded the DSC. For executing a successful withdrawal from the eastern edge of the village with his platoon 1st Lt. Michael V. Kravontka, C Company, 104th Infantry, also was awarded the DSC. He had earlier received three severe wounds.
16. For the Albestroff fight see the 104th Infantry Journal. See also 26th Div AAR; Hist Div Combat Interviews; and Ltr, Col R. A. Palladino to Hist Div, 20 Sep 47.
17. The increased use of the wood-box mine made detection difficult; in addition the muddy roads allowed the enemy to plant mines in the tracks made by their own vehicles.
18. Operational Directive No. 41. This order apparently was more a statement of ultimate intentions than anything else. At noon on the 20th General Grow warned the corps commander that a "blitz" was out of the question, but added that the armor could keep going by making short envelopments, punching ahead, and using plenty of artillery. Ltr, Gen Grow to Hist Div, 23 Feb 49.
19. Orders for the 25th Cavalry Squadron were changed eight times during the day. 4th Armd Div AAR, 21 Nov 44.
20. Pvt. B. F. Brogdon, E Company, 328th Infantry, was awarded the DSC for bravery in this action. When his squad leader fell Brogdon took charge, although he had been hit in the leg by a shell fragment. He led the squad, all but himself replacements, in the entire fight for the village. Twenty-eight hours later he was evacuated despite his protests.
21. Sgt Stanley A. Davis, C Company, 328th Infantry, led his squad in knocking out three machine gun positions. At the third enemy position he received a severe wound, but refused to be evacuated and died an hour later--still in action. Sergeant Davis was awarded the DSC posthumously.
22. Hist Div Combat Interviews; 26th Div AAR, 24 and 25 Nov 44.
23. XII Corps Opns Rpt, Nov 44.
24. 26th Div AAR, Nov 44.
25. 4th Armd Div AAR, 23 Nov 44.
26. XV Corps AAR, Nov 44.
27. Hist Div Combat Interviews; 4th Armd CCB AAR, 23 Nov 44.
28. The operations of the Seventh Army will be discussed in detail by Major Hamilton in his forthcoming volume, Southern France and Alsace, of this series.
29. Army Group G KTB and Anlagen for this period. The detailed story of the Panzer Lehr attack is given in MS #D-322 by General Bayerlein.
30. The entire tank complement may not have been employed. An OB WEST situation map dated 25 November gives the Panzer Lehr strength as 33 Mark IV's and 20 Mark V's.
31. Army Group G believed that the XV Corps was so thinly spread that Panzer Lehr could knife through. Also it held that the Third Army and 6th Army Group had no "operational reserves."
32. The telephone journal attached to the Army Group G KTB gives an hourly recital of the difficulties encountered in this move.
33. XV Corps AAR, Annex No. 2, Nov 44.
34. Ibid., 24 Nov 44.
35. 53d Armd Inf Jnl, and 8th Tk Bn Jnl, 24 and 25 Nov 44. See also Hist Div Combat Interviews.
36. XV Corps AAR, Annex No. 2, Nov 44.
37. Elements of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division began to arrive in the Sarre-Union sector on 25 November. Finally, on the night of 27 November, the balance of the 25th was in the line and Panzer Lehr was relieved. Army Group G KTB and OB WEST situation maps.
38. The 25th Cavalry (-) had completed its move northward between the river and the canal. On 29 November the assault gun troop and the 22d Armored Field Artillery Battalion opened fire on Sarre-Union from the west. Then D Troop essayed a sortie from Harskirchen into Sarre-Union but was repelled. 4th Armd G-3 Jnl, 29 Nov 44.
39. 35th Div AAR, 17 Nov 44.
40. The 3d Battalion, 137th Infantry, subsequently received a Distinguished Unit Citation for this action.
41. Simon, the new XIII SS Corps commander, was worried about Muehlen's ability to hold and requested that a new unit replace Muehlen's shattered command. The First Army commander agreed to use the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division for the relief, but this could not be accomplished before the night of 19 November. MS #B-487 (Simon).
42. 6th Armd CCB AAR, 20 Nov 44.
43. 2d Bn, 137th Inf, Jnl, 21 Nov 44.
44. 320th Inf Jnl, 22 Nov 44.
45. Again the fight for observation had turned to the fight for cover. Any village whose houses still had roofs was regarded as a prize. Leyviller had been a German Army installation and offered real shelter. During the attack, Colonel Lagrew, whose combat team was back in the fight after a two-day rest, ordered: "Don't make holes in those beautiful barracks."
46. XII Corps Operational Directive No. 41, 22 Nov 44.
47. CCA had been trying to cross the Nied Allemande but had been held in check by difficulties with bridging, the flooded lowlands, and intense enemy artillery fire.
48. Hist Div Combat Interviews; 35th Div AAR, 23 Nov 44.
49. On 30 November a strong German patrol attacked an outpost of the 86th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Armored Division. Cpl. Jesse V. Davis sent the three men under his command back to alert the main body and remained alone, engaging the enemy with his submachine gun and hand grenades. He continued his lone battle until his ammunition was gone and he was killed. Corporal Davis was awarded the DSC posthumously.
50. Certain units of the 35th Infantry Division, however, were still slogging away. On 27 November A Company of the 320th Infantry fought an action at the little village of Uberkinger which was so successful as to be the subject of special commendation in the After Action Report prepared by the regimental commander. Just before daylight Capt. Charles W. Bell, the company commander, led his men through a flooded stream that denied access to Uberkinger. As the company approached the village daybreak came, revealing the Americans to the Germans who were deployed outside Uberkinger. Bell's company rushed into the village and took cover in its buildings. Using bazookas, the only antitank weapons available, the American infantry immobilized a Tiger tank which had rolled into the streets and then set it afire with gasoline from a captured German jeep. Next the enemy drove into the village with five tanks and three infantry half-tracks. The American bazooka men went into the streets and onto the housetops and their fire, coupled with that from supporting artillery which was firing on call, drove off the German armored vehicles. In the course of the fight for Uberkinger A Company killed twenty of the enemy and captured fifteen without a single American casualty.
51. 35th Div AAR, Nov 44. The 35th Division had a moderate number of trench foot cases as compared with the 26th Division and 80th Division. The XII Corps Operations Report for November 1944 lists 436 such casualties.
52. 6th Armd Div AAR, Nov 44.
53. MS #B-487 (Simon); MS #B-223 (Wellm).
54. Ltr, Maj Gen Horace McBride to Hist Div, 22 Oct 46. The Third Army orders had specified that the 80th Division would contain Faulquemont. See also 80th Div FO No. 15.
55. Elements of the 6th Armored reserve had remained in position between the 5th and 80th Divisions.
56. The 75-mm. tank howitzers only chipped the concrete, but the armor-piercing shells fired by the 90-mm. tank destroyers went straight through six feet of reinforced concrete. Hist Div Combat Interviews.
57. MS #B-223 (Wellm).
58. During this advance Sgt. Glen M. Stouder, E Company, 319th Infantry in a singlehanded and successful attack cleared the enemy from a house which offered the only cover for his men, who were deployed in the open under intense fire. The DSC was awarded to Sergeant Stouder.
59. The German withdrawal east of St. Avold allowed CCA, 6th Armored Division, to drive forward on the right of the 80th. As a result General Grow was able for the first time to align both combat commands of the 6th Armored Division facing eastward.
60. The Germans had planted time bombs in St. Avold. About 1730 on 3 December one of the time bombs exploded in a building occupied by the staff of the 633d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. Four officers and eighteen men were killed; some thirty were injured. Within the next hour four other explosions occurred, but all troops had been ordered out into the streets and so escaped injury. Ironically enough, St. Avold had been designated as a "rest area" for the 80th Division.
61. Hist Div Combat Interviews; 317th Inf Jnl, 28 and 29 Nov 44; 80th Div G-3 Jnl, 29 Nov 44.
62. Cpl. Thomas W. Pettengill, an aid man with 317th Infantry, was awarded the DSC for his courage in caring for the American casualties under very heavy fire, despite the fact that he was himself suffering from a painful wound.
63. 80th Div AAR, Nov 44.
64. First Army status report, 28 Nov 1944, in OB WEST KTB.