First Attack on Orsholz Line
21-27 November 1944
The First Attack on the Orscholz Switch Line
No sooner had the 90th and 5th Divisions joined to complete the envelopment of Metz than General Walker began regrouping his armor and cavalry as the first step in a general reorientation of the XX Corps directed northeast toward the Sarre River. Arrangements with General Middleton, commanding the VIII Corps, gave the XX Corps permission to use the Moselle River as an operational boundary on the north, thus placing the Sarre-Moselle triangle in the XX Corps zone and providing space for maneuver on the left flank of that corps. The 3d Cavalry Group (Task Force Polk), which had been probing and pushing its way into the triangle formed by the two rivers while the main body of the XX Corps was fighting farther south, had penetrated about as far into enemy territory as its light-armored squadrons could go. On the afternoon of 19 November the cavalry was brought to a halt by fire from the Orscholz Switch Line (also known to the Americans as the "Siegfried Switch"). (Map XXXVI) This line of field works, antitank barriers, and reinforced concrete pillboxes and bunkers had been constructed as an east-west extension at right angles to the main West Wall fortifications which lay beyond the Sarre. In effect the Orscholz position provided a barrier against any advance northward into the triangle whose apex lay at the confluence of the Moselle and Sarre Rivers and denied a turning movement on the north flank of the Saarlautern-Merzig sector of the West Wall.
On 17 November elements of the 416th Division had begun a withdrawal to the north, folding back fanwise under pressure by the 90th Division and the 10th Armored. This was an orderly movement, and by 19 November the Germans were established in the Orscholz line. At least half of the remaining infantry strength of the 416th had retreated to the east in company with the 19th VG Division and there deployed northwest of Merzig on the near bank of the Sarre River. As a result of this split in his division, General Pflieger
was left to hold the Orscholz position--a front of some seven and a half miles--with two rifle battalions of the 416th, two service companies converted to infantry, a fortress machine gun battalion, and a battalion of poorly armed engineers.1
Little was known by American intelligence about the exact outline or strength of the Orscholz line. About all that could be definitely established was that the cavalry had been checked by a strong line of field works and fortifications in the sector Nennig-Tettingen-Oberleuken, and that a stronger force would be needed to continue the drive north into the Sarre-Moselle triangle. Late on 19 November, therefore, General Walker ordered the 3d Cavalry Group to hold up its advance and await the heavier armor.
Since the axis of the Third Army offensive lay in a northeasterly direction, aiming at the seizure of the Rhine crossings between Worms and Mainz, General Patton wished to put some troops across the Sarre as far to the north as possible and thus continue the advance to the Rhine with his left flank resting on the Moselle River. Originally the Third Army commander had intended to employ the 83d Infantry Division for this task. But the restrictions which General Bradley had imposed forbade the use of the 83d across the Moselle. Patton, therefore, told the XX Corps commander to send a combat command of the 10th Armored Division into the triangle. General Walker gave orders that CCA of the 10th Armored Division should assemble its dispersed elements and pass through the 3d Cavalry Group in an attack to seize a bridgehead over the Sarre in the vicinity of Saarburg, some twenty miles north of the routes on which the main body of the corps was to move.2
On the night of 19 November the body of the 3d Reconnaissance Squadron was deployed in a line running roughly east and west through Besch, Wochern, Borg, and Hellendorf, facing the Orscholz line. To the southeast, patrols from the 43d Reconnaissance Squadron had established observation posts on the hills near Mittel and Unter Tuensdorf, from which the Americans looked down the draws to the Sarre River approximately five thousand yards to the east. The cavalry thus formed a screen covering the left flank of CCB,
10th Armored Division, which was deployed in a series of task forces and teams on a fairly wide front facing the Sarre. Antitank ditches and increasingly stubborn German resistance had prevented any appreciable progress by CCB in the preceding twenty-four hours. At the headquarters of CCA, General Walker's orders arrived just as that combat command was poised to cross the Nied and continue the advance to the east. During the night of 19-20 November, CCA reversed its direction and began a swing back to the west and north in a wide loop designed to bring it onto the positions tenuously secured by Polk's cavalry.
The following night CCA arrived in the sector held by the 3d Reconnaissance Squadron, whose outpost line already was across the German frontier. The cavalry reported that its patrols had worked a way through the dragon's teeth which defined the Orscholz line, and had pushed a short distance north before orders had come down from the XX Corps instructing Colonel Polk to hold in place and await relief by the armor. The cavalry assault guns, in the interim, had laid on a heavy fire in an attempt to maintain the narrow gap opened by the dismounted troopers about a thousand yards north of Borg. General Althaus deployed his combat command along a six-mile front with Task Force Standish on the left and Task Force Chamberlain on the right. His intention was to send the right task force against the sector of the German line north of Borg while the left made a jab at Tettingen and hooked around the German west flank near Besch. On the morning of 21 November CCA moved into the attack in four columns. Behind the armor four reinforcing battalions of field artillery, including one of 8-inch howitzers, were sited to give the combat command additional artillery support when it hit the Orscholz line. The attack on the right gained some initial success, although here as elsewhere in front of CCA the enemy fought desperately. Task Force Chamberlain's eastern column (Team Eisberg) jumped off from the cover of the Forêt de Saarburg in an oblique attack toward the village of Orscholz and drove through the outworks of the Orscholz line. When the attack was about 1,400 yards from the village, very severe artillery and mortar fire from the main German position brought the Americans to a halt. Little was known about these enemy works, and the fight now became an exploratory engagement in which the American artillery ranged in on each pillbox and bunker as its location was spotted by the armored infantry. In the meantime Colonel Chamberlain's western column attacked from Borg along the main road leading toward Kirf and into the gap discovered earlier by the
cavalry. Here a line of steel dragon's teeth barred the way. Since there was no antitank ditch in this sector the enemy had blown a large crater in the highway in order to form an antitank barrier between the dragon's teeth flanking the road. Dismounted infantry were able to make a small penetration beyond the crater and the dragon's teeth, but finally were checked by rapid small arms and shellfire from field fortifications backing up the antitank barrier.
Task Force Standish on the left flank was stopped, almost as soon as its advance began, by a long antitank ditch reinforced by pillboxes and dragon's teeth. During the day engineers and armored infantry attempted to throw bridges over the antitank ditch, all the while under intense German fire, but with no success. When the day ended CCA still was held in check by the German line, except at the one point where the small force had worked its way past the crater. Colonel Chamberlain concluded that further preparations must be made before continuing the attack on the right and withdrew his task force to Borg, leaving CCA in approximately the positions it had occupied at the beginning of the day's operations.
CCB had crossed onto German soil on 19 November,3 but there had received orders from General Morris to hold defensively and contain the Germans west of Merzig while the rest of the division initiated the attack toward Saarburg. The advance of 20 November carried the head of the CCB column forward about two miles and reached Hill 378, some three thousand yards from the Sarre River and Merzig. Because at this point the American troops were well within range of the German guns around Merzig and exposed to continuous shellfire, Brig. Gen. Edwin W. Piburne, the commander of CCB, ordered the men on Hill 378 to fall back to positions on Hill 383, southeast of Wellingen. Actually CCB had driven into a weakly defended portion of the Saar Heights Stellung, the line which constituted the last German battle position west of the Sarre River. The enemy interpreted this American advance as a main effort intended to roll up the Saar Heights position and force a crossing near Merzig.4 Balck therefore threw in the survivors of the tough 25th Panzer Grenadier Kampfgruppe as shock troops. Late on the afternoon of 21 November this counterattack detachment drove in on the left wing of CCB. A small American outpost force that had been screening east of the Heidwald Woods was driven back along the road toward Launstroff and lost
a platoon of tanks. When daylight came the enemy re-formed under cover of the Heidwald to continue the counterattack, but this threat was neutralized by the gunners of the 420th Field Artillery Battalion who poured shells into the woods until the enemy broke. The CCB sector of the front now lapsed into quiet and for the next few days was marked only by desultory frays between patrols.5
Back to the north, CCA set about a systematic penetration of the Orscholz line, attacking with dismounted infantry and engineers to reduce the troublesome enemy pillboxes and bridge the antitank ditches and craters. Task Force Standish dispatched a force of tanks and infantry at dawn on 22 November to execute the flank attack against the German right wing which had been outlined in CCA's original plan. These troops succeeded in fighting their way into Nennig, only to find that here the Orscholz line ran in a north-to-south line behind the village, thus covering the enemy flank. The Germans fought fiercely to eject the attackers from Nennig, and in the early afternoon the Americans withdrew under a protective barrage laid down by their supporting artillery. This abortive attack cost fifty-five casualties and five or six tanks. The right wing team of Task Force Standish (Team Eardley) was more successful in a dismounted attack straight along the main road between Wochern and Tettingen. One platoon of infantry, following close behind the advancing fire of its supporting artillery, penetrated the line of dragon's teeth just outside of Tettingen and forced a way into the village, but was quickly driven back to the south. On CCA's right wing Task Force Chamberlain made some headway along the large hogback ridge whose eastern side is marked by the Borg-Kirf road. Chamberlain's armored infantry made a jab north along the ridge road, broke through the dragon's teeth east of the Campholz Woods, and went on to establish a small "bridgehead" about eight hundred yards in depth.6
On the night of 22 November CCA held only the one opening through the dragon's teeth. At no point had the field fortifications beyond this antitank barrier been neutralized or reduced. The armored combat command already was deployed on a very extended front, and the experiences of the past two days had demonstrated clearly that additional infantry would be
required if any substantial breach was to be made in the Orscholz line. The precise German strength behind the fortified line was unknown, but the enemy had shown a tenacity which boded ill for hopes of a quick penetration. Actually the scratch force under the 416th had been reinforced during the day by armored infantry from the 21st Panzer Division, a unit that still had a German classification as an "attack" division.
Two days before, the XX Corps commander had attached the 358th Infantry, 90th Infantry Division, to the 10th Armored. The CCA commander had been confident that his troops could crack the Orscholz line without help,7 but at noon on 21 November General Morris finally had ordered the infantry to begin the move northward. Late on the following day the 358th Infantry (Col. C. H. Clarke) was in position to take over the fight. On the morning of 23 November General Morris canceled the scheduled renewal of the CCA attack and ordered the 358th to advance at once, with the mission of capturing the villages of Sinz and Muenzingen three and four thousand yards respectively behind the center of the Orscholz line. The path for the infantry attack lay along the hogback ridge which provided a natural causeway leading north in the direction of Saarburg; therefore once the infantry had made a hole in the Orscholz line and was firmly astride the main section of the ridge the way would be opened for the armor to roll. Lacking precise intelligence data the 358th was none too well briefed as to the specific locations of the works to its front or the number of the enemy opposite, although G-2 estimates did indicate that German reserves had been drawn into this sector to meet the armored attacks of the past forty-eight hours. In addition the 358th had been reduced to about sixty-three percent of its normal strength by the fighting during the envelopment north of Metz.
Colonel Clarke decided to make a co-ordinated attack on Muenzingen with two battalions from the vicinity of Borg, but General Morris directed that one battalion clear the route via Tettingen while another moved on the parallel route from Borg. The 3d (Capt. J. S. Spivey) advanced on the left with Tettingen and Sinz as objectives, and the 2d (Lt. Col. Robert H. Schultz) passed through Task Force Chamberlain on the right. About 1000 the two
battalions jumped off. The weather was foul and no American planes were aloft, but the armor and its artillery laid down a barrage to aid the advance of the 3d Battalion, 358th, and the 344th Field Artillery Battalion fired in support of the 2d Battalion. By some mischance the tank-supporting fire had not been properly co-ordinated. The 2d Battalion coming up from Borg no sooner reached the line of departure and moved into the attack than it was hit by short-range, high-velocity fire from the tanks of Task Force Chamberlain, which were bogged in the deep mud. Some hours were needed to reorganize the 2d Battalion. It resumed the attack early in the afternoon, but only a few of the troops passed through the dragon's teeth.
The 3d Battalion assembled near Wochern and then swung wide to the right and into the Campholz Woods during a very heavy fog that suddenly enveloped the entire sector and provided concealment over the bare hogback. This flanking movement was designed to avoid a head-on attack along the road to Tettingen. The battalion used ladders to span the ubiquitous antitank ditch, which here extended through the center of the woods, and pushed northward across German trenches and through barbed wire zigzagging under the trees. By dark the 3d Battalion had cleared the woods and captured eight-four prisoners.8 Its own losses were relatively slight, despite counterattacks by infiltrating Germans who reoccupied pillboxes that had been captured by the 3d Battalion. The latter's strength was too depleted to be able to garrison the pillboxes and continue the attack simultaneously.
At 0630 on 24 November the 2d Battalion again started forward on the right. This time the advance was checked by a storm of machine gun fire sweeping the right flank from a huge bunker at the edge of Oberleuken. An assault team went up against the bunker but was not able to knock it out until nearly noon. Fire from the village itself continued to thin the 2d Battalion ranks, and at 1530 Colonel Clarke sent Colonel Lytle's 1st Battalion (later led by Capt. Thomas Caldecott), which formed his reserve, into Oberleuken, where the fight for the village raged on into the night.
The 3d Battalion also had run into trouble during the morning. The Germans threw in a counterattack using troops armed with flame throwers, in addition to their usual heavy complement of automatic weapons. In beating
TETTINGEN-BUTZDORF. Circles indicate pillboxes.
off the attackers the Americans became somewhat disorganized and did not advance out of the woods until about 1300. Captain Spivey had assigned K Company to take the village of Butzdorf while I Company made for Tettingen, just to the south of Butzdorf. The two assault companies made a left wheel from the woods and started down the slope against the numerous pillboxes dotting the open ground east of the two villages. The attack went slowly during the afternoon. Sixteen pillboxes were taken, but the slow work of buttoning-up each separate pillbox, worming close in through the mud, and knocking it out with demolition charges had consumed the daylight hours. Captain Spivey therefore decided to postpone the final assault until the next morning. Unaware of this decision Capt. Robert B. McHolland and K Company, well known in the 358th as the "Kraut Killers," continued on toward Butzdorf. This company had met less pillbox resistance than its sister company on the left, but just east of Butzdorf it encountered strong machine gun fire sweeping the draw along which the company was moving on the village. Captain McHolland ordered two of his platoons and a section of heavy machine guns to breast the German fire and make a run for Butzdorf. Most of the riflemen and one machine gun crew made it, taking stations in three houses at the edge of the village. Shortly after dark a company of German infantry, reinforced by two tanks, came marching up the road from Tettingen in a column of two's. The lone machine gun, which had jammed during the advance through the mud, could not be made to function and the enemy attacked in a fury of small arms fire and hand grenades. Early in the fight Captain McHolland was killed.9 The remaining officers soon were casualties. Some thirty-five survivors continued the battle through the night, although their ammunition was dwindling and they had no way of getting word of their plight back to the battalion. One house was literally demolished by German tank and bazooka fire but the men in the two houses remaining were able to hold on until the following day, when relief arrived.10
At daylight on 25 November the 3d Battalion began a desperate attack to knock out Tettingen and rescue the survivors in Butzdorf. Company I, lying in the fields east of Tettingen under constant fire from roving self-propelled
guns and from the German pillboxes still active, watched while the 344th Field Artillery Battalion shelled virtually every house in Tettingen, then charged into the village under cover of smoke put down by the American guns and tanks. Tettingen was cleared in less than thirty minutes, but I Company had suffered many casualties, including all of its officers except one, and L Company had to be committed from reserve to carry the advance on to Butzdorf. In the meantime other American arms had been brought into play. Fighter-bombers interdicted the movement of German reserves11 by dropping napalm and fragmentation bombs on Sinz and Muenzingen. CCA put a bridge across the antitank ditch south of Tettingen and sent a platoon of tanks into the fight. Two of these tanks joined L Company and the relief of the troops in Butzdorf was executed rapidly. A number of Germans were taken prisoner here, including twenty-one who surrendered to four privates from K Company who had been their prisoners a few minutes before. The relief force, however, was not strong enough to hold this exposed position. Butzdorf was evacuated; then the American artillery blasted the village and the tanks in Tettingen showered it with white phosphorus.
On the right of the regimental zone the 1st Battalion continued a house-to-house battle for the possession of Oberleuken, after beating off a German foray made by a force of tanks and infantry that moved in across the face of the 2d Battalion. The 2d Battalion made some progress, despite a withering fire to its front, and captured the bald top of Hill 388, five hundred yards northwest of Oberleuken. This advance cost the battalion dear; by the end of the day it numbered less than a hundred men in the line.
The three-day battle to penetrate the Orscholz line had drastically reduced the combat strength of the 358th Infantry.12 Furthermore, exposure in the cold, the mud, and the rain, with only such shelter as could be found in captured pillboxes, had brought on a mounting toll of trench foot casualties. On the evening of 25 November the 10th Armored Division commander and Colonel Clarke agreed that the 358th was in no shape to continue the attack. The corps commander concurred in this decision and on the following day
the infantry were relieved by units of the 10th Armored Division in a highly successful daylight withdrawal.13 The 358th had captured about five hundred prisoners, forced the deepest penetration of the Orscholz line that would be made during the 1944 campaign, and won high praise from the 10th Armored Division. Now the 358th reverted to the 90th Division and went into division reserve at Veckring Barracks, north of Dalstein. Colonel Clarke was suffering with pneumonia and had to be hospitalized.
The fight at the Orscholz line was not quite ended. About 0130 on 27 November the Germans filtered back into Tettingen and then drove on to attack Borg, well inside the thin American line, with flame throwers and automatic weapons. This last enemy attempt to seal the narrow breach in the line of fortifications was repelled and the armored infantry hunted down the Germans in Tettingen from house to house. American operations against the Orscholz line were halted, however; Oberleuken and Nennig remained in enemy hands, and the attack for a bridgehead at Saarburg was abandoned.
Meanwhile the XX Corps offensive along the main axis toward the Sarre was being carried rapidly northeast by the 90th and 95th Divisions. Since the two-division advance was about to outrun the flank protection offered on the north by CCB of the 10th Armored Division, General Walker decided to turn all of the 10th Armored to the east. On 27 November he issued new operations instructions which assigned the 3d Cavalry Group to relieve CCA of the screening mission on the far north flank of the corps and regrouped the 10th Armored Division preparatory to clearing the remaining German forces from the west bank of the Sarre in the division zone. The armor assembled on 30 November and began the attack toward the river through a low-hanging mist, its armored infantry in the lead and tanks following. CCB, on the right, drove as far as Merzig, where the enemy blew the last two of the Sarre bridges in this sector. Only a few enemy troops remained west of the river to oppose the 10th Armored, and by 0300 on 2 December the last resistance in the Merzig sector west of the Sarre was ended by the capture of Dreisbach, on the north boundary of the division zone. General Walker ordered General Morris to establish an outpost line on the west bank of the Sarre between the 3d Cavalry Group and the 90th Division. Since this defensive
mission required only a single combat command, CCB turned back to a rest area from which, on 18 December, it would move to take part in the defense of Bastogne.
The XX Corps Preparations for the Attack Toward the Sarre River
The successful completion of the battle to encircle Metz and neutralize its garrison marked the end of an important phase in the operations of the XX Corps. But the tired and combat-worn divisions had no time to rest on their laurels. At best the greater part of the troops could be given only a few hours of sleep, a bath, and a change to clean, dry clothes, before the XX Corps turned northeast to continue the offensive beside the XII Corps toward the next enemy barriers: the Sarre River and the West Wall.
On 20 November, of General Walker's three infantry divisions, the 90th was east of Metz proper and the 5th and 95th were jammed in and around the city itself. A hasty redrafting of boundary lines inside the city simplified the task of extricating units and regrouping them again under the proper command. The lack of bridges, however, and the difficulties attendant on moving trains and troops through this crowded area--where small groups of the enemy still were fighting--combined to hamper the general reorientation and reorganization required for the drive to the Sarre. Late on 21 November General Walker ordered the 5th Division to relieve the 95th Division, many of whose troops were involved in containing the German forts west of the Moselle. This reshuffling would bring the 95th eastward into the former 5th Division zone and place it on the right of the 90th Division. The 90th had not turned inward toward Metz and at the moment was in the process of wheeling northeast behind an outpost line deployed on the west bank of the Nied which served as a screen for the body of the corps. General Twaddle, whose 95th Division had been chosen to make the main effort to secure crossings at the Sarre, was unwilling to throw his division into what promised to be a hard fight without taking some time for rehabilitation, reorganization--necessitated by the number of casualties among company commanders14--and vehicle repair, the last particularly needed by the attached tank battalion (the 778th) after the operations west and north of Metz. The 95th Division commander asked for a four-day delay, time that would be required in any event
XX Corps Advance to the Saar River
25 November-2 December 1944
for regrouping the corps before the resumption of the offensive; so General Walker set 25 November as the date for the new attack toward the Sarre.
The XX Corps Field Order No. 13, issued on the early morning of 22 November, outlined the plan for the three-division operation, placing the 90th Division in the center, the 95th on its right, and the 10th Armored Division on its left. (Map XXXVII) General Patton had ordered the XX Corps to destroy the enemy remaining west of the Sarre and to cross that river. Beyond the Sarre River the corps mission would be to penetrate the West Wall, destroy the German formations there, and continue the attack in a northeasterly direction. The burden of this offensive, in mud and rain, across a defended river line, and through the strongly fortified zone of the West Wall, would have to be carried by the infantry. The XX Corps plan gave the 95th Division the task of making the first crossings at the Sarre, in the sector between Saarlautern and Pachten. Once the 95th had a foothold across the river, the scheme of maneuver called upon the division to extend its bridgehead northward in order to facilitate the 90th Division crossing. In addition the 95th was charged with the task of making and keeping contact with the left flank of the XII Corps, whose 80th Division at the moment was held more or less immobile, blocking along the gap between the XII and XX Corps which had opened while the latter was involved at Metz.
The 90th Infantry Division was to begin its attack simultaneously with that of the 95th, clear the enemy out of its zone west of the river, and, when the Sarre was reached, support the 95th Division crossing with all the fire power the division could bring to bear. Once at the Sarre the plan simply called for the 90th Division "to prepare to bridge [the] Saar river within zone in [the] bridgehead established by the 95th Division." During the initial phases of the drive to the Sarre at least one regimental combat team of the 5th Infantry Division was to be left in the Metz sector and there contain the German forts still holding out. General Walker, however, could assume that new troops ultimately would be available to take over the 5th Division containing role, or that the intransigent enemy garrisons would capitulate. Therefore, General Irwin was ordered to prepare plans for an attack with the bulk of the 5th Division anywhere in the corps zone on six hours' notice. The 10th Armored, as noted, was to secure a crossing in the north at Saarburg.
The country between Metz and the Sarre River offered no unusually difficult barriers to foot soldiers and vehicles, although the combination of continuous rains and clay subsoil would slow the speed of any advance. The Nied
River, running obliquely northeast from Bouzonville, near which the bulk of the 90th Division was assembled, could hardly offer the retreating Germans a natural defense line. The Nied, however, did bisect the zone through which the corps would move, making it somewhat difficult for the two infantry divisions to give each other mutual support during the advance to the Sarre line. In general the terrain eastward was moderately rolling and mostly open, with a few patches of dense evergreen forest breaking the monotony of the landscape but providing little continuous cover for any enemy withdrawal. Some minor streams, tributaries of the Nied, cut across the American front and, with their bridges destroyed, were potential sources of delay. A short distance from the Sarre, and just east of the German frontier, the ground rose gradually to a series of heights, which, on the reverse sides, tended to break away sharply to the river. This conformation of high ground was known to the German staff planners as the Saar Heights Position (Saar-Hoehen Stellung). Northwest of Merzig the heights lay contiguous to the Orscholz line. West of Pachten, in the 95th Division zone, the heights were particularly rugged and dipped so abruptly at the river as to form a regular escarpment. West of Saarlautern the heights terminated some distance from the Sarre channel, with the result that a natural bridgehead of lower ground extended to the west of the river. The main section of the city of Saarlautern lay in this west bank bridgehead.
In the German scheme of successive defense lines the Saar Heights Stellung was the last planned line of resistance in front of the West Wall, which in this sector had been constructed on the east bank of the Sarre generally parallel to the river. The heights constituted a Vorfeld, or forward battle position, which could be used either to cover the movement of field forces into the West Wall fortifications or to screen deployment and maneuver for counterattacks launched to deflect any frontal attack against the main works of the West Wall. Although the maps at high German headquarters showed the trace of the Saar Heights Stellung as a main line of resistance, it remained in actuality a geographical position, strengthened somewhat by temporary field works, but lacking concrete fortifications.15 It is not surprising, therefore, that the XX Corps G-2 estimates and air photos took little cognizance of the defense possibilities of the Saar Heights.
American intelligence sources predicted that the enemy could throw in the remnants of three infantry divisions (19th VG, 347th, and 462d VG) to oppose the new XX Corps offensive. It was believed that the German withdrawal to the east, now taking place, would not stop short of the Sarre, and that the enemy forces left behind were incapable of fighting more than minor rear guard and delaying actions. The possibility was recognized that some part of the 21st Panzer Division and 25th Panzer Grenadier Division, identified in the fighting at the Orscholz line, might be shifted from the north and used to bolster the enemy forces on the Sarre line.16 Beyond this, American intelligence and reconnaissance from the air had developed some general knowledge of the outlines and extent of the West Wall; but little detailed information on these fortifications was at hand and more precise acquaintance with their strength and capabilities would have to be developed in actual combat, inasmuch as preliminary ground reconnaissance was denied by the Sarre River barrier.
The German Withdrawal East of Metz
Field Marshal Rundstedt seems to have been far from sanguine as to any hope of long delaying the American advance east of Metz. His fear that the fall of Metz might leave a gap in the lines of the First Army, into which General Patton's divisions would wedge their way, found expression as early as 15 November in an unsolicited order that gave the Army Group G commander permission to withdraw his right flank to the Saar Heights Stellung "if necessary." General Balck was no more willing to accept Rundstedt's conservative and cautious advice than he had been prior to the beginning of the Third Army offensive. Balck apparently believed that the remnants of the 19th VG Division and 416th Division which had withdrawn to the Borg-Boulay line on the night of 17-18 November might be able to make a stand. He gave orders that the 347th Division, just arriving from the Army Group B area, should be committed on both sides of Boulay to bolster up the broken and depleted units congregated there.17 The American maneuver to close the escape routes east of Metz gave the German forces in the Boulay sector a brief respite. But on 19 November the 10th Armored Division attack east of Launstroff
reached the edge of the Saar Heights Stellung, and this threat, coupled with that now developing in front of the Orscholz line, caused Balck real concern. Army Group G issued a flurry of orders: The First Army must hold at the Orscholz line; the Launstroff-Bouzonville sector must be strengthened by "recklessly" stripping forces from the First Army center; all penetrations which might be made in the Saar Heights Stellung must be wiped out. Finally, Balck ordered Knobelsdorff to rush all the reserves available on the right wing of the First Army into the Merzig sector to hold the vital Sarre crossings, a somewhat bootless gesture by the Army Group G commander in view of the paucity of reserves along the whole First Army front. Subsequently, by considerable juggling of units in the line and with some help from the OKW strategic reserve, Balck was able to form a Kampfgruppe in the Merzig area composed of elements from the 21st Panzer Division and the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division. But the deterioration of the situation at the Orscholz line speedily absorbed this last reserve force.18
When the XX Corps resumed the eastward attack on 25 November the German First Army had in action elements of three weak divisions: the 19th VG Division, disposed along the German frontier with its right boundary east of Launstroff and its left on the Nied River near Niedaltdorf; Kampfgruppe Muehlen, holding a narrow sector behind the Nied River between Niedaltdorf and Bouzonville;19 and the 347th Division, whose front extended in a shallow salient along the Nied River south to Boulay and then swung back southeast to an anchor point at the Forêt de St. Avold. Of these units the 347th was still fairly fresh, but it was only a static division and poorly equipped; the others were hardly more than reinforced regiments. Artillery support was available, although most of the German guns seem to have been already displaced to positions behind the Sarre. The 19th VG Division had a total of four assault guns for close infantry support, but the others had none. Finally, it should be remarked that even these weak forces could not be employed with the greatest degree of tactical effectiveness, since the Nied River was the boundary between two German corps, the LXXXII Corps and the XIII SS Corps.
The Advance to the Sarre by the 90th and 95th Divisions
The 5th Infantry Division completed the relief of the 95th at Metz on 23 November and the latter moved east to take up its attack position on the right flank of the 90th Division. The 90th had been holding the Nied River sector with light patrols, as well as part of the line earlier established in the north by the advance of CCB, 10th Armored Division. Now, with the arrival of the 95th, a realignment was carried out along the boundary between the two attack divisions. This boundary line followed the Nied River as far as Bueren and then thrust due east along the main railroad to the Sarre River. The northern boundary for the 90th Division zone of attack ran obliquely northeast through Halstroff and Mondorf, terminating on the Sarre just south of Merzig. The southern boundary of the 95th Division zone at the moment was also the line of demarcation between the XX and XII Corps. This disposition of the XX Corps forces gave the 95th Division a wider front than the 90th. In addition the 90th already was echeloned forward northeast of Bouzonville; which meant that it had only five and a half miles to cover before reaching the Sarre, while the 95th Division, which was making the corps main effort, was sixteen miles from the river.
On the early morning of 25 November the two infantry divisions commenced the drive toward the Sarre, each attacking with two regiments abreast. The enemy had no cohesive line of defense but instead used small detachments of thirty or forty men, holed up in villages along the roads, to fight delaying actions. Blown bridges, swollen streams, and muddy roads caused more delay than did enemy action. The German artillery laid down occasional harassing fire, but fog and haze prevented any effective counterbattery work by the American gunners. The 90th Division progressed about two miles in the course of the day. Its left-wing formation, the 359th Infantry (Col. Raymond E. Bell), which was echeloned in advance of the 357th Infantry (Col. J. H. George), reached the village of Oberesch--only four miles from the Sarre River. The 95th Division, strongly reinforced by artillery from the III Corps and 5th Division, crossed the Nied, advancing with the 377th Infantry (Col. F. E. Gaillard) on the left and the 378th Infantry (Col. S. L. Metcalfe) on the right. By nightfall the division had taken Boulay, Narbéfontaine, Momerstroff, and Hallering, and had begun to move through the Maginot Line. The enemy made no attempt to hold the old fortifications but did engage in occasional sharply contested delaying actions during the course
of the day.20 As the 1st Battalion, 378th, marching in column of companies along the Narbéfontaine-Niedervisse road, came past Hill 384 the Germans opened a surprise fire and inflicted a number of casualties on the battalion, including its commanding officer, Lt. Col. Christian L. Oliver. Company E of the 377th also was hard hit while advancing in the open toward the Bois d'Ottonville. A sudden and withering fire from the woods cut down the company commander and thirty-one men. Pvt. Willie H. Bishop, the company messenger, took charge, withdrew the company from the danger zone, and then directed the removal of the wounded. For this action he was awarded the DSC.
The 10th Armored Division committed CCB to extend the north wing of the attack on 26 November. Its dismounted infantry, supported by fire from field guns, tanks, and chemical mortars, systematically scoured the woods to the front. But most of the Germans in this sector had retired across the Sarre and the combat command met little fire except that from the German guns east of the river. The 90th Division also encountered little resistance on this day, although antitank ditches and mine fields began to appear in its path and slow the advance. In the 95th Division zone the 377th Infantry, making the main effort, advanced about four miles, despite the flooded countryside east of Eblange which forced the regiment to queue in column of battalions and thread its way forward on the one passable road. Toward evening both the 377th and 378th began to meet resistance from small German detachments, which apparently had orders to make a stand. Meanwhile, it had become apparent that the German garrisons holding the forts back at Metz were in no mood for quick capitulation; so General Walker ordered
General Twaddle to extend his reconnaissance to cover the open area on the right flank of the 95th Division which tentatively had been allocated to the 5th Division. The 5th Division commander, however, was able to release the 3d Battalion of the 10th Infantry, and on 27 November it relieved the 2d Battalion, 318th Infantry, which had been holding the Bois de Kerfent at the boundary between the XII and XX Corps.
The 90th Division, pushing forward on a relatively narrow front, was well ahead of the divisions to its flanks by 27 November. General Van Fleet halted his division, except for minor patrolling, and set the engineers to work repairing the roads to the rear so that tanks and tank destroyers could be brought up for the final phase of the advance to the river. The 95th Division, however, was coming forward rapidly and on 27 November made a long drive at the expense of the 347th Division which put the 377th Infantry within a mile of the German border and brought the 378th up as far as Falck and Dalem. On the following day the 95th Division continued to make progress. The 377th entered Germany. The 378th made slight gains, but then was checked for several hours on its right by intense fire from the large woods east of Falck.21 At dark the front lines of the 95th were about four and a half miles from the Sarre, roughly abreast of the 90th Division.
General Walker now ordered the two infantry divisions to launch a coordinated attack on 29 November. Thus far the Germans had sought to delay the American drive by using small rear guard detachments and extensive demolitions, the main forces withdrawing the while to the Saar Heights Stellung. When the 95th began the attack on the morning of 29 November it met more opposition than had been anticipated, for at this point the advance had to be made across the Saar Heights.22 The 1st Battalion of the 377th fought its way into the village of St. Barbara, located on a narrow spur about two thousand yards from the Sarre. Then tanks and infantry of the 21st Panzer Division made a counterattack, overran two 57-mm. antitank guns
ST. BARBARA. The area shown in the photograph is indicated on Map XXXVII.
which had been manhandled into position on the road east of the village, and drove back into St. Barbara, where a bitter fight raged through the night.23 Other elements of the 377th engaged in a desperate battle with troops from Muehlen's Kampfgruppe who were disposed in and around Kerprich-Hemmersdorf, back to the northwest on the Nied. During the fight Sgt. Andrew Miller of G Company made a one-man assault into the German lines and there met his death. Two platoons rose, one after the other, to follow Miller and took the position. A posthumous award of the Congressional Medal of Honor subsequently cited the intrepid sergeant for "a series of heroic deeds" which had begun in the battles north of Metz and continued until he was killed.
The 378th also found the going tough and received counterattacks all along its front. The 3d Battalion mopped up in Falck, where a detachment from the 347th had held out during the previous night. When the battalion, supported by some medium tanks, moved east to clear the enemy from the woods and high ground ahead, the Germans lashed back with a succession of counterattacks, six in all, which were dispersed only after hard fighting.24 In the center the 1st Battalion took Merten and then held the village despite all German efforts to retake it. The 2d Battalion swung out on the left and started an attack toward Berus, but was hit immediately by a counterattack launched by a special "assault group" from Panzer Lehr. After a bitter engagement in which the battalion lost heavily and became much disorganized, it fell back toward Merten, reorganizing during the night behind cover offered by a group of farm buildings. The 95th Division had received no less than ten German counterattacks in the course of the day--an earnest of General Balck's intention to defend the Saar Heights Stellung in front of Saarlautern. It would appear that all of the available German reserves had been thrown in to stop the 95th; north of the Nied River the 90th met little opposition and by nightfall it had patrols on the west bank of the Sarre.
On the last day of November the XX Corps began the final battle to destroy the enemy west of the Sarre. The 90th Division, responsible for clearing the triangle formed by the Nied and Sarre Rivers, dispatched the 1st Battalion of the 357th in assault boats across the Nied near Niedaltdorf, thus flanking the hasty field fortifications at the Nied. The battalion then struck east into Bueren, where the enemy continued to contest the possession of the village through the night. In the north the 90th closed up to the Sarre and at dusk occupied Fremersdorf, the largest town on the west bank in the division zone, without a fight. The American thrust in this sector had cut the 19th VG Division in two, leaving the 74th Regiment isolated north of Fremersdorf and the 73d Regiment crowded into the Bueren area.25
During the morning of 30 November the 95th Division consolidated its front-line positions and reorganized, after the disorder attendant on the counterattacks of the previous day, to resume the attack. In the meantime the rear echelons of the division worked doggedly to mend the boggy roads and better the supply situation, a necessary preliminary to any crossing attempt. In the afternoon the 377th Infantry hunted down the last Germans in St. Barbara and pushed on its right into Felsberg, where a particularly stubborn knot of the Panzer Lehr assault group held the edge of the village and delayed further advance. The 378th moved forward to positions beside the 377th Infantry and took a dominating hill (377) south of Felsberg which the Germans considered the "key" to the Saar Heights. At the end of the day, while not yet at the Sarre, the left wing of the 95th was poised on the slopes which led down to the river in front of the Saarlautern. The two-and-a-half-mile advance to Bueren, by the battalion from the 90th, likewise had moved the American line to the slopes leading down to the Sarre in front of Dillingen, which covered the right flank of the Saarlautern defenses. However, the 378th had not yet fought its way past the high ground on the right flank of the 95th, from which the enemy continued to deny access to the river.
Although the north flank of the two infantry divisions slated to make the river crossing was protected by the 10th Armored Division, which had driven forward to well within light howitzer range of the German defenses at Merzig, the south flank was only weakly outposted and presented some danger. In fact much of the trouble met by the 95th Division had come on its open right flank, where it had attempted to bypass German resistance emanating
The November Offensive
8 November-2 December 1944
from the rough, forested salient between the XII and XX Corps. With this potential threat in mind the XX Corps commander attached a task force, commanded by Col. Robert P. Bell, to the 95th Infantry Division. This force, taken from the 5th Infantry Division, consisted of the 10th Infantry (-), 46th Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Reconnaissance Troop, and one company each of engineers, tanks, and tank destroyers. Bell's task force closed in the sector on the right of the 95th Division late in the afternoon of 30 November. General Walker expressly prohibited the use of the task force in the crossing operation, for it was his intention to use the entire 5th Infantry Division to exploit any crossing secured by the 90th and 95th. General Patton, meanwhile, had assigned the 6th Cavalry Group and the 5th Ranger Battalion to the XX Corps, specifying that the Rangers could not be used offensively. These units were organized as a task force under Col. E. M. Fickett, who commanded the 6th Cavalry Group, and on 1 December it assembled near St. Avold with the mission of screening on the XX Corps south flank. The arrival of this force permitted a regrouping on the right of the corps, and the 10th Infantry was released from its protective mission to make an advance on the south flank of the 95th Division.
At the close of November the First Army had given ground all along its front. The American XV Corps was driving back the German left and now threatened to break through to Wissembourg and the Palatinate. The XII Corps had made an armored penetration at the German center and was preparing to widen the thrust by a push across the Sarre in the vicinity of Sarreguemines. On the German right the American XX Corps was in sight of the West Wall and in position to carry the attack directly across the Sarre and into the main line of fortifications. (Map XXXVIII)
At the moment Hitler considered the XX Corps attack the most serious of all the threats to the West Wall.26 In the sector between Merzig and Saarlautern the West Wall was more strongly fortified than at any other point--and Hitler had committed himself to the thesis of West Wall impregnability. Furthermore, in this sector the West Wall shielded the great industrial centers of the Saar Basin; on 27 November the First Army had been told that its primary mission was the defense of the Saar mines and factories.27 But although
Hitler may have briefly considered an operation for the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine which would have brought reinforcements to the Army Group G front,28 the project for a great counteroffensive in the Ardennes was never forgotten nor were any but the most meager measures taken to restore the fighting strength of the forces under Balck's command.
The Army Group G commander did what he could to wring adequate support from OB WEST, and thus indirectly from OKW. He described what he considered to be an alteration in American tactics. Earlier the Americans had attacked in force in a few sectors, giving the Germans opportunity to concentrate at the points of pressure. Now the Americans tended to break up their former large "assault reserves" and launch a whole series of smaller assault detachments in attacks on a wide front. The superior mobility of the American forces allowed a rapid regrouping after the initial penetrations and kept the Germans constantly off balance. These tactics, said Balck, could be met only by building up strong, armored, counterattack reserves behind all parts of the front. But such reserves, as Balck himself admitted, were not available.29
The Army Group G commander also addressed himself to his troops--in his usual strident manner. On the night of 29 November a general order prescribed "no more withdrawals." The battle now must be fought to weaken the enemy and win time. All traces of the "West Wall psychosis" must be ruthlessly eliminated (apparently the propaganda on the strength of the West Wall had been too successful), and the troops must be told that safety lay not behind concrete but in bitter battle before the German frontier. Finally, wrote Balck, the army group commander will not tolerate "rear-area swine" but will have only soldiers in his command.30
Actually there was little Balck or Knobelsdorff could do but issue resounding orders. On 30 November the only reserves on the First Army right wing (the 21st Panzer Division Kampfgruppe) were detailed to make one attack after another in the St. Barbara sector, but without avail. About midnight Army Group G ordered Knobelsdorff to pull the right wing of the LXXXII Corps back of the Sarre, thus beginning the withdrawal into the West Wall. Subsequently Rundstedt reprimanded Knobelsdorff for this action,
but Balck's order had been precise: "He [the First Army commander] must not let the 19th VG Division be destroyed west of the river."31
The 95th Division Fight for the Sarre Crossing
Although the enemy continued to evince considerable determination to keep a foothold on the west bank of the Sarre, the 95th Division prepared to buck through this delaying defense and strike immediately across the river. General Twaddle ordered up the 379th Infantry (Col. R. L. Bacon) from reserve, with the intention of sending the fresh regiment through the 377th to force a crossing near Saarlautern. (Map XXXVII) This attack was set for 1 December, following a large-scale air assault that was planned to soften up the German defenses along the river. In the days just past, bad flying weather had precluded any extensive co-operation from the air force in the Third Army area. On 1 December the weather broke a little. The IX Bombardment Division had scheduled an assault by eight groups of B-26 bombers, but because of failures in Pathfinder equipment and late arrivals at the initial point only four groups made it to the target zone. The medium bombers struck at Saarlautern, Ensdorf, and Fraulautern; fighter-bombers, sent over from the XIX TAC, worked on interdiction three or four miles east of the river. Visibility was too poor for the kind of pinpoint bombing needed in a river crossing operation and the ground observers reported that the air attack was only moderately successful.32 At 1235 the last bomber ended its bombing run and General Twaddle gave the word for the 95th Division to advance.
The plan of attack hinged on the effort to be made by the 379th, which was to cross the river near Saarlautern, establish a bridgehead, and then continue the attack by turning sharply north and clearing the east bank in the neighborhood of Rehlingen--thus permitting the 90th Division to cross in that area. On the right the 378th was instructed to sweep the enemy from the west bank and then, on orders from the division commander, force a crossing in its zone and continue the attack to the east. On the left the 377th also had orders to clear out the enemy to its front. During this operation the 379th was to pass through the right wing of the 377th, which would lay down fire to
support the crossing attack by the 379th and then take its place in division reserve.33
The G-2 estimate of the number of enemy in front of the 95th Division, on both sides of the river, set the figure at 10,000 with elements of the 559th VG Division, 347th Division, and 36th VG Division represented.34 The 95th Division had incurred heavier losses than any other division in the XX Corps during the period since 9 November.35 The inclusion of over thirty-five hundred replacements during November, mostly untried riflemen and officers with no experience in battle, would tend to reduce the combat effectiveness of the division. However, the relatively small number of combat fatigue and sick cases which had been hospitalized by the 95th Division indicated that it was fairly fresh and that its morale was high.36 Moreover, the 95th approached the fight at the Sarre with an impressive number of guns in support, since the III Corps artillery and the 4th Tank Destroyer Group had been sent forward to aid the division during the crossing operations.
The first hours of the 95th Division attack on the afternoon of 1 December showed that the German troops still west of the river intended to make a fight of it. The 377th Infantry met stiff resistance, but finally completed the job of clearing Felsberg about 1500. Colonel Gaillard then sent his 3d Battalion marching east toward Saarlautern. The 1st Battalion, on the north flank, was pinned down at St. Barbara in an action lasting all afternoon. Enemy tanks and infantry, supported by guns across the river, fought with much determination in the village itself. The 378th, attacking toward the high ground in its front and hampered by an open south flank, also found the going slow and difficult. Slight gains were made on the left, aided by the advance of the 377th, and an important hill near Berus was taken. But the 1st Battalion, advancing on the right where maneuver was restricted by streams and flooded fields, was checked by an enemy detachment holding a hill west of Bisten
and was forced to fall back on Merten. In spite of these reverses at the flanks of the division, two battalions of the 379th Infantry passed through the 377th and as the day ended swung into the advance down the gentle slope leading to Saarlautern.
The events of 1 December had shattered any German hopes of a systematic and homogeneous defense west of the river. The loss of the high ground near Berus was a matter of special concern to the First Army for it meant that the Americans could drive a wedge between the LXXXII Corps, forming the army right wing, and the XIII SS Corps, which constituted the army center. Knobelsdorff wished to retake the lost hill but found that there was insufficient artillery ammunition at the German guns to support such an attack. Apparently there was a plentiful supply of shells in the dumps at Darmstadt, but these were not reaching the front lines (probably the American air attack was the answer).37
Despite the fact that his First Army commander had just received a stiff official reprimand from Rundstedt for "continually falling back," Balck issued an order at 2130 for all troops north of an east-west line through Dillingen to retire behind the Sarre. Two hours later he extended the withdrawal zone as far south as Saarlautern and ordered the XIII SS Corps to pull its right flank back into the wooded area between Berus and the river.38 During the night of 1-2 December most of the remaining troops of the LXXXII Corps moved across the Rehlingen bridge or were ferried across the Sarre, but rear guard elements of the 21st Panzer Division remained in the vicinity of St. Barbara and other German detachments congregated to fight a holding action at Saarlautern.
Friendly planes again intervened on the morning of 2 December to help the American infantry. Eight groups of medium bombers, sent over by the IX Bombardment Division, blasted targets in and around Saarlautern. This time the ground observers reported that most of the drops were highly accurate.39 The bombing must have shaken and scattered the defenders of the city; when the 2d Battalion of the 379th drove into the edge of Saarlautern the enemy reacted slowly and in disorganized fashion. By 1500 the battalion had driven the Germans from the barracks in the western section of the city and started a house-to-house fight deep inside the city itself. Only the 2d
Battalion was committed in this engagement, because Colonel Bacon wished to hold his 1st Battalion for use in the crossing and the 3d Battalion had not yet come up.
The 95th Division continued to have trouble on its flanks, and attempts to shake free the regiments at the shoulders of the salient formed by the 379th were countered with desperate resolution. The 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry finally gave up the effort to clear the resurgent enemy from St. Barbara and withdrew to the west, leaving the division artillery and friendly planes to smash the village.40 This merciless pounding by shells and bombs ended the fight, and by early afternoon St. Barbara and its key ridge were again in American hands. The 377th began to mop up. By the night of 3 December the regiment had completed its mission of clearing the west bank and was placed in reserve at Wallerfangen.
The 378th Infantry met "extremely bitter resistance" on 2 December. The troops on the left flank fought their way northeast and by nightfall held Pikard, only three thousand yards from the center of Saarlautern. This advance had been made against "some of the most severe resistance the regiment had yet encountered."41 The regiment now was extended along a very wide front, with the southern wing aligned almost at right angles to the forward line. All attempts to bring the right forward through Falck and Merten were unsuccessful.
The fighting of the past few days had taken heavy toll in the 95th Division, particularly in the ranks of the 377th and 378th. The effective combat strength in four of the infantry battalions was reduced to 55 percent or less. Very few replacements were available. At the close of 2 December the 95th Division G-3 Periodic Report called the division "tired," and for the first time in its
SAARLAUTERN. The area shown in the photograph is indicated on Map XXXVII. Circles indicate pillboxes.
record failed to carry the notation of "Excellent" or "Superior" under the Combat Efficiency heading. When more complete reports arrived in the division headquarters the efficiency rating of some battalions was changed to read "very weak."42 Such was the condition of the division which had yet to force a river crossing in the face of a fortified line. The fortunes of war, however, were about to favor the 95th.
In late afternoon of 2 December an artillery observation plane discovered an intact bridge spanning the Sarre between the center of the city of Saarlautern and the suburb north of the river; this bridge led to the main road connecting Saarlautern and Saarlautern-Roden. The air photo showing this find was sent to the commander of the 379th. After interrogating prisoners on details of the city plan and consulting General Twaddle, Colonel Bacon determined to send his 1st Battalion to seize the bridge. The Sarre makes a loop at the northwestern corner of the city of Saarlautern, and Colonel Bacon decided to take advantage of this configuration by sending the battalion across the near segment of the loop. After this move the attack would dash inland through the northern suburb and take the bridge from the rear or north side. With the bridge in the hands of the 1st Battalion, contact then could be made with the reserve battalion, which was now in position to join the 2d Battalion in the push eastward through the main part of the city.
In the early morning hours of 3 December the 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. Tobias R. Philbin)43 moved through the barracks area, thus avoiding entanglement in the streets of Saarlautern, and forward to the river. Philbin's troops were fresh, for the battalion had not been engaged since the fighting at Metz. At 0545 the first assault boats shoved off to make the 125-foot crossing. Ten minutes later the whole battalion was on the opposite bank. The noise of the American guns shelling Saarlautern had drowned out all sounds of the crossing and no German outposts were seen as the first troops debarked. Company B and a platoon of Company C, 320th Combat Engineer Battalion, led the surprise attack, double-timing a distance of about two thousand yards through an empty park and down the road to the bridge. Here a light German tank was discovered, sitting beside the bridge exit. In the half-light, shrouded by the fog and rain, the American advance guard moved up to the tank. A German inside the tank suddenly awoke to the danger and started frantically
working his radio, persisting until he was knifed by the commander of D Company. Another made a dash for the switch connected with the demolitions on the bridge and was shot by Colonel Philbin. The engineers, commanded by Lt. Edward Herbert, raced onto the bridge, cut the demolition wires, and surprised and killed four German guards at the opposite end of the bridge. In the meantime L Company, reinforced for this mission, had driven east through the city proper and arrived at the southern end of the bridge. With their backs secure the men of the 1st Battalion faced about and pushed out to the north. The enemy troops on the far side of the river seem to have been widely scattered and were able to gather only small parties of engineers to counterattack, all of which were handily beaten off. But the German artillery, working hard to destroy the bridge structure by shellfire, succeeded in making the bridge so hot that the engineers were unable to remove all the demolition charges until late in the afternoon.44 At nightfall the bridge still was undamaged and in American hands, the 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion had put tank destroyers across to reinforce the 1st Battalion,45 and the 2d and 3d Battalions had taken nearly all of the city and tightened the hold on the bridge. After dark the Germans made a daredevil attempt to demolish the bridge by running in tanks loaded with explosives. The leading tank was destroyed when only some two hundred yards from the bridge and this venture was abandoned.46
The unexpected American success at the Saarlautern bridge had imperiled the German defense scheme and greatly perturbed the higher German commanders. Field Marshal Rundstedt was informed of what had happened soon after the event and ordered the First Army commander to attack at once, destroy the bridge, and hold the east bank of the Sarre "at all costs." Army Group G immediately began an investigation, at the behest of OB WEST, to assess the blame for the loss of the Saarlautern bridge; it finally reported that the bridge guards had all been killed during the attack and that the
Americans had engineered a surprise by using a captured German tank.47 This explanation seems to have been accepted without further question and the matter was dropped. In any event the Americans had a bridge and a foothold across the river, while the enemy on the spot was too weak to prevent the establishment of a real bridgehead--no matter what orders came from Rundstedt's headquarters.
1. MS #B-090 (Pflieger).
2. General Walker had given orders for an advance to Saarburg before the 3d Cavalry Group encountered the main works of the Orscholz position on the afternoon of 19 November. The first order sent to the 10th Armored Division (at 0920 on 19 November) called for CCB to make the advance to Saarburg. About an hour later the corps commander rescinded this order--possibly because the pincers had closed on Metz--and dispatched the 10th Armored Division (minus CCB) to make the Saarburg attack. 10th Armd Div G-3 Jnl, 19 Nov 44.
3. 10th Armd CCB S-3 Jnl, 19 Nov 44: ". . . head of our column entered Germany at 1032."
4. MS #B-078 (Mellenthin).
5. On 22 November CCB patrols occupied Zeurange, 2½ miles south of Waldwisse. The inhabitants of Zeurange told them that American troops had first entered the village on 22 November 1918.
6. Details of the CCA attack are given in 10th Armd Div G-3 Jnl; CCA AAR; and Hist Div Combat Interviews.
7. A message from the CCA commander on the evening of 21 November reads: "Please note that we have not breached the En Defensive Pos in our immediate front. I have been in contact with both Chamberlain and Standish both of whom assure me that early tomorrow morning they will breach hostile defensive positions and be on their way. I request that CCA be given an opportunity to crack this position tomorrow morning and that the Inf Combat Team be not employed for this purpose." 10th Armd Div G-3 Jnl, 21 Nov 44.
8. During the fight in the woods 2d Lt. Glenn E. Rugh, I Company, 358th Infantry, led a bayonet charge, under withering fire, which cleaned out an enemy trench and netted thirty prisoners. He was awarded the DSC. Pfc. Harold R. McQuay, K Company, mopped up a German machine gun crew in a singlehanded assault. He also was awarded the DSC.
9. Capt. Robert B. McHolland received the DSC for his part in the action of 24 November. He led in breaking up the attack against his command post. When the Germans retreated McHolland and two men pursued them, killing fourteen with hand grenades, wounding seven, and capturing several. The two men were wounded and McHolland was killed while trying to get them back to a building.
10. See the 358th Infantry After Action Report and battalion journals for this action.
11. On 24 November OB WEST had given orders that the Orscholz line must be reinforced, because the position "has special importance" as an outwork of the West Wall. The following day OB WEST ordered the 404th Volks Artillery Corps, the 21st Panzer Division, and a composite regiment to be hurried up to the line (the elements of the 21st Panzer Division actually had been in and out of the fight). See Army Group G KTB of these dates.
12. The 358th Infantry was at about 40 percent effective strength. Hist Div Combat Interviews.
13. Acting as an artillery forward observer for the 1st Battalion during the withdrawal, 2d Lt. Cecil H. Eller went forward to an exposed position to adjust fire on enemy mortars that had pinned down the infantry. He remained at his hazardous post until he was killed. Lieutenant Eller was awarded the DSC posthumously.
14. 377th Inf AAR, 23 Nov 44.
15. MS #B-078 (Mellenthin). Both Balck and Rundstedt counted heavily on the natural strength of the Saar Heights Stellung. See various orders for withdrawals to this position in Army Group G KTB and OB WEST KTB.
16. XX Corps G-2 Periodic Rpt, 22 Nov 44.
17. The 347th Division (Trierenberg) had come south from the quiet Eifel sector.
18. See above, pp. 490-98.
19. This relict of the 19th and 559th had long since been bled white. It had come north from the Morhange sector after relief by the 17th SS. Weak as the Kampfgruppe was, it continued to have a good reputation, a fact that German writers ascribe to its brave and able officers. MS #B-487 (Simon).
20. In October 1941, the Germans had discussed the possibility of using the Maginot Line in the event of an Allied invasion on the Continent. At that time it was concluded that the reconstitution of the fortified works would require too much labor and money. Interestingly enough, some of the German experts also raised the point that their own victories had called into question the value of any permanent fortifications. However, recommendations were made that certain parts of the Maginot Line be used to block the road nets leading to the West Wall. (This from a study by the Kdtr. d.Bef. Eifel und Saarpfalz, dated 2 Oct 41, in OKH/General der Pioniere und Festungen.) In the late summer and early autumn of 1944 some attempts were made to carry out this last recommendation and rearm the line in the Faulquemont and Wittring sectors, but no work was done east of Metz. MS #B-003 (Souchay), MS #B-088 (Claer). So little attention had been paid to the French fortifications since 1940 that on 4 September 1944 the Metz commander had to send a wire to the German Army historians asking for a detailed plan of the Maginot Line. OKW/Chef der Heeresarchive, Lagebuch, 4 Sep 44. On 16 November Hitler got around to the question of the Maginot Line and asked his staff how it was armed, to what extent its works had been oriented to face westward, and like questions. However, it was too late to take any action. Office of Naval Intelligence, Fuehrer Conferences on Matters Dealing with the German Navy, 1944. The XX Corps G-2 had correctly predicted that the Maginot Line would not be defended. XX Corps G-2 Periodic Rpt, 22 Nov 44.
21. Here Sgt. Lloyd A. Russell, C Company, 378th Infantry, destroyed a German gun that had knocked out three American tank destroyers. He was awarded the DSC.
22. Evidence of the stubborn German fight to hold the Saar Heights Stellung on 29 November is found in the tremendous rise in ammunition consumption by the XX Corps artillery, which leaped to 21,377 rounds for the 24-hour period. After the breach in the positions of the 347th on 28 November Balck gave the First Army permission to retire to the Saar Heights Stellung, but added a peremptory order that this was to be the "last" withdrawal. Knobelsdorff already had reported that Kampfgruppe Muehlen and the 347th were so reduced that in his opinion they could hold no continuous line of resistance. Army Group G KTB, 28 Nov 44. On 28 November OB WEST ordered the officers responsible for the bad showing of the 347th Division to be shot without trial. This order was carried out. Army Group G KTB Anlagen.
23. 377th Inf Jnl, 29 Nov 44. The 21st Panzer Division troops had been hastily transferred from the Orscholz line on 28 November. Balck had asked for the use of the entire Panzer Lehr Division "for two days" to wipe out the American gains made on 27 and 28 November, but Rundstedt denied this request (Panzer Lehr, it will be remembered, had been committed in the Sarre-Union sector). OB WEST KTB, 28 Nov 44.
24. Prisoner interrogations indicate that a Kampfgruppe from the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division had been employed in these counterattacks. Apparently it had assembled in the Warndt Forest, where the 36th VG Division held a salient at the boundary between the XII and XX Corps. 95th Div G-2 Jnl, 29 Nov 44. At the end of November this detachment of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division was pulled out and sent south to aid the rest of the division in the Sarre-Union sector.
25. MS #B-527 (Britzelmayr).
26. OKH/General der Pioniere und Festungen, Aktennotizen, Band III. A report of a Hitler staff conference on 28 November 1944 is included in the foregoing.
27. Army Group G KTB, this date. When Knobelsdorff took command of the First Army in September he was told to hold the Moselle as long as possible and thus keep the industrial production of the Saar intact. MS #B-222 (Knobelsdorff).
28. Hitler ordered a special briefing on 26 November for an operation to recover Alsace and Lorraine. A like operation also had been discussed in October. However, nothing came of either of the two staff conferences on the subject. OKW/WFSt KTB Ausarbeitung, Der Westen.
29. Army Group G KTB, 28 Nov 44.
30. Ibid., 29 Nov 44.
31. Ibid., 1 Dec 44.
32. Ninth AF Summary of Opns, 1 Dec 44. The 322d, 323d, 334th, and 387th Groups took part in this attack.
33. 95th Div AAR, 1 Dec 44.
34. The 87th Regiment of the 36th VG Division had been attached to the decimated and disorganized 347th Division. MS #B-223 (Wellm).
35. The enlisted casualties in the 95th Division during the month of November totaled 4,246. 95th Div G-1 Jnl, Dec 44.
36. The XX Corps estimates for November place the number of 95th Division sick at 658. XX Corps AAR, Nov 44. This low figure probably is reasonably accurate. But only the 379th Infantry After Action Report makes a sick return: 177 officers and men during November. An undoubted factor in the high morale of the division was the large number of prisoners it had taken (estimated by the XX Corps at 7,036).
37. Army Group G KTB Anlagen, 3 Dec 44.
39. 95th Div AAR, 2 Dec 44.
40. Sgt. Roy E. Holcomb, A Company, 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion, was awarded the DSC for action in the attack against the "enemy-held town" on 1 December. A platoon of tank destroyers had been stopped inside the town by a well-sited German Mark IV. Sergeant Holcomb took a bazooka, crawled to within fifty yards of the tank, partially disabled the tank, and forced it to withdraw. A second enemy tank took over the position. Sergeant Holcomb crawled forward again and fired four rounds, crippling the tank. He was killed by return fire. However, the second German tank withdrew to another position, where it was destroyed by TD fire. Company A of the 377th Infantry made a spirited attack to clear "the newly won town of St. Barbara" at dawn on 1 December when the enemy in "great strength" tried to dislodge the Americans. Twice wounded in this attack, 2d Lt. Frederick K. Baker, A Company, 377th Infantry Regiment, received the DSC.
41. The hard-fighting Germans were probably from the 87th Regiment, 36th VG Division, which was nearly destroyed in the battle on the right wing of the XIII SS Corps. MS #B-223 (Wellm). Simon, who commanded this corps, says that the 87th and the remnants of the 347th Division fought "tooth and nail" in this sector. MS #B-487.
42. 95th Div G-3 Jnl, 3 Dec 44.
43. Colonel Philbin had earlier won distinction in the fighting west of Metz and had been awarded the DSC for bravery in action near Gravelotte.
44. The engineers finally took more than three tons of explosives from the bridge and from chambers built into its stone piers.
45. The platoon from the 607th was commanded by 1st Lt. Richard A. Reynolds, who led his men through the town and across the bridge to assist the infantry, exposing himself constantly to direct the platoon with no regard for his own safety. Lieutenant Reynolds was killed later in the action. He was awarded the DSC posthumously.
46. The details of the coup de main at the bridge are given in Historical Division Combat Interviews. See also 95th Div AAR, 3 Dec 44.
47. Army Group G KTB and OB WEST KTB for this date. See also MS #B-078 (Mellenthin). Word of the German failure at the bridge reached Hitler on the following day. Rundstedt's headquarters reported that "the Fuehrer was enraged." Army Group G KTB Anlagen, 4 Dec 44.