XX Corps Preparations for the November Offensive1
Prior to the November offensive the XX Corps was strengthened by the arrival of two new AUS divisions, one infantry, the other armored. The 95th Infantry Division had arrived on the Continent in September, coming by way of the United Kingdom. Elements of the division entered the 5th Infantry Division lines east of the Moselle on 18 October, but the combat experience of the 95th in the days that followed was limited to affrays between its own and German patrols.2 Maj. Gen. Harry L. Twaddle, the division commander, had activated and trained the 95th. General Twaddle had come into the Army in 1912 as a university graduate. After a career as an infantry officer, he was posted to the War Department General Staff in 1938, later serving as G-3 of the War Department. His command of the 95th Division dated from March 1942. The 10th Armored Division had come to the Continent directly from the United States, debarking on 23 September. Its armored infantry entered the lines on 2 November in the Fort Driant area; however, this sector had lapsed into quiet and most of the division was to see its first combat during the November offensive. The 10th Armored was commanded by Maj. Gen. W. H. H. Morris, who had held his post since July 1944. General Morris
graduated from West Point in 1911. During World War I he commanded an infantry battalion in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne operations, was wounded, and received the DSC for gallantry in action. Morris had had much experience in training, holding successive commands with an armored infantry regiment, an armored division, and a training corps.
In addition to three infantry divisions (5th, 90th, 95th) and one armored division (10th) General Walker had the promise of "operational control" over the 83d Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. R. C. Macon), although with numerous strings attached. As it turned out, the 83d Division would give only artillery support after its transfer to the XX Corps on 8 November. The corps artillery numbered 19 battalions: 5 light battalions, 6 medium battalions, and 8 heavy battalions, this total reinforced by 2 battalions of the 422d Field Artillery Group attached to the 83d Division. The allotment of other corps troops had also been increased and now included: 5 tank destroyer battalions (plus 2 battalions attached to divisions); 3 separate tank battalions (attached to divisions); 4 antiaircraft artillery battalions (plus 4 battalions attached to divisions); the 3d Cavalry Group, with 2 squadrons; and 2 engineer combat groups, totaling about 8 battalions. In sum, General Walker had at his disposal 30 battalions of infantry, nearly 500 tanks, and over 700 guns when the long-awaited offensive began.
The plans for the coming operation had been prepared during days of the most exacting and detailed study; the air support plan, for example, contained a map showing each building in the city of Metz known to be occupied by Germans. On 3 November the XX Corps headquarters issued Field Order No. 12 to the top commanders, outlining the broad scheme of maneuver to be followed. An earlier statement of the XX Corps mission had given the idea that the corps would encircle and reduce the Metz fortifications as the initial phase in the resumption of the Third Army offensive toward the Rhine. But this final field order set the "primary mission of all troops" as "the destruction or capture of the Metz garrison, without the investiture or siege of the Metz Forts." Therefore, the plan called for the XX Corps to attack, encircle, and destroy the enemy in the Metz fortified area, reconnoiter to the Sarre River, seize a bridgehead in the vicinity of Saarburg, and finally, on orders from the army headquarters, resume the attack toward the northeast.
The initial envelopment of the Metz area was assigned to the 90th Division, forming the arm north of the city, and the 5th Division, encircling the city from the south. The 95th Division was to contain the German salient west
of the Moselle. Then, as the concentric attack closed on Metz, the 95th Division was to drive in the enemy salient and, it was planned, cross the Moselle and capture the city proper. The 10th Armored Division, after crossing the Moselle behind the 90th Division, was to close the pincers east of Metz by advancing parallel to and on the left of the 90th Division, while simultaneously pushing armored reconnaissance columns east toward the Sarre River preliminary to making a crossing in the neighborhood of Merzig. Finally, the 3d Cavalry Group (Lt. Col. J. H. Polk) had the mission of following the 10th Armored Division across the river, swinging northeast into the triangle formed by the Moselle and Sarre Rivers, there probing toward Saarburg and screening the flank and rear of the forces engaged farther south and east.3 It will be seen that the plan envisaged two phases: (1) the destruction of the German forces in the Metz area; (2) a quick shift in the axis of advance to the northeast. The establishment of a firm bridgehead across the Sarre River would be the objective of this second phase. From there the attack could be continued toward the Rhine along the Metz-Saarlautern axis. The speed and success of the concentric attack at Metz would in part determine the character of the subsequent advance across the Sarre; but the timing in the German First Army disengagement and withdrawal from the Metz bridgehead would be equally important.
The XX Corps Begins the November Offensive
Through the first days of November the XX Corps staff put the finishing touches on plans for the new offensive, while the troops finished their brief training schedules and convoys moved huge quantities of supplies up from depots in the communications zone. Rain and snow flurries persisted day after day, grounding the American planes and slowing traffic on the roads to a
Battle for Metz
90th Division Crosses the Moselle
9-14 November 1944
crawl. More important, the smaller streams that fed into the Moselle River reached torrential proportions and the Moselle itself began to rise ominously.
In general, the XX Corps already held the ground from which the attack would take off, but one slight readjustment in the lines had to be made in the vicinity of Berg-sur-Moselle, west of the Moselle, where the enemy still maintained observation posts on the heights overlooking the American north flank. (Map XXX) On the night of 3 November General Walker dispatched the 3d Cavalry Group to clear the enemy from the town of Berg. By 0800 the following morning dismounted troopers held the hill overlooking Berg, but in the afternoon the Germans counterattacked and retook the hill. The American cavalry unit returned to the attack on the morning of 5 November after Berg and the commanding hill had been subjected to a heavy shelling; this time it took and held both the town and the hill.4
On the night of 7 November the 90th Division began to shuttle its troops into assembly areas on the west bank of the Moselle across from Koenigsmacker, six miles northeast of Thionville, where the division would make its crossing. The 95th Division, on the right of the 90th, had its left regiment on its designated line of departure in position to lead off in the corps attack. Its original mission, that of making a demonstration on the west bank of the Moselle, was altered in the last hours before the jump-off. The 95th now would make a crossing, under orders to establish a bridgehead in the Uckange-Bertrange area three and a half miles south of Thionville.5 Only a limited force, however, was assigned for use east of the river, and General Walker still expected the division to co-ordinate its efforts on both sides of the Moselle so as to give the impression of a major attack--while in fact the 90th Division made the main effort farther north. The 5th Division, which had returned to its old positions in the bridgehead south of Metz on 1 November, relieving the 95th Division there, was aligned facing the Seille River. Since the XX Corps plan of attack called for the 5th Division to make its main effort initially in the south beginning on 9 November, co-ordination of the 5th Division and XII Corps attacks was considered. However, on 4 November General Walker decided that the 5th Division would not attack simultaneously
with the XII Corps.6 The 10th Armored Division, intended for use with the 90th Division in the wide envelopment north of Metz, had been given a narrow front west of Metz during the first week of November. The final relief of the 10th Armored Division by the 95th Division was delayed until 8 November in the hope of misleading the enemy, but by that time the main columns of the 10th Armored were already on their way north.
On the night of 7 November, when General Patton gave the order that would set the Third Army attack in motion, the XX Corps assault troops began the move into assembly positions, guns were displaced forward to support the advance, and bridging and smoke generator equipment was trucked and manhandled as close to the Moselle as camouflage precautions permitted. Early on the morning of 8 November the dull sound of massed artillery fire to the south signaled the start of the XII Corps attack. All through the day the XX Corps troops lay quietly in woods and other bivouac areas. Then, as darkness came, the assault units took up attack positions and the 95th Division moved forward the troops assigned to carry out the demonstration and initial crossing preliminary to the main corps attack.
The Uckange Bridgehead
General Twaddle, the 95th Division commander, selected the 377th Infantry (Col. F. E. Gaillard) to make the D-day demonstration on the north flank of the 95th Division. This deceptive operation, called aptly enough by the code name CASANOVA, was intended as a limited-objective attack. Part of the 377th would cross the Moselle in the neighborhood of Uckange and extend a bridgehead about three-quarters of a mile inland to the little town of Bertrange, just short of the main highway between Thionville and Metz, thus giving some cover to the right flank of the 90th Division. The remainder of the 377th was given the task of erasing a small enemy salient on the west bank of the Moselle, which had been left south and east of Maizières-lès-Metz at the close of the 90th Division capture of that town. This attack was to be made in conjunction with the Uckange crossing. The rest of the 95th Division was
to take no part in this first phase of the attack. The 378th Infantry (Col. S. L. Metcalfe) and 379th Infantry (Col. C. P. Chapman) were disposed so as to contain the German forces in the larger Metz bridgehead west of the Moselle.
Just after dark, on the night of 8 November, a small detachment of engineers from the 320th Engineer Combat Battalion crossed the Moselle south of Uckange in assault boats, crawled onto the east bank, and there blew a gap in the German wire and mine field with bangalore torpedoes, returning to the American side of the river without casualties. At 2100, H Hour for "Operation CASANOVA, " the 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry (Lt. Col. Joseph E. Decker) dispatched C Company across the river. The first wave received no small arms fire while in the boats. The 73d Regiment, 19th VG Division, responsible for this sector, had no outposts at the river and required some time to move troops into the threatened area. But the "bouncing Betties" along the bank took their toll as the company debarked. The Americans passed through the gap in the German wire and advanced about four hundred yards to the east, then halted to await daylight and the arrival of the remainder of the battalion.
In the meantime the enemy artillery, located inland, had opened up, apparently firing on check points earlier fixed along the river. Company B of the 135th Engineer Combat Battalion, assigned as part of the 1139th Engineer Group to support the 95th Division crossing, tried desperately to throw a footbridge across the river, but the German guns were too accurate. Three bridge sections were destroyed, twenty-four men became casualties, and work on the bridge halted until a new and less vulnerable site could be found.7
The attack launched by the 2d (Lt. Col. Robert L. Walton) and 3d (Lt. Col. Ross Hall) Battalions to reduce the Maizières pocket on the near side of the river was less successful than the river crossing. In this sector the 1215th Regiment of the 462d VG Division had been forewarned by the 90th Division attack in late October and had laid a dense mine field in front of its lines. The three assault companies which were sent off at 2100 to drive the Germans from the small woods north of Semécourt, the slag heap outside Maizières, and a wood lot beyond Brieux Château ran into trouble immediately. Scouts stumbled onto trip wires that set off whole sections of the mine field and inflicted many casualties on the troops following. One platoon was reduced to a strength of one officer and five men. The Germans, alerted by
TRANSPORTATION OF BRIDGING EQUIPMENT over flooded roads was a difficult problem.
the exploding mines, poured in mortar and artillery fire, adding to the losses as the assault companies groped their way through the "vast mine fields." When the morning of 9 November dawned F Company held the woods north of Semécourt, but elsewhere the initial attack had been repelled.8 Late in the afternoon the companies were re-formed, some tanks and additional infantry were put into the attack, and by dark the 377th had driven the enemy off the slag heap and away from Brieux Château.9 A small German pocket still remained around the town of Hauconcourt, which lay beside the river northeast
of Maizières, but no attempt was made to clear it. By 10 November the Moselle had flooded the streets of Hauconcourt, and the 377th Infantry sector west of the Moselle therefore remained static for the next few days.
During the early morning hours of 9 November the 1st Battalion of the 377th shuttled more assault craft across the Moselle and by daybreak had two companies of infantry and a heavy weapons platoon on the flood plain east of the river. Sporadic mortar fire harassed the advance, but the lead troops bypassed Bertrange and moved onto a low hill about four hundred yards east of that village without meeting enemy infantry. Here the small force halted and dug in. Back at the river the rising flood waters and intense German gun fire made further crossings in daylight extremely hazardous, despite a smoke screen laid down by two sections of the 161st Smoke Generating Company, and Colonel Decker was ordered to hold the remainder of the battalion at Uckange.
The Moselle had risen steadily since the previous night. During the day it reached flood proportions, swamping its banks, inundating the road approaches and swirling along at a speed that made the flimsy assault boats unmanageable. By the night of 9-10 November the river torrent had nearly isolated the American troops on the enemy bank and it was problematical whether they could be reinforced and provided with heavy weapons before the Germans gathered enough strength to wipe them out.
Fortunately the 19th VG Division, in whose area the troops from the 377th had landed, made no counterattack in any strength, the Germans contenting themselves with patrol action and desultory fire from field guns and mortars.10 For the next three days supplies were flown across the river by small liaison planes, which dropped medical supplies, sleeping bags, socks, gloves, ammunition, and other necessities almost into the American foxholes.11 Attempts by the engineers to build and launch an infantry support raft were frustrated by German gunfire and the turbulent river.12
On the night of 11-12 November the waters began to recede, and during the next night the remainder of the 1st Battalion, 377th Infantry, crossed to join the troops in the tiny bridgehead opposite Uckange.13 This crossing was made without loss, though the enemy artillery was still ranged in on the river, while the engineers made a feint to distract the German forward observers by running a battery of outboard motors at full speed on the American bank south of the actual crossing site.
The 90th Division Crossing in the Vicinity of Cattenom
When General Walker made his decision to put the 90th Infantry Division and 10th Armored Division into a wide envelopment north of Metz and Thionville, three points on the Moselle were considered as possible crossing sites: Rettel, Malling, and Cattenom. General Van Fleet, who had taken command of the 90th Infantry Division during October, ruled out the Rettel area because it lay under German observation from the heights to the northeast, and the 90th could spare neither the troops nor the time to seize or contain this ground. The terrain south of Rettel was more favorable. Here the Moselle flowed through a broad flood plain with low banks. Beyond lay one-half to one mile of flat land, terminating in abrupt slopes leading onto long, wooded ridge lines that on the far side extended perpendicularly back from the river valley. On the right of the zone assigned to the 90th Division the Cattenom crossing site lay under the guns of Fort Koenigsmacker, perched on the terminus of a ridge line. The tactical effectiveness of its location forbade that Fort Koenigsmacker be bypassed; it had to be taken, and quickly. Through the center of the division zone of advance ran the heavily wooded, rugged ridge lines on which the French had constructed some of the main fortifications of the Maginot Line. Here the initial obstacle was a group of bunkers and field works clustered around the little village of Métrich which blocked the main road south from the crossing site at Malling. The northern part of the division zone had natural features that favored the establishment of a blocking position on the left flank of the 90th Division while allowing the main attack to pivot toward the southeast. A long ridge line stretching southeast from Sierck-les-Bains through Fréching, with its highest point--Mount Altenberg--hard by Sierck, provided a natural defensive position for
the exposed left wing of the 90th Division advance. This position would cover the two important approaches by which the enemy might strike at the American crossing sites: the Saarburg highway from the northeast; and the Merzig-Kerling road from the east.
General Van Fleet planned to put his division across the Moselle before daylight on 9 November in sufficient strength to overrun quickly the German forts at Koenigsmacker and Métrich and secure a firm hold on the tips of the ridges extending southeast. Remaining elements of all three infantry regiments were scheduled to take part in the follow-up on 9 November. The 358th (Col. C. H. Clarke), on the right, was to cross near Cattenom. Once on the east bank the right battalion (the 1st) would launch a direct assault to take Fort Koenigsmacker and the village of Basse-Ham lying at its foot. At the same time the 3d and 2d Battalions of the 358th were to bypass the fort to the north and strike to secure lodgment on the main ridge line extending southeast from the fort. The 359th Infantry (Col. R. E. Bell), using the Malling crossing site, was to carry the attack on the left wing of the division. Its objective, in the first phase of the maneuver, was the high ground between Mount Altenberg and the village of Oudrenne. The reserve regiment, the 357th Infantry (Col. J. H. George), was scheduled to cross behind either one of the two assault regiments at the earliest moment and thrust down along the Maginot Line through the gap left between the 358th and 359th. Since the large town of Koenigsmacker lay between the axes of advance for the two assault regiments, plans were made to neutralize the town and its hinterland by artillery and chemical mortar fire until such time as the 357th Infantry could arrive east of the river and seize Koenigsmacker.
The final object in the wide-swinging offensive by the 90th Division was the seizure of the southern terminus of the long, rough ridge line extending from Koenigsmacker to Charleville-sous-Bois. Once in position on this high ground northwest of Boulay-Moselle the 90th Division would dominate the main roads leading east out of Metz, and the northern half of the XX Corps pincers grip around the Metz-Thionville position could be considered closed. The distance to be covered by the 90th Division drive was some sixteen miles. The road net in the division zone east of the Moselle was hardly adequate, even in good weather. Furthermore, the main axial road, running southeast from Koenigsmacker beside a little stream known as the Canner, was unusable unless the Americans held the ridge lines on either side. These two ridge lines, in the right and center of the division zone of advance, were serious
obstacles, heavily forested and broken across the grain at frequent intervals by streams and gullies. They were made more difficult as military barriers by the Maginot Line, which had been built as a system facing Germany but whose individual works could be used to defend against an attack lengthwise along the ridge chains.
General Van Fleet planned to break through the German defenses overlooking the Moselle and quickly push down the ridge in a power drive, using two battalions in each of the assault regiments. One battalion of corps engineers was attached to each assault regiment, with the initial mission of ferrying the infantry across the river; the 315th Engineer Combat Battalion, the divisional engineer unit, was assigned to handle the bridging of the Moselle. The 90th Reconnaissance Troop (reinforced) had the task of screening the right flank of the division during the drive to the southeast; it was anticipated that this unit would eventually make contact with elements of the 95th Division on the east bank of the Moselle. The 10th Armored Division would cross the Moselle behind the infantry and then come abreast of and protect the left flank of the 90th.14
The success of the 90th Division attack would turn to a considerable degree on surprise and the prompt seizure of its initial objectives. During the week before the Third Army resumed the offensive, the division was withdrawn from the line confronting the series of forts west of Metz and dispatched, ostensibly for training, to the Audun-Aumetz area behind the corps north flank, where both the 5th and 90th Divisions had conducted training during October. The final assembly area for the attack was the ForÍt de Cattenom. Although this forest offered ample cover and lay close to the Moselle, it was on a forward slope under observation from the German side of the river and therefore could be entered only during hours of darkness. In the last quiet days the 3d Cavalry Group, screening this sector, extended its patrolling. Then, on two successive nights, the 90th Division artillery displaced to positions on the rear slopes behind the forest. The guns were followed on the night of 7-8 November by the infantry, moving by truck through the rain along slippery, narrow roads.15 By daybreak the entire 90th Division, 6 battalions of supporting artillery, 2 battalions of tank destroyers, 1 battalion of tanks, 3 battalions of engineers, and 3 bridge trains were in position inside the forest and behind the hills. Each man who would take
TANKS AWAITING SIGNAL TO CROSS MOSELLE, as 712th Tank Battalion near Sentzich moves up to support 90th Infantry Division. Antiaircraft gun is shown in foreground.
part in the assault now was briefed. The artillery registered with one gun in each battalion. Assignments already had been given in the assault boats, and even the reserve regiment and supply troops had been given assault boat training in case there should be difficulty in bridging the Moselle. Telephone wires, strung during the past several nights, were at the river bank, and officers of the 90th, using 3d Cavalry Group vehicles and insignia, had completed reconnaissance on the west bank. During the early evening of 8 November the 3d Cavalry Group stepped up its harassing fire, a feature of previous nights, in order to mask activity on the American bank. Trucks moved bridging equipment down the roads leading to the demolished Moselle bridges. Mortars and machine guns were placed in position close to the water's edge so as to give direct support to the assault troops; tanks, assault guns, and infantry cannon moved to comparable positions at daybreak.
A little before midnight the assault battalions of the 358th and 359th began the 400-yard carry to bring their boats to the river. The ground they traversed
was swampy, interlaced with irrigation ditches and barbed wire fences partially submerged by the Moselle waters--formidable obstacles at night. Meanwhile, the 95th Division had begun the demonstration at the Uckange crossing site, and at 0330 the first attack waves of the 90th Division pushed out onto the rising waters. Only the left battalions of the two assault regiments reached the river in time to shove off as planned, the 1st Battalion, 359th (Lt. Col. L. R. Pond), making the crossing at the Malling site and the 3d Battalion, 358th (Lt. Col. J. W. Bealke), leading off at the Cattenom crossing. Although the flood waters of the Moselle increased the difficulties of the crossing they acted also to lessen the dangers on the enemy bank. The extensive mine plots prepared weeks before by the Germans were flooded and the American assault craft passed over them with impunity. The foxholes and rifle pits dug along the east bank were water filled and untenanted. The scattered outposts of the 416th Division in this sector, caught completely off guard, offered little opposition to the initial assault waves and were cut down with grenades, Tommy guns, and bayonets. By 0500 the two leading battalions were on the east bank, followed shortly by troops of the 1st Battalion, 358th, and the 2d Battalion, 359th. The latter two battalions, the right assault battalions in their respective regimental bridgeheads, were brought under fire by the enemy, recovering from his initial surprise, but losses were slight.
Now the main obstacle was the raging Moselle, rising with extreme rapidity. The right-wing battalions in each regiment had been forced to load into their assault boats in waist-deep water. Engineer boat crews had to be doubled in order to buck the current. Many boats on the eastern bank were lost when their crews, under galling enemy artillery fire, abandoned their craft, allowing them to float away after debarking the infantry. In the 358th sector, the eighty assault boats rapidly dwindled to twenty, although some of those lost were subsequently retrieved. The engineers working to put in footbridges found it impossible to anchor their cables securely. At the Cattenom site shellfire directed from armored observation posts in Fort Koenigsmacker made the bridge site untenable and destroyed the first five truckloads of bridging apparatus. At Malling a support raft was launched into the swirling waters and then capsized with its very first load.16 All the while the river continued to swell.
On the east bank, however, the first phase of the attack was executed swiftly and according to plan in the midst of a drizzling rain. In the 359th zone the 1st Battalion was east of Malling by daybreak and had cut the main highway to Thionville and Metz in two places. The reserve company entered Malling before the sleeping German garrison could man its positions and in a matter of minutes seized all of the town but two fortified houses, which fell later in the morning when a section of 57-mm. antitank guns was ferried across and laid on these buildings. By noon 133 prisoners had been rounded up in Malling. As the day progressed the 1st Battalion pushed out to the east and north, driving isolated groups of Germans before it. The 2d Battalion extended the bridgehead area southward, taking Petite-Hettange and Métrich with little trouble. At dark the battalion was within 1,500 yards of Oudrenne but had been brought to a halt by large mine fields planted by the LXXXII Corps to fill the gaps in its weak infantry line. The reserve battalion, the 3d, following hard in the wake of the assault battalions, marched almost without opposition to the crossroads village of Kerling; there it linked up with the 1st Battalion on the north and occupied a section of the ridge line which had been designated as the 359th Infantry objective. On this high ground north of Kerling the Germans elected to make a stand, but the lead company of the 3d Battalion, attacking straight toward the flashing muzzles of a battery of four German antitank guns, took the position.
Across the river from Cattenom, in the zone of the 358th attack, the leading platoons of the 3d Battalion also moved speedily forward. They slipped past Fort Koenigsmacker before daylight and started the advance toward the high ground between Kuntzig and Inglange which marked the initial objective for the right wing of the 90th Division. The 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. C. A. Lytle),17 on the right of the 3d, threw C Company into Basse-Ham before the enemy could react and dispatched Companies A and B to make the coup de main at Fort Koenigsmacker. On the success of this blow the 90th Division maneuver turned.18 Before daybreak the two companies were disposed in the woods in front of the hill on which the fort stood. About 0715 the Americans attacked, rushing up the steep hill, cutting and smashing through the
wire entanglements around the fort. Apparently the defenders were unaware that any Americans were in the vicinity: no alarm was given until A Company (Capt. E. J. Blake) was already in sight of the unmanned, open trenches which lay inside the wire. Both companies were in the trenches before the Germans could loose more than a few rifle shots. At this point the enemy mortar crews began to fire into the trenches, while observers in the concrete observation posts on top of the fort gave the range. Although the main casemates housed a battery of four 100-mm. guns, these could not be depressed to bear on the attacking 1st Battalion and during much of the subsequent fighting they continued to be fired on the 3d Battalion as it worked its way forward in the draw to the north. As at Fort Driant the chief works lay below the surface, formed as a series of tunnels and underground rooms which were entered by way of steel and concrete observation posts and sally ports at the ground level. The fort was garrisoned by a battalion of the 74th Regiment, 19th VG Division, which during the morning erupted from the tunnels in small-scale counterattacks that cost A Company some thirty-five casualties. In the midst of bursting mortar shells and small arms fire from the superstructures a platoon of engineers from the 315th Engineer Combat Battalion, led by 1st Lt. William J. Martin, and two assault teams, under 1st Lt. William Kilpatrick and 1st Lt. Harris C. Neil, Jr., of A Company, began the systematic reduction of the observation posts and sally ports.19 Satchel charges, placed against steel doors, cleared a path to the stairways leading below. More charges demolished the stairs and cut off access to the surface. Ventilating ports were liberally doused with gasoline and then touched off by a thermite grenade or a string of threaded TNT blocks. On one occasion a German was blown to the surface by the force of the explosion. All this quickly used up the stock of explosives, and as the day ended additional charges were flown in by an artillery liaison plane and dropped by parachute near the fort. By nightfall the Americans were well established on the west side of Fort Koenigsmacker, but the fortress artillery and heavy machine guns still commanded the roads to the east and harassed the advance by the main body of the 3d Battalion which was moving through the draw north of the fort.
Meanwhile the 2d Battalion, 358th, had crossed the river, mopped up the remaining Germans near the river, and assembled west of the town of Koenigsmacker. The reserve regiment, the 357th, crossed its 2d and 3d Battalions, using both the Malling and Cattenom sites in order to speed its deployment. The 3d Battalion, using the few assault boats salvaged from the earlier crossings, took three hours to negotiate the swollen river, all the while under bitter fire from heavy-caliber German mortars. A few power launches that had been rushed by truck to aid the 90th Infantry Division were used to carry the 2d Battalion.
By midnight General Van Fleet had eight battalions of infantry on the enemy bank and a few light antitank guns. Seven towns had been taken and at a few points the bridgehead had been extended about two miles to the east. But the bag of prisoners had been small during this first day of the attack--only about two hundred--and it was apparent that the main enemy force had yet to be encountered.
The Enemy Situation North of Metz20
The LXXXII Corps (General der Infanterie Walter Hoernlein) formed the right wing of the First Army, holding a sector which extended from just south of Metz, through the Metz bridgehead, and north along the Moselle as far as the left boundary of Army Group B, in the neighborhood of Grevenmacher. The three infantry divisions comprising this corps were arrayed with the 462d VG Division occupying Metz and its environs, the 19th VG Division deployed in the corps center along the Moselle from Hauconcourt north to a point between Koenigsmacker and Métrich, and the 416th Division holding a thirty-five-mile front along the river which took in nearly all of the western side of the triangle formed by the confluence of the Moselle and the Sarre.
The two German divisions north of Metz were far from first-class fighting formations. The 416th Division (Generalleutnant Kurt Pflieger), like many another division on the Western Front in the autumn of 1944, had been beaten to fragments on the Eastern Front and then returned to Germany for reconstruction. After a brief stay in Denmark as a security division, it was dispatched to the First Army in early October, relieving the 48th Division in the quiet
sector on the army's north flank. The 416th was filled with replacements from the older classes (the average age was thirty-eight years) who had never been in combat, although some had fought Russian partisans as guards on the line of communications. Known in the First Army as the "Whipped Cream Division," the 416th was catalogued as a division capable at best of very limited use as a defensive formation. When additional replacements arrived in late October the 416th was reorganized into three infantry regiments, each of two battalions. Its total strength was about 8,500 officers and men. However, the divisional artillery remained very limited: one battalion of outmoded fortress guns and a field artillery battalion equipped with captured 122-mm. Russian pieces. The 19th VG Division (Colonel Karl Britzelmayr) also was rated as a defense division but was in better shape than the 416th and already had been in combat. The 19th had three field artillery battalions, and in addition received eleven new assault guns just before the American attack. The division strength was about the same as that of the 416th.
In early November the LXXXII Corps had no tanks at all. General Balck made a gesture at strengthening the right flank of the First Army by sending the 486th Antitank Battalion, equipped with forty or fifty antitank guns, to Dalstein. But in the absence of tanks and any substantial complement of antitank weapons the LXXXII Corps was forced to depend on the natural barrier provided by the Moselle to stop an American tank thrust north of Metz, supplementing the river obstacle with a series of huge mine fields. Balck recognized the importance of such a defense and divided most of the antipersonnel and antitank mines in his depots between the LXXXII Corps, for use behind Thionville, and the LXXXV Corps, defending the Belfort Gap. The 19th VG Division alone planted some 40,000 mines along its front. The total number used to impede the progress of the American divisions in the attack north of Metz must have been tremendous.
About three weeks before the Third Army offensive Balck ordered General Knobelsdorff to group the five field artillery battalions of the 416th Division and 19th VG Division along the boundary between the two divisions so as to provide massed fire against any thrust in the Thionville sector. Further, Balck forbade Pflieger to commit his indifferent infantry against the first wave of American infantry and prescribed that in the initial phases of an attack the riposte should be made only by long-range, observed artillery fire and heavy infantry weapons, sited to cover mine fields and obstacles. German intelligence did not anticipate that the American attack would come in the sector held
by the 416th Division; but instead believed that the flank north of Metz would be hit by a penetration on both sides of Thionville, possibly supported by an advance on Trier, just across the interarmy group boundary. As a result General Pflieger's 416th Division was allotted a very wide front, so extended that all its battalions were in the line doing outpost and security duty on 9 November except for one battalion of the 714th Regiment which was held as corps reserve near Saarburg. The 19th VG Division, holding a narrower sector, had two regiments in line. Its 59th Regiment, assembled southeast of Distroff, was held on a string as Army Group G reserve for commitment on the right flank of the First Army. In theory the 11th Panzer Division constituted a mobile armored reserve for the LXXXII Corps. But when Balck had raised the embarrassing question at OB WEST headquarters as to where the 11th should be committed in the event of a synchronized attack both north and south of Metz, he was given no answer. Subsequently the 11th Panzer Division was thrown in to stop the XII Corps offensive the day before the XX Corps advance started.
The initial American crossing east of Uckange on the night of 8-9 November had no immediate repercussions at the higher German headquarters. It seems probable that the limited strength used in the crossing led the Germans to diagnose this maneuver correctly as merely a demonstration. The enemy reaction to the subsequent attack by the 90th Infantry Division was slow, for undoubtedly the troops on the spot were caught by surprise. Later, local commanders attributed their slowness in launching counterattacks to the activity of American planes and the fierce concentration of artillery fire from the west bank of the Moselle. Actually, the east side of the river was only weakly outposted and during the first hours of 9 November the enemy was forced to rely on the fire of the artillery groupment, concentrated as Balck had directed, and the mortars supporting the infantry outpost line. In addition the attack by the 90th Division struck directly at the seam between the 416th Division and the 19th VG Division, further delaying the initiation of planned defense measures. The 416th Division particularly was dispersed and unwieldy in the face of the American advance. At Malling, where the 359th Infantry made its crossing, there were only one and a half companies of infantry.21 The nearest German support not already engaged was one company of the 713th Regiment about five miles to the rear. Pflieger ordered his reserve battalion
around from the right flank to the endangered southern flank about 1000 on the morning of 9 November, but it did not arrive until late in the evening. Meanwhile Balck wrangled with OKW all through the day in attempts to get some help for his north flank. Finally, a little before midnight, General Jodl's headquarters at OKW gave way and freed two infantry battalions of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division for an attack from the northeast against the 90th Division bridgehead.22 But once more the German poverty in trucks and gasoline worked to the advantage of the Americans and caused this Kampfgruppe to be held immobile at the Baumholder training area, fifty miles to the east, until the night of 11-12 November.
The only troops in the First Army free for use in an immediate counterattack were those of the 59th Regiment, 19th VG Division. At dark on the night of 9 November a reinforced company, supported by three assault guns, was shuttled north. Shortly before 0300 on 10 November this force struck at Kerling, which had been taken a few hours earlier by elements of the 3d Battalion (-), 359th Infantry. The Germans overran the American outposts and captured two antitank guns blocking the road east of the village. Apparently civilian sympathizers had mapped out the American positions, for the enemy drove head-on in the darkness without any attempt at preliminary reconnaissance. The forward platoons of Companies L and K held on until their machine guns were out of ammunition, and then the battalion fell back to the high ground northwest of Kerling. This movement uncovered the Kerling-Petite-Hettange road, the main highway through the center of the regimental zone, but the few German survivors were in no condition to continue any drive to the Moselle. The 90th Division artillery massed its guns on Kerling and, as day broke, Companies I and G moved up and blocked the road west of the village.
The Continuation of the 90th Division Attack
During 10 November there was little activity in the zone of the 359th Infantry, on the north wing of the division, but opposite the center and right of the 90th enemy resistance began to stiffen as the American attack hit the Fort Koenigsmacker and Métrich positions held by the 74th Regiment. The 357th Infantry had occupied the town of Koenigsmacker without a fight the
night before, and now the 3d Battalion marched under cover of the morning fog to attack the Métrich works, about a mile southeast of Koenigsmacker, which constituted the initial objective for the regiment. The leading company made the assault up the western slope of the heights on which the Métrich works were located, advancing with marching fire, killing some thirty Germans in the open trenches on the summit, and driving the remaining enemy back into the concrete fortifications. Meanwhile, the 2d Battalion moved one company from the town of Métrich in an attack against the eastern fortifications. Here the Germans, using intense cross fire from machine guns in pillboxes, killed the company commander and executive officer and repelled the assault. When artillery fire failed to neutralize this strong point the 2d Battalion moved around the heights to join the 3d Battalion, the two forming up to face down the Maginot Line ridge as the day ended.
On the right the 358th Infantry also found the Germans reacting more stubbornly on 10 November. After repulsing a stiff counterattack in Basse-Ham where it had been covering the regiment's open right flank, Company C was moved to Fort Koenigsmacker in an endeavor to take the fort by assault from the south. There it ran into a wide and deep moat faced with stone and concrete and filled with twenty-five rows of barbed wire. Company C then was shifted to the west to link up more closely with the remainder of the 1st Battalion and to knock out a German assault from the fort which had temporarily cut off one platoon of Company A. On top of Fort Koenigsmacker Companies A and B, now reinforced by C, blasted away at the ferro-concrete works jutting above the surface.23 However, the enemy guns on the fort were not silenced and machine guns covering the roads below still were active. Concealed by the early morning fog two companies of the 3d Battalion passed the fort successfully and dug in on the Bois d'Elzange ridge, the regimental objective, where they waited for the remainder of the battalion to advance through the fire laid down by Fort Koenigsmacker. The 2d Battalion tried to swing around north of the fort and join the troops of the 3d Battalion on the ridge, but was badly cut up and halted by flanking fire from the fort.
As the second day of the attack ended, the situation in the 90th Division bridgehead seemed most precarious. Unaware of the weakness of the German
ENGINEERS WORKING IN CHILL WATERS to span the Moselle at Cattenom, where the flooded river was 1,000 yards wide.
forces opposing the division, General Van Fleet and his troops expected a full scale counterattack, since this was the obvious moment for retaliatory action. No armor or tank destroyer support was across the river as yet and covering fire depended on the batteries sited on the west bank, whose gunners, working in mud to their knees, fired around the clock. The infantry were tired, soaked to the skin, and numbed with cold. What few blankets were to be had were used for the wounded. Rations were slim and ammunition was becoming scarce. Battle casualties had mounted, but fatigue and exposure threatened to take an even greater toll in the ranks. The supply routes back to the river were still under fire. The rapidly dwindling medical supplies in the aid stations on the far side, plus the considerable hazard involved in the laborious three-hour crossing of the torrent, now under heavy fire from German artillery, forced the decision that evacuation across the Moselle would be limited to the severely wounded who were expected to die unless they were rendered more extensive medical attention than was possible there. Lacking their own
vehicles, supply parties were forced to carry what they could in abandoned baby buggies and rickety farm wagons. The Moselle continued to rise and at Cattenom was nearly a thousand yards wide. Actually the inundated area measured one and a half miles in breadth, water standing in the streets of both Cattenom and Gavisse. At dark the long supply trek started. A few power launches and engineer rafts were able to battle their way across the river; other craft were sunk by submerged fence posts or swept downstream. The 1st Battalion of the 359th, the last reserve on the west bank, loaded into motor boats and attempted to cross, but all the boats except one were forced to return to the point of embarkation. Everything now depended on bridging the roaring current, for without an uninterrupted service of supply the 90th Division could not hope to drive far out of the bridgehead. The engineer ponton companies, working in the chill water and under constant shelling, did their best. But the work went slowly. Finally, about midnight, the bridge structure at the Malling site was completed. Even so, it would be some hours before trucks, tanks, and tank destroyers could start rolling across, for the causeway leading to the west end of the bridge now lay under five feet of water.24
Despite the weather and the river some resupply reached the troops across the Moselle, and a few 57-mm. antitank guns were ferried over to reinforce the infantry. Early on the morning of 11 November the three regiments swung into an advance, the tired and miserable "doughfeet" moving forward with surprising speed and drive. In the center the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 357th launched a predawn attack, moving abreast in column of companies down the main Maginot ridge line, which here rose between two little streams, the Canner and the Oudrenne. One company of the 3d Battalion was detached to clear the enemy from the remaining works of the Métrich position. Before daybreak the company was in the pillboxes surrounding the last large casemate--but something had been learned from the Fort Driant experience and no attempt was made to force a way through the tunnel entrances leading into the casemate. Instead, a small detachment was left behind to seal in the German garrison with small arms fire. The main body of the 357th moved swiftly over the rugged, wooded ground, following the few narrow trails that passed for roads, or maneuvering cross country to assault
or bypass the Maginot Line pillboxes that dotted the ridge. Those pillboxes which could be taken readily were blasted with demolition charges. At points where the Maginot works had a wide field of fire, or were stubbornly defended, the attackers circled wide and dropped off a few men to mop up the position. By the evening of 11 November the leading infantry of the 357th were in possession of the high ground northwest of Breistroff-la-Petite, forming a salient well in advance of the regiments on the flanks.25 But both battalions of the 357th found themselves deployed in very great depth; only a few troops were on the forward line, the remainder being strung out rearward to cover the exposed flanks or to contain the bypassed enemy pillboxes.26 Supply again was a problem. The 357th interdicted the valley roads below the ridge but could not use them itself, and through the night carrying parties stumbled across the transverse draws and gullies that chopped up the 4,000-yard supply route.
On the north wing of the division the 359th briefly was thrown off stride by local counterattacks during the morning hours--probably made by troops of the reserve regiment of the 19th VG Division. Just before daylight a rain of artillery shells exploded among the 1st Battalion infantry holding the left flank of the regiment. Behind this concentration about one hundred fifty Germans and three assault guns advanced from the forest cover of the Videmsbusch toward the American lines. Two of the enemy guns were disabled at the first shock,27 but the 1st Battalion was being driven back; then a platoon of only ten men, from A Company, charged in on the German flank and disorganized the attackers. By this time the American artillery was on the target and the enemy had no stomach for continuing the fight. At 0900 the lost ground was retaken and the battalion moved forward to the attack.28
On the opposite flank the 3d Battalion had just occupied the high ground directly north of Kerling when German assault guns and infantry counterattacked.
Bazookas, the only antitank weapon at hand, failed to stop the oncoming assault guns. As a last desperate measure the American guns using indirect fire from across the river were told to continue their fire, even though the Germans were already in the 3d Battalion lines and casualties would be suffered by the Americans from their own shells. Capt. Frank Neuswanger, commanding I Company, and Capt. Henry Bauschausen, leading K Company, were both killed as they rallied the troops to make a stand, but their example gave heart to their men and the Germans finally were repelled.29
By midmorning the 359th attack had gained full momentum all along its front. The ridges ahead were taken after a stiff fight, Kerling was outposted, but Oudrenne remained in German hands. The American troops seized and blocked the crossroads southeast of Rettel, thus cutting the main highway entering the regimental zone from the north, and the left flank of the division was stabilized along a relatively defensible line.
Over on the south flank of the 90th Division the 358th Infantry had what the divisional After Action Report called "an exceptional day" on 11 November. Early in the morning the elements of the 3d Battalion which had filtered past the guns at Fort Koenigsmacker and taken up positions on the Bois d'Elzange ridge captured a three-man patrol coming along the back road that led to the fort. The Germans told their captors that a relief party of about 145 men was following, en route to reinforce the garrison. Thereupon, 1st Lt. Frank E. Gatewood deployed K Company and his five machine guns in an ambush and, when the German column was only fifty yards away, gave the order to fire. Over half of the enemy were killed. The rest fled.30
Before daybreak the 2d Battalion slipped past the machine guns and artillery on the north side of Fort Koenigsmacker, which had checked its advance the day before, mounted the ridge, and took its assigned position on the right of the 3d Battalion. While the 1st Battalion, reinforced by G Company, continued the fight at the fort, the balance of the regiment drove ahead along the ridge under continuous mortar fire. In the late afternoon the 3d Battalion attacked and took Hill 254, whose field fortifications overlooked the road between Valmestroff and Elzange, killing or capturing "its considerable garrison."31
Back at Fort Koenigsmacker G Company, led by the regimental commander, Col. C. H. Clarke, made a close envelopment arriving at the rear of the fort just as the German battalion there decided to call it quits and evacuate the position.32 Ringed in completely and trapped by fire on the tunnel exits to the east, the garrison commander put out the white flag. The Germans had lost at least 301 captured or killed in defending the fort.33 The losses of the attacking battalion numbered 111, killed, wounded, and missing.
At the end of 11 November the 90th Division was in a far more advantageous situation than twenty-four hours earlier. The left flank, which was also that of the corps and army, was fairly secure. The first German main line of resistance had been broken at Forts Métrich and Koenigsmacker, and was cracking at spots along the ridge lines in the sectors of the 357th and 358th. Over five hundred prisoners had been taken. The area of penetration had nearly doubled. Finally, the flooded Moselle had begun to recede. At midnight the first tractors snaking trucks loaded with jeeps and supplies splashed through the flooded causeways and over the Malling bridge. Ferries, now more manageable, crossed vehicles and antitank guns. With the flood waters ebbing at the rate of about three-fourths of an inch per hour, however, it would still be a matter of hours until the 90th Division drive could be supported in proper fashion.34
The enemy fight thus far had been carried by the 416th Division, reinforced by infantry of the 19th VG Division. But at long last the Kampfgruppe of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division, earmarked earlier for use in counterattack, had procured some gasoline and trucks. During the night of 11-12 November this Kampfgruppe moved south to assembly areas opposite the 359th Infantry. Rundstedt's headquarters had ordered specifically that the counterthrust be made just south of Sierck, apparently with intent to roll up
the 90th Division front by unhinging the American north flank. However, the subordinate headquarters, more familiar with the terrain, shifted the axis of the attack so as to avoid the deep ravine extending south from Sierck, and thus brought the assault up against the center and right of the 359th.
At 0300, on 12 November, the 25th Panzer Grenadier Kampfgruppe, composed of the 35th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and reinforced by some ten tanks and assault guns, struck the lines of the 359th.35 The initial German assault drove the 3d Battalion outposts out of Kerling and forced the battalion back to the high ground northwest of the village. There, after much confusion, it re-formed on the right of the 1st Battalion. Shortly before 0600 the main attack developed, one enemy force thrusting along the Kerling-Petite-Hettange road, another striking at the junction of the 1st and 3d Battalions south of Hunting.36 The attack down the road was made in force, with the obvious intention of seizing Petite-Hettange and from there launching a blow against the Malling bridge site. Led by assault guns and tanks, the German infantry marched in single file on both sides of the road--straight toward Petite-Hettange and the reserve positions manned by the 2d Battalion. The first clash came when the enemy hit G Company (1st Lt. A. L. Budd) and two platoons of the 2d Battalion heavy weapons company (Capt. S. E. McCann) deployed in the woods south of the road. A part of the German column turned aside to deal with these forces; a part continued on toward Petite-Hettange. The mortar and machine gun crews supporting G Company especially distinguished themselves in the action which followed. Sgt. Forrest E. Everhart, who had taken over the machine gun platoon when the platoon commander, 1st Lt. William O'Brien, was killed, led his men with such bravery as to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.37 Pvt. Earl Oliver stayed with his machine gun when the other guns had been knocked out, and maintained a continuous fire until he was killed by a mortar shell. When day broke twenty-two enemy dead were found in front of his position--some only fifteen feet away.38 So close had the Germans pressed the assault that a sergeant in the mortar platoon had uncoupled the bipod of his mortar and used it at
point-blank range. Although G Company was cut off, the attackers could not overrun its position, and they finally were driven off when the American gunners west of the river laid down a box barrage.
Farther down the road toward Petite-Hettange two American antitank pieces were knocked out by the assault guns in the van of the attack column. But a third antitank gun continued to fire in the darkness up the Kerling road and succeeded in immobilizing the enemy point. Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Robert Booth, the 2d Battalion commander, gathered a mixed force of cooks, clerks, and an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon, at the crossroads southeast of Petite-Hettange. This scratch force momentarily checked the German column with fire from small arms and bazookas. By now all of the twenty artillery battalions available to give support were busy shelling the road. Then, as a last crippling blow, two American tank destroyers that had been able to make their way across the Malling bridge, just before it was destroyed by enemy artillery fire, came rolling through the half-light up to the crossroads and before stopping destroyed two German assault guns and immobilized a third. The American infantry, artillery, and tank destroyers had taken the heart out of the Germans and they began to fall back; only one enemy assault gun got away.39 Later, some two hundred enemy bodies were counted lying alongside the cratered road.
The secondary attack against the south flank of the 1st Battalion, disposed in the woods north of Hunting, was equally unsuccessful. Here the enemy infantry crept forward through the darkness until they were only fifty yards from the woods and then charged, firing and yelling. Although the American riflemen were driven back, Pfc. Lloyd F. Harbaugh, of D Company, bravely manned his heavy machine gun and held back the attackers while his own infantry reorganized. When his ammunition gave out Private Harbaugh was killed, but he had won time for his comrades and the German attack finally was repelled with heavy loss to the enemy.
The main body of the enemy already was in retreat toward Kerling when Colonel Booth and Lieutenant Budd led Companies E and G in a wild charge into the German flank, turning the withdrawal into a rout. In sum, the counterattack on which the German command had counted so heavily cost the
enemy over 400 dead, about 150 prisoners, 4 tanks, and 5 assault guns. By late afternoon the 359th had restored its lines and was ready to attack. The 2d Battalion led off along the road to Kerling, where the enemy attacks had been formed. It was slowed down by mines, however, and finally forced to halt short of the village at dark.
Progress along the ridge in the center of the 90th Division zone was rapid on 12 November, but the stubborn enemy made the 357th Infantry pay heavily for its gains. The reserve battalion had been brought across the river, though with much difficulty, and with this reinforcement available to mop up the troublesome pillboxes in their rear the 2d and 3d Battalions were free to continue the advance. As the 3d Battalion emerged from the Bois de Koenigsmacker and into the draw below, it came under fire from a line of trenches on the forward slope of the next ridge southeast of Breistroff-la-Petite. For some hours the battalion maneuvered to close with the Germans in the trenches. Finally, Pfc. Foster J. Sayers, of L Company, wormed his way through the wire strung along the glacis in front of the German trench line, leaped into the trench, and poured an enfilading fire from his light machine gun down its length. Private Sayers was killed.40 But his company poured through the breach he had made and the position was taken. The 2d Battalion had circled around the Germans on the slope and when the day ended held a spur overlooking the village of Inglange.41 On the left the 3d Battalion lay with its open flank refused, waiting for the situation in front of the 359th to clarify. This day of battle had seen the enemy forced to relinquish another segment of the long ridge chain; but the ranks of the two assault battalions were rapidly thinning.
The 358th Infantry likewise found the Germans on its front determined to stand and hold. The 1st Battalion was placed in reserve, covering the right flank of the division and resting after the hard battle at Fort Koenigsmacker. The 2d and 3d Battalions launched a co-ordinated attack against Valmestroff and Elzange. These villages were taken after bitter fighting during which
the enemy not only stood his ground but counterattacked, firing bazookas into the trees to get tree bursts over the Americans. Beyond Valmestroff the 2d Battalion was checked by a cluster of field fortifications and pillboxes.42 Worse than the enemy fire above ground, however, was a new and dangerous German weapon, met here for the first time--the plastic and wooden box mine--against which the conventional mine detector was useless.
Back at the river, prospects were a little brighter at the close of 12 November. A bridge was under construction at the Cattenom crossing. The Malling bridge was in process of repair, after a lucky hit by German gunners.43 Both crossing sites were fairly well covered by a smoke screen. The Moselle had ebbed to a point where heavy rafting could be done, and by midnight two platoons of tank destroyers, two platoons of tanks, and a number of jeeps fitted as litter carriers had been ferried across. But in the forward positions there was little to cheer the foot soldier. There still were no dry clothes or blankets in which he might warm himself during the cold November nights. Each company had gaping ranks; and in six of the nine battalions the rifle strength was now only half the original complement.44 Moreover, the events of 12 November gave no indication that the German will to resist was weakening.
On the enemy side of the hill the LXXXII Corps had only a gloomy story to relate to the First Army and Army Group G. As early as 10 November OB WEST started an investigation to determine the causes for the American penetration south of Sierck. The explanations proffered were: the lack of combat experience in the 416th Division and its dispersal along an overextended front; the accurate and heavy American artillery fire, ably adjusted by low flying observation planes; and the intervention of the American Jabo's, which prevented the movement of troops into counterattack positions. There was little answer that Rundstedt's headquarters could make when presented
with such an explanation. The picture became even more somber when a captured American officer told German interrogators that the XX Corps intended to make a double envelopment around Metz.45 OB WEST warned Balck not to underrate the American threat north of Thionville. But, again, advice was all that the higher headquarters could spare--plus two battalions of artillery which were dispatched from Army Group B to the north flank of the First Army. On 11 November the LXXXII Corps pulled all security troops, except one battalion, away from the Moselle north of the 90th Division bridgehead and threw them in to face the American attack. The failure of the counterattack by the Kampfgruppe of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division on 12 November ended all hope of erasing or containing the American force north of Thionville--if, indeed, Balck and his lower commanders had ever had the illusion of success. German intelligence reported that the American 83d Infantry Division and an unidentified armored division were yet to be committed in the bridgehead.46 Metz was being threatened from the south, the American XII Corps was widening its penetration in the center of the First Army, and the American Seventh Army was massing to launch an offensive in front of the Saverne Gap. Therefore, at 1720 on 12 November, Balck ordered the right wing of the LXXXII Corps to go on the defensive, adding extravagant promises that a new division would shortly be available for use as a counterattack force.47
The 90th Division Advance Continues--13 November
By 13 November the advance of the 357th Infantry had carried the regiment almost beyond range of its artillery support. The regiment paused and cleared out the remaining knots of Germans in its rear with explosive charges and flame throwers, while the regiments on either flank moved up abreast. The 359th Infantry reoccupied Kerling without a fight. But when the 2d Battalion attacked, late in the afternoon, to effect a juncture with the 357th outposts near Oudrenne, the leading company hit squarely into a large mine field. Three tanks, leading the advance, were destroyed in quick succession. After futile attempts to find the limits of the mined area, the infantry were
forced to attack straight through the mines, taking their losses. (Later, over twelve thousand plastic and wooden box mines were taken from this one mine field.) The 358th Infantry also was slowed down by mines as it continued along the ridge chain, but the enemy infantry gave little opposition and apparently were retiring to a new line of defense.48 The bridge at the Cattenom site was finally completed during the morning by engineer parties building from both sides of the river under a very elaborate smoke screen--laid down by smoke generators, 4.2 chemical mortars, and two battalions of field guns--which did not break once during the entire day. Just as the last section of the 645-foot steel treadway was moved into place a DUKW struck a mine near the far exit. Then it was found that the eastern end of the bridge lay in the midst of a mine field which had been covered by the flood waters, now receding. Five hours were lost while the engineers went about the hazardous task of probing under water for the mines, and at 1645 the bridge was ready. One gun from each light artillery battalion was rushed across to register at new ranges before darkness set in. The 90th Reconnaissance Troop and light tanks also pushed into the unending stream of bridge traffic and swung south to establish contact with the 95th Division bridgehead at Uckange. By dawn of 14 November all regimental transport, three battalions of 105-mm. howitzers, a tank destroyer battalion, and the vehicles of the division's engineer battalion were across the river. Using this single bridge, for the Malling bridge still was damaged, the 90th Division had crossed all of its organic units and attachments, plus four battalions of supporting artillery, by 1500 that same afternoon.49 For the first time in six days and nights the troops in the bridgehead had overcoats, blankets, and dry socks.
During the day the 359th occupied Oudrenne and joined its right flank firmly to the line held by the 357th. The 358th continued its push and placed the 3d Battalion astride the Inglange-Distroff road. Then, when the German garrisons in the two villages were denied mutual support, the attack forked out to take them. The 2d Battalion captured Distroff in some very hard fighting and rescued a twenty-four-man patrol, belonging to the 3d Battalion, which had entered the village but had been driven to seek shelter in the
cellars when the streets were found alive with the enemy. Around Inglange the German artillery kept up a heavy shelling on the 3d Battalion, and patrols sent out toward the town reported that it was strongly defended. Capt. J. S. Spivey, commanding the battalion, therefore decided to withhold his assault until there was sufficient artillery and tank support forward. This support was on its way despite deep mud on the tops of the ridges, and not only the leading formations of the 357th, but the rest of the division as well, were shortly in position to resume a co-ordinated advance.
The Expansion of the 95th Division Bridgehead
On the night of 10 November General Walker ordered General Twaddle, the 95th Infantry Division commander, to expand his operation on the east bank of the Moselle, where the 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry had its foothold opposite Uckange. General Walker was still seeking to establish a firm bridgehead, with adequate heavy bridging, through which to cross the 10th Armored Division in accordance with the XX Corps scheme of maneuver. The corps commander therefore instructed General Twaddle to commit the 2d Battalion, 378th Infantry (Lt. Col. A. J. Maroun), acting as corps reserve, in a reconnaissance in force to determine the feasibility of seizing a bridgehead at Thionville, about three miles north of the tiny lodgment area held by the 1st Battalion, 377th.
Two companies of the reserve battalion, supported by the 135th Engineer Combat Battalion, crossed the Moselle, which here separated the American- and German-held districts of the city, and by midday on 11 November had cleared a small area in the eastern section. Stronger resistance was encountered at the edge of the city, where the Germans were holed up in Fort Yutz, a large, old, star-shaped fortification of the Vauban type. This fort was separated from the city proper by a canal which served the fort as a forward moat. Fortunately, the canal was narrow enough at two points to be crossed without boats; F and G Companies made their way across and into the fort under heavy mortar fire. Here the German garrison stood its ground with flame throwers and small arms, but by noon of 13 November the 2d Battalion overpowered it and held Fort Yutz. North of Thionville the Americans quickly expanded the bridgehead perimeter. One artillery shell fired into Basse-Yutz produced a fluttering of white towels and sheets--the Germans had withdrawn.
East of Thionville the battalion pushed out as far as Haute-Yutz before dawn of 14 November, and then took the village with little trouble.50
The story changed when the 2d Battalion switched to the southern sector of the Thionville bridgehead perimeter on the afternoon of 14 November. On the northern end of the Illange plateau were clustered four works of the Driant type, small but rather modern, and a fixed battery, grouped to give mutual support and to cover the main Metz-Thionville highway, along which the 2d Battalion had to advance in order to relieve the 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry, isolated on the east bank of the Moselle opposite Uckange. As the 2d Battalion approached Fort Illange an apprehensive German soldier put out the white flag. Colonel Maroun dispatched 1st Lt. James Billings to demand a surrender, promoting Billings briefly for prestige purposes with an extra pair of captain's bars. Although the garrison consisted of only one company of the 74th Regiment, the enemy commander nevertheless refused to negotiate and prepared to defend his position. A call from the 2d Battalion brought the artillery across the river into action and shells from the 155-mm. guns and 240-mm. howitzers poured in on the fort. When the fire lifted, the three rifle companies debouched from the woods surrounding the fort and went up the slope at a run in front of the German works. At the top the infantry took shelter in a fringe of trees encircling the fort area and waited while artillery and mortar fire again was concentrated on the enemy. The final assault was made through twenty yards of barbed wire under severe shelling by the German mortars, whose crews had returned to their weapons as soon as the American concentration ended. By dark a third of the enceinte was cleared.51 All through the night a fire fight raged, but next morning the Americans "buttoned up" the reinforced concrete works above ground with machine guns and mortars, and then proceeded systematically to blast them open with shaped charges. Their occupants were finished off with threaded charges of ten-pound TNT blocks dropped in through the vents. At 1040 the German survivors surrendered to Colonel Maroun, who had been twice wounded during the action. The capture of the Illange forts ended all organized resistance in the northern sector of the 95th Division zone east of the Moselle. On the previous day the cavalry reconnaissance troop of the
Battle for Metz
Envelopment from the North
15-19 November 1944
90th Division, reinforced by a light tank company, had struck out of the 90th Division bridgehead and reached the 95th Division troops in the Thionville sector, finally establishing a protected corridor along the east bank of the Moselle through which the 10th Armored Division could move.
At 1015 on 15 November, while Colonel Maroun's battalion still was fighting at the Illange forts, Col. Robert L. Bacon52 was given command of the 95th Division troops east of the river, provided with some cavalry, engineers, and tank destroyers, and ordered to attack south with this task force toward Metz, clearing the enemy from the east bank of the Moselle as he went.53 In actuality, Task Force Bacon at this moment did not exist as a homogeneous command, for the 2d Battalion, 378th Infantry, and the 1st Battalion, 377th Infantry, were not yet in contact. Indeed, the 1st Battalion now was so hard pressed by the enemy that the other troops composing Task Force Bacon were compelled to launch an immediate attack south for its relief.
On the morning of 13 November the last company of the 1st Battalion, 377th Infantry, crossed the Moselle to join the little force already in the Uckange bridgehead. General Twaddle had ordered the 1st Battalion to attack at once and push north past the towns of Bertrange and Imeldange, take Illange--which lay on the edge of the dominant plateau south of Thionville--and make contact with the drive southward by the 2d Battalion of the 378th Infantry. (Map XXXI) Company A debarked from its assault boats straight into the attack and took Bertrange and Imeldange without much fighting. The remainder of the 1st Battalion swung north and was just in the process of setting up defenses in the two villages, preparatory to bivouacking for the night, when a task force from the 73d Regiment of the 19th VG Division and a mobile unit from the 485th Antitank Battalion counterattacked. The American forces in the two towns were separated and both were hard beset by mobile columns of infantry. In their armored personnel carriers the Germans dashed up and down the streets, firing into the houses where the Americans had taken shelter, and spreading disorder and confusion in their wake. The tank destroyers emplaced west of the river as direct support for the 1st Battalion did not have the range to reach the counterattack. Communication
between the battalion and the artillery fire control center across the river was quickly lost. About 0830 on 14 November radio contact was re-established and the American artillery opened up, with the first sergeant of A Company acting as forward observer. All during the day the enemy, supported by light armored vehicles, pressed the attack. At 2200 Colonel Decker reported that the position of his battalion was "desperate." Once more contact with the battalion was lost. Patrols sent back to the river to carry messages and obtain supplies were cut off. By the morning of 15 November the two villages were wrecked and gutted by the bitter fighting, but the 1st Battalion, its ranks much reduced by severe losses, held on.54 The relief force moving south from Illange arrived on the scene in the nick of time and, after a short sharp fight, Bertrange, on the main road, was freed.55 Then a platoon of tank destroyers turned toward Imeldange and shelled the enemy out of that village.56 By 1300 the Germans were routed and the 1st Battalion joined Task Force Bacon in the advance on Metz.57
The 10th Armored Division is Committed
On 9 November the 10th Armored Division assembled around Molvange and Rumelange, which were far enough west of the Moselle to be safe from enemy observation. There it waited for General Walker to give the order committing the division east of the river. On receipt of the order from the corps it was supposed to cross the Moselle in two columns, pass through the 90th Division bridgehead wrested from the Germans north of Thionville, and strike quickly to effect a deep penetration. Once the division sliced through the enemy crust the 10th Armored plan of maneuver called for the left column to advance to the east and win a bridgehead over the Sarre River, somewhere near Merzig. This bid for a Sarre crossing site was particularly important in
light of General Patton's plans for continuation of the Third Army offensive. The second column, advancing on the right of the first column and at the same time protecting the left flank of the 90th Infantry Division, was given the task of taking the division objective. This objective included Bouzonville--the center of arterial highway and railroad traffic running northeast out of Metz--and a stretch of high ground extending for about six miles north of Bouzonville on both sides of the Nied River valley. Capture of the sector would give the Americans command over one of the main corridors through which German reinforcements might be sent to Metz, or through which a retreat from that city might be made.
The terrain in the zone assigned for the 10th Armored Division drive had little to recommend it to an armored force. The road net was limited. One good paved highway did exist, running from Kerling, through Laumesfeld and Bibiche, to Bouzonville. The only other through road which could be used for tanks stretched from Oudrenne (via Lemestroff, Monneren, and Dalstein) to Freistroff. However, this route had not been used by the Germans during the occupation and had fallen into disrepair. Any cross-country movement would be most difficult, particularly after the autumn rains had beaten into the clay soil characteristic of this country.
For five days General Morris, commander of the 10th Armored, waited for the word to send his division across the Moselle. The five days were marked by orders and counterorders, new plans and estimates--all contingent on the caprices of the flooded river and the degree of success achieved by the enemy gunners shelling the American bridge sites. The assault crossing at Thionville by Maroun's battalion gave the possibility of a new and successful bridging operation, just as the corps commander had intended. At this point the flood waters of the Moselle were constricted by two relatively high retaining walls, and the stone piers of an earlier bridge still stood. The 1306th Engineer General Service Regiment (Lt. Col. W. C. Hall) set to the task of building a Bailey bridge on 12 November, under orders from General Walker to continue on the job regardless of enemy fire. German mortars and field guns threw in one concentration after another. Once, during the late afternoon of the 12th, work had to be suspended for a couple of hours. On the morning of the 13th the wind shifted, blowing away the covering smoke. German gunners laid their shells within a hundred yards of the bridge but could not get a direct hit. This time work on the Bailey continued, the engineers climbing into the superstructure clad in flak suits. Finally, at 0930 on 14 November,
the Thionville bridge was ready--the largest Bailey bridge in the European Theater of Operations.58 On the afternoon of that day CCB (Col. William L. Roberts) began the move across the Moselle, the head of the column winding along the east bank northward to the 90th Division sector. Before daylight on 15 November, the whole combat command had assembled near Kerling behind the screen formed by the 359th Infantry. Furthermore, CCA (Brig. Gen. Kenneth G. Althaus), which was dispatched over the Malling bridge, had two companies across before dark and subsequently took position south of Colonel Roberts' column. The 3d Cavalry Group also used the Malling crossing and moved forward one squadron to relieve the north flank battalion of the 359th Infantry, preparatory to a screening and reconnaissance mission in the Sarre-Moselle triangle.
CCB began the 10th Armored Division drive on the early morning of 15 November, advancing under flurries of rain and snow along the road east of Kerling. Progress was slow. The reconnaissance units and the platoon of medium tanks at the head of the column were forced to halt again and again to deal with German road blocks, antitank guns, and pillboxes blocking the highway. CCA pushed out of the bridgehead late in the afternoon and, as day ended, entered Lemestroff at the left of the line held by the 357th Infantry. General Althaus originally had intended to keep a provisional reconnaissance squadron at the head of his combat command, in conventional fashion, but the German guns blocking the route were too effective against light armor and these reconnaissance elements were deflected to the flanks of the heavier column.59
The enemy forces, mostly from the 416th Division and the 25th Panzer Grenadier Kampfgruppe, stood their ground where they could on 16 November, but the armored columns now were well into the German positions and about 250 prisoners were bagged.60 CCA attacked in two task forces. Task Force Chamberlain (Lt. Col. Thomas C. Chamberlain) switched through Kerling and attacked southeast along the main paved highway, bivouacking for the night east of Laumesfeld. Task Force Standish (Lt. Col. Miles L. Standish) continued along the meandering, indifferent road east of Lemestroff
and took Ste. Marguerite. CCB got as far as Kirschnaumen. Losses in tanks and men in both commands thus far had been very small.
To make maximum use of the few poor roads, on 17 and 18 November the 10th Armored Division fanned out in splinter task forces. The Germans no longer had much cohesion, but a few small groups tried to check the American armor with bazooka fire and antitank guns. More than six hundred of the enemy surrendered to the tankers and the armored infantry. For the first time in days the skies had cleared, permitting the XIX TAC to go aloft in force. General Weyland put the 405th and 406th Groups on the columns retreating before the 10th Armored--with disastrous results to the enemy. On 18 November one detachment from CCA reached the Nied River, just across from Bouzonville, but found the bridges blown. A few tanks and infantry discovered a bridge near Filstroff, damaged but still usable, and crossed the Nied north of Bouzonville; night came before the rest could cross. In the meantime the north column of CCB took Launstroff, six miles west of Merzig. One task force drove as far as Schwerdorff, only four and a half miles from the junction of the Nied and Sarre Rivers, on 18 November.61
CCA established a shallow bridgehead across the Nied River the following day, although the enemy (rear guard detachments of the 73d Regiment) showed more fight than in the days past and succeeded in killing fifteen of the combat command and wounding twenty-one--a relatively high loss for this operation. Likewise, CCB was moving very slowly as the enemy stiffened to hold the approach routes leading to the Sarre River; apparently there would be no dash to seize the Sarre crossings. But the 10th Armored Division had completed its mission, insofar as the XX Corps envelopment of Metz was concerned; the infantry divisions on the inner rim of the circle had clamped tightly around the city by the morning of 19 November, and there was little probability that the enemy had the reserves available for an attack from the east to relieve the Metz garrison. Therefore, with General Patton's injunction that the Sarre must be crossed ringing in his ears, the XX Corps commander ordered General Morris to pull CCA back from the Nied River and send it north to join the rest of the division. On the night of 19-20 November the combat command blew the Nied bridges and began rolling in black-out back through the 90th Infantry Division en route to take part in the attack toward the Sarre.
The 90th Division Continues the Attack, 15 November
When the 10th Armored Division passed through the lines of the 359th Infantry on 15 November and struck out to the east, the 90th Division bridgehead had attained a width of eleven miles and a depth of seven. Although the 416th Division and the 19th VG Division were giving way, and the roads behind the German lines were filled with vehicles heading east, there was still a reserve force capable of making a serious counterattack. The Kampfgruppe of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division had been reinforced by a battalion from the 74th Regiment after the reverse suffered at the hands of the 359th Infantry in the fight west of Kerling; now the First Army commander was given permission to use it in another riposte, this time at the southern flank of the 90th Division. The German records do not reveal the reasoning behind the decision to recommit this Kampfgruppe. Probably the enemy commander merely hoped to delay the American advance and cover the withdrawal of his own troops. In any event the Kampfgruppe of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division, composed at this time of three battalions of infantry, field artillery, tanks, and assault guns, was sent around the open right flank of the 358th Infantry to an assembly area in the Bois de Stuckange.62
At daybreak on 15 November the Kampfgruppe struck east at Distroff in what the 90th Division After Action Report later called "the most violent counter blow of the campaign." Distroff was held by the 2d Battalion, 358th Infantry, its position blocking the main road net leading into the rear of the regimental sector. In addition a platoon from Company A, 712th Tank Battalion, was bivouacked in and around the village, and a platoon from the 773d Tank Destroyer Battalion was in position back of Distroff. A little before 0700 enemy shells suddenly burst in the village. This preparatory fire continued for about twenty minutes. Then the Germans were seen coming along the road from Metzervisse, a few tanks and assault guns leading the attack, and the infantry marching or riding in armored carriers. Two German battalions seemed to be involved in this assault, one hooking into Distroff from the south and one circling to the east of the village. A third battalion, apparently marching to envelop the American position from the north, was checked by the fire of the 90th Division artillery and took no part in the main fight. Close to Distroff the German tanks and assault guns were hit by fire from
DISTROFF. The area shown in the photograph is indicated on Map XXX.
the village. Those crews able to remove their tanks and assault guns from the danger zone did so, leaving the grenadiers to close with the Americans. The first assault waves were repelled, but the German infantry closed their ranks and returned doggedly to the attack, finally breaching the 2d Battalion outpost line and sweeping into the streets of Distroff. Another German infantry force cut the road behind the beleaguered battalion. The American tanks, tank destroyers, and infantry, under the command of Maj. William Wallace, executive officer of the 2d Battalion, held grimly to the village. As the Germans spread out, the fight broke into a series of isolated actions to hold a house or a shop. The Americans fought from doors, windows, and roof tops with pistols, rifles, and bazookas. With his battalion pressed back into the buildings by swarms of German infantry and armor, Major Wallace called down 4.2 chemical mortar fire and all available artillery fire on the streets of the town. About this time Colonel Clarke, the regimental commander, sent his remaining platoon of tank destroyers and a platoon of tanks to reinforce the 2d Battalion. The tank destroyers succeeded in getting into the north edge of Distroff, under cover of the 4.2 mortar fire which provided a smoke screen, and there entered the battle. Colonel Clarke was reluctant to commit the 1st Battalion--his only infantry reserve--because heavy German artillery fire directed at the 3d Battalion, facing Inglange, seemed to threaten an attack against the left flank of the regiment. He therefore ordered the reserve battalion to move up from Fort Koenigsmacker to the Inglange-Distroff road, so that it could go to the aid of either the 2d or the 3d Battalion--whichever would need it more. By the time it reached that road, however, the 2d Battalion already had broken the back of the German attack. After four hours of fighting the Germans broke off the engagement and retired along the road to Metzervisse, taking several prisoners with them. The charred hulks of four tanks, four assault guns, and sixteen half-tracks were counted in and around Distroff; the German dead in one field adjacent to the town numbered over one hundred and fifty.63 American losses though not recorded were heavy, for the 2d Battalion had been hard hit; they were substantially less, however, than those of the attackers.64
The Distroff counterattack was the last to strike the 90th Division during the envelopment of Metz, though organized and stubborn German resistance continued a while longer. During 15 November the 357th Infantry maintained its uphill and downdale advance with an attack to take the ridge between Budling and Buding. About 0645 the 2d and 3d Battalions moved out of the woods astride the ridge where the regiment had halted three days earlier. As the troops came down the forward slopes overlooking the valley road toward Budling, enemy shells began dropping at an estimated rate of one round per second. At first the guns could not be discovered. Finally the American forward observers ascertained that the fire was coming from Maginot Line casemates on top of the Hackenberg, a promontory jutting out from the east end of the enemy ridge. From there belt-fed French 75's enfiladed the whole valley and the forward lines of the 357th. Since the 3d Battalion, nearest the Hackenberg, could not advance in the face of this quick fire without unnecessarily high losses, Col. J. H. George, the regimental commander, brought the 1st Battalion up from reserve to aid the 2d Battalion in making an envelopment of the enemy's left flank. At the same time American guns began hammering away at the Hackenberg works with counterbattery fire. A platoon of tank destroyers opened up at 2,750 yards and immediately scored direct hits on the German casemates--with no discernible results. Then the heavy pieces took a hand in the action, but neither the 8-inch guns nor the 240-mm. howitzers were able to still the enemy artillery.
The day ended with the 357th still held in check. During the night, however, some self-propelled 155-mm. guns were moved to within 2,000 yards of the Hackenberg and on 16 November they neutralized the German guns, allowing the two right-wing battalions to cross the valley and take the steep, wooded ridge beyond. Next day the attack continued on its up-and-down course, only to be checked in the second valley ahead when the 2d Battalion unexpectedly ran into a determined enemy detachment barricaded in the village of Klang. In the meantime the 3d Battalion occupied the Hackenberg. There they found that the American self-propelled guns had already given the quietus to its defenders, whose bodies lay heaped around the demolished quick firers. Hastening on to pass between the two leading battalions the 3d Battalion arrived just in time to take part in a squeeze play at Klang. The appearance of some American tanks rolling down the road toward Klang had discouraged the enemy in the town and precipitated a general exodus,
but the Germans had delayed their retreat just long enough to permit the 2d and 3d Battalions to close a pincers beyond Klang. The regimental dispatches on the evening of 17 November reported laconically: "Slaughter was appalling."
While the 357th was busy cracking the last resistance in front of the division left wing (the 359th was now in reserve), the 358th wedged its way forward on the right. After waiting twenty-four hours outside of Inglange for the situation at Distroff to emerge clearly from the smoke of battle, the 3d Battalion struck down into Inglange on 16 November in a co-ordinated assault with tanks and tank destroyers. Most of the defenders had evacuated the spot during the earlier lull and only thirty prisoners and two antitank guns were taken. The 2d Battalion followed up its hard-won victory at Distroff in an attack co-ordinated with the 1st Battalion, both using marching fire. The 2d Battalion took Metzervisse, after the village had been subjected to a heavy shelling by division and corps artillery, and a flanking attack had turned the German position along the railroad embankment on the north. On 17 November the 2d Battalion continued on to Metzeresche with tanks leading. By now the enemy was withdrawing everywhere. Metzeresche was quickly overrun and the 1st Battalion leapfrogged ahead to a position astride the Dalstein-Metz road.
The events of 17 November, both north and south of Metz, greatly worried General Balck, the Army Group G commander. He saw that unless the north flank of the First Army was withdrawn to the east, and quickly, a gaping hole would be torn in the German front which might never be mended. At 1930 Balck gave orders for the First Army to pull back its right and center, the 416th Division and 19th VG Division withdrawing in this move to the line Borg-Launstroff-Bouzonville, while the XIII SS Corps redressed its right wing to link up with the left of the LXXXII Corps. During the night of 17 November the German guns began barrage fire and the enemy infantry abandoned their positions in front of the 90th Division and the southern column of the 10th Armored Division.65
On 18 and 19 November the American forces pursued the retreating German columns. General Van Fleet threw the 359th Infantry into the chase and
relieved the 358th, which was badly in need of a rest, as soon as it reached the town of Luttange. Specific objectives were no longer assigned. The general mission, however, remained the same: to close the gap east of Metz and join hands with the 5th Infantry Division advancing from the south. The infantry moved forward in trucks when they could, and marched when trucks were lacking or when blown bridges and craters cut the roads. Often the speed of the advance overran the rear guard German demolition details before they could blow the bridges. At the end of the first day of this pursuit the 359th Infantry had troops across the Nied at Condé-Northen, twelve miles east of Metz, and the 90th Reconnaissance Troop held Avancy, blocking one of the main escape routes from Metz. Through the night the Americans fired on the exit roads with every weapon they could bring to bear. The cavalry alone counted thirty enemy vehicles destroyed and took more than five hundred prisoners. On 19 November the 359th cut still another of the Metz exit roads at Les Etangs, after an advance in which planes of the XIX TAC worked directly with the infantry, swooping down as close as one hundred yards in front of the American patrols to strafe the fleeing enemy.66 For most of the enemy who were trying to find a way out of the Metz pocket all hope of continuing the battle was gone; pounded by planes and guns, they surrendered willingly. About 1030 the 90th Reconnaissance Troop met the 735th Tank Battalion, supporting the 5th Infantry Division, and the envelopment of Metz had been successfully completed.67 Just as the 357th Infantry, on the division left wing, wheeled to face east and was moving to launch an assault across the Nied River toward Boulay-Moselle, General Van Fleet received orders from the XX Corps headquarters to hold the 90th Division in place, preparatory to a general regrouping within the corps for a full-dress attack toward the Sarre River.
This eleven-day operation by the 90th Infantry Division shows how far it had come since its initial performance in Normandy. While the enemy forces opposing the 90th in the November operations often were poor,68 elements
of the division had met and defeated troops from one of the crack German divisions on the Western Front, the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division, and had fought through terrain of considerable natural difficulty made worse by the autumn rains. The seizure of a bridgehead over the Moselle in particular had been ably executed and had so impressed General Patton that he termed it "one of the epic river crossings of history."69 The demonstrable losses inflicted on the enemy during this operation totaled 2,100 prisoners, some 40 tanks and assault guns, 75 artillery pieces, over 200 vehicles, and an unknown but high number of dead and wounded.70 However, the 90th Division itself had lost some 2,300 officers and men in the first seven days which marked the hardest fighting.
1. The American records for both the planning and the operational phases of the battle for Metz are quite complete. The 90th Division After Action Report for November is particularly useful. The telephone journal attached to the 5th Division G-3 Journal and the unit histories published by the 5th Infantry Division, the 2d Infantry, and 11th Infantry add considerably to the journals maintained by the 5th Division. The records of the 95th Division and 10th Armored Division leave something to be desired since both of these units were new to combat. The casualties cited by the 95th Division are probably excessive inasmuch as loss reports from three battalions, which were isolated for several days, are admittedly inaccurate. Ltr, Maj Gen H. L. Twaddle to Hist Div, 17 Jan 49. However, extensive Historical Division Combat Interviews provide a check on the records of these two divisions. Several manuscripts have been prepared by German officers who took part in operations north of Metz--and these are valuable--but the Army Group G KTB has only incidental information on events in this sector.
2. In one such action on the night of 6 November, Sgt. R. M. Schuller, L Company, 379th Infantry, led a patrol toward Fort Jeanne d'Arc. A hidden machine gun opened up on the Americans, one burst wounding the sergeant. Schuller picked up his submachine gun, which had been jarred from his hands, and fired a full clip, silencing the enemy weapon. He continued to direct his patrol until he collapsed from loss of blood. Schuller was awarded the DSC.
3. General Patton planned to send the 83d Infantry Division (minus the 329th Infantry) through the 90th Division bridgehead behind the 10th Armored Division. The 83d was then to attack northward, clear the Sarre-Moselle triangle, and establish a bridgehead over the Sarre at Saarburg. General Bradley, however, terminated the "operational control" exercised by the Third Army over the 83d Division before the latter could be committed. Ltr, Maj Gen R. C. Macon to Hist Div, 29 May 47; Ltr, Lt Gen W. H. Walker to Hist Div, 8 Oct 47; Ltr, Maj Gen H. R. Gay to Hist Div, 23 Nov 48. See also XX Corps AAR, 4 Nov 44. The Third Army staff had given much time and care to plans for the use of the 83d Division in mopping up the Sarre-Moselle triangle, despite the fact that General Bradley had written to General Patton on 30 October limiting the employment of the 83d. This question of the use of Macon's division was one of the very few, in the entire European campaign, which found General Bradley and General Patton in serious disagreement.
4. Maj. George D. Swanson, executive officer of the 43d Cavalry Squadron, led the dismounted attack into Berg. For gallantry in this action he was awarded the DSC. During the attack 1st Lt. A. B. Minn, A Company, 135th Engineer Combat Battalion, advanced with his platoon to clear a mine field at the edge of the town. When the platoon was pinned down by automatic weapons fire, Lieutenant Minn rushed the enemy position and killed the defenders with grenades. Minn was given the DSC.
5. XX Corps AAR, 8 Nov 44.
6. 5th Div G-3 Jnl, 9 Nov 44. General Eddy had requested that the 6th Armored Division be given running rights on the road at the boundary between the XII and XX Corps. This necessitated putting the 5th Division onto the road some hours after the XII Corps attack began. See Chapter VII, p. 358. General Walker geared the corps attack to that of the 5th Division. Ltr, Gen Walker to Hist Div, 8 Oct 47. General Irwin, however, did not receive a formal order to attack on 9 November until the day preceding. XX Corps AAR, 8 Nov 44.
7. 135th Engr (C) Bn AAR, Nov 44. Smoke was used here but apparently with little success. 161st Cml Smoke Generator Co AAR, Nov 44.
8. During the fight to take the woods the 2d Battalion commander, Lt. Col. R. L. Walton, led elements of F and G Companies forward through heavy German fire. A machine gun killed a sergeant and several men. Colonel Walton deliberately advanced on the machine gun and, although he was hit three times, shot the enemy crew and destroyed their weapon. Walton was awarded the DSC. Sgt. Harry H. Hunt, G Company, 377th Infantry, received the DSC for his gallantry in throwing himself across a wounded comrade to save the latter from a hand grenade. Hunt was seriously injured in the explosion. Pfc. John W. Metych, E Company, 377th Infantry, made a singlehanded attack near the woods and silenced two hostile machine guns with fire from his BAR. He was wounded while attempting to knock out a third position. Metych received the DSC.
9. 95th Div AAR, 9 Nov 44. 2d Bn, 377th Inf, Jnl, 9 Nov 44.
10. The Germans first regarded all of the American attacks north of Metz as "containing attacks" (Fesselungsangriff). MS #B-443 (Emmerich).
11. One pilot reported: "The troops were really happy when the first plane came over dropping supplies. We could see right down into their foxholes and they looked sort of hungry, wet and cold, but they were smiling when we saw them."
12. A curious event took place on 10 November when Sgt. Ervin Bluhm and an assault boatload of unarmed medical aid men attempted to reach the troops across the river. Twice the boat was swept onto parts of the east bank held by the enemy, and twice the Germans courteously gave Bluhm directions as to where the Americans might be found. On the third attempt Bluhm landed at the right spot. 95th Div AAR, 10 Nov 44.
13. Resupply and reinforcement by boat came just in time, for the weather had turned colder and the small liaison planes were grounded by icing on their wings.
14. The plan is given in detail in the 90th Division After Action Report.
15. The average distance for this move into position was fifteen miles.
16. Hist Div Combat Interview; 358th Inf AAR; 359th Inf AAR. The 179th Engineer Combat Battalion supported the 358th Infantry, the 206th Engineer Combat Battalion the 359th.
17. Earlier, on 20 September, Colonel Lytle had distinguished himself by the daring rescue, under fire, of some exhausted survivors of a patrol who were stranded on the ice breaker of a demolished Moselle bridge. Lytle, then a major, was awarded the DSC.
18. The story of the fight at the fort is taken from very detailed Historical Division Combat Interviews.
19. The 358th Infantry After Action Report specifically singles out 1st Lt. Harris C. Neil, since he distinguished himself by personally placing the charges against the steel doors leading to the tunnels. He was awarded the DSC for especially daring action on 11 November, but was severely burned on that day when throwing a thermite grenade into a ventilator drenched with gasoline.
20. This section is based on the KTB's of Army Group G and OB WEST. See also MS #B-079 (Kittel); MS # A-000 (Mellenthin); MS #B-527 (Britzelmayr).
21. MS #B-090 (Pflieger).
22. These elements of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division were part of the OKW reserve for use in the event of an airborne attack by the Allies.
23. Supplies were badly needed at the fort and 1st Lt. Lloyd A. Watland, an artillery liaison pilot with the 90th Division Artillery, was sent to discover the best approach by air. He deliberately drew the enemy fire, flying as low as ten feet from the ground, and so charted a reasonably safe course for other planes. He was awarded the DSC.
24. 90th Div AAR, 10 Nov 44.
25. The 90th Division After Action Report says of the 357th Infantry (-): "The day's attack was a brilliant performance. . . ." The most advanced elements of the 359th Infantry were 4,000 yards to the rear of the forward line of the 357th; the 358th was 2,000 yards behind.
26. No serious attempt had been made to man the Maginot Line in the LXXXII Corps sector prior to this American attack because guns and troops simply were not available. A German report gives the strength of the security forces in this sector of the line as 58 officers and 218 men. However, there were 51 machine guns and 16 guns in the fortifications.
27. Probably by fire from the four battalion antitank guns which had been sent across the river to reinforce the 1st Battalion.
28. Capt. Albert L. Budd, G Company, 359th Infantry, led a platoon from the reserve battalion in a counterattack into the German flank. Although he was seriously wounded, Captain Budd continued to lead his men until the enemy fell back. He was awarded the DSC.
29. Captain Bauschausen, S-3 of the 3d Battalion, took over K Company when the company commander and executive became casualties. He reorganized the company and then led a counterattack, in which he was killed. He was given the DSC posthumously. Capt. Oral G. Nelson, L Company commander, also distinguished himself by reckless bravery during this action. Captain Nelson was awarded the DSC.
30. The date of this action is uncertain. The 3d Battalion Journal gives it as 11 November. Historical Division Combat Interviews record it as a day later.
31. This attack was made with bayonet and grenade. During the assault against the hill 1st Lt. Max Short of K Company led his depleted platoon into the German positions, killed one of the enemy with a blow from his rifle butt, another with his trench knife, and then fell mortally wounded. He was given the DSC posthumously. Capt. Charles L. Bryan, L Company, 358th Infantry, also was awarded the DSC for heroism on this and the preceding day.
32. Earlier in the day Pfc. Warren D. Shanafelter, B Company, 358th Infantry, volunteered to silence a particularly troublesome pillbox. Although all the while under fire he blew a gap, then coolly exploded another charge to widen the opening, entered the pillbox, and finished off its occupants. He received the DSC.
33. This figure is given in the 358th After Action Report. The 90th Division After Action Report estimates the German losses as 372 prisoners, plus "many dead."
34. Brig. Gen. H. R. Gay, Third Army Deputy Chief of Staff, was awarded the DSC for personal reconnaissance in the 90th Division bridgehead on 11 November.
35. MS #A-000 (Mellenthin).
36. The story of this fight is taken from Historical Division Combat Interviews, 359th Infantry and 90th Division After Action Reports. See also Ltr, Capt S. E. McCann to Hist Div, 14 Aug 47.
37. Sergeant Everhart broke up an enemy counterattack with a one-man charge. The War Department General Orders that contain Everhart's citation state that he personally killed or wounded fifty of the enemy.
38. Private Oliver was awarded the DSC posthumously.
39. Not expecting any such aid the 2d Battalion bazooka teams were ready to blast away when a quick-witted sergeant intervened to save the two tank destroyers. Just after the pair of TD's had crossed, the German artillery hit the Malling bridge and broke loose a section which floated 800 yards downstream.
40. Private Sayres accounted for twelve of the enemy before he was killed. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously.
41. During this advance 1st Lt. Claude E. Lovett, G Company, 357th Infantry, saw a detachment pinned down in the open by German machine gun fire. He charged through a wire entanglement and knocked out the enemy position. Lieutenant Lovett received the DSC. In a similar feat of arms Sgt. Joe T. Rutherford, also of G Company, destroyed a machine gun position, killing five and capturing four of the enemy. He was awarded the DSC.
42. While acting as a company runner Pvt. Earl F. Gormley, H Company, 358th Infantry, discovered a German artillery piece being brought into position. He attacked alone, killed or wounded three of the crew, and forced the rest to surrender. He received the DSC.
43. The gallant work of the 991st Engineer Treadway Bridge Company at the Malling site was later recognized by the award of a Distinguished Unit Citation. When enemy fire destroyed their first bridge, the engineers constructed a ferry out of the fragments and manned it while building a second bridge.
44. 90th Div AAR, 12 Nov 44. During these crucial days at the river General Patton was briefed on every single vehicle or gun that crossed to the east bank. The TUSA Diary for 11 November contains an excellent eyewitness account of conditions in the bridgehead in a report by the deputy chief of staff, General Gay.
45. Army Group G KTB, 10 Nov 44.
46. German intelligence believed that this was probably the 14th Armored Division. The 10th Armored Division was still carried, by OB WEST situation maps, in reserve behind the XII Corps.
47. The First Army commander had argued that further counterattacks would be suicidal in view of the American artillery strength. OB WEST KTB, 12 Nov 44.
48. During the first day the 1st Battalion cleared some woods called le Quart en Réserve--a name which for obvious reasons particularly pleased the American infantry.
49. 90th Div AAR, 14 Nov 44. See also 179th Engr Bn Jnl, 13 Nov 44; 206th Engr Bn Jnl, for the whole period.
50. 95th Div AAR. See also a letter from Colonel Maroun to the Historical Division (16 June 1947), which gives detailed plans of the fort and describes the action.
51. Sgt. Robert G. Bussard, F Company, 378th Infantry, was later awarded the DSC for his part in this action. He assaulted a pillbox alone--although wounded in the knees as he approached--killed four of the enemy, and captured twelve. Sergeant Bussard again was wounded before he could return to his platoon.
52. Colonel Bacon had previously commanded a regiment in the 90th Infantry Division.
53. Task Force Bacon finally included the 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry, the 2d Battalion of the 378th Infantry, the 95th Reconnaissance Troop, two companies from the 807th Tank Destroyer Battalion, one company from the 778th Tank Battalion, the 920th Field Artillery Battalion (105-mm. howitzer), and two self-propelled 155-mm. guns.
54. Hist Div Combat Interviews; 377th Inf Jnl and AAR; MS #B-527 (Britzelmayr). During this fighting Cpl. Edward J. Stepanik distinguished himself as an aid man with C Company, 377th Infantry, bravely assisting the wounded under direct enemy fire. He received the DSC.
55. Colonel Maroun received the DSC for bravery in directing the assault by the 2d Battalion, 378th Infantry, despite his wounds. Maroun's battalion was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for its battles between 11 and 15 November. During this period the battalion lost over two hundred casualties.
56. The capture of Fort Illange and Imeldange broke the last connection between the 19th VG Division and the Metz garrison.
57. A check made by Colonel Bacon showed that the strength of the 1st Battalion, 377th Infantry, had been gravely reduced: Company A had only 1 officer and 42 men; Company B had 1 officer and 39 men; Company C had 4 officers and 107 men.
58. Colonel Hall has given his own story in the Military Engineer, April 1948.
59. CCA AAR, 15 Nov 44.
60. The appearance of the 10th Armored Division prompted OB WEST to give Army Group G permission to withdraw its north wing. OB WEST KTB, 15 Nov 44. The following day OB WEST predicted that the 10th Armored Division was engaged in a concentric attack to join the 6th Armored Division in the vicinity of Faulquemont.
61. See 10th Armd G-3 Jnl, of these dates.
62. MS #B-527 (Britzelmayr).
63. 358th Inf AAR, 15 Nov 44; Hist Div Combat Interviews.
64. In the first seven days of this operation the 90th Infantry Division had lost 2,300 in dead, wounded, and missing. 90th Div AAR, Nov 44. This figure is probably accurate, for the combat losses of the 358th Infantry totaled 748 (358th Inf S-1 Jnl, Nov 44) and the three infantry regiments all had approximately the same casualties.
65. Balck had received permission to make this withdrawal two days before but was afraid that an abrupt withdrawal could not be co-ordinated and would leave a gap between the LXXXII Corps and XIII SS Corps east of Metz. Knobelsdorff argued that his First Army could carry out a withdrawal only in slow stages because communications were so poor. Army Group G KTB and Anlagen, 17 Nov 44.
66. From the 17th through the 19th good flying weather prevailed; General Weyland was able to commit all of his five groups. As usual, the presence of the fighter-bombers cheered the American ground troops. The Third Army Diary notes on 18 November: "This was the best and biggest Air day that the Third Army has had for a long time. The enemy was in retreat. . . The rapidity of the attack of the Third Army caused them to take to the roads. God in all His wisdom having given us a clear day, the fighter-bombers caught them on the road."
67. Chapter IX, p. 444.
68. General Pflieger, who was commander of the 416th Division, is of the opinion that the American advance north of Metz could have been completed in half the time actually taken. MS #B-090 (Pflieger).
69. In a personal letter of commendation to the 90th Division on 12 November 1944. The 90th Division commander was promoted to major general on 15 November 1944.
70. 90th Div AAR, Nov 44.