The Enemy Situation in the Metz Area1
The wide envelopment made by the 90th Infantry Division and the 10th Armored Division north of Metz did not bring these troops into conflict with the German forces in the Metz area proper until the final hours of the operation, when elements of the two divisions were at last in position to cut off the enemy fleeing the city. On the other hand, the 5th Infantry Division and the 95th Infantry Division, attacking close in, fought the Metz garrison forces from 9 November onward. Before tracing the operations of these two divisions, a look at what the Germans were doing on their side of the barricades is in order.
When the September offensive against Metz tapered off into the October lull, OKW instructed General Balck to begin at once to set the Metz salient in a state of defense in anticipation of the resumption of the American attack. However, Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel and the OKW staff gave with one hand and took away with the other. Division Number 462, which had defended Metz so ably in September, was upgraded to the status of a volksgrenadier division and given a normal complement of divisional engineers and artillery, plus an additional infantry regiment. At the same time the officer and NCO trainees, who had given the heart and sinew to the defense in September, were graduated on 9 October and sent as replacements to other divisions on the Western Front.2 The gaps in the ranks of the 462d VG Division now were filled with over-age and poorly trained troops from fortress battalions, sick battalions, and the like, derisively known in the argot of the Wehrmacht as "Halb-soldaten." Some attempt was made to replace the elderly
and rather academic headquarters that Generalleutnant Vollrath Luebbe had inherited, when he took over the 462d on 18 September, with veteran commanders and staff officers.
Early in October a special program for building obstacles and mining was instituted in the 462d sector, although there was no effort to build defenses on the east side of the city, or to supply its garrison against a siege. Considerable indecision existed as to the role Metz should play in future operations: Army Group G, OB WEST, and OKW carried on a three-way debate while the 462d was left to shift for itself. Rundstedt was skeptical about the tactical value of the Metz bridgehead. Twice during October he suggested that Metz be abandoned, as part of his scheme for a general withdrawal by Army Group G back to the West Wall. Keitel, probably speaking for Hitler, refused to allow a withdrawal from Metz; but not until the day before the start of the American November offensive did Hitler specifically order the Metz garrison to hold its ground and submit to encirclement. Balck, on the other hand, wanted to make the Americans fight for Metz; yet he was afraid that if the First Army was ordered to hold the city until its garrison was surrounded a gap would be torn in the First Army front which could not be closed. Contending that the Metz fortifications were "out of date," Balck, his staff, and commanders wanted to evacuate the city as soon as the remainder of the Moselle line fell to the Americans.3 Balck must have anticipated that Hitler would eventually sacrifice the force in Metz, for he refused to send any of his precious tanks or assault guns to reinforce the garrison. The troops added to the garrison during October were mostly fortress units, generally poorly armed and of indifferent combat value. Furthermore, Balck did not divert any large stores of mines and barbed wire to Metz, despite the orders he himself had given for strengthening its defenses.
Originally OKW believed that the American Third Army offensive would be resumed in the form of an envelopment south of Metz. On 22 October German intelligence issued a new appreciation and predicted a double envelopment in which it was estimated that the Americans could use three infantry and two armored divisions, with a total of 1,850 tanks. This analysis seems to have impressed OKW, for shortly thereafter Balck was given orders to
free both the 11th Panzer Division and the 21st Panzer Division for use as a mobile reserve, and the 11th Panzer Division was moved to an assembly area west of St. Avold in a direct line behind Metz. At the end of October Rundstedt asked for a report on the state of the Metz defenses. Balck answered that the forces in Metz were so weak that they could not be expected to contain any large number of the enemy in the event they were encircled. In addition, he said, the 21st Panzer Division could not be relieved from the Nineteenth Army without suitable replacement, and in any case the division could not reach the Metz area before 12 November at the earliest. Balck posed two questions. Where should the 11th Panzer Division be committed in the event of a general American attack against the First Army? Should the Metz garrison allow itself to be surrounded? The first question was answered when the XII Corps began the November offensive a day ahead of the XX Corps stroke at Metz, forcing Balck to throw the 11th Panzer Division in against the XII Corps armor. The second question was answered by Hitler when, on 9 November, he strongly reaffirmed his order that Metz should be held "to the last man."4
When the XX Corps finally launched its attack the Metz fortifications were in little better repair than they had been in September. For example, the water systems, built by the French, were nearly all out of order; had it not been for the heavy rains in November and December, some of the separate forts might have been driven by thirst to capitulate some days before they did. The only works with wide fields of fire, Forts Jeanne d'Arc (12 guns) and Driant (14 guns), remained the key permanent defenses. Some of the other forts had been strengthened by mine fields, wire, and other obstacles, but at best were only strong points on which the infantry defense could turn.5 Field fortifications in depth were well developed only in the sector south of the city, a fact which would have considerable bearing on the 5th Infantry
Division attack in this area. No orders had been given General Luebbe as to the conduct of the Metz defense, except that he was to hold, even though surrounded, and counterattack at all points where the Americans threatened to break through.
The strength of the Metz garrison at the beginning of the attack was probably not much over 14,000 officers and men. Its combat strength was somewhat lower, between 9,000 and 10,000. The 462d VG Division, forming the bulk of the garrison, numbered approximately 7,000 officers and men. It is impossible to re-create precisely the German order of battle, for all of the pertinent records were destroyed just before the German capitulation. The 1215th Regiment (Colonel Stoessel) was deployed on the north flank in the neighborhood of Maizières-lès-Metz and connected with the 19th VG Division at the Moselle. The 1010th Security Regiment (Colonel Anton) continued around the bridgehead perimeter to the west in the Norroy-Amanvillers sector. On the left flank of the Security Regiment the 1217th Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Richter) was deployed in a thin line reaching as far south as Ars-sur-Moselle, on the west bank of the Moselle River. The 22d Fortress Regiment held a small sector astride the river and linked up with the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division a few hundred yards in from the east bank. Other fortress units to the strength of about three infantry battalions and one heavy machine gun battalion were scattered in the various forts and in the city itself. General Luebbe's mobile artillery was limited to the 761st Artillery Regiment, the 1311th Fortress Artillery Battalion, and a few batteries of Flak. The only troops available as reserves in the Metz area on 9 November were one regiment of the 462d VG Division (the 1216th Regiment),6 the 462d Fuesilier Battalion, a crack outfit that distinguished itself in the later fighting, and a reconnaissance battalion on loan from the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division.7 To sum up, the 462d VG Division began the defense of the Metz bridgehead in November with second-rate troops, inadequate artillery, and a force too small properly to man all of the permanent works around the city. On the other hand, the two divisions guarding the flanks of the 462d VG Division (the 19th VG Division and the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division) were counted among the better fighting organizations in Army Group G.
Battle for Metz
Envelopment from the South
8-19 November 1944
The 5th Division Begins the Southern Envelopment
The XX Corps operation against Metz in November 1944 can be broken down, tactically, into four parts: the preliminary demonstration by the 95th Division (which had little effect on the enemy); the wide envelopment north of Metz by the 90th Division and 10th Armored Division; a close-in envelopment south of Metz by the 5th Division; and a containing action west of the Moselle by the 95th Division, culminating in a final assault on both sides of the river. For the sake of clarity these phases of the Metz operation are treated separately, leaving the mind of the reader to make the necessary co-ordination in point of time. Since it has seemed logical to deal first with both envelopment phases of this operation, the scene now shifts from the attack in the northern sector to the 5th Division thrust on the southern wing of XX Corps. The 95th Division, in the center, did not begin any sustained attempts at penetration west of the Moselle until 14 November.
On 1 November the 5th Division completed the relief of the 95th Division and once again occupied the bridgehead south of Metz which it had fought so hard to win in September.8 During the interim there had been only very minor changes in the American main line of resistance. The 2d Infantry Regiment moved into the salient projecting east to the Seille River, thus taking position as the right wing of the 5th Division. The 10th Infantry was deployed in the center and the 11th Infantry held the left wing, facing both north and east. (Map XXXII) The ranks of the 5th Division, much depleted by the September battles, had been brought back to strength by replacements and by veterans of the division who had returned to their units from the hospital.
The general mission assigned the 5th Division in the XX Corps scheme of maneuver was to attack toward the east and make contact with the 90th Division, as the latter circled around Metz from the north, while at the same time maintaining touch with the XII Corps on the southern flank. As planned, the main effort in the attack would be made on the right wing of the 5th Division, aiming at the seizure of an objective (outlined only as a "goose egg" on operations overlays) astride the Nied Française River in the neighborhood
of Sanry-sur-Nied and Ancerville. This direction of attack would permit the 5th Division to swing wide of the outer Metz works in the early phases of the advance. The center of the division objective was some ten miles east of the 5th Division bridgehead lines. Although the target for the attack was designated as the moderately high ground on both sides of the Nied Française, the chief tactical object of the 5th Division attack would be the seizure of the communications complex running through this area.9 An advance to and across the Nied would cut four of the main roads leading in and out of Metz, including one of the most important enemy military routes, namely, the Metz-Château-Salins-Strasbourg highway. Moreover, the 5th Division would be placed in position to block the double-track railroad line between Metz and Strasbourg and could deny the enemy the use of the junction line running to Saarbruecken.
The most important natural obstacles in the path of the attack were the Seille and the Nied Française Rivers. Normally, neither of these rivers would have presented much of a bridging problem, but in November both were swollen considerably by the fall rains. The underlying clay common to this country had caused the 7th Armored Division much trouble in September and might be expected to slow down the infantry and their supply vehicles. The numerous wooded areas scattered through the zone of advance were generally small in size. A few of the outer-ring Metz forts were located on and near the division objective, but the main works would not be encountered until the 5th Division turned inward to advance on the city itself.
Opposing the 5th Division was the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division (Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Werner Ostendorff), which at this time constituted the north wing of the XIII SS Corps (Priess). The Cheminot salient, projecting west into the American lines at the boundary between the 5th Division and the 80th Division, was held by a few troops of the 48th Division. The 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division was overstrength in early November (15,843 officers and men) but had received so many replacements, to compensate for its earlier losses, that it was no longer rated as an "attack" division and was considered fit only for defense. Like the majority of the panzer grenadier divisions on the Western Front, the 17th SS did not have the mobile and armored equipment to distinguish it from the ordinary volksgrenadier division. When the 5th Division began its attack the 17th SS Panzer
Grenadier Division carried a complement of only four Mark IV tanks and six assault guns (an additional fourteen assault guns were promised but these subsequently were sent to the Aachen front). However, the artillery regiment had all its guns, and the division could rely on support from the concentration of army artillery being built up behind the XIII SS Corps.10 Part of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment was held in reserve between Courcelles-Chaussy and Han-sur-Nied so that it could be employed in support of its own division or the 462d VG Division in Metz. This left the German line in front of the 5th Division rather weak and with little deployment in depth, although field works had been constructed for defense in depth. Balck had given strict orders that the XIII SS Corps should employ an elastic defense, in view of the lack of easily defended terrain in its zone. After an inspection of the 17th SS lines on 5 November he reprimanded Ostendorff for the failure to man an adequate outpost line far enough forward. Apparently, however, little change was made in these dispositions prior to the American advance, except to bolster up the line with a few weak fortress companies of infantry and machine gunners.11
On the night of 5-6 November the 2d and 10th Infantry began to remove the mines and booby traps which had been placed in front of their positions during the long period of inactivity. Patrols scouted for a bridge site near Longueville-lès-Cheminot, and the 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion moved up behind the infantry.12 Meanwhile the rivers in front and rear of the 5th Division began a rapid rise. By 8 November the Seille River had washed over its banks and at some points was two hundred yards wide. The Moselle flooded the supply roads in the rear of the division, but fortunately did not wash out any of its bridges until the day of the attack.
The XII Corps attack on 8 November had jumped off with only such air support as the XIX TAC fighter-bombers could fly late in the day. The weather was slightly better on 9 November, however, and the AAF was able to intervene on the scale originally planned for the Third Army offensive. The chief targets for the medium and heavy bombers were the Metz forts, but the air plan called for some attention to be given to the Thionville defenses and the marshaling yards at Saarbruecken and Saarlautern. The Eighth Air
SUPPLY ROADS FLOODED BY THE MOSELLE, in rear of the 5th Infantry Division. Mousson Hill appears on the right.
Force put 1,299 planes (B-17's and B-24's) into the operation on 9 November, 1,223 of them reaching the target zones and dropping a total of 3,753 tons in the form of 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs. Most of the heavy bombers released their loads from a height of more than 20,000 feet. The targets were often invisible through the clouds. At Metz, 689 of the heavies struck at seven forts which the Third Army had marked as priority targets. None of the forts were hit, although some damage was done to the enemy works, wire, and communications. The 432 planes sent against the Saarbruecken marshaling yards also returned with pessimistic reports, while at Thionville the air attack missed all the targets. The IX Bombardment Division dispatched 514 medium bombers to join in the aerial attack, but cloudy weather prevented all except 74 from actually taking part in the operation. Four of the Metz forts had been assigned as targets for the mediums; clouds intervened and these planes were turned to hit the German road centers at Dieuze and Faulquemont. The air effort on 9 November was marked by volume of bombing, rather than by accuracy; it did little to shake the enemy and had relatively small effect on the course of subsequent ground operations. However, the old ally of the Third Army, General Weyland's XIX TAC, better fitted than the bombers to operate in this kind of weather, gave close and effective support to the attacking divisions all along the army front on 9 November, intervening with such marked effect as to delay the movement of the main German reserves for nearly twenty-four hours.13
Although General Irwin had been told that the 5th Division would not attack at the same time as the 80th Division, General McBride had not been so informed. He launched the 80th Division attack on 8 November with the expectation that the 5th would join in immediately. This lack of co-ordination across the boundary separating the XX and XII Corps would continue to plague the wing divisions of both corps for some days. At 0600 on 9 November the 2d Infantry began the 5th Division attack along the line of the Seille,
crossing the river, now nearly two hundred yards wide, by footbridge and by assault craft. A squad and a half pushed into Cheminot, whose guns had held the southern Seille crossing sites in enfilade during September, but the Germans already had fled in order to escape the trap formed by the advance of the 80th Division. The 10th Infantry launched its assault conjointly with that of the 2d Infantry, but its 3d Battalion met real resistance as soon as it deployed on the east bank. Here, in a cluster of stone buildings called Hautonnerie Farm, a German company determined to make a fight for it. When the American infantry surrounded the farm the enemy captain sent out word that he intended to die for the Fuehrer--an exaggerated statement. Within a matter of hours he surrendered.
While the 3d Battalion was checked at this position the 2d Battalion pushed through to continue the advance. The speed of the 2d Infantry advance, coupled with very effective co-operation from fighter-bomber planes of the 362d Group, almost immediately disrupted the German communications and drove the enemy in disorderly retreat north into the zone of the 10th Infantry. By nightfall all battalions of the 2d Infantry, plus the two from the 10th Infantry, were east of the Seille, and the new bridgehead was extended to a depth of 6,000 yards and a width of 5,000. Northeast of Louvigny the two regiments joined their inner flanks, and the 10th Infantry (-) dug in to hold and cover the continuation of the main effort by its sister regiment on the right. Most of the enemy escaped to the north and east; about two hundred were captured. American losses on this day were fairly light, for the enemy had stood his ground at very few points.14
On the second day of the attack the German troops still showed little sign of recovering their balance, and the left wing of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division remained in a state of "collapse."15 The three battalions of the 2d Infantry advanced on a narrow front to the left and rear of CCB, 6th Armored, moving fast. Shortly before noon Lagrew's tanks and armored infantry drove the enemy out of Vigny, after a cross-country march through the mud. The 2d Battalion (Lt. Col. L. K. Ball) of the 2d Infantry arrived about 1320 to take over the village, beginning a hand-in-glove association with the armor which would have a marked effect on the Nied River operation. Meanwhile
the 6th Armored cavalry cut the Vigny-Buchy road. In midafternoon Lagrew's combat team took Buchy, which was turned over to the 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. R. E. Connor) of the 2d Infantry just as dusk came on. The seizure of the two villages opened up the main supply road along the intercorps boundary. The 1st Battalion passed through the lines of the 2d Battalion, then wheeled north, captured Pagny-lès-Goin in a sharp fight, and in a "costly but successful attack" took Silly-en-Saulnois and the road junction to the east. Over four hundred prisoners were taken during the day. On 11 November the 2d Infantry maintained its rapid pace in a drive eastward along the road opened at Silly-en-Saulnois, which was greatly aided by the operations of the 6th Armored Division. At twilight the advance guards of the 2d were in Aube and Dain-en-Saulnois, only a short march from the Nied Française. The 50th Field Artillery Battalion went into position and opened fire on Courcelles-Chaussy, due east of Metz, an important junction point on the great highway running from Metz to Saarbruecken.16 During the day the left column of CCB had swung outside the 6th Armored zone to seize the bridge at Sanry-sur-Nied, thus putting Lagrew's advance guard across the river at a point some two and a half miles northeast of the 2d Infantry lines.
The successful drive by the 2d Infantry necessitated a regrouping on 12 November to secure the attenuated line of communications back to the main body of the 5th Division. In the 11th Infantry sector the enemy had shown no disposition to make any move against the thin American line, and the 11th extended its right flank as far as the Seille, freeing the 10th Infantry to deploy on an east-west line facing the Bois de l'Hôpital. Meanwhile the 2d Infantry swung to the north and Colonel Ball's 2d Battalion crossed the Nied Française River early on the morning of 12 November at Sanry-sur-Nied, passing into the 6th Armored Division bridgehead. While Lagrew's armor pushed out to extend the confines of the bridgehead, the 2d Battalion mopped up around Sanry-sur-Nied and deployed to defend the village and the surrounding high ground. During the night of 12-13 November strong combat patrols from the 17th SS forced their way into the village. Before they could reach the Nied bridge they were beaten off by the 2d Battalion, reinforced by a platoon of tanks and one of tank destroyers. Elsewhere along the 5th Division
front the 17th SS took advantage of the cover of night to withdraw to the north.
Meanwhile part of the 1st Battalion, 2d Infantry, made a night crossing south of its sister battalion and early on the morning of 13 November took Ancerville without meeting any organized resistance. This day brought rain and snow, increasing the incidence of trench foot which was beginning to cripple the 5th Division. As yet General Irwin had been given no orders about continuing the 2d Infantry drive east of the Nied. The elements of the five companies already across the river made up the largest force that the 5th Division commander could spare: though the enemy facing the 5th Division line back to the west showed no aggressive intentions the division was much overextended.17 During the day the division engineers put a treadway bridge over the Nied near Ancerville, thus strengthening the American hold on the east bank. The German troops in the vicinity continued attempts to erase the bridgehead, and on the night of 13 November a composite force from the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment and the 21st Panzer Division drove into Sanry. It was repelled, however, before it could destroy the bridge18--to the great disappointment of the 17th SS commander, who had counted very heavily on the success of this attack. The 10th and 11th Infantry continued to reorganize the new forward line, meeting little more than token resistance and generally finding that the enemy had abandoned the positions immediately ahead of the advance. The 10th occupied two works (Forts Aisne and Yser) in the outer ring of Metz forts south of the Bois de l'Hôpital, and the 11th recovered the ground around Fey, Pournoy-la-Chétive, and Coin-lès-Cuvry which had been abandoned by the 5th Division when it took over the 7th Armored Division sector in September.
In the early evening General Walker phoned General Irwin, complimented him on the performance of the 5th Division, and told him that the boundary between his division and the 95th was being changed to permit the 5th to capture Metz. Further, General Irwin was instructed to decide for himself whether or not to hold the troops of the 2d Infantry across the Nied. The losses suffered by the Germans in the fruitless counterattacks against the bridgehead and the tactical value of the Nied bridges for any future operation to the east convinced General Irwin that the bridgehead was too valuable to relinquish. Orders were therefore sent to Colonel Roffe telling him to hold
the reinforced 2d Battalion in its positions east of the Nied. It was not too risky a venture since the 5th Division artillery was in position to cover the battalion.19
The 10th and 11th Infantry moved north through the cold rain on 14 November against the new German line of defense, while the 3d Battalion of the 2d Infantry marched forward to an attack position near Sorbey. The 11th Infantry cleared the enemy out of the woods southwest of Fort Verdun and farther to the right took Prayelle Farm in bitter fighting. The 10th Infantry made good progress during the day and cleared the southern half of the extensive Bois de l'Hôpital. Since the 11th Infantry was meeting fairly stubborn resistance on its left flank and the leading troops of the 10th now were only four thousand yards from Metz proper, General Irwin gave orders for the 10th Infantry to make the main effort and attack straight toward the city. The 5th Division commander was anxious to add more strength to the right wing of the advance toward Metz and free the entire rifle strength of the 10th Infantry for the final frontal assault. This would leave only the diminished 2d Infantry to cover the right and rear of the division; so he asked for permission to bring the reinforced battalion of the 2d Infantry back across the Nied. General Patton refused this request, perhaps because he was chary of further exposing the left wing of the XII Corps which already was much in the air.20
On 15 November the 5th Division lines were straightened and units regrouped for the drive into Metz. The 10th Infantry, advancing with its left on the Seille and its right battalion echeloned to the rear, drove the last Germans out of the Bois de l'Hôpital21 and entered the town of Marly, where the 48th Fortress Machine Gun Battalion was dug in. Much of the fighting was more severe than in the days preceding. In the middle of the afternoon a battalion of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment debouched from the fortifications north of Sorbey and started a sortie along the west bank of the Nied with the intention of seizing the Sanry bridge from the rear. Checked
by the 2d Infantry reserve the German battalion retired to the north, leaving the Sorbey works unmanned. On the west flank of the 2d Infantry the 3d Battalion jumped off from the line of departure won on the previous day and drove another battalion of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment out of Mécleuves.22 The 11th Infantry, opposed bitterly by fortress machine gun detachments (the best of the fortress troops), captured Augny and during the night pushed on as far as the edge of the Frescaty airport.23
The Enemy Situation in Metz
On the night of 11 November the First Army evacuated Metz, leaving the defense of the city to General Luebbe, the 462d VG Division, and the hodgepodge of fortress units grouped under Luebbe's command. The code word for evacuation was passed to the Nazi party members and officials, a sizable group inasmuch as Metz had been an important administrative center, and they began an exodus toward Germany in their commandeered Citroëns and Renaults. The 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division pulled back still farther from the Moselle, leaving the gap south of the city to be filled by fortress machine gun units. Hitler, now taking a very personal interest in the defense of Metz, reiterated the order to hold to the last man and passed down word that the garrison must be reinforced, provisioned for a long seige, and provided with Panzerfausts and other antitank weapons for close combat.
Apparently higher German headquarters were dubious of General Luebbe's fitness for the Metz command; in any case, he had just suffered a stroke. Keitel told Balck to submit the names of nominees for the doubtful honor of becoming the Metz commander. After much teletyping Generalleutnant Heinrich Kittel, commander of the 49th Division, was given the post and bound by a special oath to defend the city to the last man and cartridge. He arrived in Metz and assumed command at noon on 14 November, while Luebbe took over the 49th Division. Kittel was fresh from the Eastern Front, where he had won considerable distinction as a military governor and a specialist
in the tactics of city fighting. On at least two occasions he had successfully defended a city encircled by the Russians and then withdrawn his command in orderly fashion. Naturally, Kittel was not too pleased with this new assignment. He protested to Knobelsdorff against the injustice of linking his name in military history with "Fortress Metz," which, in Kittel's opinion, was no fortress. Later, with the advantage of hindsight, Kittel charged that the high command never fully comprehended the differences inherent in the defense of a prepared position on the Eastern Front and one on the Western Front where the attackers possessed control of the air and superior mobility on the ground.24
Although the new commander received daily messages exhorting him to hold "each work and each strong point" to the last, there was little interference with his tactical dispositions. After all there was little choice as to the manner of defending the city. Kittel determined to hold on to the west bank positions as long as possible, thus protecting the bridges leading into Metz proper; as a last resort, he would defend Forts Jeanne d'Arc, Driant, Plappeville, and St. Quentin, all of which were fairly strong works and so sited as to deny the use of the Moselle crossings in their vicinity.
Kittel found his new command with less than two days' rations, but on the night of 14 November a train got through to the Metz station with sufficient provisions for two or three weeks. The same train brought in forty-eight pieces of German and Italian artillery, mostly the 70-mm. infantry howitzer type, with ammunition. There was sufficient small-caliber ammunition for rifles and machine guns, but only 4,000 rounds all told for the fortress artillery. The divisional artillery of the 462d had enough shells for three days of heavy fighting. Kittel sent out a hurry call for a labor force of 12,000 civilians to work on the defenses, but higher headquarters refused to take a single worker from the West Wall. Requests for mines, barbed wire, and a small armored assault force were equally fruitless. The plans for the forthcoming Ardennes offensive loomed too large in OKW calculations, and Kittel would have to defend with what he had.25
No sooner had Kittel taken over the command in Metz on 14 November than he ordered a general counterattack to be made on the following day
with a main effort west of the city. Because the 1216th Regiment, originally the Metz reserve, was heavily engaged south of Thionville, General Balck loaned Kittel the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, now reduced to a strength of about eight hundred men after days of bitter fighting.26 In order to regroup and concentrate for this new effort a number of the smaller works around Metz were evacuated on the night of 14-15 November, and in others the garrison was reduced to a skeleton force. Actually, the German commander expected very little to be gained by the countereffort set for 15 November since by now the Americans were pressing in at so many points that the limited reserves in Metz could gain little advantage from their position on interior lines.27 The 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, holding astride the Nied, was not able to disengage from its positions in front of the 10th Infantry on 15 November. The counterattack from its own lines (described earlier) achieved no success. The Fuesilier Battalion of the 462d VG Division, acting as the division reserve, attempted to organize a counterattack in the western sector around Fort Jeanne d'Arc, but failed. In the north the Americans were driving forward so vigorously on both sides of the river that the 1216th and 1215th Regiments could not catch their breath or gain their balance for any co-ordinated riposte. By the night of 15 November it was all too obvious that any general counterattack was impossible. Balck ordered Kittel to prepare new positions in the rear and hold as long as possible at the existing main line of resistance. But, for the record at least, Kittel was told to counterattack locally and wipe out the American penetrations on the north flank near Woippy and on the south flank at the Frescaty airfield. Kittel, however, knew full well how desperate his situation was and during the night sent the last supply convoys to those forts which had been designated for a last-ditch defense. Symbolic of the hopeless state of the Metz defenses, 400 men of the Volkssturm, wearing brassards in lieu of uniforms and armed with old French rifles, were marched by police officials through the night and put into the lines between Fort St. Privat and Fort Queuleu. After one night in the rain and snow these Volkssturm troops were finished.
Battle for Metz
Attack from the West
14-19 November 1944
The 95th Division Attack West of the Moselle
After the 95th Division attack to reduce the Maizières salient on 8-9 November, the main part of the division remained in position along the lines hemming in the German bridgehead west of Metz. Large combat patrols were sent into the enemy lines each night, but no further operations were initiated west of the river until 14 November. By that time the flanking movements north and south of Metz were well under way and the 95th Division could be released from its inactive containing mission in the XX Corps center.
Earlier attempts by the 2d Infantry Regiment and 90th Division to break through the fortifications west of Metz by frontal assault having proved far too costly, General Twaddle and the 95th Division staff evolved a scheme of maneuver by which the 379th Infantry (Col. C. P. Chapman) would execute a penetration north of Fort Jeanne d'Arc. At the same time it would attempt to overrun the minor works in the Seven Dwarfs chain linking the main German fortifications at Fort Jeanne d'Arc and Fort Driant. (Map XXXIII) The final objective for this attack was designated as the eastern slopes of the heights bordering the Moselle in the sector between the town of Jussy and the edge of the Bois de Vaux. Once the 95th Division had command of this ground, only the river would separate it from the city of Metz.28
Before dawn on 14 November the 359th Field Artillery Battalion opened up on the German works with its 105-mm. howitzers and all battalions of corps artillery within range joined in. After thirty minutes of this artillery preparation the 2d Battalion, on the regimental left wing, moved into the assault along the road between the de Guise works and Fort Jeanne d'Arc. Fifteen minutes later the 1st Battalion jumped off in an attack to cross the deep draw east of Gravelotte, the scene of so much bloody fighting in September, which lay directly in the path of the advance to the Seven Dwarfs. The 3d Battalion, holding the right flank of the regiment, extended its line to the north but took no part in the initial attack.
Both assault battalions came under shellfire from Fort Driant and the Moselle Battery during the early stages of the advance, but the German infantry in front offered only slight resistance. By 1100, Companies E and F of the 2d Battalion had worked their way around Fort Jeanne d'Arc and
were on the wooded high ground about five hundred yards northwest of Rozerieulles, well to the rear of the fort. Here they were immediately counterattacked. The enemy, beaten off, stubbornly returned to the assault twice in the course of the afternoon, only to be driven back with considerable loss.
On the right, Companies A and B of the 1st Battalion found the going slow and difficult. First, the German outpost line on the west bank of the draw had to be cut through. Then the attackers climbed down into the draw and up the opposite side, all the while under a merciless flanking fire from the guns at Fort Driant. The Seven Dwarfs had not been completely garrisoned, however, and shortly after 1400 the three northern works, Fort St. Hubert and the two Jussy forts, were taken. Company A swung south and about 1600 launched an assault at Fort Bois la Dame. Some of its men reached the top of the enemy works, but were driven off by fire from Fort Driant and a counterattack before they could pry the garrison loose.
By late evening, however, the situation of the 379th Infantry was critical. The two companies of the 1st Battalion were cut off by a large party of the 462d Fuesilier Battalion that had filtered back into the draw east of Gravelotte. The force from the 2d Battalion was somewhat disorganized as the result of the loss of the battalion commander, Lt. Col. J. L. Golson, who was seriously wounded. Both battalions had incurred a high number of casualties during the day. The only supply road leading to these forward units was interdicted by Fort Jeanne d'Arc, and although artillery liaison planes had dropped ammunition and supplies just before dark such air service provided a very thin link with the rest of the regiment.29
During 14 November the Germans had been able to concentrate their reserves in the west bank sector to meet the singlehanded attack of the 379th Infantry.30 But on 15 November the 95th Division committed elements of the 378th on the west bank in a co-ordinated advance against the north and northwestern sectors of the Metz bridgehead, easing slightly the pressure on the two isolated battalions of the 379th. At 0900, companies C and L, led by Lt. Col. Tobias R. Philbin, began to fight their way across the draw in an effort to pass through the two companies of the 1st Battalion. Once more the enemy took advantage of this natural defensive position to make an obstinate
stand, but just after midday Company C reached the 1st Battalion. An attempt to push on to the final regimental objective was held in check. Company G, the 2d Battalion reserve, was less successful when it attempted to resupply and reinforce the troops southeast of Fort Jeanne d'Arc. While moving along the road north of the fort the column was brought to a halt by small arms fire from concrete field works commanding the road. No approach to these works could be made in daylight without high losses. After dark, demolition details tried their hand but the charges failed to blast open the concrete. However, this experience seems to have shaken the German lieutenant in command, for he allowed the Americans to talk him into surrendering.
The supply situation still was uncertain on this and the following day. The weather grew progressively worse as snow alternated with rain. The only road to the forward companies, that between Fort de Guise and Fort Jeanne d'Arc, was impassable for wheeled traffic--even if it had not been still under interdictory fire. Air supply was increasingly difficult and each time a pilot took off in one of the flimsy liaison planes he risked his life. Furthermore, the entire area was a rabbit warren of tunnels connecting the forts and outworks; the Germans could constantly reappear to block the paths and trails leading to the forward companies of the 379th.31 It was increasingly apparent that the 379th could not push on to its final objective until a main supply road was cleared. Therefore, on 16 November the 3d Battalion was committed in the zone of the 2d Battalion, where it captured the large bunkers at St. Hubert Farm and Moscou Farm, then blew the tunnels leading back to the main forts.32 South of Fort Jeanne d'Arc the 462d Fuesilier Battalion continued the fight to hem in the 1st Battalion of the 379th. General Walker sent word to the 95th Division commander, as well as to his other commanders, to step up the attacks toward Metz.33 But the 379th had been badly mauled, still lacked sufficient supplies, and could not yet reassemble for a final co-ordinated assault. On the early morning of 18 November a convoy of thirty jeeps churned through the mud and reached the 3d Battalion. Contact was established between the 3d Battalion and the 1st Battalion and the 379th struck out toward Moulins-lès-Metz, where a main highway bridge led across the Moselle and into Metz itself. At noon the advance patrols reached the bridge, only to find
that the Germans had done a thorough job of destruction. Poised on the bank of the Moselle, the 379th had left enemy troops at Fort Jeanne d'Arc and at most of the Seven Dwarfs in the rear. However, those German detachments were surrounded and lacked the resources to constitute any real threat to the American line of communications. On the night of 18-19 November the first large convoy of jeeps and 2½-ton trucks reached Moulins-lès-Metz, opening the main supply road necessary to support a further advance.
The Attack by the 377th and 378th
The attack begun by the 379th Infantry in the Fort Jeanne d'Arc sector on 14 November was only the first in the series of attacks initiated by the 95th Division to erase the Metz bridgehead and to destroy the German forces west of the Moselle. On 15 November the 377th and 378th, each minus one infantry battalion attached to Task Force Bacon on the east side of the river, started a co-ordinated maneuver, the 378th leading off with a flanking attack on the Canrobert line and the Fêves ridge. The 377th, on the left, followed up to make the main effort of the division with a push south along the west bank of the Moselle.
Col. Samuel L. Metcalfe, commanding the 378th Infantry, had planned a daring operation in which the regimental front would be stripped of all but a tiny containing force in order to put real weight into the envelopment of the German right flank. On the night of 12-15 November the 1st and 3d Battalions moved north to an assembly area near Pierrevillers, leaving Capt. William M. St. Jacques, commanding officer of the regimental service company, to hold the old 8½-mile front with three rifle platoons, an antitank platoon, an intelligence and reconnaissance squad, and a few service troops. Immediately ahead of the old regimental front the enemy still held the ridge line of the Bois de Fêves, along which ran the Canrobert line with its four interlocking forts; the southern flank of this line was covered by the Amanvillers fortifications. Earlier action by the 90th Division had partially uncovered the northern flank of the Canrobert line by the push into the Maizières-lès-Metz sector. In later fighting the Americans had driven forward along the valley east of St. Hubert as far as Marange-Silvange, which now would serve as a point of departure for the attack by the 378th.
At 0800 on 15 November, after a fifteen-minute artillery preparation, the 1st Battalion and B Company, 778th Tank Battalion, moved forward to attack
Fort le Fêves, the northernmost work in the Canrobert line. The morning was foggy and wet, and smoke placed on the Canrobert forts clung persistently over the German positions. Company A (Capt. G. W. Hunter), leading the assault, was briefly checked when its commander was hit; but a wounded officer, Lt. Leo Prough, led a platoon, firing as it marched forward, up onto the tip of the main ridge line south of Frémecourt Farm and around to the rear of Fort le Fêves. By 1100 this key work, commanding the approaches to Metz from the north and northwest, was in American hands, and the attack rolled on toward the high ground southwest of the Bois de Woippy which was the regimental objective. During the afternoon troops of the 1010th Security Regiment and the 1215th made several furious but fruitless attempts to wipe out the American penetration in the rear of the Canrobert line. As each wave debouched from the German works it was cut down by fire from the lines of the 1st Battalion. By midafternoon the 1010th and 1215th had had enough and were evacuating the line of fortifications in disorderly fashion. At 1600 the 3d Battalion passed through the gap made by the 1st Battalion and when night fell its troops were on the regimental objective.34
The main effort launched by the 95th Division on 15 November began at 1000 when the 377th Infantry drove south of Maizières-lès-Metz into the positions of the 1215th Regiment--now at only half strength. The infantry attack, spearheaded by medium tanks of the 778th Tank Battalion, made steady progress. At twilight the 3d Battalion held la Maxe and the 2d Battalion, to the west, was fighting hard in the town of Woippy--less than three miles from the heart of Metz--where the enemy had elected to make a stand with a battalion of the 1215th Regiment reinforced by the reserve company of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment. The battle for Woippy continued until the afternoon of the following day, when the last Germans were captured or driven from the town.35 During the night of 15 November patrols from the 377th and 378th made contact, and the next day the bulk of the two regiments pushed on to the south.36
The American successes on 15 November not only turned the north flank of the German bridgehead west of the Moselle but also threatened to cleave a corridor straight to the Metz bridges. Furthermore the enemy had been deprived of his observation posts on the Fêves ridge and had lost much of the artillery in the northern groupment around Bellevue and St. Rémy. General Kittel sent what reinforcements he could find to aid the force fighting to hold Woippy, but all he could disengage from the battle along the Metz perimeter was one rifle company of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Kittel sent orders to the 1010th Security Regiment to fall back to an east-west line through Leipzig Farm and Fort Plappeville. This order was no longer possible of execution, for the 1010th was so badly demoralized and disorganized that it no longer existed except as a hodgepodge of little groups retreating to the east in a general sauve-qui-peut. Fort Lorraine, which formed a second defense position behind the Canrobert line, was evacuated without a fight. Late on 16 November the two reinforcing companies of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment pulled out of the Woippy sector, and with their withdrawal all resistance by the 1215th Regiment collapsed. During the night of 16 November the attack of the 377th and 378th had turned into a pursuit along roads strewn with abandoned equipment, half-loaded trucks, and artillery pieces. The following day the two regiments mopped up in the German works which had been bypassed, although Fort Gambetta was merely contained after the failure of an initial assault by troops of the 377th. The regiments then reorganized in preparation for the last stage of the advance into Metz.37
Early on the morning of 18 November the Germans blew the demolition charges on the Moselle bridges west of the city, destroying all but one, which apparently was left intact for the troops retreating from the bridgehead.38 The 377th, having reached the suburb of Sansonnet the previous evening, rushed a company of infantry and a few tanks across the one bridge over the Hafen Canal, which at this point turned west from the river to form a small island. The Americans took some 250 prisoners on the island. A patrol from the 3d Battalion of the 378th Infantry rushed the bridge in its zone, but the structure
ENTERING THE OUTSKIRTS OF METZ, men of the 378th Infantry are shown on the morning of 17 November in pursuit of the enemy along roads strewn with abandoned equipment.
was blown while the Americans were crossing. Eight men who were on the bridge were killed and five who had already crossed were stranded. Later the five were rescued. The 1st Battalion, meanwhile, made a full-dress assault against Fort Plappeville, which lay about three thousand yards west of the river. Fort Plappeville was a well-constructed work with large tunnels and guard rooms below ground, and only casemates, pillboxes, and the like above the surface. Around and in the fort huddled the remnants of the 1010th Security Regiment which had been unable to make their way across the river. About 1600 the 1st Battalion made a rush which carried it up and onto the fort, but the Germans were able to beat off this assault. A second American attack was more successful and all the defenders above ground were captured or killed. However, the battalion commander was unwilling to expose his men to the risk of a counterattack from the tunnels during the hours of darkness and the force withdrew at nightfall leaving its supporting artillery to work on the casemates and pillboxes.
The next day General Walker sent orders that all of the holdout forts were to be contained and not subjected to direct assault. Fort Plappeville was left to the 379th Infantry. The 378th, the 377th, and Task Force Bacon all entered Metz proper on 19 November.39
Operations of Task Force Bacon, 15-22 November
While the 90th Division and 10th Armored Division were making the wide envelopment north and east of Metz, the 1st Battalion of the 379th Infantry and the 2d Battalion of the 378th Infantry, combined as Task Force Bacon, began the short jab from positions on the inner flank of the 90th along the east bank of the Moselle toward the heart of Metz. Task Force Bacon began its operation on 15 November, timed to coincide with the parallel attack by the 377th and 378th west of the river. Since the fight to free the 1st Battalion of the 377th in the Bertrange sector consumed most of the day, the drive south did not begin until the next morning. Colonel Bacon's tactics were simple but effective.40 The advance was made in two columns, moving along parallel roads on a narrow front, with tank destroyers and tanks--later reinforced by two self-propelled 155-mm. guns--at the head of each column,
and with the infantry following in trucks and on foot. The fire power in front blasted enemy strong points along the road. Then the infantry stepped in to mop up, or launch an assault, according to the degree of stubborness shown by the German grenadiers and gunners after they had been subjected to concerted tank and tank destroyer fire. When the terrain and the enemy combined to slow down one column, the second column hooked around the position into the German flank and rear. Occasionally these tactics were varied by a concentric attack in which both columns swerved to make a close-in envelopment of some center of resistance.
On 16 November Task Force Bacon made an advance of four and a half miles at the expense of the 1216th Regiment, whose connection with the 19th VG Division on the right now had been broken. The German regiment was thus forced to fight an independent delaying action with only such strength as it could muster after the reverses suffered in the Bertrange sector. Task Force Bacon was advancing on the west side of a huge mine field, and east of it the 90th Division was advancing. Colonel Bacon, believing that his left flank was exposed and that the screen originally provided by elements of the 90th had not been pushed south to keep pace with his task force, halted the advance with the open flank of his columns resting on the village of Trémery. The task force continued south on 17 November pushing its self-propelled guns forward to engage defended road blocks and bunkers at ranges as short as two hundred yards. At dark the task force columns converged along the main river road within sight of Fort St. Julien, less than four thousand yards from the center of Metz. Colonel Bacon decided to send the 2d Battalion of the 378th up against Fort St. Julien, whose strength and controlling position on the main highway made an assault imperative. At the same time he planned to switch the 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry around past the fort in an attempt to keep the advance moving.
Under cover of the early morning fog on 18 November, the assault battalion moved silently off the road and circled into the sparse woods west of the suburbs of the town of St. Julien-lès-Metz. About 0700 the battalion began the attack east toward the rear of the fort. However, a fortress battalion, which had been sent north the day before, was in the houses and along the streets intervening between the woods and the fort. A sharp fight raged up and down the streets during the rest of the morning; but by noon the Germans had been driven back into Fort St. Julien and the Americans closed in with
tanks, tank destroyers, and the ubiquitous self-propelled guns for the assault against the fort itself. For an hour the heavy weapons of the task force, their fire thickened by 240-mm. howitzers brought into play by the corps artillery, shelled the fort. Under cover of this shelling the infantry surrounded the German position. When the fire lifted, the first assault was launched in an attempt to breach the rearward wall. Fort St. Julien was an outdated work with high, thick walls surrounded by a moat some forty feet wide. From the west, or rear side, the moat was bridged by a walled causeway leading into an open areaway. The first men across the causeway were hit by fire from the loopholes in the enceinte which overlooked the causeway. Two light tanks then were run up to the causeway to provide covering fire for a tank destroyer which mounted a high velocity 90-mm. gun. The tank destroyer crew took their gun to within fifty feet of the great iron door in front of the areaway, but their fire could not breach it. At dusk one of the self-propelled 155-mm. guns was run forward. This did the job, ending most of the enemy resistance. Next morning the engineers sent in to blow up the works with TNT took two hundred docile prisoners out of the network of tunnels below the fort.41
While its sister battalion was fighting its way toward Fort St. Julien on 18 November, the 1st Battalion of the 377th had bypassed to the west and marched through the suburbs of St. Julien-lès-Metz. Barring the northeastern entrance to the older portion of Metz lay another large but outmoded work, Fort Bellecroix. Just as the battalion started forward to form for the assault a column of about one hundred German infantry came hurrying out of the fort with white flags in their hands. The reason for this hasty evacuation soon became evident. About 1400, as the battalion was moving along the street by the fort, two terrific blasts shattered the heavy masonry walls bringing the debris down on the startled Americans and leaving fifty-seven dead and wounded in Company C, which at the moment was closest to the fort.42 The rest of the battalion threaded its way through the rubble. As the day ended, patrols from the task force began to mop up the scattered centers of resistance at the northern edge of the city. Task Force Bacon continued to take part in
the rather desultory street fighting of the next few days and was dissolved on 22 November when resistance in Metz officially ended.43
The 5th Division Drive into Metz
After a general regrouping south of Metz the 5th Division continued its attack toward the city on 16 November. The whole operation was slowed by the inability of the 10th Infantry to make a rapid forward move while the bulk of the 2d Infantry was held at the Nied River. (Map XXXII) In the afternoon the 3d Battalion of the latter regiment pushed north toward Frontigny and came abreast of the right-flank battalion of the 10th, which thus far had been echeloned to the rear. The forward lines of the 10th came within sight of Magny; Marly, the scene of bitter fighting on the previous day, was finally cleared of the last enemy. The 11th Infantry found itself in a hornet's nest at the Frescaty airfield, where a fortress machine gun battalion was deployed, and both the 1st and 2d Battalions were thrown into the battle to drive the Germans from the hangars and bomb shelters surrounding the field.44 In the meantime, the 3d Battalion was left behind to contain the Verdun forts, manned by the 48th Fortress Machine Gun Battalion. These works were finally encircled on the night of 16-17 November.45 As the day ended the left and center of the 5th Division were only about four thousand yards from the center of Metz. The bag of prisoners was swelling rapidly, but thus far the determined troops of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment and the fortress machine gun units showed no signs of abandoning their attempts to hold at each step of the way.
With the withdrawal of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, however, German resistance weakened on 17 November. The 10th and 2d Infantry Regiments, minus the battalion across the Nied, were able to move more rapidly. The minor forts lying in the path of their advance were quickly overrun or found unoccupied, and by midafternoon patrols from the 10th were at the Metz city limits. The general advance was stopped by Fort Queuleu, which the enemy apparently intended to defend. This was one of the old works on the inner ring of forts. The two battalions of the 11th Infantry, aided by tanks of the 735th Tank Battalion, continued the fight at the airfield. At the end of the day only a few Germans were left to defend the hangars on the northeastern edge of the field and the fight shifted toward Fort St. Privat, whose fire checked a further advance on the right. The reinforced battalion holding the bridgehead east of the Nied River began a withdrawal to the west bank on orders from General Patton, leaving CCR (Lt. Col. A. E. Harris) of the 6th Armored Division to hold the bridges while the 5th Reconnaissance Troop patrolled along the west bank. Patrols from the 5th Division had reported earlier that the Germans were escaping "in droves" through the gap still open east of Metz, and this may explain why the Third Army commander decided to assemble the entire 2d Infantry west of the Nied.
All through the night the 2d Infantry fought its way toward the north, prompted by exhortations from General Patton and the XX Corps commander to speed up the advance. On the morning of 18 November the key road and rail center at Courcelles-sur-Nied fell into American hands. General Irwin thereupon ordered the 2d Infantry, now with all three battalions in line, to push hard on its left so as to aid the advance of the 10th Infantry into Metz. This attack had reached and captured Ars-Laquenexy when, about 1945, General Walker phoned General Irwin and ordered him to press straight to the north and there meet the 90th Division, thus cutting the last escape routes to the east. Colonel Roffe, the 2d Infantry commander, detached his 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. W. H. Blakefield), reinforced by a company of tanks, for the mission. About 1030 on 19 November, these troops of the 5th Division joined hands with cavalry elements of the 90th Division north of Retonfey--so completing the encirclement of Metz.46
Over in the 10th Infantry sector on 18 November the 1st Battalion bypassed the 2d Battalion--which was deployed around Fort Queuleu--and entered
MEN OF 5TH INFANTRY DIVISION ENTER METZ on 18 November (above) and the next day (below) conduct a house-to-house search in this city.
Metz.47 At 1140 the next morning the 10th Infantry met patrols from the 95th Division near Vallières, just south of St. Julien-lès-Metz. The 11th Infantry also crossed the Metz limits on 18 November and by the night of 19 November had mopped up most of the streets and houses between the Moselle and the railroad loop in the southwest quarter of the city. The 2d Battalion, however, continued to be held in check by the stubborn defenders at Fort St. Privat.48
The Capitulation of Metz
On 16 November Kittel committed the last of his sparse reserves to defend on the north, south, and west of Metz. The eastern side of the city was undefended, except by the few troops maintaining a tenuous connection with the field forces of the First Army. Now General Knobelsdorff sent word to the beleaguered commander that on 17 November the First Army would detach itself from the Metz garrison and begin a withdrawal to new positions farther east, thus ending the drag of what one German general had called "the leaden weight" around the neck of the First Army command. The last of the German civilian population was escorted from the city by four motorized companies of Feldgendarmerie sent from Darmstadt, and Kittel's command was left to its fate. On the night of 16-17 November the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment made its move east through the narrowing escape route, apparently acting on Hitler's earlier order that no part of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division (already on the roster of units for the Ardennes counteroffensive) should be entrapped inside of Metz. No word of this withdrawal reached Kittel until the morning of 17 November when he suddenly was informed that the 38th had deserted the Metz garrison.49
Pleas for help from all the forts and sectors of the Metz front flooded General Kittel's headquarters on 17 November. There was nothing left for the German commander to do, however, but give orders that the Moselle
bridges be blown and make preparations for a house-to-house defense of the city itself.50 The remnants of the 1215th Regiment were hemmed in around the St. Quentin works. The 1010th Security Regiment, which no longer had any semblance of organization, clustered around Plappeville. The 462d Fuesilier Battalion, having given a good account of itself, had withdrawn to Fort Jeanne d'Arc, where it was joined on 17 November by most of the staff of the 462d VG Division. The 1217th Regiment, its ranks depleted, formed a new line of defense around Fort Driant. The 22d Fortress Regiment had splintered into fragments with detachments in and around the forts at St. Privat, Queuleu, and St. Julien. About four hundred stragglers had been gathered to defend the old barracks on the Ile Chambière.
These last dispositions of the broken units under Kittel's command were based on no thoroughgoing plan, nor was further co-ordination between units possible. On the evening of 17 November the central exchange for the underground telephone system, located on the Ile Chambière, ceased to function and Kittel's over-all command ended.51 A few of the Germans outside the forts tried to make a fight for it in these last hours, but most were content to fire a few shots and then march into the American lines with their hands in the air. No real house-to-house battle was waged in the city of Metz, despite futile attempts to defend some of the headquarters buildings. By the night of 19 November American mopping-up operations were well along. On 21 November a patrol from the 95th Division found General Kittel in an underground field hospital, badly wounded (he had been fighting in the line) and under morphine. The next afternoon hostilities formally ceased--although a number of the forts continued to hold out.52 The 462d VG Division no longer existed. German sources later estimated that the actual casualties in the defense of Metz had been four hundred dead and some twenty-two hundred wounded, about half of whom had been evacuated before the city was encircled.53 But to these losses must be added those inflicted on the 416th Division, the 19th
FORT PLAPPEVILLE, as it appeared on 7 December, the day it surrendered to the 11th Infantry.
Division, and the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, during the fight to envelop Metz. No casualty figures for these units are obtainable.
Since General Walker had forbidden direct assault against the holdout forts, and since artillery ammunition had to be carefully conserved to support the projected XX Corps drive to the Sarre River, the German garrisons were left to wither on the vine. One by one the isolated German forts succumbed. Fort Verdun surrendered on 26 November. Fort St. Privat capitulated with its garrison of five hundred on 29 November, after four American field artillery battalions and three 155-mm. self-propelled guns had shelled the fort.54 At the end of November Forts Driant, Jeanne d'Arc, St. Quentin, and Plappeville still held out, forcing General Irwin to use most of the 2d Infantry and one battalion of the 11th Infantry to contain them. To this extent at least the Metz garrison carried out the orders given by Hitler. Short rations and general
demoralization eventually took their toll even in those forts where determined German officers were able to keep their men in hand. On 6 December Fort St. Quentin surrendered with a sizable garrison. Fort Plappeville followed the next day. Then, by one of the fortunes of war, Fort Driant capitulated to the 5th Infantry Division at 1545 on 8 December--about fifteen minutes before the incoming 87th Division relieved the 5th.55 Fort Jeanne d'Arc, probably because it was officered by the 462d VG Division staff and garrisoned by the Fuesilier Battalion, was the last of the Metz forts to fall. Its garrison surrendered to the III Corps, which by then had taken over the Metz area, on 13 December.56
The credit for the envelopment of Metz and the final reduction of its defenses must be given to the combined ground forces which took part in the operation, since continuous bad flying weather had permitted only occasional intervention in the battle by the air arm. This operation, skillfully planned and marked by thorough execution of the plan, may long remain an outstanding example of a prepared battle for the reduction of a fortified position. However, determined enemy resistance, bad weather and attendant floods, plus a general tendency to overestimate the strength of the Metz fortifications, all combined to slow down the American offensive and give opportunity for the right wing of the German First Army to repair the tie between the LXXXII Corps and XIII SS Corps in time for an organized withdrawal to the Sarre River.57
1. Source materials for American units have been discussed in notes to Chapter VIII. The German sources for the present chapter generally are manuscripts prepared by officers taking part in the operation. The Army Group G KTB contains much on the decision to defend Metz, as does the OB WEST KTB.
2. Colonel Joachim Siegroth's Kampfgruppe, consisting of the trainee detachments and school troops, was awarded a special arm band with the words METZ 1944 in recognition of its battles in September.
3. General der Infanterie Kurt von Tippelskirch, who had arrived on 30 October to take over the First Army while Knobelsdorff went on leave, advised that Metz be abandoned at once, citing his personal experiences as commander of the Fourth Army on the Eastern Front. MS #B-491.
4. The policy of defending all fortified areas, even when cut off and surrounded, seems to have been outlined by OKW about the time Field Marshal Kluge replaced Field Marshal Rundstedt as commander on the Western Front. Hitler had already formulated such a general policy for defense on the Russian front. The theory was that fortifications should be manned with poor troops and arms, prior to the withdrawal of the main field forces, and then held as long as possible so as to contain large numbers of the enemy. Many German generals disagreed with this doctrine. General Zimmermann estimates that some 200,000 German troops were lost in this manner, without equivalent gains. On the other hand there were numerous cases in which the Allied advance was considerably delayed by such tactics. Metz certainly is one such case. See MS #T-121 (Zimmermann et al.).
5. MS # A-000 (Mellenthin).
6. The 1216th Regiment had been attached to the 19th VG Division in early November. It occupied positions on the east bank of the Moselle, just north of Metz.
7. MS #B-079 (Kittel); OB WEST situation maps; Army Group G KTB, 4 Nov 44.
8. The shuttling of the 5th, 90th, and 95th Divisions in and out of the XX Corps lines seems to have caused some confusion among the Germans. A prisoner taken by the 95th Division reported that the Germans knew that both the 90th and 5th Divisions had been so crippled as to necessitate their combination in one division, the new 95th. (At least, as General Twaddle commented, the Germans were correct in concluding that 90+5=95.) Ltr, Gen Twaddle to Hist Div, 17 Jan 49.
9. Irwin Diary; Ltr, Gen Walker to Hist Div, 8 Oct 47; 5th Div G-3 Jnl, 9 Nov 44.
10. MS #B-412 (Einem) MS #B-491 (Tippelskirch).
11. The 17th SS commander was in process of moving troops to make a limited counterattack, with the objective of retaking the high ground southeast of Corny, when the American offensive struck.
12. The 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 284th Field Artillery Battalion had already been attached to support the 5th Division attack.
13. On the air attack of 9 November see: AAF Evaluation Board, Effectiveness of Third Phase Tactical Air Operations in the European Theater, Aug 45; Eighth Air Force Report (MS), pp. 85-94; IX Bombardment Div Daily Summary, 9 Nov 44; Eighth AF Int Opns Summary, 9 Nov 44. Einem, chief of staff of the XIII SS Corps, says that the bombing struck the right flank of the corps but did little damage. MS #B-412. However, General Irwin, 5th Division commander, expressed himself as being "highly satisfied with the bombing and results obtained." Ltr, Gen Irwin to XX Corps, 19 Nov 44, in XX Corps G-3 Jnl. Lt. Col. I. P. Murray, G-3, Air, Third Army, later reported his opinion that one bomb had struck Fort Yser. German records give considerable attention to the Jabo's (fighter-bombers).
14. The 5th Division G-1 Journal gives these losses: 3 officers and 117 men in the 10th Infantry; 1 officer and 37 men in the 2d Infantry (the latter figure is incomplete).
15. MS # A-000 (Mellenthin). The failure of the 48th Division, on the left of the 17th SS, explains the manner in which the latter folded on 9-10 November. See Chap. VII, pp. 354-55.
16. At 1710 the 48th Division was ordered to retire behind the Nied. Three hours later the 17th SS, which no longer had contact with the 48th, received orders to retire to an east-west line generally north of Corny-Pouilly-Sorbey. This withdrawal ultimately placed the 17th SS at right angles to the 48th. Army Group G KTB, 11 Nov 44.
17. Irwin Diary.
18. Second Infantry Regiment; MS #A-871 (Feuchtinger).
19. Two more counterattacks were thrown against the 2d Infantry bridgehead on the morning of 14 November. Prisoners later said that 750 troops had been used and that only one-third of this number remained as effectives when the German effort was finally halted. Second Infantry Regiment. The following units that were engaged in the defeat of the initial German attacks were awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation: E Company, 2d Infantry; 1st Section, 3d Platoon, H Company; 1st Platoon, A Company, 735th Tank Battalion.
20. Irwin Diary, 14 and 16 Nov 44.
21. The capture of these woods forced the southern enemy artillery groupment to displace to Fort Queuleu and curtailed German observation.
22. An artillery forward observer with the 5th Division, 2d Lt. Lee R. Jamison, here called for artillery fire on his own observation post in order to break up a German counterattack which threatened a weak portion of the American line. He was awarded the DSC.
23. On this date Sgt. Richard L. Marnell, E Company, 11th Infantry, displayed valor for which he received the DSC. When his platoon was checked by fire from antiaircraft and machine gun positions Sergeant Marnell crawled along a fire-swept ditch and destroyed two of the German positions with hand and rifle grenades.
24. See Kittel's Personalakten for his earlier history. His views on "Fortress Metz" are expressed in MS #B-079.
25. At 1750, on the day Kittel took command, OB WEST noted "a sudden and appreciable deterioration" all along the Army Group G front--hardly an auspicious introduction for Kittel's defense of Metz.
26. The force under Kittel's command on the evening of 14 November was composed of the 462d VG Division, the regimental staffs of the 22d and 25th Fortress Regiments, three fortress machine gun battalions, two SS machine gun battalions, one fortress engineer battalion, five fortress infantry battalions, two fortress artillery battalions, and two Flak battalions from the IV Flak Corps.
27. As an example, the 462d Fuesilier Battalion had been sent to retake the Bois de l'Hôpital but, before it could attack, was recalled and sent across the Moselle to the Fort Jeanne d'Arc area.
28. Hist Div Combat Interviews.
29. 379th Inf AAR, 14 Nov 44.
30. On 14 November the 462d Fuesilier Battalion was committed in the Jeanne d'Arc sector. Elements of the 1010th Security Regiment cut off the American 2d Battalion. It is probable that the 1217th Regiment opposed the 1st Battalion.
31. The November After Action Reports of both the 378th and 379th continually speak of the difficulties involved in bypassing fortifications during a slow advance.
32. Pfc. Elmer A. Eggert, L Company, 379th Infantry, advanced alone against a machine gun, during the 3d Battalion attack, killed five of the enemy with his BAR, and captured four. He received the DSC.
33. This took place on the afternoon of 17 November. 95th Div AAR, 17 Nov 44.
34. Hist Div Combat Interviews; 358th Inf AAR, 15 Nov 44.
35. Cpl. C. J. Smith, C Company, 778th Tank Battalion, was awarded the DSC for his part in the fight at Woippy. Inside the village his tank received a direct hit. Smith continued to fire the tank gun, while his crew left the tank. Then he dismounted the .30-caliber machine gun and fought on alone until help arrived.
36. Part of the 3d Battalion, 377th Infantry, attacked at Fort Gambetta on 16 November. Here Capt. Samuel T. Pinckney, K Company, 377th Infantry, led the assault until he was wounded and physically incapable of continuing. Even then he rallied his men and encouraged them to continue the attack. He was killed by a mortar shell before he could be evacuated. Captain Pinckney received the DSC posthumously.
37. Company K of the 377th made an assault at Fort Gambetta on 17 November. The company commander was killed and Sgt. F. M. Peterson, a squad leader, took charge, rallying and reorganizing the company. Peterson continued the assault, in which he personally accounted for two automatic weapons positions, and then led the company in a successful withdrawal. He was awarded the DSC.
38. The BBC had broadcast to the Metz FFI to seize these bridges, but the Germans noted no extensive French activity until late on 18 November.
39. 95th Div AAR, 19 Nov 44; 377th Inf S-3 Jnl, 20 Nov 44; 95th Div G-3 Jnl, 18 and 19 Nov 44.
40. Detailed explanation is given in Historical Division Combat Interviews.
41. Ibid. During the action on 19 November Pfc. Walter Low, G Company, 378th Infantry, observed fire coming from a large pillbox. He ran to the pillbox under bitter cross fire, threw in a grenade. and routed thirty-two of the German occupants. Low received the DSC.
42. 95th Div AAR, 18 Nov 44.
43. The losses suffered by the 95th Division in the November fighting prior to the capitulation of Metz cannot be accurately stated. Since the division was new to battle all of its regimental reports tended to overestimate their losses. (This is stated by the divisional G-1 in the After Action Report for November 1944.) Estimated casualties for the period of combat up to 22 November are given in the 95th Division AAR as 281 KIA, 405 MIA, and 1,503 WIA: a total of 2,189 casualties. Enemy losses for this period are estimated as 6,082 prisoners, 1,577 KIA, and 3,546 WIA. The last two figures cannot be taken as reliable and the first is open to question.
44. The 11th Infantry lost 4 officers and 118 men on this date. Although not excessive, these losses indicate the stubborn character of the German fight for the airfield. The 11th Infantry was also suffering badly from trench foot. Company F had only 14 men available for duty. 5th Div G-1 Jnl, 16 Nov 44. See also 5th Div AAR and Eleventh Infantry Regiment.
45. The 11th Infantry After Action Report for November notes that the regiment made its greatest gains by night operations and says that the enemy did not like to fight at night. This latter allegation, incidentally, is constantly made against the American infantry in German documents.
46. 735th Tk Bn AAR, 19 Nov 44; 90th Rcn Tr Jnl, 19 Nov 44. The first detachments to meet came from the assault gun section of the 735th and a cavalry platoon.
47. The 2d Battalion captured Fort Queuleu on 21 November. 5th Div AAR, 21 Nov 44.
48. The estimated losses for the 5th Division during November, nearly all incurred in the first three weeks, are given by the 5th Division After Action Report as follows: 13 and 172 KIA; 39 and 1,005 WIA; 4 and 143 MIA. The sick and nonbattle casualty rate of the 5th Division was very high. Figures for the entire division are not available, but the 11th Infantry, with a total of 380 battle casualties, had 1,081 sick and nonbattle casualties (mostly trench foot). 5th Div G-1 Jnl.
49. The 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment appears to have suffered fairly heavily in this withdrawal. See MS #B-487 (Simon).
50. The First Army estimated on 17 November that the heart of the city could be held for three or four days and that the main forts could be defended for fifteen days. Army Group G KTB, 17 Nov 44.
51. MS #B-079 (Kittel).
52. Resistance ended officially at 1435 on 22 November. XX Corps AAR, 22 Nov 44.
53. MS #B-079 (Kittel). The XX Corps estimates of the German losses in the defense of Metz are: 14,368 prisoners, 3,800 KIA, and 7,904 WIA. See 5th Div G-3 Jnl, 24 Nov 44. It is probable that the German estimates are too low; certainly the American estimates are too high. The formations written off by the Germans after the fall of Metz include: the 462d VG Division, the 45th and 534 Fortress Machine Gun Battalions, the 811th Fortress Infantry Flak Battalion, the 1311th and 1519th Army Fortress Artillery Battalions, and the 55th Fortress Engineer Battalion. See OKH/Org. Abt. KTB, 2 Dec 44.
54. General Irwin credits the fall of St. Privat largely to the personal efforts of the 11th Infantry commander, Col. P. J. Black, who had relieved Col. C. W. Yuill on 21 November. Irwin Diary.
55. The total number of prisoners taken from these three forts was 59 officers and 1,516 men. The credit for the surrender of Fort Driant was claimed by both the 5th and 87th Divisions. However, the weight of the evidence confirms the 5th Division claims. The 345th Infantry had begun the relief of the 2d Infantry but had not officially taken over the area. See TUSA AAR, I; XX Corps AAR, 8 Dec 44; 2d Inf AAR, 8 Dec 44; Irwin Diary. Cf. 87th Div AAR, 8 Dec 44. General Walker had done his best to hold on to the Fort Driant sector so that the 5th Infantry Division could have credit for its capture. This was much appreciated by General Irwin and his division.
56. The surrender was made actually to the 26th Infantry Division.
57. German commanders who took part in the Metz campaign are generally of the opinion that the November operation should have been concluded by the Americans in less time than that actually taken. Such testimony, in part at least, is suspect as being proffered to bolster up the thesis common to many defeated commanders, namely, that their own forces were so lacking in matériel and so heavily outnumbered that naught but failure was possible. However, it is true that the events of September and early October had made the Americans wary of high losses and dramatic failures, such as the first attempt to take Fort Driant, and prompted a widespread use of cautious and slow-moving tactics in which crushing superiority in men, guns, and tanks was concentrated wherever the enemy showed signs of standing his ground. It must be added that mud and rain contributed greatly to slowing the American advance.