When Operation MARKET-GARDEN--the Allied airborne-led offensive against the extreme northern sector of the German defensive line--began on 17 September, Truscott's VI Corps had been approaching the hasty German defenses in the Belfort Gap. But in the ensuing days, as the Allied attack in the north played out its part, Devers, the new 6th Army Group commander, reorganized the Allied forces from southern France into two armies, Patch's Seventh Army in the north (with only one corps, the VI) and de Lattre's First French Army in the south (with two corps, the I and II). The shift pushed Truscott's sector of advance to the north, and his further movement eastward toward the German border was now blocked by the formidable High Vosges Mountains. During World War I the Germans had seized the area in 1914, and the French had never bothered to penetrate there in strength. The heavily forested, rising mountainous terrain gave too many obvious advantages to the defenders. However, as the inability of Montgomery's 21st Army Group to bring the northern operation to a successful conclusion became evident by the 25th, Patch and Truscott hoped that a thrust through the Vosges might surprise the Germans and provide a back door to the German border.
Allied Plans and Alignment
Truscott's plans for the assault against Nineteenth Army's re-forming defenses called for the VI Corps to push generally northeast across the Moselle River and into the Vosges foothills with three divisions abreast.1 The 3d Division was to be on the right, or southern, wing with its open flank tied to the French II Corps; the 36th Division was to occupy the VI Corps center; and the 45th Division was to take the left, with the 117th Cavalry Squadron screening VI Corps' northern flank, adjacent to the Third Army's XV Corps. Responsibility for the left flank was ultimately to pass to the 45th Division when it completed its displacement north,
and the cavalry squadron was to move over to the right flank of the VI Corps where it would provide close liaison with the French II Corps.
The VI Corps' front for the drive across the Moselle was about thirty miles wide northwest to southeast, approximately twice the width along which contemporary U.S. Army field manuals expected a three-division corps to deploy. The corps' northern boundary with the Third Army's XV Corps crossed the Moselle about two miles north of Epinal and continued northeast thirteen miles to Rambervillers and then another nine miles to the Meurthe River at Baccarat. North of Epinal, Rambervillers, and Baccarat, Maj. Gen. Wade H. Haislip's XV Corps faced the XLVII Panzer Corps of Army Group G's Fifth Panzer Army. By 20 September the XV Corps was well beyond the Moselle in its sector and was moving into Luneville, on the Meurthe River about twenty-eight miles north of Epinal. Elements of the XV Corps crossed the Meurthe near Luneville on the 20th, and the corps' French 2d Armored Division had scouting elements within seven miles of Baccarat.
At the other end of its new front, the VI Corps' southern boundary extended from Lure northeast eighteen miles to cross the Moselle at Le Thillot, and continued northeast into the Vosges past Gerardmer, fifteen miles beyond. Route N-486, a secondary highway connecting Lure and Gerardmer, marked the boundary between the VI Corps and the French II Corps.
While Truscott's VI Corps advanced generally northeast to Strasbourg on the Rhine, de Monsabert's II Corps was to head in a more easterly direction. General de Lattre planned a two-corps attack to breach the Belfort Gap, with the II Corps outflanking Belfort on the north while General Bethouart's I Corps undertook to drive directly through the gap to Mulhouse, twenty-three miles beyond. De Lattre hoped that the First French Army could begin its attack on or about 27 September, but Generals Devers and Patch were not so optimistic, believing that French logistical and redeployment problems would push the starting date of the French offensive back to mid-October. Until then, the most Devers and Patch expected from the French were some limited attacks in the II Corps' sector to support the VI Corps' assault.
As was his custom, Truscott established a series of phase lines for the new VI Corps offensive, which was to begin at 0630 on 20 September. Phase Line I lay generally ten miles west of the Moselle and included the forward assembly areas needed for the Moselle crossing. Phase Line II included the Moselle River, the rail and highway center of Epinal on the Moselle, and the rising ground east of the river. After crossing the Moselle, Truscott planned to have the attack move in a more northerly direction, pivoting on the 45th Division at Epinal while the 3d and 36th Divisions swung north to Phase Lines III and IV, which included Gerardmer and Rambervillers. An advance to Phase Line V would carry the corps' center and left flank across the Meurthe River between Baccarat and St. Die. From the corps' forward positions on the morning of 20 September,
it was twenty-five to thirty miles to St. Die and another forty miles from St. Die to the corps' long-range objective, Strasbourg on the Rhine.
On the eve of the new offensive, substantial portions of VI Corps were already on or beyond Phase Line I and were in position to start crossing the Moselle. The 3d Division was to cross in a zone that stretched from Le Thillot northwest eleven miles to a point a mile or so south of Remiremont, also on the Moselle. Once across the river and on Phase Line II, the 3d Division was to continue northeast, cross the Moselotte River, seize Gerardmer on Phase Line III, and drive on to Phase Line IV, supporting a 36th Division attack toward St. Die.
In the center, the 36th Division's crossing zone along the Moselle extended northwest about ten miles from the vicinity of Remiremont to Arches and Archettes. The division's ultimate objective was St. Die. The 45th Division, which had to redeploy from VI Corps' right to its left, was going to be a day or two behind the other divisions in moving up to the Moselle. The division's sector along the river was about eight miles wide, and the first important objective was Epinal. After seizing Epinal and crossing the Moselle, the 45th was to continue northeast to secure Rambervillers and Baccarat.
The High Vosges
The High Vosges mountain chain is about seventy miles long, north to south, and some thirty to forty miles wide. After crossing the Moselle, Truscott's two northern attacking divisions would begin entering the foothills of the mountain range, while O'Daniel's 3d Division, attacking in the south, would already be running into hilly terrain as it approached the upper Moselle. In the north, along the line Epinal-Rambervillers-Baccarat, the terrain consisted generally of open but hilly farmland, with the higher elevations usually thickly wooded (Map 14). Here the 45th Division would have some of the only good offensive terrain in the VI Corps sector. Elsewhere the ground would become progressively more difficult and more thickly forested. From the Moselle to St. Die and farther east, the elevation of terrain slowly rose and was increasingly broken up by large hills and mountains whose valleys served as watersheds for the region. Here the prevailing winds from the north and west brought moisture-laden clouds that fed the dense forests and almost tropical vegetation. Once across the crest of the Vosges, the attackers would find the eastern slopes of the range steeper but more sparsely wooded because of the reduced amount of rainfall. Here, after defending the broader mountain forests on the west side of the Vosges, the Germans could be expected to put up a final resistance along the great eastern passes that led to the plains below.
The road network through the High Vosges was barely adequate for military operations. Most roads ran along stream valleys dominated by sharply rising, usually forested, high ground. The roads traversing the High Vosges from east to west eventually left the stream valleys to cross over high, easily defensible mountain
The High Vosges Area
passes. The few railroad lines generally ran north to south and were used by the Germans to strengthen their interior lines of communication.
Everywhere in the High Vosges the rough terrain, first gradually rising and then falling away to a deteriorated escarpment overlooking the Alsatian plains to the east, would provide the Germans with every possible defensive advantage. The weather, too, would help the Germans. The Allied forces expected heavy rains to begin throughout the mountains during late
September--and in September 1944 the rains began earlier than usual. Rain and fog would reduce visibility at ground level, while fog, rain, and thick overcasts would drastically curtail Allied air support. Throughout the coming winter, as Truscott and many other VI Corps soldiers well knew from their experiences in Italy, the weather would grow steadily worse as rain gave way to snow. In summary, the terrain of the High Vosges Mountains, the expected weather conditions, the locations and routes of the main roads, and the broad front assigned to the VI Corps would make it difficult to concentrate American offensive strength for a decisive breakthrough; and the defending Germans would find it fairly easy to block the limited number of avenues through the Vosges. However, if the Moselle could be crossed and the Vosges attacked before the Germans had the opportunity to solidify their defenses, and before the weather became significantly worse, the prospects of reaching the Rhine at an early date would be greatly enhanced.
The 45th Division at Epinal
On the morning of 20 September, when the VI Corps' attack began, the 45th Division was still in the process of moving north and had no troops in position to strike for the Moselle. But throughout the day the 117th Cavalry Squadron, roaming up and down roads west of Epinal, secured assembly ground for regiments of the arriving division, and during the late afternoon the 179th Infantry began moving into high ground west of the Moselle three to four miles south of Epinal (Map 15). The leading units encountered only scattered resistance from outposts of the 716th Division, LXIV Corps.2
During the following day, 21 September, the 157th and 180th Infantry regiments deployed north of the 179th, and all three began probing for intact bridges, fords, or at least crossing sites where assault boats could be employed or treadway bridges installed. The 157th and 180th Infantry, both closing in on Epinal, encountered the stiffest resistance. North of Epinal--the 157th's sector--the Moselle was generally fordable for infantry, but the German defenders had positioned roadblocks on the approaches to the river, destroyed most of the bridges over the Moselle, and covered likely crossing sites with artillery and mortar fire from the opposite bank. At Epinal, the 180th regiment's specific objective, the river, was unfordable and, eighty feet wide, flowed swiftly northward between twenty-foot-high banks. South of Epinal the unit found only marginal fording and small boat crossing sites, and the Germans had blown up the main highway bridge at Archettes, on the regiment's right.
Unable to find suitable crossing and slowed by German roadblocks, mines, and artillery, the 157th Infantry began extending northward to Chatel, where the Third Army's XV Corps already had a forty-ton bridge
The VI Corps Crosses the Moselle River
20-25 September 1944
in place. General Eagles, the 45th Division commander, recommended sending the 157th regiment over the Chatel bridge to descend on the Epinal area from the north, while the 180th Infantry continued its frontal assault from the west. Truscott quickly made the necessary arrangements with the XV Corps headquarters, and, beginning about 2100 on the 21st, the bulk of the 157th began crossing at Chatel, with one infantry battalion wading across the Moselle near Igney, several miles south, on the 22d. Most of the regiment then assembled near Vaxoncourt, about eight miles north of Epinal, and began to advance south.
Facing the 157th south and southeast of Vaxoncourt was the Bois de la Foresterie, four square miles of forest heavily defended by German infantry, supported by artillery, mortars, and machine guns emplaced along the slopes to the east. On 22 and 23 September the 157th Infantry struggled south through the woods, while staving off German counterattacks against the bridgehead. General Eagles had expected the 157th to make much faster progress, thereby easing the 180th Infantry's frontal assault. Instead, at dark on the 23d, the 180th was still having trouble at Epinal, and the 157th had not yet fought its way south out of the Third Army's sector. The two-day effort had cost the 157th Infantry 10 men killed and 103 wounded.
The 180th Infantry had spent 21 and 22 September inching its way toward the Moselle in the area west and southwest of Epinal, encountering an intricate series of roadblocks, minefields, barbed-wire entanglements, and booby-trapped buildings. German rifle and machine-gun fire covered many of the obstacles, while German artillery, armor, and rocket batteries east of the river harassed the attackers. Late on 22 September the Germans began withdrawing their troops to the east bank of the Moselle, vacating the western section of Epinal; but with small arms and mortar fire they repulsed several attempts by the 180th Infantry to cross the river before dark. By nightfall the regiment had reached the Moselle only at Epinal's northern outskirts.
During the morning of 23 September the 180th mopped up most of the section of Epinal west of the Moselle, but could not prevent the Germans from blowing up the last intact bridge within the small city. In the afternoon the 2d Battalion, 180th Infantry, crossed on the north and, after battling various LXVI Corps elements, drove laboriously up rising ground north and northeast of the city. On the southern edge of Epinal, German artillery and tank fire twice repulsed crossing attempts by the 3d Battalion. Finally, behind heavy supporting fires and the cover of darkness, the battalion successfully crossed the river that evening.
So far, the motley collection of forces under LXVI Corps had managed to stall both the 157th and 180th regiments, but on 24 September German resistance in front of the 45th Division's center and left began to collapse. The 157th cleared the Bois de la Foresterie, made some progress against the high ground to the east, and pushed troops south to within four miles of Epinal. The 180th Infantry, after repulsing an
early morning German counterattack, finally secured Epinal during the day and probably could have driven well beyond the city, but delayed further advances pending the completion of a forty-ton Bailey bridge over the Moselle. Engineers finished the bridge about 1600 on the 24th, and supplies and vehicles started to roll through Epinal almost immediately.
On the 25th, the 157th and 180th Infantry regiments advanced six miles northeast of Epinal into the Vosges, opposed mainly by German artillery and assault gun fire. By dusk the German defenders were thus in full retreat all along the 45th Division's front. But the division's main prize was Epinal itself, a key rail and highway center that gave the Seventh Army and VI Corps an excellent supply base from which to support future drives into the High Vosges. The capture of the city, which Army Group G and Nineteenth Army considered a most important defensive bastion, had cost the 180th Infantry 55 men wounded and 30 missing, while the 157th Infantry, technically in a supporting role, had lost 15 men killed, 170 wounded, and 30 missing during the attack.
To the south, the 179th Infantry, after several false starts, managed to shuttle its troops across the Moselle in rubber assault boats during the night of 21-22 September, and secured an unopposed bridgehead just below Archettes, six miles south of Epinal. On the following day the 179th took Archettes and, only lightly harassed by German mortar and small arms fire, secured the town until the engineers had thrown a forty-ton Bailey bridge over the river by 1330. From Archettes, the 179th pushed northeast into the Vosges toward Grandvillers and by dark on the 25th was roughly parallel to its sister regiments to the north. Casualties during 20-25 September for the 179th numbered approximately 15 men killed, 40 wounded, and 10 missing.
The 36th Division in the Center
On the morning of 20 September the 3d Battalion, 142d Infantry, started toward the river at Remiremont, a mile east of its forward position, while the rest of the regiment moved toward the same objective from the southwest. As the 142d moved out, the 141st passed northward through its rear, covering the flank of the 142d and striking for the town of Eloyes, on the Moselle River about six miles north of Remiremont. Dahlquist kept his best unit, the 143d Infantry, in reserve to exploit any crossing sites secured by the two attacking regiments.
Almost immediately the leading 36th Division units heading for both Eloyes and Remiremont met unexpectedly heavy opposition from 189th Division forces, causing Dahlquist to adjust the division's plan of attack. Initially, he ordered his northern element, the 141st, to send its two unengaged battalions across the Moselle between Eloyes and Remiremont, with one battalion then attacking north and the other south in order to loosen up the German defenses in both areas. If suitable crossing sites could be secured, he could follow with the 143d; if not, the 143d would have to be used to reinforce one of the main efforts frontally.
Thus alerted, the 141st began scouting for likely crossing sites in its sector--which extended about six miles southeast along the Moselle from Archettes--and during the afternoon found an excellent ford at Noir Gueux, a tiny hamlet-cum-church on the far (east) bank about three miles north of Remiremont. On the west bank opposite Noir Gueux a narrow neck of woods extended to the river, affording the only covered approach to the water in the 141st Infantry's sector. As the site appeared undefended, Dahlquist decided to send the 141st Infantry's 1st and 3d Battalions across at Noir Gueux that night, with the two battalions separating thereafter, one striking for the rear of the German lines at Eloyes, and the other for Remiremont.
The units started out from their assembly areas at Raon-aux-Bois about 0100 on 21 September, marching off into a pitch-black night punctuated by cold, intermittent rain. As dawn approached, fog blanketed the Moselle valley near Noir Gueux, which helped the 141st Infantry's leading troops achieve secrecy and surprise. The men of the 1st Battalion waded through the Moselle's cold waters, meeting no opposition; but shortly after 0700, as the fog began to lift, small arms fire started to harass the attackers. Nevertheless, the leading unit completed its crossing and headed north for Eloyes. Meanwhile, General Dahlquist himself had arrived at the Noir Gueux crossing site about 0945, and found that the 3d Battalion had been unable to follow the 1st because of increased German fire. Subsequently an attempt to cross about a mile south resulted in the death of the battalion commander, Maj. Kermit R. Hanson. Hanson had led the first two platoons across the river and then had been ambushed by a company-sized German force that had withheld their fire until the crossing began. The battalion lost 8 men killed, including Hanson, 7 wounded, and about 20 believed to have been captured. Dahlquist, who remained determined to force a crossing and convinced that the German defenses were extremely spotty, reorganized the battalion and finally pushed it across the river at the original site; he then followed it with his entire reserve, the 143d regiment, on the afternoon of the 21st.
As the 143d moved across, Dahlquist learned that his other two regiments were still stalled, the 141st around Eloyes (with one battalion still west of the river and one battalion east) and the 142d outside of Remiremont (with one battalion of the 141st west of the river and the entire 142d regiment still on the east bank). Quickly he ordered the entire 143d regiment north to Eloyes where it blocked the exits to the town on the east, and on the 22d it proceeded to clear the town house by house. Between 23 and 25 September the 143d consolidated the rest of the Moselle area in the 36th Division's northern sector and began pushing into the Vosges foothills.
While the 143d worked over Eloyes, Dahlquist regrouped the somewhat lackluster 141st and sent the regiment south to Remiremont. There the 142d had started its attack on 20 September from a point barely two miles from the town, but after two days of fighting the regiment had
TROOPS OF 36TH INFANTRY DIVISION CROSS THE MOSELLE, near Lonpuet, September 1944.
no more than a foothold in the western section of Remiremont. However, on the 22d, as the arriving 141st threatened the German rear, resistance began to fall apart and the 142d was finally able to secure the town the following morning. The four-day battle for Remiremont had cost the 142d Infantry 42 men killed, 111 wounded, and 40 missing.3
On 24 and 25 September, the 141st and 142d regiments realigned themselves and began advancing into the Vosges, with the 142d shifting northward into a new sector between the 143d and the 141st. The 141st Infantry, which had started out as the 36th Division's northernmost element and was now on the division's right, advanced to St. Ame; the 142d approached Tendon, and the 143d neared Docelles. Behind them corps engineers quickly erected a Bailey bridge at Remiremont and a heavy platoon bridge at Jarmenil. So far, the VI Corps had crossed the Moselle with relatively few casualties and was now ready to move into the mountains.
The German Reaction
Until 25 September the Nineteenth Army's LXVI and LXIV Corps had tried to contain the 36th and 45th Divisions'
penetrations across the Moselle by means of static defenses and local, small-scale counterattacks. These efforts had proved futile, and by dark on 23 September General Wiese of Nineteenth Army had decided that such tactics would continue to be ineffective unless strong armor and infantry reinforcements could quickly be brought to bear. His main concern was an Allied drive directly east from the Remiremont-Eloyes area along Route N-417 through Gerardmer and the Schlucht Pass to Colmar. A possible American drive northeast to St. Die was a secondary concern since it would have to pass through some of the worst and most easily defensible Vosges terrain. Wiese also reckoned that he had sufficient strength in the Epinal area to contain the 45th's bridgehead at least temporarily. Nor was he greatly worried about the area south of Remiremont, where, on the evening of the 23d, elements of the LXIV Corps and the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps were still holding O'Daniel's 3d Division units west of the Moselle. Furthermore, Wiese knew that French forces had taken over the entire region south of the VI Corps, and he correctly estimated that it would take the First French Army many days, if not weeks, to gather enough strength to launch a concerted offensive toward Belfort.
Seeking reinforcements for the Remiremont-Gerardmer area, Wiese decided to throw in the 198th Division, which Army Group G had already directed him to ship north to the Fifth Panzer Army. Wiese prevailed upon Army Group G to allow him to employ the 198th for a counterattack in LXIV Corps' sector. The division was to assemble near Le Tholy, strike west and northwest toward Tendon and Eloyes, and drive the 36th Division back across the Moselle. In addition, a small armored group of the 11th Panzer Division, left behind when the rest of the division moved to the Fifth Panzer Army's area, was to make a number of feints to occupy other American units in the area. The time when American commanders were affected by such obvious chicanery, however, was long over.
The attack began shortly after 1200 on 25 September in the hills southwest of Le Tholy and consisted of two understrength grenadier regiments of the 198th Division with artillery support. Misty rain and intermittent fog allowed the Germans to move through the mountains unobserved, and they were able to infiltrate between the 142d and 141st regiments. The first German strikes hit the right rear of the 142d Infantry, overrunning roadblocks along the regiment's tenuous, cart-path lines of communication, while farther south the German attack threatened the rear of the 141st Infantry around St. Ame. Confused fighting continued until dusk, forcing the leading units of the two American regiments to pull back, but blunting any serious German advance toward the Moselle. As both sides regrouped during the early hours of the 26th, Army Group G directed the Nineteenth Army to call off the attack. During the previous day, 25 September, contrary to Wiese's estimates, the 45th Division had begun to break out of its Epinal bridgehead, advancing toward Rambervillers and threatening to drive a wedge between the LXVI and LXIV Corps. Moreover,
on the 25th the 3d Division had finally established a bridgehead over the Moselle south of Remiremont. It had thus become obvious that even a successful attempt by the 198th to reach the river would leave both of its flanks vulnerable to American counterattacks.
The 3d Division on the Moselle
With the 3d Division eight to ten miles short of the Moselle on the morning of 20 September, General O'Daniel, the division commander, planned to advance toward the river with two regiments abreast--the 7th Infantry on the left and the 30th on the right--and the 15th Infantry in reserve. The 7th Infantry was to cross at Rupt-sur-Moselle, seven miles south of Remiremont, and the 30th Infantry at Ferdrupt, three miles south of Rupt. The boundary between the two attacking regiments was Route D-6, a mountain road that also marked the boundary between the defending LXIV and IV Luftwaffe Field Corps.
In the 3d Division's zone of attack, the Moselle was extremely narrow and did not constitute much of a barrier, but the terrain along the approaches to the river was much more rugged than in the north. West of the Moselle, the German defenses were concentrated in sharply rising ground that was densely forested on the higher slopes and overgrown with thick underbrush on other slopes where available maps indicated open ground. The division's advance would also have to be keyed somewhat to the progress of the French II Corps on its southern flank, which was facing even more difficult terrain.
Starting out from positions near Faucogney on 20 September, with its main effort north of Route D-6, the 7th Infantry encountered resistance of varying intensity and took three days to move within half a mile of Rupt. However, during the night of 23-24 September some of its troops surprised a German garrison guarding a bridge over the Moselle at Rupt and managed to capture the span before the Germans could destroy it. Throughout the rest of the night the American infantry staved off several German efforts to retake or destroy the bridge and, with reinforcements, secured the area at daybreak.
During the 24th and 25th the 7th regiment, reinforced by a battalion of the 15th Infantry, pushed its left flank north toward Remiremont and in the process seized another Moselle bridge at Maxonchamp, two miles northwest of Rupt. By dark on the 25th, therefore, the 7th Infantry had established two bridgeheads over the Moselle, expanded them east of the river, and come more or less abreast of the 36th Division units at Remiremont in the face of only sporadic opposition by 338th Division elements.
To the south, the 30th Infantry had begun its attack on 20 September, advancing south and southeast of Faucogney toward Melay and several other towns on the left flank of the division's axis of advance. Initially it hoped to outflank German positions along the easily defensible Route N-486, the Lure-Le Thillot highway. But Route N-486, marking the boundary between the VI and the French II Corps, was in the French zone of responsibility, and the 30th
Infantry was forced to traverse thickly forested ground dotted with numerous small lakes, but few good roads. The 198th Division, which employed N-486 as a main supply route, readily recognized the threat of the 30th Infantry's advance, and defended the area stubbornly.
The American regiment, in three separate columns, spent 20-21 September pushing south and east, but without much success. By the evening of the 21st, the inability of the French II Corps to deploy any significant strength northward along N-486, together with the 30th Infantry's failure to secure the division's southern flank, began to worry O'Daniel. The 3d Division commander, fearing that the Germans would soon exploit the growing gap between his forces and those of de Monsabert, urged Truscott to persuade the French to take over the area so that he could concentrate his entire division across the Moselle and toward Le Tholy and Gerardmer. But for the moment Truscott demurred, and instead directed the 117th Cavalry Squadron--which the 45th Division had relieved on VI Corps' northern flank--to move to the 30th Infantry's right in order to help protect the exposed southern flank.
On the morning of 22 September, as the American cavalry unit took over the Melay area aided by the 3d African Chasseurs (the reconnaissance squadron of the French 1st Armored Division), the 30th Infantry reassembled near Faucogney to strike northeast across rugged hill country toward Le Chene and the Moselle. But despite redeployment of the bulk of the 198th Division north for its counterattack against the 36th Division, the 30th could make no progress in its new avenue of advance. Rain, fog, miserable roads and trails, minefields, defended roadblocks, mortar and artillery fire, and determined German infantry resistance combined to slow progress. By dusk on the 25th, the 30th Infantry was still short of the Moselle and halted, pending relief by French forces.
The Americans' progress in enlarging their bridgeheads and pushing east of the Moselle had convinced Wiese by 25 September that another withdrawal was necessary. Accordingly, he proposed to Army Group G that he pull the LXVI and LXIV Corps back about ten miles to positions between Rambervillers and Le Tholy. General Balck, commanding Army Group G, agreed with Wiese's proposals, but von Rundstedt at OB West felt that the recommended withdrawal would take the Nineteenth Army's right and center back too close to the southern, forward section of the Weststellung, a section that had come to bear the designation Vosges Foothill Position. Hitler had already personally directed Army Group G to hold the Allied forces west of the Vosges Foothill Position in order to gain time to improve its main defenses, and von Rundstedt was reluctant to challenge the directive without due cause. However, continued pressure from Patton's Third Army against the Fifth Panzer Army north of the Nineteenth Army 's LXVI Corps had already forced the embattled XLVII Panzer Corps back to Rambervillers,
and OB West doubted that its withdrawal would stop there. Considering the situation at Rambervillers, von Rundstedt agreed only to authorize a limited withdrawal in the Vosges, allowing the LXVI Corps and the northern wing of the LXIV Corps to pull back formally to the Rambervillers-Grandvillers-St. Ame area, but insisting that Wiese hold on to the more easily defensible Vosges terrain farther south.
On 26 September Wiese accordingly ordered the withdrawal of both the LXVI Corps and the LXIV Corps' right flank element, the 716th Division. The two understrength regiments of the 198th Division, already operating under LXIV Corps control, were to remain and back up the 716th and 189th Divisions. The rest of the 198th Division was to hold the right flank of the IV Luftwaffe Corps south of Rupt. There the IV Luftwaffe was to continue its successful efforts to jam up the American and French attackers in the hills southeast of Le Thillot. On his northern flank, Wiese hoped that the more difficult terrain that the LXVI Corps was backing into between Baccarat and Bruyeres would ease its defensive tasks. The American offensive could not continue indefinitely, and when it did stop, the Germans could sink into their Vosges strongholds and perhaps survive the coming winter intact.
Wiese's hopes could not disguise the fact that the Germans had already been summarily ejected from good defensive terrain almost without a fight. What might have been a major combat operation for the VI Corps turned out to be an almost routine affair for Truscott's forces. The speed of the attack had caught most of the German defenders still west of the river in scattered, hastily prepared positions, while the more easily defensible Moselle River was left completely unguarded in many places; VI Corps engineers had easily erected bridges over the river in a matter of hours with little interference from German artillery fire. Given time, perhaps as little as a few days, the defending German corps might have easily improved their defensive screens west of the river, covered the river line itself with more mobile patrols, reserves, and artillery fire, and turned the river towns into strongpoints with stronger reserve forces in the hills to the east able to counterattack any VI Corps bridgeheads. But only in the far south was the American advance significantly retarded--as much by the terrain and French inactivity as by German defensive strength. Yet the Americans had only begun to approach the formidable Vosges Mountains, and the northern redeployment of Truscott's energetic VI Corps had been duly noted by the German high command. Once it entered the mountains, Wiese had good reason to believe that he could begin to channel the forward progress of his relentless pursuer and finally slow down the tempo of its advance.
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1. Planning information in this section is generally from VI Corps FO 3, 16 Sep 44; VI Corps Fld Msg 191200A, 19 Sep 44; VI Corps Fld Msg 201900A, 20 Sep 44; Seventh Army Rpt, I, 289-90, 299; First French Army Personal and Secret Instruction 2, 17 Sep 44 (in Annex IV of de Lattre, Histoire, French language edition); II French Corps, Directive for the Relief of VI Corps, 18 Sep 44; de Lattre, History, pp. 182-83; II French Corps, Instruction Personal and Secret for the Commanders of the 1st DMI, 1st DB, 2d DIM, 20 Sep 44.
2. German information in this chapter derives from Mosenthal, "German Operations in Southern France: The Establishment of a Continuous Defensive Front by Army Group G, 15 Sep-1 Oct 44," pp. 16-50, CMH MS R-68; Cole, The Lorraine Campaign, pp. 205-08, 233-35; VI Corps and 36th Div G-2 Per Rpts, 19-30 Sep 44.
3. Later it was learned that the Germans had captured about 35 of the troops classified as missing. Most were taken prisoner on 21 September when Company E, attempting to infiltrate through thick woods to outflank a roadblock, ran into an ambush.