Smoke And Bridging Operations
It had been anticipated that crossings of the Moselle would initially and for some time after establishment of bridgeheads be exposed to commanding German observation. A new technique in Third Army river crossing operations had therefore been planned: a large-area forward smoke screen to assist bridging efforts. The 84th Chemical Company, a smoke generator unit, was attached to the 5th Division on 6 September to provide such a screen. Unfortunately, at the time of the Dornot crossing, the 84th had not yet arrived from employment on truck-driving tasks with the Red Ball Express supply route from the Normandy beaches. Not until the crossing at Arnaville was it able to begin its new assignment.
The assignment was new in many ways. It was the first of its kind in the entire European theater. Neither the 5th Division nor its supporting engineers had ever before worked with a smoke generator unit in a river crossing action. And, like other smoke generator units in the ETO, the 84th Chemical Company had been trained only for rear-area antiaircraft missions, not for assault support. Screening operations at Arnaville were thus to prove a new experience for all participants.1
The 84th Chemical Company was placed under operational control of the 1103d Engineer Combat Group, which was to construct the Arnaville bridges, and under the general supervision of the 5th Division chemical officer, Lt. Col. Levin B. Cottingham. After the 10th Infantry received its orders late on 8 September to cross at Arnaville, Colonel Cottingham instituted a meteorological study of the area, finding that weather reports available from the air forces could be supplemented by local observations from supporting artillery and natives of the region. He determined that the prevailing wind was of a low velocity and from the west. Both Colonel Cottingham and the chemical company commander conducted reconnaissance and decided that if generators were placed at Position 1, about a thousand yards west
Smoke Generator Operations
10-15 September 1944
of Arnaville behind the hill mass on Arnaville's north flank, the prevailing wind would carry the smoke through the Arnaville defile, spread it over the crossing site and into the enemy hill positions, and thus cover the entire crossing area with a haze that would deny enemy air and artillery observation on both the approaches and the crossing site. (Map 4) Being so placed to the west of the hill mass, the generator positions, oil supply dump, and unit personnel would be protected from enemy fire and could be readily supplied along the Bayonville-Arnaville road. Because of these advantages, the presumed improbability of a wind change, and the 84th's lack of experience under forward-area combat conditions, it was decided that no generator would be placed initially at the crossing site.
An observation post was to be established with the Cannon Company, 10th Infantry, on the crest of the hill south of Arnaville. Another was to go on the hill north of the town. Communication between observation posts and the smoke control officer, Colonel Cottingham, at
the crossing site was to be by radio; the engineers had tactical control of the smoke through the control officer. Lacking time for special training, troops of the 84th moved into Position 1 and the observation posts during darkness, 9-10 September.
The 84th was equipped with the new M-2 smoke generator, a weapon especially designed for forward-area screening, and was prepared to supplement the screen with M-1 and M-4 smoke pots. Fog oil had to be hauled by the 5th Division's Quartermaster Company trucks from the Third Army depot at Troyes, some 180 miles in the rear, to the 84th's bivouac area, about four miles to the rear of the forward dump at Position 1. Company trucks were to haul oil and other supplies the last four miles to the generator positions. Originally only twelve generators were to operate at Position 1, but the number could be increased or decreased as the situation demanded, forty-eight generators being available. Assault elements of the 10th Infantry were scheduled to cross the Moselle between midnight and dawn the morning of 10 September, and the 84th generators were to begin making smoke at daylight, 0600, 10 September.
Smoke Operations Begin
Smoke operations began on schedule. By the time the 1st and 2d Battalions, 10th Infantry, were crossing the Metz highway and advancing toward their hilltop objectives east of the river, activity at the crossing site was almost as well hidden from the enemy as it had been when the infantry crossed under cover of darkness. Although enemy artillery fire did begin at daylight, that which fell around the crossing site was evidently unobserved.
A sudden shift in wind direction from west to northeast about 1000 sent the smoke away from the crossing site. The screen rapidly dissipated and exposed the open terrain around the river to the dominant German observation. The fact that enemy artillery took immediate advantage of the opportunity emphasized, according to chemical officers, the protection afforded by the screen and the necessity of re-establishing it.
The possibility of a wind shift had evidently been discounted, for now a second reconnaissance was necessary before new generator positions could be occupied. Position 2, only a few yards from the river and behind an abandoned railroad embankment six to eight feet high, was chosen. A number of men under 2d Lt. Frank W. Young moved four generators to the new site, and smoke was started again before noon. A search failed to locate the chemical company commander and revealed that the troops had abandoned the generators and supplies at Position 1. The company commander was subsequently relieved. With the company executive officer across the river reconnoitering for new positions, the 1st sergeant finally succeeded in rounding up some of his men and organizing details for moving spare generators and oil to Position 2. Inadequately prepared for combat operations and minus a company commander to lead the way, many of the chemical troops took position "only after considerable persuasion."2 The 84th's executive officer, 1st Lt. George R. Lamb, was given command of the company, and the 1103d Engineer
TRUCK-MOUNTED SMOKE GENERATOR IN OPERATION
Combat Group commander was given specific control over the smoke operations. The 5th Division chemical officer was to continue providing technical supervision.
Through the afternoon the smoke screen was maintained by the four generators at Position 2, augmented by smoke pots to conceal the line of generators. Meanwhile, preparations were made for establishing additional positions. Position 3 was set up in late afternoon along the railroad embankment beside the Arnaville-Novéant road just north of Arnaville. Before daylight (11 September) eight generator crews and generators were ferried across the river to occupy Position 4, almost directly across the Moselle from Position 3 on the flatlands some 150 yards from the river. To test the feasibility of night operations in the event of enemy air attack, screening continued through the night of 10-11 September at Positions 2 and 3. The smoke clung low to the ground and hid the crossing site from observation by moonlight. It drifted slowly under a two-mile north wind. Because no night air attack developed, further night operations were not considered necessary. On
11 September Position 5, between the canal and the river and south of the crossing site, and Position 6, between the railroad and the hill south of Arnaville, were established. They were not put into operation but were kept in readiness for use when the situation demanded. One generator was mounted on a truck to move up and down the Arnaville-Novéant road on the west bank in order to cover gaps that might develop in the screen.
During the early morning of 11 September, while the infantry were battling German counterattacks on Hills 370 and 386, enemy artillery fire around the crossing site was virtually nonexistent. Since the smoke interfered with bridge-building operations, someone among the engineers decided that further screening, at least for the present, was unnecessary. About 0900 an unidentified engineer ordered smoke operations to cease.3
As soon as the smoke had cleared the area, enemy artillery reaction was swift and deadly. Two pieces of heavy engineer equipment were damaged, a jeep was demolished, and a number of engineer personnel were wounded and killed. The chemical officer, Colonel Cottingham, acting in the emergency in the name of the division commander, ordered the screen re-established. But during this period and the period the day before when wind change had removed the screen, the enemy had been given an opportunity to lay his artillery pieces; the chemical personnel felt that the effects of the restored screen would have been better had these two lapses not occurred. The engineer group commander, Lt. Col. George H. Walker, felt that "too great emphasis" was placed on the smoking operations. Because "the Germans were well aware" of the bridging operations, knew the terrain thoroughly, and "had already registered several effective barrages," he believed German artillery fire on the bridging sites was affected more by enemy ammunition limitations and other target requirements than by American smoke.4
After restoration of the smoke, control of smoke operations was returned to the 5th Division commander to be exercised through the division chemical officer. On 12 September and on subsequent days until 8 November, the 84th Chemical Company, and later the 161st Chemical Smoke Generator Company, maintained "continuous"5 smoke during daylight around the Arnaville site. Unobserved enemy shellfire resulted in the evacuation of eight men for combat fatigue, wounded seven, and killed two. It made supply, particularly east of the river, a difficult problem. Nevertheless, the inexperienced chemical troops stuck to their task. Artillery liaison planes proved most effective in observing to determine the effectiveness of the screen, and at least three flights were made daily for this purpose. The convergence of the draw and defiles with the Moselle valley near Arnaville caused such variance in wind conditions that often the smoke
ARNAVILLE CROSSING SITE (aerial photograph taken on 6 October 1944). The Rupt de Mad Creek seen in right foreground passes under the lock on the canal near the Moselle River. Semi-permanent bridge south of Site 1 was constructed after the Arnaville bridgehead action.
from two generators only a hundred yards apart drifted in opposite directions; but the dispersion of the generators after the initial wind change on the first day, plus smoke pots and mobile generators on both banks, helped to keep the screen effective. An M-2 generator consumed an average of fifty gallons of fog oil per hour; during the first twelve days of operation 1,535 smoke pots and a daily average of 2,200 gallons of fog oil were expended.
Bridging the Moselle
Colonel Walker's 1103d Engineer Combat Group, attached to the 5th Division, consisted of the following units: the 160th and 204th Engineer Combat Battalions,6 the 551st Heavy Ponton Battalion, the 989th Treadway Bridge Company, the 537th Light Ponton Company, and the 623d Light Equipment Company. Assistance in engineer operations could also be expected from Company B of the 5th Division's organic 7th Engineer Combat Battalion. Initial ferrying of the 1st Battalion, 10th Infantry, in assault boats was done by the organic engineers; the 2d and 3d Battalions, 10th Infantry, were ferried by Company B, 204th Engineers; and the 3d Battalion, 11th Infantry, by Company C, 160th Engineers. Construction of infantry support rafts was begun during 10 September by Company B, 204th Engineers, but heavy enemy artillery fire delayed the work. Only a few rafts were completed before daylight, 11 September.7
Bridging operations east of Arnaville were complicated not only by the fact of dominant enemy observation but also by several difficult terrain features at the crossing site itself. In effect, the engineers would have to bridge two streams, and possibly three. The first was the deep Moselle Canal, 80 feet wide. Next came the Moselle itself, approximately 250 feet wide. There was also the Rupt de Mad, a small east-west tributary running through the Arnaville defile, passing under the canal, and emptying into the river north of the crossing site. (Map 5)
Reconnaissance revealed that southeast of Arnaville, near the junction of the north-south railroad with a southwestern spur rail line, a narrow trail overgrown with vegetation led up the steep dike of the canal to the remains of a one-way steel truss bridge which had been constructed by French military engineers in 1940. The bridge itself had been demolished, and its debris blocked the site. Opposite this possible bridge site was another high dike, but beyond the dike another narrow trail led to the river and to an outlet road beyond the river leading to Voisage Farm. The banks of the river here offered satisfactory prospects for a floating bridge. To reach this crossing of the canal, vehicles would initially have to travel south out of Arnaville on the Pagny highway, thus crossing the Rupt de Mad on an existing masonry arch bridge between the town's main street and a railroad spur that joined the main rail line northeast of Arnaville.
The most direct route from Arnaville to the river led due east through underpasses
Bridging the Moselle
11-14 September 1944
beneath this same railroad spur and the main rail line to a lock on the canal. Although foot troops had been able to cross the canal at the lock, approximately thirty feet of bridging would be necessary for vehicular traffic. But to reach either River Site 1 or another possible bridging site (River Site 2, northeast of the canal lock) vehicles would have to cross the Rupt de Mad, which ran northeast between the canal and the river. River Site 2 also offered an outlet road beyond the river to the Metz-Pont-à-Mousson highway. After crossing the canal, vehicles might turn north along the canal dike to reach the river at a shallow rapids which offered the possibility of a fording site. Engineers recognized, however, that a large amount of bulldozer work would first be necessary
on steep west and east banks of the river before fording might be accomplished. Another terrain feature--later to prove an advantage against enemy shelling--was the section of abandoned railroad embankment about eight feet high which stretched at intervals along the river bank from south of River Site 1 to River Site 2. Because of frequent gaps in the bank, it would be no obstacle in reaching the river bridging sites.8
Initial Planning and Operations
With Company B, 204th Engineers, engaged in constructing infantry support rafts at the Arnaville site and Company C, 160th Engineers, still busy in the vicinity of the Dornot bridgehead, the remainder of the 1103d Engineer Combat Group9 on 10 September made plans for its bridging operations and assembled materials and construction equipment west of Arnaville. Actual bridging operations were not to begin until the night of 10-11 September.
The initial engineer plan envisioned construction by Company B, 204th Engineers, of a double treadway bridge across the canal at the lock. A second thirty-foot section would be required across the Rupt de Mad in order to give access to the river. Concurrently the 537th Light Ponton Company was to remove the demolished steel truss bridge at the southern canal bridge site and erect a Bailey bridge. As soon as equipment could cross the canal, the 989th Treadway Bridge Company, assisted by Company B, 160th Engineers, was to erect a treadway bridge at River Site 1, while Headquarters Company, 204th Engineers, conducted bulldozer operations to level the banks at the fording site. Company A, 204th Engineers, was to relieve Company B, 204th, of its ferry responsibilities. The remainder of the engineer group would be called upon as needed.
Heavy enemy artillery fire met the engineers as they began their work, but not long after midnight (10-11 September) Company B, 204th Engineers, had placed the double treadway span across the canal at the lock and had begun work on a treadway section across the Rupt de Mad. Meanwhile, Headquarters Company, 204th, moved to the fording site and began to level the high riverbanks. Despite intense artillery fire, which killed two bulldozer operators, the ford was pronounced ready for vehicles at approximately 1030, 11 September.
As the 537th Light Ponton Company was moving from Arnaville toward the southern canal bridge site, enemy artillery fire demolished the masonry span across the Rupt de Mad just south of Arnaville's main street. Receiving a change in orders, the 537th began construction of a double-double Bailey bridge to replace the masonry span across the tributary stream. Although enemy artillery fire continued to be heavy on Arnaville, only two vehicles were damaged and no personnel casualties resulted. The bridge was completed by 1500, 11 September.
DOUBLE TREADWAY SPAN ACROSS THE MOSELLE CANAL placed by Company B, 204th Engineers. Remains of one-way steel truss bridge can be seen in background.
Not long after 0200 (11 September) Company B, 204th Engineers, completed the small section of treadway bridge necessary across the Rupt de Mad near the canal lock and began moving equipment and bridging materials for the erection of a treadway bridge at River Site 1. Work had been in progress for an hour when about dawn severe enemy artillery fire wounded several men and damaged eight pneumatic floats. Another heavy shelling almost an hour later halted work while the men took cover behind the abandoned railroad embankment. When work was resumed, still under a smoke screen, enemy artillery reaction was virtually nonexistent. It was at this time (about 0900) that some unidentified engineer, evidently hoping to speed construction, ordered that the 84th Chemical Company cease its smoke operations. German artillery reacted almost as soon as the smoke cleared away. An air compressor and a Brockway truck were damaged, and a quarter-ton truck was demolished by a direct hit. Approximately eight engineers were wounded, and six were killed. Shells continued to fall at five- to ten-minute intervals, and the company was withdrawn to a position of safety west of Arnaville.10
Armor Crosses at the Ford
Until 11 September the 735th Tank Battalion had been waiting in a forward assembly area west of Arnaville for completion of a bridge across the Moselle. Although the 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion had entered the action with fire support from its Company B in positions atop the high hills flanking Arnaville, the tank destroyers also were awaiting a bridge to cross the river and join actively in the bridgehead fight. At 1030 on 11 September when Headquarters Company, 204th Engineers, completed leveling the banks at the fording site north of the bridging sites, it seemed likely that armored elements might at last join the battle. The floor of the river at the ford was of gravel and most of the stream was not over two feet deep. Near the far shore, however, a sixty-foot channel was found where the depth was from four to four and a half feet, a dangerous, even critical, depth for armor. Seeking to lower the water level, supporting artillery units attempted to puncture a dam across the Moselle south of Ars-sur-Moselle to the north while engineers worked to lay sections of treadway bridge on the river bottom in the deep channel.
The dam had not been broken by 1500. Nevertheless the 1st and 2d Platoons of the 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion began to hazard the crossing. Movement was slow and exasperating. Almost every time a vehicle crossed, the treadway sections on the bottom had to be repaired. At one time enemy artillery fire literally blasted the treadway sections out of the river. One tank destroyer
was hit and disabled by artillery fire, and by 1630 only six destroyers were across the Moselle. Tanks of Company B, 735th Tank Battalion, next attempted the crossing and met with more success; only six tanks crossed under their own power, but three that stalled were towed the remaining distance.
Since artillery had failed to puncture the dam south of Ars-sur-Moselle, P-47's of the 492d Squadron, 48th Group, gave it their attention. They scored a hit about 1830, blasting a big hole in the dam and lowering the water level seven inches at the ford. By early the next morning (12 September) the remainder of Company B, 735th Tank Battalion, and two platoons of Company B, 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion, were able to cross the river and move into assembly areas behind Hills 369 and 370, east of the Metz highway.11
Bridging Efforts Continued
When efforts at constructing a treadway bridge across the Moselle at River Site 1 were postponed in early morning of 11 September because of enemy shelling, the only bridgebuilding activity in the Arnaville vicinity through midday was that of the 537th Light Ponton Company. By 1500 it finished construction of a double-double Bailey bridge across the Rupt de Mad just south of Arnaville's main street. Headquarters Company, 204th Engineers, was working at the ford in its efforts to cross tank destroyers and tanks, and Company A, 204th, was assisting Company B, 7th Engineers, with infantry support rafts at two ferry points south and north of the original assault crossing site.
In late afternoon (11 September) work on a treadway bridge across the river was ordered resumed, this time at River Site 2. Two companies were assigned the task: Company B, 160th Engineers, and the 989th Treadway Bridge Company. Both were under the supervision of the 160th Engineer Combat Battalion commander, Maj. Thomas L. Howard. The engineer group commander, Colonel Walker, was present at the site throughout the night and until about noon the next day.
Working under concealment provided first by the smoke generators and then by early darkness, the engineers had succeeded by approximately 2100 in completing a third of the bridge when enemy artillery again showered the area. Several engineers were wounded, and work was halted twenty minutes for reorganization and for testing equipment. Operations had hardly been resumed when the enemy fire began again, wounding several men. While the engineers sought cover behind the abandoned railroad embankment, Colonel Walker sent a messenger to the 10th Infantry command post requesting counterbattery fire, only to learn later that the messenger failed to locate the command post. When work was resumed after about twenty minutes, five or six shells landed some fifty yards away. They failed to interrupt work at the site but knocked out one of two engineer powerboats with a direct hit. The boat's operator was never found. As an order went back for the third and last
powerboat to be brought forward, the only crane on the bridge site was damaged by another shelling which again forced engineer withdrawal behind the railroad bank. Again the shelling stopped, again equipment was tested preparatory to resuming work, and again enemy projectiles hit the area. While the engineers waited under cover, Colonel Walker went personally to the 10th Infantry CP and requested counterbattery artillery fire. Both the 10th Infantry commander, Colonel Bell, and his artillery officer, Colonel Johnson, wanted to do what they could, but demands on limited artillery ammunition by the infantry in the bridgehead and the engineer commander's inability to give information on location of enemy batteries doing the firing negated his request.
On his return to the bridge site, Colonel Walker found that enemy artillery was still taking effect. About 0200 at least one enemy self-propelled gun fired some ten to fifteen rounds of direct fire into the embankment and the canal dike. An hour later enemy artillery fire was blanketing the area at frequent intervals. Deciding that it was pointless to retain the engineers at the river when there was no hope of using the necessary machinery, Colonel Walker ordered their withdrawal to Arnaville. He and another engineer officer remained at the site.
Thus engineer activities around the crossing site came to a temporary halt. The hard-pressed bridgehead still lacked a vehicular bridge. There was feeling among infantry commanders that despite the difficulties involved the engineers were not pressing their work sufficiently. General Irwin himself had ordered that a bridge be completed the night of 10-11 September "at all costs"12 but noted privately that the "best hope is to have a ford in by daylight and possibly a treadway bridge."13 On 11 September not even the ford was usable until midafternoon. On this date General Irwin noted: "Engineers at bridge not well coordinated."14 The 10th Infantry S-3 journal noted later in the day of 12 September "deficiencies by the engineers in getting the bridge ready for use." Whatever the criticisms, the two engineer companies that had been working the night of 11-12 September had been hard hit by the severe enemy shelling. They had lost not only personnel but vital equipment, of which there was an acute shortage in Third Army during this period. Although the engineer group commander felt keenly his responsibility to the infantry, he also believed it unwarranted to commit his personnel and equipment recklessly, thus inviting an ultimate delay that might prove far more costly than a temporary delay.15
German Counterattacks--12 September
As engineer activity around the Arnaville crossing site came to a halt in early morning of 12 September, preparations begun by the enemy the night before for a continuation of his counterattacks against the bridgehead's infantry suddenly
erupted in artillery, armor, and ground action all along the line. Early warning of enemy intentions had come the night before when a platoon of German tanks took position beyond bazooka range on Hill 325 and directed 20-mm. and machine gun fire against Company F in the edge of the Bois de Gaumont. (Map 6) While harassment of Company F continued sporadically through the night, men of Company A on Hill 386 could hear enemy troop movement several hundred yards in front of them. S. Sgt. Leslie W. Griffin crawled forward of the company's lines with a telephone and directed artillery fire against the sounds. The movement ceased, but tanks could be heard at intervals through the night on the Arry-Lorry road.
About 0300 (12 September) a preparatory mortar and artillery barrage began in front of both the 1st and 2d Battalion lines. Moving forward in hundred-yard jumps, the barrage rolled across the crests to the reverse slopes, subjecting the defenders to the heaviest fire they had yet encountered in the bridgehead. The first counterattack, a well co-ordinated night attack, hit Company A on Hill 386 at approximately 0330. When the company heard the enemy forming up some one hundred yards in front of its lines, Lieutenant Dutko, the forward artillery observer, called for fire. Although the artillery cut into the rear of the attackers, causing some disorganization, the attack had already moved in under this fire, hitting primarily against the 1st Platoon in the company's center. Stationing S. Sgt. Carmine F. D'Anillo with an automatic rifle near the 3d Platoon on the left and a light machine gunner and a bazooka team on the right beside the 2d Platoon, Lieutenant Hallowell, commanding the company, ordered the 1st Platoon to withdraw about 150 yards. Even as Company D's heavy machine guns on Company A's left flank fired into the flank of the German attack, the enemy troops moved into the 1st Platoon's positions. Sergeant D'Anillo opened fire with his automatic rifle and the light machine gunner and bazooka team on the right joined in. D'Anillo continued firing even after four men with him became casualties and he himself was hit in the stomach. Supported by this fire, the 1st Platoon, aided by some men of the flank platoons, stormed back into its positions. The German attack was broken.
The attack against Company A had been made by two enemy companies newly equipped and well armed with automatic weapons. Company A found fourteen machine guns and other automatic weapons in the area. Most of the attackers were killed and few prisoners taken except the wounded, and many wounded refused to surrender as long as they had weapons. Company A had sustained twenty-five casualties. The attack was evidently to have been supported by tanks attacking from Arry, but supporting artillery and 57-mm. antitank guns kept the town covered, and no tank effort developed.16
On the left flank of the bridgehead the enemy counterattack was a little later getting started and was primarily a tank attack. Two platoons of tanks and a company of infantry were detected about
12 September 1944
0400 moving in from the direction of Vezon against the 2d Battalion elements on the left portion of Hill 370. Heavy protective fire from west of the river from artillery, tank destroyers, and Cannon Company, 10th Infantry, was laid on the Germans before they could get close to the lines, and the attack was stopped.
About an hour later, four enemy tanks moved in against Company L, 11th Infantry, now on the lower slopes of Hill 325 to the left of Company F. After the tanks had fired about a dozen scattered rounds against 10th Infantry positions in the Bois de Gaumont and against the bridge site, Company L's bazooka men opened fire. When one tank was hit, although not knocked out, the four withdrew. Farther down on the slope a platoon of tanks, led by a half-track, moved in against the outposts established by the Reconnaissance and Ammunition and Pioneer Platoons of the 3d Battalion, 11th Infantry. The half-track bogged down on the muddy slope and bazooka men fired at the tanks; thereupon the enemy abandoned the half-track and the tanks withdrew.
On the extreme left flank of the bridgehead, the positions of Company B, 11th Infantry, in the buildings around a brick factory in the southern edge of Corny, were hit about the same time, just before daylight. At 0530 Company B reported the approach of a platoon of infantry accompanied by four tanks, presumably those whose earlier attack had been thwarted by the bogged half-track. The company reported that it had only one bazooka and that even though the infantry could be stopped the tanks might break through. Major Birdsong, the battalion commander, therefore sent his orderly, Pfc. Harry Saghbazarian, on foot to the tank destroyer assembly area north of Voisage Farm to guide tank destroyers into firing positions against the threat.
Spearheading the attack, the four enemy tanks passed through the Company B positions. One of the 3d Battalion's 57-mm. antitank guns, manned by 1st Lt. Mitchell J. Hazam and S. Sgt. Cline Bills, opened fire on the lead tank and set it ablaze. The second German tank returned the fire, knocking out both the crew and the antitank gun and forcing the other antitank gun crews to take cover. As the three remaining enemy tanks continued to advance, the tank destroyers of Company B, 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion, reached firing positions, fired, knocked out one of the three tanks, and damaged another. Meanwhile, Company B, 11th Infantry, had held its small arms fire and allowed the enemy infantry to get into its positions. On signal the men opened fire from their covered positions in the houses, catching the German infantry in a deadly cross fire. Twenty-three Germans were killed, seven wounded, and twenty-eight captured. The two remaining enemy tanks (one of them damaged) raced back through the company's positions. Although Pfc. Walter A. Andrews, Company B, shot the commander of one of the tanks through the tank's open turret, both tanks escaped into Corny and hid through the day and night. The next morning when one tried to escape on the Metz highway to the north it was set on fire by tank destroyers firing from west of the river. Later the remaining tank, previously damaged by the 818th's destroyers, was found abandoned in Corny. The Germans had been beaten back but not without cost; in its right flank platoon
Company B had lost the platoon leader and eighteen men, missing in action.17
Although heavy enemy shelling, most of it against the reserve positions around Voisage Farm and on the reverse slopes of the hills, continued for almost an hour, by 0800 (12 September) the third major counterattack against the Moselle bridgehead had been defeated. Prisoners taken were from the 282d Infantry Battalion, a separate machine gun battalion, a supporting tank battalion (103d), the 115th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, which had moved into the area the day before, and the 17th SS and 3d Panzer Grenadier Divisions. That night the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division began a move south to the Nancy sector, leaving the burden of the Arnaville fight to the 17th SS and elements of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division. The Americans knew nothing of the 15th's shift at the time. A belief prevalent among both 5th Division and CCB personnel that they were fighting the elite troops of the Metz military schools is not borne out by German records. These school troops were in the German "bridgehead" west of Metz surrounding Forts Driant, Marival, and Jeanne d'Arc and were being engaged by the 2d Infantry and other elements of the 7th Armored Division. Some were north of Metz fighting the 90th Infantry Division. All were under Division Number 462. Not until after the Arnaville bridgehead was secure did any of these school troops enter the American bridgehead battles south of Metz, except for one battalion of signal school troops (SS Signal School Metz) which fought against the 2d Battalion of the 11th Infantry opposite Dornot. (Replacement battalions in the area, though originally under Division Number 462, were not school troops.) Not that the Arnaville bridgehead was being opposed by inferior German troops: the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division had been refitted and its combat value considerably increased; the 3d and 5th Panzer Grenadier Divisions had nuclei of elite personnel and even at this period carried a German classification in general combat effectiveness of II--better than average.18
Plans To Expand the Bridgehead
At daylight on 12 September the force still available to General Irwin for strengthening his Arnaville bridgehead seemed at first glance sufficient. But strings were attached to it. The 1st Battalion, 11th Infantry, which had not yet crossed, was actually already committed in holding the division's north flank north of Dornot, and its Companies B and C were attached to the 3d Battalion in the bridgehead. The 3d Battalion's Companies I and K could not be considered fair exchange because of the battering they had received at Dornot. Although the 2d Battalion, 11th Infantry, still had not crossed, it too had been ravaged in the Dornot battle and was far from reconstituted. Furthermore, it was the division's only infantry reserve.
There remained CCB, 7th Armored Division, which was alerted to cross the moment a bridge could be completed. General Irwin was alarmed about the lack of infantry to support the combat command, for the unit's 23d Armored Infantry Battalion had been reduced almost to a cipher in the Dornot fighting. In addition, the 5th Division commander could count on Companies C and D, 735th Tank Battalion, and Company C, 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion. (The A Companies of both units were attached to the 2d Infantry Combat Team which was attached to the 7th Armored Division in its fight to contain the enemy west of Metz.) With his division short approximately 60 officers and 1,600 riflemen, General Irwin asked for additional reinforcements. The XX Corps commander, General Walker, considered briefly a plan to aid the 5th Division by leaving the 2d Infantry alone to continue the attack west of Metz and sending CCA, 7th Armored Division, to the bridgehead; but the 7th Armored Division commander advised that it would take more than one infantry combat team to contain these German forces. Therefore, XX Corps had to turn to a plan for wider reshuffling all along the corps front.
Meanwhile, General Irwin tried to make arrangements with the 4th Armored Division, which had moved up to the river at Pagny-sur-Moselle, south of Arnaville, for mutual support that would include a crossing by the 4th Armored at Pagny. Late on 11 September the 4th Armored agreed to cross in conjunction with an attack by 5th Division elements to break through Arry and take Hill 385 to the southeast opposite the proposed Pagny crossing. General Irwin accordingly laid plans for this attack, but at 0400 of 12 September the 4th Armored sent word that it had to delay its crossing for twenty-four hours. Throughout that day, the shortage of infantry stymied any plans to break out of the Arnaville bridgehead.19
Reinforcements for the Bridgehead
Colonel Walker, the engineer group commander, had evacuated all engineer personnel from the Arnaville bridge site at 0300 the morning of 12 September. Two and a half hours later, noting that enemy artillery fire had lessened, he ordered that construction begin again on a treadway bridge at River Site 2. (See Map 5.) The 989th Treadway Bridge Company, this time assisted by Company C, 204th Engineers, and one platoon of Company C, 160th Engineers, resumed work at 0800. The delay occurred because no troops had been kept on construction alert after the earlier withdrawal. Artillery fire had dwindled to occasional shelling in the near vicinity, and the engineers sustained no casualties. By 1230 (12 September), some fifty-eight hours after the infantry had begun their crossing, a treadway bridge at last spanned the Moselle. Concurrently the 537th Light Ponton Company's Footbridge Section combined assault boats and support rafts into a footbridge to facilitate evacuation of walking wounded.20
Ten minutes after the treadway bridge was completed at River Site 2, tanks of Company C, 735th Tank Battalion,
TREADWAY BRIDGE AT RIVER SITE 2. Haze in background is from smoke operations.
began moving over it into the bridgehead. The remaining platoon of Company B and the 3d Platoon, Company C, 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion, followed, while the other two platoons of Company C, 818th, maintained firing positions on the west-bank hills flanking Arnaville. After the destroyers came Companies A, B, and C of CCB's 31st Tank Battalion. They moved into an assembly area behind wooded Hill 370 east of the Metz highway. CCB's tank destroyer support, Company B, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion, followed soon after.
The confined bridgehead was almost bursting with uncommitted armor (five medium tank companies, seven self-propelled tank destroyer platoons), but infantry support to enlarge the maneuver area was not available. CCB's 23d Armored Infantry Battalion was still too weak from its Dornot fight for commitment, as was the 2d Battalion, 11th Infantry; and the 1st Battalion, 11th Infantry, was holding a defensive position north of Dornot protecting the division's north flank. The infantry already in the bridgehead possessed a reserve in the 3d Battalion, 10th Infantry. To commit it despite the battered condition of the 1st and 2d Battalions, 10th Infantry, in an attack which would further extend the infantry lines seemed inadvisable. The Germans were still punishing the area with shellfire from an arc of approximately 210 degrees. They still held the dominant terrain feature in the area, Hill 396; the battered village of Arry; almost all of the north-flank town, Corny; and the bare slopes of Hill 325. On the night of 12-13 September the enemy used his advantages profitably, plastering the bridgehead with artillery fire that took inevitable toll among personnel of the bunched armored units on the flatlands along the Metz highway.21
Supporting the Bridgehead
The thirteen field artillery battalions charged with support of the bridgehead fired, during 12 September, a total of 5,733 rounds, almost as much as on the opening day of the attack.22 No doubt a large portion of this fire was directed at repelling the fierce counterattacks of early morning. In comparison with the weight of American shelling, however, General Irwin noted that "Boche artillery has actually had superiority today due to our ammunition restrictions, and has fired over whole area all day long." Planes of the 371st Fighter Bomber Group, XIX Tactical Air Command, taking advantage of another cool, clear day with good visibility, augmented American artillery throughout the day, causing General Irwin to comment: "Air furnished splendid support today and has been of greatest value. It cooperates quickly and efficiently, and has uncanny ability to find targets, both from our designations and its own." Major missions included bombing gun positions at Mardigny, southeast of Arry, strafing tanks and infantry between Marieulles and Fey, and bombing the Verdun forts, Sommy and St. Blaise, all by P-47's of the 406th Squadron, 371st Group. One plane and pilot were lost.23
Infantry, tank destroyers, and artillery all made claims of enemy armor kills on 12 September. The 3d Battalion, 11th Infantry, destroyed one tank at Corny with a 57-mm. antitank gun; bazookas of Company L, 11th Infantry, hit another on the open slopes of the Côte de Faye. Company B, 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion, knocked out two at Corny, while Company C, 818th, firing from west of the river, claimed one half-track and four tanks definitely knocked out and one tank damaged. An unidentified corps artillery unit claimed two tanks knocked out southeast of Arry with 155-mm. fire. The day's total of established kills, not including any that might have been made by air support, was ten.24
Late in the afternoon of 12 September the 551st Heavy Ponton Battalion was ordered to erect a reinforced heavy ponton bridge across the Moselle at River Site 1. Necessary abutments, trestles, and hinge-span rafts were to be constructed during the night and await corps order for completion. Movement of the pontons and other equipment was a laborious process because the engineers had to use the same route as bridgehead traffic. In addition, a steep incline at the canal lock crossing and a sharp turn at the second treadway over the Rupt de Mad presented formidable obstacles to the engineers' heavy trailers. Despite these difficulties, the first load of equipment reached the river about 2100, and work was begun by the 1st and 2d Bridge Platoons, Company A, and the 2d Bridge Platoon, Company B. The engineers finished all preliminary work by 0700 and then retired to await the order for completion.
At noon on 13 September came the order to resume construction. By the time personnel and equipment, including additional materials necessary for the floating portion of the bridge, had moved again to the site through the maze of bridgehead traffic, it was 1500. Construction thereafter proceeded rapidly with no interference at first from enemy artillery. It would have taken approximately one and a half hours' additional work to complete the bridge when German shelling began at 1745, driving the engineers to cover. Concentrations continued to fall at fifteen-minute intervals, and work was resumed during the lulls. About 1830 the fire increased, concentrations landing every two or three minutes, until finally, five hours later, Lt. Col. Robert H. Latham, 1103d Engineer Combat Group executive officer, ordered withdrawal.
The enemy shelling, presumably from the heavy batteries at Fort Driant, knocked out a section of the treadway bridge at River Site 2, but the engineers were able to repair it quickly. The 537th Light Ponton Company, which during the afternoon had begun construction of a Bailey bridge over the southern canal crossing site, also suffered casualties from the enemy shelling, including severe wounds to its two bridge platoon leaders. The unit withdrew with the other engineers at 2330.
Work was resumed on both bridges at 1000 the next morning (14 September) with assistance at the heavy ponton bridge by Company B, 160th Engineers.
HEAVY PONTON BRIDGE ACROSS MOSELLE near Arnaville was completed by 551st Engineer Heavy Ponton Battalion on 14 September 1944.
Several metallic pontons that had been damaged in the partially completed bridge were repaired in place. The crane and several vehicles had been knocked out and seven pneumatic floats had to be replaced. Later, about 1330, shelling increased, and all personnel withdrew. They returned to the job once again about 1500 and in two hours completed a 250-foot reinforced heavy ponton bridge (Class 40 tons). At 1830 an eighty-foot double-single Bailey bridge was completed across the canal at the southern crossing site. The two bridges, combined with the treadway bridges at River Site 2 and at the canal lock, gave two complete one-way routes over the combined obstacles and completed engineer bridge construction at the Arnaville crossing until after the bridgehead was secured. Only maintenance was required, and, although enemy shelling continued, there was no major damage to either the treadway or the heavy ponton bridge until the ponton bridge was hit on 28 September. Six metallic pontons and several pneumatic floats had to be replaced, and the bridge was again ready for traffic the next morning.
The 1103d Engineer Combat Group had constructed a total of six bridges across three water barriers, the Rupt de Mad, the Moselle Canal, and the Moselle River. In so doing they had suffered 100 men wounded and thirteen killed.25
1. Unless otherwise noted, the story of smoke operations is from the following sources: Lt Col Levin B. Cottingham (formerly chemical officer, 5th Div), Employment of a Smoke Generator Company in an Assault Crossing of the Moselle River, Combat Interv File 38; Lt Col Levin B. Cottingham, "Smoke Over the Moselle," The Infantry Journal, August, 1948; Ltr, Col Cottingham to Hist Div, 28 Mar 50; Paul W. Pritchard, Smoke Generator Operations in the Mediterranean and European Theaters of Operation, MS, Ch. VI, "Operations with the Third Army" (hereafter cited as Smoke Generator Operations), Hist Sec, Office of the Chief of the Chemical Corps. See also observations on smoke operations by engineer officers in Combat Interv 38, Engineer Operations at Arnaville (hereafter cited as Engineer Operations).
2. Smoke Generator Operations.
3. Ibid. See also Ltr, Col Cottingham to Hist Div.
4. Ltr, Col Walker to Hist Div, 30 Mar 50. No mention of smoke operations at Arnaville is to be found in available German records.
5. Smoke Generator Operations. According to Ltr, Col Walker to Hist Div, "During the morning of 12 September . . . the bridge site was entirely devoid of smoke . . . . Whether this was caused by wind or by improper operation of the generators, I cannot say, but the fact remains there was clear visibility between the bridge site and the enemy-held high ground . . . during the entire morning of 12 September. Enemy fire during this period was infrequent and ineffective."
6. On 9 Sep the 150th Engr (C) Bn had been detached. See 150th Engr (C) Bn AAR, Sep 44.
7. The engineer story is based on the following sources: Combat Interv 38 with unidentified engr offs; Engineer Operations; 1103d Engr (C) Gp, 160th and 204th Engr (C) Bns, 551st Hv Pon Bn, 989th Tdwy Br Co, 537th Lt Pon Co, 623d Lt Equip Co, AAR's, Sep 44; Ltr, Col Walker to Hist Div. The preliminary narrative, Engineer Operations, is extremely valuable.
8. In addition to previously quoted sources, this terrain study is based on maps and photographs in OCMH files and a visit by the author to the area in June 1949.
9. The Light Equipage Platoon, 537th Light Ponton Company, was occupied in the Dornot vicinity. The organic 7th Engineer Combat Battalion was disposed as follows: Company A with the 2d Infantry Combat Team to the north; Company B assisting ferrying operations at Arnaville; and Company C still occupied with the Dornot bridgehead.
10. Engineer accounts of this action are in sharp disagreement with Chemical Corps accounts, setting the time of shelling before daylight. With the exception of Ltr, Col Walker to Hist Div, these accounts do not even mention the discontinuance of smoke. Chemical Corps accounts, specifically Smoke Generator Operations and Ltr, Col Cottingham to Hist Div, are accepted because they more nearly agree with messages from the engineers recorded in the 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 11 Sep 44. It cannot be determined who gave the order to cease smoke except that Colonel Cottingham's letter to the Historical Division says, "The order was given by the engineers to the best of my knowledge . . . ." Colonel Walker's letter to the Historical Division declares, "I . . . recall that the 5th Division Engineer stated that I must have ordered the smoke to cease but this was not correct and I so stated at the time."
11. Engineer Operations; Irwin Diary; 735th Tk Bn, 818th TD Bn, AAR's, Sep 44; 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 11 Sep 44; General Notes: The Crossing of the Moselle River and the Defense of the Bridgehead by the 10th Infantry Regiment (hereafter cited as General Notes on Arnaville operations) in Combat Interv 38 File; XIX TAC Opns File, 11 Sep 44.
12. 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 10 Sep 44.
13. Irwin Diary.
15. This section of the engineer story is from: Engineer Operations; Irwin Diary; 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 11-12 Sep 44; 1103d Engr (C) Gp, 160th Engr (C) Bn, 989th Tdwy Br Co, AAR's, Sep 44; Ltr, Col Walker to Hist Div. Colonel Walker's comments, particularly on the action the night of 11-12 September, are in valuable detail. See also Certificate, Maj Howard W. Clark, Asst XX Corps Engr, 14 Sep 44, atchd to Ltr, Col Walker to Hist Div.
16. 1st Bn story from the following: Moselle River Crossing; General Notes on Arnaville operations; 46th FA Bn AAR, Sep 44; 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 12 Sep 44; Tenth Infantry.
17. 2d Bn, 10th Inf, and 3d Bn, 11th Inf, stories from the following: Moselle River Crossing; Combat Interv 38 with Birdsong and Simpson-Lynch-Lathrop; 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 12 Sep 44; 818th TD Bn AAR, Sep 44; Ltr, Col Birdsong to Hist Div.
18. MS # B-042 (Krause); MS # B-728 (Colonel Albert Emmerich, formerly G-3, First Army); various Ltrs and Rpts, 9-16 Sep 44, found in Army Group G KTB 2, Anlagen 1.IX.-30.IX.44; IPW Msg, 10th Inf Unit Jnl File, 12 Sep 44.
19. Irwin Diary; 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 12 Sep 44; Moselle River Crossing; 5th Div G-3 Jnl, 12 Sep 44.
20. Moselle River Crossing; Engineer Operations; 1103d Engr (C) Gp, 989th Tdwy Br Co, 204th Engr (C) Bn, 160th Engr (C) Bn, 537th Lt Pon Co, AAR's, Sep 44; 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 12 Sep 44; Ltr, Col Walker to Hist Div.
21. Moselle River Crossing; 735th Tk Bn, 818th TD Bn, CCB, 31st Tk Bn, AAR's, Sep 44.
22. Arnaville Artillery. This does not include the 434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion of CCB, which placed some fire in the bridgehead during 12 September but for which firing statistics are not available.
23. Quotes are from Irwin Diary. See also XIX TAC Daily Intel Sum, 12 Sep 44, XIX TAC Opns File.
24. Combat Interv 38 with Birdsong; 818th TD Bn AAR, Sep 44; and 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 12 Sep 44, from which the information on the corps artillery unit was obtained.
25. Engineer Operations; Ltr, Col Walker to Hist Div; 1103d Engr (C) Gp, 551st Hv Pon Bn, 537th Lt Pon Co, AAR's, Sep 44. The 551st's detailed account of heavy ponton bridge construction is particularly valuable.