Build-Up and Expansion
A cold, driving rain began during the night of 12-13 September. By daylight the little bridgehead across the Moselle River was a morass of mud boding no good for the assembled armor and adding to the discomforts of the battle-weary infantry. The infantrymen, who had seen little sleep for three days and four nights, were nonetheless grateful for a surcease from the fierce enemy counterblows. Both the 1st and 2d Battalions, 10th Infantry, atop Hills 370, 369, and 386, had been reduced to 50 percent of their original strength, and battle fatigue had become a serious problem.
Elsewhere in the bridgehead the 3d Battalion of the 11th Infantry (less Companies I and K, plus Companies B and C) continued to hold on the north flank in the southern edge of Corny, while the 3d Battalion, 10th Infantry, remained in reserve around Voisage Farm. Also in assembled reserve were Companies B and C, 735th Tank Battalion; Company B and one platoon of Company C, 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion; Company B, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (CCB); and Companies A, B, and C, 31st Tank Battalion (CCB).
At approximately 0900 on 13 September a platoon of light tanks of Company D, 735th Tank Battalion, with one 105-mm. assault gun and one 81-mm. mortar attached, and the 5th Reconnaissance Troop crossed into the bridgehead to patrol south along the east bank of the river. No sooner had they headed south than they were stopped by intense enemy shellfire.
Later in the morning the 1st Battalion, 10th Infantry, sent a small foot patrol toward the troublesome south-flank town of Arry. By 1100 the patrol's report was back, indicating promise for a drive to enlarge the bridgehead to the southeast: in Arry the riflemen had found only dead Germans and four enemy tanks, all knocked out; the town had been abandoned. Another 1st Battalion patrol, going northeast from the battalion's positions on Hill 386, also made no enemy contact. In the afternoon another patrol, this time a platoon from the 3d Battalion, 10th Infantry, investigated Arry and confirmed the earlier findings. Asserting that it would take more than a platoon to defend the town, the patrol withdrew. Despite this evidence that Arry was not occupied, no 10th Infantry troops were sent to hold the town. The Americans feared overextension of their lines and felt that Arry, now reduced to a pile of rubble, could be controlled by the troops on Hill 386 and by direct fire from tank destroyers and Cannon Company guns on the west-bank heights south of Arnaville.
Thus, notwithstanding signs of a possible
enemy withdrawal on the southeast and south of the bridgehead, little tangible effort was made immediately to exploit it. Although Brig. Gen. John M. Devine, new commander of CCB, came into the bridgehead in early afternoon with orders from the 5th Division to attack, intense enemy shelling, a lack of time for reconnaissance, and the deep mud that mired his tanks prompted him to ask that the attack be postponed until the next day. Permission was granted, and no further effort at expansion of the bridgehead was made during 13 September. The remnants of the 23d Armored Infantry Battalion had already begun a march toward Arnaville and the bridgehead, where they would have partially remedied the shortage of infantry. They were halted at Onville because of the decision not to attack. The same enemy shelling that helped discourage General Devine also forced the engineers to abandon bridge construction temporarily. As for American artillery units, they passed their most inactive day of the operation, feeling the pinch of their ammunition shortage and firing only 2,533 rounds.1
Nevertheless, plans for expanding the bridgehead were being made on 13 September. The XX Corps commander initiated a reshuffling of units by directing the 90th Infantry Division to begin taking over a part of the 7th Armored Division sector west of Metz in order to permit CCA to prepare for movement into the Arnaville fight. This was the first step in a move which was eventually to release all of the 7th Armored Division and the 2d Infantry combat team for the fight in the south. General Irwin, despite the shortages of men and equipment in the 2d Battalion, 11th Infantry, alerted the 11th to be prepared to send another battalion into the bridgehead. Meanwhile, General Irwin's headquarters issued Operations Instructions 13, confirming previous verbal orders and calling, primarily, for movement of the remainder of CCB into the bridgehead. The instructions also ordered a subsequent attack by the combat command to seize Mardigny, to the southeast of Arry, and by the 3d Battalion, 10th Infantry, to capture Hill 396. The day passed without significant developments on the ground except at the bridge site.2
Impasse on 14 September
The morning of 14 September brought more rain, and attempted movement of armored vehicles produced only further churning of the muddy soil. The proposed attempt to expand the bridgehead to the south and southeast was again postponed. Although Battery B, 434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (CCB), crossed the river into the bridgehead, artillery fire was so intense that the remainder of the battalion stayed in its positions west of Arnaville. Just after dark, the 23d Armored Infantry Battalion, still not wholly reconstituted after its Dornot battle, crossed to join the tanks of the 31st Tank Battalion. For the battered 10th Infantry in its positions atop Hills 370, 369, and 386 there was
some encouragement with the arrival of 300 infantry replacements, including twenty-five inexperienced officers; but these men were going to forward battalions where battle fatigue had become a serious problem. When one soldier, a veteran of all the division's combat, had his carbine shot from his hand and his closest friend killed by a shell which fell near his foxhole, he jumped up screaming and ran toward the enemy lines. He was caught by a fellow soldier but had to be knocked unconscious before he could be quieted. Evacuated, he could not remember what he had done.
Enemy activity against the forward battalions consisted of continued shelling and occasional small reconnaissance patrols that harassed the fatigued Americans but were readily driven off. One such patrol was repulsed in an effort to go around the left flank of Company B, 11th Infantry, at Corny by swimming the river.
In early morning two platoons of Company C, 11th Infantry, relieved the Reconnaissance and Ammunition and Pioneer Platoons (3d Battalion, 11th Infantry) in the line between Companies L and B on the bridgehead's north flank. Then, in the afternoon, two platoons of Company L staged a raid on the bald crest of Hill 325 on the Côte de Faye, driving off an enemy defensive force of about twenty men who had been dug in and were supported by machine guns. Some twenty minutes later the same Germans counterattacked, but all were either killed or wounded. A larger enemy group counterattacked from the left flank about ten minutes later. Inasmuch as the Company L attack had been intended merely as a raid to discover the enemy positions and the bare hill could be controlled by fire, the two rifle platoons were ordered to withdraw to their positions on the lower southeastern slopes of the hill.
The 5th Reconnaissance Troop, which had crossed the day before and failed to complete its mission of patrolling south along the east bank of the river, tried again on 14 September and sent a patrol through Arry without enemy opposition except for artillery fire. Pushing out along the Arry-Lorry road, the patrol encountered an enemy pillbox. Two enemy soldiers were talked into coming out of the pillbox and surrendering; eighteen remained inside, and heavy mortar fire from beyond the hill forced the patrol to withdraw. Although Arry was still free of enemy, once again the Americans failed to occupy it.
On this date XX Corps issued a new field order that instructed the 5th Division to expand its bridgehead and continue the attack to capture Metz, while the 7th Armored Division was to cross into the bridgehead and make a swinging movement around the right flank through Mardigny. The armor was to force a hook around Metz from the southeast while the 5th Infantry Division attacked almost due north against the city. Already relief of elements of the 7th Armored had been started west of Metz by the 90th Division and eventually the 2d Infantry was to be returned to the 5th Division. But for the time being CCB's attachment to the 5th Division remained in force.
Although the weather began to improve during the afternoon of 14 September, a second delay in the attack was granted to permit regrouping and to allow further preparations. Regardless of weather, the attack was to be launched
the next morning, 15 September. The original 5th Division attack plan had to be altered somewhat when XX Corps protested that it was not ambitious enough to meet the orders assigned the division. As finally decided, CCB was to pass through Arry to capture Mardigny and subsequently to move northeast to take the village of Marieulles; the 3d Battalion, 10th Infantry, was to capture Hill 396; and the remainder of the division was to build up on a line of departure for continuation of the attack on Metz. This line ran from north of Corny east and southeast to Marieulles, but no actual movement toward the line was made on the first day of the attack.3
Attack in the Fog--15 September
The morning of 15 September was cloudy, and the bridgehead area was covered with a heavy ground fog so dense that visibility was often reduced to between ten and fifteen feet. Elements of CCB began moving from their assembly area at 0903, and, despite the fog, the thrice-delayed attack to expand the bridgehead jumped off toward the south. (Map 7)
For the attack CCB had been divided into two forces. Force I, under Colonel Erlenbusch, consisted of the 31st Tank Battalion (less Companies A and D); Company B, 23d Armored Infantry Battalion; and Battery B, 434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. It was to pass through Arry, capture Hill 385 to the south of Arry, then move on to take Hill 400 in the Bois le Comte, and be prepared to capture Lorry and Mardigny on order. Force II, under Lt. Col. William H. G. Fuller, consisted of Company A, 31st Tank Battalion; the 23d Armored Infantry Battalion (less Company B); and the 434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (less Battery B). Its mission was to attack south down the main Metz-Pont-à-Mousson highway to capture the village of Vittonville. The two forces were then to tie in at a trail junction on the southern nose of Hill 400 southwest of Mardigny.
Initially CCB's Company B, 33d Armored Engineer Battalion, was not to be broken into attachments but held in the original bridgehead assembly area with Company D, 31st Tank Battalion, as the combat command reserve.4 Likewise, Company B, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion, was initially to remain in the original bridgehead area and provide fire support on call. Except for Battery B, which had already crossed the river and was to fire from positions within the bridgehead, the 434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion was to support the attack from firing positions on the west bank hills south of Arnaville. Additional support was to be provided by 5th Division and corps artillery units. For thirty minutes before H Hour, all the medium and heavy artillery was to direct counterbattery fire against located and suspected enemy artillery positions. Thereafter counterbattery fire would be
Expanding the Bridgehead
Attack of 15 September 1944
continued by the 203d Field Artillery Group. From H Hour to H plus fifteen minutes, concentrations were to be fired along Hill 385, and on other critical terrain features in the immediate area, including Hill 396, objective of the 3d Battalion, 10th Infantry. Concentrations were then to be shifted to Hill 400 and the Bois le Comte from H plus fifteen to H plus thirty. Harassing fire on Lorry, Mardigny, and Vittonville was to be continued at intervals from thirty minutes before H Hour until H plus thirty. The line of departure for the attack was to be an east-west line from Arry to the river, and the hour of attack 0900.5
By 0915 Force I, led by the tanks of Company C with Company B, 31st Tank Battalion, and the infantry of Company B, 23d Armored Infantry Battalion, following, had inched its way through the fog into Arry. Once past the town, the column began to encounter occasional resistance from small enemy groups, but these appeared eager to surrender when pressed. The main difficulty was still with fog and mud. A number of prisoners had been taken by the time the first objective, Hill 385, was reached. At 1030 the head of the column was on the second objective, Hill 400, in the Bois le Comte, and by the time the sun began to break through, shortly before noon, the remainder of Force I had moved forward and begun to consolidate its positions in preparation for attack on Lorry, Mardigny, and Marieulles.
Meanwhile Force II had proceeded south along the main east-bank highway toward Vittonville. Initially a dismounted infantry attack, Force II's advance was led by Company A, 23d Armored Infantry Battalion, supported by Company A, 31st Tank Battalion. By 1225 the leading elements, hampered at first by the fog and later by time-consuming ground opposition, including small arms and mortar fire, had progressed no farther than a point due east of the west-bank town of Pagny. Apparently in an effort to speed the attack in view of the success of Force I, the tanks passed through the infantry; but still the attack moved slowly. It was not until about 1600 that the tanks and infantry halted on the northern edge of Vittonville to permit supporting artillery to fire a preparation against the town. In an hour and a half Vittonville was secured. The attack had cost Force II four men killed and five missing.
A confusion in orders delayed Force I's attack against Mardigny, and Lorry and Marieulles were left to be taken the next day. Force I was ordered at 1510 to prepare to attack Mardigny, but before a movement order was received CCB reverted to control of the 7th Armored Division. At 1740 Force I was told to remain on Hill 400 until relieved by elements of the 5th Division, whereupon Force I was to capture Mardigny. At 1845 this order was negated by another ordering the immediate capture of Mardigny. This time Company C, 31st Tank Battalion, accompanied by a platoon of Company B, 23d Armored Infantry Battalion, moved out in the attack. Against only token ground opposition, Mardigny was captured and outposted by 2045. The remainder of Force I held for the night on Hill 400 in the Bois le
Comte and was relieved early the next morning by elements of the 5th Division.6
In conjunction with CCB's attack to the south, the 3d Battalion, 10th Infantry, supported by Companies B and C, 735th Tank Battalion, was ordered to capture Hill 396. This was the dominant terrain feature in the vicinity of the bridgehead, rising east of the 1st Battalion's long-held positions on Hill 386. From Hill 396 one could observe the entire bridgehead and on clear days see as far north as Metz.
Scheduled to begin at 0900, like the CCB attack, the 3d Battalion's attack was to follow an artillery barrage beginning at 0830 against Hill 396. The barrage was to shift later to enemy towns beyond the first hill mass. At first, the two tank companies were to lead, Company B, 735th Tank Battalion, on the left and Company C, 735th, on the right. Close behind the left tank company was to be Company L, 10th Infantry, and behind the right tank company, Company K. While the two left companies advanced through the 1st Battalion lines on Hill 386 in order to take advantage of some woods cover, the two right companies were to enter Arry and follow initially the Arry-Lorry road to a trail that branched to the northeast toward the objective, Hill 396. Company I, 10th Infantry, was to move northeast from the friendly positions on Hill 386 and block to the north in a wooded draw which separated Hill 386 from Hill 396, a logical avenue for enemy counterattack.
Despite heavy ground fog and muddy footing, the attack moved off on time. On the right, the tanks of Company C, under Capt. Floyd R. Miller, followed by the infantry of Company K, passed through Arry by 0930. Moving along the Arry-Lorry road toward the trail they were to follow to the objective, the tanks encountered a barricade across the road and reported to Major Shipley, the 3d Battalion commander, that they could not pass. An exchange of messages followed between the tankers, Major Shipley, and the regimental command post, in which the infantry commanders expressed doubt about the impregnability of the barricade. At 1025 the tanks had not yet moved forward, and Colonel Bell ordered the 3d Battalion to continue its attack without them.7
As the tanks had first moved out, the 3d Battalion's two assault companies had followed closely. When the right tank company halted at the barricade, heavy enemy shelling centered to the rear of the tanks, catching the infantry in the open and causing heavy casualties and confusion, particularly in Company K. By the time the companies had reorganized, the value of the preliminary artillery barrage against Hill 396 had been lost, and Lieutenant Dutko, the 1st Battalion artillery observer, had another barrage fired against the hill. The assault began.
On the left, 1st Lt. Robert Brown's Company B tanks preceded the infantry by approximately 300 yards. The advance
moved without incident until it reached the ruins of the barrack-type buildings to the 1st Battalion's left front, which had housed a radar station and had served as a base for previous enemy counterattacks against Hill 386. There the Americans overcame token opposition by second-rate troops, thirty of whom soon surrendered, and the attack moved on toward the crest of the objective. Meeting fire from enemy pillboxes which had evidently been constructed for training by the Metz military schools, the tanks fired to button up the defenses as the infantry stormed them. When the armor at one point got too far ahead of the infantry, one tank herded a group of prisoners back toward the advancing infantry while the others waited for the foot soldiers to catch up. By 1330, both Company L's infantry and Company B's tanks (except three that had mired on the muddy slopes of the hill) were firmly established on the objective.
On the right, the attack had gone more slowly. Although Company K planned to advance without tank support, the Company C platoon of 1st Lt. James C. Blanchard, Jr., was ready to join it. But two of Lieutenant Blanchard's tanks mired early on the muddy slopes, and the others wandered off in the fog in the direction of Lorry, not to rejoin Company K's infantry until the objective had been taken. It was not until about 1500 that Company K was established on its portion of the hill. Later, two American tanks on the hill were damaged by enemy artillery fire; after Lieutenant Blanchard's tank arrived, an armor-piercing round from an enemy tank or antitank gun knocked it out as well.
Hill 396, the dominant terrain feature in the vicinity of the bridgehead, was at last in American hands. Perhaps because artillery missions were fired almost continuously against reported enemy assembly in woods northeast of the hill, expected German counterblows did not develop immediately on the ground. The enemy did react during the night and the next day with obviously pre-planned artillery concentrations. By this time Companies K and L had dug in deeply on the bald forward crest of the hill and suffered only minor casualties. The battalion headquarters was set up in the sole remaining barrack-type building, and Company I reorganized its blocking position in the draw between Hills 386 and 396 to form a reserve for the 3d Battalion's defense. The tanks of Company C, 735th Tank Battalion, were withdrawn to an assembly area near Arry, and Company B's tanks remained in reserve with Company I.
Not until early morning on 17 September did the Germans launch their counterblow on the ground, hitting Company L from the northeast. Here for the first time in the Arnaville bridgehead area the Germans used troops from the Metz military schools. Coming in through the darkness, a number of enemy troops succeeded in moving into Company L's positions. Close-in fighting resulted, and the battalion command post was threatened before Major Shipley committed his reserve company, Company I, and one platoon of Company B, 735th Tank Battalion. An attack by the reserve units up the northwest side of the hill restored the situation.8
The Bridgehead Is Secure
With a firm northern anchor in Corny, southern anchors in Mardigny and Vittonville, possession of the vicinity's dominant terrain features, Hill 396 and Hill 400, and two substantial bridges providing ready access, the Arnaville bridgehead could be considered secure. Five days of bitter fighting had brought XX Corps its first successful Moselle crossing at a cost to the 10th Infantry Regiment alone of approximately twenty-five officers and 700 men. The ill-fated Dornot crossing, which had cost the 11th Infantry Regiment and the 23d Armored Infantry Battalion almost as many casualties, had been an important element in the 10th Infantry's success, for it had held the enemy's attention during the initial stages of the Arnaville crossing.
After the successful attacks of the 3d Battalion, 10th Infantry, and CCB on 15 September, the bridgehead was strengthened as relief of 7th Armored Division units to the northwest was continued and elements of CCR began crossing the Arnaville bridges. On 16 September CCA began to cross, and the 2d Infantry also began to move in. The 11th Infantry, relieving its 1st Battalion (less Companies B and C, plus Companies I and K) in the defense north of Dornot with the reconstituted 2d Battalion, sent the 1st Battalion into the bridgehead the afternoon of 16 September and assumed command of the original bridgehead area.
The attacks to break out of the bridgehead and capture Metz began again in early morning, 16 September, with the capture of Lorry by elements of CCB. Enemy guns were still able to shell the bridgehead area, including the bridge sites, and some of the fiercest fighting either the 5th Infantry or 7th Armored Division was to see in World War II remained before Metz itself fell. Not until 22 November did the battle for Metz, which had seen its real beginning in the river crossings at Dornot and Arnaville, come to a close with the formal cessation of hostilities and the fall of the city. Four of the major forts still held out and it was not until 8 December that the last of them, Fort Driant, capitulated.9
1. This section based on the following: Arnaville Artillery; Moselle River Crossing; Tenth Infantry; 10th Inf, CCB, 31st Tk Bn, 735th Tk Bn, AAR's, Sep 44; 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 13 Sep 44; Ltr, Col Shipley to Hist Div; Interv with Col Breckinridge.
2. Irwin Diary; General Notes on Arnaville operations; 10th Inf and 11th Inf Unit Jnls, 13 Sep 44; 5th Div G-3 Jnl, 13 Sep 44; XX Corps AAR, Sep 44; Moselle River Crossing.
3. This section based on the following sources: CCB, 7th Armd Div, 5th Div, 434th Armd FA Bn, 10th Inf, 11th Inf, AAR's, Sep 44; 7th Armd Div and 5th Div G-3 Jnls and Files, Sep 44; Tenth Infantry; Moselle River Crossing; General Notes on Arnaville operations; Combat Interv 38 with Birdsong, Simpson-Lynch-Lathrop. See XX Corps FO 11; 5th Div FO 9; 5th Div Telephone Jnl; 5th Div Opns Instructions 14. All four in 5th Div G-3 Jnl File, 14 Sep 44.
4. Records fail to show when either of these units crossed into the bridgehead.
5. CCB, 31st Tk Bn, 434th Armd FA Bn, 10th Inf, AAR's, Sep 44; 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 15 Sep 44; CCB Unit Jnl and File, 15 Sep 44; Moselle River Crossing; Interv with Otto.
6. CCB, 31st Tk Bn, 23d Armd Inf Bn, 434th Armd FA Bn, AAR's, Sep 44; 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 15 Sep 44; Moselle River Crossing; General Notes on Arnaville operations.
7. 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 15 Sep 44; Ltr, Col Bell to Hist Div. Company C, 735th Tank Battalion, had habitually worked with the 11th Infantry while Company B had worked with the 10th Infantry. This was Company C's first combat experience with the 10th Infantry.
8. Moselle River Crossing; General Notes on Arnaville operations; Combat Interv 38 with Shipley-McCluskey-Bradley-Baughman; Tenth Infantry; 10th Inf Unit Jnl, 15 Sep 44; 10th Inf, 735th Tk Bn, 46th FA Bn, AAR's, Sep 44; Ltr, Col Bell to Hist Div; Ltr, Col Shipley to Hist Div; Ltr, Lt Blanchard to Hist Div; Interv with Shipley and Hays; Ltr, Maj Charles W. McClean (formerly S-3, 3d Bn, 10th Inf), to Col Shipley, 15 Apr 50, copy in OCMH files through courtesy of Col Shipley; Sum of Sit Rpt (telephoned), First Army, 1835, 17 Sep 44, found in Army Group G KTB 2, Anlagen 1.IX.-30.IX.44.
9. For an account of this later action, see Cole, The Lorraine Campaign, Chs. III, VI, VIII, and IX.