The Seventh Army's plans for the mid-November offensive called for the VI Corps to launch an attack over the Meurthe River no later than two days after the XV Corps' offensive began. Thus, when Patch set the date of the XV Corps' attack for 13 November, the VI Corps' target date automatically became 15 November. But at least as early as 10 November, General Brooks, the new VI Corps commander, realized that his command as a whole would not be ready to launch a concerted, new offensive by that date. As of the 10th, the VI Corps had been able to secure the western banks of the Meurthe only in the areas of Baccarat and St. Michel-sur-Meurthe; around Raon-l'Etape and in the entire sector from St. Die to St. Leonard and south, both riverbanks were still in German hands. To secure a broader line of departure for the November offensive, Brooks wanted to clear as much of the west bank of the Meurthe as possible before he launched his main attack.
VI Corps Plans
On 10 November the recently committed 100th Infantry Division, having taken over along VI Corps' left, or northern, wing from the veteran 45th Division, was moving into the high, forested hills leading to Raon-l'Etape. The "Century Division" was about four miles short of Raon-l'Etape on the northwest and west and nearly two miles shy on the southwest and south. From Etival-Clairefontaine, on the west side of the Meurthe three miles south of Raon-l'Etape, the 3d Division's 15th Infantry held about three miles of the west bank down to St. Michel-sur-Meurthe, while the rest of the 3d Division remained in reserve, resting and training for the VI Corps' new offensive. South of the 15th Infantry the untried 103d Division, less one regimental combat team in corps reserve, was taking over positions the 3d Division had previously held from St. Michel south about seven miles to the vicinity of Saulcy-sur-Meurthe. The left of the 103d Division was on high ground in the Magdeleine woods overlooking both St. Die and the Taintrux valley, but the right was still four rugged miles short of the Meurthe at Saulcy. South of Saulcy-sur-Meurthe, the left of the 36th Division was also several miles short of the high ground along the Meurthe at St. Leonard; and the center and right of the 36th stretched
southwest nearly fifteen miles to the vicinity of Le Tholy, where its defenses meshed with those of the French II Corps' 3d Algerian Division.
On 10 November, after considering a number of alternatives, General Brooks settled on a plan of attack that called for refitting the 3d Division and again assigning to it the main corps effort during the November offensive.1 O'Daniel's 3d was to lead off on 20 November with two regiments assaulting across the Meurthe in the St. Michel area to seize a firm bridgehead. Then the division would clear the forested hill masses north and northeast of St. Die in preparation for a drive northeast along N-420 through the Saales Pass and ultimately to the Alsatian plains at Mutzig, less than fifteen miles short of the division's final objective, Strasbourg.
Brooks realized that the German defenses along the Meurthe were weak and lacked depth. Furthermore, Route N-420 between St. Die and the Saales Pass was broader and in much better condition than between Brouvelieures and St. Die, the scene of the 3d Division's earlier DOGFACE advance. Nevertheless, Brooks was also convinced that a rapid breakthrough by the 3d Division hinged on the progress that the two "junior" divisions could make before 20 November in securing suitable terrain along the Meurthe River from which to launch supporting attacks. Strong efforts on the part of the 100th and 103d Divisions would divert German forces from the 3d Division's front, while a lack of progress could expose the flanks of the 3d as soon as it crossed the river. If the 3d Division spent too much of its combat power securing a bridgehead over the Meurthe, it might lack the strength to force the Saales Pass farther down Route N-420. The new VI Corps commander was especially concerned with the 100th Division's sector. If the 100th was unable to secure the Raon-l'Etape area in a timely manner and then mount a strong thrust eastward, a dangerous gap might open up between the VI and XV Corps that the 117th Cavalry Squadron would have difficulty screening. On the other hand, a sustained drive by the 100th Division would provide strong support for the advance of the neighboring XV Corps toward Sarrebourg and the Saverne Gap.
Brooks therefore wanted the 100th Division to start its attacks as early as possible, and on 12 November he directed it to proceed immediately across the Meurthe against Raon-l'Etape and the surrounding high ground (Map 28). Once this area had been taken, the division was to begin its main effort by 15 November eastward on Route N-424. This secondary highway, crossing the Vosges through the Hantz Pass, joined N-420 at St. Blaise-la-Roche, fifteen miles east of Raon-l'Etape and five miles north of the Saales Pass. If the 100th Division could begin this drive by the 15th, five days before the 3d Division's attack was scheduled to begin, Brooks felt that the success of his main effort would be assured. The early attack by the 100th would also
partially satisfy the Seventh Army's requirement that the VI Corps launch its portion of the November offensive on the 15th. Given the difficulty that the 45th Division had experienced approaching Raon-l'Etape, however, the task seemed extremely ambitious for the new division.
On the right wing of the VI Corps, Brooks wanted the 103d Division to cross the Meurthe south of the 3d Division's area, seize St. Die, and then push south and southeast toward Fraize and east to Ban-de-Laveline, thus effectively securing the southern flank of the main attack. Thereafter the division was to advance to the east and northeast abreast of the 3d Division toward the Alsatian plains. However, Brooks hoped that the 103d would be able to clear the west bank of the Meurthe River area opposite Saulcy and St. Leonard before the main attack on the 20th, and he ordered the unit to begin these preliminary operations as soon as possible.
More or less bringing up the rear, the weary 36th Division was to take over the areas vacated by the 103d Division west of the Meurthe, move forward to blocking positions along the eight miles from Anould to Gerardmer, maintain contact with de Monsabert's II Corps, and prepare to attack east and northeast across the Vosges on order.
The German Defense
The German defenders in the central Vosges would be hard-pressed to stop a determined American advance. On 10 November the Nineteenth Army faced the U.S. VI Corps with the LXIV Corps as well as part of the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps. The LXIV Corps covered the Nineteenth Army's front from the Rhine-Marne Canal south about thirty-five miles to Saulcy-sur-Meurthe.2 The German corps' northernmost unit, the 553d Volksgrenadier Division, confronted only XV Corps units. The next division south, the 708th Volksgrenadiers, had just reached LXIV Corps' front. About half the division held lines opposite the XV Corps' sector from the Vezouse River south five miles to the vicinity of Vacqueville, on the boundary between the XV and VI Corps. The rest of the 708th Division, standing opposite VI Corps' 100th Division, extended the German lines south another eight miles through Raon-l'Etape to Etival-Clairefontaine, which marked the boundary between the 708th Volksgrenadier and 716th Divisions (as well as the boundary between VI Corps' 100th and 3d Divisions). The weak 716th Division, reinforced by the understrength 757th Grenadiers of the 338th Division, held along the east bank of the Meurthe River from Etival-Clairefontaine south six miles to the northern edge of St. Die. The 716th Division's front covered all the 3d Division's sector and about half the sector of the 103d Division. From St. Die south three miles to Saulcy-sur-Meurthe the shattered 16th Volksgrenadier Division, with sundry attachments
VI Corps Advance
12-26 November 1944
such as the remnants of the 201st and 202d Mountain Battalions, faced the rest of the 103d Division. Saulcy lay on the boundary between the LXIV Corps and IV Luftwaffe Field Corps, with most of the latter's 198th Division facing the 36th Division and the remainder holding in front of the 3d Algerian Division of the French II Corps.3
The 708th Division, with perhaps 3,500 combat effectives, was by far the strongest of LXIV Corps' divisions, but no more than half of its strength faced VI Corps units on 10 November. The 716th Division, even with the attached regiment of the 338th Division, could muster no more than 1,500 infantry effectives, and the 16th Division, even with nondivisional attachments, scarcely 1,000. The IV Luftwaffe Field Corps' 198th Division had nearly 2,500 effectives, with perhaps two-thirds of that strength in front of the 36th Division.4 For a successful defense, the Germans would have to rely heavily on their use of the rugged terrain.
In the VI Corps' projected zone of attack, the forward defenses of the LXIV Corps followed the east bank of the Meurthe from the vicinity of Raon-l'Etape south to Fraize, a straight-line distance of about twenty miles. A fairly complete system of trenches formed the backbone of the line, but shoddy workmanship and lack of maintenance left older trenches crumbling and often half-filled with water. Virtually no hardened (reinforced concrete) positions existed along the Meurthe, while work on semipermanent positions such as bunkers of timber or sandbags fell far short of the requirements for a strong, cohesive defensive line. Barbed wire was spotty and usually thinly strung; numerous machine-gun and mortar positions had little protection; and antitank and antiaircraft ground emplacements were poorly constructed. The German defenders tried to make up for these deficiencies with the liberal use of mines and booby traps.
Lacking troops to fully man even the Vosges Foothill Position fortifications that had been prepared, LXIV Corps units deployed their forces in successive strongpoints. Between Etival and St. Die, for example, the 716th Division merely outposted much of the eastern bank of the Meurthe with small patrols. The Germans hoped that any American river crossings could be counterattacked from the strongpoints or thrown back by artillery fire. Behind the thinly held front line, the LXIV Corps had no reserves, and the Nineteenth Army could furnish none.
Morale was generally low in the LXIV Corps, especially in the battered 16th and 716th Divisions. Many officers and men were highly skeptical of the Meurthe River defense line and were inclined to regard it as no more than a delaying position. According to such reasoning, once VI Corps units had penetrated the Meurthe line, the LXIV Corps would slowly fall back to the crests and passes of the High Vosges, the Vosges Ridge Position.
There many Germans hoped they could settle in for the winter and enjoy the luxury of "hard" defensive installations--a hope that was to prove no more than a dream.
Despite these shortcomings, the Germans had some obvious advantages. Once across the Meurthe, the VI Corps would again be fighting its way uphill in rough, generally forested terrain that was easy to defend but hard to move through. Inclement weather, varying from torrential rains to heavy snows, could also be expected to aid the German defensive effort, sharply curtailing VI Corps' air support, making ground movement difficult, and delaying artillery support. Finally, the German corps had received artillery reinforcements in November and had an adequate stockpile of ammunition.
The Century (100th) Division
For VI Corps veterans of the 3d and 36th Divisions, the crossing of the Meurthe and projected drive through the passes of the High Vosges was painful to contemplate. The ever-worsening weather and terrain as well as the always-improving enemy defensive techniques had become all too familiar since they had first started across the Moselle River on 20 September. The men of the 100th and 103d Divisions, entering combat for the first time, would soon learn the same lessons that had been painfully acquired by the GIs of the older divisions during the two months of slow, laborious, and costly progress that had gained the VI Corps scarcely twenty miles toward the Rhine .
For the 100th, or Century, Division, going into combat for the first time, the prospects seemed less dismal. The new troops were both nervous and excited, anxious about what the future attack would bring, yet more eager than the veteran soldiers to show what they could do.5 General Burress, the division commander, decided against a frontal assault on Raon-l'Etape across the Meurthe River and instead, in agreement with Brooks, planned to attack the now heavily fortified area from the rear, using Baccarat--which VI Corps had inherited from the French 2d Armored Division's earlier attack--as an assembly area. Burress planned to move two of his regiments across the Meurthe at Baccarat--then secured by the 117th Cavalry--and send them south against the hopefully unfortified, but steep hills north and northeast of Raon-l'Etape. His third regiment and other division elements were to demonstrate west of the river with machine-gun, cannon, and artillery fire, drawing German attention away from the main effort. If successful, the maneuver would cut enemy supply routes to the town, forcing the Germans either to capitulate or withdraw northward in disarray. With speed and a bit of luck, the fresh division might even beat the tired 3d to the Alsatian plains and Strasbourg beyond.
On 12 November the 100th Division's 397th and 399th regiments, after an administrative crossing of the
398TH INFANTRY, 100TH DIVISION, IN RAON-L'ETAPE AREA, NOVEMBER 1944
Meurthe at Baccarat, attacked southeastward toward Raon-l'Etape, about six miles away. On the right, the 397th moved along the east bank of the Meurthe toward the small village of Bertrichamps and Hill 443, a steep abutment flush against the northern edge of Raon-l'Etape. On the left, the 399th headed east for the town of Neufmaisons where it would then wheel southeast toward Hill 539, actually a steep ridge line that overlooked the Plaine River valley and the northern exits to Raon-l'Etape. As elements of both units began to reach their intermediate objectives at Bertrichamps and Neufmaisons, they quickly discovered that the German defenders, mostly 708th Division troops, had taken advantage of the pause in the VI Corps' offensive to construct a northern extension of the Meurthe River line, using a local road, D-8/9, as a supply route.6 On both sides of the small road and into the Wilderness forest beyond, the defenders had built extensive barbed-wire barriers, cleared fields of fire, and constructed an impressive network of trenches, foxholes, bunkers, and machine-gun emplacements, which the new American troops quickly dubbed the "winter line." They were obviously expected by the German grenadiers.
The attacking regiments spent the afternoon of the 12th and all of the 13th probing the hidden positions with patrols, seeking weak points while being surprised at their length and breadth.
On 14 November the 100th began a series of battalion-sized attacks against the newly constructed line and, with additional division and corps artillery support, penetrated the German positions on the 15th, the official starting date of VI Corps' offensive. After policing the remaining defenders, both regiments began pushing southeast through the forests of the Wilderness for their principal objectives. Hindered mainly by rain, snow, muddy mountain trails, and dense woods, the American forces began to arrive at the base of Hills 443 and 539 sometime on the 16th.
At the foot of Hill 539, the 1st Battalion of the 399th Infantry overran a small German force, and one company immediately climbed to the hill's relatively flat summit, the Tete des Reclos ("top of the wilderness"), actually two knolls connected by a short saddle. From there the American infantrymen could look down on the Plaine River valley, the back door to the Vosges Foothill Position defenses at Raon-l'Etape and southward. The German response was quick. From late morning until dusk the 708th Division hurled a series of attacks at the Tete des Reclos, at one point routing one of the defending American platoons before the position could be restored. By the morning of 17 November, the 100th Division force on the hilltop was down to sixty-five men, but the German troops were also exhausted; with more American infantrymen pouring down the hills on either side, the defenders began to evacuate to the southeast. Early on the 18th, Burress thus reported that Raon-l'Etape proper, although heavily mined and booby-trapped, was clear of German troops. The gates of the Vosges were in American hands.
With the fall of Raon-l'Etape, Brooks decided to take advantage of Burress' success and proposed sweeping changes in the corps' assault plans.7 Perhaps seeking to avoid costly assaults over the Meurthe River by the 3d and 103d Divisions, he had his staff develop plans for the other two divisions to undertake administrative crossings of the Meurthe near Raon-l'Etape, behind the lines of the 100th Division. With the 3d Division still assigned the main corps effort, the revision called for the 3d and 103d Divisions to pass through the 100th and head south and east with their missions and objectives essentially unchanged from the plan of 10 November. The 100th would assist the movement by securing the rising, wooded terrain on the far (southeastern) side of the Plaine River valley and then continuing eastward along the axis of Route N-424. Only the role of the 36th Division was unaffected.
At this point VI Corps planning exhibited some confusion. Brooks was
apparently under the impression both that the 708th Volhgrenadier Division had completely folded and that the entire 14th Armored Division would be available for his main attack on the 20th. He therefore planned to use the new armored division as his pursuit force and expected to turn the unit loose early, having it pass through the infantry divisions and drive east and northeast along all passable roads to the Mutzig area. Only later did he learn that the VI Corps would obtain only one reinforced combat command from the new armored division.8
The new plan would not only avoid assault crossings of the Meurthe, but would also project VI Corps units behind and to the east of German defenses along the river from Raon-l'Etape south past St. Die; furthermore, it provided for rapid exploitation by mobile armored units, as Haislip had done in the north. Execution, however, would depend on the 100th Division's continued progress, and Brooks must have had some second thoughts as he watched the attacks of Burress' regiments bog down throughout the afternoon of the 18th in the face of renewed German resistance. The 100th Division troops had, in fact, quickly discovered that German reinforcements, perhaps from the 716th Division, had occupied a second series of hill masses across N-59 and the Plaine River; meanwhile, a German strongpoint at a quarry on the southern outskirts of Raon-l'Etape blocked any advance south along Route N-59. The 398th regiment, Burress' third regiment, crossed over the Meurthe and passed through the 399th, but could advance no farther than La Trouche, a small hamlet on Route N-392 about two miles east of Raon. Although it had undoubtedly focused German attention away from the St. Die area, the 100th Division's attack had clearly lost much of its steam. Nevertheless, that evening Brooks issued written orders putting the revised plan into effect, and the 3d Division quickly began redeploying its regiments toward Raon-l'Etape.9 Obviously he still hoped that the 100th Division's attack would regain momentum early on 19 November, and that the division could quickly secure enough ground to allow the new plan to be carried out on the 20th.
The revised plan was short-lived. During the night of 18-19 November, Brooks learned that O'Daniel's 3d Division was trying to infiltrate patrols across the Meurthe and that a battalion of the 15th Infantry had been alerted to follow if the patrols gained a foothold on the east bank. Brooks immediately approved the initiative and informed O'Daniel that he could start his main attack with full corps support if the unit could push a
bridgehead over the river that night. The 3d Division's proposal hardly outlasted the dawn on 19 November. During the night the 15th Infantry made five attempts to send patrols across the Meurthe, but only one reached the east bank. German resistance was not the problem, for the Germans either ignored or were unaware of the crossing efforts. Rather, the swift, flooding, and rising Meurthe was the culprit, swamping rubber boats and nearly drowning swimmers. The lone successful patrol crossed near St. Michel-sur-Meurthe, but could not be reinforced; daylight finally ended the hopes of Brooks and O'Daniel for a quick, surprise Meurthe crossing in the center. Nevertheless, the absence of any German response to the effort was encouraging.
The new day brought another disappointment for General Brooks. Encountering heavy German small-arms, mortar, and artillery fire throughout the 19th, the 100th Division was again unable to secure the high ground south of the Plaine River that held the projected assembly areas and lines of departure of the 3d and 103d Divisions. By noon on the 19th, Brooks himself at last decided to abandon the revised plan and return to an amended version of the earlier 10 November plan.10 The only substantial change was the addition of the 14th Armored Division's CCA to the VI Corps' order to battle, and assigning to it the mission given to the entire division in his 18 November plan--passing through the 3d and 100th Divisions and striking directly for Mutzig and Strasbourg.11 But even this rider was to be short-lived.
The Meurthe River Assault
For the 3d Division the change of plans on 19 November created few problems, and the 7th and 30th Infantry regiments concentrated for the 20 November crossings in the St. Michel area without incident. Nevertheless, O'Daniel felt that moving noisy tanks and tank destroyers forward to direct support positions near the crossing sites during the night of 19-20 November would alert the German defenders. Consequently, he kept most of his tracked vehicles well to the rear and tied them into artillery fire direction centers to provide indirect fire support. As a result only a few tanks and tank destroyers--those that had moved up to the riverbank earlier--were able to provide direct support for the crossing. However, his precautions proved successful as the evening of 19 November saw assault boats of the 10th Engineer Battalion, 3d Division, ferry several infantry platoons across the Meurthe at two points just over a mile north of St. Michel unopposed. Protected against surprise attack from the east bank, the engineers had installed two footbridges by midnight and added a light assault boat bridge before dawn on the 20th. Shortly after midnight, troops began crossing the footbridges, and by 0600 five infantry battalions of the 3d Division were assembled
on the east side of the Meurthe waiting for the signal to attack. German opposition so far had been negligible, and surprise was apparently complete.12
At 0615, VI Corps and 3d Division artillery began a thirty-minute barrage directed against known and suspected German strongpoints, assembly areas, and artillery positions. Promptly at 0645 the artillery fire shifted eastward, and the infantry moved out to exploit the successful night crossing.
On the left, the 30th Infantry quickly secured a section of Route N-59 and headed north up the highway toward the Clairefontaine and Raon-l'Etape area.13 At Clairefontaine the progress of the advancing infantry was temporarily halted by a German strongpoint; throughout the day German defenders thus continued to control the east-bank junction of Routes N-59 and N-424, between the 3d Division's 30th Infantry and the 100th Division's 397th in the north. But, sandwiched between the two American regiments, the defenders could not hold out for long. Meanwhile, to the south, troops of the 7th Infantry advanced a few miles inland and then pushed southwest, securing the area around St. Michel-sur-Meurthe, where they found few Germans but took heavy casualties from mines and booby traps. Around one small hamlet, for example, mines alone accounted for nearly 150 casualties within the regiment.
On 21 November both the 3d and 100th Divisions began to make substantial progress. The 7th and 30th Infantry regiments advanced two to four miles in a northeasterly direction, while to the left the 397th Infantry of the 100th Division secured Clairefontaine and pushed four miles east along Route N-424. German opposition was spotty and limited largely to sporadic artillery and mortar fire; as before, most delays stemmed from supply and transportation problems caused by flooding along the Meurthe, and were soon compounded by inadequate traffic control west of the river and by even more changes in VI Corps plans.
Late on 20 November, General Brooks decided to send two regiments of the 103d Division over the Meurthe at the 3d Division's crossing sites, rather than to install additional bridges farther south. Worsening flood conditions greatly complicated the effort. The 103d Division units crossed via the 3d Division's footbridges during the night of 20-21 November without difficulty until 0600 on the 21st, when one footbridge washed away. A second, its approaches flooded, had to be removed at 0800. By that time the 103d Division's two regiments had most of their troops across the river, but none of their vehicles or heavy equipment. The nearby light assault bridge had accommodated about seventy-five jeep-loads of 3d Division supplies and equipment on the 20th, but shortly before midnight its approaches became impassable, leaving 103d Division units with no opportunity to use the span.
To reinforce the two-division bridgehead, the 36th Engineer regiment had begun installing a heavy treadway bridge and a Bailey bridge to the south at St. Michel, with the treadway having priority. Initially, the engineers made good progress on the treadway bridge, but German artillery fire forced a temporary halt to the construction effort, and the treadway was not ready for traffic until 0700 on the morning of the 21st. However, after about forty heavy vehicles of the 3d Division had crossed--including eleven tanks and six tank destroyers--a tank became immobilized in the mud at the eastern exits and blocked further traffic. About 1100 on the 21st the 36th Engineers opened the Bailey bridge at St. Michel, and 3d Division vehicles again began pouring across the Meurthe. However, several hours later VI Corps gave the 103d Division priority at the Bailey bridge site so that it could support its two regiments that had crossed downstream earlier. The net result of all these delays and shifts back and forth was a monumental traffic jam on the west side of the river, made even worse by the arrival of the 14th Armored Division's CCA into the 3d Division's forward assembly areas during the day.
Another change in plans on the 21st contributed to the confusion. At 1400 Brooks again altered his plan of attack, directing CCA to cancel its projected Meurthe River crossing in the Raon-l'Etape area through the 3d and 100th Divisions. Instead, the unit was to take a wide northerly detour, moving north to St. Quirin, which had been secured by the French 2d Armored Division on the 20th; from there it would strike out to the southeast into the wild, rocky, forested valleys of the Sarre Blanche and Sarre Rouge rivers. Its new objective was to seize the Schirmeck area at the junction of Routes N-392 and N-420, twelve miles southeast of St. Quirin and ten miles north of the Saales Pass in order to block a German withdrawal. With German troops in the north now beginning to fall back in disarray before the XV Corps' offensive, Brooks felt that the chances of CCA's making such an end run were good, including the possibility of isolating the 716th and 16th Divisions. The mission, once CCA moved out of its current location, would also ease the traffic problems in the corps' rear.14
Despite the crowded roads, the armored unit started off quickly. CCA reached St. Quirin early on 22 November, passed temporarily to XV Corps' control, and then headed southeast in two columns.15 However, the route was more difficult than expected, and the command took over two days to reach Schirmeck. Numerous mines along narrow Route N-393 and booby-trapped roadblocks of felled trees delayed its advance. About three miles west of Schirmeck, a giant road crater proved impassable and stalled CCA for over twelve hours. Finally, on 25 November, after some intense clashes with German units, the armored command arrived
at Schirmeck, only to find that other VI Corps units had already secured the area. CCA's advance thus had little tactical significance, serving as no more than a training exercise for the new unit.
The 100th and 3d Divisions
Late on 21 November General Brooks, convinced that the Germans were rapidly withdrawing across the entire front of the VI Corps, changed the nature of his advance from attack to pursuit. Ultimately, he sent the 100th Division northeastward along Routes N-392 and N-424, the 3d Division north on Route N-420, the 103d Division east on D-19, and the 36th Division east on N-59 and N-415. He also directed each of his four division commanders to organize fast-moving motorized task forces to strike immediately toward division objectives. Built around the nucleus of an infantry battalion, each task force was to include artillery, tank, tank destroyer, reconnaissance, and engineer units.16 These mobile units were to bypass weak resistance and isolated strongpoints, leaving mop-up chores to the nonmotorized infantry, which would presumably follow at a slower pace.
Although the concept had considerable merit, its execution proved less than successful. Mined and booby-trapped roadblocks and craters, frequently covered by small-arms, machine-gun, and mortar fire, often halted the "highly mobile" task forces, as they had the armor of CCA. Meanwhile, the foot infantry units were normally able to bypass such obstacles and march on at a steady pace. For example, on 22 November, marching infantry of the 100th Division advanced another two miles eastward across a broadening front astride Route N-424 before the division's mechanized Task Force Fooks could catch up. On the 23d the 397th's foot infantry again spearheaded the division's drive and advanced nearly seven miles, moving quickly through the Hantz Pass and capturing St. Blaise-la-Roche, at the junction of Routes N-424 and N-420 about five miles north of Saales.17 Frustrated, Col. Nelson I. Fooks attempted to use lesser roads south of N-424, but again encountered roadblocks and craters and could gain scarcely two miles--and that only after his infantry had left the trucks to advance on foot. The next day, 24 November, General Burress disbanded the mechanized force and turned the advance over to the 1st Battalion, 399th Infantry, which proceeded to march ten miles farther to Schirmeck by nightfall.
Meanwhile, another 100th Division task force consisting of the 1st Battalion, 398th Infantry, and the 117th Cavalry Squadron had been operating along the Plaine River valley and Route N-392 northeast from Raon-l'Etape.
By the evening of 24 November, forward elements, having encountered negligible resistance, had moved fifteen miles beyond the Meurthe; and on the 25th the 117th Cavalry swung east along N-392 to make contact with CCA of the 14th Armored Division, just short of Route N-420.
The 3d Division was not far behind. With its traffic and supply problems solved, O'Daniel's forces had struck rapidly and forcefully northeast on 22 November. The division's motorized task force, TF Whirlwind, took off along narrow mountain roads north of St. Die. Meeting little resistance, it wound up the day with a six-mile advance that carried the ad hoc unit to the outskirts of Saulxures, about a mile south of St. Blaise-la-Roche. To the east, the progress of the 30th Infantry along Route N-420, the main highway, was slower, and the regiment was finally stopped half a mile short of Saales that afternoon. Meanwhile, on the far right, the 7th Infantry encountered the strongest opposition of the day, and in one intense fire fight took about 110 prisoners from the 716th Fusilier Battalion, 716th Division, including the battalion commander.
On 23 November, 3d Division units overcame isolated opposition at Saales and Saulxures and joined forward elements of the 100th Division to clear the road junction at St. Blaise-la-Roche. All along Route N-420 both divisions found stockpiles of ammunition, barbed wire, and construction materials and passed by many incomplete, unmanned defensive installations, none of which the Germans had had the time or the manpower to use. The attacks of the 100th and 3d Divisions had shattered both the 708th and 716th Divisions. As the German troops fell back in small groups to the east and northeast, the American units drove through the vaunted Vosges Ridge Position hardly aware of its existence.
The following day, 24 November, lead elements of both the 3d and 100th Divisions set out along Route N-420 and the Bruche River valley, heading down the eastern slopes of the Vosges toward Schirmeck, Mutzig, and Strasbourg. The two units soon began to compete with one another for the lead, a rivalry fueled by rumors of a 72-hour pass for whichever division reached Strasbourg first. With the 3d on the right bank of the Bruche and the 100th on the left, the two American forces were often visible to each other as they cleared what few obstacles remained in their paths. Both divisions reached Schirmeck that evening, captured different sections of the town, and resumed the competition on the morning of the 25th. O'Daniel, complaining that the 100th was capturing towns in his sector, disbanded TF Whirlwind, which had spearheaded his drive on the 24th, and allowed the 15th Infantry to take the lead. Nightfall on the 25th finally found 3d Division troops slightly ahead of the 100th Division's infantrymen and over halfway to Mutzig. Early on 26 November a fresh battalion of the 100th's 399th Infantry, still dreaming of a three-day pass, took up the race only to be overtaken by a motorcycle messenger, who delivered the news that the division was to be redeployed north. Patch and Devers had decided to strengthen Haislip's XV Corps as quickly as possible, and
411TH INFANTRY, 103D DIVISION, IN VICINITY OF ST. MICHEL
the 100th Division was to be the first installment. The 3d Division thus continued the drive east alone, reaching the Mutzig area that afternoon and linking up with patrols from the XV Corps' 45th Division shortly thereafter. The VI Corps had finally broken out of the Vosges only to find that Strasbourg, still fifteen miles distant, was already in the hands of the French 2d Armored Division. The 72-hour passes would have to wait.
The 103d Division
Before General Haffner's 103d Division could launch its mid-November effort, it had to clear a two-mile-wide, triangular-shaped, wooded hill mass between St. Die and the Taintrux valley. The 409th and 411th Infantry regiments successfully undertook this task during the period 16-18 November, while the 410th Infantry guarded the division's left flank. Opposition was minimal. During the night of 17-18 November, a patrol of the 410th entered the section of St. Die lying west of the Meurthe River and found the area deserted. The Germans had already sacked, burned, or otherwise destroyed the eastern part of the city and had herded well over 40,000 civilians into the western section of St. Die, which had boasted a prewar population of only 20,000.
For the November push, the 103d Division deployed the 411th Infantry on its right wing, adjacent to the 36th Division, while concentrating the
regiments crossed the Meurthe over 3d Division bridges during the night of 20-21 November, immediately spreading out east and southeast and clearing high ground north and northeast of St. Die against light, intermittent resistance. On 22 November, elements of the 409th Infantry, coming in from the north, entered St. Die unopposed. Meanwhile the division's motorized task force, TF Haines,18 circled around north of St. Die on back roads, securing much of Route N-420 from St. Die to Provencheres-sur-Fave. Provencheres fell on the 24th under the combined pressure of TF Haines, the 409th Infantry regiment, and units of the 3d Division coming up along Route N-420. Like both the 3d and 100th, the 103d Division passed many unmanned German defensive works and abandoned stockpiles of military supplies. To the south the 411th Infantry forced a crossing of the eastern section of the Meurthe near Saulcy-sur-Meurthe on the 22d against heavy small-arms and machine-gun fire and pushed north up N-59 toward St. Die.
In accordance with new VI Corps orders on the 23d,19 the 103d Division now advanced in a more easterly direction toward Ville, a road junction town deep in the mountains about ten miles east of Saales. The division's ultimate objective was Barr, on the Alsatian plains eight miles northeast of Ville and an equal distance south of Mutzig in the 3d Division's zone. Heavily mined roads, well-defended roadblocks, some stubborn pockets of resistance built on incomplete defensive installations, and sporadic artillery and mortar fire slowed progress, as did time-consuming marches along muddy mountain trails to outflank German strongpoints. By the afternoon of 26 November, leading elements of the 103d Division cleared Ville, but were still five miles short of the plains.
The 36th Division
The tired, understrength 36th Division, its rifle companies averaging only two-thirds of their authorized strength, made the transition slowly from its unfinished DOGFACE role into the mid-November offensive. During the period 10-19 November the division pressed east and southeast, at the same time taking over 103d Division positions west of the Meurthe. By the evening of 19 November, in the face of intermittent and rather weak resistance, the 36th Division's left had finally reached its DOGFACE objective, the high ground west of the Meurthe in the vicinity of St. Leonard, about five miles south of St. Die. The division had also gained high, forested terrain overlooking Anould, located on the flooding Meurthe two miles farther south. On the far right (southeast), 36th Division troops were already within a mile or two of destroyed Gerardmer by 19 November, and elements of the 3d Algerian Division of the II French Corps entered the town that day.20
So far the 36th Division, in the area
from St. Leonard south about ten miles to Gerardmer, had been facing mainly the 198th Division of the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps. During the night of 17-18 November, however, the 198th began to pull out of its lines for redeployment to the Belfort Gap front. The movement was beset by confusion. To cover the withdrawal, the Nineteenth Army directed the weak 16th Volksgrenadier Division to take over the 198th's positions in the Anould-Fraize area, an almost impossible task considering the strength of the 16th. Although the Nineteenth Army had also instructed the departing 198th to leave a rear guard south of St. Leonard, apparently the orders were ignored. Meanwhile, instead of moving up to the Meurthe River, most of the arriving 16th Volksgrenadier troops began to occupy the Vosges Ridge Position, six to ten miles east of the river.
The 36th Division's boundaries and missions had also changed. When Brooks decided to have the 103d Division cross the Meurthe north of St. Die over the bridges of the 3d Division, he moved the boundary between the 103d and 36th Divisions northward over three miles. Shortly thereafter, Brooks made the 36th Division part of his pursuit and directed it to drive east and northeast across its extended front abreast of the remainder of the VI Corps. Its intermediate objective was Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, on Route N-59 about twelve miles (straight-line distance) east of St. Die and two miles east of the Ste. Marie Pass.21 From the pass, the division was to continue eastward twelve miles to the city of Selestat on the Alsatian plains between Colmar and Strasbourg. Brooks also instructed Dahlquist, the division commander, to launch a secondary effort along the axis of Route N-415 through Le Bonhomme Pass, about five miles east of Fraize, leading directly to Colmar.
The new tasks were onerous for the tired unit. Nevertheless, by 20 November the 36th Division had already moved in strength up to the west bank of the Meurthe, and it began crossing the river the next day between St. Leonard and Clefcy. Opposition came mainly from German artillery and mortar fire, while sodden ground, overflowing streams, and heavily mined areas also slowed progress. Gains on the 21st included the seizure of Anould and possession of a large section of Route N-415, which had been the main interior communication line of the German defenders. But as the 36th Division moved east, its main effort evolved into a battle for control of N-59, the road to the Ste. Marie Pass.
From St. Die to the vicinity of Ban-de-Laveline, a distance of about six miles, Route N-59 ran along an open valley, but soon thereafter it began twisting steeply upward through heavily wooded hills. Here the road, a major highway to the north between Luneville and St. Die, shrank to little more than a minor mountain byway, easily interdicted and, as the terrain became steeper, increasingly difficult to bypass. German defenses in the 36th Division's sector were the best organized and most complete in VI Corps' zone, probably reflecting the work of the veteran and well-led 198th Division, which did much of the
GERMAN ASSAULT GUN KNOCKED OUT BY 76-MM. M4 TANK OF 36TH DIVISION. Ste. Croix-aux-Mines area.
groundwork in the area. Although the 16th Division, now responsible for the defense of the region, was unable to man all the roadblocks and other defensive works, it held on to many of the prepared positions tenaciously.
German resistance on 22 and 23 November temporarily held the 36th Division in check along the Meurthe, but on the 24th the pace picked up as the defensive effort weakened. In the south, 36th Division troops seized Fraize and reached out to within a mile of Le Bonhomme Pass; to the north, other units cleared Wisembach on Route N-59 about two miles east of Ban-de-Laveline. Although German resistance stalled progress in Le Bonhomme Pass area for two days, Ste. Marie-aux-Mines fell to the division on the 25th; on the 26th the 36th Division pushed three miles farther on N-59 to Ste. Croix-aux-Mines, seven miles short of the Alsatian plains near Selestat. Now, like the rest of VI Corps, the 36th Division was about to receive new orders changing its missions and objectives.22
Although the American VI Corps attack had finally suceeded in breaking through the High Vosges, the offensive had begun in a somewhat confused and uncoordinated manner. Perhaps overestimating the German linear defenses along the Meurthe River, Brooks had initially tried to
outflank them instead of penetrating through the scattered German strongpoints as Haislip had done. Certainly the 100th Division's determined actions around Raon-l'Etape sapped the strength of German defenders and shook the entire defensive line loose. Given the initial weakness of the German line, however, both the 3d and 103d Divisions probably could have crossed the Meurthe earlier than the 20th, thereby threatening the German forces that held up the 100th in the Plaine River valley and starting the drive east almost immediately. Of course, the full-scale offensives in the Belfort and Saverne Gap areas also helped the VI Corps' drive, making it impossible for the Germans to throw in reinforcements this time around.
Brooks' decision to begin the pursuit early in the offensive was correct, but his forces were probably unprepared to make the transition on such short notice; and many, like the 14th Armored Division, were too inexperienced. Nevertheless, like Haislip and Truscott before him, Brooks had seen some daylight and wanted to push his forces as far as he could before outrunning his supply lines or becoming mired in the difficult terrain and weather. Thus his orders gave a sense of immediacy to the entire advance and allowed the German defenders of the 708th, 716th, and 16th Divisions little opportunity to man the Vosges Ridge Position.
With Strasbourg taken by the XV Corps, Brooks found himself shifting the direction of his attack from the northeast to the east. He sent the 103d Division to Selestat and the 36th toward Colmar and, on Patch's orders, redeployed the 100th Division, on the VI Corps' northern wing, to the XV Corps. In this final effort, the VI Corps' advance was less focused and more opportunistic; its success would depend greatly on the ability of the French to make commensurate progress toward Colmar from the south. Before his forces could advance farther in this new direction, however, Brooks would need additional instructions from his superiors, Patch and Devers, regarding the ultimate destination of the VI Corps.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (21) * Next Chapter (23)
1. The concept that the 3d Division would make the main effort dated back at least to VI Corps FO 7 of 7 November. Other alternatives were set forth in VI Corps Outline Plans A, B, and C, all dated 10 November 1944.
2. German information in this chapter derives largely from von Luttichau, "German Operations," chs. 21, 22, and 25. Army Group G pushed the boundary between the Nineteenth and First Armies to the Rhine-Marne Canal on 10 November, but the change was not fully effective until the 13th. Then, on 20 or 21 November, in the wake of the XV Corps' attack against Sarrebourg, Army Group G moved the boundary back south approximately to the Blamont-Strasbourg line.
3. Seventh Army G-2 estimates included the 360th Cossack Regiment, with 375 combat effectives, in the northern part of the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps' sector, but no confirmation of this can be found in available German records.
4. The figures for effectives are the authors' estimates gleaned from conflicting German and American sources.
5. The following account is based on the records of the 100th Division and on the comments of Franklin Gurley, a veteran of the 3d Battalion, 399th Infantry.
6. Routes D-8 and D-9 were actually a single road, the designation of which changed as it passed French interdepartmental boundaries. The forests between Neufmaisons and Raon-l'Etape were known as the Forest of the Wilderness and the Forest of the Small Wilderness.
7. The subsequent discussion of VI Corps planning changes is based on the following: Seventh Army OI 15, 18 Nov 44; VI Corps AAR Nov 44, pp. 28-30; VI Corps FO 8, 18 Nov 44; VI Corps OI 9, 19 Nov 44; VI Corps War Room Jnl, 18 and 19 Nov 44; 3d Inf Div War Room Jnl, 18 and 19 Nov; Taggart, ed., History of the Third Infantry Division in World War II, p. 266. However, the after action reports of the 3d, 100th, and 103d Divisions for November 1944 make no mention of the changes discussed here.
8. The text (para. 3e) of VI Corps FO 8, issued at 1800 on 18 November, as well as the operations overlay accompanying the FO clearly indicate that VI Corps expected to gain the entire armored division, but Seventh Army OI 15 of 18 November attached only CCA (reinforced) to VI Corps, effective 0600 on 19 November. No time identification can be found for Seventh Army OI 15, but it must have reached the IV Corps command post after VI Corps' FO 8 had been issued. The principal reinforcement for CCA was a medium-tank battalion, which gave the combat command two tank battalions instead of the usual one.
9. VI Corps FO 8, 1800 18 Nov 44. Although the FO was timed at 1800, the VI Corps War Room Journal for 18 November reveals that the commanders of the 3d, 100th, and 103d Divisions knew of Brooks' intentions by 0930 that day.
10. VI Corps OI 9 of 19 November, ordering the revision, was issued at 1300 that day, but entries in the VI Corps and 3d Division War Room Journals indicate that Brooks reached his decision an hour or two earlier.
11. VI Corps OI 10, 20 Nov 44.
12. For a detailed account, see Earl A. Reitan, "The Seventh Infantry Crosses the Meurthe (20 November 1944): The American Way of War in a Small Unit Action," MS (1986); copy at CMH and an abridged version published in Infantry, LXXVI, No. 5 (Sep-Oct 86), 29-33.
13. Clairefontaine, on the east bank of the Meurthe, is not to be confused with its neighbor, Etival-Clairefontaine, west of the river.
14. Whether the traffic jam influenced Brooks' decision to redeploy CCA is not clear from available records. VI Corps OI 12 of 21 November, directing the redeployment, reflects only the tactical intent set forth in the text.
15. Seventh Army OI 17, 22 Nov 44. Much of CCA's route to and from St. Quirin lay north of the boundary between VI and XV Corps.
16. Typical was the 100th Division's Task Force Fooks under Col. Nelson I. Fooks, commander of the 398th Infantry: 2d Battalion, 398th Infantry; 100th Reconnaissance Troop; Battery A, 69th Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Platoon, Company B, 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion; Company A (-), 753d Tank Battalion; Platoon, Company B, 325th Engineer Battalion; Medical and Signal Detachments, 100th Division.
17. The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded to 1st Lt. Edward A. Silk, Company E, 398th Infantry, 100th Infantry Division, on 23 November 1944 for heroic action in clearing German infantry units from the northern section of Route N-424.
18. TF Haines was built around the 2d Battalion, 409th Infantry, commanded by Maj. Lloyd L. Haines.
19. VI Corps OI 14, 23 Nov 44.
20. With its left held largely by weak FFI units and dangerously extended northward, the 3d Algerian Division could make little progress beyond Gerardmer during the rest of November.
21. VI Corps OI 11, 20 Nov 44; VI Corps OI 13, 22 Nov 44.
22. VI Corps OI 17, 26 Nov 44.