The XII Corps Crossing of the Moselle
The XII Corps Plan1
The successful coup de main by Combat Command A, 4th Armored Division, at Commercy on 31 August and the establishment of a bridgehead east of the Meuse placed the XII Corps in position to continue the advance toward the Moselle River and Nancy. (Map VII) Thus far the retreating Germans had offered no real opposition, nor were there any signs that the Wehrmacht shortly would stand and fight. During the past sixteen days the XII Corps had made an eastward advance of 250 miles. The 80th Infantry Division was coming up fast on the left of CCA and on 1 September crossed into the bridgehead. On the same day CCB, earlier slowed down by the necessity of repairing bridges over the Marne, crossed the Meuse River and took position south of the 80th Division and CCA. On 2 September the bulk of McBride's 80th Division relieved CCA in the Commercy bridgehead, while the left-wing regiment, the 319th, crossed the river at St. Mihiel farther to the north. The 35th Infantry Division remained behind the rest of the XII Corps, guarding the right flank of the Third Army, and so far as General Eddy knew he had to make his future plans on the basis of one infantry and one armored division.
The quick successes won by speed and surprise in earlier river crossing operations prompted General Eddy to consider using the 4th Armored Division in a surprise attack at the Moselle, with the infantry following. Neither
Actually, any planning for a surprise crossing by the armor was somewhat academic in view of the gasoline shortage which paralyzed the XII Corps, just as it did the XX Corps, waiting to cross the Moselle in the north. Fortunately the XII Corps had overrun a number of enemy rail yards. After scouring the area the corps G-4 found enough loaded tank cars to augment the limited gasoline issue and so allow the corps to concentrate east of the Meuse River. First call on the gasoline available was given to the armored patrols and the corps cavalry. But on the afternoon Of 2 September even the armored reconnaissance elements were forced to, halt, with fuel for only twenty miles left in their gas tanks. The XII Corps was immobilized.
General Patton visited the XII Corps commander on 3 September and with his customary optimism launched into a discussion of methods for attacking the West Wall, many miles beyond the Moselle. There was reason for optimism. Gasoline was already on its way to the Third Army front and the XII Corps could prepare to continue the advance east. That night the 4th Armored Division received 8,000 gallons as a token installment, and on the following day enough gasoline arrived in the Commercy area to permit resumption of the forward movement.
In midafternoon on 4 September, General Eddy outlined his general scheme of maneuver.3 He had decided to commit one regimental combat team of his only available infantry division in a reconnaissance in force, such as had been so successful at the Marne and the Meuse. This first plan for negotiating the Moselle barrier and capturing Nancy turned on a quick thrust across the river north of Nancy. One regimental combat team of the 80th Division (the 317th Infantry and its attachments) was ordered to establish a bridgehead in the vicinity of Pont-à-Mousson, a crossing site since the days of the Romans. Through this bridgehead CCA, reinforced by a battalion of the 318th Infantry, was to make a wide sweep, circling to the south and attacking Nancy from
MAJ. GEN. MANTON S. EDDY, XII Corps Commander.
The Assault at Pont-à-Mousson
During the late afternoon of 4 September the 317th Infantry (Col. A. D. Cameron) moved along the Flirey-Pont-à-Mousson road toward the Moselle. (Map 2) There was no time for daylight reconnaissance across the river, and indeed very little was known of the terrain on the west bank from which the crossing attempt was slated to be made that same night. Emphasis now was on speed-hurry to the river and hurry across-the tactic which had kept the retreating Germans punch drunk for days past. The enemy, however, had used his respite to dig in on the east bank of the river and there establish a consolidated position which by this time extended from a point opposite Pagny-sur-Moselle south to Millery. The 3d Panzer Grenadier Division, recently hurried to France from the Italian front and still clad in tropical uniforms, held the greater part of this sector. It could be given some help by elements of the 92d Luftwaffe Field Regiment which were deployed on the left of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division opposite Dieulouard. The 3d Panzer Grenadier Division (Generalmajor Hans Hecker) was an old and battle-tested Wehrmacht unit. Its morale was high and its ranks nearly full. The artillery regiment was intact, but much of the motorized equipment being of Italian make was only passable. The division engineers and the organic tank battalion, which normally characterized this type of division, had not yet arrived from Italy. The 92d Luftwaffe Field Regiment was a temporary training regiment that had been hastily collected from antiaircraft gunners and Luftwaffe replacements stationed in and around Nancy.
Two days before, the Germans in this sector had been alerted to the threat of a crossing attempt by the activity of American cavalry in the vicinity of Pont-à-Mousson. In addition, enemy observers on Mousson Hill (382),
MAP NO. 2
In the early evening the 317th Infantry arrived in assembly areas on the wooded bluffs looking down on the Moselle. Patrols, working in darkness, discovered a possible crossing site near Pagny-sur-Moselle far over on the north flank, another south of Vandières, and a third in the vicinity of Dieulouard. The situation in front of the 317th was still obscure, and about 2200 General McBride decided not to risk a night crossing but instead to try a surprise attack on the following morning. The area across the Moselle in which the 317th Infantry expected to establish a bridgehead was dominated by Mousson Hill, rising sharply east of the ancient town of Pont-à-Mousson, and by Hill 358, three thousand yards north of Mousson Hill. Colonel Cameron gathered his battalion commanders shortly before midnight and outlined a plan of attack for the next morning based on the seizure of the two commanding hills. The 1st Battalion, on the right, was ordered to begin an assault boat crossing east of Blénod-lès-Pont-à-Mousson at 0930 on 5 September, swing south of Atton toward the Forêt de Facq, reorganize there in the woods, and then attack straight to the west and take Mousson Hill from the rear. At the same hour the 2d Battalion, farther to the north, was scheduled to ford the Moselle at the Pagny site, move directly east toward Hill 385, and then attack south along the ridge line and seize Hill 358. The two hills were about 6,500 yards apart. The 3d Battalion, in reserve, was to assemble behind the 1st Battalion and follow the latter across the river once a footing was secured. Colonel Cameron had been assured of air support and seems to have expected that the 80th Division artillery would fire concentrations on the regimental objectives before the infantry assault. Actually, the time necessary to effect co-ordination between
At daylight on 5 September-a bright, clear day-the assault battalions moved from the cover of the tree line on the western bluff s and down toward the Moselle. The 2d Battalion had progressed some distance along a draw south of Pagny-sur-Moselle when suddenly it was struck by artillery and mortar fire coming in from positions dug on the forward slope across the river. So intense and accurate was this fire that the battalion was paralyzed-nor did it again move forward. On the right the 1st Battalion reached Blénod and reorganized for the assault in the shelter of the houses bordering the river flats. In front of Blénod a small canal ran parallel to the river. The battalion found a partially demolished footbridge and crossed the canal without difficulty; it moved only about two hundred yards in the direction of the river when enemy machine guns began to sweep the flats from the north. Completely in the open, the 1st Battalion reorganized and tried to move forward again. This time heavy and accurate mortar fire broke in the American ranks, destroying most of the rubber boats intended for the river crossing. About 1500 the battalion fell back to the line of the canal and there took shelter behind a railroad embankment. The division commander made another attempt to put troops across and ordered the 3d Battalion to cross near Pont-à-Mousson by whatever means were at hand. However, no ford could be found and the battalion withdrew.
Late in the evening the 317th regrouped for another effort, a night attack in which all three battalions would take part. To the left the 2d Battalion marched south to Vandières, where a possible crossing site had been reported. The 3d Battalion, in the center, prepared to take Mousson Hill with a frontal assault across the river. The 1st Battalion moved across the canal to retrace its steps east of Blénod. But again the two exterior battalions were driven back from the river. The Germans on the opposite bank allowed the 1st Battalion to reach the flats between the canal and the river and I then opened fire. Casualties were heavy and the badly shaken troops fell back to Blénod where the
FRONTAL ATTACK ACROSS THE MOSELLE. The 3d Battalion, 317th Infantry, prepares to take Mousson Hill, which may be seen across the river.
survivors took refuge in a concrete factory building. Shortly after midnight the 2d Battalion began crossing the canal at Vandières using some barges found tied to the bank. Very slowly, in the pitch black, the rifle companies formed in a single file and began groping their way across the open space between the canal and the river preparatory to forming in line for the final crossing assault. The battalion was swung out in a wide loop when, about 0415, the silence was broken by a command shouted in German. This single incident saved most of the infantry, for they fell in their places a split second before the German machine guns across the river opened an intense grazing fire. Flares and mortar shells followed, pinning the troops where they lay. One company close to the canal was able to withdraw, but the rest of the battalion was not pulled out of its precarious position until the following afternoon.
The 3d Battalion had greater initial success in the central crossing attempt at Pont-à-Mousson. The 305th Engineer Combat Battalion, ferrying the infantry across the Moselle in rubber assault boats, landed about four platoons of infantry from I and L Companies on the enemy bank, although casualties
Further river crossing attempts at this point were canceled by the XII Corps commander, and the 317th Infantry began a slow, piece-meal withdrawal into the woods west of Pont-à-Mousson. Insufficient time for daylight reconnaissance, a daytime attack, the decision to dispense with an artillery preparation in order to gain tactical surprise, lack of co-ordination, and intelligence estimates that minimized the enemy strength had all contributed to the initial failure to bridge the Moselle. But the most important explanation of this reverse must be found in the fact that the enemy held ground superbly adapted to the defensive and that he was prepared to fight for it.
The 80th Infantry Division Advance East of Toul
The remainder of the 80th Infantry Division also met toughening opposition and more difficult terrain as it drove east out of the Commercy bridgehead. West of Nancy the Moselle makes a wide loop, swinging out as far as Toul, one of the most historic of French fortress cities. In the XII Corps plan it was intended for the 80th to attack astride the northern segment of the Moselle River loop. When the 317th Infantry began the march forward on 4 September, two battalions of the 318th Infantry, forming the division center, moved up along the north bank of the Moselle toward Marbache, about three miles south of Dieulouard. One battalion of the 318th Infantry was attached to CCA, 4th Armored Division, which assembled behind the 317th Infantry ready to cross the river when a bridgehead was established. Late on 4 September the 319th Infantry, forming the right wing of the division advance, forced its way across the Moselle at the point where it touched on the eastern suburbs of Toul, and drove a re-entrant into the wide, enemy-held salient formed by
Next morning the two regiments attacking astride the Moselle began a protracted battle to close up alongside the 317th Infantry, already at the main north-south river channel. In front of the 80th Division center the main body of the 92d Luftwaffe Field Regiment was disposed on the heavily wooded hills and ridges surrounding Marbache. Despite its recent conversion to infantry the 92d proved to be an able combat outfit. When the 3d Battalion of the 318th Infantry attacked to take Hill 326, which commanded Marbache and the road running east to the Moselle, the Germans contested every step through the woods. Progress was slow, but on the morning of 6 September the battalion was in position for the final assault against Hill 326. American guns sprayed the crest with high explosive and in the middle of the afternoon the 3d Battalion took the position. The enemy left seventy-five dead and wounded on the hilltop. The attackers also lost heavily and the battalion commander, Lt. Col. J. B. Snowden II, was mortally wounded. He refused to leave his men and died the following morning. On the right, the 2d Battalion of the 318th made a pre-dawn attack on 6 September against a battalion of the 92d Luftwaffe Field Regiment entrenched on the west edge of the Forêt de l'Avant Garde. Although the first enemy position was quickly overrun after tanks and tank destroyers swept the tree line with fire, the Germans fought stubbornly as they were forced back through the woods, their retreat covered by twin 20mm. antiaircraft guns and artillery firing from east of the river. A co-ordinated attack put the 2d Battalion astride Hill 356 on 7 September. Now the 318th Infantry commanded the high ground north and south of Marbache, as well as the roads defiling through the town from the west, and on the night of 7-8 September patrols entered and outposted Marbache. Later, German fire swept the area and the American hold was broken by a counterattack.
The drive out of the 319th bridgehead went more slowly than the attack north of the river. Here, in the Moselle salient, the 3d Parachute Replacement Regiment held an outpost line barring the western approaches to Nancy. This German position lay about ten miles west of that strategic city, running north and south across the narrow tip of the Moselle tongue and anchored at the flanks by two old French forts which had once formed a part of the Toul fortress system. The northernmost work, at Gondreville, fell to the 3d Battalion
FORT VILLEY-LE SEC
The Germans launched a last series of counterattacks in the 80th Division zone north of the river on 8 and 9 September, using troops from the 553d VG Division to reinforce the 92d Luftwaffe Field Regiment. The recapture of Marbache was followed by sorties at Liverdun, where the 3d Battalion, 318th Infantry, was attempting to clear the north bank of the Moselle bend. This last flurry, apparently a rear guard action, soon was ended and by 10 September most of the enemy had withdrawn across the north-south channel of the Moselle or had fallen back toward Nancy.
The XII Corps Returns to the Attack
General Patton's order of 5 September, directing the XII Corps to cross the Moselle, seize Nancy, and prepare to continue the advance as far as Mann-
Meanwhile the danger of a German thrust against the exposed and extended south flank of the XII Corps, which had caused General Eddy considerable concern, diminished day by day. The Seventh Army drive north along the Rhone Valley was pinching the retreating enemy, who now appeared to be more concerned with avoiding entrapment between the two American armies than with any counterattack operations aimed at the Third Army flank. The 2d Cavalry Group, scouting toward the Madon River southeast of the XII Corps, brushed against German columns retreating hurriedly to the east. On 6 September the 42d Cavalry Squadron and 696th Field Artillery Battalion blocked off one such column on the road between Xirocourt and Ceintrey, killed 151 Germans, captured 178, and destroyed 30 vehicles. On the following day the cavalry were on the Madon River and held a heavy bridge, still intact. In addition, the XV Corps had been returned to the Third Army and would shortly appear to take over the mission of protecting the open south flank. This meant that the 35th Infantry Division could be brought forward and used in mounting the new XII Corps attack.
On 7 September General Eddy mapped out a tentative new plan, much like his original scheme but this time shifting the main effort so as to use the 35th Infantry Division and the entire 4th Armored Division in a wide envelopment starting south of the existing corps front and swinging across the Moselle and Meurthe Rivers to gain the rear of Nancy. Once this limited objective attack had been concluded, General Eddy expected to use his armor to spearhead a further advance toward the north and east, as part of the larger Third Army plan. Reaction to the proposed maneuver at headquarters of the 4th Armored Division was distinctly adverse; late in the afternoon General Wood phoned Col. Ralph Canine, the XII Corps chief of staff, and reported: "My people are appalled at this thing." He reasoned that beyond the Madon
On 9 September the corps commander set 0500, 11 September, as H Hour for the attack on the south. The 35th Infantry Division was moving up into line, adequate stocks of gasoline were available, and all fuel tanks and auxiliary cans were full. The cavalry had established a screen along the Madon River and early that morning had begun a dash, fruitless as it proved, to seize the Moselle bridges between Gripport and Flavigny where the 35th expected to cross. On 10 September the corps heavy artillery moved south to support the initial attack. North of the XII Corps the sound of gunfire signaled the beginning of the attack to establish a bridgehead in the XX Corps zone.
The XII Corps Crosses the Moselle South of Nancy
On the morning of 10 September the 35th Infantry Division moved forward under scattered shellbursts to occupy the high ground west of the Mo-
The reverse suffered by the 2d Battalion temporarily checked the 134th infantry attack. But the co-ordinated attack by Col. Robert Sears' 137th Infantry, delivered as originally planned on the morning of 11 September, secured a toehold across the river. After firing for over an hour in a feint at an area five miles to the north of the 137th Infantry crossing site set at Crévéchamps, the entire 35th Division artillery, reinforced by heavier guns from the XII Corps,
In the original XII Corps scheme of maneuver CCB (Brig. Gen. H. E. Dager) was to advance in two columns on the right of the 35th Infantry Division, the north column to cross the Moselle near Bayon, the south column to cross at Bainville-aux-Miroirs. Lunéville and Vic-sur-Seille were designated as objectives. When the armor attacked, on the morning of 11 September, the armored infantry leading the southern column became involved in a sharp fight in the town of Bainville-aux-Miroirs, were initially driven back from the river, but finally succeeded in crossing two companies. The northern column met less resistance in the Bayon sector. A platoon of tanks from the 8th Tank Battalion, led by 1st Lt. William Marshall, followed hard behind the infantry. At this point the main antitank obstacle was a steep-banked canal on the west side of the river channel. Although the German gunners had taken the American tanks under fire, Lieutenant Marshall proceeded to build his own causeway across the canal by firing into the banks until they caved into the water and then topping the earth with a ramp of rails and ties.14 Marshall's platoon, followed by the rest of the 8th Tank Battalion, then successfully negotiated the four separate streams which here comprise the Moselle; bypassing Bayon, the left column of CCB seized the hills northwest of Brémoncourt which overlooked the 137th Infantry position.
During the night of 11-12 September the advance guard of the armor met the 1st Battalion of the 137th Infantry near Lorey. The engineers, meanwhile, had floated a 168-foot bridge over the Moselle at the Bayon site, and the remainder of CCB, with the 2d Battalion of the 320th Infantry, started to move across into the bridgehead. The Germans made a desperate attempt to throw
TANK CROSSING CANAL NEAR BAYON
AMERICAN TANK DAMAGED BY GERMAN FIRE. This tank of the 8th Tank Battalion was hit during the German counterattack to destroy the Bayon Bridge.
the Americans back across the river, or at least to destroy the Bayon bridge, and early on 12 September sent a battalion through the outposts of the 8th Tank Battalion. This counterattack was suicidal. Tanks and infantry encircled the enemy detachment, killed many, and took about 150 prisoners. Meanwhile the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 137th Infantry fought their way out of the pocket at the river bank and during the morning swung south to join the main force. Tanks, tank destroyers, guns, and trucks by this time were pouring into the bridgehead. A few German tanks essayed a brief rear guard action east of Méhoncourt, but by midafternoon the remnants, of the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment were in full retreat toward the Meurthe River, harassed by fighter-bombers sent over by XIX TAC and closely pursued by CCB and the 137th.
The 35th Division attack had been planned as a two-regiment maneuver. After the disastrous fight at Flavigny, however, the 134th Infantry took no further part in the battle for the crossing, becoming involved in holding the anchor point for the division left flank at Pont St. Vincent, where the Madon
The XII Corps Crosses the Moselle North of Nancy
The successful attack by CCB, 4th Armored Division, on 11 September and the seizure of a foothold across the Moselle in the Bayon sector, dictated a prompt effort to cross the Moselle north of Nancy and start the left hook required by the XII Corps plan of concentric attack. Furthermore, the XX Corps had achieved a crossing at Arnaville, just north of the zone selected for the thrust by the left wing of the XII Corps, and it might be expected that this would attract considerable German attention. On the afternoon of ii September, therefore, General Eddy gave orders for the 80th Infantry Division to start the Moselle crossing the following morning.15
After the failure of the reconnaissance in force that the 317th Infantry had undertaken on 5-6 September, General McBride, his staff, and- his regimental commanders laid plans for a carefully co-ordinated assault and adequate support in the next crossing attempt. A new crossing site was selected in the neighborhood of Dieulouard, about four miles south of Pont-à-Mousson. (Map IX) In the new plan the 317th Infantry again would be responsible for seizing the river crossing and securing a hold on the enemy bank, its initial objective to be the series of hills and ridges immediately east of Dieulouard. Once the
LONG TOM MOUNTED ON SHERMAN TANK CHASSIS. This 155-mm. gun was one of many that concentrated on targets across the Moselle before the assault.
317th was across, two battalions of the 318th Infantry (Col. H. D. McHugh) were slated to follow into the bridgehead, wheel north, and capture Mousson Hill and the surrounding heights. The 319th Infantry (Col. O. L. Davidson) was engaged astride the Moselle east of Toul; therefore General McBride could count on only five battalions. CCA, 4th Armored Division, assembled behind the 80th Infantry Division, was prepared to cross through the infantry bridgehead four hours after the heavy bridges were in and strike for Château-Salins, a strategic road and rail center some twenty-three miles east of Nancy. To give added weight to the armored drive the 1st Battalion, 318th Infantry, was motorized and attached to CCA. Engineer support for the 80th Infantry Division effort would be given by the 305th Engineer Combat Battalion (Lt. Col. A. E. McCollam), assigned the task of crossing the infantry assault force, and the 1117th Engineer Combat Group (Col. R. G. Lovett), designated to put in the heavy bridges and act as a combat reserve.
The initial attack by the 317th Infantry had shown that the Germans were well organized for defense in the Pont-à-Mousson sector, and it was probable
Although careful plans and preparations would increase the chances of a successful crossing, the Germans occupied a position so strengthened by the configuration of the ground that there was no easy route of penetration if they chose to defend. The heights of the Moselle Plateau, across the river from the 80th Infantry Division, were crowned by remains indicative of the historic military importance of the area. On Mousson Hill lay the vestiges of a medieval church-fortress, at Ste. Geneviève lines of Celtic earthworks could still be traced on the crest, and at Mount Toulon the ruins of a Roman fort were still evident enough to be shown on French General Staff maps.
The Moselle itself, as it winds through the Dieulouard sector, is no serious military barrier to any modern army. The average width of the river here is 150 feet, with a depth from 6 to 8 feet. Several fords are available for crossing infantry, but the river bottom is too muddy for tank going. East of Dieulouard the Moselle River and the Obrion Canal form two arms that wind around a flat, bare island, a little less than 2,000 yards across. A macadam road runs across this island and the approaches to fords and bridging sites, via the island, are good. Parallel to the western bank of the Moselle at this point is a barge canal, 50 feet wide and 5 feet deep, separated from the river by an 8-foot dyke
As a preliminary to the 80th Infantry Division attack the IX Bomber Command sent fifty-eight medium bombers on 10 September to cut the bridge at Custines that spanned the Mauchère River and provided a quick route over which reinforcements might be moved from Nancy into the Dieulouard sector. The American bombers damaged the bridge, but it is problematical whether this hindered subsequent troop movement by the enemy. On the afternoon of ii September other planes came over and began a feint at the Pont-à-Mousson area calculated to divert German attention from the intended crossing site. An air strike at Mousson Hill was successful and an artillery observer reported that "it looks like the top of the hill has been blown off"-an overly optimistic view as later events showed. The American artillery joined in this demonstration and continued to shell the Pont-à-Mousson sector during the night.
At midnight on 11 September the two assault battalions of the 317th Infantry moved through the trees covering the approaches to the Moselle and fell into line along the west bank of the barge canal. By 0400, H-hour for the crossing, the 3d Battalion had traversed the island and was at the Obrion Canal, where a ford had been marked by the engineers. On the left, at a crossing site about 500 yards north of the island, the 2d Battalion was hit by mortar fire and briefly disorganized while crossing the barge canal, but at H Hour the first wave was at the Moselle. Now nine battalions of field artillery
Thus far the Germans had reacted only with occasional fire. Apparently the river line had been very weakly outposted and the high ground, seized by the 317th, was not occupied at all. A drizzling rain reduced visibility in front of the enemy OP's (observation posts), and the moving barrage laid ahead of the attacking infantry probably knocked out the German communications net and dispersed local reserves. However, when the reserve battalion began to cross by a footbridge put in behind the 2d Battalion the German gunners were on the target and succeeded in damaging the bridge. The engineers made repairs under fire and the 1st Battalion moved over the river to its objective, Hill 382, northeast of Bezaumont on the Ste. Geneviève Ridge. The arrival of the 1st Battalion between the 2d and 3d placed the 317th on its first objective, with a semiorganized front of some 3,000 yards. Just before noon the 318th Infantry (-) began crossing into the center of the bridgehead and took up positions on the reverse slope of Ste. Geneviève Ridge and west of Bezaumont. Later in the day the 318th Infantry tightened up the perimeter defenses of the bridgehead by road blocks near Ville-au-Val, Loisy, and Autreville-sur-Moselle. As night drew on the five American battalions dug in to await the inevitable counterattack.
All during the day the engineers had worked furiously to throw heavy bridging across the river and the canals. The original engineer plan provided that heavy bridge construction should be postponed until late on 12 September, when, it was expected, the German guns would be pulled back from direct ranging on the bridge sites. However, the speed and ease of the infantry advance during the morning led General McBride to order the heavy ponton companies immediately to work-a decision that had an important bearing on the events of the next day. By midnight of 12 September two companies of the 702d Tank Battalion, the 313th Field Artillery Battalion (105 Howitzer), some antitank guns, and a few towed tank destroyers were in the bridgehead, the heavy weapons and vehicles being assembled in the dark-
Little sign of enemy activity had been seen during the day.17 As darkness settled, the German guns to the east began a sustained fire on the bridgehead, while enemy mortars methodically searched the reverse slopes on which the American infantry reserves lay. The 80th Infantry Division attack had struck a thinly manned sector of the First Army line. In front of the 80th extended the southern wing of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division, rated by OKW as being capable of limited offensive operations (Kampfwert II), a rating usually given only the best German divisions on the Western Front since virtually none could be graded at this time as capable of sustaining an all-out attack (Kampfwert I). The rifle strength of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division was still nearly complete, its artillery was good, and in addition it now had a complement of thirty-three assault guns-an unusual number for any German division at this stage of the war. Somewhat south of Bezaumont the sector of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division joined that of the 553d VG Division. On 12 September there was something of a gap between these two German divisions, covered only by an outpost line. The greater part of the 553d VG Division was concentrated in and around Nancy, about ten air-line miles to the south of the 80th Division bridgehead. The left wing of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division had been stripped to send reinforcements northward, where other elements of the 3d were engaged alongside the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division in the attempt to erase the XX Corps bridgehead.18 Lacking local reserves in the Dieulouard sector the enemy had been unable to launch a prompt counterattack. But about 0100 on 13 September the Germans dealt the first blow at the 80th Infantry Division perimeter defenses. The initial counterattack was made by a battalion of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, reinforced by at least ten assault guns,19 which drove in on the road block north of Loisy held by F Company (Capt. Frank A. Williams) of the 318th. Captain Williams and his men fought bravely to hold the position until orders
Little co-ordinated resistance was possible as the scrambled units of the 317th and 318th were forced back toward the bridges.20 Officers gathered small groups wherever they could locate a few men in the darkness, majors commanding platoons and captains commanding battalions. Near the bridge site the situation was further confused when American vehicles coming from across the river met the stream of trucks and infantry moving back toward the bridges. About 0500 a thin line of infantry firing from the ditches along the road between Loisy and the crossroad west of Bezaumont momentarily checked the enemy; but this position was quickly overrun by German tanks that left the ditches full of dead and wounded. However, the fight along the roadside had given time for Lt. Col. J. C. Golden, commanding officer of the 2d Battalion, 318th Infantry, to gather enough men and tanks at le Pont de Mons to meet the final German assault. While the infantry fought from the houses, B Company, 702d Tank Battalion, knocked out the leading enemy tanks and assault guns at ranges as close as two hundred yards. No Germans reached the bridges, although at one time the fight surged within a hundred yards of the eastern exits, where three companies from the 248th and 167th Engineer Combat Battalions defended the bridges with rifles and machine guns. The attack had spent itself, the German commander had no fresh troops to give the added impetus needed for the last few hundred yards, and with full daylight the attackers began to withdraw toward the north, harassed by
DIELOUARD BRIDGEHEAD AREA
Meanwhile CCA, 4th Armored Division, had begun to cross into the bridgehead and the head of the armored column cut into the retreating enemy. By 0800 the advance guard had fought its way into Ste. Geneviève and the armor was rolling toward the east, leaving the American infantry to recover its lost ground and hold the bridgehead. The troops around le Pont de Mons were hastily reorganized and at 0930 General McBride gave the order to counterattack. Many of the enemy left in the wake of CCA were captured, and at no point could the Germans stand and hold. Company A, 702d Tank Battalion, which led the 80th Division counterattack, lost five tanks, but the 80th regained Loisy, Bezaumont, and Ste. Geneviève. Two companies of the 3117th had maintained their hold on Hill 382 throughout the night and at dawn on 13 September counterattacked and drove the enemy off the slopes. Infantry of the 317th also had repelled a number of sorties made against the outpost position at Landremont, the most advanced point reached the previous day. The 80th Division counterattack regained contact with these isolated positions and by the late afternoon of 13 September had restored the original bridgehead perimeter.
CCA, 4th Armored Division, Begins the Penetration
During the lull following the unsuccessful attack by the 317th Infantry at Pont-à-Mousson, CCA, 4th Armored Division (Colonel Clarke), lay in the rear areas of the XII Corps awaiting gasoline and further orders. The commander and staff of the 4th Armored Division were extremely anxious to continue the highly mobile operations that had characterized the work of the division in Brittany and across France, and they produced a new attack plan almost daily, most of which turned on the idea of a deep thrust by the entire 4th Armored north and east of Nancy. When the corps commander decided to execute a double envelopment, General Wood gave Colonel Clarke permission to choose his own crossing site on the north wing of the corps. The XX Corps attack to secure a crossing near Dornot, on 8 September, had prompted Colonel Clarke to suggest that CCA should cross the Moselle alongside the 5th Infantry Division. On 11 September the establishment of a bridgehead by the 5th Division, and the beginning of the XII Corps envelopment via the south wing, gave the opportunity General Wood and Colonel Clarke had
In the interim the 80th Infantry Division made its quick, successful crossing at Dieulouard and on the afternoon of 12 September General Wood ordered CCA to cross through this bridgehead. Colonel Clarke dispatched D Troop, 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Capt. Charles Trover), to move to the bridgehead and establish liaison with the infantry. When Captain Trover and his armored cars arrived at the river the heavy bridges were already in place, but a regulating officer refused to allow the troop to cross.23 The main body of the combat command began the move to the river about 0400 On 13 September. By this time the Germans were counterattacking all along the bridgehead perimeter and were driving through the north flank of the 80th toward the bridges. Shortly after 0615 the regulating officer gave Captain Trover permission to cross; with this the troop rolled over the bridge and into the midst of the battle on the east bank. Troop D fought its way through the German infantry, crashed through Loisy, and headed up the heights toward Ste. Genevieve. There enemy self-propelled guns proved too heavy for the light armor and Captain Trover pulled his troop off the road and into defilade on the rear slopes, where he and his men awaited the rest of Colonel Clarke's combat command.
Colonel Abrams immediately sent into the bridgehead the 37th Tank Battalion, comprising the bulk of the first of the three task forces making up the long armored column. Thus began a demonstration of daring armored tactics which the XII Corps commander later likened to Stuart's ride around the Union Army in front of Richmond. The road net leading out of the bridgehead was good and generally hard surfaced. Along these roads the armored column rolled, punching to break through the crust of German defense positions and road blocks encircling the bridgehead and fighting for control of the twenty-two feet of highway surface which in effect constituted the "front" for the combat command.
The 37th Tank Battalion had driven the enemy out of Ste. Geneviève by 0800, though this advance had resulted in some sharp fighting, and the remainder of CCA began to cross the river. Covered on both flanks by a screening force of light tanks, Task Force "Abe" continued along the highway toward Château-Salins, marked generally as the initial objective for CCA. About 1615 the head of the three-hour-long column was south of Nomény, while some elements of the command were still crossing the Moselle bridges. Thus far the advance had been halted repeatedly by enemy road blocks, small German tank detachments, and antiaircraft gun emplacements. These were quickly knocked out by the 75-mm. guns on the leading medium tanks or were blasted by fire from the armored artillery following close behind the head of the column. The last phase of the day's operations saw the beginning of the wheel to the southeast. The major part of the combat command coiled
On the morning of 14 September CCA remained in laager waiting for the arrival of its trains, which had bivouacked during the night near Ste. Geneviève. Shortly after noon the division commander radioed Colonel Clarke and gave new orders. CCA would bypass Château-Salins and seize the high ground around Arracourt, north of the Marne-Rhin Canal, block any German move coming in from the east, and cut the escape routes from Nancy. In addition the combat command was to effect contact with CCB, coming up from the south, and use its bridge train at the Marne-Rhin Canal to help CCB, whose bridging equipment had been almost entirely expended on the supply route over the watercourses now behind it.
As on the previous day Task Force "Abe" led CCA, taking to the side roads and trails until the road center at Moyenvic was reached and then rolling south on the main highway. Now the armor was deep in enemy territory and the back areas offered good targets. Near Arracourt the American tanks caught up with columns of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, moving out of the First Army zone to reinforce the German lines southeast of Nancy. By the end of day they had taken 409 prisoners and destroyed or captured 26 armored vehicles, 136 other vehicles, and to 88-mm. guns. An American air observer, flying over the combat command, was able to report "a path of destruction" clear to the canal. Again the losses sustained by CCA had been relatively slight: ten men killed, twenty-three wounded, and two medium tanks destroyed.26
CCA assembled in the Arracourt-Moncourt area on the night of 14 September and set up a perimeter defense facing east. One task force took position astride highway N-74, the main paved road running from Nancy, and began
General Wood passed this proposal to the corps commander, who refused the desired permission, pointing out that such an advance would take CCA outside the XII Corps zone, which was projected northeast rather than due east, and that the main corps mission at the moment was to destroy the Germans in the Nancy sector and incidentally to open a main supply road for the Third Army across the Marne-Rhin Canal. In this particular case, as so often in the operations of the Third Army, the corps commander was forced to concern himself with the necessity of providing infantry support close in the wake of the armored penetration. The Third Army commander and his armored leaders, accustomed to envision sweeping tank movements, seldom gave much thought to this tactical consideration. As early as the afternoon of 13 September Colonel Clarke had urged that the 80th Division send infantry forward to clear the Germans out of the Forêt de Facq, which bordered on the CCA line of supply, and on the night of 14 September he strongly urged that the 80th Division "rush men to Lemoncourt to follow up the advantage gained."
Back in the bridgehead, however, the infantry had been hit by counterattacks in considerable force on 14 September; every available rifleman was engaged in a bitter struggle to hold the ground already won and extend the bridgehead line out to the east and onto the last chain of hills, grouped around Mount Toulon and Mount St. Jean. On 15 September the situation in the 80th Division bridgehead had deteriorated so markedly that General Eddy ordered the CCA commander to release the 1st Battalion of the 318th Infantry, which had been attached to the combat command, and sent it back by truck to reinforce the 80th. Colonel Clarke dispatched a company of tanks to convoy the truck column and the following morning, after some sharp skirmishing along the road, the little task force arrived in the bridgehead-just in time to intervene in a fight then raging. CCA remained, as ordered, in the Arracourt
The Envelopment Southeast of Nancy Continues
After CCB, 4th Armored Division, and the 35th Infantry Division had forced their way over the Moselle River on 11 and 12 September, the enveloping wing south of Nancy began to gain considerable momentum.27 The terrain between the Moselle and the Meurthe Rivers offered no natural obstacles to favor the defense; therefore, the few companies of the 553d VG Division and 15th Panzer Grenadier Division that had opposed the Americans along the Moselle fell back precipitately to the cover of the Forêt de Vitrimont, which borders the north bank of the Meurthe hard by Lunéville. (Map VIII) On 13 September a gap developed on the east flank of the retreating enemy,28 and through this opening the American armor drove.
By the morning of 14 September the two columns of CCB had crossed the Meurthe at Damelevières and Mont-sur-Meurthe and were heading into the Forêt de Vitrimont. The enemy had not been given time to dig in and make any kind of stand. No real effort was made to hold the forest and only the muddy, narrow roads delayed the American tanks and supply trucks following. By that evening CCB had its left flank on the Marne-Rhin Canal near Dombasle and was astride the main road leading east into Lunéville. Some of the enemy fled across the canal toward Buissoncourt and Haraucourt; the rest fell back on Lunéville under cover of a thin screen of infantry and tanks. This important rail and road center was fast becoming a trap, since the 2d Cavalry Group had crossed the Meurthe southeast of the city and was busily engaged in blocking the highways into Lunéville, destroying bridges, and shooting up traffic on the roads. Late that night patrols from CCA and CCB met near the canal, here completing the concentric envelopment of the Nancy-Moselle
While CCB made its sweep toward Lunéville the 35th Infantry Division moved up fast on the left flank of the armored columns. Early on 13 September General Baade committed his reserves, two battalions of the 320th Infantry (Col. B. A. Byrne), to exploit the 137th bridgehead at Lorey, swinging the 320th through and to the east of the 137th and then sending the two regiments abreast in an oblique advance toward the Meurthe River. (Map VIII) The enemy harassed the infantry columns with fire from roving artillery pieces and isolated mortar and machine gun positions but could do little more. The 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment had been pulled back at right angles to the 553d VG Division, which still held the Moselle north and south of Nancy, and the 35th Division attack hit directly at the weak joint between the two German units. About the middle of the morning the enemy artillery abruptly slackened its fire, apparently an indication of a general German withdrawal across the Meurthe River. By the evening of 14 September the two battalions of the 320th Infantry were on the enemy bank of the Meurthe, east of Rosières-aux-Salines, and the 737th Tank Battalion had patrols along the river at St. Nicolas-du Port, only six miles from Nancy.
On 15 September the entire southern wing of the XII Corps either crossed the Marne-Rhin Canal or closed along the near bank. On the right CCB began a fight for crossings at Maixe and Crévic, under orders from the division commander to push forward, hit the retreating Germans, and "cut them to pieces." General Dager replied aggrievedly, "We are cutting them to pieces," but ordered his combat command to spur on. At Maixe, on the right flank, the enemy made a determined stand, reinforced by artillery across the canal. Intensive counterbattery fire and smoke laid on the high ground north of the canal finally quieted the German guns, and at dark a platoon of armored infantry crossed the canal. Since the crossing at Crévic met little opposition the
On the left of CCB the two regiments of the 35th Division continued to move men and equipment across the Meurthe River and the Marne-Rhin Canal. By 0800 the 320th Infantry (minus the 2d Battalion attached to CCB) was on the march toward Dombasle. The scattered units of the 553d VG Division continued their retreat in front of the 320th Infantry, and in the afternoon the 1st Battalion of the 320th crossed the canal in a sharp attack30 and deployed in defensive positions on the bluffs north of Dombasle and Sommerviller, closely supported by the 216th Field Artillery Battalion firing interdiction on the roads behind the canal. In the sector northwest of Rosières-aux-Salines the 137th Infantry met a stubborn German rear guard, and an attempted assault boat crossing over the Meurthe in the vicinity of St. Nicolas-du Port was checked by concentrated mortar and machine gun fire.
The enemy began to stiffen on 16 September, holding where he could and even turning to counterattack. The 3d Battalion, 320th Infantry, drove north toward Buissoncourt, but was slowed down by sharp skirmishes with the German rear guard. At dusk the battalion reached Buissoncourt, surrounded the village, and then made an assault that netted 115 prisoners from the 104th
CROSSING CANAL NEAR DOMBASLE. Men of 320th Infantry (above) are supported by tank (below), which fires on village from across the canal.
The 137th Infantry effected crossings at the Meurthe and the canal during the morning of 16 September; the 2d Battalion swung northwest in the direction of Nancy,31 and a company of the 1st Battalion secured the village of Varangéville. In the meantime the tank destroyers and tanks attached to the regiment crossed over the bridges in the 320th Infantry zone and hurried along the Meurthe valley to support the 2d Battalion, now pushed out precariously on the left flank. Around noon a "Cub," flying observation for the division artillery, spotted a large German formation about a mile away from the 2d Battalion, which by this time was near the village of Chartreuse. The Germans, estimated to number at least 800 foot troops and some 16 tanks, were advancing in conventional attack formation, with a platoon of infantry accompanying each armored vehicle. Six battalions of American artillery opened very effective artillery fire, reinforced at closer range by the 105-mm. howitzers of the assault gun platoon, 737th Tank Battalion. This massed shelling broke the counterattack before it could reach the 2d Battalion lines. The coup de grâce was delivered by A Company, 737th Tank Battalion, and B Company, 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, which closed with the German tanks and knocked out at least eight of them. The success at Chartreuse placed the left wing of the 137th Infantry within two miles of Nancy and in position to continue the advance northward alongside the 134th Infantry, now pushing out to the northeast after the occupation of Nancy.32
Task Force Sebree Occupies Nancy-15 September
The decision to take Nancy by concentric rather than frontal attack had resulted from the consideration of two factors: the strength of the German
General Eddy hoped to soften up the Germans in the Forêt de Haye and called for help from the air force. On 10 September the IX Bomber Command diverted seven groups of B-26's from the Brittany targets and they bombed the forest-with indeterminate results. Two days later four groups of medium bombers made an attempt to knock out the German observation posts on the wooded heights. Again there was no way in which the results of the air effort could be measured; General Eddy wrote in his diary: "Nobody knows what is in the Forêt de Haye."
On 12 September the corps commander gave the formal order for the XII Corps to "concentrate east of the Moselle River." No immediate move was made to enter Nancy, although a provisional task force, commanded by Brig. Gen. Owen Summers, Assistant Division Commander, 80th Infantry Division, was organized from the 134th Infantry and the 319th Infantry for this purpose. At the same time word was sent to a French intelligence team, operating behind the German lines under the command of a Major Crinon, that the enemy signal cables leading into the Forêt de Haye from the east must be cut. This task was accomplished on the night of 13 September. A few hours earlier, however, Blaskowitz had given the First Army commander permission to evacuate Nancy, "except for a small bridgehead garrison in the west part of the city," in order that the 553d VG Division, already weakened by commitments on the flanks of the Nancy position, might be used in the concentration of forces with which it was hoped to erase the Dieulouard bridgehead.33 On the American side the situation in the 80th Division bridgehead had called General Summers and part of the 319th Infantry north.34 As a result the Nancy task force was reconstituted under Brig. Gen. E. B. Sebree, Assistant Division Commander, 35th Infantry Division. On the night of 14 September new intelligence from the French undercover agents indicated that the enemy had evacuated the Forêt de Haye. Next day Task Force Sebree, guided by three members of the Nancy FFI, marched down the Toul road and entered the city; one battalion of the 134th Infantry pushed straight through to the east edge, with no opposition. Nancy was now in the hands of the Third Army; it would become the army headquarters and the chief bridgehead for the main army supply routes leading into Lorraine. The deci-
The Battle for the Dieulouard Bridgehead
The news of the 80th Infantry Division attack on 12 September caused little concern in the higher echelons of the German command. But a considerable furor resulted at the First Army headquarters when, on the morning of 13 September, General Knobelsdorff received word that an American armored column had broken through the German force in the Dieulouard sector and was striking east. First, Knobelsdorff dispatched an infantry battalion, reinforced by assault guns and two batteries of antitank guns, to Bénicourt-apparently in the hope of stopping the American tanks on the main paved road leading to Nomény. (Map IX) At least a part of this task force was engaged by CCA, 4th Armored Division, in Bénicourt at midday and was beaten decisively. Next, the First Army commander sought permission from Blaskowitz to evacuate Nancy, since he reasoned that the Dieulouard bridgehead must be erased, even at the cost of endangering the south flank of the First Army. Blaskowitz gave grudging assent to General Knobelsdorff's request and three infantry battalions moved north from Nancy on the evening of 13 September. At the same time Knobelsdorff dispatched two battalions of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division from Metz as additional reinforcements for the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division, bolstering these battalions with elements of the ill-fated 106th Panzer Brigade which had only five operational tanks in the entire brigade.35
This move to reinforce the German troops containing the bridgehead, on the night of 13-14 September, required a ruthless weakening of the First Army line. Knobelsdorff had one division in army reserve, but this was the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division (Generalleutnant Eberhard Rodt) earmarked by Hitler himself as a part of the Fifth Panzer Army being formed for the proposed counteroffensive against the south flank of the Third Army. The 15th Panzer Grenadier Division had arrived piecemeal on the Western Front after ten months of continuous action in Italy. It had suffered heavy losses in Italy and from air attacks on the rail journey north; at this time it had about
In reality the actual strength of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division was not available to Knobelsdorff, since the division was already moving by serial out of the First Army zone en route to join General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army farther south. The leading regiment, the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, had become involved in the fight south of Nancy, where some of its rifle companies had been thrown in to cover the open flank of the 553d VG Division. Other elements of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division had been pulled out of the Arnaville area and were passing through the rear areas of the First Army en route to Lunéville; during this journey they were set upon by CCA, 4th Armored Division. Although the First Army commander had strict orders to release the entire 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, he succeeded in halting the departure of the 115th Panzer Grenadier Regiment by making various excuses to his superiors, and this unit was added to the counterattack force being gathered to destroy the Dieulouard bridgehead.
General Hecker, the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division commander, did not wait for the concentration of the units being hurried to his sector but instead began a series of local counterattacks, committing each additional reinforcement as it arrived on the scene. In the early hours of 14 September the Germans struck at the 80th Infantry Division positions, using the tactics that had been so successful in the initial counterattacks the day before-tactics that would be employed with varying degrees of success throughout the battle in the bridgehead. The complex of hills, ridges, valleys, and ravines gave an obvious invitation to such counterattack. The early morning fogs rising from the Moselle River extended the protection offered by hours of darkness and gave the attacker time to maneuver into position and drive the attack home. The compartmentalization of the bridgehead into alternating sectors of high and low ground isolated the American detachments at outposts on road blocks and made them fair prey to attack in detail. German infantry were consistently able to win at least temporary success by attacking under the cover of darkness or fog, blinding the American outposts with flares, pinning them in position with automatic weapon fire, encircling and then sweeping over the position. Once the road block was destroyed or the outpost position driven
The German counterattacks on 14 September were made by small detachments all that the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division commander had at hand. One thrust was delivered against the center of the 317th Infantry, at Landremont, but failed to reach the ridge line. An attack to turn the 317th left was more successful. Here G Company, outposting the village of Ste. Geneviève, was hard hit just before dawn by an assault that forced the company to withdraw, inflicted severe casualties, and cost the Americans all their machine guns. An extension of this attack carried the enemy into the lines of the 318th Infantry (temporarily commanded by Col. M. C. Shattuck) at Loisy, the crossroads position commanding access to the left and rear of the 80th. This time the enemy sweep through Loisy was less successful than on the previous morning and the six 105-mm. howitzers of the 318th Infantry Cannon Company, firing at point-blank range, checked the attack although the town itself was lost.
These small-scale German sorties failed to make any decisive headway, and about 1000 General McBride ordered the 317th Infantry to begin movement to the east in an attempt to seize the last chain of hills barring the eastern exit from the bridgehead. General McBride and General Eddy hoped that the impetus of the 317th Infantry drive would carry it as far as the railroad spur between Nomény and Leyr. The 1st Battalion began the attack with orders to seize the village of Serrières and the commanding hills, Mount Toulon and Mount St. Jean, to the east of Serrières. At the same time the 2d Battalion, on the left of the 1st, recovered the village of Ste. Geneviève and this time outposted it more heavily. On the right the 3d Battalion advanced to the forward slopes of the Falaise and here met and drove back two companies of the 1119th Regiment (553d VG Division) which had just detrucked after a move north from Nancy.
The main effort, made by the 1st Battalion, ran into trouble almost as soon as it was begun. As the battalion advanced in column, the lead company was brought under German artillery fire. Disorganized by the enemy fire and shelled by a platoon of American tanks, which had been rushed forward and
While the 1st Battalion was leading off in the 317th Infantry attack to the east, the 3d Battalion of the 318th pushed out to the north in an advance calculated to widen the base of the bridgehead. The main objective in this later maneuver was Mousson Hill, which overlooked the 80th Division bridges and which had never been successfully masked, though constantly subjected to concentrations of smoke by the American guns. Driving north, the 3d Battalion recaptured Loisy and seized Atton, from which an assault was launched against Mousson Hill. Light tanks carried the first wave of infantry straight up the hill while medium tanks from the 702d Tank Battalion maneuvered to the east side and up the more gradual slope there, coming under fierce enfilading fire from the Forêt de Facq as they moved forward. By 1400 the old castle atop Mousson Hill was taken and the battalion dug in on the heights, here beating off the first in a series of small counterattacks mounted by the Germans in the Forêt de Facq.
During the night of 14 September the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division received considerable reinforcement and General Hecker prepared a co-ordinated counterattack for the next day. On the south flank of the 80th Division a battalion of the 1119th Regiment was in place, with four or five companies of the 92d Luftwaffe Field Regiment and at least one replacement battalion to its right. In the Forêt de Facq, on the north flank of the bridgehead, were gathered elements of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division, the 115th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, and the 49th SS Panzer Grenadier Brigade from the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, amounting in all to some four or five infantry battalions. These troops were reinforced by thirty or forty tanks and assault guns.36 As yet no large number of German forces were in position to seal off the easternmost sector of the 80th Division penetration and link the counterattack force on the north with that on the south. Just before dawn on 15 September the German counterattack started, covered by an intense concen-
MOUSSON HILL AREA
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Hecker's northern force struck the American positions about 0500. A battalion drove west from the forest and recaptured Atton. Near Atton three 57-mm. antitank guns were brought to bear on the German column and knocked out the leading armored vehicles; however, the American gunners had only armor-piercing ammunition, and when it proved ineffective against the German infantry the guns and the position were lost. The German advance continued south along the river road toward Loisy, where sharp fighting continued Al through the morning. Loisy, however, was still in American hands when a battalion of the 319th Infantry crossed into the bridgehead and moved up to reinforce the left flank of the 318th.
The village of Ste. Geneviève, a tactical focal point during all these days of fighting in the bridgehead, was lost to the enemy by a confusion in orders when, on the night of 14-15 September, the troops holding the town were withdrawn to the south on word that a battalion was coming to relieve them. Next morning the Germans marched in without a fight.
With Ste. Geneviève and Atton in their hands the Germans had succeeded in isolating the American troops on Mousson Hill. Now there followed a number of local and generally un-co-ordinated attempts to retake Mousson Hill, to drive through Loisy and seize the American bridges, and to clear the American troops from the key ridge between Ste. Geneviève and Landremont. For such tactics the German assembly area in the Forêt de Facq was admirably situated.
The confusion of the battle on 15 September is reflected in the fragmentary and often contradictory records of the American units participating. Apparently the initial German assault at dawn, aided by very heavy and accurate mortar fire, drove the American troops off Landremont Hill at the southeastern end of the Ste. Genevieve Ridge. The fight for Hill 382, in the center
The enemy also continued the battle at Loisy during the afternoon, apparently trying to penetrate the extreme left flank of the 80th Division and reach the bridges. Here the German assault was made with a very strong force. The American defenders-the 1st Battalion of the 319th Infantry and some combat engineers, supported by a few 105-mm. howitzers and tanks-held stubbornly, despite many casualties, and repelled the attack.
Although the main enemy attack was directed against the bridgehead defenses on 15 September, the Americans isolated on the top of Mousson Hill also were subjected to considerable pressure. Small parties of German infantry and tanks circled the hill, probing to find a way up the slopes. A few Ameri-
The hard-fought battle of 15 September left its mark on both the combatants. German prisoners taken during the day all told a story of mounting casualties and gradual demoralization. But the six infantry battalions of the 80th Division also showed evidence of decreasing combat effectiveness and lessening morale. The 317th Infantry Regiment, which had assumed the main burden in the fighting since 5 September, was seriously reduced in strength. Casualties among officers and experienced noncommissioned officers had been high throughout the division. Few reinforcements were reaching the firing line, and as losses mounted the available infantry, already overextended, was disposed along a rapidly thinning front. The broken terrain necessitated an isolation of companies and platoons, another factor lowering morale, and this sense of having to fight alone was heightened further by German success in shelling out the American communications. Throughout the bridgehead the troops were fatigued by constant fighting and sleepless from nightly alerts. Finally, the enemy had continued to hold the initiative, striking at his own chosen time and place, while the 80th, lacking reserves, had to depend on a static and linear defense.
The Germans returned to the assault on the morning of 16 September, this time throwing in the bulk of the 115th Panzer Grenadier Regiment (15th Panzer Grenadier Division), which had arrived in the Forêt de Facq the previous afternoon and evening. But General McBride also had received reinforcement. On the afternoon of 15 September the 4th Armored Division had received orders to return the 1st Battalion of the 318th, then with CCA in the Arracourt area, to reinforce the 80th Division. The CCA commander immediately dispatched the infantry battalion and the supply trucks of the combat command, loaded with approximately a thousand German prisoners. Company C, 35th Tank Battalion, was sent as convoy. Just before dark the column was brought to a halt by tanks and antitank guns of the 106th Panzer Brigade blocking the highway near Nomény. About this time the American
General McBride now ordered the 1st Battalion, 319th, and the list Battalion, 318th, to relieve the battalion on Mousson Hill and disperse the enemy on the north flank of the bridgehead. While the 1st Battalion, 318th, was being resupplied, the infantry from the 319th drove toward the hill, taking Atton en route, and at dark reached the isolated battalion.40 The German troops in this sector were retiring to the northeast and a pursuit was pushed as far as Lesménils, north of the Forêt de Facq. On the right the 1st Battalion, 318th Infantry, moved into the Forêt de Facq and started to flush out the rear guard remnants of General Hecker's command. While the German penetration in the north was being erased, the 317th Infantry, holding the center and right, sustained three counterattacks but refused to be driven from its positions. Late in the day the German artillery shelled the Falaise heavily in preparation for a twilight counterattack from the valley to the east, but the enemy infantry broke and fled when eleven P-51's came over, bombing and strafing. The 80th Division artillery finished the job with time fire on the survivors. The German attempt to wipe out the Dieulouard bridgehead had come close to success, but had failed. The key terrain-Mousson Hill, the Falaise, and Ste. Geneviève Ridge-was in American hands. The remainder of the 319th Infantry, released from the Nancy operation, moved across the
The XII Corps Continues the Advance
The capture of Nancy on 15 September and the completion of the XII Corps concentration east of the Moselle required that new direction be given the corps advance. On the Third Army left the XX Corps had a bridgehead across the river and was preparing to exploit this lodgment with elements of two divisions. The right wing of the army, the XV Corps, was closing up to the Moselle. General Bradley had just approved a plan, suggested by General Patton, which would shift the axis of the Third Army advance somewhat to the northeast on a narrower front and thus permit the XII and XX Corps to mass for the attack in column of divisions. On 16 September General Patton informed his corps commanders of this revised scheme of maneuver; the XII Corps was ordered to attack in a zone that would bring it to and across the Rhine in the vicinity of Darmstadt. General Eddy at once issued a warning order which called for the 4th Armored Division and 35th Infantry Division to attack in column toward the northeast, while the 80th Infantry Division continued clearing its bridgehead. Eddy set 18 September as D Day for the resumption of the attack, but on 17 September he postponed this advance in order to give some help to the 80th, struggling to emerge from the confines of the bridgehead. The corps commander had already ordered CCB, 4th Armored Division, to continue north from the Marne-Rhin Canal and relieve the pressure on the 80th Division by a blow in the direction of Nomény.41 The 80th Division successes on 16 September led General Eddy to cancel the proposed operation by CCB on the following morning, but by noon the situation of the 80th had once again taken a turn for the worse and CCB was ordered on to Nomény. The German units deployed along the roads were now fully alerted and met CCB with road blocks, mines, and all kinds of antitank fire. General Dager ruefully reported "some of the fiercest enemy resistance to date." Heavy rains had fallen, the fields were impassable, and the armor was unable to swing off the pavement in any flanking maneuvers. The advance on the afternoon of 17 September proved so slow that when CCB
Meanwhile, General Patton had given the XII Corps additional armor: CCB of the 6th Armored Division (Col. G. W. Read). The remainder of this division also had been promised to General Eddy as soon as it could be released from Brittany. The 6th Armored Division, an AUS formation, was commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert W. Grow. A graduate in engineering at the University of Minnesota, Grow had been commissioned in the Regular Army in 1916 and sent to duty on the Mexican border. In the decade after World War I he served with the cavalry and field artillery; then, in 1930, he was assigned to the young Mechanized Force. In 1940 Grow joined the 2d Armored Division, to which General Patton had just come as a brigade commander, and subsequently acted as Patton's G-3 when the later commanded the division. Assuming command of the 6th Armored in May 1943, General Grow completed its training in the United Kingdom during the spring of 1944 and took the division into action, as a part of the Third Army, in the breakout at Avranches.
After the 160-mile sweep across the Brittany peninsula the 6th Armored Division had been split up to contain the ports of Brest and Lorient. General Grow was anxious to turn his containing mission over to the infantry divisions of the VIII Corps and rejoin the main body of the Third Army in the drive to the east. On 26 August he made the long trip to the Third Army headquarters at Pithiviers and there urged that the 6th Armored be relieved from its assignment in Brittany. General Patton responded to Grow's presentation of his case by ordering one combat command to be "slipped" east along the north bank of the Loire River, mopping up the area as it came. On 28 August, therefore, CCB left Lorient. The command closed near Montargis on 1 September and the following day relieved the 35th Infantry Division of the responsibility for guarding the right flank of the Third Army in the sector between Orléans and Auxerre.
The rest of the 6th Armored remained in Brittany, passing with the VIII Corps to General Simpson's Ninth Army on 5 September, but under orders from General Bradley to return to the Third Army as soon as a relief by the 94th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Harry J. Malony) could be effected. This relief was completed on 16 September and the 6th Armored formations in Brittany started the long move east to the Third Army, where CCB already was preparing for action with the XII Corps. The 6th Armored would enter
The imminent arrival of CCB, 6th Armored, on the XII Corps front promised sufficient additional strength to make a mopping-up operation east of the Moselle successful. The corps commander therefore decided on 17 September to form a task force, consisting of his new armored combat command and the 134th Infantry, place it under the command of General Sebree, the assistant division commander of the 35th Infantry Division, and send it northward with the mission of clearing the Bois de Faulx and the Bois de la Rumont in conjunction with the 80th Division. (Map VIII) CCB, 4th Armored Division, then would be regrouped with the rest of the 4th Armored and the whole division committed to lead the projected corps attack northeast toward the Rhine River and Darmstadt. The latter point replaced Mannheim as the new corps objective.
The 134th Infantry, forming the left wing of the 35th Division, was already attacking along a northerly bearing, and on 16 September its leading battalion had seized the high ground north of Essey-lès-Nancy, which formed one of the abutments of the plateau northeast of Nancy known to French military geographers as "the Nancy curtain." The center and right of the 35th Division, formed by the 137th and 320th respectively, had driven across the Meurthe River valley and the Marne-Rhin Canal on 16 September, thus putting General Baade's division along an east-west line and in position to make a wheel into column behind the 4th Armored Division.
The combat command from the 6th Armored Division had not yet arrived in the forward zone on 17 September, but late in the day Task Force Sebree-now consisting of the 134th Infantry, the 737th Tank Battalion, some tank destroyers, and strong artillery detachments-opened the attack to drive the 553d VG Division from the plateau northeast of Nancy, the first large terrain barrier on the way to the 80th Division. This plateau was dominated by a high butte, the Pain de Sucre, which stood alone to the east and offered observation for four miles in each direction. In 1914 the Pain de Sucre had formed one of the bastions of the Nancy curtain and against it the German
The events of 18 September placed the 134th Infantry in position to debouch from the plateau north into the Bois de Faulx and thus squeeze the 553d VG Division between the 80th and 35th Divisions. A further advance to the north was denied by the enemy mortars and field guns on Amance Hill, whose fire interdicted the draw separating the plateau and the Bois de Faulx. Until the 137th Infantry could take Amance Hill and clear the ground on the right of the 134th Infantry the latter could make little or no progress. The problem was complicated, moreover, by a wide gap between the two regiments.
On the afternoon of 19 September the 137th Infantry began an advance through the extensive Forêt de Champenoux, which afforded the most direct route for turning the flank of the Amance position and which had to be
The 137th now was forced to begin a bloody slugging match for access through the forest to the Amance plateau, reminiscent of the bitter fighting over the same ground in the first days of September 194, although with far smaller forces on both sides. Then the German divisions had debouched from the Forêt de-Champenoux at zero hour each morning and attacked in closed waves to the west, only to be driven back each day by French 75's on the heights at Amance and the Pain de Sucre. But in September 1944 the Germans held the Amance position, as well, as the thick forests flanking it on the east and west which barred any close-in envelopment. Even the American position on and near the Pain de Sucre was not secure so long as the Bois de Faulx and Amance Hill were held by the enemy; indeed, on 20 September Agincourt was lost to a German counterattack and the company which had held it was reduced to sixty-five men. Agincourt was retaken the next day but only after a bitter house-to-house battle.
The 137th Infantry took advantage of the early morning fog on 20 September to make an assault across the no man's land at the highway clearing. Infantrymen from three companies rode into the clearing on the decks of the medium tanks attached to the regiment, but only two platoons-one cut to pieces by small arms fire-were able to hold on north of the road.
Troops of the 120th Regiment of the 553d VG Division (reinforced by some training units) had been stationed in the northern sector of the Forêt de Champenoux on 17 September to cover the withdrawal of the rest of the division. With the characteristic zeal of well-trained German infantry, they had entrenched thoroughly, building a line of log-covered dugouts and foxholes ten or fifteen yards inside the forest. Within the shelter of the woods a few tanks and self-propelled 88's backed up the infantry and covered still
FORET DE CHAMPENOUX
The XII Corps commander was anxious to eliminate the resistance delaying the 80th and 35th Divisions. The 4th Armored Division had become involved in a large-scale tank battle in the exposed salient that it occupied on the right wing of the corps45 and General Eddy wished to bring his left and center forward. Eddy gave orders for a combined attack on 22 September in which the 80th Division, the 35th Division, and CCB, 6th Armored Division, would join. His earlier intention to employ the 6th Armored combat command as a means of filling out the XII Corps attack had been thwarted by the German armored threat at Lunéville. CCB had briefly taken over the defense of this sector, but a shift in the direction of the German attack brought the enemy armor up against the main body of the 4th Armored, farther to the east, and left Read's command free for aggressive use. On the morning of 21 September Eddy attached CCB to the 35th Division. Read left Lunéville at once, moving north through the gap between the German forces engaged by the 35th Division and those fighting the 4th Armored. While the 80th Division held fast the elements of the 553d VG Division on its front with a thrust into the Bois de la Rumont, CCB assembled in the Forêt de Grémecey and then, on 22 September, began a turning move to the southwest with the aim of taking Amance Hill from the rear and drawing a cordon tight around the Germans holding the 137th Infantry at bay. (Map XI)
Colonel Read's combat command was a battlewise unit, rested after the fighting in Brittany, and with its tanks now in good repair. Early on the morning Of 22 September CCB moved out toward the Seille River, using radio to maintain contact with the 35th Division. Although the enemy forces were
Before morning ended the German lines were cracking under the pressure exerted by the armored columns. General Baade had held up the 35th Division attack until the enemy could feel the weight of the American tank drive. At noon two battalions of the 134th Infantry jumped off under heavy enemy fire to take the hill mass in the Bois de Faulx, while the 137th Infantry pushed rapidly through the last stretch of the Forêt de Champenoux. There was no fight left in the forest defenders and those who were able fled north along the road to Létricourt, where a narrow gap still existed. A squadron of P-47's flushed the last of the enemy off the Amance plateau; then more planes from the XIX TAC arrived to bomb and strafe the four-mile-long column of infantry, horses, vehicles, and guns moving painfully toward Leyr. When darkness came the 155-mm. guns and 240-mm. howitzers took over the job and shelled the road all through the night. The following day the 35th Division cleared the German rear guard detachments from the Bois de Faulx, swelling the bag of prisoners taken by the 35th and CCB to more than one thousand.47
The main part of the 553d VG Division, thus far successful in shuttling back and forth along internal lines which permitted counterattacks against either the 35th or the 80th Division, finally faced the danger of complete
AMERICAN TROOPS ENTER FORET DE CHAMPENOUX. Shown here are members of the 137th Infantry on 22 September.
While the 35th Division and CCB had been fighting to destroy the German force pressing against the southern flank of the 80th Division, the latter had begun a slow and costly drive to clear the bridgehead area. On 17 September the 80th erased the last vestiges of resistance in the Forêt de Facq. The 3d Panzer Grenadier Division was already in process of withdrawing to a new position, which extended from the left flank of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division south of Sillegny, followed the Seille River as far as Port-sur-Seille, and then made contact with the 553d VG Division just east of Landremont.48 This change in the German line eased the pressure on the north wing of the 80th Division and allowed the 319th Infantry to advance with little trouble. On the right, however, the battle-weary 317th found rough going,49 and the 318th, attacking in the center and echeloned slightly to the rear of the 317th, also met continuing and stubborn opposition. Small groups of the enemy kept up a bitter delaying action, holding their ground wherever the hills or woods gave cover for mortars and automatic weapons, and filtering back into the American positions at night through the draws and gullies.
The first phase of the 317th Infantry attack, begun on 17 September, aimed at clearing the enemy from the Landremont-Morey-Millèry triangle, preliminary to the final assault to carry the wooded heights of the Bois de la Rumont. After some heavy fighting-and heavy losses-the 317th pushed into the Bois de la Rumont.50 Here, on 21 September, two American battalions were cut off and had to be supplied by tanks, but the German hold on the wooded plateau
General Patton had been watching the progress of the 80th Division with much interest. On 24 September he met the XII Corps commander and relayed General Eisenhower's directive halting offensive operations by the Third Army; but General Patton added that "limited objective" attacks would be continued and that the 80th Division must push on toward the Seille River, where a proper defense line could be organized. The 80th Division commander concluded that this mission might best be accomplished by a turning movement, through the towns of Moivron and Jeandelaincourt, designed to outflank the formidable hill mass confronting his right wing. He ordered the 318th Infantry to sideslip farther south, so as to support the 317th Infantry along the new axis of attack, and asked for more artillery.52 The corps commander moved the battalions of the 404th Field Artillery Group across the Moselle and into firing positions near Milléry; from there the American gunners kept up an almost continuous fire. On 26 September the attack was resumed on the new axis. But the 553d VG Division had turned back to the west, under strict and peremptory orders from the First Army commander, and was dug in to meet the Americans. The 2d Battalion, 317th Infantry, launched an assault to take Moivron, but, although supported by heavy artillery and fighter-bombers, and reinforced by fresh troops from the 6th Armored Division, the worn and decimated infantry could not take the town. Nor did the 318th attacks, which had been battering at Mount St. Jean, have any greater success.
The 80th Division drive now came to a halt short of the Seille River, but with its regiments in position for a future advance into the Seille basin. A bridgehead eleven miles wide (Custines to Lesménils) and four miles deep had been taken and held against continuous German onslaughts. One of the
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Last updated 12 October 2004