The XII Corps Drive Toward the Sarre
The XII Corps attack toward the northeast had slowed perceptibly at the beginning of the second week of the November offensive. The left wing of the corps had advanced some twenty miles; however, Darmstadt and the Rhine River crossings, the ultimate corps objective, lay approximately 110 miles beyond the farthest point attained by the American forward line. Weather and terrain hampered General Eddy's armored columns, throwing the burden of the attack more and more on the infantry and the rifle elements of the armored units. At the same time that replacements were bringing the ranks of the infantry divisions back to strength, the incidence of loss from exposure and combat fatigue was on the rise. The enemy divisions facing the XII Corps generally were weak- even the newly arrived 36th VG Division had taken a severe beating in the last American attacks west of Faulquemont. Nonetheless, the ground and the weather unquestionably favored the defense. Furthermore, the Germans now had been pushed back into rearward positions which had been given a measure of preparation during the October lull. I During the night of 17-18 November, the south wing of the First Army undertook a withdrawal to a new position roughly marked by the line Faulquemont-Bénestroff-Bourgaltroff, thus anticipating the renewal of the XII Corps attack by a few hours. The German formations in front of the XII Corps remained the same. The LXXXIX Corps, with two divisions, held a front which extended from the Marne-Rhin Canal to a point northeast of Morhange. The 361st VG Division, on the left, confronted the 26th Infantry Division and the 2d Cavalry Group in the Dieuze-Bourgaltroff sector. The 11th Panzer Division, which had sustained severe tank losses, held the LXXXIX Corps line on the right, with its armored infantry and remaining assault guns pushed to the fore.1 The XIII SS Corps, relieved of responsibility
After a brief reorganization, the XII Corps resumed the attack on the morning of 18 November. General Eddy had determined to use his infantry and smash straight through to the Sarre River on a relatively narrow front. Once bridgeheads were secured across the Sarre, the entire corps might then be put in motion to carry the drive on toward the Rhine. In this first phase the 26th Infantry Division and 35th Infantry Division were to advance abreast, while the 80th Infantry Division would be left to contain Faulquemont and block on the exposed north flank. According to the corps plan, the two armored divisions were to be used as opportunity offered, the 6th Armored on the left and the 4th Armored on the right.3 In actual fact, however, the armor was to have no respite but would continue the advance with the infantry.
The 26th Division Attack at the Dieuze-Bénestroff Line
On the south wing of the XII Corps the 26th Infantry Division started the new operation by launching an attack against the Dieuze-Bénestroff line, which Colonel Oden's 4th Armored column had penetrated briefly on 14 November.4(Map XXXIV) The 101st and 104th Infantry, the assault regiments, had received nearly a full complement of replacements and had been given a brief recess during which the men had slept, dried their clothes, and cleaned their weapons. After an hour-long artillery preparation on the morning of 18 November the 101st and 104th began the new attack. The 101st (Col. W. T. Scott) passed through the 328th and drove at Guébling and
The 2d Battalion, 101st, advancing on the right of the main road leading down into Guébling, was more successful, since it could be supported by tanks and tank destroyers. The Dordal Creek again was an obstacle, as it had been for Oden's tank column, but the engineers, working under artillery and small arms fire, were able to put in an infantry support bridge and a steel treadway. Company A, 761st Tank Battalion, essayed a direct attack but took severe punishment from the German guns and was forced to withdraw. Within an hour of the jump-off, however, the infantry were fighting at the northern edge of Guébling. Subsequently a platoon of tank destroyers and five tanks joined the infantry inside the village, where the fight continued through the afternoon.
While the body of the 2d Battalion fought at Guébling, F Company, commanded by a replacement officer in his first battle, had circled the town and forged far ahead of the other companies. About noon the battalion lost radio contact with F Company, after a last report that the company was being hit by flanking fire. The 2d Battalion was unable to shake itself free in Guébling until 1630; then the 1st Battalion took over the fight and the 2d launched an attack to reach the area where the lost company had been last reported. This
Late in the day the 104th Infantry succeeded in breaking through the Bois de Bénestroff, thus easing the pressure on the 3d Battalion of the 101st. As darkness fell, Sgt. Sam A. Longbottom led the survivors of L Company in a desperate charge up Hill 273, knocking out the German machine gun crews with hand grenades and bazooka fire at close quarters.7 Meanwhile, the two companies on the left of the battalion fought their way forward past the quarry and sent patrols to meet the 104th in the southeastern part of the Bois de Bénestroff.
On 19 November the 104th and 101st continued the attack in an envelopment from north and south intended to encircle the road center at Marimont and seize Marimont Hill (Hill 334), lying just west of the village and overlooking the route along which the left wing of the 26th Division would have to advance.8 The brunt of the attack was borne by the 2d Battalion of the 104th, advancing in column of companies on the right flank of the regiment, and the 3d Battalion of the 101st, pushing toward the Bois de Marimont. Little progress was made this day because the Germans had retired from the railway line in good order and now were fighting stubbornly to cover a general withdrawal on the First Army front which had been ordered for the night of 1920 November. About 1000 the 104th was briefly checked by a detachment of tanks from the 11th Panzer Division. The 3d Battalion of the 101st, already much weakened by the losses incurred the previous day, suffered heavy casualties from an accurate artillery shelling as it attacked with marching fire toward the Bois de Marimont. By 1100 the entire strength of the battalion was less than three hundred, and still more casualties were suffered in clearing
About noon the 2d Battalion, 104th, reached Marimont and one rifle company entered the village, only to be driven out by an intense concentration of artillery and mortar fire. Actually the German artillery was engaged in covering the general withdrawal which had begun even before darkness came. During the night of 19-20 November the enemy in front of the 26th Division took up new positions between Mittersheim and Albestroff. The Americans re-entered Marimont on the heels of the retreating Germans and the 3d Battalion of the 104th Infantry Regiment occupied the important road center at Bénestroff.
During 19 November the 328th (Col. B. R. Jacobs), which had received some eight hundred replacements the previous day, moved south to take Dieuze and crack the hinge of the German line, thus opening the way for the 4th Armored Division to drive to the east. A German rear guard formation from the 361st VG Division held on stubbornly and halted the 3d Battalion, leading the assault, in the muddy plowed fields north of the town with accurate small arms fire and artillery air bursts. In the late afternoon tanks from the 761st Tank Battalion, pushing forward in support of the infantry, were checked by antitank fire from Dieuze. During the night the German garrison withdrew toward Mittersheim, and the 2d Cavalry Group and 328th Infantry, reinforced by the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion, 4th Armored Division, moved into the battered town. Raids by the American air force and last minute demolitions by the German rear guards had destroyed most of the bridges in Dieuze, but one remained intact and would provide quick passage for any pursuit to the east.10
The Drive to the Honskirch-Altwiller Line
The collapse of the Dieuze-Bénestroff line enabled the 26th Division and the 4th Armored Division to drive ahead some six miles during the next few days. The enemy fought delaying actions in a few villages where terrain was
JEEPS DRIVING THROUGH DIEUZE with troops of the 4th Armored Division on their way to the front.
The main German force made its retreat in the northern part of the division zone of advance, using the road complex that ran toward Munster and Sarre-Union. On the night of 20-21 November the 3d Battalion, 101st Infantry, made a forced march in the rain to cut into the road net at the village of Torcheville, west of Munster. The battalion, which had received about one hundred replacements on the previous night, took the village and eighty one surprised Germans.12 On the left the 104th Infantry attacked during the morning of 21 November to take the village of Montdidier, situated on a long, narrow ridge overlooking the northern sector of the 26th Division zone. The 3d Battalion fought to get onto the ridge while the 1st Battalion bypassed to the south and continued in the direction of Albestroff. Mud, mines, and blown bridges slowed the Americans, and the German 88's and machine guns on the ridge maintained a constant and deadly fire. Even worse, liaison between the American artillery and the 3d Battalion failed, with the result that American shells poured in on the attacking infantry. Despite all this the 3d Battalion took Montdidier and organized a holding position in the woods to the northeast.13
The village of Albestroff presented a knotty tactical problem for the 26th Division. Five roads centered at this point and the village had to be taken in order to insure a firm hold on the approaches to the Sarre River. South of Albestroff the 101st Infantry was nearing the end of its strength and required additional replacements before it could be committed again in a major action. In any event further progress in the zone of the 101st would be most difficult. The road east of Torcheville was useless; the Germans had mined it thoroughly and blasted trees across it to form barricades. To the southeast the road via Lohr and Insviller was flooded by the waters of the Rode Creek, released when the Germans blew a dam in the valley. General Paul ordered the 328th Infantry into trucks and dispatched it from Dieuze to reinforce the 101st, but this move would take some time to complete and the outlook for a speedy advance along the Lohr-Insviller route was unfavorable. For these reasons,
About 1625 on 21 November the 1st Battalion (Capt. L. D. Gladding) of the 104th reached Albestroff. During the early hours of the march eastward the battalion had been supported by B Company of the 761st Tank Battalion, but when four tanks were lost in a mine field the armor halted and the infantry went on into the village alone. The subsequent story of the 1st Battalion cannot be determined with any degree of accuracy: contact between the battalion command post, west of the village, and the three rifle companies inside Albestroff was cut off shortly after midnight. Apparently the leading company got as far as the eastern edge of the village before meeting the Germans in any force. Then troops of the 361st VG Division, reinforced by mobile assault guns and tanks, swept into Albestroff along the converging roads and closed on the Americans. Early the next morning Captain Gladding took the remaining troops of the 1st Battalion and made an attempt to reach the companies inside the village; but he met only Germans and had to abandon the effort in the face of superior numbers.
Colonel Palladino, commanding the 104th, immediately made plans to capture Albestroff by encircling the town. At 1000 on 22 November the 3d and the 2d Battalions jumped off on 500-yard fronts to bypass Albestroff on the north and south respectively. The 3d Battalion advance came under the German guns at Réning, a village some 2,500 yards to the north of Albestroff in the 35th Division zone. Enemy observers in the church spire at Réning and atop Hill 275 quickly brought down accurate artillery and rocket fire on the battalion, wounding the commander, Lt. Col. H. G. Donaldson, and inflicting a serious number of casualties.14 The 2d Battalion met less resistance, but when one company wheeled in toward Albestroff it met a storm of fire from the outlying buildings and had to fall back. Next, attempts were made to maneuver tank destroyers into positions from which the German tanks inside the town could be engaged, but no cover was to be had.15 The 104th
The 26th Division success in penetrating the German line on 18 November offered an opening for the tanks. The 4th Armored Division was in good shape for the attack. The troops had had a brief rest in dry billets, new tanks had replaced those lost in the fighting just past, and a few mine‑roller tanks had arrived to head the armored columns.17 The plan now adopted called for Combat Command A (Col. W. P. Withers) to lead off in two columns, one advancing on the north flank of the 26th Division, the other following the infantry through Dieuze and striking out for the town of Mittersheim on the Canal des Houilliéres de la Sarre. Combat Command B (Gen. H. E. Dager) would be committed to support the southern column in the drive toward Mittersheim-the axis of attack advocated by the 4th Armored Division commander in September.
CCA jumped off on 19 November: Task Force Abrams returned to the Rodalbe sector, on the north flank of the 104th Infantry, and attacked in the direction of Insming; Task Force West moved up to Dieuze, waiting there for the 328th Infantry to force a passage. Abrams' column took Rodalbe, the scene of an earlier American reverse, but then was held up for some hours on the road north of the village while the engineers removed mines-911 were taken out in this one section. Toward the close of day the column swung over into the 35th Division zone to help the 3d Battalion of the 320th Infantry take Virming, a little village that controlled the roads forking out to the east. After a fierce shelling had set Virming ablaze, Task Force Abrams moved through and laagered on the road leading to Francaltroff. At Dieuze the in-
The general withdrawal by the left wing of the First Army and the obvious weakening of German resistance in front of the XII Corps on 20 November gave General Eddy the opportunity he sought to commit both of his armored divisions. The XII Corps Operations Directive18 issued that day ordered CCA, 6th Armored Division, to seize Sarre River crossings in the 35th Division zone, while CCB, 4th Armored Division, advanced in the 26th Division zone-via Mittersheim. Such a scheme of maneuver might permit concentration of the entire 4th Armored in one telling blow. Therefore General Wood recalled CCA and sent it into an assembly area near Conthil, preparatory to a shift to the south in support of CCB. This was a fortunate respite for Task Force Abrams, which now had come into a semiflooded area and was forced to spend 21 November winching two companies of medium tanks out of a miry tank park near Francaltroff. CCA did not close at Conthil until the following afternoon.
Meanwhile CCB was involved in a confusion of orders and counterorders, dictated in part by the lack of usable roads in the zone assigned the command on the right of the 26th Division, and in part by changes in the objective.19 Originally General Dager had been told to take his combat command by way of Dieuze and attack Mittersheim, which, by reason of its location at the apex of the impassable Dieuze-Gondrexange-Mittersheim triangle, was the anchor for the left wing of the German line facing the XII Corps. The enemy at Dieuze had delayed this move, but by the night Of 21 November the head of the leading column (Major Churchill) was at Loudrefing, which had been reached without much opposition. Since there was no highway within the XII Corps zone going northeast out of Mittersheim, General Dager sent another column (Lt. Col. G. L. Jaques) into the 26th Division zone to seize
The zone of attack assigned to the XII Corps narrowed as it approached the Sarre River. This fact, coupled with the successful operation just carried out by CCB on the right flank of the corps, induced the corps commander to conceive a new maneuver in which the 6th Armored Division and 80th Infantry Division, on the left, and the 4th Armored Division, on the right, would gradually pinch out the 26th and 35th Divisions. The order, issued on 22 November, did not foresee the future independent operation by the 4th Armored Division east of the Sarre River and called for that division to wheel north, rolling up the enemy in front of the 26th and 35th Divisions with an advance along the narrow corridor between the Canal des Houilléres de la Sarre and the Sarre River.
Neither of the two infantry divisions that had been carrying the attack was taken from the line immediately. The 26th Division still had to close up to the canal. In front the enemy were deployed in strong positions on the west bank, with large field fortifications facing the 26th Division left and center at Honskirch and Altwiller, while the extensive Bois de Bonnefontaine provided a natural area for a stand opposite the American right. The unlucky battle at Albestroff had disorganized one battalion of the 104th Infantry and had immobilized the entire regiment. The last phase of the 26th Division advance, therefore, turned on the efforts of the 328th Infantry and the 101st Infantry, tired and depleted as the latter was. The 328th, committed between its two sister regiments on 22 November, quickly captured Munster.20 The following day, instead of relieving the 101st as had been planned, the fresh regiment took over the 104th sector and began a drive northeastward against the Vittersbourg-Honskirch-Altwiller line. This position consisted of bunkers and entrenchments in and around the three key villages, reinforced by large
While the 328th fought in the north, the 101st Infantry had been driving slowly through the woods to its front, using the 2d Battalion to lead the advance. The Bois de Bonnefontaine was far too large for the efforts of one battalion, and the Germans had dug in with trenches, concertina wire, mines, and emplaced 20-mm. antiaircraft guns. During the night Of 24 November E Company fought its way into a large château in the center of the Bois de Bonnefontaine which had been fortified as a strong point by the Germans; the lead platoon was cut off inside the château and forced to surrender. When G Company was sent in to support E it became disorganized, under fire from the woods, and was driven back. The next day tank destroyers were brought up and G Company returned to the attack, driving the enemy from the château. On 25 November Colonel Scott, the 101st Infantry commander, attached Company K to the 2d Battalion in order to make good the losses sustained in the fight for the château. Company K was dispatched to clear the northern edge of the Bois de Bonnefontaine, where it immediately encountered disaster. The Americans had just deployed to charge some selfpropelled guns on Hill 262, about a half mile south of Altwiller, when a company of grenadiers from Altwiller appeared on the scene. The Germans caught Company K by surprise and in a quick charge with the bayonet drove the Americans back into the woods, killing the company commander and leaving about half the Americans as casualties.22 This was the last action in the 101st
The 26th Infantry Division had suffered severely in its first major operation. The November drive by the XII Corps in the final analysis had devolved on the individual rifleman-88.8 percent of the total casualties in the corps were from the infantry23 -and the 26th Division had lost more killed and missing than either of the other two infantry divisions. The 26th Division battle casualties for November totaled 661 killed, 2,154 wounded, and 613 missing, while nonbattle casualties from exposure, trench foot, and fatigue reached the high figure of 2,898 officers and men.24 In part the 26th Division casualty rate may be attributed to the fact that both officers and men were inexperienced. In the main, however, the losses taken by the division must be explained in terms of the rugged and readily defended terrain over which the 26th Division had to advance in the early phases of the offensive, a period during which the enemy morale still was high and his means of resistance still adequate.
The 4th Armored Division Operations on the Sarre
The mission given the 4th Armored Division when it crossed the Canal des Houilléres de la Sarre on 22 November was originally limited by the canal on the west and by the Sarre River on the east. The area between formed a corridor about four miles across at the southern end, but this corridor narrowed so severely at Sarre-Union that little space was left for maneuver north of that point. The plan had been for the armor to drive north through the triangle and roll up the enemy line holding in front of the 26th Division. However, although two good roads cross the area laterally, only a few narrow logging trails run north through the triangle. These trails were bogged by the November rains and hardly could be used by heavy armored vehicles.
The 4th Armored Division now was entering the Seventh Army zone of operations, for the interarmy boundary separating the XII and XV Corps extended diagonally northeast from Fénétrange. Subsequently this situation was regularized when General Eddy requested and received permission from General Haislip, the XV Corps commander, for the 4th Armored to operate inside the XV Corps area.26 At the moment, however, the 4th Armored plans were tentative and opportunistic. General Wood intended to attack to the north, in the rear of the enemy holding the east bank of the Sarre, and then re-enter the XII Corps zone of advance. Early on the morning of 24 November, therefore, Task Force Jaques began crossing the Sarre in force near Gosselming, while Task Force Churchill made a second crossing about six thousand yards to the north at Romelfing. The details of the scheme of maneuver could be none too definite, but in general the CCB commander intended to make an advance to the northeast in two separate columns, uniting his command in the vicinity of Bining-eleven miles northeast of Sarre-Union in which position he could cut in on the German lines of retreat from Sarre-Union and Sarreguemines.27 Partly by accident and partly by design this plan of maneuver would benefit the XV Corps, whose left flank lay between the Sarre River and the Vosges mountains, and whose northernmost elements were disposed along a blocking position between Rauwiller and Bettwiller.
In a large-scale attack on 13 November the Seventh Army had thrown the XV Corps, which formed its left wing, into a drive to reach and cross the Vosges mountains in the vicinity of the Saverne Gap.28 This operation marked the beginning of a full-dress offensive in which General Devers' 6th Army
The successful attack by the XV Corps had driven straight into the joint between the First and Nineteenth Armies. The maneuver on 21 November threatened to isolate and destroy the 553d VG Division and the weak Kampfgruppe of the 11th Panzer Division which constituted the extreme left-wing elements of the First Army and alone barred the westward approaches to the Saverne Gap. There were no reserves whatever behind the seam between the two German armies. Once the Americans and French had overrun the weak German forces in the Sarrebourg-Saverne area the tactical connection between the First and Nineteenth Armies would be broken-as in fact it was broken on 23 November. General Balck, who as commander of Army Group G was responsible for the two armies, had already begun fervid pleas for armored help on the morning of 21 November. Field Marshal Rundstedt and the staff at OB WEST could give no aid-reinforcements in any strength would have to come from the strategic reserve of OKW. Field Marshal Keitel and General Jodl were far removed from the needs of the battle front and greatly concerned with the necessity of maintaining intact the armored formations scheduled for the Ardennes counteroffensive. At noon OKW refused Balck's request. Meanwhile reports of the XII Corps advance in the sector west of Sarre-Union posed a new problem, leading General Westphal, OB WEST chief of staff, to predict an additional break-through on the left flank of the First Army. Finally, at 1545, OKW released the Panzer Lehr Division to the First Army, promising that the division would be concentrated in the vicinity of Sarralbe on the morning of 23 November and ordering that it be used to attack directly south against the American flank in a blow to "annihilate" the force advancing east of Sarrebourg.29
The Panzer Lehr Division had once been among the top-flight armored units of the Wehrmacht, although it was one of the last to be formed. Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein, who commanded the division, had won fame as
The Army Group G commander counted on Bayerlein to make his armored thrust "deep" into the American (XV Corps) flank.31 But both Balck and the staff at OKW realized that additional support would be required to make good the Panzer Lehr effort and re-establish the connection between the First and Nineteenth Armies west of the Vosges. Bayerlein was ordered to make a co-ordinated attack with the 361st VG Division, which already was in position on the proposed axis of advance; and OKW temporarily assigned four artillery battalions of the 401st Volks Artillery Corps, in reserve near Sarre-Union, to support the two divisions. On the night Of 22 November Balck dispatched a few of the Volkssturm to reinforce the 361st VG Division troops and cover the right flank of the Panzer Lehr attack-but these pitiable oldsters failed to halt the American crossings south of Fénétrange. In addition OKW ordered the 245th Infantry Division to start at once by rail from Holland, where it had been doing garrison duty, and released the main body of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division for Balck's use. These two infantry divisions, it was planned, would take over the ground won by the armor and restore the breach in the Army Group G lines west of Saverne.
The Panzer Lehr Division's 300-mile march from the Munster training ground brought the division into the Sarre-Union area on the morning of 23 November according to plan, despite gasoline failures along the way and green tank drivers who persisted in blocking the columns.32 Balck, who had reported to his superiors that he was "very happy" about this armored reinforcement, addressed a special order of the day to the Panzer Lehr Division saying that
Bayerlein formed his command into two columns south of Sarre-Union and by midafternoon of the 23d was ready to launch the attack, although two armored infantry, battalions, two batteries of assault guns, and part of his reconnaissance battalion had not yet arrived at the concentration point. The easternmost column‑the stronger of the two-had orders to attack via Eywiller and Schalbach. The route for the western column ran through Wolfskirchen, Postroff, Baerendorf, and Rauwiller. Its initial object was the seizure of the highway between Sarrebourg and Phalsbourg east of the former city. Bayerlein intended that the two columns would continue south to Hazelbourg, at the edge of the Vosges, and then turn north to free the troops around Phalsbourg. By dark the Panzer Lehr was driving in the cavalry outposts of the 106th Cavalry Group, north of Hirschland and Weyer, which screened the positions held by elements of the 44th Infantry Division. Balck instructed Bayerlein to continue the advance through the night, and at the same time ordered the LXIV Corps, which held the right flank of the Nineteenth Army, to send a Kampfgruppe north from the St. Quirin sector, some ten miles southwest of Hazelbourg, to implement a "concentric attack" against the American forces in the vicinity of Phalsbourg and Saverne.
During the night of 23-24 November the leading elements of Bayerlein's eastern column engaged part of the 114th Infantry and a few tank destroyers at Ischermuhl, just southwest of Weyer. The Americans held their ground against the first onslaughts and beat back the enemy. About 0400 the advance guard of the western column drove the American cavalry out of Hirschland, and an hour later the Germans were fighting the 2d Battalion of the 71st Infantry and a small force of cavalry and tank destroyers in Rauwiller. When the enemy main body came up, Rauwiller was quickly enveloped, but the 71st Infantry (Col. E. D. Porter) re-formed its lines south of the village. The
Two new factors, introduced on 24 November, radically altered the situation and wrested the initiative from the Panzer Lehr Division. General Eisenhower made a visit to the XV Corps headquarters at Sarrebourg and, after some study of the Seventh Army plans, directed that the XV Corps mission be changed from an advance eastward to an advance generally northward astride the Vosges mountains.34 This shift ultimately would permit General Haislip to go over to the offensive in the Sarrebourg sector. But intervention by CCB, 4th Armored, would provide a more important and immediate counter to the Panzer Lehr attack.
The Sarre River crossings through which CCB moved on the morning Of 24 November lay approximately abreast of the forward points reached by the advance elements of Bayerlein's two columns. However, the eastern bank of the river was so weakly manned by the 361st VG as to permit the American armor some room for maneuver. Task Force Churchill, which crossed at the northern site, rolled with little opposition northeast to some high ground west of the village of Postroff. In this position the column could block while Task Force Jaques made the longer move up from the south. Jaques' command ran into a short, sharp fight at Kirrberg and then headed north to get onto the main road at Baerendorf-striking straight into the Panzer Lehr flank. The 53d Armored Infantry Battalion made a human chain to cross through the chilling waters of a stream west of the village and then, under cover of fire from the tanks and assault guns, took the high ground surrounding Baerendorf. Meanwhile a few tanks had been put across the stream and the assault force descended on the village, clearing it in a house-to-house battle with the 1st Battalion of the 902d Panzer Grenadier Regiment, reinforced by some engineers and reconnaissance troops. The enemy battalion had been
Bayerlein employed his strong eastern column to continue the main attack southward on the early morning of 25 November, at the same time turning his western column from its course in an attack toward Fénétrange designed to catch the American armor in the flank just before dawn the German tanks and infantry launched a counterattack from the north and east against Baerendorf. Here the 53d Armored Infantry Battalion had been disposed in a perimeter defense around the village, while beyond the eastern edge of Baerendorf a tank company from the 8th Tank Battalion held an outpost position guarding a bridge across a small creek. The enemy surprised one of the platoons east of the bridge, and a few of the American crews deserted their tanks. But when the Panthers incautiously came down to the bridge they were met by direct fire from other American tanks, several were destroyed, and the rest were forced to turn back along the road to, Hirschland. On the north side of the Baerendorf perimeter the 53d engaged in a bitter melee in the dark. Although both sides lost heavily, the heavy machine guns manned by the 53d finally checked the assault and the enemy retired.35
While Task Force Jaques fought at Baerendorf the 2d Battalion of the 114th Infantry and the 106th Cavalry Group were hit by the eastern column of the Panzer Lehr Division advancing against Schalbach. An Alsatian deserter had given warning of the impending attack, but the troops in Schalbach were uncertain as to the whereabouts of the 4th Armored Division, and their supporting artillery had orders to withhold fire. The enemy attack was
The events of 25 November blasted the optimistic hopes which the higher German commands had pinned on the Panzer Lehr Division. That evening Rundstedt gave orders halting the attack and Bayerlein was told to go over to the defensive. The Panzer Lehr Division immediately began to withdraw northward to positions along the lateral road linking Wolfskirchen, Eywiller, and Durstel, which Bayerlein had selected as his main line of resistance.
The American attack to reduce this position would be made by the 4th Armored Division, while the body of the 44th Infantry Division carried the advance forward on the right and the 121st Cavalry Squadron threw out a protecting screen in the northeast. On 25 November General Wood sent the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion, from CCR, and all of the 4th Armored Division artillery to reinforce CCB. General Dager reorganized his command, grouping the 51st with the tank companies of the 8th Tank Battalion which Churchill held at Postroff, and in the late afternoon resumed the advance toward the north‑the armored infantry leading through the mud. Next morning CCB began a co-ordinated attack in which Task Force Churchill struck at Wolfskirchen and Task Force Jaques attempted to disrupt the new German line by seizing Eywiller. Scant gains were made in this first day of attack. The ground in front of the Americans was interlaced with small streams- now flooded-and slowed all maneuver to the foot soldiers' pace. The German artillery, using the massed fire of the Panzer Lehr batteries and the 401st V01ks Artillery Corps, maintained extremely heavy shelling to curtain the approaches to the new line of defense. Additional American troops were arriving, how
The attack on the second day was pushed home by the entire 4th Armored Division and broke through the Panzer Lehr positions. Wolfskirchen, the western anchor for the German line, was wrested from a detachment of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division which had been sent in to strengthen Bayerlein's division. The 51st Armored Infantry Battalion initiated an attempt to bypass to the east of the village but received such a hot flanking fire from Germans in the village that it became necessary to direct an assault into Wolfskirchen. A company of light tanks accompanied the armored infantry and the combined force quickly cleared the village, inflicting severe punishment on the German garrison. Eywiller was harder to crack. During the morning the 53d Armored Infantry Battalion, maneuvering to flank the village on the west, was checked by fire from a small wood. American fighterbombers eventually neutralized the wood by an air strike, but a detachment of German Panthers continued to hold Eywiller until late afternoon when the capture of Gungwiller by a task force (West) from CCA made their position untenable. Gungwiller was taken after several hundred shells were fired into the village. The tanks then bypassed on one side and the tank destroyers on the other, while the infantry went through the main street clearing houses and cellars with grenades and flame throwers. The Germans had stripped Gungwiller in order to reinforce their flank at Durstel, where Task Force Oden, employing most of CCA, had begun an attack in midmorning. The approaches to Durstel were mined and covered by a large number of antitank guns, making armored maneuver most hazardous. The enemy infantry fought stubbornly, and during the afternoon were reinforced three times by additional tanks coming in from the north. When night fell the Americans gave up the contest and withdrew to the south.
The next three days were spent in a slow and difficult operation to clear the villages on the hill mass which lay east of the Drulingen-Sarre-Union highway, and which had to be wrested from enemy hands before the 4th Armored Division could continue the advance to the north and east. Numerous small watercourses made a jigsaw puzzle of the ground. Visiblity during the day was increasingly poor. The roads, churned up by both American and German armor, had become almost impassable. The enemy relied chiefly on
The 35th and 6th Armored Divisions Advance Toward the Sarre
The target date for the resumption of the drive toward the Sarre River, in which the 35th Division and 26th Division would lead off for the XII Corps, was set as 18 November. In accordance with this new plan the 35th Division would extend its front to the north, pinching out the 80th Division which remained in position to contain Faulquemont and advancing northeast with its left flank initially covered by the XX Corps. The main weight of the 35th Division attack would be put on its right wing. The division objective was designated in general fashion as the high ground on the eastern side of the double loop made by the Sarre River south of Sarreguemines.39
The XII Corps commander intended to support the two-division attack by sending in a part of his armor at the earliest possible moment. The initial plan provided for the concentration of the entire 6th Armored Division south of the Rotte; then CCB would join the 35th Division in the Morhange area and CCA would revert to corps reserve. But congestion was so great on the few usable roads that only CCB (Col. G. W. Read crossed over the Rotte,
On the morning of 18 November the 35th and 26th Infantry Divisions swung into the attack. (Map XXXV) After the supporting artillery had fired for seventy‑eight minutes the 35th Division jumped off. The first hours of the advance east of the Metz-Sarrebourg railroad met little opposition, for the left wing of the XIII SS Corps had been withdrawn during the previous night. The 320th (Col. B. A. Byrne) and 137th (Col. W. S. Murray), on the right and left respectively, advanced at marching speed. Late in the morning the 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. A. M. Butler) of the 137th Infantry came under fire from Bistroff, a village that lay at the southern end of an impassable area marked by lakes and flooded streams. By this time the marching infantry had outdistanced their supporting heavy weapons. Nonetheless, the battalion forded an icy stream and attacked straight into the village, clearing it after a sharp house-to-house battle. The enemy made several attempts to retake the village and so check the American advance around the flooded area. Lacking antitank guns or tank destroyers the battalion had to rely on the mines it carried, but these proved sufficient to cripple the German tanks; rifle and machine gun fire accounted for the enemy infantry.40
At the close of the 18th the right wing of the 35th Division was east of Vallerange and the left was near Bistroff. General Eddy decided that the moment was opportune to commit the armor and ordered Grow to put CCB through the left wing of the 35th Division. Since resistance seemed to be light, the corps commander told Grow that he should be prepared to pass the entire 6th Armored through Baade's division, in accordance with a plan on which the three commanders had agreed earlier. General Grow promptly ordered Colonel Hines to ready a combat team for dispatch from CCA to CCB, preliminary to switching CCA to the south and onto the left of CCB when the bottleneck northeast of Morhange was broken. Meanwhile Colonel Read moved CCB into position to carry the attack from the 137th Infantry lines on 19 November.
ANTITANK DITCH WEST OF BERTRING on Morhange-Gros-Tenquin road.
During 19 November the 4th Armored Division had switched some of its tanks north into the 35th Division zone and there had lent a hand to the 320th Infantry in the capture of Virming. On 20 November the 320th followed CCA of the 4th Armored while the latter attacked and took Francaltroff. On the left of the division the 137th Infantry added its weight to the 6th Armored column, which had been reinforced by a combat team from CCA. This combat team, built around the 69th Tank Battalion (Lt. Col. Bedford Forrest), led the advance along the road to Hellimer. The Germans were deployed in and around the Bois de Freybouse, astride the highway. Their force was composed of a number of Panther tanks and self‑propelled tank destroyers which had been dispatched early in the morning from the 11th Panzer Division to halt the American drive on Hellimer. Forrest lost six light tanks and four mediums in the fight for the section of highway in the woods, but claimed a total of ten German tanks, three armored cars, and three antitank guns destroyed. The 2d Battalion, 137th Infantry, which had helped to clear the way through the woods, received a sudden and violent
The attack in the 35th Division zone had slowed to what the armored officers ruefully reported as "an infantry pace." Progress was limited to a slow advance on a narrow front, in which each successive village had to be assaulted and reduced. Such frontal and bludgeoning tactics inevitably would result in an inordinate rate of attrition. On 21 November, therefore, the American armor and infantry began to widen the front preliminary to attempting envelopment tactics. On the left wing Combat Team Wall and the 3d Battalion of the 137th turned north to take Frémestroff. Mines, mud, and antitank fire made a speedy move impossible. At the edge of the village a blown bridge forced Wall's armored vehicles to deploy off the road-where they promptly bogged down. The infantry, dismounting, continued the assault and took the village despite very strong resistance.
In the meantime Combat Team Forrest and the 2d Battalion, 137th, fought to capture Hellimer. The commitment of the 11th Panzer Division Kampfgruppe on the previous day had been only a stopgap measure. Balck wished to re-form the 11th Panzer Division as his army group reserve and had therefore sent in a part of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division (Colonel Hans-Joachim Deckert) to bolster the line. These fresh troops held the Hellimer crossroads. Early on the morning Of 21 November, American field guns, close behind the 2d Battalion, struck the German artillery positions and pillboxes around Hellimer with very accurate shelling. At 1000 two companies of infantry began the assault under cover of a smoke screen laid down by mortars but, when about five hundred yards from the town, were driven back by a withering fire. Five German tanks now came forward, took cover behind some houses in the northwest part of the village, and proceeded to engage the American tanks and tank destroyers in a long-drawn fire fight. About 1500 an infantry platoon made a dash across the open and reached the shelter of a couple of houses; from this position the Americans worked their way toward the German tanks, disabling one by firing antitank grenades, killing the tank commander in another, and driving the rest out of Hellimer. Once freed of the enemy armor the town was quickly cleared.43
The armor-infantry attack in the north had continued on 22 November, CCB still maneuvering to widen the front and avoid the heartbreaking business of a headlong advance on the main road. Beyond Hellimer, CCB and the 1st Battalion, 137th, swerved north and made a surprise flank attack in which Leyviller45 and St. Jean-Rohrbach were captured, the latter in what the journal of the 137th Infantry called "a vicious battle." Once the tide had turned, the Germans took to the open and fled across country to the east, giving the American artillery and tank gunners a field day.
That afternoon General Baade received new instructions from the XII Corps.46 The 35th Division would close up to the Maderbach, a stream about eight miles west of the Sarre River, and there-with the neighboring 26th Division‑would be pinched out by General Eddy's two armored divisions and the 80th Infantry Division. The successful armored thrust on the 35th Divi-
While the 6th Armored Division was regrouping on 23 November, the 1st Battalion, 1137th Infantry, advanced on Hilsprich, just southeast of St. Jean-Rohrbach, to widen the salient extending toward the Maderbach and secure a forward assembly area for CCB. Hilsprich was held by infantry from the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment and a few tanks. This German force was deployed with strong outpost positions sited to give cross fire on any approach to the village. About 0900 the attack jumped off with A Company on the right and C Company on the left. When the infantry reached a small hill north of Hilsprich they could see five German tanks and numerous antitank guns. In response to the 1st Battalion's call four tank destroyers were sent forward but were driven back by the enemy guns. The two companies making the attack suffered considerably in the first phase of the advance and the commander of one company was killed. After their tank destroyer support had withdrawn, the infantry re‑formed and made a final assault‑across some eight hundred yards of open ground. The drive carried them into the northeast corner of Hilsprich, but at high cost. In the early evening five German tanks and about fifty riflemen blocked off both ends of the main street and methodically began to reduce the houses held by the Americans. The one remaining American officer, 1st Lt. Merrill H. Lyon, gathered about sixty survivors and led them through the enemy and back to St. jean-Rohrbach.48
Possession of Hilsprich was essential to the success of the 6th Armored Division attack. General Grow intended to use CCB to capture Puttelange and the knot of roads and bridges it controlled; the seizure of Hilsprich would provide room for the CCB maneuver and cover the exterior flank of the combat command during the drive to the Maderbach. CCA, on the left of CCB, was to be employed farther north in an attempt to extend the American front and outflank the Puttelange crossings. Hilsprich was finally taken
On 25 November the 6th Armored Division and its attached battalions from the 134th Infantry were in position to begin what was expected to be the last phase in the attempt to reach and cross the Maderbach. The weather had become progressively worse and the armor was roadbound in consequence. Indeed, even the roads presented a problem. Near the frontier they were more poorly constructed, cratered by demolitions, and interdicted at frequent intervals by antitank ditches. In addition the advance was entering the old fortified zone of the Maginot Line, which though no longer a first-class military barrier provided gun emplacements, pillboxes, and antitank obstacles to slow down the attack. Under these conditions the armor could do little toward carrying the assault. In slow and painful progress the infantry, both armored and attached, had to fight to clear every foot of road, as well as to establish "bridgeheads" wherever an antitank ditch intervened. As a result the number of sick and combat fatigue cases mounted rapidly, even though officers did all that they could to provide dry socks and warm clothing for their men. Rifle strengths dwindled; as one example, Combat Team Britton (the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion reinforced) lost only four killed and two wounded on 25 November, but found it necessary to evacuate twenty‑six sick and ninety-three combat fatigue cases.
On the night Of 24-25 November armored infantry and engineers threw a bridge across an antitank ditch intersecting the west road into Puttelange, along which CCB intended to attack. Next day the 15th Tank Battalion crossed the bridge. It had hardly started rolling on the opposite side when a huge crater halted the move. The leading tankers took their vehicles off the road to circle around the crater‑and sank into the mud. Five medium tanks were lost here to the German antitank guns, and the 15th fell back. Farther to the south the 737th Tank Battalion (Lt. Col. F. M. Kroschel), which had been attached to CCB, also failed to make headway against mud, mines, and artillery fire. However, two rifle companies of the 134th Infantry, attached to the 737th, managed to reach the flooded Maderbach at Rernering, where they were joined by armored infantry. CCA, not yet abreast of CCB, likewise found itself involved in a foot-slogging infantry battle on the left flank. At Valette fighter‑bombers from the 377th Squadron dropped 500-pound bombs close to the German positions. Then the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion
CCB now was in position facing the Maderbach. General Grow ordered the left to hold and sent Colonel Miltonberger's 134th Infantry to clear the west bank by an advance from Hilsprich. This mopping-up operation was successful, but attempts to move the tanks forward through the mud were of no avail. Finally, on 27 November, the 80th Infantry Division, again in motion on the north wing of the XII Corps, forced the enemy to begin a wholesale withdrawal across the Maderbach. So the month of November ended, with the 6th Armored Division deployed along the west bank of the Maderbach49 and the 35th Infantry Division- now in corps reserve- resting and training replacements.50
The 35th Division and the 6th Armored Division had driven the enemy lines back twenty-seven miles during the November operation. The 35th had taken 2,309 prisoners; its own losses totaled 349 killed, 1,549 wounded, and
The 80th Division Attack in the Faulquemont Sector
On 17 November the 80th Division went on the defensive after 102 days of continuous contact with the enemy. The 80th now assumed a blocking role on the left flank of the XII Corps, interdicted the enemy escape routes east of Faulquemont by fire, filled its depleted battalions with replacements, and put its men into dry clothes. It is characteristic of the extreme care now required of commanders who were struggling‑under General Patton's critical eye-to reduce the increasing incidence of immersion foot (or trench foot) that most of the messages entered in the 80th Division journal for these days deal with dry socks, laundry facilities, and the like.
This pause in operations on the north wing of the XII Corps gave the 36th VG Division, which had taken a very severe beating in the fighting southwest of Faulquemont, an opportunity to reorganize and take some defensive measures before resumption of the battle. On the night of 16-17 November General Wellm, the 36th VG Division commander, sought permission to withdraw his weakened division across the Nied Allemande River and occupy a new position on the hills north and northeast of Faulquemont, where the Maginot Line works offered the possibility of an organized defense. Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Max Simon, commanding the XIII SS Corps, quickly gave assent since he feared that the American attack would be continued and would shatter his left flank. Wellm's retreat across the Nied Allemande was carried out as scheduled, but the German commander left a reinforced company of the 165th Regiment in Faulquemont to retain a bridgehead. The French inhabitants of Faulquemont, encouraged by the imminence of "liberation" and the obvious weakness of the German garrison, soon became threatening and on 18 November Wellm removed the small bridgehead force.53
During the brief hill the Third Army commander visited General McBride and casually asked why the 80th Division did not take Faulquemont and the heights beyond. Prompted by this "question" General McBride suggested to the X11 Corps commander that the 80th Division be sent up against the Faulquemont position. General Eddy was surprised but gave his consent. Meanwhile, reports from the 80th Division patrols, scouting along the Nied Allemande, indicated that this river line was not strongly held. On 20 November, therefore, after the combined attack by the 35th Division and the 6th Armored had begun moving on the right flank of the 80th, General McBride set in motion a reconnaissance in force to secure bridgeheads north of the river at Faulquemont and Pontpierre.54 The German rear guard had neglected to destroy the bridge at Faulquemont, and the two leading regiments quickly seized a foothold north of the Nied Allemande. This hold was widened the
The Faulquemont position (Falkenberg Stellung), in which the 36th VG Division had deployed, extended along the north side of a deep draw-marked by the villages of Haute-Vigneulle and Bambiderstroff-about three miles beyond the Nied Allemande; it then angled southeast through Tritteling and Téting, the latter barring the road to St. Avold. Much of the enemy line was based on the Maginot fortifications, but these works were now in a poor state of repair and had a few pieces of usable artillery. In any case the Germans had been given little time to familiarize themselves with the Maginot system and had been unable to strengthen the line with more than a modicum of field entrenchments and wire. The 36th VG Division was still considerably understrength, although an infantry battalion or two had been borrowed from the 347th Division, just to the north.
On 25 November, after a five‑minute artillery concentration, the 80th Infantry Division attacked with all three regiments, supported by the 702d Tank Battalion, the 610th and 808th Tank Destroyer Battalions, and with the 42d Cavalry Squadron screening its left flank. By 1300 all the main works were in American hands and the fight had dwindled to a progression of mopping-up actions in which the infantry cleared the woods and heights while the tank destroyers methodically blasted the last pillboxes and bunkers at point-blank range.56 In all, the 80th took about six hundred prisoners. In a subsequent report General Wellm attributed the collapse of the 36th VG Division on this day to the incessant "drum fire" by the American artillery and the coolness displayed by the American infantry, who advanced calmly through the thickest fire "with their weapons at the ready and cigarettes dangling from their lips."57
The broken enemy fell back from the 80th and 5th Divisions, which had made contact, but during 26 November desperate rear guard detachments fought on to cover the retreat. A battalion of the 318th Infantry, on the American north flank, repulsed five counterattacks made by the remnants of the 2d Battalion, 165th Regiment; then, as if tiring of the matter, nine field artil-
With the seizure of St. Avold,60 General McBride turned the 317th (Col. W. M. Lewis) to the northeast on 27 November, in a pursuit calculated to regain contact with the retreating Germans. "Only the infantry could surely get through," reported the regimental commander, and, leaving trucks and half-tracks behind, the 317th moved on foot through the mud. Toward twilight, while marching in column of battalions, the regiment regained touch with the enemy near Seingbouse, about six miles east of St. Avold. Colonel Lewis ordered the 317th to deploy and sent his leading battalion, the A to attack in the direction of Farebersviller while the 1st and 2d Battalions moved forward to go south and north, respectively, of that village.
About 0900 the next morning the 3d Battalion succeeded in getting a foothold, in Farebersviller and began a house-to-house fight that went on all through the day. In the village were some two hundred Germans, troops of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division who had been thrown in piecemeal to hold a section of railway that here formed the new XIII SS Corps line. At the far end of Farebersviller a railway embankment ran north and south, providing cover under which a tactical reserve, composed of grenadiers from the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment and some light Flak tanks belonging to the 17th SS Reconnaissance Battalion, was able to mass for sorties into the village or against the American battalions bypassing Farebersviller. During the afternoon, Companies A and C of the 1st Battalion crossed the railroad
After the successful foray against the 1st Battalion the German shock troops gathered behind the railroad to drive the 3d Battalion out of the west half of Farebersviller. About 2000, three or four tanks and two or three hundred yelling grenadiers charged the Americans; the latter held on, despite serious casualties, and refused to be driven from the village. On the morning of the 29th friendly tanks and tank destroyers came up and began to shell buildings designated by the infantry. Shortly after noon the 3d Battalion was able to report that it was beginning "to creep forward again," although the largest company had only thirty-five men and one company numbered but sixteen.61 The Germans, however, had strengthened their force inside the village. When night came the enemy had complete possession of Farebersviller; the remnants of the 3d Battalion were dug in about a thousand yards west of the village. During 29 November the Germans diverted some troops and tanks to deal with the 2d Battalion in the north, launching counterattacks at the beginning and end of the day; they were stopped on both occasions by a curtain of artillery fire.62 That night General McBride ordered in the 318th Infantry to relieve the 317th Infantry, thus ending the November operations of the 80th Division and an advance-since 25 November--of nearly eighteen miles. During the month the division combat losses had been 513 killed, 2,215 wounded, and 373 missing, a total comparable to the 80th Division casualty list in the heavy fighting of September.63 But the division had taken 3,943 prisoners.
The November offensive had won very substantial gains for the Third Army in both the XII and XX Corps sectors, but without effecting any penetration of the West Wall or materially hastening the advance on the road to