The XX Corps Advance to the Sarre
(19 November-3 December)
The First Attack on the Orscholz Switch Line
No sooner had the 90th and 5th Divisions joined to complete the envelopment of Metz than General Walker began regrouping his armor and cavalry as the first step in a general reorientation of the XX Corps directed northeast toward the Sarre River. Arrangements with General Middleton, commanding the VIII Corps, gave the XX Corps permission to use the Moselle River as an operational boundary on the north, thus placing the Sarre-Moselle triangle in the XX Corps zone and providing space for maneuver on the left flank of that corps. The 3d Cavalry Group (Task Force Polk), which had been probing and pushing its way into the triangle formed by the two rivers while the main body of the XX Corps was fighting farther south, had penetrated about as far into enemy territory as its light-armored squadrons could go. On the afternoon of 19 November the cavalry was brought to a halt by fire from the Orscholz Switch Line (also known to the Americans as the "Siegfried Switch"). (Map XXXVI) This line of field works, antitank barriers, and reinforced concrete pillboxes and bunkers had been constructed as an east-west extension at right angles to the main West Wall fortifications which lay beyond the Sarre. In effect the Orscholz position provided a barrier against any advance northward into the triangle whose apex lay at the confluence of the Moselle and Sarre Rivers and denied a turning movement on the north flank of the Saarlautern-Merzig sector of the West Wall.
On 17 November elements of the 416th Division had begun a withdrawal to the north, folding back fanwise under pressure by the 90th Division and the 10th Armored. This was an orderly movement, and by 19 November the Germans were established in the Orscholz line. At least half of the remaining infantry strength of the 416th had retreated to the east in company with the 19th VG Division and there deployed northwest of Merzig on the near bank of the Sarre River. As a result of this split in his division, General Pflieger
Little was known by American intelligence about the exact outline or strength of the Orscholz line. About all that could be definitely established was that the cavalry had been checked by a strong line of field works and fortifications in the sector Nennig-Tettingen-Oberleuken, and that a stronger force would be needed to continue the drive north into the Sarre-Moselle triangle. Late on 19 November, therefore, General Walker ordered the 3d Cavalry Group to hold up its advance and await the heavier armor.
Since the axis of the Third Army offensive lay in a northeasterly direction, aiming at the seizure of the Rhine crossings between Worms and Mainz, General Patton wished to put some troops across the Sarre as far to the north as possible and thus continue the advance to the Rhine with his left flank resting on the Moselle River. Originally the Third Army commander had intended to employ the 83d Infantry Division for this task. But the restrictions which General Bradley had imposed forbade the use of the 83d across the Moselle. Patton, therefore, told the XX Corps commander to send a combat command of the 10th Armored Division into the triangle. General Walker gave orders that CCA of the 10th Armored Division should assemble its dispersed elements and pass through the 3d Cavalry Group in an attack to seize a bridgehead over the Sarre in the vicinity of Saarburg, some twenty miles north of the routes on which the main body of the corps was to move.2
On the night of 19 November the body of the 3d Reconnaissance Squadron was deployed in a line running roughly east and west through Besch, Wochern, Borg, and Hellendorf, facing the Orscholz line. To the southeast, patrols from the 43d Reconnaissance Squadron had established observation, posts on the hills near Mittel and Unter Tuensdorf, from which the Americans looked down the draws to the Sarre River approximately five thousand yards to the east. The cavalry thus formed a screen covering the left flank of CCB,
The following night CCA arrived in the sector held by the 3d Reconnaissance Squadron, whose outpost line already was across the German frontier. The cavalry reported that its patrols had worked a way through the dragon's teeth which defined the Orscholz line, and had pushed a short distance north before orders had come down from the XX Corps instructing Colonel Polk to hold in place and await relief by the armor. The cavalry assault guns, in the interim, had laid on a heavy fire in an attempt to maintain the narrow gap opened by the dismounted troopers about a thousand yards north of Borg. General Althaus deployed his combat command along a sixmile front with Task Force Standish on the left and Task Force Chamberlain on the right. His intention was to send the right task force against the sector of the Gerrpan line north of Borg while the left made a jab at Tettingen and hooked around the German west flank near Besch. On the morning Of 21 November CCA moved into the attack in four columns. Behind the armor four reinforcing battalions of field artillery, including one of 8-inch howitzers, were sited to give the combat command additional artillery support when it hit the Orscholz line. The attack on the right gained some initial success, although here as elsewhere in front of CCA the enemy fought desperately. Task Force Chamberlain's eastern column (Team Eisberg) jumped off from the cover of the Forêt de Saarburg in an oblique attack toward the village of Orscholz and drove through the outworks of the Orscholz line. When the attack was about 1,400 yards from the village, very severe artillery and mortar fire from the main German position brought the Americans to a halt. Little was known about these enemy works, and the fight now became an exploratory engagement in which the American artillery ranged in on each pillbox and bunker as its location was spotted by the armored infantry. In the meantime Colonel Chamberlain's western column attacked from Borg along the main road leading toward Kirf and into the gap discovered earlier by the
Task Force Standish on the left flank was stopped, almost as soon as its advance began, by a long antitank ditch reinforced by pillboxes and dragon's teeth. During the day engineers and armored infantry attempted to throw-bridges over the antitank ditch, all the while under intense German fire, but with no success. When the day ended CCA still was held in check by the German line, except at the one point where the small force had worked its way past the crater. Colonel Chamberlain concluded that further preparations must be made before continuing the attack on the right and withdrew his task force to Borg, leaving CCA in approximately the positions it had occupied at the beginning of the day's operations.
CCB had crossed onto German soil on 19 November,3 but there had received orders from General Morris to hold defensively and contain the Germans west of Merzig while the rest of the division initiated the attack toward Saarburg. The advance of 20 November carried the head of the CCB column forward about two miles and reached Hill 378, some three thousand yards from the Sarre River and Merzig. Because at this point the American troops were well within range of the German guns around Merzig and exposed to continuous shellfire, Brig. Gen. Edwin W. Piburne, the commander of CCB, ordered the men on Hill 378 to fall back to positions on Hill 383, southeast of Wellingen. Actually CCB had driven into a weakly defended portion of the Saar Heights Stellung, the line which constituted the last German battle position west of the Sarre River. The enemy interpreted this American advance as a main effort intended to roll up the Saar Heights position and force a crossing near Merzig.4 Balck therefore threw in the survivors of the tough 25th Panzer Grenadier Kampfgruppe as shock troops. Late on the afternoon of 21 November this counterattack detachment drove in on the left wing of CCB. A small American outpost force that had been screening east of the Heidwald Woods was driven back along the road toward Launstroff and lost
Back to the north, CCA set about a systematic penetration of the Orscholz line, attacking with dismounted infantry and engineers to reduce the troublesome enemy pillboxes and bridge the antitank ditches and craters. Task Force Standish dispatched a force of tanks and infantry at dawn on 22 November to execute the flank attack against the German right wing which had been outlined in CCA's original plan. These troops succeeded in fighting their way into Nennig, only to find that here the Orscholz line ran in a north-to-south line behind the village, thus covering the enemy flank. The Germans fought fiercely to eject the attackers from Nennig, and in the early afternoon the Americans withdrew under a protective barrage laid down by their supporting artillery. This abortive attack cost fifty-five casualties and five or six tanks. The right wing team of Task Force Standish (Team Eardley) was more successful in a dismounted attack straight along the main road between Wochern and Tettingen. One platoon of infantry, following close behind the advancing fire of its supporting artillery, penetrated the line of dragon's teeth just outside of Tettingen and forced a way into the village, but was quickly driven back to the south. On CCA's right wing Task Force Chamberlain made some headway along the large hogback ridge whose eastern side is marked by the Borg-Kirf road. Chamberlain's armored infantry made a jab north along the ridge road, broke through the dragon's teeth east of the Campholz Woods, and went on to establish a small "bridgehead" about eight hundred yards in depth.6
On the night Of 22 November CCA held only the one opening through the dragon's teeth. At no point had the field fortifications beyond this antitank barrier been neutralized or reduced. The armored combat command already was deployed on a very extended front, and the experiences of the past two days had demonstrated clearly that additional infantry would be
Two days before, the XX Corps commander had attached the 358th Infantry, 90th Infantry Division, to the 10th Armored. The CCA commander had been confident that his troops could crack the Orscholz line without help,7 but at noon on 21 November General Morris finally had ordered the infantry to begin the move northward. Late on the following day the 358th Infantry (Col. C. H. Clarke) was in position to take over the fight. On the morning Of 23 November General Morris canceled the scheduled renewal of the CCA attack and ordered the 358th to advance at once, with the mission of capturing the villages of Sinz and Muenzingen three and four thousand yards respectively behind the center of the Orscholz line. The path for the infantry attack lay along the hogback ridge which provided a natural causeway leading north in the direction of Saarburg; therefore once the infantry had made a hole in the Orscholz line and was firmly astride the main section of the ridge the way would be opened for the armor to roll. Lacking precise intelligence data the 358th was none too well briefed as to the specific locations of the works to its front or the number of the enemy opposite, although G-2 estimates did indicate that German reserves had been drawn into this sector to meet the armored attacks of the past forty-eight hours. In addition the 358th had been reduced to about sixty-three percent of its normal strength by the fighting during the envelopment north of Metz.
Colonel Clarke decided to make a co-ordinated attack on Muenzingen with two battalions from the vicinity of Borg, but General Morris directed that one battalion clear the route via Tettingen while another moved on the parallel route from Borg. The 3d (Capt. J. S. Spivey) advanced on the left with Tettingen and Sinz as objectives, and the 2d (Lt. Col. Robert H. Schultz) passed through Task Force Chamberlain on the right. About 1000 the two
The 3d Battalion assembled near Wochern and then swung wide to the right and into the Campholz Woods during a very heavy fog that suddenly enveloped the entire sector and provided concealment over the bare hogback. This flanking movement was designed to avoid a head-on attack along the road to Tettingen. The battalion used ladders to span the ubiquitous antitank ditch, which here extended through the center of the woods, and pushed northward across German trenches and through barbed wire zigzagging under the trees. By dark the 3d Battalion had cleared the woods and captured eight‑four prisoners.8 Its own losses were relatively slight, despite counterattacks by infiltrating Germans who reoccupied pillboxes that had been captured by the 3d Battalion. The latter's strength was too depleted to be able to garrison the pillboxes and continue the attack simultaneously.
At 0630 on 24 November the 2d Battalion again started forward on the right. This time the advance was checked by a storm of machine gun fire sweeping the right flank from a huge bunker at the edge of Oberleuken. An assault team went up against the bunker but was not able to knock it out until nearly noon. Fire from the village itself continued to thin the 2d Battalion ranks, and at 1530 Colonel Clarke sent Colonel Lytle's 1st Battalion (later led by Capt. Thomas Caldecott), which formed his reserve, into Oberleuken, where the fight for the village raged on into the night.
The 3d Battalion also had run into,trouble during the morning. The Germans threw in a counterattack using troops armed with flame throwers, in addition to their usual heavy complement of automatic weapons. In beating
TETTING-BUTZDORF. Circle indicates pillboxes.
At daylight on 25 November the 3d Battalion began a desperate attack to knock out Tettingen and rescue the survivors in Butzdorf. Company I, lying in the fields east of Tettingen under constant fire from roving self
On the right of the regimental zone the 1st Battalion continued a house-to-house battle for the possession of Oberleuken, after beating off a German foray made by a force of tanks and infantry that moved in across the face of the 2d Battalion. The 2d Battalion made some progress, despite a withering fire to its front, and captured the bald top of Hill 388, five hundred yards northwest of Oberleuken. This advance cost the battalion dear; by the end of the day it numbered less than a hundred men in the line.
The three-day battle to penetrate the Orscholz line had drastically reduced the combat strength of the 358th Infantry.12 Furthermore, exposure in the cold, the mud, and the rain, with only such shelter as could be found in captured pillboxes, had brought on a mounting toll of trench foot casualties. On the evening Of 25 November the 10th Armored Division commander and Colonel Clarke agreed that the 358th was in no shape to continue the attack. The corps commander concurred in this decision and on the following day
The fight at the Orscholz line was not quite ended. About 0130 on 27 November the Germans filtered back into Tettingen and then drove on to attack Borg, well inside the thin American line, with flame throwers and automatic weapons. This last enemy attempt to seal the narrow breach in the line of fortifications was repelled and the armored infantry hunted down the Germans in Tettingen from house to house. American operations against the Orscholz line were halted, however; Oberleuken and Nennig remained in enemy hands, and the attack for a bridgehead at Saarburg was abandoned.
Meanwhile the XX Corps offensive along the main axis toward the Sarre was being carried rapidly northeast by the 90th and 95th Divisions. Since the two-division advance was about to outrun the flank protection offered on the north by CCB of the 10th Armored Division, General Walker decided to turn all of the 10th Armored to the east. On 27 November he issued new operations instructions which assigned the 3d Cavalry Group to relieve CCA of the screening mission on the far north flank of the corps and regrouped the 10th Armored Division preparatory to clearing the remaining German forces from the west bank of the Sarre in the division zone. The armor assembled on 30 November and began the attack toward the river through a low-hanging mist, its armored infantry in the lead and tanks following. CCB, on the right, drove as far as Merzig, where the enemy blew the last two of the Sarre bridges in this sector. Only a few enemy troops remained west of the river to oppose the 10th Armored, and by 0300 on 2 December the last resistance in the Merzig sector west of the Sarre was ended by the capture of Dreisbach, on the north boundary of the division zone. General Walker ordered General Morris to establish an outpost line on the west bank of the Sarre between the 3d Cavalry Group and the 90th Division. Since this defen-
The XX Corps Preparations for the Attack Toward the Sarre River
The successful completion of the battle to encircle Metz and neutralize its garrison marked the end of an important phase in the operations of the XX Corps. But the tired and combat-worn divisions had no time to rest on their laurels. At best the greater part of the troops could be given only a few hours of sleep, a bath, and a change to clean, dry clothes, before the XX Corps turned northeast to continue the offensive beside the XII Corps toward the next enemy barriers: the Sarre River and the West Wall.
On 20 November, of General Walker's three infantry divisions, the goth was east of Metz proper and the 5th and 95th were jammed in and around the city itself. A hasty redrafting of boundary lines inside the city simplified the task of extricating units and regrouping.them again under the proper command. The lack of bridges, however, and the difficulties attendant on moving trains and troops through this crowded area-where small groups of the enemy still were fighting-combined to hamper the general reorientation and reorganization required for the drive to the Sarre. Late on 21 November General Walker ordered the 5th Division to relieve the 95th Division, many of whose troops were involved in containing the German forts west of the Moselle. This reshuffling would bring the 95th eastward into the former 5th Division zone and place it on the right of the 90th Division. The 90th had not turned inward toward Metz and at the moment was in the process of wheeling northeast behind an outpost line deployed on the west bank of the Nied which served as a screen for the body of the corps. General Twaddle, whose 95th Division had been chosen to make the main effort to secure crossings at the Sarre, was unwilling to throw his division into what promised to be a hard fight without taking some time for rehabilitation, reorganization necessitated by the number of casualties among company commanders14 -and vehicle repair, the last particularly needed by the attached tank battalion (the 778th) after the operations west and north of Metz. The 95th Division commander asked for a four-day delay, time that would be required in any event
The XX Corps Field Order No.13, issued on the early morning Of 22 November, outlined the plan for the three-division operation, placing the 90th Division in the center, the 95th on its right, and the 10th Armored Division on its left. (Map XXXVII) General Patton had ordered the XX Corps to destroy the enemy remaining west of the Sarre and to cross that river. Beyond the Sarre River the corps mission would be to penetrate the West Wall, destroy the German formations there, and continue the attack in a northeasterly direction. "The burden of this offensive, in mud and rain, across a defended river line, and through the strongly fortified zone of the West Wall, would have to be carried by the infantry. The XX Corps plan gave the 95th Division the task of making the first crossings at the Sarre, in the sector between Saarlautern and Pachten. Once the 95th had a foothold across the river, the scheme of maneuver called upon the division to extend its bridgehead northward in order to facilitate the 90th Division crossing. In addition the 95th was charged with the task of making and keeping contact with the left flank of the XII Corps, whose 80th Division at the moment was held more or less immobile, blocking along the gap between the XII and XX Corps which had opened while the latter was involved at Metz.
The 90th Infantry Division was to begin its attack simultaneously with that of the 95th, clear the enemy out of its zone west of the river, and, when the Sarre was reached, support the 95th Division crossing with all the fire power the division could bring to bear. Once at the Sarre the plan simply called for the 90th Division "to prepare to bridge [the] Saar river within zone in [the] bridgehead established by the 95th Division." During the initial phases of the drive to the Sarre at least one regimental combat team of the 5th Infantry Division was to be left in the Metz sector and there contain the German forts still holding out. General Walker, however, could assume that new troops ultimately would be available to take over the 5th Division containing role, or that the intransigent enemy garrisons would capitulate. Therefore, General Irwin was ordered to prepare plans for an attack with the bulk of the 5th Division anywhere in the corps zone on six hours' notice. The 10th Armored, as noted, was to secure a crossing in the north at Saarburg.
The country between Metz and the Sarre River offered no unusually difficult barriers to foot soldiers and vehicles, although the combination of continuous rains and clay subsoil would slow the speed of any advance. The Nied
River, running obliquely northeast from Bouzonville, near which the bulk of the 90th Division was assembled, could hardly offer the retreating Germans a natural defense line. The Nied, however, did bisect the zone through which the corps would move, making it somewhat difficult for the two infantry divisions to give each other mutual support during the advance to the Sarre line. In general the terrain eastward was-moderately rolling and mostly open, with a few patches of dense evergreen forest breaking the monotony of the landscape but providing little continuous cover for any enemy withdrawal. Some minor streams, tributaries of the Nied, cut across the American front and, with their bridges destroyed, were potential sources of delay. A short distance from the Sarre, and just east of the German frontier, the ground rose gradually to a series of heights, which, on the reverse sides, tended to break away sharply to the river. This conformation of high ground was known to the German staff planners as the Saar Heights Position (SaarHoehen Stellung). Northwest of Merzig the heights lay contiguous to the Orscholz line. West of Pachten, in the 95th Division zone, the heights were particularly rugged and dipped so abruptly at the river as to form a regular escarpment. West of Saarlautern the heights terminated some distance from the Sarre channel, with the result that a natural bridgehead of lower ground extended to the west of the river. The main section of the city of Saarlautern lay in this west bank bridgehead.
In the German scheme of successive defense lines the Saar Heights Stellung was the last planned line of resistance in front of the West Wall, which in this sector had been constructed on the east bank of the Sarre generally parallel to the river. The heights constituted a Vorfeld, or forward battle position, which could be used either to cover the movement of field forces into the West Wall fortifications or to screen deployment and maneuver for counterattacks launched to deflect any frontal attack against the main works of the West Wall. Although the maps at high German headquarters showed the trace of the Saar Heights Stellung as a main line of resistance, it remained in actuality a geographicalposition, strengthened somewhat by temporary field works, but lacking concrete fortifications.15 It is not surprising, therefore, that the XX Corps G-2 estimates and air photos took little cognizance of the defense possibilities of the Saar Heights.
The German Withdrawal East of Metz
Field Marshal Rundstedt seems to have been far from sanguine as to any hope of long delaying the American advance east of Metz. His fear that the fall of Metz might leave a gap in the lines of the First Army, into which General Patton's divisions would wedge their way, found expression as early as 115 November in an unsolicited order that gave the Army Group G commander permission to withdraw his right flank to the Saar Heights Stellung "if necessary." General Balck was no more willing to accept Rundstedt's conservative and cautious advice than he had been prior to the beginning of the Third Army offensive. Balck apparently believed that the remnants of the 9th VG Division and 416th Division which had withdrawn to the Borg Boulay line on the night of 17-18 November might be able to make a stand. He gave orders that the 347th Division, just arriving from the Army Group B area, should be committed on both sides of Boulay to bolster up the broken and depleted units congregated there.17 The American maneuver to close the escape routes east of Metz gave the German forces in the Boulay sector a brief respite. But on 19 November the 10th Armored Division attack east of Laun-
When the XX Corps resumed the eastward attack on 25 November-the German First Army had in action elements of three weak divisions: the 19th VG Division, disposed along the German frontier with its right boundary east of Launstroff and its left on the Nied River near Niedaltdorf; Kampfgruppe Muehlen, holding a narrow sector behind the Nied River between Niedaltdorf and Bouzonville;19 and the 347th Division, whose front extended in a shallow salient along the Nied River south to Boulay and then swung back southeast to an anchor point at the Forêt de St. Avold. Of these units the 347th was still fairly fresh, but it was only a static division and poorly equipped; the others were hardly more than reinforced regiments. Artillery support was available, although most of the German guns seem to have been already displaced to positions behind the Sarre. The 19th VG Division had a total of four assault guns for close infantry support, but the others had none. Finally, it should be remarked that even these weak forces could not be employed with the greatest degree of tactical effectiveness, since the Nied River was the boundary between two German corps, the LXXXII Corps and the XIII SS Corps.
The 5th Infantry Division completed the relief of the 95th at Metz on 23 November and the latter moved east to take up its attack position on the right flank of the 90th Division. The 90th had been holding the Nied River sector with light patrols, as well as part of the line earlier established in the north by the advance of CCB, 10th Armored Division. Now, with the arrival of the 95th, a realignment was carried out along the boundary between the two attack divisions. This boundary line followed the Nied River as far as Bueren and then thrust due east along the main railroad to the Sarre River. The northern boundary for the 90th Division zone of attack an obliquely northeast through Halstroff and Mondorf, terminating on the Sarre just south of Merzig. The southern boundary of the 95th Division zone at the moment was also the line of demarcation between the XX and XII Corps. This disposition of the XX Corps forces gave the 95th Division a wider front than the 90th. In addition the 90th already was echeloned forward northeast of Bouzonville; which meant that it had only five and a half miles to cover before reaching the Sarre, while the 95th Division, which was making the corps main effort, was sixteen miles from the river.
On the early morning of 25 November the two infantry divisions commenced the drive toward the Sarre, each attacking with two regiments abreast. The enemy had no cohesive line of defense but instead used small detachments of thirty or forty men, holed up in villages along the roads, to fight delaying actions. Blown bridges, swollen streams, and muddy roads caused more delay than did enemy action. The German artillery laid down occasional harassing fire, but fog and haze prevented any effective counterbattery work by the American gunners. The 90th Division progressed about two miles in the course of the day. Its left-wing formation, the 359th Infantry (Col. Raymond E. Bell), which was echeloned in advance of the 357th Infantry (Col. J. H. George), reached the village of Oberesch--only four miles from the Sarre River. The 95th Division, strongly reinforced by artillery from the III Corps and 5th Division, crossed the Nied, advancing with the 377th Infantry (Col. F. E. Gaillard) on the left and the 378th Infantry (Col. S. L. Metcalfe) on the right. By nightfall the division had taken Boulay, Narbéfontaine, Momerstroff, and Hallering, and had begun to move through the Maginot Line. The enemy made no attempt to hold the old fortifications but did engage in occasional sharply contested delaying actions during the course
The 10th Armored Division committed CCB to extend the north wing of the attack on 26 November. Its dismounted infantry, supported by fire from field guns, tanks, and chemical mortars, systematically scoured the woods to the front. But most of the Germans in this sector had retired across the Sarre and the combat command met little fire except that from the German guns east of the river. The 90th Division also encountered little resistance on this day, although antitank ditches and mine fields began to appear in its path and slow the advance. In the 95th Division zone the 377th Infantry, making the main effort, advanced about four miles, despite the flooded countryside east of Eblange which forced the regiment to queue in column of battalions and thread its way forward on the one passable road. Toward evening both the 377th and 378th began to meet resistance from small German detachments, which apparently had orders to make a stand. Meanwhile, it had become apparent that the German garrisons holding the forts back at Metz were in no mood for quick capitulation; so General Walker ordered
The 90th Division, pushing forward on a relatively narrow front, was well ahead of the divisions to its flanks by 27 November. General Van Fleet halted his division, except for minor patrolling, and set the engineers to work repairing the roads to the rear so that tanks and tank destroyers could be brought up for the final phase of the advance to the river. The 95th Division, however, was coming forward rapidly and on 27 November made a long drive at the expense of the 347th Division which put the 377th Infantry within a mile of the German border and brought the 378th up as far as Falck and Dalem. On the following day the 95th Division continued to make progress. The 377th entered Germany. The 378th made slight gains, but then was checked for several hours on its right by intense fire from the large woods east of Falck.21 At dark the front lines of the 95th were about four and a half miles from the Sarre, roughly abreast of the 90th Division.
General Walker now ordered the two infantry divisions to launch a coordinated attack on 29 November. Thus far the Germans had sought to delay the American drive by using small rear guard detachments and extensive demolitions, the main forces withdrawing the while to the Saar Heights Stellung. When the 95th began the attack on the morning Of 29 November it met more opposition than had been anticipated, for at this point the advance had to be made across the Saar Heights.22 The 1st Battalion of the 377th fought its way into the village of St. Barbara, located on a narrow spur about two thousand yards from the Sarre. Then tanks and infantry of the 21St Panzer Division made a counterattack, overran two 57-mm. antitank guns
ST. BARBARA. The area shown in the photograph is indicated on Map XXXVII.
The 378th also found the going tough and received counterattacks all along its front. The 3d Battalion mopped up in Falck, where a detachment from the 347th had held out during the previous night. When the battalion, supported by some medium tanks, moved east to clear the enemy from the woods and high ground ahead, the Germans lashed back with a succession of counterattacks, six in all, which were dispersed only after hard fighting.24 In the center the 1st Battalion took Merten and then held the village despite all German efforts to retake it. The 2d Battalion swung out on the left and started an attack toward Berus, but was hit immediately by a counterattack launched by a special "assault group" from Panzer Lehr. After a bitter engagement in which the battalion lost heavily and became much disorganized, it fell back toward Merten, reorganizing during the night behind cover offered by a group of farm buildings. The 95th Division had received no less than ten German counterattacks in the course of the day-an earnest of General Balck's intention to defend the Saar Heights Stellung in front of Saarlautern. It would appear that all of the available German reserves had been thrown in to stop the 95th; north of the Nied River the 90th met little opposition and by nightfall it had patrols on the west bank of the Sarre.
During the morning Of 30 November the 95th Division consolidated its front-line positions and reorganized, after the disorder attendant on the counterattacks of the previous day, to resume the attack. In the meantime the rear echelons of the division worked doggedly to mend the boggy roads and better the supply situation, a necessary preliminary to any crossing attempt. In the afternoon the 377th Infantry hunted down the last Germans in St. Barbara and pushed on its right into Felsberg, where a particularly stubborn knot of the Panzer Lehr assault group held the edge of the village and delayed further advance. The 378th moved forward to positions beside the 377th Infantry and took a dominating hill (377) south of Felsberg which the Germans considered the "key" to the Saar Heights. At the end of the day, while not yet at the Sarre, the left wing of the 95th was poised on the slopes which led down to the river in front of the Saarlautern. The two-and-a-half-mile advance to Bueren, by the battalion from the 90th, likewise had moved the American line to the slopes leading down to the Sarre in front of Dillingen, which covered the right flank of the Saarlautern defenses. However, the 378th had not yet fought its way past the high ground on the right flank of the 95th, from which the enemy continued to deny access to the river.
Although the north flank of the two infantry divisions slated to make the river crossing was protected by the 110th Armored Division, which had driven forward to well within light howitzer range of the German defenses at Merzig, the south flank was only weakly outposted and presented some danger. In fact much of the trouble met by the 95th Division had come on its open right flank, where it had attempted to bypass German resistance emanating.
At the close of November the First Army had given ground all along its front. The American XV Corps was driving back the German left and now threatened to break through to Wissembourg and the Palatinate. The XII Corps had made an armored penetration at the German center and was preparing to widen the thrust by a push across the Sarre in the vicinity of Sarreguernines. On the German right the American XX Corps was in sight of the West Wall and in position to carry the attack directly across the Sarre and into the main line of fortifications. (Map XXXVIII)
At the moment Hitler considered the XX Corps attack the most serious of all the threats to the West Wall.26 In the sector between Merzig and Saarlautern the West Wall was more strongly fortified than at any other point and Hitler had committed himself to the thesis of West Wall impregnability. Furthermore, in this sector the West Wall shielded the great industrial centers of the Saar Basin; on 27 November the First Army had been told that its primary mission was the defense of the Saar mines and factories.27 But al-
The Army Group G commander did what he could to wring adequate support from OB WEST, and thus indirectly from OKW. He described what he considered to be an alteration in American tactics. Earlier the Americans had attacked in force in a few sectors, giving the Germans opportunity to concentrate at the points of pressure. Now the Americans tended to break up their former large "assault reserves" and launch a whole series of smaller assault detachments in attacks on a wide front. The superior mobility of the American forces allowed a rapid regrouping after the initial penetrations and kept the Germans constantly off balance. These tactics, said Balck, could be met only by building up strong, armored, counterattack reserves behind all parts of the front. But such reserves, as Balck himself admitted, were not available.29
The Army Group G commander also addressed himself to his troopsin his usual strident manner. On the night Of 29 November a general order prescribed "no more withdrawals." The battle now must be fought to weaken the enemy and win time. All traces of the "West Wall psychosis" must be ruthlessly eliminated (apparently the propaganda on the strength of the West Wall had been too successful), and the troops must be told that safety lay not behind concrete but in bitter battle before the German frontier. Finally, wrote Balck, the army group commander will not tolerate "rear-area swine" but will have only soldiers in his command.30
Actually there was little Balck or Knobelsdorff could do but issue resounding orders. On 30 November the only reserves on the First Army right wing (the 21st Panzer Division Kampfgruppe) were detailed to make one attack after another in the St. Barbara sector, but without avail. About midnight Army Group G ordered Knobelsdorff to pull the right wing of the LXXXII Corps back of the Sarre, thus beginning the withdrawal into the West Wall. Subsequently Rundstedt reprimanded Knobelsdorff for this action,
The 95th Division Fight for the Sarre Crossing
Although the enemy continued to evince considerable determination to keep a foothold on the west bank of the Sarre, the 95th Division prepared to buck through this delaying defense and strike immediately across the river. General Twaddle ordered up the 379th Infantry (Col. R. L. Bacon) from reserve, with the intention of sending the fresh regiment through the 377th to force a crossing near Saarlautern. (Map XXXVII) This attack was set for 1 December, following a large-scale air assault that was planned to soften up the German defenses along the river. In the days just past, bad flying weather had precluded any extensive co-operation from the air force in the Third Army area. On 1 December the weather broke a little. The IX Bombardment Division had scheduled an assault by eight groups of B-26 bombers, but because of failures in Pathfinder equipment and late arrivals at the initial point only four groups made it to the target zone. The medium bombers struck at Saarlautern, Ensdorf, and Fraulautern; fighter-bombers, sent over from the XIX TAC, worked on interdiction three or four miles east of the river. Visibility was too poor for the kind of pinpoint bombing needed in a river crossing operation and the ground observers reported that the air attack was only moderately successful.32 At 1235 the last bomber ended its bombing run and General Twaddle gave the word for the 95th Division to advance.
The plan of attack hinged on the effort to be made by the 379th, which was to cross the river near Saarlautern, establish a bridgehead, and then continue the attack by turning sharply north and clearing the east bank in the neighborhood of Rehlingen- thus permitting the 90th Division to cross in that area. On the right the 378th was instructed to sweep the enemy from the west bank and then, on orders from the division commander, force a crossing in its zone and continue the attack to the east. On the left the 377th also had orders to clear out the enemy to its front. During this operation the 379th was to pass through the right wing of the 377th, which would lay down fire to
The G-2 estimate of the number of enemy in front of the 95th Division, on both sides of the river, set the figure at 10,000 with elements of the 559th VG Division, 347th Division, and 36th VG Division represented.34 The 95th Division had incurred heavier losses than any other division in the XX Corps during the period since 9 November.35 The inclusion of over thirty‑five hundred replacements during November, mostly untried riflemen and officers with no experience in battle, would tend to reduce the combat effectiveness of the division. However, the relatively small number of combat fatigue and sick cases which had been hospitalized by the 95th Division indicated that it was fairly fresh and that its morale was high.36 Moreover, the 95th approached the fight at the Sarre with an impressive number of guns in support, since the III Corps artillery and the 4th Tank Destroyer Group had been sent forward to aid the division during the crossing operations.
The first hours of the 95th Division attack on the afternoon of 1 December showed that the German troops still west of the river intended to make a fight of it. The 377th Infantry met stiff resistance, but finally completed the job of clearing Felsberg about 1500. Colonel Gaillard then sent his 3d Battalion marching east toward Saarlautern. The 11st Battalion, on the north flank, was pinned down at. St. Barbara in an action lasting all afternoon. Enemy tanks and infantry, supported by guns across the river, fought with much determination in the village itself. The 378th, attacking toward the high ground in its front and hampered by an open south flank, also found the going slow and difficult. Slight gains were made on the left, aided by the advance of the 377th, and an important hill near Berus was taken. But the 1st Battalion, advancing on the right where maneuver was restricted by streams and flooded fields, was checked by an enemy detachment holding a hill west of Bisten
The events of 1 December had shattered any German hopes of a systematic and homogeneous defense west of the river. The loss of the high ground near Berus was a matter of special concern to the First Army for it meant that the Americans could drive a wedge between the LXXXII Corps, forming the army right wing, and the XIII SS Corps, which constituted the army center. Knobelsdorff wished to retake the lost hill but found that there was insufficient artillery ammunition at the German guns to support such an attack. Apparently there was a plentiful supply of shells in the dumps at Darmstadt, but these were not reaching the front lines (probably the American air attack was the answer).37
Despite the fact that his First Army commander had just received a stiff official reprimand from Rundstedt for "continually falling back," Balck issued an order at 2130 for all troops north of an east-west line through Dillingen to retire behind the Sarre. Two hours later he extended the withdrawal zone as far south as Saarlautern and ordered the XIII SS Corps to pull its right flank back into the wooded area between Berus and the river.38 During the night of 1-2 December most of the remaining troops of the LXXXII Corps moved across the Rehlingen bridge or were ferried across the Sarre, but rear guard elements of the 21st Panzer Division remained in the vicinity of St. Barbara and other German detachments congregated to fight a holding action at Saarlautern.
Friendly planes again intervened on the morning of 2 December to help the American infantry. Eight groups of medium bombers, sent over by the IX Bombardment Division, blasted targets in and around Saarlautern. This time the ground observers reported that most of the drops were highly accurate.39 The bombing must have shaken and scattered the defenders of the city; when the 2d Battalion of the 379th drove into the edge of Saarlautern the enemy reacted slowly and in disorganized fashion. By 1500 the battalion had driven the Germans from the barracks in the western section of the city and started a house-to-house fight deep inside the city itself. Only the 2d
The 95th Division continued to have trouble on its flanks, and attempts to shake free the regiments at the shoulders of the salient formed by the 379th were countered with desperate resolution. The 11st Battalion of the 377th Infantry finally gave up the effort to clear the resurgent enemy from St. Barbara and withdrew to the west, leaving the division artillery and friendly planes to smash the village.40 This merciless pounding by shells and bombs ended the fight, and by early afternoon St. Barbara and its key ridge were again in American hands. The 377th began to mop up. By the night of 3 December the regiment had completed its mission of clearing the west bank and was placed in reserve at Wallerfangen.
The 378th Infantry met "extremely bitter resistance" on 2 December. The troops on the left flank fought their way northeast and by nightfall held Pikard, only three thousand yards from the center of Saarlautern. This advance had been made against "some of the most severe resistance the regiment had yet encountered."41 The regiment now was extended, along a very wide front, with the southern wing aligned almost at right angles to the forward line. All attempts to bring the right forward through Falck and Merten were unsuccessful.
The fighting of the past few days had taken heavy toll in the 95th Division, particularly in the ranks of the 377th and 378th. The effective combat strength in four of the infantry battalions was reduced to 55 percent or less. Very few replacements were available. At the close of 2 December the 95th Division G-3 Periodic Report called the division "tired," and for the first time in its
SAARLAUTERN. The area shown in the photograph is indicated on Map XXXVII. Circles indicate pillboxes.
In late afternoon of 2 December an artillery observation plane discovered an intact bridge spanning the Sarre between the center of the city of Saarlautern and the suburb north of the river; this bridge led to the main road connecting Saarlautern and Saarlautern-Roden. The air photo showing this find was sent to the commander of the 379th. After interrogating prisoners on details of the city plan and consulting General Twaddle, Colonel Bacon determined to send his 1st Battalion to seize the bridge. The Sarre makes a loop at the northwestern corner of the city of Saarlautern, and Colonel Bacon decided to take advantage of this configuration by sending the battalion across the near segment of the loop. After this move the attack would dash inland through the northern suburb and take the bridge from the rear or north side. With the bridge in the hands of the 1st Battalion, contact then could be made with the reserve battalion, which was now in position to join the 2d Battalion in the push eastward through the main part of the city.
In the early morning hours Of 3 December the 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. Tobias R. Philbin)43 moved through the barracks area, thus avoiding entanglement in the streets of Saarlautern, and forward to the river. Philbin's troops were fresh, for the battalion had not been engaged since the fighting at Metz. At 0545 the first assault boats shoved off to make the 125 foot crossing. Ten minutes later the whole battalion was on the opposite bank. The noise of the American guns shelling Saarlautern had drowned out all sounds of the crossing and no German outposts were seen as the first troops debarked. Company B and a platoon of Company C, 320th Combat Engineer Battalion, led the surprise attack, double-timing a distance of about two thousand yards through an empty park and down the road to the bridge. Here a light German tank was discovered, sitting beside the bridge exit. In the half-light, shrouded by the fog and rain, the American advance guard moved up to the tank. A German inside the tank suddenly awoke to the danger and started frantically
The unexpected American success at the Saarlautern bridge had imperiled the German defense scheme and greatly perturbed the higher German commanders. Field Marshal Rundstedt was informed of what had happened soon after the event and ordered the First Army commander to attack at once, destroy the bridge, and hold the east bank of the Sarre "at all costs." Army Group G immediately began an investigation, at the behest of OB WEST, to assess the blame for the loss of the Saarlautern bridge; it finally reported that the bridge guards had all been killed during the attack and that the