The XII Corps Attack Toward
the West Wall
At the end of November the Third Army was closing up to the Sarre River. As yet, General Patton's intention to secure at least one bridgehead east of the river in each of the two corps zones had not been realized. It appeared likely, however, that the bulk of the Third Army would soon be across the Sarre. Beyond lay the West Wall, which, insofar as the section facing the Third Army was concerned, remained an unknown quantity. The optimistic prediction by higher headquarters that Patton's troops would reach the Rhine by mid-December had been quietly forgotten. The Third Army commander himself had gradually abandoned the hope of a quick break-through to the Rhine; at this stage he seems to have been concerned simply with driving steadily forward, going as far as his strength and supplies would permit. Meanwhile the First and Ninth Army attack on the Aachen front, begun on 16 November, had run into difficulties. Neither of the two armies had yet reached the Roer River, despite the fact that ten divisions had been put into the attack on a 24-mile front. It seemed possible that a stalemate might result at the Roer River; therefore, at the close of November, the SHAEF and 12th Army Group staffs turned to consider alternative strategy. Progress on the Third Army front and in Alsace, where the 6th Army Group had breached the Belfort Gap position and reached the Rhine, offered some chance of reward. On 27 November Eisenhower ordered General Devers to attack northward with the object of cracking the West Wall west of the Rhine, thus aiding the Third Army in its drive toward the Saar Basin. The SHAEF planning staff, on 28 November, considered the possible results of reinforcing a joint offensive by the Third Army and the 6th Army Group:
More important than the capture of ground would be the destruction of the Germans in the area between the Moselle and the Rhine. It is probable that this offensive will attract considerable German resources from the northern and central sectors, and it is
The Fight for Sarre-Union
By 30 November the XII Corps had come to a halt, except on its protecting right wing where the 4th Armored Division was fighting doggedly to outflank Sarre-Union.2 The corps front extended some twenty-five miles, with the left wing touching the XX Corps near Béning-lès-St. Avold, on the Rosselle, and the right in contact with the XV Corps near Mackwiller.3(Map XXXIX) In the north the forward line had not yet crossed the Metz-Sarreguemines railroad. Farther south the XII Corps had closed up to the Maderbach in several places, but the enemy continued to hold a few bridgeheads on its western bank. In the segment formed by the Canal des Houillères de la Sarre and the Sarre River the corps main line of resistance turned somewhat at right angles, since the 25th Reconnaissance Squadron had pushed north to Harskirchen and had cleared the wider portion of the triangle. Beyond the Sarre the 4th Armored Division faced toward Sarre-Union and the hills overlooking the town from the east.
The 4th Armored Division advance had penetrated the southern German defense perimeter around Sarre-Union by 1 December and had attained a point where a direct assault could be made on the town itself. For this operation the 101st Infantry, which had been moved across the Sarre and brought up on the left flank of the 4th Armored Division, would be committed with the armor in a joint attack to bring the infantry straight north into Sarre-Union while the armor made a close‑in envelopment on the east.
On the morning of 1 December, CCB and the 101st Infantry began a coordinated attack. CCB, employing the 8th Tank Battalion and 51st Armored Infantry Battalion, made its push in two columns, the right attacking to take Hill 318, north of Mackwiller, and the left driving in the German outposts east of Rimsdorf.4 The 101st Infantry launched its attack with the 3d Battalion, formed in a column of companies advancing on Sarre-Union, while the 1st Battalion moved out to clear the Bannholtz woods on the right of the 101st Infantry zone.
CCB found the going slow on the narrow, muddy roads, and became involved in a succession of skirmishes which intensified in violence as the Americans neared Hill 318.5 Additional tanks and armored infantry from CCA were brought into action in the CCB zone, but the tanks mired down. About noon Company A of the 8th Tank Battalion beat off a detachment of tanks from the Panzer Lehr and the armored infantry seized the hill. But the affray had been costly. The attackers suffered eighty-three casualties, including Lt. Col. Arthur L. West, commanding officer of the 10th Infantry Battalion, and Major Van Arnam, commanding officer of the 51st. The 1st Battalion of the 101st Infantry likewise had encountered determined resistance early in the advance. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. L. M. Kirk, was wounded at the outset and his men spent most of the day pinned down by intense fire from the front and flanks. Finally, the progress of the CCB attack forced the Ger-
TANKS AND ARMORED INFANTRY of CCA starting out to aid CCB in the fight for Hill 318 north of Mackwiller.
man line to give, and with the help of the regimental reserve the 1st Battalion cleared the woods.
The 3d Battalion of the 101st made its approach to Sarre-Union under cover of a ridge line, close to the east bank of the Sarre, which screened the column from the enemy on the hills to the northeast. The two leading companies, I and K, entered Sarre-Union, finding only a handful of Germans. The Americans continued through the north side of the town toward Hill 254, which had been set as the battalion objective, but the enemy on the hill countered with machine gun and mortar fire, inflicting some losses on the attackers.6 The two rifle companies had had a strength of only about fifty men apiece when the advance began; as night came on they were withdrawn from Sarre-Union, since they were hardly strong enough to hold the town against a determined sortie from the hills.
Although the net was closing around Sarre-Union, the enemy dealt one last blow at the troops inside the town, this time employing a small Kampfgruppe from the 11th Panzer Division. At noon on 3 December eight German tanks, supported by the Begleit (Escort) Company of the 11th Panzer Division, charged down the Oermingen road and into Sarre-Union, capturing the command post of I Company and overrunning five 57-mm antitank guns which had been put in a cemetery overlooking the road but which, as usual, were no match for heavy armor.7 The American infantry took shelter in the cellars while an artillery forward observer, hidden in a house surrounded by Germans, radioed back for artillery fire. In ten minutes the 105-mm howitzers of the 101st Field Artillery Battalion and the regimental cannon company fired 380 rounds into the area. This blanket concentration knocked out two German tanks and encouraged the rest to flee the city-leaving the opposing riflemen to fight it out.8 The following day the 104th Infantry and a company
Meanwhile, the 4th Armored Division had been reorganizing under a new commander and waiting in the area around Domfessel for the 26th Division on its left and the 44th Division (of the XV Corps) on its right to come abreast. On 3 December Maj. Gen. Hugh J. Gaffey relinquished his post as the Third Army Chief of Staff to Brig. Gen. Hobart R. Gay and relieved Maj. Gen. John S. Wood, who had commanded the 4th Armored Division in the successful campaign across France and during the heartbreaking actions in the autumn mud.10 Wood, a brave and energetic commander, had been affected by the strain of battle, like so many of his officers and men. Fatigued as he was, Wood could no longer carry the burden of his command. General Patton and General Eddy reluctantly concluded that he would have to go back to the United States for a rest. The 4th Armored Division itself was badly in need of rest and reorganization. Continuous fighting, under conditions which prewar field manuals had taught were impossible for armor, had seriously reduced its tank complement and induced severe losses among its experienced combat personnel‑particularly officers. On the night Of 2 December, therefore, when General Patton already had decided to send his chief of staff to relieve General Wood, the XII Corps commander requested that the 4th Armored Division be replaced as quickly as possible by a division from the XV Corps.11 The 4th Armored, however, had enough of its old élan and drive to make one more substantial push before its relief began on 7 December.
On 1 December a new Operational Directive alerted the 80th and 35th Infantry Divisions and the 6th Armored Division for an attack on 4 December intended to carry forward the corps left and center in a limited straightening of the line.12 The 35th. Division, theoretically the corps reserve but actually with some elements in the line, relieved CCB, 6th Armored Division, in front of Puttelange on the night of 2-3 December. The 6th Armored Division, in turn, took over a portion of the 80th Division main line of resistance. Here, on the left, XII Corps units already had broken through the main part of the Maginot Line. The general Third Army plan provided for a limited advance by the 80th Division, using one regimental combat team, to gain the commanding ground along the Sarre northeast of Farebersviller. The 6th Armored Division was to drive toward Sarreguemines, meanwhile extending its left flank so as to pinch out the 80th Division, seize the high ground in the Cadenbronn area, and clear the west bank of the Sarre. The 35th Division, on the right of the 6th Armored, was earmarked to continue the drive alongside the 26th Division and 4th Armored Division once the left and center of the corps had been brought up to or across the Sarre River.
The German troops facing the XII Corps were in poor condition to sustain any determined attack and were greatly outweighed in numbers and materiel.13 On the right wing of the XIII SS Corps the 36th VG Division- badly mauled but still reckoned a good division- had pulled back to the northeast. It was now stationed in the Warndt Forest area facing the 5th Infantry Division and the American cavalry detachments screening the gap between the XX and XII Corps. Opposite the 80th Division and the 6th Armored, along a front extending from the Rosselle River to a point just south of Puttelange, the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division was deployed. This division had been in almost continuous action since early June 1944, and was about worn out. Numerous changes in command at all echelons and the constant admixture of untrained troops and unwilling Volksdeutsche from Eastern Europe had robbed the division of its character as an elite formation. The 17th SS artillery, however, still retained a high reputation. On 4 December the division had a ration strength of 4,000, of which number only 1,700 were classed as infantry
Just before daylight on 4 December the 35th Division led off in the three division attack. An artillery preparation had been denied in order to gain tactical surprise, and this decision paid dividends. On the left the 134th Infantry crossed the Maderbach in assault boats, encircled Puttelange, and were in possession of the city before the 17th SS outposts could offer any resistance. The German infantry were found sleeping in their foxholes and billets; the whole business was concluded so quickly and quietly that the regiment lost only one man. On the right the 320th Infantry had a stroke of bad luck when the advance guard ran into a column of German infantry moving up to relieve their outposts on the east bank of the Maderbach. Meanwhile the 2d Battalion had crossed near Rémering-lès-Puttelange and started east along the main road. At the first crossroads the battalion encountered a large patch of barbed wire entanglements. While the column was halted the enemy brought down a terrific shelling, immobilizing the battalion for several hours.14 While the right-wing advance was checked, the 35th Division left succeeded in driving a deep salient in the German lines east of Puttelange and General Eddy ordered General Baade to continue the attack toward the Sarre, supporting the 26th Division or taking over its mission if so required.
The 6th Armored Division and 80th Division began their attack well after daylight on 4 December. It was preceded by an intense fire from the corps artillery which lasted for an hour and eight minutes and blasted the Germans out of their forward positions.15 On the extreme left of the corps the 80th Division put the 18th Infantry (reinforced by a company from the 702d Tank Battalion and a company from the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion) into a limited-objective attack and took Farebersviller, which had been so
The second day of the XII Corps attack toward the Sarre was carried by the 6th Armored Division and the 35th Division against little resistance. The remaining enemy infantry hurriedly crossed behind the Sarre, and the German batteries displaced to safer positions. By midafternoon CCA patrols were on the bluffs overlooking the river north of Sarreguemines and the command had its guns ranging in on Grosbliederstroff. In the meantime the 2d Cavalry Group had moved forward along the north bank of the Rosselle River, where it had been scouting on the left flank of the corps. During the day a cavalry patrol passed the German frontier near St. Nicolas, one of the first-if not the first-incursions by the XII Corps on the soil of the Third Reich. Subsequently the cavalry crossed the Rosselle near the village of Rosbruck and started east to cover CCA's open flank.
In the 35th Division zone all battalions of the 134th and 320th Infantry Regiments put patrols along the west bank of the Sarre before dark. The 2d Battalion of the 134th Infantry reached the southeastern outskirts of Sarreguemines and there began a five-day battle for control of the city. Sarreguemines, an industrial center with a prewar population of around 15,000, occupied a commanding site at the confluence of the Sarre and Blies Rivers- both of which had to be crossed during the northeastwardly advance by the XII Corps. The British and American air forces had used the city as a target for some months past because of its importance as a rail center, and as a result the German garrison had sought to protect itself by building numerous concrete bomb shelters. These shelters and the many substantial factory buildings made the city a demifortress for the troops of the 17th SS now acting as
CCA put a one‑tank task force into Sarreguemines on 6 December, although as the result of erroneous information. Colonel Hines, the CCA commander, had been told that troops of the 35th Division were in possession of the town and set off with his S-3, Lt. Col. A. N. Ward, on a liaison trip. Inside the town the single American tank received an ovation from the French members of the population-but found no other Americans. Hines decided to wait until the infantry came in from the south. Eventually he made contact with the 2d Battalion of the 134th Infantry, which had arrived in the outskirts of Sarreguemines the previous evening. Light tanks then were brought in from CCA to support the infantry in the fight to clear the western sector of the city. By midafternoon of 6 December the 6th Armored had completed the mission assigned by the XII Corps. The division would now assume a defensive role, extending its zone to the north and covering the north flank of the XII Corps between the 35th Division on the right and the XX Corps on the left. The slow advance in the autumn mud had cost the 6th Armored heavily in tanks and men; the armored infantry in particular had been reduced by battle and by combat fatigue. The Lorraine Campaign bad given little opportunity for the dashing tactics and rapid movement that had characterized the 6th Armored drive across Brittany. But the division had punched and probed its way to the Sarre under conditions of terrain and weather as difficult as those any American armored division in the European Theater of Operations would be called upon to endure.
At the end of 6 December the 6th Armored and 35th Divisions held the western bank of the Sarre in force from Grosbliederstroff to Wittring, a distance of about ten miles. Late in the evening General Eddy canceled the orders for the 35th Division to cross the Sarre, pushing the date ahead until 8 December when the 26th Division could be in position to attack alongside the 35th. South and east of Wittring the French had built one of the strongest
The 4th Armored Division Drive from Domfessel to Singling
The American seizure of the hills east of Sarre-Union had compressed the opposing German forces into the narrow, wooded area between the Sarre River and Eichel Creek. On the night Of 3 December the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division and the tank detachment from the 11th Panzer Division started a retreat northeast across the Eichel. General Gaffey began the pursuit the next day, with both combat commands moving to establish a bridgehead across that stream. CCB, on the left, overran a few small rear guard detachments, and shortly after noon the 8th Tank Battalion took on ten enemy tanks near Voellerdingen, destroying two and driving off the rest. A small task force (Maj. A. F. Irzyk) fought its way into Voellerdingen and there captured a bridge intact; by nightfall CCB had an advance guard across on the enemy bank of the Eichel. During the night enemy patrols tried to destroy the bridge but were beaten off.
CCA, which had been reinforced by the 37th Tank Battalion, in reserve since 19 November and now in good condition by comparison with the other battle-worn battalions, sent a task force (Maj. Harold Cohen) to take Domfessel. The village was only lightly held by a small force from the Panzer Lehr, but the Germans had torn up the road which ran through it.17 As a result the command was halted while the advance detachment filled in craters, cleared a way around a blown overpass, and bridged a creek in the center of the village. While the Americans were stopped here, the German artillery opened up with heavy guns and knocked out five tanks. This was only the beginning of the losses which the 4th Armored would suffer under heavy and accurate artillery fire from German batteries and self-propelled single guns now emplaced northeast generally out of American artillery range.18
Since the ground was too soft to allow movement across country, Colonel Abrams' tanks started out along the main highway leading to Bining. The enemy had prepared for such an attack and had massed the artillery of the 11th Panzer Division and 25th Panzer Grenadier Division to cover the road. Colonel Abrams, therefore, turned to a secondary road with the intention of wheeling near the little hamlet of Singling19 and outflanking Bining from the west. Actually the Singling area was as dangerous to tanks as the Bining approach, for the former lay among the works of the Maginot Line and was under the guns of German batteries emplaced on the hills to the north. About a mile south of Singling the leading tank company lost five tanks simultaneously to direct hits. Daylight was ending, the 37th Tank Battalion had lost fourteen tanks to enemy guns and mud during the move north, and artillery and infantry were needed; therefore Colonel Abrams withdrew out of range.
During the day CCB had put its armored infantry on tanks and had driven as far north as Schmittviller. Since this move placed CCB in a position to thrust toward Singling, General Gaffey outlined orders that would assign the village to CCB with the intention of turning Colonel Abrams back toward Bining and Rohrbach. Abrams, closer to the action than the division commander and impressed with the danger involved in making a wheel toward Bining while the enemy still held Singling, requested permission to attack Singling and at least neutralize that village before continuing the advance on Bining. CCB was still some distance from the battlefield and the 4th Armored commander gave Colonel Abrams a free hand. Reinforced on
The village was defended by the 1st Battalion of the 111th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, which even at reduced strength totaled more rifles than the Pst Armored Infantry Battalion could muster. In addition, enemy tanks and assault guns were at hand to intervene in Singling and a large number of German guns were located on the high ground to the north. Finally, the town of Singling was an organic part of the Maginot Line; its periphery was dotted with bunkers, pillboxes, and gun emplacements. It soon became apparent that Singling and the covering guns on the hills could not be neutralized by fire alone. Colonel Abrams ordered up the armored infantry- which had been earmarked to take Bining- and a fight ensued for the possession of the village. When night fell a company of armored infantry and a company of tanks had a foothold in Singling, but it could not be retained under the very muzzles of the guns on the hills, and the task force withdrew. However, the fight for Singling had enabled a company of light tanks, some cavalry, and an attached battalion of the 328th Infantry to take Bining during the day. At 1815 word reached General Gaffey that the 12th Armored Division of the XV Corps would begin the relief of his tired and weakened division the next morning. The 4th Armored held in place. By 8 December most of its troops were out of the line and en route across the Sarre to rest areas near Cutting and Loudrefing.
The fighting strength of the 4th Armored Division had drained away perceptibly as its tanks were destroyed and its veteran infantry and tank crews were reduced in action after action.20 But in spite of the fact that it
The Last Phase of the Advance Toward the West Wall
On 7 December the XII Corps regrouped for the next phase of the advance to the northeast. The main effort would be made by the 35th and 26th Divisions attacking abreast. The object was to bring the XII Corps into positions from which a final assault would be launched to penetrate the section of the German West Wall extending from Saarbruecken to Zweibruecken. The 6th Armored Division and the 2d Cavalry Group relieved the 80th Division, which moved back to rest areas around St. Avold. Its departure left the armor and cavalry to guard the left flank of the corps and contain Saarbruecken‑which was being subjected to a daily pounding by 240-mm. howitzers and 4.5-inch guns. The 35th Division, at the moment involved in a fight for the west half of Sarreguemines, was nevertheless ready with engineer equipment and smoke generators to cross the Sarre River south of the city. The 26th Division had been following hard on the heels of the 4th Armored Division and on 5 December made the greatest gains it had won since the opening of the Lorraine Campaign. Two days later the forward elements of the division were within sight of the Maginot Line forts at Wittring and Achen.21 The 4th Armored Division was moving out to rear areas with the pleasant prospect of warm billets and three hot meals a day, as well as with the task of recovering the scores of disabled tanks and vehicles from mud and mine fields now far behind the battle line. The 12th Armored Division (Maj. Gen. R. R. Allen),22 fresh to the European Theater of Operations and untried, was in process of relieving the 4th Armored Division.23
To make matters worse, OB WEST was insistent on compliance with the orders which it had received from OKW at the beginning of December for the relief of Panzer Lehr, the 11th Panzer Division, and the 401st and 404th Volks Artillery Corps. Knobelsdorff, the First Army commander, had made an issue of the matter by publicly stating that he could not take responsibility for defense of the West Wall if he lost these troops. But Knobelsdorff, for this and other reasons, had been replaced by General der Infanterie Hans von Obstfelder. Balck, the Army Group G head, continued to negotiate with OB WEST for the retention of the armor and artillery and succeeded in holding on to these formations after the deadline set for their relief. Rundstedt, however, attempted to coerce Balck into acquiescence with word that the order stripping the First Army had come "from the highest source." Rundstedt himself was determined that Army Group B should receive these reinforcements, even at the expense of Balck's weakened lines, since he feared that the Allies would make a break-through east of Aachen and drive out onto the Cologne Plain. Either Balck's argument that he had gasoline sufficient to move only one division or the steadily deteriorating situation on the First Army front led to a compromise on 5 December, whereby the Panzer Lehr
This arrangement gave Balck only half a loaf. The First Army north wing was heavily engaged and the American XX Corps had driven into the first line of West Wall defenses in the Saarlautern sector. Since a breakthrough appeared imminent Balck had moved a part of the 11th Panzer Division to the Saarlautern front on 3 December and diverted the 719th Division, which originally had been designated as reinforcement for the hardpressed XIII SS Corps, to the north. This fragmentization of the 11th Panzer Division, the loss of the expected 719th Division, and the relief of the 401st Volks Artillery Corps left the XIII SS Corps in a poor way to meet the renewal of the American XII Corps attack.
The Army Group G commander was not unaware of this threat at the center of the First Army line; on 7 December he sent out an urgent request for "immediate" reinforcement on the grounds that the Americans were in position to achieve a "strategic penetration" along the Saarbruecken-Kalserslautern axis which might reach Frankfurt and the Rhine. But Balck was not only fearful that his right and center might collapse; he was also concerned lest his left wing-touching on the Rhine-be broken by the American XV Corps and the road to the Palatinate thus be opened. On 8 December the three weak divisions in the line facing the XV Corps were reorganized as a special command, Group Hoehne, under a well-known veteran of the Eastern Front. Now Army Group G consisted only of the First Army, aligned roughly on the Sarre River, and Group Hoehne, deployed diagonally east of Bitche on a front extending through Hagenau to the west bank of the Rhine. Since the Nineteenth Army no longer had contact with the First, having withdrawn its right wing behind the Rhine, the Nineteenth would operate as a separate command under Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, now Oberbefelshaber Oberrhein (C-in-C Upper Rhine). Needless to say, all of Balck's attempts failed to persuade OKW that a further withdrawal of the Nineteenth Army would have less far reaching consequences than a collapse of some portion of the First Army front. Not only was Balck unable to wrest any troops from Himmler but he was hard pressed to save the replacement battalions marked for his own front from reaching Himmler.
On 8 December Rundstedt appealed to OKW in an effort to call Hitler's attention to the dire conditions on the Western Front. Rundstedt permitted
Since Rundstedt's plea fell on deaf ears, the following day he agreed to let Balck make a direct appeal to OKW with his own special problems. Balck talked to Generalleutnant August Winter, Jodl's deputy, told him how bad the situation was, and asked for moderate reinforcement: 40 to 50 assault guns, 30 to 40 tanks and an equal number of light guns, 6 new replacement battalions, and the 103d Panzer Brigade. Winter gave what had now become the stock answer at OKW: Jodl was fully aware of the situation but could make no promises. Army Group G, therefore, would have to meet the onslaughts of three full-strength American corps with fourteen "paper divisions" whose actual strength (as reckoned by OB WEST) was equivalent to that of four or five infantry divisions and one reinforced armored division.25
Before sunrise on 8 December the 35th and 26th Divisions attacked to cross their respective barriers, the Sarre River and the Maginot Line. The bend in the Sarre between Sarralbe and Wittring formed the boundary between the two divisions. In the 35th Division zone General Baade began his attack at 0500 with the 134th and 320th Infantry. On the right the two leading battalions of the 320th Infantry crossed the river in assault boats and completely surprised the enemy infantry, many of whom had deserted the cold, water-filled foxholes at the river's edge and were found asleep in the houses bordering the east bank.26 The 3d Battalion, which had intended to cross at Zetting, was pinned down on the west bank by artillery and machine gun fire from positions built into the cliffs across the river. The battalion was unable to cross until the night of 8 December when the engineers put in an infantry footbridge near Wittring. During the day the enemy formed a coun-
The 134th Infantry crossed with little trouble and virtually no losses, using a demolished railroad bridge south of Sarreguemines. By 0830 all three battalions were on the enemy bank. The 3d Battalion pushed out on the right to mop up Sarreinsming, a favorable site for bridging operations, and the 1st and 2d Battalions marched northeast astride the railroad line. The 2d Battalion, on the open left flank of the 35th Division, came under a rain of mortar and artillery shells from Sarreguemines and the enemy‑held heights north of the city. About 1315 some thirteen to fifteen German tanks, bearing infantrymen on their decks, came out of Neunkirch and bore down on the 2d Battalion, intent on the kill. Fortunately, ground and air observation posts sighted the enemy counterattack as it was forming. The American artillery across the river was still close enough to give support to the attacking infantry and after fifteen minutes of hot work by nine field artillery battalions the enemy broke and fled.28 Nonetheless, the first day of the advance was made at heavy cost to the 2d Battalion; by dark its companies were reduced to a rifle strength averaging thirty men apiece. The 35th Division, however, had exacted such heavy toll from the 11th Panzer Division armored infantry that the day after the attack German records listed the 110th Panzer Grenadier Regiment as "nearly destroyed."
While the 35th Division was pushing east out of the Sarre bridgehead on the morning of 8 December, the 26th Division drove forward to crack the Maginot Line. A thirty-minute preparation by corps and division artillery, followed by a bombing and strafing mission in which five squadrons of the XIX TAC took part, inflicted very severe losses on the German troops in le
The Achen forts quickly capitulated in the face of regular assault tactics, containing fire, and white phosphorus grenades,29 but the assault companies of the 328th Infantry had more trouble. Company K reached Fort Wittring in the middle of the afternoon, after clearing the pillboxes surrounding the main work, and found it to be sited on a large mound, closely hemmed in on three sides by the buildings of an extensive factory-reputed to be a source of fuel for jet-propelled planes. The fort was a conventional reinforced concrete type with revolving cupolas and steel-covered firing slits. Napalm bombs, used during the air strike in the morning, had missed the fort by a considerable distance. Shells from a tank destroyer that was run forward only chipped the concrete walls; however, the tank destroyer crew was able to engage and neutralize a 20-MM. gun firing from the cupola. Next, the 155-mm. guns were brought into action against the fort-without success. just before dark a sergeant made a rush up the mound and threw a grenade against the main steel door while his mates peppered the firing slits from the neighboring factory buildings; a machine gun cut him down. Later some German dynamite was found at a bridge near by. Armed with this, engineers and infantry set out for another try, but the dynamite failed to burst the door. Finally, as dawn approached, an assault team put a couple of hundred pounds of plastic charges against the door. This time the explosion cracked the steel door, detonated the ammunition inside, and smeared the garrison- some thirty men- against
With the main positions of the Maginot Line now behind it the 26th Division marched northeast toward Gros-Réderching. The 104th Infantry took the town on 10 December, thus bringing the division within ten miles of the West Wall. General Paul had been told the day before that his division was about to be relieved by the 87th Division, which had just arrived in the Metz area, but he and his officers and men were eager to reach Germany before the relief took place. Although elements of the 26th Division began to shuttle to Metz on 10 December, the 328th Infantry drove on, finally getting a company across the German frontier just before it‑ was relieved by the 347th Infantry on the night of 12-13 December.
While the 26th Division drove through the Maginot Line the 12th Armored Division, on its right, received its first battle indoctrination. Early on the morning of 9 December Task Force Wells (Lt. Col. C. W. Wells) took Singling, thus advancing to cover the right flank of the 26th Division attack. The next day Rohrbach-lés-Bitche fell and CCA, 12th Armored Division, moved its tanks forward to drive through the remaining Maginot Line positions to the north. In the initial attempt the 23d Tank Battalion (Lt. Col. M. C. Meigs) was hit by accurate antitank fire and lost six medium tanks. A second attempt on 11 December also was repulsed and the battalion commander was killed. In an attack the following day CCA reached Bettviller, which had been assigned as the division objective, and here it held in place.31
The 26th Division successes at Wittring and Achen provided some security for the right flank of the 35th Division. But although the right wing of the 35th was able to forge ahead with little opposition the 134th Infantry on the left continued to receive heavy fire, and its supply people and litter bearers were being picked off by snipers in Sarreguemines. To remove this thorn from the side, General Baade sent the 1st Battalion of the 137th Infantry
During the first two days of the bridgehead operation the 35th Division had been stranded on the enemy bank without tanks or supply vehicles and with only a few light 57-mm. antitank guns and a single tank destroyer. Although the German infantry forces had failed to defend the river line with their usual vigor the German artillery was extremely active, pouring a continuous fire in on the American bridging sites. On 9 December the 81st Chemical (SG) Company brought smoke generators down to the river and laid a smoke screen to cover the activity at the crossings. The German gunners increased their tempo, but the men at the generators-fighting their first battle-stayed with their equipment. Eventually the smoke screen attracted such a heavy shelling that all efforts on the bridges had to be abandoned. Nightfall provided better cover and the 1135th Engineer Combat Group, reinforced by the 60th Engineer Combat Battalion, rushed construction at the bridge sites. By midnight two Class 40 bridges were in place and on the morning of 10 December the XII Corps had ten vehicular bridges over the Sarre.
For the next two days the lead regiments of the 35th fought their way toward the Blies River in the midst of snow and bitter wind, while the 137th Infantry conducted a battle all its own in and around Sarreguemines. Here the fight went on from floor to floor, in the larger buildings, and from one air raid shelter to the next. Buildings were honeycombed with connecting passages running the length of entire blocks. Cellars were "mouseholed" in such a fashion that a BAR burst or a grenade through a window would not suffice and the enemy sniper or machine gunner had to be pried out. On 10 December F Company (Capt. J. S. Giacobello) cornered a company of German infantry in a pottery factory near the south edge of the city and killed or captured the lot in a hand-to-hand fight that raged for three hours from one kiln to the next.32 By 11 December the city of Sarreguernines was clear, except for a handful of die-hard snipers.
The 137th Infantry meanwhile moved northeast to Frauenberg, where it could block any enemy threat to the 35th Division left flank, but the regiment came under bitter and continuous harassing fire from the German guns
At the Blies the enemy possessed superior observation, which had been lacking at the Sarre, and from hills in the narrow salient formed by the river near Bliesgersviller German observers could look down the American left flank and front for nearly 6,000 yards. Opposite the American right the enemy positions on the high ground around Obergailbach, which rose above the positions held by the 35th Division, estopped any flanking movement to turn the Blies River line from the south. Prevailing winds and the extended area involved ruled out the use of smoke to mask the American assault.35 In short, General Baade had to send his division across the river the hard way- in a frontal attack.
On the night of 11 December the 35th Division took up positions for the assault on the following morning. In the center the 134th Infantry was given the mission of crossing the Blies at Habkirchen and continuing the attack toward Wolfersheim, the regimental objective. On the left the 137th Infantry was assigned Bliesransbach as an objective; its seizure would place the regi-
The main effort in the crossing attack on 12 December fell to the 1st Battalion of the 134th Infantry, whose regimental objective lay some distance beyond the objectives given the two flanking regiments. In the early morning hours the 1st Battalion moved through rain and darkness down to the river, clearing the tree trunks and branches that the enemy had felled to barricade the one usable road. About 0500 B and C Companies, reinforced by a platoon of D Company, arrived at a point on the west bank of the Blies directly across from the little village of Habkirchen. Here the flooded stream was some sixty feet, wide. Patrols were unable to locate a ford and the two companies crossed in plywood boats, one following another. As usual in these crossings some boats capsized in the swift current and seven or eight men were drowned. Thus far the only indication of the enemy was an occasional shell. On the east bank the Americans silently put the German guards out of the way and moved into the section of Habkirchen which lay north of a small creek known as the Mandelbach. Surprise continued to work for the attackers. In a large building close to the bank the Americans captured a German company at breakfast. The prisoners were incarcerated in the cellar and the building became the center for further expansion into the north half of the village. Plans had been laid for a co-ordinated assault on Habkirchen in which both the 1st and 3d Battalions would take part, but a series of misadventures delayed the reinforcing elements.36 The two small rifle companies and the machine gun platoon were left on the enemy bank to fight alone. Company B led the penetration inside the village but lost all its officers, became disorganized, and
Other friendly troops also were crossing in the early morning darkness and the 35th Division began to get a secure grip east of the Blies. To the south the 320th Infantry took a hand in the battle for a bridgehead. The regiment had been checked in earlier attempts to close up to the Blies by the enemy possession of the valley town of Bliesbruck, situated on the American side of the river. On 12 December the 1st and 3d Battalions of the 320th Infantry, reinforced by a company of tanks, returned to the attack at Bliesbruck. In the face of withering machine gun fire, thickened by shells from German tanks on the opposite bank, the Americans drove the enemy from the town and reached the river bank, thus clearing the way for a crossing. At 0300 the next morning the 320th sent one battalion over the Blies and by the night of 13 December held Hill 312, which overlooked Habkirchen and spiked down the right flank of the American bridgehead. North of Habkirchen a small party from the 1137th Infantry made a crossing on the early morning of 13
When night fell more troops moved across the Blies to expand and consolidate the bridgehead. The 2d Battalion of the 134th, reinforced by Company K, made a predawn crossing on 14 December and marched to encircle Habkirchen from the south. This maneuver surprised the Germans on the opposite bank, so much so that one of their platoons fell in behind Company K as it marched north along the river and accompanied the American column until Company K noted these "reinforcements" and captured them. When daylight came the 2d Battalion was on a hill east of Habkirchen, but here the German gunners discovered the Americans and poured in a murderous fire, an estimated 600 rounds in thirty minutes. By the close of the day the battalion was reduced to a combat strength of eighty men and four officers.
Nevertheless the battle for Habkirchen was turning against the enemy.39 The battered troops of the 134th Infantry drove the Germans back to the creek, while tank destroyers across the river fired directly into the houses and bunkers held by German detachments. During the night of 14-15 December the American engineers laid a Bailey bridge across to Habkirchen. At daylight tanks and tank destroyers intervened in the fray, carrying the battle to the enemy and finally clearing the village shortly after noon.40
The fight for Habkirchen had more than halved the combat strength of the 134th Infantry, and the rifle strength throughout the rest of the division also had been whittled away in the past days of intense action; the 35th Division swung into line for the last drive toward the West Wall with its ranks seriously depleted. The enemy, for his part, now was defending what his leaders had called "the sacred soil of the Reich" and contested the possession of every wood lot and hill until he was killed. The 35th Division and the adjacent 87th took very few prisoners in these next days of bloody fighting.
TOUGH FIGHT IN HABKIRCHEN was brought to an end on 15 December by tanks and tank destroyers after a three-day struggle by infantry.
In the north the 137th Infantry got a taste of what the German grenadier would do on his own ground when, after driving deep into the Breiterwald wood on 15 December, the 3d Battalion was counterattacked and driven out, suffering heavier casualties than in any other action during the Sarre campaign.41 On the right also the Germans fought bitterly, but the 347th Infantry (Col. S. R. Tupper) swung over to the left in the 87th Division zone, cut off part of the 110th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, and took Obergailbach and the high ground overlooking the Blies.42 This maneuver reduced the resistance which the 320th Infantry was meeting in its advance astride the Blies; however, Nieder-Gailbach remained in enemy hands until 18 December when the 2d Battalion took the village after a hard fight.
Two days later the 35th Division and the 87th Division started a series of grim battles, generally fought in not more than battalion strength, to clear the small forests and wood lots held by the German infantry as outworks to the West Wall. Here again the German grenadier proved himself an able woods fighter, and the German artillery, firing accurately at long ranges, very often drove the Americans off such ground as they had taken. The 35th Division suffered most in this fighting; its rifle strength was insufficient to drive home successful attacks on any but narrow frontages, and its open left flank forced the division to fight with head over shoulder. The German troops
General Patton ordered the 6th Armored Division to make an attack in the Forbach sector on 17 December and so relieve pressure on the left wing of the 35th Division, but word of the great German counteroffensive in the Ardennes led the Third Army commander to cancel this move. On 18 December, one day before the target chosen by General Patton for an all-out offensive by the XII Corps against the West Wall, the 87th Division was ordered to halt its attack.45 Next day the 35th Division stopped in its tracks with orders to hold and consolidate before withdrawal from the battle line. When its relief was completed, two days later, the 35th had been in the line for a period of 162 consecutive days.
At midnight on 20 December the XV Corps took over the XII Corps zone and the following night General Eddy opened his forward command post in Luxembourg, preparatory to the Third Army counterattack against the southern wing of the German offensive. The Ardennes counteroffensive had in effect served the enemy as a spoiling attack, even in those sectors of the battle line far from the center of impact.