In contrast to the frustration that by 21 November had begun to mark the 84th Division’s attack in Operation CLIPPER, optimism was the keynote with the other attacking force of the Ninth Army, General McLain’s XIX Corps. After an arduous six days of fighting, the XIX Corps now appeared ready for a quick and easy final push to the Roer River. (See Map VII.)
By nightfall of 21 November, the 2d Armored Division’s CCB held Gereonsweiler. As soon as high ground nearby was secure, the town was to be turned over to the XIII Corps. CCA had pushed to Ederen and beyond Freialdenhoven to within a mile and a half of the Roer, so that only two villages remained to be taken in the narrow zone that would be left the armor after adjustment of the corps boundary. Having seized Engelsdorf, the adjacent 29th Division was farther east, though equidistant from the Roer. After having relinquished a sector about two miles wide on the south wing of the corps to the 30th Division, the 29th had only three villages west of the Roer still to take.
Having been scheduled at first only to clear the Ninth Army’s inner wing near the original line of departure, the 30th Division at dark on 21 November was about a mile and a half short of the easternmost of its neighbors. Yet the division might catch up quickly if a performance executed on 21 November could be repeated. In rapid succession, the 120th Infantry and attached 743d Tank Battalion had overrun five villages.1 As night came, the 120th Infantry’s most advanced position encompassed Fronhoven, four miles from the Roer.
The optimism that marked the beginning of operations the next day, 22 November, was based primarily upon expectation of German withdrawal behind the river. "If they have pulled back ...," the 29th Division’s General Gerhardt had remarked, "we want to develop it."2 The 2d Armored Division had noted various indications of withdrawal. The 30th Division the day before had encountered only remnants and rear echelon troops of the same units which had been falling back steadily since the start of the November offensive. Even if the enemy planned no formal withdrawal, he hardly could make much of a fight of it with troops like these before a concentration of three American divisions on a front less than seven miles wide.
It did not take long on 22 November for events to prove this kind of thinking wishful. Even if German commanders wanted to pull back behind the Roer,
they had to hold on as long as possible because of the coming counteroffensive in the Ardennes. Almost coincidentally with the renewal of the American drive, one of the steps the Germans had been taking in response to appeals for help from the Fifteenth Army (Gruppe von Manteuffel) began to produce results.
Originally scheduled to participate in the Ardennes, the 340th Volks Grenadier Division had been directed on 17 November to move to the Roer sector. On 19 November Fifteenth Army had ordered the division to assume a position near Dueren from which to back up the LXXXI Corps. The next day, when the threat to Linnich and Juelich became immediate, the army commander, General von Zangen, changed the order. He directed that two regiments move west of the Roer, one to Linnich, the other to Juelich. The third regiment was to assemble east of the river between the two towns as a reserve. The division was to assume responsibility for holding bridgeheads at Linnich and Juelich.3
Using the 340th Division in active combat before the Ardennes counteroffensive would appear, at first glance to have been a violation of Hitler’s strict order about the OKW Reserve. In reality, it conformed to a compromise which Hitler had been forced to accept because of a shortage of forces for the counteroffensive. Two or three of the new divisions created especially for the Ardennes would have to be used temporarily to relieve old divisions also earmarked for the Ardennes so that the old divisions might be rehabilitated.4
The first regiment of the 340th Volks Grenadier Division reached Juelich during the morning of 21 November and that night began to relieve the 246th Division. It was high time the 246th got some rest. Two of its regiments were down to about 350 men each, another to 120.
To supplement the fresh regiment, General von Zangen committed to the Juelich-Linnich area two newly released volks artillery corps.5 He also inserted into the Juelich defensive arc a fresh infantry replacement battalion, 300 men strong, and a battalion of Jagdpanther assault guns.6
The Americans smacked into these reinforcements early on 22 November. On the XIX Corps south wing, the 30th Division’s 120th Infantry took and held the village of Erberich, but two companies which gained the village of Lohn had to withdraw by infiltration after German guns denied passage for the tanks and tank destroyers needed to clear the objective.
In the center of the XIX Corps, two platoons of the 29th Division’s 175th Infantry which had slipped into Bourheim during the night were ejected unceremoniously before daylight by fresh troops of the 340th Division. Though two battalions tried during the course of the day (22 November) to regain Bourheim, they could not force entry through
small arms and mortar fire emanating from extensive field fortifications about the village. At Koslar, a mile to the north, the story was the same. Here the 116th Infantry fought all day to no avail. The 29th Division’s positions at the end Of 22 November remained virtually the same as on the day before.
Koslar, Bourheim, and another village, Kirchberg, represented the final or inner defensive arc protecting Juelich. When the 29th Division’s General Gerhardt heard that the Germans had thrown fresh troops into these villages, he admitted that an enemy withdrawal appeared unlikely. "Your boy Mansfield," said Gerhardt to a neighboring commander, "wants to know when we’re going to move. It won’t be soon. We have a war on again."7
In the zone of the 2d Armored Division, German reinforcements had not yet arrived, but the armor had to deal with contingents of the 246th Division led by a capable battalion commander, the same man who earlier had denied Setterich for so long. The going looked easy at first as a task force composed of a battalion of the 66th Armored Regiment, an attached battalion of the 119th Infantry, and two Churchill and three Crocodile tanks made a two-pronged attack against the village of Merzenhausen. First sight of the flame-throwing Crocodiles produced white flags in abundance. Then German tanks knocked out the Crocodiles. From that point, the going was rough.
As darkness approached, the task force at last gained entrance to Merzenhausen. "Think we lost 8 tanks in exchange for 6 tanks," reported the CCA commander, Colonel Collier, "which is a fair swap because their tanks are the big babies."8 But that was hardly the whole story. A few minutes later two more German tanks emerged from hiding in the northeastern part of the village. Accompanied by men of the 246th Division, the tanks counterattacked a company of the 119th Infantry that was proceeding up the main street. Unaware in the deepening darkness of the proximity of other units, the infantry company fell back all the way to a crossroads on the southwestern fringe of the village. Though CCA sent a battalion of the 41st Armored Infantry to bolster a line formed at the crossroads, no resumption of the attack could be mounted before the next morning. Merzenhausen remained in German hands. Like the 29th Division, the 2d Armored at the end of 22 November could point to no new gains.9
Abandoning the hope of enemy withdrawal, the XIX Corps on 23 November adopted a cautious, almost leisurely pattern of operations. "[Merzenhausen] will have to be taken eventually," the corps commander told the 2d Armored Division, "as it’s in line with the way you’re going. [But I] would wait ‘till you get ready to take Barmen too. Then you can make one big effort in that direction."10 General Gerhardt told his regiments to "wait until the 30th Division gets up." He said, "Omar [General Bradley, 12th Group commander] was in this morning and was very pleased. . . . Omar says in effect we are there, there’s no
sense pushing at it until the other people get up there."11
The "other people" were the First Army’s V and VII Corps. Committed on 21 November, the V Corps two days later still had not penetrated the forested approaches to Huertgen. Part of the VII Corps also was bogged down in the Huertgen Forest with no immediate hope of breaking out.
Despite close support from a company of tanks, a battalion of the 41st Armored Infantry was able on 23 November to gain only about half of Merzenhausen. Thereupon, the division commander, General Harmon, ordered consolidation. In keeping with the new boundary between the XIII and XIX Corps that would become effective on 24 November, the 2d Armored Division had begun to regroup. Not for several days would the division attempt to cover the remaining distance to the Roer.
The 30th Division adopted a similar pattern: one day of attack followed by consolidation. Despite shellfire that inflicted thirty-five casualties on one company alone, a battalion of the 120th Infantry in little more than an hour fought back into Lohn. In the face of two counterattacks the battalion held.
Deception played a role in the capture of Pattern, a mile northeast of Lohn. While a battalion of the 119th Infantry moved into the 29th Division’s zone to strike southeast against Pattern from Aldenhoven, a battalion of the 120th Infantry in Erberich opened fire. Their attention diverted to the apparent threat from Erberich, the Germans in Pattern were unprepared for attack from another quarter. A TOT by eleven battalions of artillery preceded the attack. Within less than an hour the men of the 119th Infantry had seized the village without a casualty.
Only Altdorf in the valley of the Inde River remained to be taken in the 30th Division’s sector. Because exposed approaches and a cliff-like drop in the ground near the village would complicate this task, the division commander, General Hobbs, asked a delay. He wanted to wait until neighboring divisions on north and south had taken adjacent objectives of Kirchberg and Inden. The corps commander, General McLain, approved. Not for another four days would the 30th Division attack.
Unlike the other two units of the XIX Corps, the 29th Division found no pause. The explanation lay in the enemy’s 340th Volks Grenadier Division. During 23 November a second regiment of this division moved into the Juelich bridgehead.12
After another grueling day of generally fruitless attacks across muddy, exposed ground about Bourheim, one of two attacking battalions of the 175th Infantry at last broke into the village late on 23 November. If Bourheim was hard to take, it was even more difficult to hold. Beginning just after midnight, a severe fifteen-minute concentration of artillery and mortar fire heralded the first of what was to develop as a three-day siege of counterattacks. Almost all the enemy thrusts were preceded by intense shelling. In between, German guns on high ground beyond the Roer pounded the village. On 24 November, for example, the enemy fired an estimated 2,000 rounds into Bourheim.
On the American side, artillery also played a basic role. Infantrymen were quick to credit the artillery with dispersing German infantry and in some cases German tanks.13 Though hampered by ammunition shortages that in heavier calibers was acute, the artillery also conducted a program of interdictory and harassing fires to discourage further German build-up west of the Roer. On 26 November XIX Corps artillery doubled its normal counterbattery program; 191 counterbattery missions were fired that day. This was accomplished in spite of ammunition restrictions that "placed a severe burden on artillery commanders, as it was necessary to carefully weigh all missions . . . before deciding whether . . . to fire them."14
The widespread use of artillery by both sides at Bourheim was in keeping with the general pattern everywhere during the November offensive. In many respects, the battle of the Roer plain was an artillery show. Opposite the LXXXI Corps alone the Germans estimated the average daily ammunition expenditure of American artillery at 27,500 rounds, a not unlikely figure. Artillery of the LXXXI Corps fired an average 13,410 rounds daily, an unusually large amount for the Germans.15
The village of Koslar came in for a share of the pounding just before daylight on 25 November, two companies of the 116th Infantry broke into Koslar in a determined bayonet charge. "We moved out at a rapid run in waves with fixed bayonets, one following behind the other," related a company commander, Capt. Daniel E. Kayes. "We jumped over the third row of trenches and in less than 10 minutes were inside Koslar . . . . It was still dark and my greatest difficulty was in slowing down the company. The men scattered all over town."16
The strongest counterattacks at both Koslar and Bourheim came soon after dawn on 26 November. The commander of the LXXXI Corps, General Koechling, planned counterattacks on both villages as a co-ordinated major effort to reestablish the inner defensive arc about Juelich.17 Both the regiments of the 340th Division that were in the Juelich bridgehead participated. They had the support of fourteen battalions of artillery and twenty-eight armored vehicles (the 301st Tiger Tank Battalion, the 341st Assault Gun Brigade, and four assault guns borrowed from the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division).
Though the Germans lamented that their artillery was hamstrung by drastic ammunition shortages and that their tanks could not provide proper support in the narrow streets of the villages, few on the American side could have detected that the enemy had his problems. The Germans plowed through every American artillery concentration. Fighting moved into the streets of the villages.
Hampered by a mounting shortage of ammunition, the two battalions of the 175th Infantry in Bourheim appealed for help. The regimental commander rushed a company from his reserve into the village jeeps loaded with ammunition raced forward along a road blanketed
by German shellfire. At 1030 fighter-bombers only recently unleashed by improvement in the weather arrived. Not until noon was the situation brought under control.
The Germans isolated the two companies of the 116th Infantry in Koslar. They were not surrounded, insisted General Gerhardt; they were merely in close contact, "right up against the Krauts."18 In any event, patrols from other units of the 116th Infantry could not reach them. During 26 November pilots of the 29th Division’s artillery observation planes flew eleven missions over Koslar to drop sorely needed food, ammunition, and medical supplies. Out of eleven bundles, eight were recovered. Despite intense small arms fire, not a plane was lost.
Before daylight on 27 November the 116th Infantry sent a battalion to break through to the two companies. Though this battalion became involved in arduous house-to-house fighting, contact was made by late afternoon. When the rest of the 116th Infantry entered the village the next morning, the enemy had gone.
As this fight had developed, General Gerhardt had committed his third regiment to subdue Kirchberg, last of the three villages comprising the inner defensive arc about Juelich. Kirchberg lies near the confluence of the Inde and the Roer. On the assumption that the Germans would be alert to attack from the direction of Bourheim, where the conflict had waxed so hot for days, the regimental commander chose to strike instead from the vicinity of Pattern. The situation at this village in the 30th Division’s zone had been static for several days.
While a battalion in Bourheim made a feint by fire, another moved from Pattern during the morning of 27 November without artillery preparation but behind a smoke screen. By this stratagem the 115th Infantry achieved almost complete surprise. By late afternoon, Kirchberg was secure. For all practical purposes, the 29th Division had closed up to the Roer. Only two strongpoints in a small part of Juelich on the west bank of the river remained to be cleared. The enemy’s 340th Division withdrew its two regiments to the east bank, leaving only a rear guard in the two strongpoints. Take your time in closing to the river, the American corps commander said.
Though the American commander, General McLain, had sanctioned pauses in the attacks of the 2d Armored and 30th Divisions, he had directed on 26 November that the final push to the Roer be resumed all along the corps front. In conjunction with the 29th Division’s attack on Kirchberg, the 2d Armored Division was to complete capture of Merzenhausen and push on to Barmen. The 30th Division was to take Altdorf.
Though both the regimental and division commanders favored a night attack on Altdorf, they bowed to General McLain’s desire to co-ordinate with the 29th Division’s push on Kirchberg and a new attempt by the First Army’s 104th Division to take Inden. In midmorning of 27 November, a battalion of the 119th Infantry, attached to Colonel Purdue’s 120th Infantry, struck for Altdorf. As feared from information developed earlier by patrols, fire from at least twelve machine guns emplaced in a reverse slope defense 800 yards west of Altdorf forced the men of this battalion to the ground. Here the exposed plateau lying between Pattern and Altdorf drops off sharply; any force that somehow got this far
without detection no longer had a chance to escape observation. Deprived of tank support because of muddy ground, a dearth of roads, and the sharp grade near the village, men of this battalion had nothing readily at hand capable of eliminating the German machine guns. They had no recourse but to dig in.
The regimental commander, Colonel Purdue, decided at length that a night attack was the only solution. Having desired a night attack from the first, he had a plan ready. Before daylight the next morning, he sent a battalion under Lt. Col. Ellis V. Williamson to move by stealth through the positions reached by the attached battalion of the 119th Infantry.
As luck would have it, artillery of the 104th Division began to shoot timed fire on the neighboring village of Inden soon after Colonel Williamson’s battalion crossed the line of departure. Only momentarily, but long enough to alert the German gunners, the air bursts illuminated the men of the 120th Infantry. For a moment the attack appeared doomed. Then a special attack formation Colonel Williamson had adopted paid dividends. He had positioned four squads in a line of skirmishers formation in front of the main body of his force. Each man in the skirmish line had a rifle grenade at the ready. As a German machine gun opened fire, some part of the skirmish line would silence it quickly with grenades.
Having gained entrance to Altdorf by this method, Colonel Williamson’s men faced a two-hour fight before they could label the village secure. The main difficulty came from seven enemy tanks which roamed the village in search of escape. Hasty mine fields that Colonel Williamson’s men placed at every exit soon after gaining entry had turned the village into a cage. Two of the tanks eventually were destroyed—one by a white phosphorus grenade after the tank had blundered into a building, another by a bazooka. After one hair-raising cat-and-mouse episode after another, the others eventually escaped by breaking through a roadblock the Americans had established on a bridge across the Inde River.
Except for a minor assignment of clearing a narrow triangle of land between the Inde and the Roer, which would be accomplished later without incident, the 30th Division by 28 November had completed its role in the drive to the Roer. The division could feel relieved that its casualty list, for nearly two weeks of fighting, was comparatively small: 160 men killed, 1,058 wounded.
On the opposite wing of the XIX Corps, the 2d Armored Division in renewing the attack on Merzenhausen on 27 November turned to a three-pronged attack. Discerning the key to Merzenhausen to be the elevations—Hills 100.3 to the northwest and 98.1 to the east—the CCA commander, Colonel Collier, assigned a battalion of infantry to each. Coincidentally, another battalion of infantry was to take the remaining half of the village.
In this sector, the regiment of the 340th Volks Grenadier Division that was designated to hold a bridgehead about Linnich, a few miles to the north, had relieved the remnants of the 246th Division in and about Merzenhausen. Thereupon, the village had become the southern anchor for the Linnich bridgehead.19
On Hill 98.1 a battalion of the 41st Armored Infantry, attacking on 27 November over soggy ground without tank support, ran into heavy fire near the crest. A counterattack followed. By utilizing trenches earlier cleared of Germans, the men managed to hold, but they could not push to the crest.
Within Merzenhausen, the attached 2d Battalion, 119th Infantry, resumed tedious house-to-house fighting. Though a brace of tanks and tank destroyers tried to assist, mines and panzerfausts discouraged their use. It took the infantry all day to do the job alone, but they ended the assignment in a blaze of success with capture of the enemy commander and his entire staff. A driving force in the attack was 2d Lt. Harold L. Holycross, who as a sergeant had played a leading role in the 30th Division’s West Wall assault in October.
Of the three assignments, Colonel Collier considered that tanks were needed most against Hill 100.3. Yet because of various obstacles, including an escarpment, a small stream, and an antitank ditch, he saw no way to employ them. In the end, he committed the attached 1st Battalion, 119th Infantry, alone to the task, though he told the commander, Lt. Col. Robert H. Herlong, that if he found a defiladed route with reasonably good traction, tanks would join him.
Concealed by early morning mists, Colonel Herlong’s infantry got within 400 yards of the crest of Hill 100-3 before discovery. To counteract intense small arms fire that followed, Colonel Herlong called for a rolling artillery barrage to precede a final assault. Though seemingly accurate, the artillery failed to silence the German fire. In a matter of minutes the battalion lost five killed and fifteen wounded and gained but fifty yards.
In the meantime, someone had discovered a route along a railroad embankment whence tanks might proceed up a narrow draw onto the hill. Advised of this development, Colonel Collier immediately designated a company of the 66th Armored Regiment. An hour and a half later, the tanks reached the infantry positions.
Effect on the enemy was marked. As the tanks advanced with infantry following at from 100 to 200 yards, German fire slackened, then ceased altogether. At least forty Germans were killed or wounded and an equal number captured. By late afternoon, Hill 100.3 was secure.
To make the day a complete success, Colonel Collier soon after dark committed a second battalion of the 41st Armored Infantry to the attack on Hill 98.1. A position that in daylight had failed to crack now dissolved rapidly. By midnight CCA held all three of the day’s objectives. A tank-supported counterattack against Merzenhausen got no place in the face of accurate defensive artillery fires. Because the two hills near Merzenhausen overlooked the remaining objective of Barmen, capturing that village and pushing patrols another few hundred yards to the Roer was a routine task. It progressed without incident the next day, 28 November.
Except for two German positions on the west bank of the Roer near Juelich in the zone of the 29th Division, the XIX Corps by 28 November had reached the river. Since no one considered capture of the two remaining points either particularly difficult or pressing, the 29th Division was not to begin the task for several days. In the meantime, General McLain, his
staff, and his divisions turned to planning for crossing the river, though the shadow of the dams on the upper reaches of the Roer still loomed over all preparations.20
Not until the day after the XIX Corps reached the Roer did the Ninth Army’s other component, General Gillem’s XIII Corps, commence the push to the river. By nightfall of 24 November, General Gillem had assumed responsibility for about six miles of front from the Wurm River at Muellendorf to the new boundary with the XIX Corps below Ederen. Nevertheless, the hard fighting experienced by the 84th Division in Operation CLIPPER and the dispersion of the 102d Division’s regiments made it impossible for the XIII Corps to be ready to attack until 29 November. At least one commander, the 102d Division’s Maj. Gen. Frank A. Keating, thought even this was rushing things; not until twenty-four hours before the jump-off did the last of his regiments return to the fold. Though General Keating had yet to command his division as an entity in offensive combat, one regiment already had engaged in heavy fighting while attached to the 84th Division and another which had fought as the infantry component of the 2d Armored Division’s Task Force X was markedly fatigued.
The six-mile line which the XIII Corps held ran southeast from the Wurm near Muellendorf to a point about midway between Prummern and Beeck, thence east to a highway leading north from Gereonsweiler to the village of Lindern, thence southeast in an arc extending a thousand yards east of Gereonsweiler to a point of contact with the 2d Armored Division southeast of Ederen. The 84th Division held the left half of the line, the 102d Division the right, while the 7th Armored Division still recuperated in corps reserve from the earlier fight in the Peel Marshes.
High ground in the north along an extension of the XIII Corps boundary with the 30 British Corps was a primary consideration in attack planning. In a broad sense, the corps zone sloped gradually upward to this high ground, which is marked by the Aachen-Geilenkirchen-Muenchen-Gladbach railroad and by the villages of Wuerm, Leiffarth, and Lindern. Even beyond a normal precaution of protecting the rear of a subsequent Roer crossing, General Gillem considered possession of this terrain vital. He was concerned lest the Germans commit the Sixth Panzer Army, which they reputedly were mustering between the Roer and the Rhine, in a counteroffensive against the corps north flank.21
Before Operation CLIPPER had revealed how determined the Germans were to hold this high ground, General Gillem had intended taking the bulk of it with Task Force Biddle, composed of the 113th Cavalry Group reinforced by increments of medium tanks and artillery. Thereupon, the 102d Division was to have captured Linnich on the Roer and to have prepared to cross the river. The 7th Armored and 84th Divisions were to have been available to exploit a bridgehead.
In the revised plan, General Gillem
displayed full appreciation of how hard it might be to take the high ground. Dissolving Task Force Biddle, he attached the 113th Cavalry to the 84th Division, in order that the cavalry might hold some of the 84th Division’s front opposite Muellendorf and Wuerm, and directed the 84th Division to make the corps main effort. Not Linnich but the high ground along the north boundary was to be the objective. Meanwhile the 102d Division was to stage limited objective attacks to protect the 84th Division’s right flank and eventually was to reduce three villages near the corps south boundary, capture Linnich, and occupy high ground north of Linnich overlooking German supply routes through the Roer village of Brachelen.22
The decision to send greater strength against the high ground stemmed in part from the contemporary intelligence picture. In addition to survivors of the 9th Panzer, 15th Panzer Grenadier, and 183d Volks Grenadier Divisions, which had opposed earlier attacks in this sector, American intelligence officers anticipated meeting the 10th SS Panzer Division, veteran of the MARKET-GARDEN fighting in Holland.23 Some took this as evidence that other SS divisions from the Sixth Panzer Army would be sent to this sector.24
German artillery, noted those who plotted the fires, was grouped in the north behind the high ground and to the northeast beyond Linnich and the Roer. It was "a potentially destructive weapon." As for tanks, the Germans were expected to employ only small groups, despite addition of the 10th SS Panzer Division. Fortifications included pillboxes of the West Wall in the northwest near Muellendorf, Wuerm, and Beeck and elsewhere the usual extensive field fortifications that had come to typify the Roer plain. An antitank ditch extending more than a mile and a half from Beeck northeast to a point beyond Lindern was of particular note.
Except that the projected Ardennes counteroffensive made the Sixth Panzer Army untouchable, the true enemy picture was much as American G-2’s divined it. After the unsuccessful commitment of the 9th Panzer and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions in counterattacks controlled by the XLVII Panzer Corps, these divisions had passed to the XII SS Corps. Thus General Blumentritt and the XII SS Corps again bore responsibility for the entire sector from the Maas River to the Roer near Flossdorf. The XLVII Panzer Corps apparently stood by as a headquarters temporarily without troops.
The 10th SS Panzer Division was the first unit to be alerted for movement early in the fighting when Field Marshal von Rundstedt had determined that the Allies intended no complementary attack in Holland. The division had begun to move southeastward on 20 November and three days later had started relieving the 9th Panzer Division, which was to be rehabilitated for the Ardennes.25 The front was strengthened by commitment of the 407th Volks Artillery Corps near Linnich, and a volks grenadier division earmarked for the Ardennes was moved to
a position east of the Roer from which it might back up the XII SS Corps.26
While the Germans made these moves, the XIII U.S. Corps was spending five days in reorganization and attack preparations. Both the 84th and 102d Divisions were strengthened with attachments, and the corps artillery was fleshed out with units transferred from the XIX Corps. Three battalions of XIX Corps artillery reverted to Ninth Army control, in order to facilitate their use in support of both corps; while eight battalions of the XIX Corps artillery passed directly to the XIII Corps. This increased General Gillem’s corps artillery to thirteen battalions, of which two and a battery of self-propelled 155-mm. guns were attached to the 84th Division. The bulk of artillery remaining under corps control was to give priority to the main effort of the 84th Division. In addition the British were capable of firing into the 84th’s sector with a field regiment of 25-pounders, a battery of 4-5-inch guns, and a regiment of 5-5-inch guns. Both the 84th and 102d Divisions received separate self-propelled tank destroyer battalions, the 102d a separate tank battalion, and the 84th a tank battalion attached from the 7th Armored Division.27
To achieve the assigned mission, the 84th Division needed to take five villages—Muellendorf, Wuerm, Beeck, Leiffarth, and Lindern—and an elevation northeast of Beeck which bore the code name, Toad Hill (87.9). Having attacked frontally and without success against three of these villages for three days in Operation CLIPPER, the 84th Division commander, General Bolling, had no taste for a repeat performance. Flanking action to the right, he noted, "would not force attacking troops directly against pillboxes and villages that are of no particular tactical value." Instead of assaulting as before from the southwest against Muellendorf, Wuerm, and Beeck, he wanted to strike from the southeast and south to take first Toad Hill and Lindern, the latter because it occupies an elevation comparable to Toad Hill. These two points in hand, the division then might turn west and southwest to hit the other four villages from the rear.28
To take both Toad Hill and Lindern, General Bolling designated the 335th Infantry, which had missed Operation CLIPPER because of a stint as an uncommitted reserve with the XIX Corps. The 333d Infantry was to support the attack by fire and, together with the 113th Cavalry, to stage a frontal demonstration against Beeck.
Because routes of attack toward both Toad Hill and Lindern were devoid of concealment, the 335th Infantry commander, Col. Hugh C. Parker, elected a night attack. From a line of departure in open fields southeast of Beeck, the 2d Battalion under Maj. Robert S. Kennedy was to move toward Toad Hill while the 3d Battalion under Maj. Robert W. Wallace guided on the Gereonsweiler-Lindern highway to take Lindern. The attacks were to begin without artillery preparation at 0630 on 29 November. Colonel Parker hoped that systematic artillery and fighter-bomber attacks for several days preceding 29 November would suffice as
preparation fires. A company of the 40th Tank Battalion was attached to each infantry battalion for close support.29
An hour before dawn on 29 November there began an odyssey involving finally about a hundred men of Major Wallace’s 3d Battalion that was to have marked effect upon the push to the Roer. At that hour, Companies I and K moved northward through the darkness along either side of the Gereonsweiler-Lindern road. Stripped down to gas masks and essentials—rifle belts, two bandoleers of ammunition, and three bars of chocolate D ration per man—these companies were imbued with one idea: speed. Get across the mile of open ground to Lindern before daylight.
German fire at first was hesitant. A flare here, a burp gun there, a mortar shell or two. Yet sometimes even one bullet can be fateful. That was the case when a stray bullet cut the aerial of Company K’s SCR-300. Though the radio operator fell back to the end of the column to pick up a spare, no one saw him again. That incident was to assume more and more importance as the attack progressed.
At the antitank ditch which stretched from Beeck to Lindern, two leading platoons of Company K and one of Company I ran, jumped, fell, crawled, and slithered across. Don’t hold up in the ditch, their leaders had told them time after time; German mortars and artillery could ruin you there.
These three platoons made it. Their companies did not. No sooner had the leading platoons slipped through than the Germans in a main line of resistance centered on the antitank ditch came to life. With artillery, mortars, machine guns, and rifles, they drove back the remainder of Company K and inflicted serious losses on Company I.
Accompanying the two platoons of Company K that crossed the antitank ditch was the company commander, 1st Lt. Leonard R. Carpenter. Though Lieutenant Carpenter knew that half his company had failed to get across, he hoped that Company I had fared better. The leader of the one platoon of Company I which actually had succeeded, 1st Lt. Creswell Garlington, Jr., trusted that Company K was intact. Neither force had any form of communication with the battalion commander. Company I’s radios were with the company headquarters; Company K’s radio operator had taken that company’s SCR-300 to the rear after German fire had snapped the aerial. Though Lieutenant Carpenter had another radio, an SCR-509, it did not work.
Deluded in the darkness about their combined strength, the three platoons pressed on toward Lindern. They reached the fringe of the village as day was breaking. Though uncertain at first whether they had come to the right objective, they nevertheless attacked. They had been told to avoid trouble, if possible; to leave mop-up to those who came behind. Racing through back yards and orchards, the men tossed an occasional grenade whenever some lone sentry opened fire. But for the most part, Lindern slept.
At 0745 the three platoons were digging in beyond the railroad embankment a few hundred yards north of Lindern. Only then did Lieutenants Carpenter and Garlington discover that together they had
only about a hundred men. This little band had reached one of the 84th Division’s primary objectives, yet nobody else on the American side knew about it.
The Germans knew. In less than a quarter-hour three Tiger tanks approached the position. Someone fired a bazooka. The tanks retreated to the vicinity of two pillboxes not over 400 yards away. Later, several truckloads of German infantry dismounted at the pillboxes. Still the Germans did not attack. Apparently they did not recognize how small the American force was. The two lieutenants had chosen to dig in on a gentle reverse slope where they were partially screened by a rise to the north and by the railroad embankment at their backs.
Though the situation was obviously precarious, the Americans were not too concerned at first. They expected relief momentarily. Yet the hours passed, and no relief came. At length, Lieutenant Carpenter sent volunteers back to the railroad where he had abandoned the SCR-509 after having despaired of getting it to function. After two hours of tinkering, they finally picked up faint voices emanating from radios of American tanks, but they could not transmit. As a last resort, four men volunteered to go back on foot in search of help. No one saw them again.
The situation actually was more obscure than even Lieutenants Carpenter and Garlington realized. At the antitank ditch south of Lindern, the battalion commander had lost contact not only with the leading platoons but also with the rest of Companies I and K. Though the regimental commander, Colonel Parker, had committed his reserve battalion in midmorning to outflank Lindern from the west, communications to that unit too had failed. A company of the 40th Tank Battalion, which was to have followed the infantry to Lindern, waited in Gereonsweiler with no word that there was any infantry to follow.
Perhaps because they had no other hope, the little band of men north of Lindern continued to tinker with the SCR-509. About an hour past noon, someone suggested they tape an aerial from a little, short-range SCR-536 to a high fence and run a telephone wire from the fence to the SCR-509. The expedient worked. Somewhere a radio operator in an American tank picked magic words out of the air: "We made a touchdown at 0745."30
The commander of the 40th Tank Battalion, Lt. Col. John C. Brown, acted without hesitation. He ordered a company of tanks to Lindern. Behind a smoke screen fired by artillery, six Shermans made it. "It was about 1430 when we saw those six General Shermans," someone recalled later. "Boy! We figured the whole German army couldn’t drive us out of there."31
As dusk fell, the rest of the company of tanks reached Lindern along with the reserve company of the 335th Infantry’s 3d Battalion, Company L. Soon thereafter, Colonel Brown ordered another tank company into the village. There the tankers fretted for an hour or so for lack of infantry protection, until at last the 335th Infantry’s reserve battalion arrived. Having been committed in midmorning, this battalion had swung in a wide arc to come upon the village from the west; but fire along the antitank ditch and from pillboxes had imposed telling delays.
The Germans had dallied too long in attempting to eliminate the two lieutenants and their hundred men. During the night Of 29 November and through the next two days, they tried to remedy the situation, first with contingents of the 10th SS Panzer Division and later with a Kampfgruppe recruited from the 9th Panzer Division and the 506th Tank Battalion. This Kampfgruppe was an Army Group B reserve controlled by the XLVII Panzer Corps.32 For several days the Americans had to supply their troops in Lindern along a route the tankers christened the "Blue Ball Express." But for all the violence of their reaction, the Germans were too late. They had lost Lindern to a little band of intrepid infantrymen who had gone where they had been told to go and had stayed there. The entire German position in this sector had been weakened materially.
Why the Germans were slow at Lindern was hard to explain. Possibly they had been wary of the size of the American force. Perhaps more likely, they were occupied at many other points in this sector all through 29 November. About a mile southwest of Lindern, a regiment of the 84th Division and parts of the 113th Cavalry had demonstrated with fire at Beeck, while another battalion of the 335th Infantry had attacked Toad Hill, northeast of Beeck. Though this battalion had tried a sneak night attack, the Germans had met them at daylight along the antitank ditch with fire from tanks emplaced in hull-down positions. To the southeast, in the zone of the 102d Division, a regimental attack had been directed at high ground along the Lindern-Linnich highway near Crossroads 87 in order to protect the 84th Division’s right flank. Here too the Germans had fought stubbornly, though the American commander, Col. Laurin L. Williams, maintained that he might have advanced farther had he not been concerned about tenuous contact with the 84th Division’s 335th Infantry.33 The breakdown of communications within the 335th Infantry may have been responsible. Even farther to the southeast, on the right wing of the 102d Division, the Germans had to contend with another attack, a successful limited objective maneuver by another regiment of the 102d Division to seize an efficacious line of departure for subsequent moves.
Late on 28 November, even before the 84th Division had marched on Lindern, the XIII Corps Commander, General Gillem, had altered his corps plan. He directed that on the second day of the attack the main effort be shifted from the 84th to the 102d Division, perhaps with an eye toward gaining quick control of bridge sites over the Roer to deny them to German reinforcements.34 The 102d Division’s missions were to reach the Roer in the southeastern part of the corps sector at the villages of Roerdorf and Flossdorf, to secure the high ground along the Lindern-Linnich highway near Crossroads 87, and to occupy Linnich. By accomplishing these missions, the 102d
Division would in the process protect the 84th Division’s right flank and thereby help to guarantee retention of Lindern.
Even before the 102d Division’s assignment to make the main effort became effective, the division commander, General Keating, decided that two regiments were insufficient to seize all his objectives.35 Having intended originally to withhold his 406th Infantry, because that regiment already had fought hard as an attachment to the 2d Armored Division, General Keating late on 29 November decided to use the 406th to take Linnich. The 405th Infantry was to continue toward the high ground near Crossroads 87 between Lindern and Linnich, while the 407th Infantry on the right was to take a preliminary objective, the village of Welz, then Roerdorf and Flossdorf.36
The Germans in the 102d Division’s sector represented both the 10th SS Panzer Division, near Crossroads 87, and the regiment of the 340th Volks Grenadier Division which had been given responsibility for holding a bridgehead at Linnich. The terrain and weather in this sector were little different than elsewhere on the Roer plain: gradually sloping, exposed fields that could be raked with fire from automatic weapons and dug-in tanks; villages encompassed by a labyrinth of interconnected trenches and other field fortifications; dismal rain, mud, and bone-chilling cold. Nor did the fight go much differently. As elsewhere, the Germans fought stubbornly for each village. "We are in Welz doing a lot of plain and fancy mopping up and there are a lot of things to take out," reported General Keating in midafternoon of 30 November. "We are partially in Flossdorf and there are a lot of things to take out there."37
There were a lot of things to take out everywhere. Not the least of the problems was German artillery fire from the east bank of the Roer, much the same difficulty encountered earlier by the XIX Corps. Forewarned by the experience of the XIX Corps, both divisional and corps artillery had readied a detailed program of counterbattery fires that on occasion raised the day’s total of rounds expended above the 20,000 mark. Supplementing this program were numerous strikes by XXIX TAC fighter-bombers38 and prodigious use of smoke shells fired both by artillery and by attached chemical mortars. Nevertheless, shelling remained a real problem for several days until German batteries could be plotted accurately. In Welz and Linnich, particularly, German artillery turned what might have been routine mop-up tasks into costly and time-consuming projects.
Welz was the first of the 102d Division’s objectives to fall. This little village, a mile short of the Roer, was in the hands of the 407th Infantry at the end of 30 November, with some opposition remain-
ing to be eliminated the next day. Although Flossdorf on the bank of the Roer was next on the 407th Infantry’s agenda, German guns beyond the river knocked out six of eight supporting tanks to bring the attackers up sharply. A co-ordinated attack against both Roerdorf and Flossdorf on 2 December brought success at Roerdorf, but Flossdorf held out until the next day.
In the center of the 102d Division’s sector, the 406th Infantry made more rapid initial gains against Linnich. Though advance during the afternoon of 30 November came in erratic spurts, a battalion had reached the fringe of the town by nightfall. The rest of the regiment built up against the town after dark, but the regimental commander, Colonel Hurless, decided to wait until morning before risking involvement in house-to-house fighting. Linnich fell on 1 December, but into the next day the Germans maintained a path through the northeastern fringe to make matters unpleasant and enable some of the enemy to escape across a damaged bridge to the east bank of the Roer. Tanks attached from the 7th Armored Division at last managed to cross a drainage ditch south of Linnich, gain access to the town, and block this passage.
The regiment of the 340th Division which had borne responsibility for Linnich fell back behind the Roer. Having been battered severely in the fighting for the Linnich and Juelich bridgeheads, this division was in process of relief by another unit moved down from Holland, the 363d Volks Grenadier Division, which in October had battered itself against the 101st U.S. Airborne Division north of Nijmegen. Since Linnich had gone by the board, the regiment scheduled to relieve at Linnich was instead attached to the 10th SS Panzer Division.39
Entry into Linnich no doubt was eased by the 405th Infantry’s conquest of the high ground near Crossroads 87. After two days of bitter and frustrating fighting on exposed ground where men and machines were naked to German fire, the regiment used a double-envelopment maneuver on 1 December to carry the objective.
Their right flank partially protected by the 102d Division’s attack, troops of the 84th Division in the meantime held onto Lindern and continued to fight for remaining objectives. Though General Bolling had intended taking the high ground of Toad Hill (87.9) before the adjacent village of Beeck, the 10th SS Panzer Division’s 22d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment made such a fight of it on Toad Hill that General Bolling ordered a simultaneous attack on Beeck. The village occupies a shallow hollow, but the Germans fought for it as if it were an elevation dominating the countryside. A battalion of the 335th Infantry fought all day before gaining the village at nightfall on 30 November.
Two days later resistance suddenly collapsed, both on Toad Hill and on high ground southeast of Lindern, where the 334th Infantry had taken up the fight to make Lindern more secure. Presumably the collapse stemmed from an attempt to spare the SS troops pending relief by a swiftly rehabilitated 340th Volks Grenadier Division, a move scheduled for 8 December.40 Also on 2 December, a
battalion of the 334th Infantry followed preparation fires closely and marched into Leiffarth, northwest of Toad Hill. Within half an hour after crossing the line of departure, the 334th Infantry had Leiffarth.
The 84th Division was nearing the end of its part in the final push to the Roer. German reinforcements in the form of the 59th Infantry Division (General Poppe), leaving Holland on 2 December, would arrive too late to do much good in this sector.41 Of the 84th Division’s original objectives, only Muellendorf and Wuerm remained to be taken. Because no crossing of the Roer appeared likely until the Roer River Dams were taken or neutralized, no one was in any particular rush in regard to these last two villages. Not until more than two weeks later, on 18 December, would the 84th Division attack them. At this time there would be no more than a hint of the kind of resistance that had denied the villages during Operation CLIPPER. By midday on 18 December, both Wuerm and Muellendorf would be secure.
Except for these two villages, all assignments of the XIII Corps in the drive to the Roer were completed by 4 December. In four days two infantry divisions had advanced about a mile and a half each. Yet this was hardly the whole story of XIII Corps participation in the battle of the Roer plain, for the role of the 84th Division and a regiment of the 102d Division in Operation CLIPPER and that of another regiment of the 102d in the push to Gereonsweiler were rightfully part of the broader performance. During the four days when the two divisions fought under the aegis of the XIII Corps, they each incurred about a thousand battle casualties, including 176 killed in the 84th Division and 142 in the 102d. The 84th listed 209 missing; the 102d, 104. Together the two divisions lost the services of another thousand men to combat fatigue and exposure. Indeed, for all the determination of German resistance on the Roer plain, the one aspect most men who fought there probably would recall most vividly was the abominable weather and the mud that went with it.
Like the 84th Division at Muellendorf and Wuerm, the 29th Division of the XIX Corps had two more assignments before the battle of the Roer plain could be termed at an end. These were to reduce two German outposts alongside the Roer opposite and northwest of Juelich, one a group of farm buildings called Gut Hasenfeld, the other a Sportplatz consisting of an elliptical concrete stadium and a covered swimming pool nearby.
Before the event, reduction of these outposts looked like a minor assignment. Because delay in mounting a Roer crossing removed any real urgency in regard to the outposts and because the 29th Division commander wanted to maintain the bulk of his division intact for the crossing, only one regiment, the 116th Infantry, was to do the job.
Night had not fallen on the first day of attack (1 December) before some measure of the difficulties that would be involved had become apparent. The ground about both Gut Hasenfeld and the Sportplatz was flat, cruelly exposed to observation from higher ground a few hundred yards away on the east bank of the Roer. No concealment was available
near either objective except for a patch of woods south of the Sportplatz. These woods, it developed, were literally abloom with antipersonnel mines. Nor did the Germans stint on the troops manning the defenses. Only the night before the first American attack the Germans had begun to relieve the fatigued remnants of the 340th Division with fresh troops of the 363d Volks Grenadier Division, one of the units moved from Holland.42
A dismal pattern that would prevail for six days was set on the first day. Concealed either by darkness or by elaborate smoke screens maintained by 4.2-inch mortars of the 92d Chemical Battalion, troops of the 116th Infantry would get within a few hundred yards of the objectives. Then they would run into mines. "A man would hit a trip wire and there would be a click, then the mine would spring out of the ground and explode five or six feet in the air, spraying metal splinters."43 At first sound of exploding mines, the Germans would lay down final protective fires with machine guns, mortars, and artillery. If the men fell to earth to escape this fire, they might
detonate more mines. Some elected to remain erect through intense shellfire rather than risk falling upon a mine.44 "Nothing was more feared than mines. They were insidious, treacherous things hiding in the deep grass and in the earth."45
On occasion, some companies approached as close as a hundred yards to one or the other of the objectives before being. repulsed. Yet no genuine threat to either Gut Hasenfeld or the Sportplatz could be developed. One of the more promising attacks during the night of 2 December was thwarted when a bright moon suddenly emerged to bathe the flat ground in light and trigger the enemy’s protective fires.
Artillery and air support bombarded both objectives and the town of Juelich across the river but with no telling effect on the enemy’s will to resist. Because this was the lone offensive action on the entire XIX Corps front, the corps artillery was free to concentrate its fires, including round after round from 8-inch howitzers. Later inspection was to reveal that these shells had done considerable damage; yet the Germans in both places had underground shelters which spared them major losses and, presumably, they reinforced the garrisons at night by ferrying troops across the Roer. On at least two occasions, fighter-bombers of the XXIX TAC pounded the objectives for fifteen minutes before attacks; yet as the infantry tried to close, German fire remained thick. Observation from across the Roer and mud deterred use of tanks. On one Occasion, when three tanks of the 747th Tank Battalion tried to reinforce an infantry company near Gut Hasenfeld, German artillery quickly sent one up in smoke. The others scurried back to cover among the buildings of Koslar.
On 3 December General Gerhardt replaced the 116th Infantry commander with one of the battalion commanders, Lt. Col. Sidney V. Bingham, Jr. Still the pattern of events remained unchanged.
In early morning of 7 December, Colonel Bingham reported that further attacks by his regiment would be of no avail. In six days the 116th Infantry had lost 250 men, including 15 killed and 64 missing. That was only part of the story: cold, rainy weather also had taken an inevitable toll, and the regiment had been far from full strength when the operation started. His men, Colonel Bingham reported, were too exhausted to continue with any real chance of success.46
Gone was the hope of keeping the bulk of the 29th Division fresh for crossing the Roer. Later that day General Gerhardt replaced Bingham’s regiment with the 115th Infantry. By midnight of 7 December a fresh battalion was in position to attack both Gut Hasenfeld and the Sportplatz.
The success that crowned the 115th Infantry’s first efforts was attributable in part to fresh troops. Yet to a large extent it was based upon the 116th Infantry’s six days of futility, which had worn down the German defenders. In one instance, the 115th Infantry extracted distinct advantage from the other regiment’s experience: an analysis of the enemy’s fires against the 116th Infantry revealed a zone northwest of Gut Hasenfeld where no defensive shellfire had fallen; acting on the theory that the
Germans had planned no final protective concentrations there, one infantry company took that route. It paid off. Because the 92d Chemical Battalion maintained a dense smoke screen about Gut Hasenfeld, the Germans had to depend upon their "blind" final protective fires. The company that approached Gut Hasenfeld from the northwest went through almost unscathed.
It was not easy, however, either at Gut Hasenfeld or at the Sportplatz. Attacking in early morning darkness, some companies ran into mine fields, much as had the men of the 116th Infantry, inadvertently awakened German fire, and got confused and lost.
In the end, it was small unit maneuver that did the job. Eighteen men of Company I plunged through the smoke screen northwest of Gut Hasenfeld, found a hole in a wall about the farm, and caught the Germans inside cellars where they were awaiting end of a preparatory barrage. "All right, you sons of bitches, come on out!"47 These eighteen men had broken the back of German defense at Gut Hasenfeld by the time greater strength arrived. Prisoners numbered eighty-five.
Somewhat inexplicably, two platoons of Company B got through to the Sportplatz without setting off a single mine and without drawing any fire. Starting with a series of dressing rooms at the west side of the stadium, the men of Company B began methodically to eliminate enemy machine guns. By midmorning they had gained all but one corner of the arena, where two or three machine guns could be approached only across the open playing field in the center of the stadium. Two noncommissioned officers, S. Sgt. Floyd Haviland and Sgt. Noah Carter, at last demolished this opposition by moving with daring into the open to take the enemy under fire with rifle grenades. By 1500 resistance has ceased at the stadium.
At the swimming pool several platoons had approached the position, but none could traverse the last few yards to open ground. The swimming pool was, in effect, a giant covered concrete foxhole. In midafternoon two 105-mm. assault howitzers dared dominant German observation to join the infantry. While the Germans cowered before fire from these guns, S. Sgt. Daniel Menkovitz led his platoon in an assault. When cornered, the Germans surrendered docilely.
As night came, patrols pushed to the river bank. By dawn of 9 December the entire west bank of the Roer in the zone of the Ninth Army had been cleared.
After twenty-three days of slow, plodding advance, the Ninth Army had reached the Roer—not the Rhine which had been the original objective, but a flood-threatened stream only six to twelve miles from the original line of departure. German defense never had cracked, despite Allied air and artillery superiority. The XXIX Tactical Air Command alone had dropped 1,500 tons of general-purpose bombs and 22,200 gallons of napalm during November. Artillery of the XIX Corps during only the first four days of the offensive had expended 56,000 rounds of light ammunition and 34,000 rounds of medium. Yet the Germans had held with a patchwork assortment of divisions. They had inflicted upon the Ninth Army more than ten thousand battle casualties: 1,133 killed, 6,864 wounded, and 2,059 missing. German
ENTRANCE TO SWIMMING POOL adjacent to the Sportplatz.
prisoners totaled 8,321; the Ninth Army actually buried 1,264 enemy dead and estimated that the Germans lost another 5,000 killed. The Ninth Army lost eighty-four medium and fifteen light tanks destroyed, plus numerous others that were out of action for varying periods.
Except for a small sector in the zone of the First Army, the battle of the Roer plain was over. It had been a lengthy and costly attempt to eliminate a checkerboard of villages that extensive field fortifications and inclement weather had strengthened.