V Corps Hits the West Wall
It was almost dark on 11 September when General Gerow, the V Corps commander, received General Hodges' authorization for a reconnaissance in force to penetrate the West Wall.1 Thus General Gerow hardly could have expected to begin by the next morning a reconnaissance on the scale contemplated by General Collins and the neighboring VII Corps. He directed, in effect, little more than movement to assembly areas closer to the German border in preparation for the co-ordinated attack to be launched on 14 September.
Interpreting the order to mean sending only reinforced patrols against the West Wall for the moment, the infantry division commanders obviously anticipated no immediate breakthrough of the fortified line. The corps armor, in turn, was merely to reconnoiter the West Wall with patrols and provide a demonstration by fire "to conceal our real intention to make the main effort in the north half of [the] Corps zone."2
The plan which General Gerow had in mind for the coordinated attack on 14 September had been worked out several days earlier before General Hodges had indicated the necessity of a pause at the border.3 It reflected in some measure a basic incongruity in corps objective and mission as transmitted down the chain of command from the meeting of top American commanders at Chartres. In driving toward Koblenz, the V Corps was to attack "in conjunction with Third Army."4 Yet if the corps tried to stick close to the Third Army, this would mean attacking up the valley of the Moselle River, a narrow compartmentalized route of advance far removed from the rest of the First Army upon which the V Corps depended for supply and for assistance in event of trouble.
Having attempted to resolve the conflict by stationing the infantry divisions near the northern corps boundary, General Gerow then had to depend upon his armored division to cover the great gap between the infantry and the Third Army. Thus he in effect had demoted his armor to the role of a cavalry group, which meant that the weight of the armor would be lost to him in at least the initial stages of his attack. Meeting with his three division commanders on 10 September, General Gerow revealed his desire to get the armor into the fight if possible. He directed the 5th Armored Division to demonstrate to its front and be prepared to assault the West Wall on order, all the while holding out one combat command
prepared on short notice to exploit any breakthrough achieved by the infantry.5
Perhaps the incongruity between corps objective and mission was basically insoluble. The difficulty, for example, was clearly reflected on 11 September at First Army headquarters where General Gerow and the army commander, General Hodges, engaged in "an occasionally rather tempestuous discussion" over the V Corps plan. Aware of "the importance that General Bradley [12th Army Group commander] placed on the strength of the right flank," Hodges insisted that an infantry regimental combat team be attached to the armor on the right. General Gerow gave the role to the 28th Division's 112th Infantry. Possibly also as a result of General Hodges' views, Gerow on 11 September enlarged the armored division's assignment by ordering that if the armor found the West Wall in its zone lightly held, it was to attack to seize objectives in the south that would protect and promote the main advance in the north while at the same time lessening the gap between the First and Third Armies.6
No one had any illusions at this stage about the terrain over which the V Corps was to attack. Already familiar were the sharp ridges, deeply incised ravines, numerous streams, dense forests, and restricted road net of the Ardennes. Attacking through the Eifel meant more of the same but with the added obstacle of the West Wall.
All along the V Corps front the West Wall was a single belt of fortifications in greatest density along a possible avenue of approach southwest of the Schnee Eifel, the high wooded ridge just across the Our River and the German border. (See Map II.) Along the Schnee Eifel itself the Germans had depended so much upon the rugged terrain that they had built fewer fortifications than at any point from Aachen south and southeast to the Rhine.
The objectives assigned the divisions of the V Corps were based upon three distinct elevations lying astride the route of advance. The first was the Schnee Eifel, extending unbroken for about fifteen miles from Ormont to the vicinity of the village of Brandscheid where it develops into a high, relatively open plateau. The 4th Division was to seize the crest of the Schnee Eifel to facilitate advance of the 28th Division across the plateau. Farther south the plateau is blocked by dense woods and sharp, cliff-like slopes to a point between Vianden and Echternach. Here exists a suggestion of a corridor through which the 5th Armored Division was to advance upon order to take high ground about the village of Mettendorf.
The second elevation, taking the form of a high north-south plateau, lies beyond the Pruem River. At the western edge of the plateau lie the towns of Pruem and Bitburg. Though these towns have a population of only a few thousand, they are among the largest in the Eifel and are important communications centers. The infantry in the north was to take Pruem; the armor in the south, to secure Bitburg. Beyond the second elevation lies the little Kyll River, barring access to a third, high mountain-like plateau which slopes, grooved and broken, to the Rhine. Across this plateau the divisions were to make the final advance on Koblenz, some fifty miles inside the German border.
Located opposite the Schnee Eifel near St. Vith, the 4th Division was about four miles south of the boundary with the VII Corps but some twenty miles from the main concentration of the VII Corps. To cover the gap, the 102d Cavalry Group was to screen and maintain contact with cavalry of the VII Corps and was to be prepared to advance eastward along the upper reaches of the Kyll through what is known as the Losheim Gap.
The location of the 28th Division (minus one regimental combat team) near the right flank of the 4th Division served to effect a concentration of five regiments on a frontage of approximately fourteen miles. South of this limited concentration, the 5th Armored Division and the 28th Division's 112th Infantry were to cover the rest of the corps front of about thirty miles.
As General Gerow was aware, he had achieved, for all his efforts, no genuine concentration for the attack. Yet the very fact that the corps had been assigned a rugged route of advance like the Eifel meant that American commanders still were thinking in terms of pursuit warfare. If pursuit remained the order of the day, the spread formation was acceptable, even in front of a fortified line like the West Wall.
Available intelligence gave no reason for concern. The V Corps G-2, Col. Thomas J. Ford, predicted that the corps would meet only battered remnants of the three divisions which had fled before the corps across Belgium and Luxembourg. These were the 5th Parachute, Panzer Lehr, and 2d Panzer Divisions. It was possible, Colonel Ford added, that the corps might meet parts of the 2d SS Panzer Division, known to have been operating along the corps north boundary.
"There seems no doubt," Colonel Ford concluded, "that the enemy will defend [the Siegfried Line] with all of the forces that he can gather." But, he intimated, what he could gather was open to question.7
The true German situation in the Eifel was fully as dismal as the V Corps G-2 pictured it. The corps which controlled the sector roughly coterminous to that of the V Corps was the I SS Panzer Corps under General der Waffen-SS Georg Keppler. Of four divisions nominally under General Keppler's command, two had been so depleted that Keppler had merged them with another, the 2d SS Panzer Division. This division was to
defend the Schnee Eifel. The remaining division, the 2d Panzer, was to guard the West Wall south of the Schnee Eifel.
Between them the 2d Panzer and 2d SS Panzer Divisions could muster no more than 3 nominal panzer grenadier regiments, none with greater strength than a reinforced battalion; 2 engineer battalions; 2 signal battalions; 17 assault guns; 26 105-mm. and 3 150-mm. howitzers; plus no more than 6 tanks, 3 in each division. To this force might be added the nondescript garrison troops actually in position in the West Wall in this sector, but these were so few that they could have manned no more than every fifth position.8 General Keppler's I SS Panzer Corps formed the southern (left) wing of the Seventh Army, commanded by General der Panzertruppen Erich Brandenberger. The Seventh Army in turn formed the left wing of Field Marshal Model's Army Group B. The corps, army, and army group boundaries ran through the southern part of the V Corps zone along a line Diekirch-Bitburg. Below this line was the LXXX Corps, which was the northern (right) wing of the First Army (General der Panzertruppen Otto von Knobelsdorff) in Lorraine, which was in turn the right wing of Army Group G.
Because the German unit boundaries did not correspond to the one between the First and Third U.S. Armies, the V Corps attack was to strike the inner wings of both German army groups. Thus, northernmost contingents of the LXXX Corps also would be involved. Commanded by General der Infanterie Dr. Franz Beyer, the LXXX Corps had only one unit in this sector bearing a division label. This was the 5th Parachute Division, which, like some of General Keppler's units, had little left except a name. To a nucleus of the division headquarters and a company of the reconnaissance battalion, General Beyer had attached a security regiment, a motorized infantry regiment, and a few miscellaneous units of company size. The division had neither armor nor artillery.
Although the LXXX Corps controlled a Kampfgruppe of the once-proud Panzer Lehr Division, the Kampfgruppe was a far cry from a division. It consisted only of a panzer grenadier battalion of company strength, an engineer company, six 105-mm. howitzers, five tanks, a reconnaissance platoon, and an Alarmbataillon (emergency alert battalion) of about 200 men recruited from stragglers and soldiers on furlough in Trier. Although the corps was destined on 14 September to receive a regiment and a light battery of a division newly committed in Lorraine, the addition hardly would make up for the over-all deficiencies in the command. The First Army put the matter succinctly in a report on 13 September: "At the present time, LXXX Corps cannot hold a defense line with these forces . . . ."9
In the feeble hands of units like these had rested German hopes of holding the Allies beyond the West Wall long enough for the fortifications to be put into shape. As the Commander in Chief West had recognized, this was a big assignment. As late as 10 September Field Marshal von Rundstedt had warned that he needed another five to six weeks to restore the West Wall. That very day he had been so perturbed by a gap which had developed between the First and Seventh Armies that he had authorized General Beyer's LXXX Corps to leave only rear guards behind in Luxembourg and to fall back on the West Wall. This move obviously foreshadowed a quick end to any hope that Keppler's I SS Panzer Corps might continue to hold beyond the West Wall; for it had left General Keppler without even a guise of a southern neighbor.10
On 11 September Army Group B summed up the gloomy story in a few words: "Continued reduction in combat strength and lack of ammunition have the direst effects on the course of defense action." That was understatement. On 11 September, for example, the 2d SS Panzer Division possessed no ammunition for either its 75-mm. antitank guns, its 210-mm. mortars, or its light and medium howitzers. That evening General Keppler told the 2d Panzer Division to fall back on the West Wall and the next day repeated the order to the 2d SS Panzer Division.11
The fear behind these withdrawals was that American columns might exploit one of the yawning gaps in the line to spurt forward and gain a hold on an undefended West Wall while German units dangled impotently farther west. Reports reaching Seventh Army headquarters the night of 11 September to the effect that the 2d Panzer Division had found the Americans already in possession of a number of West Wall bunkers for a while confirmed the Germans' worst apprehensions. German commanders breathed only slightly more easily when a new report the next day revealed the penetration to be the work of reconnaissance patrols.12
On 14 September, the day the V corps was to attack, the I SS Panzer Corps officially halted its retreat and began to occupy the West Wall along a forty-mile front stretching from the northern extremity of the Schnee Eifel to the vicinity of the little river village of Wallendorf, a few miles southeast of Vianden. General Keppler split the front between his two divisions, the 2d Panzer and the 2d SS Panzer.13 Already the LXXX Corps had begun to occupy the bunkers farther south. The race for the West Wall was over. Technically, the Germans had won it; but so soon were the Americans upon them that the end results looked much like a dead heat.
As the divisions of the V Corps began moving toward the German border early on 12 September, it was obvious that
General Gerow's plan of piercing the West Wall on a broad front with limited means could work as a genuine corps maneuver only if attended by considerable success. Because the various divisional attacks were to occur at relatively isolated points, only after attainment of unequivocal breakthrough could the divisions unite in concerted, mutually supporting maneuver. The V Corps attack thus began as three separate operations: the 4th Division on the Schnee Eifel, the 28th Division on the plateau southwest of the Schnee Eifel, and the 5th Armored Division far to the south.
The first of the three divisions to come full against the West Wall was the 28th in the center, both because the fortifications in the 28th Division's sector extended farther to the west and because the division commander gave a relatively broad interpretation to the authorization to make a reconnaissance in force.14
Even before receiving the authorization, the division commander, Brig. Gen. Norman D. Cota,15 had issued a field order directing, in essence, a minor reconnaissance in force. His two regiments (the third was attached to the 5th Armored Division) were to "attack" during daylight by sending strong patrols to feel the way and by closing up before dark to hold gains made by the patrols. In deference to the twelve- to fifteen-mile width of the division zone and to the unknown caliber of the enemy, neither regiment was to commit to action more than one reinforced battalion.16
The first objective was the crest of the high plateau a few miles beyond the German border in the vicinity of the West Wall village of Uettfeld. The route of approach was the closest thing to a natural corridor leading into Germany in this sector, even though it consisted of steep, broken terrain served by a limited road net. Though the pillboxes here were in but one band, they were dense and fronted by an almost continuous line of dragon's teeth antitank obstacles.
On the right wing, the 109th Infantry (Col. William L. Blanton) moved toward the village of Roscheid, which rested in a bend in the West Wall. Through Roscheid the regiment was to converge with the 110th Infantry (Col. Theodore A. Seely) on high ground around Uettfeld. By nightfall of 12 September a battalion had crossed a bridge over the Our River secured earlier by a patrol and had advanced unopposed through outpost pillboxes to the village of Sevenig, separated from Roscheid by the muddy course of the little Irsen creek. To the north, the 110th Infantry also sent a battalion across the border to take up positions for the night west of Grosskampenberg, a village about 600 yards short of the dragon's teeth on a road
leading through Kesfeld to Uettfeld. The objective of Uettfeld lay about two miles beyond the dragon's teeth.
It was the report of the 2d Panzer Division's encounter with 28th Division reconnaissance patrols which disturbed the febrile Seventh Army headquarters into belief that the Americans had won the race for the West Wall. Even the clarification of the matter later on 12 September could have afforded little relief to the panzer division commander, General der Panzertruppen Heinrich Freiherr von Luettwitz. Although the line remained inviolate, the Americans had camped on the threshhold. Luettwitz' hope of stopping a thrust the next day, 13 September, rested mainly with three tanks and eight assault guns.17
General von Luettwitz might have breathed more easily had he known the true situation in the American camp. Moving directly from the scramble of pursuit warfare, the 28th Division was not ready for an attack on a fortified line. Neither of the two regiments had received special equipment needed in pillbox assault, such as flame throwers and explosive charges. Attached tank and self-propelled tank destroyer units still were repairing their pursuit-damaged vehicles and had yet to come forward. The infantry would face the West Wall with direct fire support only from organic 57-mm. antitank guns and a few platoons of towed tank destroyers, both highly vulnerable to return fire. Few units of the division had more than a basic load of ammunition, enough perhaps for a meeting engagement but not for sustained fighting. So concerned about the ammunition shortage was the division commander, General Cota, that he forbade unobserved artillery fires except previously registered concentrations and others specifically approved by his headquarters. In addition, both regiments of the 28th Division would be restricted for still another day to committing but one battalion to action.
For all these problems, a battalion each of the 109th and 110th Infantry Regiments attacked the West Wall early on 13 September. Trying to cross the Irsen creek to gain a foothold among the pillboxes on high ground west of Roscheid, a battalion of the 109th Infantry failed even to reach the creek. Rifle and automatic weapons fire from the pillboxes brought the attackers up sharply more than 700 yards away from the West Wall. A battalion of the 110th Infantry met a similar fate halfway between Grosskampenberg and the line of dragon's teeth. Pinned to the ground by small arms fire from the pillboxes, the men were ready prey for German mortar and artillery fire. Though both attacking battalions tried to use towed antitank guns for direct fire support, enemy gunners endowed with superior observation made sudden death of the efforts. Indirect artillery fire did little damage to the pillboxes other than to "dust off the camouflage."18
When the next day, 14 September, brought removal of the restriction on committing more than one battalion, both regiments attacked frontally with one battalion while sending another around to a flank. Along with a company of tanks, the 109th Infantry was plagued all day by antitank fire and mines and by a natural tank trap in the muddy Irsen creek bot-
tomland. At heavy cost the regiment finally seized a strip of forward pillboxes more than a mile wide but fell short of taking Roscheid.
Two miles to the north, the 110th Infantry renewed the attack toward Kesfeld while sending a battalion around to the north through the village of Heckhuscheid to move southeast on Hill 553, a West Wall strongpoint along the Heckhuscheid-Uettfeld highway. Once again the regiment found that without direct fire support the infantry could make no headway against the pillboxes. The battalion southeast of Heckhuscheid found the way barred by dragon's teeth and a roadblock at the base of Hill 553 and could get no farther. Though the battalion near Kesfeld had tried during the night to bring up explosives to blast a path through the dragon's teeth for tanks, the explosives had blown up unexplainably and killed the men who were carrying them. Arriving in midmorning, the tanks could provide little assistance because they could not get past the dragon's teeth and because poor visibility restricted fire against distant targets. Advance might have been stymied indefinitely had not 2d Lt. Joseph H. Dew maneuvered his tank to within a few feet of the dragon's teeth and methodically blasted a path with his 75-mm. gun.19 Accompanied by the tanks, the infantry managed to seize a tiny foothold within the forward band of pillboxes, but at severe cost in casualties.
From prisoners, both regiments learned something of the desperation with which the Germans had tried to man the West Wall. Many pillboxes, prisoners revealed, still were unmanned, and others contained only two or three men armed with rifles and an occasional machine gun or panzerfaust. Gathered from almost every conceivable source, many of the men had arrived in the line only the night before. Complaining bitterly about having to fight, a forty-year-old cook said he was captured little more than two hours after reaching the front.
These revelations must have galled those American troops who had fought so hard to effect even these two small punctures in the German line. Maj. James C. Ford, the 110th Infantry S-3, spoke for them when he said: "It doesn't much matter what training a man may have when he is placed inside such protection as was afforded by the pillboxes. Even if he merely stuck his weapons through the aperture and fired occasionally, it kept our men from moving ahead freely."20
Though the 28th Division's gains were meager, they looked different when viewed against the backdrop of the situation along the entire corps front. Seeing the first punctures of the line as the hardest, the V Corps commander, General Gerow, ordered the 5th Armored Division to send an officer that night to advise the 28th Division on use of armor in event of a breakthrough the next day. The 5th Armored Division's Combat Command B, located northwest of Diekirch, was ready to move through if the infantry forged a gap.
When the next day came, General Gerow saw his hopes quickly dashed. Even before the 109th Infantry could get an attack going on 15 September, a small counterattack forced two platoons to relinquish some ground. For the next two days the 109th Infantry was to fight in
vain to get past Roscheid and secure a hill that provided damaging observation off the regiment's right flank. In the process, the enemy's 2d Panzer Division gradually chewed the regiment to pieces. Battered by German shelling, the American riflemen could not be trusted to hold the positions already gained. In at least two instances they fell back in panic before limited objective counterattacks. So poor was the showing that General Cota subsequently relieved the regimental commander.
Through most of 15 September the situation in the 110th Infantry's sector appeared equally discouraging. The 1st Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Floid A. Davison, was to try again to take Hill 553; but the late arrival of tanks and of engineers equipped with explosives to blow the troublesome roadblock precluded early success. Not until 1700 did the engineers arrive. The plan at this point was for the engineers to advance to the roadblock under cover of fire from the tanks and a platoon of towed tank destroyers. Blowing of the roadblock was to signal the start of an attack by infantry and tanks.
Ten unarmed engineers, each carrying a 50-pound load of TNT, began to creep slowly, carefully toward the roadblock. Though the day was foggy, the engineers felt naked. As they inched forward, tension mounted, passing almost electrically to the waiting infantrymen and tankers.
Reaching the objective at last, the engineers found that the roadblock consisted of six steel I-beams emplaced in concrete caissons on either side of the road. Large portable iron tetrahedrons reinforced the whole. Working swiftly, they placed their charges.
Shortly after 1830, an hour and a half after start of the tedious journey, the engineers completed their work. Activating the charges, they jumped to their feet. In the words of their lieutenant, they "went like hell to the rear." The roadblock disintegrated with a roar.
Acting on cue, the tanks fired pointblank at the pillboxes. The infantry went forward on the run. In about forty-five minutes the battalion had stormed the objective, Hill 553. It yielded seventeen pillboxes and fifty-eight prisoners. After almost three days of mounting casualties and frustrations, the 110th Infantry in a quick, coordinated assault at last had gained a significant objective within the West Wall.
The regimental commander, Colonel Seely, planned for his two committed battalions to converge the next day upon the regimental objective of Kemper Steimerich Hill (Hill 560), key to the commanding ground around Uettfeld. In order to better the jump-off position and to narrow a gap between the two battalions, the fatigued battalion west of Kesfeld sent a company in late afternoon to clear a nest of pillboxes in the direction Of Hill 553. As darkness came, Company F under Capt. Robert H. Schultz completed the mission. Sending back more than fifty prisoners, the men began to settle down for the night in and about the pillboxes they had captured.
The first sign of an impending counterattack came about half an hour after midnight. The men could hear tracked vehicles moving through the darkness toward Company F's positions. On guard at the time at a pillbox occupied by the company's rear command group, Pvt. Roy O. Fleming said later, "Suddenly everything became quiet. I could hear
the clank of these vehicles . . . . I saw the flame thrower start and heard the sounds of a helluva scrap up around Captain Schultz's position . . . ."21
A few minutes after the firing began, another company intercepted a frantic radio message: "KING SUGAR to anybody. KING SUGAR to anybody. Help. We are having a counterattack—tanks, infantry, flame throwers."
What could anybody do to help? By the time the messages could be exchanged and artillery brought to bear, the action had subsided. Company Fs radio apparently was defective, capable of sending but not of receiving. The situation thus was so obscure that Colonel Seely dared not risk immediate commitment of his reserve.
What happened remained a mystery difficult to piece together from the fragments of information provided by the few men who escaped. The Germans apparently had attacked with about seventy to eighty men reinforced by two flame-throwing vehicles. A prisoner captured some days later said the vehicles were improvised flame throwers constructed from Schuetzenpanzerwagen (armored half-tracks). As late as two days after the event, Company F could muster no more than forty-four men, including cooks and supply personnel.
The news of Company Fs disaster dealt a heavy blow to the optimism engendered by the success of the preceding afternoon. Only a few hours before the Germans hit Company F, General Cota had expressed "high hopes" about the division's prospects.22 He could have been thinking only of the 110th Infantry, which now would have to use its reserve battalion to retake the pillboxes Company F had lost.
Delayed again by the late arrival of supporting tanks and unassisted by the rest of the regiment, Colonel Davison's 1st Battalion nevertheless attacked again in midmorning of 16 September. Assisted by effective counterbattery artillery fires, the battalion quickly seized Losenseifen Hill (Hill 568), adjacent to Hill 553 and one of the highest points in the 28th Division's sector. Leaving a company to hold the hill, the 1st Battalion continued to attack and stopped for the night only after capturing Spielmannsholz Hill (Hill 559), less than a thousand yards short of the regimental objective overlooking Uettfeld.
In a day of rapid, determined advance, Colonel Davison's men had progressed a mile and a half past the dragon's teeth and had captured some of the most commanding ground for miles around. Beyond them lay only scattered West Wall fortifications. Though the penetration was narrow and pencil-like, the 28th Division had for all practical purposes broken through the West Wall.
It was ironic that even as Colonel Davison's men were achieving this feat, General Gerow was visiting the division command post with orders to call off the offensive. Having incurred almost 1,500 casualties, the two regiments of the 28th Division were in no condition to expand or exploit the 110th Infantry's narrow penetration.23 Neither was the situation elsewhere in the V Corps encouraging enough to justify
bringing troops from some other part of the front.
During the next few days, the 109th and 110th Infantry Regiments jockeyed for position, while the Germans registered their protest with small counterattacks and continued shelling.24 The attempt to get across the high plateau into the rugged Eifel was over.
A few miles to the north, the 4th Division in the meantime had been more conservative in interpreting the authority to reconnoiter in force but had experienced more encouraging initial success. The action took place on the imposing ridge line east of St. Vith, the Schnee Eifel. Preceded by combat patrols, the 4th Division had resumed eastward march on 12 September. By nightfall the next day two regiments had crossed the border and moved into assembly areas in the shadow of the Schnee Eifel. On the north wing, the 12th Infantry (Col. James S. Luckett) assembled at the village of Radscheid; the 22d Infantry (Col. Charles T. Lanham) nearby at Bleialf. Impressed by a lack of opposition, the division commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond O. Barton, ordered both regiments to push reconnaissance patrols forward; but he reserved any real attempt to move into the West Wall for the next day, 14 September, the day General Gerow had designated for the V Corps attack.25
Patrols probing the woods line of the Pruem State Forest, which crowns the Schnee Eifel, learned little except that some Germans number and capabilities undetermined-were in the pillboxes. This information did nothing to alter General Barton's anticipation that only a crust of resistance stood between the 4th Division and a breakthrough operation.26
General Barton ordered the 12th and 22d Infantry Regiments to attack abreast at 1000 on 14 September to seize an ambitious objective, commanding ground on the crest of the central plateau beyond the Pruem River, more than 10 miles away.27 The 8th Infantry (Col. James S. Rodwell) was to remain in division reserve. Commanders of the two forward regiments designated initial objectives astride a lateral highway that follows the crest of the Schnee Eifel. These regiments also were to protect the division's exposed flanks, for to the southwest, closest units of the 28th Division were more than four miles away, and to the northwest, the closest friendly troops, except for a thin veil of cavalry, were twenty-five miles away.
The attack on 14 September was, at the start, more a reconnaissance in force than anything the division had attempted dur-
ing the two preceding days. Although the regiments had intended to attack together, the 22d Infantry was delayed until noon while awaiting arrival of an attached company of tanks and then used, according to plan, but one infantry battalion. The 12th Infantry intended to employ two battalions, but one took a wrong trail upon entering the forest and contributed little to the day's action. Thus the 4th Division attacked on 14 September in no greater strength at first than the 28th Division had employed the day before.
Screened by a drizzling rain, the 12th Infantry on the left advanced virtually unimpeded up the steep western slopes of the Schnee Eifel. The only battalion to make actual contact with the West Wall found the pillboxes undefended. Cutting the Schnee Eifel highway without difficulty, the battalion turned northeast along the highway toward the wooded high ground of Bogeyman Hill (Hill 697, the Schwarzer Mann). Only here did the battalion encounter a defended pillbox.
A mile to the south, the leading battalion of the 22d Infantry had been nearing the woods line east of Bleialf when a round from an 88-mm. gun ripped into one of the accompanying tanks. As the crewmen piled from the tank, the other tanks maneuvered about on the open hill. Thinking the tanks were withdrawing, the riflemen began to fall back in a panic. The attack might have floundered on this discreditable note had not unit commanders acted aggressively to bring the men under control.28 Then, as if to atone for their earlier hesitancy, the men charged forward at a run. In about twenty minutes their charge carried not only to the woods line but past a row of pillboxes all the way to the crest of the ridge. Like the 12th Infantry, the 22d Infantry had achieved an astonishingly quick penetration of this thin sector of the West Wall.
To enlarge the penetration, the regimental commander, Colonel Lanham, quickly committed his other two battalions. One continued the drive to the east to gain the woods line on the eastern slope of the ridge while the other joined the assault battalion in fanning out to right and left to roll up the line of pillboxes. Some of the fortifications turned out to be undefended, and the enemy had manned the others predominantly with middle-aged men and youths who had little unit organization and less conception of tactics. One or two rifle shots against embrasures often proved persuasion enough to disgorge the defenders, hands high. Only to the southwest at a crossroads settlement on the Bleialf-Pruem highway did the Germans fight with determination, and here close-in fire from self-propelled tank destroyers had a telling effect. By the end of the day the 22d Infantry held a breach in the West Wall about two miles wide. One battalion had reached a position on the eastern slopes of the Schnee Eifel overlooking the village of Hontheim, a mile and a quarter past the forward pillboxes.
On the German side, the 2d SS Panzer Division either had waited a day too long before falling back on the West Wall or
DRAGON'S TEETH near Brandscheid. The wooded section at upper left is the edge of the Schnee Eifel.
had concentrated first on manning the fortifications along more logical routes of advance than the rugged Schnee Eifel. The division commander, SS-Brigadefuehrer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Heinz Lammerding, set out immediately to try to contain the penetration; but the strength available to him still was unimpressive, even though he had received a few new attachments upon withdrawal behind the border. He had about 750 men in four organic battalions and 1,900 in nine attached battalions, a total of about 2,650. To support them, he had 14 75-mm. antitank guns, about 37 artillery pieces, 1 assault gun, and 1 Mark V Panther tank. Two other tanks were in the repair shop.29
To the American commander, General Barton, the successes on 14 September confirmed his belief that the West Wall would be only a minor obstruction in the path of the pursuit. The corps commander, General Gerow, apparently shared this view, for it was during the night of 14 September that he directed an officer of
the 5th Armored Division to advise the 28th Division on the use of armor in event of a breakthrough. Though the greatest success had been in the 4th Division's sector, the terrain along the Schnee Eifel discouraged use of armor there.
Having virtually walked through the West Wall, General Barton acted on 15 September both to broaden his effort and speed the eastward advance. He comitted [sic] his reserve, the 8th Infantry, in a motorized advance along the best axial highway in his zone to skirt the northern end of the Schnee Eifel along the narrow corridor afforded by the valley of the upper Kyll, the Losheim Gap. The regiment was to occupy a march objective on the north bank of the Kyll six miles inside Germany. The 12th Infantry meanwhile was to sweep northeastward along the Schnee Eifel for several miles in order to uncover roads leading east. The 22d Infantry was to turn southwest to take Brandscheid, a village within the West Wall at the southern end of the Schnee Eifel. These objectives accomplished, the 12th and 22d Infantry Regiments were to renew the eastward drive to seize march objectives fourteen miles away on the Kyll.30
With the 8th Infantry on 15 September rode General Barton's main hope for a breakthrough. If the 8th Infantry could push rapidly, the Schnee Eifel could be outflanked and the West Wall left far behind.
Starting early from the border village of Schoenberg, the 8th Infantry ran into blown bridges and roadblocks almost from the beginning. A heavy mist also slowed the column and for the second straight day denied tactical air support. At the border near the village of Losheim the column hit definite resistance. Sideslipping to the south along a secondary highway, the regiment encountered a relatively stout outpost position near the village of Roth. By late afternoon the leading battalion had pushed the outpost back to the West Wall. But the 8th Infantry commander, Colonel Rodwell, saw no hope of readying a coordinated attack against the fortifications before the next morning.31
Colonel Rodwell's anticipation of delay was attributable more to organization problems than to any real concern about the enemy. One of his battalions, for example, reported finding German reconnaissance parties just moving into the pillboxes. Yet in the pressure of events, this information escaped the division commander, General Bar-ton. Not having realized the rapid thrust he had anticipated and somewhat perturbed by the turn of events during the day on the Schnee Eifel, General Barton told Colonel Rodwell to abandon the maneuver.32 In the wet foxholes astride the Schnee Eifel, the infantrymen of the 4th Division's other two regiments had noted a distinct change in the situation early on 15 September. German mortar and artillery fire markedly increased and began to have telling effect from tree bursts in the thick forest. About 300 Germans counterattacked the most forward battalion of the 22d Infantry near Hontheim. A battalion scheduled to take Brandscheid spent the morning rounding up Germans who had
infiltrated behind the battalion during the night. Few pillboxes now were undefended. A battalion of the 12th Infantry spent several hours routing about sixty Germans from a nest of pillboxes at a crossroads, the Kettenkreuz (Hill 655)Two other fortified positions centering on crossroads occupied the 12th Infantry for the rest of the day, so that by nightfall roads leading east still were out of reach. Though all advances by the 12th and 22d on 15 September were labored, they nevertheless had covered sufficient ground in diametrically divergent directions to create a gap between regiments of more than two and a half miles. Disappointed in the outcome of the 8th Infantry's maneuver farther north, General Barton saw a chance to secure the gap on the Schnee Eifel while at the same time exploiting it as a possible point of breakthrough. He told Colonel Rodwell to move his regiment to the Schnee Eifel and drive through the middle of the other two regiments. The flank regiments would open adequate roads to him later. Hope that a breakthrough still might be accomplished was nurtured by promising developments reported during the day to the south in the zone of the 5th Armored Division.33
Unfortunately for the 4th Division, it takes only a few defenders to hold up an attacker in cruel terrain like the Schnee Eifel. Though the Germans had no reserves to commit in this sector, they were able gradually to build up the 2d SS Panzer Division with replacements and odd attachments while the original few were fighting effective delaying action. By 16 September, for example, the Germans had established a fairly strong blocking position across the Schnee Eifel to deny the 12th Infantry the coveted road leading east. The 12th Infantry's casualties soared in exchange for almost no further advance. Several days later, on 19 September, the Germans had obtained two companies of infantry and three Mark IV tanks with which to counterattack. They would have recovered some ground had it not been for the courage and resourcefulness of an American company commander, 1st Lt. Phillip W. Wittkopf, who called down artillery fire almost atop his own position.34
The difficulties of terrain were nowhere more evident than in the center of the 4th Division's formation where the 8th Infantry began to drive down the wooded eastern slopes of the Schnee Eifel early on 16 September. By nightfall the next day parts of the regiment were near the eastern edge of the forest; but behind them lay hundreds of yards of dense woods crossed only by muddy, poorly charted firebreaks and trails subject to constant enemy infiltration.
On the division's south wing, the 22d Infantry could attribute a lack of success against the village of Brandscheid to the backbone which West Wall pillboxes put into the German defense. The only bright development on this part of the front came in the afternoon of 16 September when the 1st Battalion pushed out of the Pruem State Forest to seize a hill that commanded the Bleialf-Pruem highway a few hundred yards west of the German-held village of Sellerich. Even this achievement was marred by the loss from German shelling of some thirty-five men wounded and eight killed, including the battalion commander, Lt. Col. John Dowdy.
Encouraged by the 1st Battalion's ad-
vance, the 22d Infantry commander, Colonel Lanham, ordered continuation of the attack the next day to pass beyond Sellerich and seize high ground east of the Mon creek on the road to Pruem. Commanded now by Maj. Robert B. Latimer, the 1st Battalion faced terrain that tended to funnel its attack dangerously. In front of the battalion were three villages: Hontheim, on high ground to the northeast; Herscheid, on high ground to the southeast; and Sellerich, along the main highway in a depression exposed to the dominating ground on either flank. Because Major Latimer deemed his strength insufficient for taking the high ground, he saw no alternative to attacking directly down the valley. Recognizing the danger in this approach, he requested artillery fire to blanket the high ground and directed only one company to move at first to the objective. Company A was to take the objective, Company B was to follow soon after with attached tank destroyers and tanks to help hold the objective, and Company C was to maintain the jump-off positions west of Sellerich.
Even before the attack began, adversity overtook the 1st Battalion. Into the morning of 17 September enemy shelling so unnerved several officers, including the commander of the attached tank platoon, that they had to be evacuated for combat exhaustion. About 0830, as Company A moved to the line of departure, another severe shelling so upset the company commander that he too had to be evacuated. 1st Lt. Warren E. Marcum assumed command of the company.
Still under German shellfire, Lieutenant Marcum and Company A moved quickly down the highway into Sellerich. They found not a single German in the village and continued unopposed across the Mon creek. By 1100 they had occupied the crest of the objective, Hill 520. When Company B and the tanks and tank destroyers started to follow, one of the tank destroyers hit a mine in the deeply incised ravine of the creek. Almost immediately the Germans came to life. Opening fire with antitank weapons from both north and south, they drove the armor to cover in Sellerich. With interlocking fires from machine guns and light caliber antiaircraft weapons, they sealed off the route of retreat. Mortar and artillery fire rained upon the trapped troops. East of the creek, about a hundred Germans began to counterattack Company A from two directions. Try as they would, Company B and the tanks could not cross the ravine to Lieutenant Marcum's aid.
Fearful of losing the hill west of Sellerich, Major Latimer was reluctant to commit his remaining company. To make it available, Colonel Lanham called off an attack at Brandscheid to send tanks and a rifle company to hold the hill; but by the time this force could disengage, the situation at Sellerich and beyond the creek had so deteriorated that reinforcement appeared futile.
Only minutes before Lieutenant Marcum was wounded, he requested permission to withdraw. Then his radio ceased to function. By the time Major Latimer got a decision from the regimental commander authorizing withdrawal, he had no communications with Company A. Although he sent two messengers forward, he could see no evidence that they reached the company. When the battalion S-3 tried to get forward, he was wounded five times.
Whether Company A ever received the withdrawal authority became incidental; for when Lieutenant Marcum was wounded, the other officers apparently lost all control. Men began to get back individually and in small groups. A few made it out with Company B, but most who survived the action beyond the creek did not reach the 1st Battalion's lines until after dark. A count showed later that but two officers and sixty-six men had escaped, a loss of more than 50 percent. The disaster east of the Mon creek for all practical purposes ended the battle of the Schnee Eifel. That night the assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. George A. Taylor, went to the corps command post to give details on the division's situation. He emphasized the damage the 22d Infantry had incurred from shelling and counterattack, the inadequacy of roads and trails through the Pruem State Forest, and the effect of the woods and adverse weather on American advantage in air, artillery, and armor. He noted also how vulnerable the division was to counterattack on both flanks.35
General Taylor actually had no major selling job to do at V Corps headquarters. Already General Gerow had called off the attack of the 28th Division. When the 4th Division commander, General Barton, issued a new field order, he worded it in accord with confidential information that the First Army intended to call off the V Corps attack that night.36
For the next few days all three regiments of the 4th Division were to engage in local attacks to adjust their lines for defense, but they registered no major gains. The battle was over. Neither Germans nor Americans possessed either the strength or inclination to push all out for a decision. In four days of combat ranging from light to intense, the 4th Division had torn a gap almost six miles wide in the West Wall but at a point offering no axial roads and few objectives, short of the Rhine, attractive enough to warrant a major effort to secure them. The breach had cost the division about 800 casualties.
Four major factors had worked against both the 4th and 28th Divisions in making the V Corps main effort. First, the cruel terrain and the West Wall had enabled a few Germans to do the work of many. Second, rain and generally poor visibility had denied air support, restricted observation for tank and artillery fires, and produced poor footing for tanks. Third, a shortage of artillery ammunition, which in the case of the 28th Division had limited artillery units to twenty-five rounds per gun per day, had denied the infantry large-scale fire support and had afforded German guns an immunity that otherwise would not have existed. Fourth, an inability to concentrate had prevented either division from employing overwhelming weight at any critical point. The last factor had affected the 28th Division particularly, for General Cota had possessed no reserve regiment.
Had either General Gerow or the division commanders interpreted the authorization for a reconnaissance in force more broadly, they might have beaten the Germans into the West Wall. On the other hand, General Hodges, the
First Army commander, had been distinctly conservative in his authorization. Hodges, for example, had insisted that "all troops should stay tightly 'buttoned up,' " and Gerow had received a "definite impression" that the army commander would not sanction the corps becoming "involved" in the West Wall before 14 September.37 Even had the infantry divisions achieved a coup de main, might they not in exploiting it have encountered similar difficulties? Indeed, in view of the ammunition shortage and the dispersion of units, they might have had trouble even holding a major breach of the West Wall.
From the viewpoint of both the V Corps and the Germans, the main effort by the infantry divisions actually had shown less promise of far-reaching results than had another attack in the south of the V Corps zone. Here an anticipated secondary effort by the 5th Armored Division had developed into a genuine opportunity for a breakthrough which showed promise of welding the three separate division actions into a cohesive corps maneuver.
Withheld from immediate commitment against the West Wall, the 5th Armored Division in the interim had drawn a variety of responsibilities. Not the least of these was securing approximately thirty miles of the corps front. The division commander, Maj. Gen. Lunsford E. Oliver, assigned Combat Command A and the attached 112th Infantry to patrol the southern portion of the zone, maintain contact with Third Army cavalry far to the south, and protect the city of Luxembourg. He designated Combat Command R to probe the West Wall with patrols along the central portion of the zone and be prepared upon order to attack the West Wall between Vianden and Echternach and seize the communications center of Bitburg on the Eifel's central plateau. He gave Combat Command B responsibility for the northern portion of the division zone and alerted it for commitment upon corps order to exploit any breakthrough achieved by the infantry divisions.38
Observers in posts along the Our and Sauer Rivers, which separate Luxembourg from Germany, and patrols that probed the West Wall brought back similar reports: In some places the pillboxes were not manned; in others the Germans were hurriedly moving in. Though the Americans did not know it, this was the sector of the great gap between the I SS Panzer Corps and the LXXX Corps, which was perturbing both enemy corps commanders, Generals Keppler and Beyer.
In the afternoon of 13 September, as the infantry divisions in the north closed to the West Wall, CCR conducted a reconnaissance by fire near the village of Wallendorf, about halfway between Echternach and Vianden. It failed to provoke a single return shot from the Germans.
Convinced that the West Wall opposite the armor was no more than weakly manned, General Gerow in early evening Of 13 September ordered General Oliver to advance. With one combat command he
was to attack through Wallendorf to seize high ground near Mettendorf, about five miles inside Germany, and then drive to Bitburg, twelve miles beyond the border. The 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, was to assist the attack.
In directing an attack between Vianden and Echternach, General Gerow had exercised a choice between two existing avenues of approach into Germany in this region. One extends northeast from the vicinity of Wallendorf, the other almost due north from an eastward bend in the German border east of Echternach. Though the Wallendorf corridor is more sharply compartmentalized and has fewer good roads, General Gerow chose it because it was somewhat closer to the infantry divisions (about fifteen miles).
General Oliver decided to attack from the southwestern corner of the Wallendorf corridor at the village of Wallendorf itself. Here his right flank might hug the Nussbaumer Hardt, a great forest barrier, leaving room for later broadening of the base of the penetration to the northwest and north. Though the ground rises so abruptly beyond Wallendorf that it reminded some men of the Palisades on the Hudson, similar heights bar the way all along the entrance to the corridor.
CCR knew little about the enemy situation across the border except what patrols and observers had discerned in the preceding three days. A number of patrols, including that of Sergeant Holzinger on 11 September at Stalzemburg, about eight miles northwest of Wallendorf, had encountered no opposition. Reports indicated that water seepage filled some pillboxes and that dust blanketed the inside of others; but on 12 and 13 September observers had noted a few German soldiers entering the pillboxes.
In light of the true German situation, the choice of the Wallendorf sector for an attack was fortunate. It was on the extreme right of the LXXX Corps, the weakest point in General Beyer's defenses. Not until the morning of 14 September, when the hastily recruited Alarmbataillon arrived from Trier, did any organized unit take over the sector. About two miles north of Wallendorf lay the boundary not only between the two enemy corps but also between the First and Seventh Armies and between Army Groups B and G. A certain element of divided responsibility was bound to exist.39 As for the West Wall itself in this sector, it was markedly thin because German engineers had leaned heavily upon the rugged nature of the terrain. Although all bridges near Wallendorf had been demolished, the river is only about forty yards wide and at this time of year fordable at a number of points.
The status of supply in the 5th Armored Division was similar to that in the rest of the V Corps, although the logistical pinch might not be felt so severely since only one combat command was to see action. The three-day pause in Luxembourg had enabled the division to refill its fuel tanks and constitute a nominal gasoline reserve. Although artillery ammunition on hand was no more than adequate, a shortage of effective counterbattery fires in the coming offensive was to arise more from lack of sound and flash units and from poor visibility than from any deficiency in ammunition supply.
Shortly after noon on 14 September CCR began to cross the Sauer River into Germany at a ford below the confluence of the Our and the Sauer. When no antitank opposition developed, the com-
WALLENDORF CIVILIANS strive to save their belongings from the burning town after German troops have left.
mander, Col. Glen H. Anderson, sent his armor and infantry across together. Although the enemy's Alarmbataillon had only small arms weapons, the troops defended with tenacity. Not until Wallendorf was wreathed in flame and smoke caused by artillery fire, tracer bullets, and infantry flame throwers was the enemy dislodged.40
The Alarmbataillon might have made an even better fight of it had not its artillery support, the Alarmbatterie, failed miserably. Court martial proceedings taken later against the battery commander revealed that (1) he was a reserve officer of Luftwaffe signal communication troops, (2) he knew nothing about artillery, (3) the battery had possessed little ammunition and almost no observation or optical equipment, and (4) among the entire enlisted personnel were only three trained artillerymen.41
Continuing past Wallendorf, tanks and infantry of CCR knocked out lightly defended pillboxes to gain a firm foothold astride the first high ground, a promontory of clifflike terrain between the Sauer and the sharply incised Gay creek. As darkness came, the only exit the troops could find leading off the high bluff into the Gay gorge was blocked by a big crater. Awaiting results of further reconnaissance for another route, the tanks and armored infantry laagered for the night.
The armor temporarily stymied by the blocked road, Colonel Anderson ordered the attached 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Ross C. Henbest, to take up the attack. Colonel Henbest's infantry was to seize Biesdorf, a village beyond the Gay creek, capture of which should facilitate CCR's efforts to get off the high bluff the next morning. Unfortunately, the infantry lost direction in the foggy darkness and wandered aimlessly through the night.
Having discovered another road leading north to span the Gay creek at Niedersgegen, the armor resumed the advance the next morning, 15 September. At the creek the combat command ran into an understrength company of Mark IV tanks supported by a scattering of infantry. In a noisy but brief engagement, the American gunners accounted for 3 enemy tanks and 6 half-tracks and sent 5 other tanks scurrying to the east. CCR's only loss came later when a wooden bridge over the Gay collapsed under the weight of a Sherman tank. The column crossed nearby at a spot that later came to be known by the dolorous name Deadman's Ford.
The enemy armor encountered at the creek probably was the major portion of the Kampfgruppe of the Panzer Lehr Division. Perturbed from the start about this American thrust, the First Army commander, General von Knobelsdorff, had announced his intentions late the day before "to commit all forces which could possibly be spared" to the Wallendorf sector. In the meantime, the Kampfgruppe of the Panzer Lehr and the remnants of the 5th Parachute Division, which held the line farther south near Echternach, were to do what they could to oppose the penetration.42
These two German units actually could do little more than harass CCR with a succession of small pinprick thrusts.43 Pushing northeast and east from Niedersgegen, CCR moved virtually unopposed. In rapid succession the armor seized four villages and occupied Hill 407, the crest of the high ground near Mettendorf, the initial objective. Already CCR had left all West Wall fortifications in its wake. One column continued east and northeast and at dusk was nearing the village of Bettingen on the west bank of the Pruem River when German antitank guns suddenly opened fire. Forced back in confusion by the unexpected resistance, the column withdrew a few hundred yards into the villages of Halsdorf and Stockem to await daylight before coming to blows with the German gunners.
By nightfall of 15 September CCR had advanced through the West Wall and across the western plateau almost to the banks of the Pruem, some six miles inside Germany. Though the combat command actually controlled little more than the roads, the fact that a force could march practically uncontested through the enemy rear augured new life to hopes of a drive to the Rhine. With the armor apparently loose behind enemy lines, General Gerow
conceived an audacious scheme to assist his infantry divisions and reopen his front. He told General Oliver first to seize Bitburg, then to swing north on main roads to Pronsfeld and Pruem. This would place the armor squarely in rear of the enemy opposing the 28th Division and relieve the south flank of the 4th Division. The corps cavalry was to take over a portion of the 5th Armored Division's Luxembourg front to free another combat command, CCB, for the maneuver. The plan involved advances of from fifteen to thirty miles by two columns, parallel to, but deep behind, the enemy front.
For their part, the Germans had quickly recognized the portent of the situation. One enemy headquarters reported in alarm that American troops were only three miles from Bitburg. With no reserves to send, General von Knobelsdorff at First Army headquarters called for help. When Army Group G passed on the plea, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, the OB WEST commander, replied at first that responsibility for sealing off the penetration belonged to the army group, but he soon relented enough to order transfer to the LXXX Corps of two grenadier battalions and a flak regiment with eleven antiaircraft batteries.44
By shuffling troops in another corps, Knobelsdorff at First Army at last managed to put his hands on a reserve to send the LXXX Corps. He released a regimental combat team of the 19th Volks Grenadier Division, which began moving north by truck during the night of 15 September. The rest of the division, minus one regiment, followed two days later. In yet another move, Knobelsdorff reduced the corps sector by ordering the adjacent corps to take over the southern wing of the LXXX Corps front.45 In the meantime, while the Germans had been making these frantic moves and while CCR had been recording its rapid advance, Colonel Henbest's 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, had renewed the attack against Biesdorf. The battalion cleared the town by late afternoon of 15 September. On orders from the CCR commander, Colonel Anderson, the infantry then moved about two miles farther to assume positions protecting the southeast flank of the armor near the settlement of Stockigt.
Organic engineers at the same time were constructing a treadway bridge across the Sauer at Wallendorf. Late in the day the attached 254th Engineer Combat Battalion began construction of a wooden trestle bridge. Upon arrival of the engineer battalion, the organic engineers moved forward to begin demolition of captured pillboxes.
At dusk (16 September) an engineer reconnaissance party investigating the Gay creek crossing at Niedersgegen ran into enemy small arms fire near Deadman's Ford. Two engineers were killed. The experience presaged the fact that the Germans were going to do something about CCR's penetration, for this was the first example of what was to become a continuing difficulty with German infiltration into the undefended flanks of the penetration.
Among the first to feel the effect was the supporting artillery, which was leapfrogging forward in order to support the
next day's advance on Bitburg. When the 95th Armored Field Artillery Battalion tried to cross the Gay creek at Deadman's Ford, the column came under machine gun and mortar fire from the north. Though the CCR commander, Colonel Anderson, sent back a married platoon of infantry and tanks from Hill 407 to clean out the opposition, the force failed to reach the creek. On the way, about midnight, the lieutenant in charge came upon a portion of the combat command supply trains that had avoided the enemy fire by cutting cross-country south of Deadman's Ford. Because the lieutenant knew that the trains usually followed the artillery, he assumed that the artillery already had passed and that the ford was clear. As a result, the opposition was not eliminated until the next day, 16 September, and soon thereafter German tanks appeared to interdict the stream crossing. Not until late on 16 September did all the artillery get into firing positions east of the Gay creek.
The Germans hardly could have touched CCR at a more sensitive spot. Through most of 16 September Colonel Anderson held in place, wary of racing east with the armor until the artillery could get forward. By the time the big guns were ready to fire, a heavy fog had closed in and darkness was approaching. Enemy artillery had been moving up all day and had begun to shell CCR with disturbing accuracy. When the task force at Halsdorf and Stockern did launch an attack in late afternoon, the enemy near Bettingen proved to have lost none of his tenacity or fire power from the night before. The attack faltered almost immediately.
Infiltration at Deadman's Ford and a lieutenant's error thus had cost CCR any advance on a day when every effort should have been made to exploit the penetration. As it was, only Colonel Henbest's 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, gained any ground on 16 September. The infantry moved from Stockigt through Stockem, eastward to the Pruem River at Wettlingen. Pushing quickly across the little river in the face of heavy shelling and small arms fire, the infantry by nightfall had seized high ground several hundred yards northeast of Wettlingen. Supported by a self-propelled tank destroyer platoon, Colonel Henbest's battalion had reached a point only five miles from Bitburg.
In midafternoon CCB, commanded by Col. John T. Cole, had begun to cross into the Wallendorf bridgehead and assumed responsibility for the troublesome north flank near Niedersgegen. Even though CCR had not moved during the day, the presence of CCB and the success of Colonel Henbest's infantry engendered optimism. At the end of the day the 5th Armored Division G-2 doubted that the enemy had sufficient strength "to do more than delay us temporarily."46 While the Germans had countermeasures in the making, all they actually had accomplished was to fling a papier-mâché cordon about the penetration with every available man from the LXXX Corps and every man that could be spared from the adjacent ISS Panzer Corps, the latter to hold the north flank of the penetration with elements of the 2d Panzer Division. No matter what the G-2 estimate or the true enemy situation, General Gerow at 2040 on 16 September ordered General Oliver to call off the offensive. Consolidate your force, he said, and send strong
patrols to develop the enemy situation in the vicinity of Bitburg. The armor was also to "mop up" the West Wall north and northeast of Wallendorf but was to make no attack on Bitburg except on corps order. General Gerow's directive meant, in effect, that the 5th Armored Division was to assume the defensive. It must have come as a shock to both troops and commanders.
That the Germans had not stopped the V Corps armor was plain. The first real adversities to come in the Wallendorf sector hit after the issuance of this order. The explanation for the halt appeared to lie instead in the decisions that had emerged from the meeting of General Eisenhower and his top commanders on 2 September at Chartres and in a critical over-all logistical situation.
In commenting later on the reasons for calling off the 5th Armored Division's attack, General Gerow explained the halt of all three of his divisions.47 The plan, General Gerow said, had been agreed upon by General Hodges and himself. It was to have been an "investigation" proceeding to the ambitious objectives if resistance proved "negligible." When defense actually proved "so stout," the First Army had instructed the V Corps "not to get too involved."
The fact was that the V Corps had been operating on borrowed time and borrowed supplies. The presence of the corps this far east was attributable only to the fact that General Hodges had deviated from the Chartres instructions, giving the V Corps some of the limited gasoline available rather than assigning all of it, as directed, to the other two corps next to the British. Although Hodges had done this with an eye only to the limited objectives of closing the gap between the First and Third Armies and getting the V Corps across the obstacle of the Meuse River, he must have been reluctant to abandon without at least a trial the splendid opportunity which had developed to put the obstacle of the West Wall behind in the same jump. Under the circumstances he could have countenanced continued logistical priority for the V Corps only if far-reaching successes could have been had for the asking. Though the V Corps obviously could have continued the advance, it would have taken some fighting to achieve it, no matter how makeshift the units with which the Germans had shored up the West Wall in the Eifel.
Even had General Gerow not stopped the V Corps on 16 September, a halt within a few days probably still would have been imperative. The next day, for example, the 12th Army Group commander, General Bradley, brought to First Army headquarters a doleful picture of the over-all supply situation. "It is not improbable," noted General Hodges' aide-de-camp in his diary, "that we shall have to slow up, even altogether halt, our drive into Germany and this in the very near future."48
The most serious trouble in the Wallendorf bridgehead began after dark on 16 September, after General Gerow had called off the attack. Using air bursts from the antiaircraft guns of a newly arrived flak regiment with deadly effect, the enemy counterattacked the 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, near Wettlingen. Although the infantry held in the face of almost overwhelming casualties, Colonel Anderson on 17 September ordered abandonment of the foothold beyond the Pruem.49
At dawn on 17 September German armor and infantry of the Panzer Lehr and 5th Parachute Divisions struck several points along the eastern tip of the salient, while elements of the 2d Panzer Division hit Hill 407. Although CCR knocked out eight of the German tanks, not until about 1000 could the combat command report the situation under control. The Germans captured one of the American tanks.50
Lamenting the basic failure of these countermeasures, the Commander in Chief West, Rundstedt, believed they might have succeeded had they been directed not at the tip of the salient but at the flanks close to the base at Wallendorf.51 Though Rundstedt's criticism was largely justified, the Germans nevertheless had used much of their strength to prevent the newly arrived CCB from expanding the base of the salient appreciably. In many instances, after pillboxes were taken, the Germans had infiltrated back into them.
Unaware that the Americans had called off their attack, Rundstedt and the other German commanders saw the situation as extremely serious. Late on 17 September Rundstedt gave Army Group B a reserve panzer brigade, the 108th, for employment under the 2d Panzer Division against the north flank of the bridgehead. At the same time, General von Knobelsdorff at First Army laid plans to commit the 19th Volks Grenadier Division in a counterattack against the south flank on 18 September.
Rundstedt also acted to remove the problem of divided responsibility occasioned by the location of the American strike along the army and army group boundaries. Extending the Army Group B and Seventh Army boundaries south to a line roughly the same as that between the First and Third U.S. Armies, he transferred the LXXX Corps to the Seventh Army. Responsibility for eliminating the Wallendorf salient passed entirely to Field Marshal Model's Army Group B and General Brandenberger's Seventh Army.52
Lack of time for preparation and a desperate shortage of ammunition and fuel forced postponement of the 19th Volks Grenadier Division's counterattack on 18 September. As it turned out, this meant a stronger counterattack in the end, for
during the day the 108th Panzer Brigade arrived. Early on 19 September the panzer brigade, the 19th Volks Grenadier Division, elements (probably a regiment) of the 36th Infantry Division, and remnants of the Panzer Lehr were to launch an enveloping attack. In preparation, the Seventh Army issued two thirds of its entire fuel supply to the 108th Panzer Brigade, a somewhat shocking commentary upon the state of the German fuel situation.53
The LXXX Corps commander, General Beyer, directed the 108th Panzer Brigade to hit the main positions of CCR on Hill 407 from the north while the infantry units supported by the remnants of the Panzer Lehr attacked from the south. Unfortunately for the Germans, the Americans were ready, and a fortuitous break in the weather made possible the first major contribution by U.S. air since the crossing of the border.
Knocking out ten German tanks, CCR sent the enemy armor and infantry reeling back from Hill 407 in disorder. Adjusted from a light observation plane, American artillery followed the retreat. Taking quick advantage of the clearing weather, two squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts of the 365th Group took up the fight. The air strike was so effective that the First Army subsequently sent the squadron leaders54 a special commendation.
German artillery, which by this time had begun to fire on the bridgehead from almost every direction, eluded the pilots until the next day when the "enemy caught hell." About fifty planes of the 365th Group participated on 20 September, primarily against German tanks and artillery. The artillery included a number of big railroad guns, of which the pilots claimed to have destroyed four. The armored troops rewarded the fliers with a' laconic: "They sure do a fine job; thanks."
If the airmen were good on 19 and 20 September, they were superb the next day, 21 September. For the first time since the West Wall campaign began, the sky was cloudless, the ground perfectly devoid of haze. So helpful was the three-day air effort that the V Corps commander was moved to dispatch a letter of appreciation to the air commander, General Quesada.55
In the meantime, during the big German drive of 19 September, Colonel Henbest's infantry and the tanks of CCB had thrown back the bulk of the 19th Volks Grenadier Division on the south flank of the bridgehead. Nevertheless, about noon, an enemy group infiltrating from the southeast reached the eastern end of the two tactical bridges across the Sauer at Wallendorf. For about an hour the issue of the bridges was in doubt until finally fire from the engineers and from antiaircraft guns west of the river drove the Germans back. The bridges still were intact.56
Though the 5th Armored Division had held at all points, General Oliver saw a chance to improve the positions by reducing the perimeter of the bridgehead. He ordered his battered CCR to withdraw. Defense of a reduced perimeter centering upon the high ground near Wallendorf
was to pass to CCB and a fresh battalion of the 112th Infantry. The infantry and CCB were to hold the bridgehead "until corps permits withdrawal." Now that all hope of continuing the offensive was over, the 5th Armored Division plainly looked upon the Wallendorf assignment with distaste. Keenly aware of the shock role of armor, many officers in the division were none too happy about performing an infantry-type defensive role.57
Heavy shelling and ground pressure continued against the reduced bridgehead. Despite relentless attacks by the same German units that had opened the drive on 19 September, CCB gave no ground except according to plan. Then, in late afternoon of 21 September, the V Corps at last gave approval to abandonment of the bridgehead.
In pulling back across the Sauer before daylight on 22 September, CCB had to use the ford which the first troops to cross the river had employed eight days before. During the preceding night the Germans once again had penetrated to the Wallendorf bridges. In reporting the situation after having driven off this second infiltration, CCB had made a notable use of understatement. "Only change," the combat command had reported, "[is] both bridges blown."
Though the Wallendorf fight had ended in abandonment of the bridgehead, neither CCB nor CCR had incurred excessive losses in either personnel or equipment. For the month of September, for example, the entire 5th Armored Division, including CCA, had incurred 792 casualties, of which 148 were killed or missing. Likewise for the entire month, the division's nonsalvageable vehicular losses included only 6 light tanks, 11 medium tanks, and 18 half-tracks. The 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, incurred losses proportionately much heavier, more than 37 percent of the original command.58
At noon on 18 September, before withdrawal at Wallendorf, General Gerow relinquished command of the V Corps to Maj. Gen. Edward H. Brooks, formerly commander of the 2d Armored Division. Having been chief of the War Plans Division of the War Department at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, General Gerow had been called to Washington to testify in a Congressional investigation. In an optimistic farewell message to his command, he indicated that the opposition the Germans had mustered against his offensive had failed to impress him. "It is probable," General Gerow said, "the war with Germany will be over before I am released to return to the V Corps."59
Under General Brooks, the divisions of the V Corps rotated their battalions in the line while the corps staff worked on proposed plans for relief of the corps and a lateral shift to the north. In the meantime, the Ardennes-Eifel front lapsed into a relative quietness that was to prevail until December.