THE BATTLE OF AACHEN
A Set Attack Against the West Wall
The day that had seen the start of American activity in the region of the Peel Marshes-the day of 22 Septemberwas the same day when the First Army commander, General Hodges, had shut down almost all offensive operations on his front. The last troops withdrew from the Wallendorf bridgehead to mark the beginning of a lull in operations of the V Corps; except for a limited objective attack in the vicinity of the Monschau Corridor, the VII Corps quit trying to exploit the West Wall penetration southeast of Aachen; and the XIX Corps postponed its projected attack against the West Wall north of Aachen. A combination of German military renascence, American logistical problems, and a dispersion of forces had dictated a pause in First Army operations that was to last at least through the rest of September.
A major reason for the pause was the obvious fact that before renewing the drive to the Rhine the First Army had to gain greater concentration at critical points. Although few American commanders at this time had any genuine respect for the tissue-thin formations the Germans had thrown in their way, none could deny that a push to the Rhine would have to be a new operation, preceded by a penetration that could be vigorously exploited.
added responsibility in the thumb-shaped corridor west of the Maas, General Corlett's zone had been but sixteen miles wide originally, and he had received two new divisions (the 7th Armored and the 29th) to care for the added burden.
Although the First Army in the process of realignment had gained two divisions, the army's expanded north flank would absorb at least one of these for an indefinite period. Thus the net increase for renewing the drive to the Rhine was but one division. The more noteworthy gain was in reduction of the army front from about a hundred miles to sixty. In effecting this reduction, General Hodges had relinquished some mileage on his south wing and acquired a lesser amount on his north wing, so that the army had in effect shifted northward. For this reason Hodges now changed the corps objectives: the XIX Corps from Cologne to Duesseldorf, the VII Corps from Bonn to Cologne, and the V Corps from Koblenz to Bonn-Remagen.l
Even after realignment, General Hodges still was not ready to renew the offensive toward the Rhine. First he had to attend to four items of unfinished business.
On his right wing, to provide a secure right flank for the Rhine offensive, General Hodges had to take high ground in the vicinity of the Monschau Corridor, a task that involved clearing the Germaninfested Huertgen Forest. Because the northward shift of the V Corps had enabled the 9th Division of the VII Corps to concentrate opposite the forest, this job would fall for a second time to the 9th Division. Another task was to capture Aachen. This was closely tied up with a third problem, putting the XIX Corps through the West Wall north of Aachen, for the XIX Corps had to get through the West Wall both to participate in a drive to the Rhine and to assist the VII Corps in encircling Aachen. The remaining responsibility was that of clearing the Peel Marshes.
The two most urgent tasks, clearing the thumb-shaped corridor and putting the XIX Corps through the West Wall, Hodges determined to undertake simultaneously as soon as the two new divisions reached the XIX Corps. While the incoming 7th Armored Division operated west of the Maas, the newly acquired 29th Division was to hold that portion of the exposed north flank lying east of the Maas. The 30th Division then could attack without further delay to penetrate the West Wall north of Aachen, while the entire 2d Armored Division stood by to exploit the penetration.
It was no news to the men of the 30th Division that they would make the first set attack against the West Wall. Through successive postponements since reaching the German border on 18 September, these men had known that eventually they must come to grips with the fortifications. From foxholes overlooking the little Wurm River, which marked the forward reaches of the enemy line in the sector between Aachen and Geilenkirchen, they had watched and waited.
fortified line, the armor was to cross the Wurm, assume responsibility for holding the corps north flank east of the Wurm, and drive eastward to seize crossings of the Roer River, only nine miles away. The infantry, in the meantime, was to strike south to link with the VII Corps northeast of Aachen near the town of Wuerselen, thereby completing the encirclement of Aachen.
To assist the West Wall assault, the 29th Division was to make limited objective attacks along the corps north flank between Sittard and Geilenkirchen. At the same time the right wing regiment of the 30th Division, the 120th Infantry, was to be prepared to annihilate a re-entrant "bridgehead" the enemy had maintained outside the West Wall at Kerkrade and contain the enemy in the pillboxes and bunkers behind this "bridgehead." The other two regiments of the 30th Division were to make the assault upon the fortifications.2
The 30th Division commander, General Hobbs, had chosen to strike the West Wall on a narrow front little more than a mile wide along the Wurm nine miles north of Aachen and three miles southwest of Geilenkirchen near the villages of Marienberg and Rimburg. (Map III) Governing the choice was a desire to avoid stronger West Wall positions closer to Geilenkirchen and dense urban districts closer to Aachen. Whereas a rupture of the West Wall farther south might bring quicker juncture with the VII Corps, General Hobbs placed greater emphasis upon avoiding urban snares and upon picking a site served by good supply routes. That the enemy's fresh 183d Volks Grenadier Division had entered the line from Rimburg north toward Geilenkirchen apparently had no appreciable influence on General Hobbs's selection of an assault site, possibly because the XIX Corps G-2, Colonel Platt, deemed troops of this new division only "of a shade higher quality" than those of the 49th and 275th Divisions, which the XIX Corps had manhandled from the Albert Canal to the German border.3
In the period of slightly less than a fortnight between the original target date and 1 October, the 30th Division launched preparations with a keen appreciation of the importance and difficulties of this first set attack against the West Wall. Playing an integral role in the preparations was the infantry's sister arm, the artillery. On 26 September the artillery was to begin a systematic attempt to knock out all pillboxes along the 30th Division front, 75 percent of which had been plotted by air and ground observers. Fires were to increase in intensity until DDay. An impressive total of 26 artillery battalions eventually was to participate, including artillery of the 2d Armored, 29th, and 30th Divisions, 4 artillery battalions attached to the 30th Division, 8 battalions of XIX Corps artillery, and 3 battalions of First Army artillery.
A few hours before the attack, the artillery was to execute "blackout" missions against enemy antiaircraft guns as protection for planes in a preliminary air bombardment. Then the artillery was to fire counterbattery and finally an intensive neutralization program in the specific
assault zone, including a rolling barrage in front of the attacking infantry.4 Expecting originally to have heavy bomber support, planners for the air phase grandiloquently announced that the air strike would include the greatest concentration of planes in close support of American ground troops since the "carpet" bombing along the St. Lô-Priers road in Normandy. That had involved more than 3,300 planes, including more than a thousand heavy bombers.5
Because the 30th Division had been hit on two separate occasions when Allied bombs fell short in Normandy, few oldtimers in the division could have felt much regret when heavy bombers proved unavailable for the West Wall assault and participation by air forces proved less grandiose than originally conceived. As finally determined, the air bombardment was to approach the St. Lo bombing in neither bomb tonnage nor number of planes. Only 360 mediums (A-20 Havocs and B-26 Marauders) of the IX Bombardment Division and 72 fighterbombers (P-38 Lightnings and P-47 Thunderbolts) of the IX Tactical Air Command were to participate.
Use of mediums rather than heavies nevertheless entailed minute planning by both air and ground units. Recalling with trepidation the holocaust along the St. Lô-Priers road, officers of the 30th Division were seriously concerned about safety precautions. Their concern grew vociferous after 22 September when a flight of P-38's that already had begun a bomb run before cancellation of the West Wall attack on that day dropped four napalm bombs within 30th Division lines. The bombs destroyed an ammunition dump and six vehicles, injured four men, and killed two.6
General Hobbs and his staff wanted the bomb run made over enemy territory parallel to the Wurm River and the division front in order to ensure that inadvertent shorts would not strike friendly troops. Basing their judgment on prevailing wind conditions and a heavy belt of enemy flak, air officers wanted to make a perpendicular approach. As many men in the 30th Division remembered, insistence upon a perpendicular approach had contributed directly to the disaster in Normandy. One of three American divisions hit, the 30th Division had lost to American bombs seventy-five men killed and 505 wounded. For the West Wall operation, General Hobbs was protesting the perpendicular approach almost until the very moment the planes appeared in the sky above his command post.7
Most commanders in the 30th Division also wanted to mark target areas with smoke, but on the theory that smoke might obscure the targets, air officers refused. It is possible that the airmen were concerned lest wind blow the smoke back on friendly lines and thus precipitate another short bombing. As finally determined smoke was to be used only to mark targets for dive bombers.8
To initiate the attack, artillery units were to concentrate on antiaircraft blackout missions for twenty minutes before arrival of the first flights of medium bombers. The Havocs and Marauders were to saturate village road centers and logical locations for enemy command posts and reserves along the periphery of an arc approximately four miles beyond the Wurm. The next flights of mediums were to carpet an oblong sector, beginning a thousand yards east of the Wurm and extending east two miles, in which lay numerous pillboxes and bunkers, a German cantonment, several villages, and all the first objectives of the two assault regiments. About an hour after the start of the mediums' strike, fighter-bombers using napalm were to pinpoint specific targets among the pillboxes for half an hour before H-Hour. Artillery was to continue to fire during the saturation bombing but as a safety precaution for the low-flying fighters was to cease during the dive bombing. Shelling was to recommence at H-Hour as the foot troops crossed a line approximately a thousand yards west of the Wurm, a line representing both the line of departure and the no-advance line during the bombing.9
While plans progressed for supporting the attack with planes and artillery, infantry, tank, and engineer units prepared for the ground phase.
Patrols probing the front along the Wurm brought back information that materially affected planning. One patrol, for example, revealed that mapmakers had dignified the Wurm in calling it a river, for in reality it is but 2 to 4 feet deep and 15 to 18 feet wide. This prompted acceptance of a plan to substitute duckboard footbridges for assault boats in the crossing. Another patrol discovered a concealed route of approach to the Wurm which a rifle company subsequently was to use to marked advantage. In at least two instances, patrols crept into the fortified belt to place demolitions in the firing apertures of pillboxes. These and other patrols determined that the Germans held no positions west of the Wurm other than outposts in Marienberg and Rimburg and that east of the Wurm the enemy's forward outposts were usually a few hundred yards back from the river along a railroad. This railroad, the men reported, was an effective antitank obstacle. Through the length of the attack zone it ran a course of either deep cuts or high fills.10
While awaiting D Day, the regiments rotated their battalions in the line, so that all might undergo refresher training in fundamental tactics, in assault of pillboxes, and in co-ordination with armor. No one could deny the need for this training: in one battalion, for example, only one man remained after four months of warfare who had any experience in operating a flame thrower. One regiment found a satisfactory training substitute for the Wurm in a stagnant stream; the other regiment had to call upon the power of imagination to create a river out of a rear-area road. Officers of the battalion which was to spearhead the 117th Infantry's assault improvised a sand table
and reconstructed the terrain to the regiment's front. From the sand table the two assault companies learned their respective roles in detail, while the reserve company memorized both roles in event of having to take over from either of the other companies. Tankers and engineers constructed expedient bridges out of metal culverts encased in logs, bound together, and placed on a sled which a tank might pull to the river and a tank dozer shove into the stream. In experiments conducted behind the lines, these expedients-which the men called "culverts"worked satisfactorily. To supplement the culverts, the tankers planned to throw log mats into the stream to form a base for fords.
regiment firm footing for subsequent attacks to expand the bridgehead toward the southeast in the direction the 30th Division eventually was to take in order to link with the VII Corps near Aachen.
Of the two regimental assault sectors, the 119th Infantry's would prove the more difficult. Between the river and the railroad, the 119th Infantry had to traverse a wider space of flatland before reaching the railroad embankment. At the northern edge of this flatland, the Rimburg Castle, encircled by a moat, afforded the enemy a strong outpost position. The pillboxes themselves were more difficult to locate in the 119th Infantry's sector, because a dense woods 300 to 500 yards deep concealed the defenses. To overcome these obstacles, the regimental commander, Colonel Sutherland, had to trust in the hope that the culverts tankers and engineers had developed would enable tanks to cross the river soon after the assault began. But concern that soft, muddy ground in the Wurm valley might stop the tanks grew as the sun failed to break through rain clouds for twelve days preceding the target date.
Few commanders failed to recognize the obvious fact that the delay in assaulting the West Wall afforded the Germans an opportunity to man their fortifications and procure reserves. On the other hand, the preparations by planes and artillery and the additional troops provided by availability of the entire 2d Armored Division might offset this advantage.
At the end of September General Corlett's G-2, Colonel Platt, estimated that from Geilenkirchen south to the corps boundary near Aachen, the Germans were manning the line with seven battalions of about 450 men each. From Geilenkirchen to Rimburg were two battalions of the 183d Volks Grenadier Division's 330th Regiment. South from Rimburg, five battalions, Colonel Platt calculated, were operating under the 49th and 275th Divisions. He estimated that the Germans had four battalions of light and medium artillery capable of firing into the 30th Division's zone, plus a battery of 210-MM. guns and one or two large caliber railroad guns. Observers had detected only an occasional tank in the vicinity. In the matter of reserves, Platt predicted the Germans would have at least one battalion from each of three regiments of the 183d Division available for quick counterattacks, while the 116th Panzer Division and contingents of an infantry division recently identified near Aachen might be backing up the line.11
Except in one instance, Colonel Platt was basically correct in his estimate of the enemy. That error was his failure to note that upon arrival of the 183d Volks Grenadier Division, the new LXXXI Corps commander, General Koechling, who had replaced General Schack, had pulled the 275th Division from the line and transferred it to the corps south wing in the Huertgen Forest.12 Colonel Platt was particularly prescient in his estimate of enemy artillery, for between them the 49th and 183d Divisions had, as Platt predicted, four battalions. Two railroad guns, which the XIX Corps G-2 had noted might be present, were in the vicinity.13
From Rimburg south to a point three miles north of Aachen, the troops con
trolled by General Macholz's 49th Division were organized around the same two regimental formations (148th and 149th Regiments) which had fallen back before the XIX Corps from the Albert Canal to the border. In the interim, such changes had occurred among personnel that the division was hardly the same as the one that had breathed a sigh of relief upon gaining the West Wall. In a period of slightly more than a fortnight, General Macholz had absorbed 4,326 "replacements" in the form of a hodgepodge of miscellaneous units. A tabulation of the units this division assimilated during the period would indicate to a degree the problem General Macholz and other German commanders all along the Western Front faced in creating a cohesive fighting force. Among the miscellany General Macholz received were 2 Landesschuetzen battalions, 2 "straggler" battalions, 3 machine-gun battalions, 2 separate infantry battalions (probably replacement training units) 4 "security" battalions, and I Alarm Company Aachen.14
American commanders, for their part, entertained no illusions that intentions of the XIX Corps were secret. Without a doubt, General Hobbs and General Corlett believed, the Germans were expecting an attack on the first clear day. Yet little could be done to deceive the enemy even as to the site of the attack, for the blow obviously was going to fall somewhere between Aachen and Geilenkirchen. General Hobbs nevertheless attempted some deception by spreading pre-D-Day artillery fires along the entire front, with emphasis on the sector opposite the 120th Infantry on the division south wing, and by concentrating artillery units in the southern part of the division zone. Also, once the offensive began, pressure by the 120th Infantry and the 29th Division on either flank might limit the forces the enemy could shift against the penetration.
The Americans actually need not have concerned themselves with this problem, for German intelligence officers could not see the forest for the trees. So concerned were they with fear of a major American offensive on a broad front southeast of Aachen, with the Roer River towns of Dueren, Juelich, and Linnich as first objectives, that they failed to accord any real importance to the preparations in the Geilenkirchen sector. The Germans even anticipated a possible large-scale Allied airborne operation between the Roer and the Rhine as a corollary of a new offensive.
With these ideas in mind, the new LXXXI Corps commander, General Koechling, wrongly assumed that the First U.S. Army would make a strong bid northeastward through the Stolberg Corridor during the very first days of October, with a possible diversion at Geilenkirchen. As a consequence, General Koechling and his staff spent the latter days of September in feverish preparations to strengthen the sectors of the 246th and 12th Divisions at Aachen and southeast of Aachen.15
Apparently the only commander to question Koechling's opinion was the 183d Division's General Lange; but he also guessed wrong. Cognizant of American armor opposite his division, Lange expected a major attack aginst his sector. Yet he could not believe that the Americans would try to push armor across the Wurm at the point they actually had
chosen because there the eastern slopes of the Wurm valley are higher and afford more commanding positions for antitank guns than do the slopes a few miles to the north at Geilenkirchen. He expected the blow to fall at Geilenkirchen in the very center of his division sector.16
Even the one correct German prediction that the offensive would begin during the first days of October was to be discredited before the attack actually began. Noting on 29 September that American air activity had reached such a fortissimo that all daylight troop and supply movements in the LXXXI Corps had to be shut down, the Germans attached undue importance to virtual cessation of air attacks during the next two days. In reality, this could be attributed only to unfavorable weather; but when combined with lessening of American artillery fires, the Germans took it to mean that their earlier prediction had been wrong. Although General Koechling himself was not fooled, the fact that he expected the attack on his southern wing southeast of Aachen deprived his opinion of importance. The division commanders immediately concerned, Generals Lange and Macholz, were thoroughly lulled.17
Although part of the decrease in American artillery fires undoubtedly was caused by unfavorable weather limiting observation, it may have been more directly attributable to two other factors. First, earlier hopes that First Army's logistical situation might be showing marked improvement by this time had faded; General Corlett now found he could not afford the expenditure of artillery ammunition he had planned. Indeed, on the very day of the West Wall attack General Bradley was to reinstitute rationing of artillery ammunition throughout the 12th Army Group. Second, both Corlett and General Hobbs had been disappointed with the effect of the elaborate pre-D-Day artillery program.
Other than to clear away camouflage, they discovered, most of the shelling had little effect on the pillboxes. Only selfpropelled 155-mm. guns, often fired from exposed positions in order to engage the fortifications at close range, did any real damage, and then only after considerable expenditure of ammunition.18 The firing did reveal some cleverly camouflaged pillboxes not previously located.19 This in itself was an advantage but hardly what the planners had hoped for and hardly enough to justify an elaborate program. As the target date of 1 October approached, artillery units began to husband more and more ammunition for the assault.
At dawn on the target date, General Corlett, General Hobbs, and the men who were to make the West Wall assault looked with chagrin at a mournful sky which brought showers and visibility so limited that virtually no hope remained for a preattack aerial bombardment. Though reluctant to postpone the attack again, General Corlett was even more reluctant to move without aerial support. Eventually he bowed to the weather. A subsequent downpour brought more concern to tankers and engineers whose first
task was to get the tanks across the soft, muddy shoulders of the Wurm.
As night came a forecast of improved weather conditions for the next day put the offensive back in motion. After receiving an extra ration of cigarettes and chocolate during the night, few of the infantrymen had any doubt but that on 2 October the oft-postponed attack at last would begin. They joked about fattening pigs for the kill.
At 0900 on 2 October, under a scattered overcast, the air strike began. Although the planes made a perpendicular approach across 30th Division lines, they dropped no shorts. They also overshot the targets. Five groups of mediums missed the target areas altogether, and the remaining four groups dropped only a portion of their bombs accurately. An hour after the air strike began, the 117th Infantry commander, Colonel Johnson, reported that no bombs had fallen in front of his lines. Two of the groups of mediums were so late in arriving over the target that the low-flying dive bombers had to be cleared from the area to permit the mediums to drop their loads. One of these groups bombed on colored smoke markings which had been registered for the dive bombers in Palenberg and thereby produced the only results which ground observers could call "excellent." A note of tragedy entered the strike when one group of mediums bombed a town in Belgium, twenty-eight miles west of the assigned target, inflicting seventy-nine casualties upon Belgian civilians, including thirty-four killed.20
No matter what the shortcomings of the air strike, the XIX Corps now was irrevocably committed to the attack. There could be no turning back.
As the infantrymen climbed from their foxholes and cellars to move toward the line of departure, more than 400 tubes of American artillery and mortars fired thunderous salvos that searched out enemy batteries, assembly areas, and the forward line of pillboxes. Some VII Corps artillery joined the demonstration. Both 81mm. and 60-mm. mortars participated. "Of course," said one platoon leader, "a 60-mm. mortar shell would bounce off a pillbox like a peanut, but they caused the personnel in the firing trenches to duck inside." Chemical mortars concentrated at first on chewing paths through tactical wire beyond the Wurm, then shifted to a rolling barrage which started at the crossing areas and led the infantry by several hundred yards. Direct support battalions of 105-mm. howitzers contributed to this shifting curtain of fire. To make up for deficiencies of the air strike, artillery commanders dug deep into ammunition stocks they had earmarked for use against counterattacks. Inadequately supported riflemen could not successfully attack an obstacle like the West Wall, General Corlett reasoned; he would take his chances on getting more ammunition later.22 At the end of twelve hours twenty-six supporting artillery battalions had fired a total of 18,696 rounds.
At the line of departure, heavy machine gunners of the assault battalions delivered overhead fire against embrasures of the pillboxes. Because the machine gunners had to use tracer ammunition to regulate their firing, the Germans quickly spotted the guns. Losses were swift and heavy: Five of eight machine guns of the 1st Battalion, 117th Infantry, for example, were knocked out.
Carrying the duckboards that were to provide dry paths across the river, the infantrymen raced down the west slope of the valley through soggy fields ridged with rows of stock beets and turnips. A moving target, their leaders had told them again and again, is less easily hit than a stationary one. They operated now on that theory.
At the river on the left of the crossing area, big 1st Lt. Don A. Borton of Company B, 117th Infantry, seized one of the duckboards, waded into the water, and slapped it into place. "There's your goddamned bridge!" he cried. Men of his platoon sped forward. Throwing high their hands, eleven Germans who had occupied foxholes close along the river bank jumped up to surrender. In a matter of minutes, the men of Company B had gained the protection of the railroad embankment. The forward platoons of this company had lost not a single man.
Although similarly impressed with the need for speed, the 117th Infantry's Company C was not so fortunate in crossing the open slopes to the river. A concentration of hostile shells hit squarely among one of the forward platoons, killing or wounding all but 6 men. By the time Company C reached the river, heavy shelling and casualties obviously had broken the company's momentum. In less than an hour Company C had lost 87 men, 7 of them killed.
Faced with the possibility that his entire attack might flounder because of the misfortunes of this company, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Robert E.
Frankland, quickly called on his reserve. Company A, he directed, was to cross the river on Company B's bridges and then assume the assault role of Company C. So thoroughly had the men of Company A learned the missions of the two assault companies that in less than half an hour they were building up along the railroad embankment beyond the river.
In the meantime, those men of Company B who had first reached the railroad fought a tendency to take cover behind the embankment. The alternative was none too pleasant, for open ground rising from the embankment to the line of pillboxes along the Palenberg-Rimburg road was devoid of cover and concealment other than that provided by the corpses of several cows. Under the prodding of a platoon leader, 1st Lt. Robert P. Cushman, the men nevertheless recognized that they had to act at once while the rolling barrage and overhead machine gun fire kept the enemy pinned inside his fortifications. Some later attributed Lieutenant Cushman's goading to the fact that ten minutes before the jump-off the lieutenant had received a telegram announcing the birth of a son. He was in a hurry, they said, to get the war over with.
The action that followed gave proof of the value of the refresher training Company B had undergone. As one part of each platoon took up support positions from which to fire into the embrasures of the pillboxes, specially organized assault detachments equipped with flame throwers and demolition charges pressed forward. Each man knew his job and did it.
The courage of a volunteer flame thrower, Pvt. Brent Youenes, featured the taking of the first two pillboxes by Lieutenant Cushman's platoon. Advancing
within ten yards of the first pillbox, Private Youenes squirted two bursts of flame into the front embrasure. The occupants must have been cowering inside, for they fired not a shot. As soon as the flame dissipated, Pvt. Willis Jenkins shoved a pole charge into the same embrasure. Still no fire came from the pillbox. When supporting riflemen stormed the position, five Germans filed out, shaking from their experience and muttering surrender. So co-ordinated and daring had been the performance that a member of Company B's weapons platoon, whose job was in itself so far forward that few soldiers envied it, could not suppress his admiration. "Those infantrymen have guts!" was the way he put it.
Turning to the other pillbox, Lieutenant Cushman and his assault detachment received machine gun fire from a trench outside the pillbox. Quick return fire killed one of two Germans manning the machine gun; the other retreated inside. Creeping around to a blind side of the pillbox, three riflemen tossed hand grenades through the embrasures and down a ventilator shaft. Arriving with his flame thrower, Private Youenes squirted an embrasure while another man placed a pole charge against the entrance to the pillbox. Soon after the explosion, a German officer dashed out, brandishing a pistol. When his first shot killed one man of the assault detachment, someone yelled, "He killed Smitty! The son of a bitch, he killed Smitty!" Every man in sight turned his weapon on the enemy officer. Six Germans who had remained in the pillbox then surrendered.
Turning to three other pillboxes, Lieutenant Cushman and his men found that concussion from mortars and artillery had so intimidated the occupants and that fire
of the support detachment was so effective in keeping the enemy away from his firing embrasures that resistance came from none of them. The first pillbox fell to a pole charge placed once again by the intrepid Private Jenkins. Hand grenades thrown through firing slits brought surrender of the other two. In less than two hours after crossing the line of departure, Lieutenant Cushman's platoon had taken five pillboxes with the loss of but one man.
At the same time, Lieutenant Borton and his platoon were having similar experiences with two other pillboxes. Pvt. Harold Zeglien finished off the first with a pole charge set in an embrasure. The Germans in the second were not so easily subdued. Even after a pole charge had gone off against one of the embrasures, the enemy inside fired a machine gun to kill a bazooka man who was attempting to put a rocket through the entrance. Strangely, a change in tactics from force to intimidation at last did the trick. A prisoner captured earlier went inside the pillbox with word that if the Germans failed to surrender, they must face death from a flame thrower. Nine Germans filed out.
Another pillbox earmarked for reduction by Company B was the responsibility of the company's support platoon under T. Sgt. Howard Wolpert. Operating a flame thrower, Pvt. Henry E. Hansen had directed two blasts toward one embrasure and was moving to another side of the pillbox when he spotted a German lying in wait for him to appear from another direction. As the German whirled to face him, Private Hansen caught him full in the face with a blast from his flame thrower. When pole charges set by others of the platoon brought no response from inside the pillbox, Sergeant Wolpert and his men began to reorganize, secure in the belief that they had taken their objective. The fight over, Private Hansen casually sprayed the embrasures of the pillbox again in order to empty his flame thrower and reduce its weight. Smoke began to seep from the embrasures, and small arms ammunition to explode inside the pillbox. A moment later ten Germans pushed open the door to surrender.
Even as Company B was breaching the first band of West Wall pillboxes with the loss of but two men in actual assaults on the fortifications, Company A was following to take over the assault mission of Company C. Like the platoon leaders of Company B, the officers of Company A found that the railroad embankment held an attraction for their men that could prove fatal. Already German mortar and artillerymen were turning the flatland between the river and the embankment into a maelstrom of bursting shells; in a matter of minutes the enemy's defensive fires might deny the route of approach from the embankment to the pillboxes. Using the theory that "you can't push a string, you gotta pull it," 1st Lt. Theodore Foote signaled men of his platoon to follow and clambered across the embank ment. In a ragged skirmish line, the men charged across an open field toward a pillbox beyond the Palenberg-Rimburg road.
Directing his support detachment into position along the road, Lieutenant Foote and the assault detachment raced on toward the pillbox. Finding a bomb crater almost in front of the pillbox, the men took cover while Pfc. Gus Pantazopulos fired two rockets from a bazooka against the closest embrasure and Pvt. Martin Sirokin dashed forward to place a pole charge in the hole the rockets made. Cpl.
Russell Martin pegged hand grenades into the enlarged embrasure as the rest of the assault detachment charged from the crater. The charge carried both the pillbox and a series of field fortifications nearby where a nest of Germans had been lying low during the fracas. By the time the rest of Company A arrived, nothing remained but to organize defensive positions in the vicinity of the pillbox.
Only a few steps behind Colonel Frankland's 1st Battalion, the 117th Infantry commander, Colonel Johnson, sent a company of the 2d Battalion to clear enemy outposts from west of the river in the village of Marienberg. This done in less than two hours, despite delaying action by German riflemen and machine gunners, Colonel Johnson directed the company to cross the Wurrim into the northern part of Palenberg while the remainder of the battalion crossed behind Colonel Frankland's battalion in order to approach Palenberg from the south.
Two pillboxes provided the crux of the opposition in Palenberg, but persistent small unit maneuver and daring use of bazookas and pole charges after the manner of Colonel Frankland's battalion eventually carried the strongpoints. By about 1600 the men had eliminated small arms fire from a permanent bridge site between Marienberg and Palenberg while others continued a house-to-house fight to eject the enemy from the rest of Palenberg. This fight often lapsed into hand grenade duels. One rifleman, Pvt. Harold G. Kiner, spotted an enemy grenade that landed between him and two fellow riflemen, threw himself upon it, and saved his companions at the cost of his own life. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Neither tanks nor tank destroyers became available to the 117th Infantry during the day, not because the culverts designed for bridging the stream failed to work but because the banks of the Wurm were such a quagmire that the tank dozer which was to shave down the banks mired deep in the mud. Tanks brought up to pull out the tank dozer also bogged down. The tankers finally gave up to await construction of a treadway bridge.
Having worked under steady enemy shelling, the engineers at 1830 completed the treadway, but when the tanks crossed, the soil on the east bank proved too soft for maneuver. A short while later, when other engineers completed another treadway between Marienberg and Palenberg, the tanks found firmer footing. Yet now they were too late to assist in the first day's fighting.
Almost from the start, the 30th Division's other assault regiment, the 119th Infantry (Colonel Sutherland), had met with difficulties in the West Wall attack. Attempting to reach the Wurm south of Rimburg, to the right of the 117th Infantry's crossing area, the 119th's leading battalion came under German shellfire soon after crossing the line of departure. The two assault companies nevertheless reached the river and under light machine gun fire from the railroad embankment slapped their duckboard footbridges into place. One company then managed to build up along the railroad, but fire from three pillboxes located west of the railroad near the Rimburg Castle stymied the other. The Germans had expertly camouflaged one of the pillboxes as a house. All through the afternoon this company fought until at last a combination of small arms and bazooka fire reduced these three positions. Meanwhile, men of the other company found it impossible to
raise their heads above the railroad embankment. From positions hidden in the Rimburg woods, blistering fire frustrated every attempt to cross the embankment. Commitment of the battalion's reserve company served merely to pin more men along the railroad. Artillery and mortar fire against the enemy positions also had little effect. Limits on observation imposed by trees and bushes denied accurate adjustment, and as soon as supporting shellfire lifted to permit an assault, the Germans would rush from their pillboxes and renew their fire from field fortifications.
Colonel Sutherland early committed a second battalion of infantry on the left of the first. Delayed at the river because men responsible for bringing the duckboard footbridges had abandoned them en route, this battalion eventually crossed on bridges improvised from fence posts and doors. Once beyond the Wurm, the men came under intense fire from the Rimburg Castle. At last they drove the Germans from positions along the wall and moat of the castle and by nightfall had built up on three sides of this strong outpost position. Protected by medieval masonry, the Germans inside held out.
In late afternoon Colonel Sutherland committed his remaining battalion on his southern flank, but with no greater success. Once on the east bank, the men could advance no farther than the railroad. Like the others before them, they discovered it worth a man's life to poke his head above the level of the embankment.
When engineers at midnight completed a second treadway bridge at a permanent bridge site between Rimburg and the castle, the attached tanks at last had firm footing, but the arrival of the tanks had come too late to assist the 119th Infantry in getting beyond the railroad into the pillbox belt. The day's fighting had netted the regiment a shallow bridgehead a mile long and 300 yards deep, embracing only the flatland between the river and the railroad.
Anticipating immediate German reaction to the West Wall attack, General Hobbs and his regimental commanders waited apprehensively as night came for the first counterblow to fall. The bridgehead of the 119th Infantry was tenuous at best, and that regiment's inability to advance beyond the railroad had left the
117th Infantry with an exposed right flank. For those reasons, General Hobbs told his artillery commander to hammer through the night at likely enemy assembly areas and routes leading into the restricted bridgehead.
Unknown to General Hobbs, active German reaction to the West Wall assault had been delayed because the blow had achieved complete surprise. Deceived by diversionary attacks made during the day northwest of Geilenkirchen by the 29th Division and to the south at Kerkrade by the 30th Division's 120th Infantry, the commanders of the 49th and 183d Divisions had been unable to believe for several hours that this attack on the narrow Marienberg-Rimburg front was "it."23 Even when they finally accepted this fact, General Macholz of the 49th Division had virtually nothing to throw against the bridgehead and General Lange of the 183d Division had only one battalion as an infantry reserve. This battalion General Lange ordered to counterattack soon after dark in company with an assault gun battalion. The counterattack could not be launched during the day because the Germans dared not move assault guns in this open terrain under the rapacious eyes of American planes and artillery.24
As night came, interdictory fires laid down by 30th Division and XIX Corps artillery were far more effective than any American commander could have dared to hope. "Murderous" artillery fires, the Germans said, delayed the counterattack
by three hours.25 Not until midnight did the Germans strike and then only with a smattering of the original infantry force and but two assault guns. The mobile guns American bazooka men and rifle grenadiers on the northeastern fringe of the bridgehead turned back quickly, but not until after a brisk fire fight did the German infantry retire, leaving behind seven dead. The 117th Infantry lost three men, including Private Sirokin, one of those who had performed so courageously that afternoon in the taking of the pillboxes. So discouraged by this feeble show was the German corps commander, General Koechling, that he ordered the 183d Division's General Lange to confine his operations to "sealing off" the penetration until stronger forces could be assembled for more effective countermeasures.26
Though the 30th Division had made no phenomenal advances during the first day of the West Wall attack, this was no cause for discouragement. The 119th Infantry had failed to move far enough even to clear the Rimburg crossing area of direct small arms fire; yet the 117th Infantry farther north had breached the forward line of pillboxes, had seized Palenberg and the high ground immediately south of it, and was ready to resume the advance along a main highway through Uebach. The leading battalion of the 117th Infantry had incurred 146 casualties, including 12 killed, and the only other battalion to see major action had lost 70, including 12 killed. Engineers had thrown sturdy bridges across the Wurm at both Marienberg and Rimburg.
Prospects for the next day were bright, even in the sector of the 119th Infantry where plans progressed during the night for outflanking the stubborn Germans in the Rimburg woods.
patrols. The Germans were content to let it go at that.28
(both from the 2d Battalion) and a company each of tanks and self-propelled tank destroyers, Task Force Quinn quickly made its weight felt. A few rounds from the tank guns against the northern tip of the woods brought about a hundred Germans scurrying from two pillboxes and surrounding entrenchments to surrender. Relieving pressure on the 1st Battalion, 119th Infantry, the task force continued to work south. The only real difficulty came from intense enemy fire from the vicinity of the regimental objective, the crossroads atop the eastern slopes of the Wurm valley near Herbach.
This fire proved a harbinger of what was to greet the 1st Battalion when in late afternoon the men emerged from the Rimburg woods. Having cleared about a dozen pillboxes, the 119th Infantry had at last broken through the first band of fortifications, but Task Force Quinn's envelopment had not been deep enough to precipitate any substantial advance. Once again the Germans brought the regiment to an abrupt halt after a gain of only a few hundred yards. Casualties from this kind of close, confined fighting were becoming increasingly heavy: one rifle company, for example, had lost half of one platoon and all of another except the platoon sergeant. By the end of the second day of fighting, the depth of the 119th Infantry's bridgehead was still no more than a thousand yards.
For his part in renewing the attack on 3 October, the 117th Infantry's Colonel Johnson committed his reserve battalion (the 3d) to drive on Uebach, about a mile east of the Wurm, and then to cut the Geilenkirchen-Aachen highway and occupy high ground east of the highway between Uebach and Beggendorf. Almost immediately, tedious house-to-house fighting developed. The Germans seemed determined to make of Uebach a point of decision. Round after round of mortar and artillery fire they poured into the little town. Some of the American infantry called it the heaviest German shelling since the battles at Mortain in Normandy. The commander of the regiment's supporting 118th Field Artillery Battalion hazarded a guess that the Germans had finally found a copy of the American field artillery manual telling how to mass their fires. The first few concentrations took a particularly heavy toll because the doors and windows of all houses except those actually defended were locked and barred. That made cover in the houses at first hard to get at.
Into the maelstrom that Uebach had become rolled the tanks and half-tracks of the 2d Armored Division's Combat Command B. During the morning of 3 October, General Corlett had ordered the armor to start crossing the Marienberg bridges at noon. The 30th Division was to give priority to the armor's passage in order that the combat command might expand the bridgehead to the north and northeast and free the infantry for the push southward to link with the VII Corps. The rest of the 2d Armored Division was to follow CCB as soon as enough space for deployment could be gained.29
None could have been more aware of this than General Corlett and the infantry commander, General Hobbs, for their memories would serve to remind them of a similar instance in Normandy where premature commitment of armor into a 30th Division bridgehead had brought a welter of confusion that had bogged down a promising attack.30 Yet in the present situation Corlett was less concerned about likely confusion than about losing the little Wurm River bridgehead altogether. He wanted the weight of the armor on hand before the Germans could mount a sizable counterattack.31
For all the limitations of space, the commitment of the armor might have proceeded smoothly except for the intense German shelling. Although the infantry commanders adjusted their zones to give the armor free rein in the northern half of Uebach, the shelling intensified an inevitable intermingling of units in the winding streets of the town. A day of clouds and rain kept American planes from doing anything about the enemy's artillery. By nightfall (3 October) neither the armor nor the leading battalion of the 117th Infantry had advanced farther than the northern and eastern edges of Uebach, and not all buildings within the town, particularly in the southern portion, were yet in friendly hands. Lined up almost bumper to bumper back to the Marienberg bridges, GCB's vehicles provided any incentive the enemy might have needed to continue and even to increase his disturbing shellfires.
As General Corlett had feared, German commanders in the meantime had been rushing preparations for a concentric counterattack with main effort in the south (primarily against the 119th Infantry). To facilitate control in the attack, the enemy corps commander, General Koechling, put both 49th and 183d Division troops in the threatened sector under one commander, the 183d Division's General Lange. Then Koechling ordered additional forces to the sector: two assault gun brigades, the 183d Division's organic engineer battalion, two infantry battalions of the 49th Division, and an infantry battalion of the 246th Division from Aachen.32
an American company to fall back in confusion. Before the Germans could exploit the success, "shorts" from their own artillery threw the attackers into confusion. By the time they were able to renew the attack, the 119th Infantry was set.
started, partly because of striking direct into one prong of the German counterattack.
Not until late afternoon of 4 October was any American advance of appreciable proportions achieved. At that time Task Force 2 of CCB under Col. Sidney R. Hinds attacked from Uebach to seize high ground about the settlement of Hoverhof, a mile north of Uebach, upon which to anchor the northern flank of the bridgehead.
Delayed twice when two successive commanders of the armored infantry battalion fell victim to the blanketlike shelling in Uebach, the advance finally began about 1600. Even though the sector opposite the task force was studded with pillboxes, the armored infantry and supporting tanks moved forward quickly. Operating with wellexecuted co-ordination, a forward observer first brought down artillery upon the pillboxes to drive the defenders from field positions into the fortifications; then the tanks blasted apertures and entrances of the pillboxes with armor-piercing ammunition. Almost invariably, as soon as the tanks ceased fire and the infantry closed in, the Germans emerged docilely. By nightfall Task Force 2 held the high ground near Hoverhof. Eighty Germans surrendered, and the attackers sustained not a single casualty once the attack had gotten under way.34
In the meantime, Task Force I of CCB under Col. Paul A. Disney had been fighting its meeting engagement with one prong of the German counterattack northeast of Uebach. At one point Disney's task force dueled with a covey of seven self-propelled guns and destroyed them all with the loss of but two of its own tanks. By the end of the day, Colonel Disney had gained positions about 800 yards beyond Uebach, only a few yards short of the Geilenkirchen-Aachen highway; but the task force had paid for the short advance with heavy personnel losses and eleven medium tanks.
Resuming the attack the next morning (5 October), CCB found the pattern of resistance unchanged. On the right wing, where the tanks and infantry faced German tanks and self-propelled guns, Colonel Disney's Task Force I gained only a few hundred yards. Though this was sufficient to cut the Geilenkirchen-Aachen highway, it fell short of the objective, the village of Beggendorf. In the north, men of Colonel Hinds's Task Force 2 repeated the tactics used so successfully the day before against the pillboxes and found the enemy thoroughly cowed. Discovering telephone communications intact in a captured pillbox, a noncommissioned officer, Sgt. Ezra Cook, notified the Germans in another pillbox, "We've just taken your comrades and now we're coming after you." From a nearby pillbox that Sergeant Cook and his companions had not detected, twenty-five Germans emerged with hands high. By nightfall the assault teams had cleared Zweibruggen, another river village farther northFrelenberg-and had built up along a highway leading northeast out of Frelenberg.
Not until the next day, 6 October, did the Germans get tanks and antitank guns into position to meet this threat. They finally stopped Task Force 2 late on 6 October with dug-in infantry backed up by direct fire weapons along a spur railway less than a thousand yards short of
the West Wall strongpoint of Geilenkirchen. On the same date, Task Force I, its objective changed from Beggendorf to Waurichen, northeast of Uebach, followed closely behind a rolling artillery barrage to reach the edge of the village. An additional short advance the next day would carry the objective and forge the last segment of a firm arc along the northeastern flank of the bridgehead.
For all their inability to halt these armored thrusts on the third, fourth, and fifth days of the West Wall fight, German commanders were struggling to create another sizable reserve force capable of throwing back the American bridgehead. As early as 4 October, the day the first major counterattacks had failed, the Commander in Chief West, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, and the Seventh Army commander, General Brandenberger, had visited General Koechling's LXXXI Corps command post and come away with the impression that the forces locally available were insufficient. Directing General Koechling to send to the threatened sector every unit from the LXXXI Corps that possibly could be spared, General Brandenberger promised reinforcements from outside the corps.35
Before the day was through, General Koechling had ordered five more units to the Uebach sector a Landesschuetzen battalion, an assault gun brigade, and a howitzer battalion, all from the sector of the 12th Division southeast of Aachen, an antitank company with six 75-mm. antitank guns from the 246th Division at Aachen, and a separate, so-called "tank company" equipped with relatively inefficacious gimmicks called "remote-control robot assault guns." Believing that the addition of these forces to the miscellany already in the threatened sector would create a force too big for adequate control by one man, Koechling removed the single command he had invested in General Lange and restored the boundary between the 49th and 183d Divisions to run roughly from Beggendorf west to Uebach.36
For his part, the Seventh Army commander, General Brandenberger, lined up five units for transfer to the LXXXI Corps: Army NCO Training Schools Dueren and Juelich, which were to fight as infantry units; an infantry battalion from the 275th Division, which was now with the LXXXV Corps in the Huertgen Forest; a fortress machine gun battalion; and an artillery brigade which had two batteries of 150-mm. howitzers and one battalion of very heavy howitzers.37
In the meantime, the corps commander, General Koechling, took further steps to gain a greater concentration of troops. Having already drawn upon the resources of the 246th Division at Aachen, he nevertheless ordered that division to relinquish the entire 404th Grenadier Regiment. At the same time he directed the two incoming NCO training schools to relieve the 183d Division's 3434 Grenadier Regiment
opposite the 29th U.S. Division northwest of Geilenkirchen in order that the 343d Regiment also might be available for the counterattack. As for artillery, General Koechling now had 10 batteries of 105mm. howitzers and 7 batteries of 150-mmhowitzers, a total of about 60 pieces. He expected to add another 27 150-mmhowitzers, within a few days and to put 32 88-mm. antiaircraft guns opposite the threatened sector during the night of 6 October.38
Like the force assembled for the first major counterattacks on 4 October, the sum of these units was more impressive on paper than in reality. Nevertheless, if all could be assembled at once for a genuinely co-ordinated counterstroke, the possibilities were encouraging.
Unfortunately for the Germans, the projected troop movements took considerably more time than anticipated. For the second time in the West Wall fight, a lesson as often demonstrated as any other from German experience during the fall campaign was repeated: assembling units from various sections of the front in a minimum of time and hoping to execute a coordinated counterattack with such a multipartite force is an exacting assignment. Although General Koechling had intended to assemble all forces during the night of 4 October and strike the next day, almost every unit ran into difficulties. Moving from the sector of the 12th Division southeast of Aachen, the Landesschuetzen battalion, for example, came under such heavy fire from artillery units of the VII Corps that the battalion had to delay until dense morning mists concealed movement. The NCO trainees from Dueren and Juelich failed to arrive until just before daylight on 5 October, too late for relieving the 343d Regiment northwest of Geilenkirchen, for that regiment could not disengage in daylight. The 246th Division's 404th Regiment from Aachen did not reach a designated assembly area until noon on 5 October.39
Had the Americans been inactive in the meantime, the Germans might have been able to surmount the setbacks involved in these delays. As it was, the Americans were renewing their offensive. Having failed to strike early on 5 October, General Koechling had lost his chance. Now he might be forced to commit his units piecemeal according to the pattern of American attacks.
Early on 5 October, as CCB was taking the first steps toward forging a firm arc about the northeastern fringes of the West Wall bridgehead, the two regiments of the 30th Division renewed their drives-the one to break out of the Rimburg woods, the other to push southeastward from Uebach in the direction of Alsdorf, not quite three miles from Uebach and a major milestone on the road to juncture with the VII Corps northeast of Aachen.
The first objective of the latter thrust, to be made by Colonel McDowell's 3d Battalion, 117th Infantry, was a hamlet at a crossroads about halfway between Uebach and Alsdorf. Shortly after the jump-off, intense machine gun fire from the barracks of a cantonment on the eastern flank of the battalion's route of advance pinned McDowell's infantry to the ground. At the same time concealed
antitank guns knocked out five supporting tanks. Although the 117th Infantry commander, Colonel Johnson, quickly committed another battalion, this unit could make little headway. The Germans might have failed in their efforts to muster sizable force for counterattack, but what they did have was proving no pushover.
Meanwhile, the commander of the 119th Infantry, Colonel Sutherland, had decided to abandon his frontal assault out of the Rimburg woods against the crossroads near Herbach. Instead, he planned to repeat the envelopment tactic he had used earlier in eliminating the Germans in the Rimburg woods, but this time the envelopment was to be deep enough to carve a sizable slice out of the German position. During the night of 4 October, Colonel Sutherland sent his 2d Battalion under Lt. Col. William C. Cox into the 117th Infantry's zone at Uebach to attack south across his regimental front along gently sloping ground a thousand yards behind the ridge which was his first objective. The maneuver got off to an auspicious start during the night when a patrol sneaked up on one of at least ten pillboxes lying in the battalion's path and captured fourteen occupants.
The real impetus to Colonel Cox's attack the next morning, 5 October, came from a platoon leader in Company E, T. Sgt. Harold L. Holycross, who adopted pillbox assault methods similar to those used north of Uebach by GCB's Task Force 2. Sergeant Holycross' methods may have been dictated by the fact that his company had neither flame throwers nor pole charges. While a platoon of selfpropelled tank destroyers acted as overwatchers on the east flank, two platoons of tanks fired high explosive against the pillboxes in order to drive the defenders from field fortifications into the pillboxes. Then the tankers switched to armorpiercing ammunition while Sergeant Holycross and an advance force of but four men pressed forward. When the five got within a hundred yards of the pillboxes, the tankers lifted their fire. Without exception, the enemy in each pillbox promptly raised a white flag. As one soldier put it, the infantry "just held the bag" while the Germans walked in.
By the end of the day Company E had pushed all the way down the ridge to a point east of Herbach, and another company had followed closely to occupy some of the fortifications. Only one pillbox remained to be taken at the southern tip of the high ground. Against the wishes of the company commander, 1st Lt. Warne R. Parker, Company E had to let this pillbox wait until the next day, because the supporting tanks were running low on ammunition.
As Lieutenant Parker had feared, failure to capture the last pillbox was a mistake. At daylight on 6 October, elements of two battalions of the 49th Division's 148th Regiment used the pillbox as a forward base for counterattacking the other positions.40 Under cover of fire from two tanks or assault guns, at least one of which sat in hull defilade behind the mound of the pillbox, German infantry moved forward with three other tanks or assault guns in support. As they approached, the American riflemen in the most forward pillboxes failed to heed the lesson demonstrated the day before by the
ineffective German defense: pummeled by enemy fire, they retreated into the pillboxes. While some of the counterattacking infantry kept the apertures closed with small arms fire, other Germans assaulted. In this manner the enemy retook four pillboxes and captured at least a hundred men, including three officers.
Throughout the action, Colonel Cox and his company commanders called frantically for tank support, but both the tanks and tank destroyers had retired for maintenance and supply. Not for two hours did they return. Only the courage of the men in the next two pillboxes in the path of the German advance, plus heavy concentrations of mortar and artillery fire, saved the day. Despite the enemy fire, these men refused to budge from their foxholes and trenches outside the pillboxes. As the enemy lifted his shellfire to permit his infantry to close, they mowed the Germans down with rifles and machine guns. When American tanks at last arrived, one commanded by 1st Lt. Walter D. Macht knocked out three of the German vehicles. The other two withdrew. Using the same methods employed by both Sergeant Holycross and the Germans, a reserve company of the 119th Infantry subsequently retook the four pillboxes.
As on the day before, German artillery during the counterattack of 6 October continued to hammer the bridgehead with some of the heaviest concentrations many of the American troops had ever experienced. One man said it was "really big stuff-it came in like an express train." Obviously, the German corps commander, General Koechling, was making good instructions from his army commander to mass all LXXXI Corps artillery against the bridgehead, no matter how this might
deplete other sectors.41 Ringed around the extended periphery of the bridgehead and protected by clouds and overcast denying large-scale Allied air operations and limiting sound and flash detections, the German artillery was difficult to neutralize with counterbattery fires. A telling shortage of artillery ammunition on the American side contributed to the problem. Unable to allot more than an average of twenty-four rounds per German battery, U.S. gunners could hope to do no more than silence the enemy guns temporarily. On 5 October XIX Corps artillery executed ninety-nine counterbattery missions, and still the Germans fired. Approximately 66 percent of all casualties incurred in the West Wall fight by the 2d Armored and 30th Divisions stemmed from artillery and mortar shell fragments.42
Even the elusive Luftwaffe tried to get into the bombardment act on 5 October. Taking advantage of cloudy skies that discouraged Allied airmen, German planes came over in high-flying groups of twenty and thirty with the objective of bombing Palenberg. Although German ground observers reported results as "very good," American units noted no appreciable damage. The enemy's 49th Division requested that the planes strike American concentrations at Uebach next time, but there was no next time.43
Few could have recognized it as such at the time, but the German counterattack
against Colonel Cox's men in the pillboxes east of the Rimburg woods on 6 October was the high-water mark of resistance to the XIX Corps bridgehead. Every unit that Koechling and Brandenberger had fixed upon for movement to the threatened sector had been absorbed by the unremitting pressure of the 2d Armored Division's CCB and the two regiments of the 30th Division. Although the NCO training schools from Dueren and Juelich had at last relieved the 183d Division's 343d Regiment northwest of Geilenkirchen, that regiment was so disabled during the night of 5 October in piecemeal and inconsequential counterattacks south of Geilenkirchen against contingents of CCB that it was capable of little other than defensive missions. The 246th Division's 404th Regiment from Aachen had been thrown hurriedly into the defense against other units of CCB between Geilenkirchen and Beggendorf. At Beggendorf the Landesschuetzen battalion moved up from the 12th Division sector was seriously depleted. Elsewhere about the bridgehead were the original contingents of the 49th and 183d Divisions and a few other miscellaneous units the German commanders had brought up, all severely damaged by the American assault. Sprinkled among the infantry were twenty-seven assault guns remaining in five assault-gun units.44
In early stages of the West Wall fighting, the Germans were denied use of at least one battalion of the 49th Division because of holding the re-entrant "bridgehead" west of the Wurm at the town of Kerkrade. Even as two regiments of the 30th Division had struck at Marienberg and Rimburg, the third regiment, the 120th Infantry, had made a feint against the German position at Kerkrade. Then, on 4 October, the 120th Infantry had staged an actual attack. After fighting stubbornly and launching one futile counterattack, the Germans had withdrawn from the bridgehead during the night. This freed one battalion of the 120th Infantry to move the next day (5 October) to cross the Wurm and fill a growing gap between the 117th and 119th Regiments southwest of Uebach. The remainder of the 120th Infantry would follow later.
During the afternoon of 6 October, the Army Group B commander, Field Marshal Model, went to the LXXXI Corps command post to attempt to do what Generals Koechling and Brandenberger thus far had failed to accomplish: to assemble sufficient forces for making a decisive counterattack against the West Wall bridgehead.45 But Field Marshal Model was too late. The Americans now were getting set to exploit their bridgehead; the Germans would have to go to extraordinary measures to assemble sufficient strength to push them back behind the Wurm. Although Field Marshal Model could not have known it at the time, any counterattack he might devise at this point would be directed more toward preventing a link between the XIX and VII U.S. Corps northeast of Aachen than toward eliminating the XIX Corps bridgehead.
Juncture with the VII Corps to en
circle Aachen now was uppermost in the minds of American commanders. Though General Corlett had hoped originally to use only the 30th Division for the link-up while the 2d Armored Division struck eastward for crossings over the Roer River, the army commander, General Hodges, made it clear that operations were to be confined to the West Wall until linkup was achieved.46 In early afternoon of 6 October, General Corlett told the armor to hold in place along the northeastern and eastern fringes of the bridgehead while at the same time making a main effort southeastward to help the 30th Division link with the VII Corps.47
The stage had been set for this maneuver during the preceding afternoon when the 2d Armored Division commander, General Harmon, had brought his second combat command, CCA, across the Wurm bridges into Uebach. Once the armor had established a solid defensive line, General Harmon directed, CCB was to hold in place while CCA assisted the 30th Division. As finally constituted, CCB's defensive arc along the north, northeast, and east of the West Wall bridgehead would run from north of Frelenberg east along the spur railroad below Geilenkirchen, thence southeast through Waurichen almost to Beggendorf. The easternmost troops of CCB would be just over three miles beyond the Wurm River.
Even before General Corlett revealed his change of plan in the afternoon of 6 October, CCA had gone into action in conjunction with the 117th Infantry to expand the bridgehead. Early that day, as Colonel Cox's battalion of the 119th Infantry was having trouble in the pillboxes near Herbach, one column of CCA struck northeast to take Beggendorf and two other columns moved southeast. One headed in the direction of Baesweiler, southeast of Beggendorf; the other advanced close along the flank of the 117th Infantry in a renewal of the infantry's drive on the crossroads hamlet southeast of Uebach, where the 117th had been balked the day before. The weight of the armor and a clear day, which permitted six close-support missions by fighter-bombers of the IX Tactical Air Command, provided the margin of, success. The crossroads hamlet fell and, in the process, the nearby cantonment which had bristled the day before with German guns. Beggendorf also fell, and CCA's center column pushed more than a mile to the east almost to the edge of the town of Baesweiler.
This success on 6 October and General Corlett's order in early afternoon clearly indicated that the fight for a West Wall bridgehead was nearing an end. Indeed, so successful were the day's operations that the necessity for any part of the 2d Armored Division to assist the Both Division to link with the VII Corps became questionable. Nevertheless, CCA did continue to attack and by the end of 7 October had overrun Baesweiler and neared the neighboring town of Oidtweiler, thereby severing a main highway running northeast from Aachen to the Roer River town of Linnich. For the next few days the entire 2d Armored Division prepared an iron defensive arc about the eastern and northeastern rims of the bridgehead while the 30th Division continued the southward drive alone. A battalion of the 29th Division's 116th Infantry reinforced the armor, while the
rest of the 116th Infantry relieved the two remaining battalions of the 120th Infantry at Kerkrade so that this third regiment might participate in the 30th Division's drive.
Although German commanders had anticipated in the first days of the West Wall fight that the XIX Corps might swing southward to link with the VII Corps, by the time the shift occurred, German strength was so depleted that there was little German commanders could do about it. Though they shifted the left regiment of the 49th Division to control of the 246th Division to place the defense of Aachen in the hands of one commander, the day of 7 October became a day of exploitation against a beaten and disorganized enemy. Approximately a thousand prisoners passed through the 30th Division's cage.
Led by tanks of the attached 7434 Tank Battalion, the 117th Infantry charged two miles into the town of Alsdorf. Reduced now to one organic infantry regiment, the enemy's 49th Division could do nothing about it. One unit overrun was an infantry battalion of the 12th Division the Germans had hurriedly brought into the line the night before.48 Once the Americans had broken a crust of resistance on the fringes of Alsdorf, they moved in easily. "Alsdorf was a ghost town . . .," one officer reported, "and it was so damned quiet it scared you."
Still assisted by a battalion of the 120th Infantry, Colonel Sutherland's 119th Infantry also surged southward. At the coal-mining town of Merkstein, one reason for speedy success was a well-directed
American air strike; another was the action of a one-man army, Pvt. Salvatore Pepe, a scout in one of the rifle platoons. Pepe refused to stay down when fire forced his platoon to cover. Firing his rifle and tossing hand grenades, he charged forward alone, wounded four Germans, and induced fifty-three others to surrender. He later received the Distinguished Service Cross.
At the end of the day the 119th Infantry was approaching the former 120th Infantry position around Kerkrade. The 30th Division was only about three miles away from Wuerselen, the planned point of contact with the VII Corps.
Late on 7 October the 30th Division commander, General Hobbs, reported to General Corlett that the XIX Corps battle of the West Wall was over. "We have a hole in this thing big enough to drive two divisions through," General Hobbs said. "I entertain no doubts that this line is cracked wide open."49 The general's statement contained no excess exuberance, for the West Wall bridgehead now was almost six miles long and more than four and a half miles deep.
Executing this attack had cost the 30th Division and the 2d Armored Division more than 1,800 casualties in all categories, including about 200 killed.50 The
cost in medium tank s to CCB alone was fifty-two.51 Although high, these losses were hardly disparate in relation to the importance of the task asa prer equisite to a renewal of First Army's drive to the Rhine. Not only had these two divisions ruptured the West Wall, they also had forced the Germans to take extraordinary steps and expend precious units and materiel. A capsule indication of the extent to which the enemy had gone to fight the penetration might be found in the number of big guns he had assembled against it. In their futile stand, the Germans had employed at least 2 railroad guns, a battalion of "very heavy" howitzers, 40 105-mm. howitzers, 47 150-mm. howitzers, 32 88-mm. guns, 40 antitank guns of 75-mm. caliber or larger, and approximately 50 assault guns of varying type and caliber.52
The first set attack against the West Wall was over. Though the 30th Division infantrymen and their supporting tankers might discern no break in the round-theclock combat routine, the battle now was entering a new phase. The next step was to link with the VII Corps and encircle the city of Aachen.