VII Corps Makes the Main Effort
Designating the VII Corps as the main effort of the First Army added fire support for the corps but did nothing to erase the difficult terrain which the corps would have to cross before reaching the open plain leading to the Roer. On the north wing lay the Eschweiler Weisweiler industrial complex; in the center, the Hamich ridge; and on the south wing, a part of the Huertgen Forest which had been penetrated hardly at all.1 (See Map VI.)
had gone to the V Corps. The 47th Infantry first was to take Gressenich, thereby opening a road serving the 1st Division's attack, and then was to assist in reducing the Hamich ridge. Buttressing the 1st Division's attack further, a combat command of the 3d Armored Division was to finish clearing the Stolberg Corridor by driving to the little Omer River at the base of the Hamich ridge, taking four villages in the process Werth, Koettenich, Scherpenseel, and Hastenrath. The combat command thus was to serve in opening stages of the attack as a bridge between the 1st and 104th Divisions. The 104th Division in turn also was to assist the corps main effort by making its divisional main effort at first on its right wing alongside the armor. This involved clearing a forested sector about two miles wide, the only major portion of the 104th Division zone that lay south of the Inde River.
A combination of General Collins' scheme of maneuver and of features of terrain, particularly the meandering course of the Inde, in effect dictated a geographical divorce between that part of the VII Corps north of the river and the bulk of the corps to the south. Most of the corps was to fight either within the Huertgen Forest or in that region between the forest and the Inde where the wooded highlands reluctantly give way to the Roer plain. Geographically speaking, those troops north of the Inde were more properly a part of the battle of the Roer plain. The unit to be divided by this divorce was the 104th Division. Indeed, the fact that a division on the inner wing of the Ninth Army also had an assignment of clearing an industrial triangle along the army boundary might mean that the 104th Division would be inclined to the north tactically as well as geographically.
In any event, the force assembled under General Collins for the main effort of the November offensive was impressive. General Collins had 3 divisions and an extra regiment of infantry, 1 division and an extra combat command of armor, plus 1 cavalry group. On D Day 9 infantry regiments and 1 combat command were to attack. In support of the VII Corps attack alone were more than 300 tank and tank destroyer pieces and a total of 32 battalions of field artillery. The big guns were to commence fire an hour before jump off. If the weather cleared, the greatest air armada ever assembled in direct support of a ground operation was to pave the way on a two army front.
The three top American commanders most directly involved in the big push, Generals Collins, Hodges, and Bradley, were optimistic about it. For the ebullient Collins, this perhaps was not surprising, but the usually more restrained Hodges and Bradley were almost as enthusiastic. To at least one observer, General Bradley gave the impression that he believed this might be "the last big offensive necessary to bring Germany to her knees."3
By this time the VII Corps G-2, Colonel Carter, had acquired a measure of respect for German resurgence and tended to temper his estimates of enemy weakness. Nevertheless, he could not conceal the fact that the enemy opposite the VII Corps was no Goliath. The ratio of attacker to defender was almost 5 to I
Only the possibility already expressed by the 12th Army Group that the Germans might employ part of the panzer reserve they were assembling west of the Rhine to counterattack gave the intelligence officer any real pause.4
Six weeks of holding a fairly static line had provided a reasonably accurate estimate of the enemy's order of battle at corps and division levels. General Koechling's LXXXI Corps, which controlled most of the front opposite the VII Corps, had three divisions. Farthest north, beyond the sector of the VII Corps, opposite the Ninth U.S. Army, was the 246th Volks Grenadier Division, resurrected from the ruins of Aachen after the melodramatic surrender of Colonel Wilck. In the center, northwest of Stolberg, generally astride the U.S. interarmy boundary, was the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division, which had intervened unsuccessfully at Aachen. In the Stolberg Corridor and the northern fringes of the Huertgen Forest was the 12th Volks Grenadier Division, which had arrived in the nick of time during the West Wall breakthrough in September. The sector deep within the Huertgen Forest opposite the right wing of the VII Corps was held by the Seventh Army's 275th Division.
To have expected American intelligence before the November offensive to divine the intricate German deception maneuver practiced with the Fifth Panzer and Fifteenth Armies would have been asking too much; for the Germans made the move only on the eve of the American attack. As it was, the Americans before the jump off had not even discovered that the Fifth Panzer Army had taken over the line between the First Parachute and Seventh Armies. They still thought the XII SS and LXXXI Corps to be under command of the Seventh Army.5
After arriving in the Aachen sector in mid October, General von Manteuffel and his staff of the Fifth Panzer Army had organized a comprehensive digging program involving the troops, some men of the Organization Todt, boys of the Hitler Youth, and the civilian population. Extensive mine fields were sown, both in front of the main line and on approaches to second, third, and fourth lines of defense. Agreements were reached with the Seventh Army in regard to controlling the level of the Roer River by means of the Roer River Dams.6 During the three weeks in which the Fifth Panzer Army commanded the Aachen sector, it organized an impressive battle position, complete with several lines of defense, co-ordinated artillery positions, barbed wire entanglements, mine fields, and antitank obstacles.
By the time Manteuffel relinquished command on 15 November to the Fifteenth Army's General von Zangen, the sector had been accorded the army group reserve, the XLVII Panzer Corps. Thus, when Zangen assumed command under the alias of Gruppe von Manteuffel, he controlled two corps on line and an armored corps in reserve.
The divisions opposite the VII Corps in General Koechling's LXXXI Corps had been shored up with personnel and materiel replacements since the battle of Aachen. The 3d Panzer Grenadier Division (General Denkert) had about 11,000 men and was assigned the combat rating of "suitable for unlimited defensive
missions." The 12th Volks Grenadier Division (General Engel) had but 6,381 men but was rated higher because of morale and training. The 12th Division was rated capable of limited offensive operations. The 246th Division, which was opposite the Ninth Army, was rated lowest of the lot.
The 12th and 246th Divisions had, besides an artillery regiment, the usual three regiments of infantry with two battalions each and a tank destroyer and engineer battalion each. The 3d Panzer Grenadier had two armored infantry regiments, an artillery regiment, and a tank battalion equipped primarily with assault guns.
The three artillery regiments possessed a total of 66 105-mm. and 31 150-mm. howitzers, Plus V other pieces ranging from 75-mm cannon to 122-mm. Russian howitzers. The three tank destroyer battalions, plus the so called heavy tank battalion, had 54 assault guns, 11 88-mm. guns, and 45 other antitank pieces of lesser calibers.7
Having been chosen to participate in the Ardennes counteroffensive, the 12th Volks Grenadier Division was earmarked for relief by a new unit, the 47th Volks Grenadier Division. American intelligence had noted the impending arrival of this division but did not know its identification, role, or destination.8
Commanded by Generalleutnant Max Bork, the 47th Division had drawn roughly half its men from the Luftwaffe and the Navy, the other half from new levies of 17 and 18 year olds sprinkled with a few veterans of the Russian front. Contrary to usual territorial organizational procedures, the 47th was made up of men from all parts of Germany. Though weapons and matériel assigned to the division were new and modern, the crippled German transportation system had delayed their arrival at the division's training site. The artillerymen, for example, had but one week with their pieces before commitment near Aachen, and antitank weapons failed to arrive until the November offensive was well under way. The infantry had about six weeks' training.9
To the American troops who pondered the skies, preparations for the November offensive had all the earmarks of breakout after the manner of Normandy. Yet spirits could not but fall as day after day dawned with rain and overcast. As night came on 15 November, all was in readiness except the weather. Farther south, the 28th Division was stumbling off the stage, having completed its tragic role in the drama of the Huertgen Forest. Now, air support or not, the main show was to go on. Shortly after midnight the First Army's General Hodges gave the word. D Day was 16 November. H Hour was 1245.
Dawn on 16 November brought slight encouragement. It looked like another day of ragged clouds, overcast, and mists;
but by midmorning even the least optimistic among the sun worshipers of the First and Ninth Armies could hope for a miracle. The clouds were thinning. By 1100 a ceiling of broken clouds hovered about 1,000 to 1,500 feet over the target area. Above 8,000 feet visibility was from one to two miles in light fog.10 Steadily the weather improved. The day was not one for lounging in the sun, but planes could operate. At 1130 the first of the big bombers in Operation QUEEN droned overhead.11
In contrast to the weather miracle over the target area, fog clung assiduously about some heavy bomber and fighter bases in England and about almost all medium and fighter bomber bases on the Continent. Many planes could not take off. Nevertheless, 1,191 Eighth Air Force heavy bombers arrived and dropped 4,120 tons of fragmentation bombs within the Eschweiler Weisweiler industrial triangle and on Langerwehe. A total of 1,188 heavies of the RAF Bomber Command unloaded 5,640 tons of bombs on Dueren, Juelich, and Heinsberg. Almost half this tonnage fell on Dueren. Only 80 medium bombers of the Ninth Air Force reached the scene to drop 150 tons of bombs on Eschweiler and two small towns deeper in the VII Corps zone. Almost a thousand fighters flying escort flushed only four enemy aircraft, and these did not attack.
As with the medium bombers, fog at the bases severely crimped operations of both the IX and XXIX Tactical Air Commands. Throughout the day fighter-bombers of the XXIX TAC in support of the Ninth Army flew but 136 sorties and dropped but 46.5 tons of bombs. The IX TAC did somewhat better in the VII Corps zone with 8 missions, 212 sorties, and 140.5 tons of bombs. In addition to armed reconnaissance in support of the 1st and 104th Divisions, the fighter bombers flew several missions at the request of ground control and struck two of the preplanned target areas, the Hamich ridge and the Huertgen Gey sector.
Meager and generally ineffective antiaircraft fire claimed 12 planes, 4 of them fighter bombers, 8 heavy bombers. One other fighter bomber cracked up in an accident.
If judged solely by the safety of the ground troops during the bombing, the elaborate precautions taken to ensure accuracy paid off. Yet the safety plan was not entirely foolproof. One man was killed and two wounded in a field artillery unit of the 3d Armored Division when four bombs apparently released by a faulty bomb release mechanism fell near a gun position. A P-38 later dive bombed this same artillery unit but caused no casualties.12 The 1st Division reported five instances of stray bombs falling near
its troops but noted only one casualty. One bomb exploded within 150 yards of the division artillery command post, and another knocked the wings off a liaison plane and destroyed the runway at the division artillery airfield.13 Yet if these were the sole losses among friendly troops, the margin of error was indeed small for a fleet of 4,000 heavy and medium bombers, fighter bombers, and escort fighters which unloaded a total of more than 10,000 tons of bombs through a mask of haze and cloud.
It was hard to say just how effective the bombing was. Since the bomb line was far in front of friendly troops, few of the enemy's forward units were hit hard, and most that were had been holding this front for so long that they had substantial cover close at hand. Prisoners from two forward regiments of the 12th Division, for example, estimated casualties no higher than 1 to 3 percent. Another group of prisoners reported that only one bomb fell in Langerwehe, one of the principal targets, though areas near Langerwehe were damaged severely.14 No indication developed of any overwhelming psychological impact like that in Normandy. "It should be noted," the First Army remarked later, "that the most forward of the enemy targets were 4,000 yards from our front line and that the target frontage in the zone of the First Army was approximately 9 miles wide. These facts prevent any comparison being made between this attack and the breakthrough at St. LÔ."15
The effect upon enemy communications was another matter. The consensus of fifteen prisoners from the 12th Division was that "communication with the command echelons to the rear was impossible."16 "I tried to use the telephone," one German said, "but the line had been cut by the bombardment and it was obviously too late to send one of my messengers back."17 Other prisoners reported lack of warm food for days because the bombardment had knocked out kitchens, supply vehicles, and horses.
American air commanders admitted that the bombing did not measure up to expectations. The airmen blamed clouds, haze, smoke, and snow that obscured many targets, plus reluctance of many bombardiers to bomb short. Nevertheless, the airmen said, the destruction wrought was "enormous." Juelich, they claimed, was "almost completely destroyed";, results in Dueren and Eschweiler were "similar."18 Most air headquarters said the real trouble was the wide safety margin which enabled the Germans to recover before the ground attack reached them.19
Most ground echelons agreed that the bombing failed to soften German lines as much as expected, though the First Army noted that resistance at first was not so strong as it was several hours later. "Damage to his artillery installations must have been great," the First Army said,
"for throughout [the day of 16 November] comparatively light [artillery] fire was received."20 About eight batteries plus some single weapons near Eschweiler reacted first, followed by fire from a few guns in the forested sector opposite the right wing of the VII Corps. "These fires . . .... the First Army noted, "totalled the enemy artillery opposition."21
The most dramatic and damaging single event of the bombardment was attributable to chance. Someone or something must have crossed the star of the 47th Volks Grenadier Division, for even as Allied planes struck, some units of this division were detraining in the Roer towns and others were relieving parts of the 12th Division in the line. A battalion of artillery caught at the railroad station in Juelich was all but annihilated. Signal and headquarters troops were hit at Dueren. In process of relieving part of the 12th Division, a few companies of the 103d Regiment had reached the front where cover was at hand, but others were caught immediately in rear of the line where the blow was hardest. It was in this region behind the front line that the only indication of psychological impact developed. "I never saw anything like it," said a German noncommissioned officer. "These kids . . . were still numb 45 minutes after the bombardment. It was our luck that your ground troops did not attack us until the next day. I could not have done anything with those boys of mine that day."22
In some ways as impressive as the bombing program was the artillery effort. On the First Army front alone, 694 guns in an hour long preparation fired approximately 45,000 light rounds, almost 4,000 medium, and 2,600 heavy.23 In addition, hundreds of tank guns, 81 mm. and 4.2 inch mortars, plus a battalion of 4.5 inch rocket projectors, contributed to the barrage. On the Ninth Army front, another 552 field artillery pieces participated, raising the total in the two armies to 1,246.24
155 mm. SELF PROPELLED GUN bombarding Gressenich.
The main effort within the First Army's VII Corps was to be launched from the village of Schevenhuette, the farthest point of penetration yet made by Allied troops into Germany. From Schevenhuette General Huebner's 1st Division was to attack northeast through the fringes of the Huertgen Forest to Langerwehe and Juengersdorf, not quite four miles away. From there the Roer lies but three miles distant across the open Roer plain.
To clear the fringes of the Huertgen Forest, then to seize Langerwehe and Juengersdorf, General Huebner directed the 26th Infantry on his right wing to attack through the forest on the right of the Weh Creek and the Schevenhuette-Langerwehe highway. Meanwhile the 16th Infantry was to take Hill 232, just to the northwest of the village of Hamich and key to the Hamich ridge. This hill was the enemy's primary observation point across the open spaces of the Stolberg Corridor. Seizure of it was prerequisite to occupying a series of hills along the left of the highway to Langerwehe and thus to opening the highway as a supply route. Following the valley of the little Weh Creek, this highway was needed by both the 16th and 26th Regiments, particularly by the 26th because of a dearth of roads in the forest.
In the meantime, the attached 47th Infantry was to capture Gressenich, thereby opening a road to Hamich. The 47th Infantry then was to complete the task of clearing the Hamich ridge north from Hill 232 to the boundary with the 104th Division along the Inde River. As the attached regiment completed this task, General Huebner planned to commit his reserve, the 18th Infantry, in order to secure a firm foothold on the Roer plain alongside the Inde. This accomplished, the 16th and 26th Regiments were to make the final thrust to the Roer.26
Perhaps the best spot for measuring the effect of the preliminary bombardment in front of the VII Corps was the sector of the 16th Infantry at Hamich. Here were to be found all three major types of terrain confronting the corps: forest, open ground, and villages.
Commanded by Lt. Col. Edmund F. Driscoll, the 16th Infantry's 1st Battalion moved on D Day north from Schevenhuette into the woods toward Hamich, only to run immediately into determined resistance from the kind of log covered emplacements typical of the defenses of the Huertgen Forest. Through clinging mud that two weeks of inclement weather had produced, a platoon of tanks inched forward to the woods line to take out the enemy's automatic weapons. Only then could the 1st Battalion move through the woods to the objective of Hamich, a mile away.
It began to look less and less as if the mammoth preliminary bombardment had precipitated a breakthrough. Certainly the men of the 16th Infantry could attest to the fact that even in the face of this bombardment, the enemy's resistance was tough. Only in artillery fires did they note any slackening, and from the infantryman's standpoint a prodigious enemy use of mortars more than made up for that deficiency.
Hand carrying their weapons, men of Colonel Driscoll's 1st Battalion reached the edge of the woods overlooking Hamich just before dusk. From there full portent of the enemy's textbook observation post on Hill 232 became readily apparent. Not even a field mouse could get into Hamich without being seen. His first view of American troops at the edge of the woods prompted a hail of small arms fire from Hamich and artillery and mortar fire obviously adjusted from Hill 232. As night fell, the American battalion had to beat off persistent local
counterattacks by elements of the 12th Division's 48th Regiment.
The 16th Infantry's best hope for getting armor to assist the attack on Hamich lay in taking Gressenich with the division's attached regiment, the 47th Infantry, thereby opening a road to Hamich for tanks. Attacking at H Hour on 16 November close behind the fire of five artillery battalions, a battalion of the 47th Infantry met initial success because the enemy in Gressenich had focused his attention on an attacking column of the 3d Armored Division. As the battalion of the 47th Infantry reached the first buildings, the Germans discovered their oversight and began a systematic house-to-house defense.
Not until the next morning (17 November) did hopes rise for clearing Gressenich and getting armor to Hamich. Advance of the 3d Armored Division north of Gressenich and of the 16th Infantry through the woods to Hamich had threatened encirclement of Gressenich. During the night the Germans had withdrawn.27
After daylight on 17 November a platoon of tanks from the attached 745th Tank Battalion moved to join Colonel Driscoll's infantry at Hamich, and in the afternoon tanks and infantry attacked. By this time, however, the processes of beating off the enemy during the night and of trying to get into Hamich without tank support had made serious inroads in the strength of Colonel Driscoll's companies. Having started the fight the day before with about 160 men per rifle company, one company was down to a hundred men and the other two down to 60 or 70 each. About 70 percent of the casualties, Colonel Driscoll estimated, were from enemy shellfire, the rest from small arms fire. Neither tanks nor infantry could get into Hamich.
The enemy's defensive success thus far at Hamich was attributable to men who had held the line from the first, for none other than local reserves yet had been committed. Soon after it had become evident that this was the big Allied attack, General von Zangen, new commander of the Fifteenth Army (alias Gruppe von Manteuffel), had canceled the impending relief of the 12th Division.28 Though Zangen had ordered artillery of the incoming 47th Volks Grenadier Division to reinforce the fires of the 12th Division's artillery, he had directed that the 47th Division's other troops assemble as an LXXXI Corps reserve. A small combat team of the 116th Panzer Division, moving north from Huertgen, was to strengthen the corps reserve. These were the only immediate German orders at an army level directly affecting the sector opposite the 1st Division.29
To reinforce the assault on Hamich on the third day, 18 November, the 16th Infantry used the unit originally intended for taking Hill 232, the 3d Battalion
under Lt. Col. Charles T. Horner, Jr. While Colonel Driscoll's depleted battalion maintained a base of fire and while artillery pummeled Hill 232, Colonel Horner's infantry with tank and tank destroyer support pressed the attack. Dashing through a steady thunder of German artillery fire, they gained the first houses. This signaled the start of a methodical house by house killing match against an enemy who had to be rooted from barricaded cellars that often were connected by communications trenches.30 Five German tanks that started down the Hamich ridge toward the village might have turned the balance in favor of the enemy had not clearing weather on 18 November enabled planes to operate. P 47's of the IX Tactical Air Command with an assist from the artillery quickly turned the tanks back. By midafternoon Colonel Horner's infantry and armor had cleared all but a few houses on the northern edge of Hamich.
Seizing quickly upon his advantage, the 16th Infantry commander, Colonel Gibb, directed his remaining battalion under Colonel Dawson to strike immediately for Hill 232. Preceding the assault, fifteen battalions of field artillery laid an impressive TOT on the height. With no conspicuous struggle, Colonel Dawson's infantry took the hill. Dazed, bewildered survivors of the 12th Fusilier Battalion, which had been sent to bolster the faltering 48th Regiment, hardly knew what had hit them.
In the meantime, remnants of the 48th Regiment had tried to get back into Hamich. In particular, they punched against Colonel Driscoll's 1st Battalion in the woods southeast of the village. Here the hero of the defense was a platoon leader, T. Sgt. Jake W. Lindsey, who refused to budge from his position even after casualties reduced his command to only six men. Despite a shell fragment in one knee, he personally accounted for two enemy machine gun crews, drove off two tanks with rifle grenades, and was credited officially with killing twenty of the enerny.31
U.S. main effort was not here but farther north along the boundary between the XII SS and LXXXI Corps, within the zone of the Ninth Army, where terrain was more negotiable. If committed opposite the main effort, the Germans reasoned, the 47th Division surely would be chewed to pieces. If committed in the less threatened southern sector, the new division might survive while enabling the other divisions to shorten their zones and achieve greater concentration opposite the main effort.33
One of the first moves of the 47th Division was to prepare a counterattack with the support of the combat team of the 116th Panzer Division to retake Hamich and Hill 232. This combat team consisted of a battalion each of tanks and half tracks, an artillery battery, and an engineer company. Half the combat team was to join each of two battalions of the 47th Division's 104th Regiment after nightfall on 18 November in assembly areas near Hill 232. At 0530 the next morning, half the force was to retake Hill 232, the other half, Hamich.
To the detriment of the German plan, the always imponderable human equation worked for the Americans. Leading half the counterattack force of tanks, halftracks, and engineers toward the assembly area, a German lieutenant lost his way in the darkness. Instead of taking a road which would have led to his assembly area near Hill 232, the lieutenant chose a route leading along the valley of the Weh Creek in the direction of Harnich. Southeast of Hamich, the enemy column blundered into positions held by Company C, 16th Infantry. Reduced to but forty five men, Company C might not have been able to hold had the German lieutenant not tried to rectify his mistake by withdrawing.34
Trying next a trail that led north into the woods, the German lieutenant unwittingly led his forces directly into Hamich. The errant group had barely reached the village when outposts of Colonel Horner's 3d Battalion called for artillery fire. While Horner's infantry took cover in houses and cellars, fifteen battalions of artillery blanketed the village with time fire.35 Though the German engineers and half tracks fell back, several of the tanks pushed on. An eager but unidentified American bazooka man sent a rocket through the turret of one of the tanks from a second floor window. Two other tanks blundered into bomb craters and could not get out. The remaining tanks escaped to the north, while the German lieutenant, still bewildered, became the sole prisoner of the engagement.
Alerted by this enemy blunder, the Americans in Hamich were ready a few hours later when a battalion of the 104th Regiment went through with the scheduled counterattack against the village. Though seven or eight tanks supported the maneuver, this stronger force actually made less of an impression than had the enemy lieutenant's. By daylight the Germans had been stopped.
Meanwhile, the other battalion of the 104th Regiment, which was to have been supported against Hill 232 by the lieutenant's tanks, had waited in vain. Aided by interrogation of the lieutenant, American artillery took the enemy's assembly area under fire. Though the artillery scattered one company, the enemy commander decided to go ahead with the attack. At 0530 his two remaining companies charged up the north slope of Hill 232, only to be mowed down by the concentrated fire of Colonel Dawson's machine gunners and riflemen. Of one German company, only the commander survived. Even he was captured.
Elsewhere in the 1st Division's sector, an attack by the 26th Infantry on the division's right wing moved into an area which had been accorded little of the preliminary bombardment. Preparation fires had been limited in front of the regiment because trees and undergrowth restricted identification of targets, not because the 26th Infantry's attack was any the less important to accomplishment of the 1st Division's mission. No matter how successful the 16th Infantry's advance west of the Weh Creek and the vital Schevenhuette Langerwehe highway, the road could not be used without control of four wooded hills within the Huertgen Forest along the right of the highway. After taking these hills, the 26th Infantry was to continue to Langerwehe and Juengersdorf.
Like many another unit which fought within the Huertgen Forest, the 26th Infantry engaged in an almost unalloyed infantry battle. Trees and undergrowth so limited observation that the effectiveness of artillery was reduced severely. Mud and a dearth of roads restricted armored support. The inevitable hazards of forest fighting shellbursts in the trees and open flanks plagued the regiment from the start. Though the lead battalion gained but a few hundred yards, it still was necessary as night came to commit another battalion to bolster the lead unit's flanks.
Inching forward on the second day, the 26th Infantry's lead battalion under Lt. Col. Derrill M. Daniel gained only a few hundred yards more. Two days of fighting had brought an advance of little more than a mile. Return of wet weather on 17 November had eliminated any hope of getting tanks or tank destroyers forward along the muddy forest trails.
A second battalion joined the attack early on the third day, 18 November. Still the enemy yielded is bunkers grudgingly. Early on the fourth day, 19 November, as the regimental commander, Colonel Seitz, prepared to commit his remaining battalion, the Germans struck back. The counterattack grew out of Field Marshal Model's directive of two days before by which the 47th Volks Grenadier Division was thrust into the line along the interarmy boundary. A battalion of the 47th Division's 115th Infantry made the counterattack.
Nowhere in the Huertgen Forest fighting was the stamina and determination of American infantry more clearly demonstrated than here as Colonel Daniel's fatigued, depleted battalion of the 26th Infantry beat off this fresh German force. Among numerous deeds of individual heroism, the acts of Pfc. Francis X. McGraw stood out. Manning a machine gun, McGraw fired until his ammunition gave out, then ran back for more. When artillery fire felled a tree and blocked his field of fire, he calmly rose from his foxhole, threw his weapon across a log, and
continued to fire. Concussion from a shellburst tossed his gun into the air, but he retrieved it. His ammunition expended a second time, McGraw took up the fight with a carbine, killed one German and wounded another before a burst from a burp gun cut him down. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
As demonstrated soon after the counterattack, the 47th Division's commitment had come a little late. No sooner had Colonel Daniel's men beaten off the enemy than the 26th Infantry's remaining fresh battalion under Colonel Corley pressed an attack that carried northward more than a mile. Not until they had reached an improved road less than 500 yards from a castle, the Laufenburg, did the men pause for the night. The castle marked the center of the four forested hills which were the 26th Infantry's objective.
No matter how commendable and how encouraging this thrust, the 26th Infantry would have to stretch a point to find room for elation in the four days of slow, plodding fight. The regiment still had no adequate supply route and no way to get supporting weapons forward. Before renewing the drive to seize the hills around the Laufenburg and conquer a remaining mile and a half of forest, Colonel Seitz deemed it imperative to clear that part of the Langerwehe highway leading to his forward position. The force he had to do this with was reduced now by some 450 men who had succumbed to the enemy's fire and the cold, wet weather. Though high by ordinary standards, this casualty figure was about par for four days of fighting in the Huertgen Forest.
Looking at the situation from a division standpoint, the 1st Division G-2 found occasion at nightfall on 19 November for some encouragement. "It is believed," Colonel Evans remarked hopefully, "that the units which have been identified . . . are not capable of preventing our further advance to the northeast. No reserve units of sufficient size to bolster up these forces are now believed to be available ... west of the Roer River."36
Under ordinary circumstances, there might have been room for such cautious optimism as Colonel Evans expressed. Both the 16th and 26th Infantry Regiments had penetrated the enemy's forward line to a maximum depth of about two miles, even though the feat had required four days and over a thousand casualties to accomplish. But these were not ordinary circumstances. This was the sector of the main effort of the VII Corps where the 1st Division was to have followed closely on the heels of a historic preliminary bombardment to effect a rapid thrust to the Roer. General Hodges and General Collins had bargained for a spectacular breakthrough. After four days of fighting from 16 through 19 November, it looked as though they had bought a drab slugging match.
Indications that this was the case were not confined to the vicinity of Schevenhuette and Hamich. Slightly to the west among the quartet of villages still remaining to the Germans in the Stolberg Corridor, even the added weight of tanks and tank destroyers of an armored combat command had not been enough to produce a rout.
This was the only portion of the VII Corps zone where armor might maneuver during the opening stages of the new offensive. Here General Boudinot's CCB of the 3d Armored Division was to attack at H Hour on 16 November through Weissenberg to bridge the space between the 1st and 104th Divisions. The armor was to seize four villages: Werth, Koettenich, Scherpenseel, and Hastenrath. Lying at the western base of the Hamich ridge, these villages were not more than two miles from the armor's existing front line. The projected advance of the 104th Division against the Eschweiler Weisweiler industrial triangle and of the 47th Infantry from Hill 232 northwest along the Hamich ridge eventually would pinch out the armor and permit the combat command to return to its parent division in time to exploit any breakthrough achieved by the infantry divisions.37
Rejuvenated by replacements in both tanks and personnel since bogging down in the Stolberg Corridor almost two months before, General Boudinot's Task Forces Lovelady and Mills both participated in the opening attack. Of approximately equal strength, each task force had a battalion of tanks and a company of armored infantry. Task Force Lovelady on the right was to take Werth and Koettenich; Task Force Mills on the left, Scherpenseel and Hastenrath.
Though some dive bombing and heavy concentrations of artillery fell on the four villages during the preliminary bombardment, the armor's observers could not determine in the hazy weather just what damage was done. It was equally difficult to judge the effects of the bombardment from the progress of the ground attack.
Task Force Lovelady on the right had little difficulty. In about two hours both Werth and Koettenich were in hand. Yet while mopping up and consolidating, the men of Task Force Lovelady became aware that the Germans on Hill 232 and other parts of the Hamich ridge were breathing down their necks. With unerringly accurate artillery and mortar fire, the enemy left no doubt for the next two days of his superior observation. A Panther tank firing from the ridge knocked out three of five tanks in Koettenich before one of the remaining Shermans could silence it.
Task Force Mills's troubles began at the start. The task force spent the first afternoon trying to get through mud and a mine field under the muzzles of antitank and dual purpose antiaircraft guns located in the Eschweiler woods to the north within the 104th Division's zone. Incurring a loss of fifteen tanks, the task force fell several hundred yards short of Scherpenseel and Hastenrath.
The second day, 17 November, brought several disturbing developments. First, the adjacent regiment of the 104th Division had run into CCB's old problem of the Donnerberg (Hill 287), the strategic height east of Stolberg, and had failed to keep abreast of the armor. This meant that the armor on the relatively low, open ground of the Stolberg Corridor still was exposed to fire from the north as well as from the Hamich ridge. Second, though parts of Task Force Mills got into the fringes of both Hastenrath and Scherpenseel, the cost in armored infantry was
AMERICAN TANK BURNING outside Hamich.
alarming. Though General Boudinot ordered forward the bulk of his reserve, primarily another company of armored infantry, antipersonnel mines and shelling prevented the reserve from reaching the task force until darkness had restricted the enemy's observation. Third, after only a day and a half of action, the combat command was down to 50 percent of original strength in tanks. Task Force Mills at the main point of danger had left only seven light tanks and eight mediums. Not all were permanently lost the mud had claimed some but for the moment those in the mud were of no more use than others that had succumbed to enemy fire. So perturbed was the 3d Armored Division commander, General Rose, that he alerted his division reserve to stand by for commitment upon an hour's notice.
of his heavier weapons already been displaced in preparation for the impending relief by the 47th Volks Grenadier Division.38
The day of 18 November opened inauspiciously when a shell fragment cut down the task force commander, Lt. Col. Herbert N. Mills.39 Yet with the assistance of the infantry reserve, the task force went through with the planned attacks against Hastenrath and Scherpenseel. This time adroit co-operation between tanks and infantry did the trick, so that by midafternoon Task Force Mills had cleared both villages. At 1745 the task force called for a fifteen minute concentration of time and impact artillery fire to thwart a two company counterattack which struck between the villages.
With Hastenrath and Scherpenseel secured, CCB could turn to the defensive. The 1st Division's capture of Hill 232 during the afternoon of 18 November eased the problems of enemy observation to a degree; but until the 104th Division could clear the combat command's left flank and the 47th Infantry sweep the rest of the Hamich ridge across the combat command's front, damaging German fire still could be expected.
Though CCB had taken its four objectives in less than three days, the results would stand as a monument to the celerity with which an enemy endowed with advantages in observation and assisted by nature can seriously cripple an armored force. The armored infantry had incurred losses of about 50 percent. Of 64 medium tanks at the start of the attack, all but 22 had been eliminated. Including 7 light tanks, total tank losses were 49. Panzerfausts had claimed 6; mistaken U.S. bombing, I; artillery fire, 6; mine fields, 12; and antitank fire, 24.40 These did not look much like statistics of a breakthrough operation.
Much of the difficulty experienced by the armor might have been avoided had the 104th Division on the combat command's left flank been able to keep abreast. Here the problem again was dominant German observation, in this case from the Donnerberg (Hill 287), near Stolberg, the height which had defied the 3d Armored Division in September.
In clearing the Eschweiler Weisweiler industrial triangle on the north wing of the VII Corps, the 104th Division was to operate basically astride the snakelike valley of the little Inde River. Because of the terrain, the division in early stages of the offensive would assist the VII Corps main effort directly only on the division's right wing. The assignment involved clearing a sector of about five square mites, made up basically of the Eschweiler woods lying between Stolberg and Eschweiler.
Having joined the VII Corps immediately after a baptism of fire with the Canadians near Antwerp, the 104th Division under General Allen had moved into the old positions of the 1st Division. These extended from the army boundary near Wuerselen southeast through Verlautenheide to the Inde River at Stolberg. On the eve of the attack one regiment of the 104th assumed control of a part of the
3d Armored Division's sector east of Stolberg and south of the Eschweiler woods opposite the Donnerberg (Hill 287). Told by General Collins to put greatest strength on the right wing in order to support the corps main effort, General Allen had noted from the first how the Donnerberg dominated this part of the front. Without control of this eminence, there was obviously little hope either for a drive northward to clear the northern half of Stolberg or for a drive northeastward on Eschweiler through the Eschweiler woods.41
Given two distinct missions one to assist the VII Corps main effort by sweeping the Eschweiler woods, the other to clear the industrial triangle General Allen divided his operations into two distinct phases. He directed Colonel Touart's 414th Infantry on the right wing to make the divisional main effort northeast against the Donnerberg and the Eschweiler woods. In the meantime, the other two regiments were to be executing limited operations which General Allen described as "pressure attacks." After clearing the woods, thereby signaling the end of the first phase, Colonel Touart's 414th Infantry was to pause while the main effort shifted to the division's north wing.
The main effort of the second phase was to be launched by the 413th Infantry from the vicinity of Verlautenheide, north eastward along the southernmost reaches of the Roer plain to come upon Eschweiler from the north. This drive and a renewal of Colonel Touart's push would converge upon Eschweiler, the heart of the industrial triangle. In the process, the center regiment, which by this time would have cleared the northern half of Stolberg, would be pinched out. With Eschweiler in hand, the division was to continue northeast to clear the remainder of the industrial triangle lying between the army boundary and the Inde. For assistance in clearing the last of the triangle, General Allen had the promise of the 47th Infantry, which by that time should have completed its work with the 1st Division.
As in the sector of the VII Corps main effort, the Germans defending Stolberg, the Donnerberg, and the Eschweiler woods were a part of the 12th Division. In the left of the 104th Division's zone, in that sector close alongside the Ninth Army where General Allen intended the main effort of his second phase, the enemy units belonged to the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division. The 104th Division had fairly detailed intelligence information on these units, passed on when the 1st Division had relinquished this sector.
Though the Eschweiler Weisweiler industrial triangle was high on the priority list for the saturation bombing on 16 November, most targets were so deep inside the triangle that the men of the 104th Division heard more of the bombing than they saw. None of the targets of the heavy bombers was closer than two miles from the division's forward lines. Somewhat inexplicably, 104th Division artillery played no large scale role in the preliminary bombardment. Though reinforced by an attached battalion of
155 mm. guns, the division's artillery fired only 271 rounds all day. Even more surprising was the fact that the organic artillery battalion in direct support of the main effort by the 44th Infantry fired not at all.42
If surprise was the object of muzzling the artillery, the experience of the attacking infantry soon after crossing the line of departure on 16 November indicated that the stratagem was ill advised. Only a drugged enemy could fail during daylight to spot attacking formations from an advantageous height like the Donnerberg.
Despite incessant attacks all through 16 and 17 November and into the next day, Colonel Touart's 44th Infantry made scarcely a dent in the enemy's hold on the Donnerberg. Possibly in an attempt at gaining surprise, one battalion attacked fifteen minutes before H Hour, but to no avail. Achieving a measure of cover and concealment among buildings, the right battalion of the 415th Infantry gained an insecure toehold in Birkengang, an industrial suburb of Stolberg located a few hundred yards northwest of the Donnerberg; but this was no real accomplishment toward the final end. Another battalion trying to bypass the Donnerberg and strike directly for the Eschweiler woods got nowhere.
So late into the evening of 16 November was the 414th Infantry attacking that General Allen set the hour for the next day's attack no earlier than noon. By that time he had worked out a detailed plan of artillery support and had the promise of fighter bombers against both the Donnerberg and the Eschweiler woods. Still the infantry could make no marked progress. During long weeks of stationary defense in this sector, the enemy's 12th Division had sown mines and strung barbed wire lavishly. On the Donnerberg itself three giant pillboxes provided stanch protection. Artillery directed from the Donnerberg and antitank guns in the Eschweiler woods punished not only the American infantry but supporting tanks as well.
By nightfall, optimists in the division could point out nevertheless that the advance of the battalion of the 415th Infantry into Birkengang, northwest of the Donnerberg, and limited success of a wide envelopment maneuver to the east through the zone of the 3d Armored Division had created an arc about the Donnerberg. In reality, so widespread were the segments of this arc that they offered little real hope for greater success the next day. As the assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. Bryant E. Moore, was to put it early on the third morning: "We must make some progress today. [It is] getting awful . . . ." The corps commander, General Collins, would agree. On 16 November he had told the 104th Division "in no uncertain terms to get moving and get moving fast."43
With just how much audacity the 414th Infantry had attacked during the first two days was difficult to determine. The only casualty figure the regiment had given, a record of 7 percent, or about fifty four men, lost in the battalion that was attacking the Donnerberg frontally, revealed no fanatic determination. Never
theless, the 414th Infantry obviously was facing a formidable position which, except at Birkengang, had to be approached over terrain almost devoid of cover. The difficulty on 17 November did not lie with the volume of supporting fire, for the 104th Division's organic and attached artillery had expended 5,621 rounds, a marked change from the first day.
Because the enemy had failed to counterattack in any strength, Colonel Touart could hope that this meant the enemy had no reserves. In this event, continued attack eventually would wear down the resistance. Because all the 414th Infantry's strength already was committed, Colonel Touart actually had little alternative but to pursue the same pattern of attack he had followed unsuccessfully for the first two days. While two battalions on the east pressed toward the Eschweiler woods, another was to renew the frontal strike against the Donnerberg and the right battalion of the 415th Infantry was to mop up in Birkengang.
A lack of reserves was, in reality, the problem the enemy faced. The only reserves available to the LXXXI Corps, not released for commitment at all until late on 17 November, were those consigned to the Schevenhuette sector. Though movement of the reserves was designed to enable the 12th Division and the other units of the corps to constrict their zones and thereby gain local reserves, this would take time. The admittedly cautious "pressure attacks" that the other two regiments of the 104th Division were conducting enabled the adjacent 3d Panzer Grenadier Division to release some troops; these, however, the LXXXI Corps commander consigned not to the Donnerberg but to the north opposite the Ninth Army, where he believed the Americans had pointed their main effort.44 The fact was that the attrition which naturally accompanied warding off persistent attacks had rendered those Germans near Stolberg much less capable of defending themselves on 18 November than they had been earlier.
One factor the Germans on the Donnerberg, along with others on the LXXXI Corps front, would miss on 18 November was the kind of artillery support they had been receiving. Thanks in part to stockpiling and in part to a "one time issue" of artillery ammunition from the Fuehrer Reserve (that is, ammunition stockpiled for the Ardennes offensive), the Germans in the LXXXI Corps sector had stepped up their artillery fire on 17 November to 13,200 rounds. This was abnormally high. On 18 November and for several days thereafter, they were to be restricted to 8,000 rounds. Even this figure was to decline, despite the fact that Rundstedt attributed any defensive successes achieved thus far "to a very large extent to our artillery operations . . . ."45
During the early part of the renewed attack against the Donnerberg on 18 November, Colonel Touart's 44th Infantry could detect little change in the situation. Again advances were measured in feet and yards. Then, about noon, the bottom suddenly fell out of the German defenses. This could have been the result of the execution of an earlier order from the LXXXI Corps for the 12th Division to bend back its north wing
to a second line of defense.46 More likely it was attributable at this particular point to the fact that persistent small unit maneuver at last paid off for the attackers. Germans in two of the big pillboxes surrendered. Though the occupants of the third refused to come out even after encirclement, for all practical purposes the Donnerberg by night of the third day of attack was in American hands.
Having, lost the fortified high ground, the enemy stood little chance of holding the Eschweiler woods. In late afternoon, despite a mistaken strafing by U.S. fighter bombers, the enveloping force on the east broke into the southern edge of the woods. As night came, Colonel Touart directed the kind of attack for which General Allen had specially trained the division. In the darkness, one company slipped past the enemy to drive almost a thousand yards to a road junction atop high ground in the center of the woods. Colonel Touart wasted no time in reinforcing the advantage, so that by daylight on 19 November the task remaining to the 414th Infantry before completion of the first phase of the 104th Division's attack was mop up and consolidation.
The news of the 414th Infantry's success prompted the division commander to direct an immediate step up of operations by his other two regiments. The main effort for the second phase of the attack shifted to the left wing regiment in the north alongside the Ninth Army, as much a complement to Ninth Army's battle of the Roer plain as to the VII Corps fight in the fringes of the Huertgen Forest.
These attacks by armor and infantry on the north wing of the VII Corps were subsidiary attacks designed primarily to assist the corps main effort. The same was true in some respects of the coincident attack by General Barton's 4th Division on the corps south wing. Yet the 4th Division also had a long range mission. After assisting the corps main effort by clearing the Huertgen Forest between Schevenhuette and Huertgen, the 4th Division was to continue to the Roer River south of Dueren.47
With the depressing results of the 28th Division's experience in the forest fresh in mind, General Barton must have been perturbed that even before the jump off his division already had one strike against it. As the 4th Division had been moving from the V Corps to an assembly area behind the VII Corps lines the night of 6 November, word had reached the 12th Infantry to drop out of the column. To shore up the faltering 28th Division, this regiment was to relieve the 109th Infantry astride the wooded plateau between the Weisser Weh Creek and the Germeter-Huertgen highway. Danger from the recurring crises within the 28th Division left no time for prior reconnaissance. The 12th Infantry had to go into the line that night.
This urgency prevented the 12th Infantry commander, Col. James S. Luckett,
from improving the dispositions which attack and counterattack had imposed upon the 109th Infantry. He had to relieve in place, unit for unit. Much of the effect of a fresh regiment entering the battle thus was dissipated at the start. In succeeding days, it was amply illustrated that while closely locked with the enemy a regiment has a hard time coordinating its battalions into a cohesive striking force. In the case of the 12th Infantry, divergent missions, made so remote by the dense forest that mutual support was impossible, quickly drained the battalions of offensive vitality.
While attached to the 28th Division, Colonel Luckett was to reduce the enemy's countersalient in the Weisser Weh valley and also improve and lengthen the line of departure overlooking Huertgen, which the 109th Infantry was to have secured. The 12th Infantry could accomplish neither. One reason was that the regiment could not operate as a whole. Another was the situation that by 9 November had enabled the Germans to shift strength from Kommerscheidt and Schmidt and counterattack southward from Huertgen against the 12th Infantry in an attempt at cutting off that part of the 28th Division still in Vossenack.
On 10 November the day that the First Army established a new intercorps boundary and thereby returned the 12th Infantry to 4th Division control the Germans launched their counterattack. Coincidentally, one of Colonel Luckett's battalions was attacking northward. The enemy quickly surrounded two of the American companies. Only by hastily contriving a line several hundred yards to the south was the 12th Infantry able to hold onto as much as a third of the plateau. Two days later, on 12 November, when two other companies of the 12th Infantry broke through to the encircled companies, the Germans closed in behind them. Then four companies instead of two were surrounded.
Not until 15 November, on the very eve of the November offensive, was Colonel Luckett able to extricate these four companies. Even then he had to settle for a final defensive line near the southern edge of the plateau. In nine days of bitter combat, the 12th Infantry had lost rather than gained ground. A thousand men had fallen victim either to enemy fire or to combat exhaustion, trench foot, or respiratory diseases. The way the battalions had to absorb replacements accurately depicted the condition of the regiment: new men entered the line wherever gaps existed. Then each surviving platoon leader assumed control of all men in a designated sector.
The contributions of Colonel Luckett's 12th Infantry to the main offensive obviously would be limited. Anticipating this fact, General Hodges had on 10 November attached to the VII Corps the 5th Armored Division's CCR. On 16 November Colonel Luckett was to renew his attack to regain the ground he had lost and secure control either of the Weisser Weh road or the Germeter Huertgen highway so that the armor might debouch against Huertgen.
That this maneuver never developed could have come as no surprise to those who knew the true condition of the 12th Infantry. Only in the Weisser Weh valley was the regiment able to gain any ground, and there only a few hundred yards. Casualties continued to soar so that by the end of the action the 12th Infantry counted its battle and nonbattle losses at more than 1,600. On 21 No
vember this dismal failure astride the bloody little plateau by a commander and a regiment heretofore possessing enviable reputations cost Colonel Luckett his command. It was apparent, however, that Luckett's superior, General Barton, recognized extenuating circumstances, for Colonel Luckett was given command of a regiment in another division.
Thus it was that the Germans already had called one strike on the 4th Division. General Barton had left but two regiments with which to attack on a four mile front to penetrate three and a half miles of Huertgen jungle and then to push another three and a half miles to the Roer. In light of the involvement of the 12th Infantry in the V Corps zone, General Barton had requested reinforcement, but none was forthcoming. Though the shift in the corps boundary at midnight 10 November and the attachment of the armored combat command were designed to assist, the increased responsibilities entailed in these changes created in the long run more hindrance than help.
Because a primary part of the 4th Division's mission was to assist the advance of the 1st Division, General Barton had to direct one of his regiments to hug his north boundary close alongside the 1st Division's 26th Infantry. This assignment fell to the 8th Infantry (Col. Richard G. McKee). From a point just south of Schevenhuette, the 8th Infantry was to attack northeast two miles through the forest to high ground about Gut Schwarzenbroich, a forest manor on the grounds of a ruined monastery. This would put the regiment about two thirds of the way through the forest in position to continue northeast toward Dueren.
To cover a remaining three forested miles between this regiment's southern boundary and the positions of the 12th Infantry, General Barton had only one regiment, Colonel Lanham's 22d Infantry. Trying to maintain greatest strength in the north, in keeping with the requirement of assisting the 1st Division, while at the same time reducing the gap to the 12th Infantry, General Barton directed an attack on a two battalion front in the center of the three mile zone. He told Colonel Lanham to make his main effort on the left, hold his reserve on the left, and with the help of an attached squadron of cavalry keep the area north to the regimental boundary clear. The danger inherent in the regiment's dangling right flank would have to be risked in the hope that the 12th Infantry might be able to close the gap.
To the 22d Infantry General Barton gave initial objectives on the far fringe of the forest, the villages of Kleinhau and Grosshau. From these villages the regiment was to turn northeastward on Gey for eventual convergence with the 8th Infantry on the approaches to Dueren.
On the eve of the November offensive, the disturbing thing about the 4th Division's impending attack was not so much that the 4th Division must fight in the Huertgen Forest. That division after division might have to do this had been foreordained weeks before when the Americans had persisted in trying to push straight through the forest even after the first attempts had been set back rudely. This American fixation would remain a puzzle to more than one enemy commander. As one German officer was to put it later, the Germans hardly could have used the forest as a base for large scale operations into the American flank at Aachen, both because "there were no forces available for this purpose and
because tanks could not be employed in this territory."48 The disturbing thing was that despite the hundreds of American dead who had fallen victim to the forest, the Americans had not altered their methods of attack. As early as midSeptember the 9th Division had demonstrated that to send widely separated columns through such an obstacle was to invite disaster. Yet on a second occasion in October the 9th Division had tried the same thing and in early November the 28th Division had followed suit. Now the 4th Division was to pursue the same pattern.
The First Army commander, General Hodges, did not like the method of attack. On the day the 4th Division jumped off, Hodges came away from a visit to the division with the impression that "they are going about the attack in the wrong way running down roads . . . instead of advancing through the woods tightly buttoned up yard by yard."49 On the other hand, what was a division commander to do when faced with a frontage requiring regimental attack zones from one to three miles wide? A zone this wide was usually considered great even for open ground; the attacks of the 9th and 28th Divisions already had proved it distinctly too much for the Huertgen Forest.50
It is possible that by some untried legerdemain the First Army might have juggled its units to decrease divisional frontages in the forest. Yet the basic fact was that, in view of available troops, the First Army had a lot of ground to cover. This fact was clearly apparent from General Hodges' inability to constitute other than a nominal army reserve.51
A superficial glance at the enemy opposite the 4th Division would not, of course, have inspired awe. The same nondescript 275th Infantry Division, which earlier had opposed the 9th and 28th Divisions and which by this time had absorbed remnants of thirty seven different units, held the line all the way from Schevenhuette to the forested plateau near Germeter. The controlling corps, General Straube's LXXIV Corps, was virtually without reserves. Except for the combat command sent north to strengthen the reserve of the LXXXI Corps, the depleted 116th Panzer Division still was on hand; but higher headquarters was becoming increasingly insistent that this division be released for refitting before the Ardennes counteroffensive. As events developed, the panzer division was to be withdrawn on 21 November, along with most of the headquarters troops that had helped defeat the 28th Division's attack on Schmidt. The adjoining 89th Division, fatigued and markedly understrength after the Schmidt fight, obviously could provide the 275th Division little help.52
A closer analysis of the German situation would reveal that the 275th Division
had demonstrated twice already that within the Huertgen Forest large, well organized units composed of first class troops were not essential to a steadfast defense. Having thickly sown the limited network of firebreaks, trails, and roads with mines, a few poorly co-ordinated squads in well prepared field fortifications might hold off a company or a battalion at heavy cost to the attackers. The ground under the closely planted trees so hoarded the late autumn rains that mud could deny routes of communication even when other means failed. Barbed wire, antipersonnel mines, log bunkers, and logcovered foxholes and machine gun emplacements honeycombed the forest. Meshed branches of trees hid them from view.
What is more, the 275th Division had a strength in men and guns which was considerably more impressive than could have been deduced from the conglomeration of subordinate units involved. Two of the division's organic regiments were basically intact. Though the third was down to about 250 men and was held in reserve, a composite regiment created from various attached units had taken its place in the line. The division had some 6,500 men, 106 tubes of artillery, 21 assault guns, and 23 antitank guns of 75-mm or above.53
Operating under strictest security while awaiting D Day, the 4th Division could learn little of the specific locations of the German positions. Because only small engineer units had held most of the line here with isolated roadblocks, intelligence information passed on to General Barton's G-2 was limited. In general, the division knew only that the enemy's main line of resistance ran in the extreme south behind the Weisser Weh Creek, except for a small salient extending toward the Rother Weh Creek. After confluence of the Rother Weh and the Weisser Weh, about two miles southeast of Schevenhuette, the two creeks continue as the Weh.
Of vital concern in the 4th Division's attack preparations was the limited road net. The key road was a lateral route that follows the course of the Weisser Weh and Weh. For purposes of identification, this was labeled Road W. From Road W other routes led both west and east like sparse branches on a grotesque tree. Those on the west afforded both regiments tortuous but adequate supply routes to their lines of departure. Attacking from the Weh Creek, the 8th Infantry would have one good road leading east as well, a route labeled Road U, which meandered northeast past Gut Schwarzenbroich all the way through the forest in the desired direction of Dueren. In the southern portion of the 8th Infantry's sector, another route called Road V also might serve the regiment during early stages of the attack.
It was the 22d Infantry that would feel most the effects of the limited roads. From this regiment's line of departure along the Rother Weh, a mile west of lateral Road W, no road existed within the regimental sector to provide access across Raven's Hedge ridge (Rabenheck), a mile wide forested highland lying between the Rother Weh and the Weisser Weh. For getting supplies across Raven's Hedge ridge, the regimental commander, Colonel Lanham, had to bank upon improving a firebreak. Once past the Weisser Weh, however, the 22d Infantry would have one good route, Road X, leading east to the village of Grosshau,
which was one of the 22d Infantry's objectives. A branch of Road X, labeled Road Y, led to the other objective, Kleinhau, and a second branch, Road Z, to Huertgen.
Unlike most other units in the November offensive, the 4th Division could count on little direct assistance from preliminary bombardment. Indeed, even though the division was strengthened by the attachment of four artillery battalions, General Barton decided against an artillery preparation. Under the conditions prevailing in the forest, he deemed the chance of achieving surprise more promising. The only preliminary support scheduled in the 4th Division zone was by fighter bombers against the villages of Huertgen, Kleinhau, Grosshau, and Gey.
On the 4th Division's left wing, the 8th Infantry attempted penetration of the enemy's Weh Creek line at a firebreak several hundred yards south of axial Road U. The leading battalion under Lt. Col. Langdon A. Jackson, Jr., took a few casualties from 120-mm. mortar fire while climbing a precipitous wooded slope beyond the creek, but continued to advance until, at a junction of firebreaks, a well-organized German position came into view. Barring further advance was a pyramid of three concertinas of heavy wire, eight to ten feet high. The ground in front was thick with Schuh mines. A hail of machine gun fire met every attempt to move up to the obstacle.
Inching forward, daring men tried to slide a Bangalore torpedo beneath the concertinas. As German fire cut down one man, another would take his place. At last they had the explosive lodged beneath the wire. Anxiously, the rest of the battalion waited for the explosion to signal a rush through the wire. The cue never came. The Bangalore torpedo was wet. It would not go off .
That night the battalion's Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon at last blew a gap through the wire, but as daylight came on 17 November the enemy stymied every attempt to charge through. Three times Colonel Jackson's men tried it, only to falter each time as man after man fell before the enemy's fire. By noon this battalion had lost about 200 men, the most concentrated casualties any unit of the regiment was to incur in the costly forest fighting.
Even after a platoon leader, 1st Lt. Bernard J. Ray, had sacrificed his own life to blow another gap in the concertina obstacle, the men could not get through. Thrusting explosive caps in his pocket, wrapping a length of primer cord about his body, and carrying a Bangalore torpedo, Lieutenant Ray moved alone toward the wire. As he paused to prepare his demolition charge, an exploding mortar shell wounded him severely. Apparently aware that unless he completed his task in a matter of moments, he would fail, Lieutenant Ray hastily connected the explosive to the caps in his pockets and the primer cord about his body. Having turned himself into a human torpedo, he set off the explosion.54
In the meantime, deep in the forest several miles to the southwest, the 22d Infantry also had attacked at 1245 on 16 November. In driving toward Grosshau and Kleinhau, this regiment first had to cross the wooded Raven's Hedge ridge, lying between the line of departure at the Rother Weh and the Weisser Weh. Though the enemy line here was primarily a series of outposts, the going was far from
easy. By nightfall of D Day the leading battalion of the 22d Infantry still was some 300 yards short of the Weisser Weh.
This first day's advance across a mile of wooded, precipitous ground that had no axial road quickly demonstrated the supply problems the 22d Infantry would experience for days to come. So onerous was the task that the leading battalion could not be ready to resume the attack the next morning. Instead, the regimental commander, Colonel Lanham, directed another battalion to move on 17 November northeast up the ridge along a firebreak, which he hoped to develop as a supply route. Upon reaching a junction of several firebreaks, which the men called Five Points, this battalion was to turn east, cross the Weisser Weh, and drive on toward Grosshau along the north of Road X. As soon as the other battalion had been resupplied, it was to resume the attack eastward along the south of Road X.
The firebreak leading to Five Points became troublesome almost from the start. Hardly had the fresh battalion begun to advance when an aptly directed German shelling inflicted fifty casualties on the lead company, knocked out all communications, and killed the battalion commander. When Colonel Lanham risked commitment of a platoon of light tanks, the first two tanks struck mines and blocked passage of the others. Even when the advance reached Five Points, the firebreak remained a problem. The enemy had strewn it with both antitank and antipersonnel mines. Carrying parties had to dodge mines and shells while fighting running battles with German patrols. The enemy artillery scored another lucky hit late on 17 November when a concentration wiped out the commander of the 22d Infantry's reserve battalion and most of his staff.
Despite the problems in the rear, the battalion at Five Points made a surprisingly swift advance on the third day, 18 November. By early afternoon its troops not only had crossed lateral Road W but had moved several hundred yards beyond to occupy a wooded hill lying in the northeast angle of the juncture of Roads X and W.
Coincidentally, the battalion on the south ran into myriad problems. Its south flank exposed, this battalion had to beat off a small counterattack before advance could begin. Thereupon the men encountered an extensive antipersonnel mine field. Trying to find a path around the mines, one company got lost and could not be located until late in the day. In the afternoon enemy fire claimed this battalion commander as well. The operations and communications officers and two company commanders also were wounded. When the battalion executive officer and a replacement S-3 moved forward to take over, the executive too was hit and the new S-3 killed. Not until the regimental S-2, Maj. Howard C. Blazzard, arrived in late afternoon to assume command was this battalion at last able to move. Darkness was falling as the depleted companies crossed Road W on the run, waded the icy Weisser Weh, and climbed the steep slope beyond.
With a battalion entrenched beyond Road W on either side of Road X, the 22d Infantry at last had registered an appreciable gain. But such a strain had the task been that Colonel Lanham appealed to General Barton for twenty four hours in which to consolidate. In three days the regiment had incurred more than 300 battle casualties, including all three
STRUGGLING UP a wooded hillside.
battalion commanders, several key staff officers, about half the company commanders, and many key company officers and noncommissioned officers. As others had found out before, the close combat of the Huertgen Forest was rough on leaders. Colonel Lanham had not only an exposed south flank, where the 12th Infantry was two miles away, but an open north flank as well. The 8th Infantry to the north was a mile away, and a mile was an alarming distance in the forest. Even between the two forward battalions on either side of Road X a problem of contact existed, for both enemy mines and shelling decreed that the troops give Road X a wide berth.
had to explode them in place and then fill the craters. Wheels of vehicles digging deep in the mud often exploded mines missed by the mine detectors.
Even had the firebreak been passable, another obstacle still existed at the juncture of Roads X and W. There the enemy had destroyed a bridge across the Weisser Weh. Uncanny accuracy of German shellfire on the site denied speed in rebuilding the bridge and set many to wondering if the enemy had not left an artillery observer hidden nearby in the forest.
Aside from the difficulty of getting supplies forward, the road problem also prevented getting tanks, tank destroyers, or antitank guns to the front. These were urgently needed, not only to support further infantry advance but also for defense in the event the enemy employed tanks either along Road X or against either of the undefended flanks along Road W.
In light of these conditions, General Barton hardly could have denied Colonel Lanham's request for a twenty four hour respite. Yet in authorizing a day's postponement, Barton sought to implement a plan contemplated from the first for easing the 22d Infantry's supply problems. He told the 8th Infantry also to postpone any further eastward advance temporarily while turning instead to clear lateral Road W southeast to the interregimental boundary. The 22d Infantry in the meantime was to clear north to the boundary. Vehicles supporting the 22d Infantry then might proceed northeast along a road paralleling the Rother Weh into the 8th Infantry's sector to the confluence of the Rother Weh and the Weisser Weh, thence south along Road W back into the 22d Infantry's zone.
Despite the hold up at the concertina obstacle during the first two days of the attack, Colonel McKee's 8th Infantry at last had begun to advance. On the third day, 18 November, while the 22d Infantry was trying to cross Road W, Colonel McKee had decided that no matter how discouraging the terrain for use of tanks, the close fire support of tanks was the only solution. Committing a fresh battalion of infantry, he sent along a platoon of light tanks, a platoon of mediums, and three tank destroyers.
As the armor hugged the trees along either side of the firebreak, the infantry used the path of the treads as protection against antipersonnel mines. Remarkably, the tanks struck no antitank mines before reaching the concertina wire. Blasting away with their 75-mm guns, the mediums tore away the obstacle. The infantry quickly followed them through.
Not until the attack had carried a thousand yards to reach a clearing near the junction of Road U and the Renn Weg the latter a trail leading southeastward in the direction of Gey, then turning sharply south toward Grosshau did the infantry and tanks meet another nest of organized opposition. This was an elaborately prepared position within what was apparently a second line of defense, but the Germans had neglected to mine in front of it. While the medium tanks and tank destroyers provided a base of fire, the light tanks and a company of infantry threaded through the trees to come upon the enemy flank. A fortuitous assist from the pilot of a P 47, who flew low over the trees to diagnose the situation and then strafe the German position, aided the envelopment.
A battalion of the 8th Infantry now had penetrated more than a mile past
Road W and stood no more than a thousand yards from high ground in the vicinity of Gut Schwarzenbroich, the regiment's first objective. Yet the penetration was so slim and pencillike that it hardly could be exploited without a broader base. To alleviate this situation and at the same time fulfill General Barton's directive of clearing Road W as far as the interregimental boundary, Colonel McKee on 19 November sent a battalion southeastward parallel to Road W to seize high ground south of Road V. By nightfall this battalion was in place.
Despite this advance, a short stretch of Road W between the 8th and 22d Infantry Regiments still remained in enemy hands. Also, German shelling of the bridge site at the junction of Roads X and W again had prevented engineers from rebuilding the bridge. Thus no easing of the 22d Infantry's supply problems was discernible by nightfall of 19 November.
For all the American supply problems, it was obvious from the relative ease with which the 8th Infantry had advanced on 18 and 19 November and from the achievements of the 22d Infantry in crossing Road W on 18 November that the enemy's overextended 275th Division was incapable of denying further advance. That this situation would arise could not have been unanticipated by the German commanders. For days they had been engaged in an almost frantic search for troops to back up the 275th Division. Already they had used contingents of what was left of the 116th Panzer Division, but these were not enough.
By stretching defensive lines dangerously thin, the adjacent corps to the south at last managed to pinch out and release the 344th Infantry Division. A day later a volks grenadier division arrived in the Seventh Army's southernmost corps and eventually would relieve the 353d Infantry Division. Though the 344th and 353d Divisions "had little combat value in the unusually bitter fighting of the Huertgen Forest," the Germans rushed first the 344th, then the 353d, to the forest. During the night of 19 November and the next day, the 344th moved in behind the 275th Division.55
When both American regiments renewed their attacks to the east and northeast on 20 November, the effect of the German reinforcements was readily apparent. Colonel McKee's 8th Infantry cleared additional ground to the southeast in the direction of the interregimental boundary, but in the main effort toward Gut Schwarzenbroich, neither of two attacking battalions could gain. So close were the opposing forces in the forest that as night came, enemy fire prevented the men from cutting logs for overhead cover on their foxholes. As all had come to know, failure to provide overhead cover in the forest was an invitation to death.56
Resistance was stiff and local counterattacks severe as the 22d Infantry renewed its two battalion attack toward Grosshau and Kleinhau. Counterattacks brought particularly heavy casualties along the open right flank of the regiment. As night came, the regiment could note ad-
vances of only a few hundred yards, though this meant that the battalion on the north of Road X had moved almost to the junction of Roads X and Y.
Going any farther than this in the face of determined resistance and without an adequate supply route obviously was a hazardous proposition. Although Colonel Lanham had but two battalions actually up front, his reserve already was tied up with diverse missions: protecting the regiment's exposed flanks, clearing Road W north to the 8th Infantry, and eliminating German infiltration and bypassed strongpoints, one of which had taken the regimental command post under fire. One company of the reserve was combing the woods near the Weisser Weh bridge site, trying to find the enemy artillery observer suspected of directing the uncannily accurate shellfire on the site. Casualties, even in the reserve, had been alarming. In addition, German tanks (or assault guns) had been spotted along Roads X and Y. Though these had operated singly in passive defensive roles, no one could say when they might change their tactics.
By constructing a bridge in sections within the woods away from the bridge site, the engineers at last got a firm crossing of the Weisser Weh in place during the night Of 20 November. The next day they were to find the enemy's artillery observer hidden in the woods. Yet the 22d Infantry still had no supply route, for not until late on 21 November were patrols of Colonel Lanham's regiment to make contact along Road W with those of Colonel McKee's.
By nightfall of 20 November the awful price the 4th Division's two regiments had had to pay in the five day attack that had brought no penetration deeper than a mile and a half was readily apparent. Some rifle companies were down below fifty effectives. Several had only one or two officers left. Losses in battalion commanders had been strikingly severe, particularly in the 22d Infantry. Perhaps the hardest hit unit of either regiment was the south wing battalion of the 22d Infantry, which had both to attack and defend the regiment's open southern flank. That battalion had been reduced to the size of a company. For the two regiments the toll in battle casualties alone was about 1,500 Several hundred more men had been evacuated with respiratory diseases, trench foot, and combat exhaustion. Although replacements had begun what was to become a daily trek to the front lines, they never were to equal the fallen men in numbers, and days and weeks would pass before they might approach the fallen in experience. The 4th Division obviously needed a pause for breath.
Out of a decision made at First Army level developed the opportunity for a pause. A day before, on 19 November, General Hodges had ordered the V Corps to join the offensive. The inability of the 12th Infantry to gain ground from which the attached combat command of the 5th Armored Division might take Huertgen had underscored the importance of that village. Transferring Huertgen to the V Corps sector would ensure its capture and at the same time help the 4th Division by decreasing its zone of responsibility.
General Hodges reckoned that by speeding the relief of the 28th Division in the Germeter Vossenack area, the V Corps might attack as early as 21 November with a fresh infantry division. To assist this division, he gave the combat command to the V Corps. So that the new force
might assist the 4th Division even more, General Hodges gave the V Corps responsibility not only for Huertgen but also for Kleinhau, the southernmost of the 22d Infantry's objectives.57
As soon as troops of the V Corps passed through the 12th Infantry in the attack on Huertgen, the 12th Infantry was to move north into 4th Division reserve. After shoring up the regiment with replacements, General Barton might use it to protect the south flank of the 22d Infantry. No doubt infinitely relieved by this turn of events, General Barton told Colonel McKee and Colonel Lanham to take another twenty four hour rest from the offensive. Use the time, he said, to consolidate gains and open adequate supply routes. The attack would be renewed on 22 November.58
On 21 November, fresh forces were to enter the November offensive. On the German side, the 344th Division had replaced the 275th. On the American side, the V Corps was to strike for Huertgen.