The October Pause in Operations
At the end of the third week in September Allied offensive operations again were feeling the pinch of an unfavorable logistical situation. The battles attendant on the Holland airborne attack, the First Army drive to crack the West Wall at Aachen, and the Third Army attempt to expand the bridgehead east of the Moselle all combined to strain to breaking point the existing port facilities and the supply and communications systems in northern France. The shortage of artillery ammunition had become a critical problem, and it was only a question of time until several combat divisions would have to be "grounded" for lack of transportation, gasoline, and essential equipment. Not only did the supply situation threaten to limit the scope of those operations already in progress, but, still more important, there could be no adequate logistical preparations for the support of a final drive into Germany.1 The hope of a deep thrust across the lower Rhine and a quick drive on a narrow front into the heart of Germany had proved illusory, if, indeed, it had ever been seriously entertained by SHAEF. The fight for the Arnhem bridgehead obviously was going against the Allies.2 It now appeared that a major offensive on a broad front would be required to put the Allied armies across the Rhine; such an offensive could be mounted, but it could not be sustained unless the port of Antwerp was in operation.
On the afternoon of 22 September General Eisenhower met with his top commanders. In forthright terms he announced that he "required general acceptance of the fact that the possession of an additional major deep-water port on our north flank is an indispensable prerequisite for the final drive deep into Germany." Priority, therefore, would be given to an attack on the north flank by Montgomery's 21st Army Group with the object of clearing the Schelde approaches to Antwerp (the latter had been captured on 4 Septem-
The allocation of the supplies needed to support the 21st Army Group efforts and the First Army attempt to drive through the West Wall to Cologne and Bonn would not permit the Third Army to continue the attack east of the Moselle. The drive toward the Saar always had been subsidiary to that aimed at the Ruhr. Now the priority accorded the opening of Antwerp-a priority on which the Supreme Commander and the Combined Chiefs of Staff were agreed4 -would reduce still further the importance attached to the Lorraine operation. Eisenhower therefore instructed the 12th Army Group commander that the Third Army and any units of the new Ninth Army that entered the line were to take "no more aggressive action than is permitted by the maintenance situation after the full requirements of the main effort had been met."
To open the port of Antwerp was now the order of the day. Eisenhower wrote a personal letter to Montgomery, who had not attended the meeting of 22 September, and after a discussion of the over-all situation-which included a statement that the First Army might be forced to abandon the thrust eastward from Aachen-concluded: "Of course, we need Antwerp." In this same message the Supreme Commander sought to quiet Montgomery's continued protests against the diversion of troops and supplies to the Lorraine area by a reference to the 4th Armored tank battles: "Bradley has been quite successful in keeping a lot of enemy strength to the south, as is clearly indicated by the enemy concentration of armor in the Lunéville area."5 General Bradley, in turn, passed on the Supreme Commander's decision to General Patton in a personal letter apparently calculated to allay the latter's frequently expressed suspicion that he and the Third Army were the victims of subterranean maneuvers at SHAEF. After telling Patton, "It is apparent to everyone that no
The scheduled attack by the 7th Armored to force a crossing over the Seille south of Metz was now perforce to be abandoned.7 At the same time plans were in the making to take the XV Corps from the Third Army and give it to Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers' 6th Army Group. Here again the factor of supply ruled tactical assignments. General Devers' troops were being supplied from the great harbor of Marseille. He had assured General Eisenhower on 22 September that the southern line of communications could support two more divisions in the attack. Since the Supreme Commander had ordered the continuation of the 6th Army Group attack toward Mulhouse and Strasbourg -an attack made possible by the logistical independence of the southern group of armies-and since he desired to keep as many divisions as possible on the offensive, Eisenhower now assigned the XV Corps to Devers as "the simplest solution."8 The transfer would be made on 29 September. This whittling process naturally tended to weaken the Third Army, even when on the defensive. A Letter of Instructions from Bradley's headquarters on 25 September, therefore, stated the intention to extend the Ninth Army front southward to include Metz when the Ninth Army arrived to take over a sector between the First and Third Armies.9
General Patton quite naturally was restive under the new orders forcing him to abandon the offensive. Logistical difficulties he found irritating, but in the past, when in command of smaller forces, he had shown uncanny skill in continuing his attacks despite meager supplies. Patton's unwillingness to be slowed down during the Sicilian campaign by terrain, communications, supply, Germans, or higher commands had caused Eisenhower to recommend him to General Marshall "as an army commander that you can use with [the] certainty that the troops will not be stopped by ordinary obstacles."10 Now
On 25 September General Bradley wrote a personal note to General Eisenhower and in passing set forth his agreement with the Third Army plans for local operations:
In accordance with instructions I received at your headquarters the other day, I have ordered the Third Army to assume the defensive. At the same time, however, I have authorized George to make some minor adjustments in his present lines. There are about three localities just in front of his present position which he assures me he can take from time to time as ammunition becomes available on his present allotment, and which will save many casualties in the long run. One of these localities is a woods on his right flank from which many counterattacks have been launched. These woods make a good anchor for his right flank. A couple of other places are hills which look down on his present position and furnish such excellent observation of the enemy that George believes it will be economical in the long run to take them as opportunities present themselves. I am doing this in the belief that it complies with the spirit of your directive to assume the defensive in order to save supplies for the First Army.12
These "minor adjustments" were published to Patton's general officers on the same day as a series of priorities for immediate operations to secure "a suitable line of departure so that we can move rapidly when the Supreme Commander directs us to resume the offensive."13 (Map XXII)
The first priority was to be the capture of the Forêt de Parroy in the XV Corps sector on the right wing of the army. Its seizure would bring the XV Corps abreast of the XII Corps salient east of Arracourt and reduce enemy pressure on the 4th Armored Division. The second priority was given to operations intended to drive a wedge into the concentric Metz fortifications by the capture of forts west and southwest of the city. Of these works Fort Driant
The local operations outlined above would lead to limited-objective attacks by elements of the Third Army through the last days of September and well into October. Although there was now to be a pause in the Third Army offensive toward the Rhine, there would, nevertheless, be extremely hard fighting.
The Initial Attacks on Fort Driant
During the first phase of the XX Corps operation against Metz, air support had been available only sporadically and in a very limited quantity. Faced with the necessity of increasing the number of European ports available to the Allies, SHAEF had decided to take much of the air force normally allotted in tactical support of the ground forces and assign it to the operation at Brest. Although the XIX Tactical Air Command and IX Bomber Command did divert squadrons to the Third Army front, such missions generally were carried out by relatively small numbers of fighter-bombers and a few medium bombers. The air operations over Brest continued from 26 August until the capitulation of the fortress on 19 September. During that time the XIX TAC, usually assigned to co-operate with the Third Army, flew the majority of its missions at Brest on twenty-three of the twenty-six days involved. Whether the decision to divert tactical air power to Brest was the part of wisdom remains a debatable question. The modern fortifications around that port were very strong and the Ninth Air Force subsequently stated: "The reports of the bombing of modern reinforced concrete emplacements were negative. These structures proved practically impervious to air attack, and there appears to be no authenticated report of one being de-
On 17 September, after agreement by the staffs at 12th Army Group and the Ninth Air Force, General Walker issued a tentative and highly secret plan under the code name "Operation Thunderbolt." This called for a combined effort by air and ground forces and set 21 September as a target date for beginning the operation. The attack would turn inward toward Metz, generally following the axis of the Moselle, with the river tentatively marked as the boundary between the 90th and 5th Divisions, the two formations selected to make the main effort on the ground. No change was made in the mission assigned the 7th Armored Division, which, in this plan, would continue its attempts to isolate the Metz area by envelopment to the east. The projected operation was divided into three phases, of which the seizure of Fort Driant would be the first. Each phase, in turn, consisted of three stages: preparatory attacks by heavy bombers; advance by the infantry to the line of departure under cover of a bombardment by medium bombers and artillery fire; then the final infantry assault, supported by direct-fire weapons and artillery. Fighter-bombers from the XIX TAC were to furnish continuous support to the ground forces as the operation developed.16
The "Air Support Plan," prepared for the Metz attack by the G-3, Air, 12th Army Group, contained one, extremely important proviso: "The assault will be based on the attack of the medium bombers and will not take place until weather permits their use." But in addition to the highly problematical condition of the weather in late September the operation would be contingent also on the priorities which might be assigned the Ninth Air Force by headquarters above the Third Army. While it was true that SHAEF had erased
The first object in the proposed air-ground operation against Metz was the reduction of Fort Driant, a required preliminary to any further attempt to penetrate the Metz fortifications from the south or southwest. Col. Charles W. Yuill, the commanding officer of the 11th Infantry, had urged that Fort Driant could be taken by storm and seems to have been instrumental in selling this idea to the corps and army staffs. General Walker, who was not too impressed with the strength of the fortified works around Metz, made no special arrangements to reinforce the assault force earmarked for the Fort Driant attacks and proposed to use only the 2d Battalion, 11th Infantry, which had been left to contain the fort and its garrison while the main body of the 5th Division battled east of the Moselle. From 19 September onward the 2d Battalion was alerted almost daily to begin the attack. Numerous factors conspired to delay the operation, however: several days of bad flying weather; uncertainty as to the exact time when the American planes would arrive on those days when they were able to go aloft; and a continued shortage of artillery ammunition which made it impossible to support an attack east of the river and still conduct an intensive shelling at Fort Driant.
In the meantime the 90th Infantry Division had returned to the attack in the Jeanne d'Arc sector, roughly two and a half miles north of Fort Driant. In the 90th Division scheme of maneuver, planned originally as a part of "Operation Thunderbolt," General McLain intended that his division should execute a power drive to the east from positions south of Gravelotte, making the main effort toward the Jeanne d'Arc works. In order to shift the balance of the division and nourish this attack, the 358th was relieved on the north flank by Task Force Polk (the 3d Cavalry Group, reinforced) and on 27 September moved south around to the right flank of the 359th, where the 3d Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron had been deployed. A day earlier the 3d Battalion of the 359th had commenced a fight to seize the road between Gravelotte and St. Hubert's Farm as a jumping-off point for the projected
The decision, in higher headquarters, to detach the 7th Armored Division from the XX Corps forced Patton to abandon the projected drive east of Metz. Although General Patton and General Walker disliked giving up any ground it was apparent that the 5th Division by itself could not hold the existing line east of the river and mount an assault on Fort Driant at the same time. Therefore, General Irwin was ordered to extend his right flank to take over from the 7th Armored Division, while shortening the extended front by a limited withdrawal back toward the Moselle. The relief was completed by the morning of 25 September. The 7th Armored Division began a move to Hasselt, Belgium, and the 5th Division withdrew to a new main line of resistance under a covering shell of infantry outposts. This reorganization was completed without incident, and on the night of 25-26 September the outpost line was pulled back to the main body. The new main line of resistance east of the river was held by the 11th Infantry (-) on the north wing, the 10th Infantry in the center, and the 2d Infantry on the south. The towns which had cost so much to take-Corny and Pournoy-la-Chétive-were abandoned while the line in the north and northeast was constructed. The 2d Infantry was thus freed to take over the sector formerly held by CCB, 7th Armored Division, on the high ground west of the Seille River-from Cheminot north to the Bois Jurieux. North of the 2d Infantry the 10th Infantry line swung in an arc back to the west. At Marieulles the 11th Infantry (-) sector began,
Meanwhile the focus of attention shifted across the Moselle to Fort Driant, where the 5th Division faced a special and difficult task. By 26 September the static situation along the new main line of resistance in the 5th Division bridgehead promised a little more freedom in the use of artillery ammunition, and General Walker, more and more impatient with the delay at Fort Driant, ordered the attack to begin the following day-with or without support from the air.17
Virtually nothing was yet known of the detailed construction of Fort Driant, or the field fortifications around it. American patrols had made numerous attempts to work their way into the fort area only to be stopped each time by the enemy outposts and ranging fire from the main works. Air photos showed little but the outlines of the casemates, bunkers, connecting trenches, and the surrounding moat. However, operations both east and west of the Moselle had amply demonstrated the tactical importance of this particular fort. Fort Driant (or Kronprinz) held a dominant height from which the artillery in the other southern works of "Fortress Metz" could be directed and controlled. Its own guns covered the approaches along the Moselle and provided flanking fire in support of the Verdun group (Forts Sommy and St. Blaise) on the east bank of the river. Obviously, any attempts to wedge a way into Metz along the Moselle axis, a maneuver for which the XX Corps was now deployed, or any penetration east of Gravelotte must be contingent on capturing or at least neutralizing this fort.
Fort Driant belonged to the outer ring of the Metz fortresses, comprising the most modern and the strongest works in the system. (Map XXIII) Built in 1902, it had been modernized and further strengthened by both French and Germans.18 The main works stood on a bald-topped hill, 360 meters in height, and fringed sparsely by trees. A supply road angled north to Ars-sur-Moselle. Below the hill a thick patch of woods reached out toward the southwest slope, and in these woods the Americans assembled for their first attacks. The main
[Insert between pp. 264 and 265]
Colonel Yuill was far from satisfied by the maps available to guide his assault troops. The 1:100,000 sheets in use at the time of the Moselle crossings had been replaced by a fairly accurate series of 1:50,000 maps, but even this scale was too indefinite and too sparse in detail for a battalion attack. Members of Colonel Yuill's staff, with the aid of corps and army intelligence officers, succeeded in locating in Paris a few 1:20,000 contour maps of the Metz area. Then followed a search for detailed plans of the fortification. The trail led from Verdun to Nancy to Lyons, where engraving plates, hidden by a French officer in 1940, were uncovered. These provided a wealth of detail on the works at Fort Driant. Unfortunately the detailed ground plans did not reach the 11th Infantry until 29 September, and the troops making the first assault received only a vague briefing on the basis of inexact sketch maps of Fort Driant and its surrounding terrain.20
On the morning of 27 September the skies cleared, and General Irwin, anxious to give his air support as much time as possible, ordered the assault
At H Hour E Company moved out of the woods south of the fort under cover of a smoke screen which a company of 4.2 chemical mortars had laid on the fort and the wooded draw behind it. Company G and a company of tank destroyers from the 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion followed. Short of the fort the infantry came upon a moat, or ditch, and heavy wire entanglements, the whole covered by outlying pillboxes. The enemy in the fort had been relatively quiet during the American approach, but now he opened up with small arms, machine guns, and mortars. Two platoons worked their way around to the west side of the fort, where a causeway gave entrance to the enceinte itself, but were driven to earth some three hundred yards from the moat by a hail of small arms fire. The tank destroyers, which had driven onto the open ground close behind the infantry skirmish line, engaged the outer German pillboxes and the machine gun embrasures in the main works, but, despite what appeared to be accurate laying, could not put the enemy crews out of action. The mass of wire entanglements, fire from numerous and previously undiscovered pillboxes surrounding the fort, and the inefficacy of tank destroyer fire against reinforced concrete works forbade a continuation of the action; at 1830 General Irwin gave Colonel Yuill permission to with-
BOMBING OF FORT DRIANT by P-47's from the XIX Tactical Air Command.
PATTON CONFERS WITH EISENHOWER on plan for reduction of Fort Driant. On left is General Patton, on right General Eisenhower.
On the following day General Patton met with General Walker and General Irwin to consider the situation. The army commander himself did not press General Irwin to continue the Driant operations, but instead instructed the 5th Division commander to take advantage of the forthcoming lull in the army's operations to rotate and rest his tired division. General Walker was not so charitable. He sharply insisted that more aggressive personal leadership should have been shown by the regimental and battalion commanders responsible for the initial attack at Fort Driant. General Irwin, however, noted that the difficulties encountered by the attacking force had been greater than anticipated, and reminded the corps commander that the air photos had shown neither the intricate wire entanglements nor the large number of pillboxes around the fort.25 There was as yet no talk of abandoning the Driant enterprise, and General Irwin and his staff continued with plans based on the experience of 27 September for a systematic reduction of the fort.26 Final approval was given the operation by General Patton on 29 September, when the army commander invited a number of his ranking officers to meet General Eisenhower in the headquarters of the army at Etain. General Eisenhower here stressed the point that advantage was to be taken of the lull to get men and equipment in shape for future operations. Then General Patton directed that the plans for local operations would be carried out as supplies and artillery ammunition became available.27 General Walker immediately gave orders for the 5th Division to continue the Driant operation and, further, to make preparations for a subsequent attack on the Verdun forts east of the Moselle.
General Irwin believed that his division needed rest and training,28 and was convinced that the fort should be taken by encirclement-for which maneuver troops were lacking. Nonetheless he and his staff worked overtime to
The plan of attack for 3 October was carefully worked out. The 2d Battalion
of the 11th Infantry again was designated as the assault force, but this time
was reinforced by B Company of the 1st Battalion, a company of combat engineers,
and twelve tanks from the medium companies of the 735th Tank Battalion. Company
B would attempt to gain entrance at the southwestern edge of the fort, Company
E would attack at the northwestern corner, and
At dark the reserve company and its tanks came in through the gap made by B Company. Two platoons began to thread their way through the barbed wire and small arms fire to assault the two northernmost casemates, which lay clear across the fort surface. This first attack failed: the platoons were
In the morning General Irwin ordered Colonel Yuill to hang on and extend his hold on top of the fort area;37 then he sent in Company K, 2d Infantry, to stabilize the line and plug up the holes left by the 110 casualties lost in the first twenty-four hours of, the operation. Futile attempts were made during the day to break into the central fort, but the German snipers systematically picked off the men carrying flame throwers and explosives. The few who reached the large steel doors at the rear of the fort found them covered by protruding grillwork that made it impossible to put the charges against the doors themselves. When the second night came attempts were made to reorganize the troops who, during the day, had scattered wherever they could find shelter from the enemy fire-in abandoned pillboxes, ditches, shell holes, and open bunkers. During the night, however, the Germans again came out of the underground tunnels and threw the attackers into confusion.
As daylight came on 5 October the guns of the surrounding German forts opened a heavy fire on the troops in and around Driant. American artillery observers crawled forward and tried to locate the enemy guns, but a thick haze lay in the Moselle valley and counterbattery work brought few results. Although the stationary pieces in the casemates in Driant could not be brought to bear on the Americans in the fort area, two German howitzers finally were depressed so as to give bursts in the trees fringing the fort. Their effect was deadly. By midafternoon B and G Companies were reduced to a combined strength of less than one hundred men; K Company also was growing weaker.38 General Irwin decided to strip the division front still further, and
At 1000 on 7 October the 1st Battalion, 10th Infantry, opened the attack.
One rifle company slowly worked its way east and in four hours succeeded in
inching forward about two hundred yards, taking three pillboxes in the process.
This advance brought the lead infantry into a deadly cross fire coming from
the southern casemate and Battery Moselle. Orders were given for the company
to reorganize and hold on to its gains, but the ground was too hard for digging
and the captured pillboxes were open on the side now exposed to the Germans.
About 1615 the Germans came to the surface and counterattacked. The company
commander and the two forward platoons were cut off and lost. The survivors
fell back to the original positions. One platoon had been sent into the tunnel,
entering at a concrete bunker which was already
During the night an acetylene torch was brought up to the fort and the tunnel door cut down. Then the junk pieces were pulled out and laid on the floor of the tunnel, still further cramping the efforts of the troops in the tunnel confines. By the middle of the morning of 8 October the rubble and debris had been cleared away; it was believed that the next door ahead would lead into the southern casemate. The men in the tunnel had heard sounds of digging; fearing that the Germans were preparing to blow in the tunnel walls they rushed up a 60-pound beehive charge and exploded it. This detonation released carbide fumes and for the next two hours no one could re-enter the tunnel. Ordinary gas masks were tried but failed to protect the wearer. An engineer officer finally groped his way through the tunnel and found that the first charge had made only a small hole. When the fumes began to clear, more explosive was brought in, but the Germans opened fire with a machine gun and rifle grenades. There was nothing left to do except hastily erect a parapet of sandbags, mount a machine gun, and engage in a desultory exchange of shots.39 The Germans next set off a counterblast in the tunnel, killing some men of Company C and driving the rest into the barracks.
General Warnock, having decided earlier that more troops were needed to clear the surface of the fort area, during the previous night had moved up the 3d Battalion, 2d Infantry, to the cover of the concrete barracks. The fumes from the tunnel, seeping up into the barracks, overcame some of the men and they were forced to take turns at the firing slits in order to fill their lungs with fresh air. With many of the troops hors de combat and a general state of confusion prevailing, the attack against the two southern casemates scheduled for the night of 8-9 October was canceled.
By 9 October the situation at Fort Driant was confused beyond belief. Cpl. C. F. Wilkinson, a messenger for the 284th Field Artillery Battalion, while wandering around in search of the American command post walked
At noon on 9 October General Gay, representing 'the, army commander, General Walker, General Irwin, and General Warnock met to discuss continuance of the operation. The task force commander candidly said that further attacks within the fort area would be far too costly and gave as his opinion that Fort Driant must be surrounded, the enemy all driven underground and there destroyed. Since this plan required an additional four battalions of infantry it was immediately rejected. General Gay ordered the fort to be evacuated and the operation abandoned, although he gave the corps commander permission to make one more attempt to blast a way through the tunnel.41 This attempt was not made; on the night of 12-13 October the last American troops left the fort without a shot being fired by the enemy.42
All of the higher American officers involved in this operation were loath to bring it to an unsuccessful conclusion. It represented the first publicized reverse suffered by the Third Army. What made it particularly depressing was that it came at the beginning of a lengthy period of quiet in which General Patton and his troops could have no opportunity to distinguish themselves by new victories. However, much had been learned concerning attacks against modern-type fortified positions. These lessons were put to immediate use during the training period in October, and would be successfully applied during the November offensive which finally saw the reduction of the Metz fort system.
General Patton's desire to continue limited-objective attacks at certain points on the Third Army front was in part prompted by the necessity of securing an advantageous line of departure for a future general resumption of the offensive. In the XX Corps zone the seizure of Fort Driant would have put Third Army troops astride a direct route from the south into Metz. On the north, the shortest and most direct route into the city so far as the approaches on the west bank of the Moselle were concerned was offered by the main highway from Thionville to Metz which traverses the narrow plain between the river and the western heights.43 The September operations of the 7th Armored Division and 90th Division had cleared this avenue of approach as far south as Maizières-lès-Metz, a mining and smelting town of some five thousand population only seven miles from the center of Metz. The capture of Maizières-lès-Metz would not only plant the American forces solidly on the southern section of the Thionville-Metz highway, but would also be of considerable tactical importance in any future operation to turn the right flank of the strong German positions west of Metz.
At the end of September the 90th Division had relinquished the plan to force a penetration east of Gravelotte. The 83d Division, newly assigned to the Third Army, had assumed responsibility for protecting the north flank of the XX Corps (with Task Force Polk), thus permitting a little more tactical freedom in the employment of the left-flank elements of the 90th Division. When the weight of the 90th shifted to the south, the 357th Infantry was moved to occupy an east-west line from Talange, on the Moselle, to St. Privat, hemming in the German defenses.44 About 24 September General McLain, the 90th Division commander, suggested that the 357th make a limited-objective attack in the Maizières-lès-Metz sector for the purpose of training in assault tactics against fortifications and to secure a good line of departure for the coming Metz offensive. The XX Corps commander agreed to the
At 0430 on 3 October, the same date on which the 5th Division launched the main assault at Fort Driant, two companies of the 357th Infantry led by Maj. Jack W. Ward made a surprise attack from the Bois de l'Abbé, west of Maizières-lès-Metz, and with only four casualties gained control of a long, high slag pile which overlooked that town from the northwest.46 (Map XXIV) For three days the Americans occupied the slag pile without any serious contest, though under heavy artillery fire by the Germans. On 6 October Task Force Polk relieved some of the elements of the 357th Infantry on the division north flank, and with this limited reinforcement General McLain proceeded with his plans to capture Maizières-lès-Metz itself.47
The attack planned for the morning of 7 October called for E Company to make the initial penetration in Maizières-lès-Metz by thrusting from the west along the Bronvaux road. Company G, following on its heels, was then to swing south and begin mopping up the factory buildings west of the Thionville-Metz railroad tracks which formed a main point of enemy resistance. Fortunately, the Germans played into the hands of the 357th by making a predawn attack in force against the company on the slag pile. While these attackers were being cut down on the steep, barren slopes of the mound of slag, E Company jumped off, skirted the slag heap, and knifed through the town under cover of a concentration fired by two field artillery groups. The northern part of the town was quickly overrun and by dark the Americans had a foothold in the factory area, but further advance was stopped by S-mines (one of which caused fifteen casualties) covered by determined German riflemen and field pieces close behind them.48 That night the Germans hastened to reinforce the troops in Maizières and sent elements of the 73d Regiment, 19th VG Division, into the lines.49 Strengthened by these new arrivals, the garrison settled down to a long-drawn-out fight, house to house and block to block, punctuated by sorties and artillery duels. The houses in Maizières were strongly constructed, generally of stone, and strengthened by
During the next days the 2d Battalion, 357th Infantry, continued to wedge its way slowly into the factory area and the center of the town, using demolition charges and flame throwers, while field guns and tank destroyers fired constantly to interdict the German supply route leading in from Metz. The 4.2 mortars maintained a haze of smoke at the south edge of town over the slag heap that served the enemy as an observation post. A platoon of tanks was brought in from the north after the roads were cleared of mines, but there was little room for maneuver in the narrow streets-down which German bazookas and antitank guns were sighted-and the tanks played only a minor role in the fight for the town.
By 11 October optimism engendered by the success of the initial push into Maizières was considerably dissipated.50 Colonel Barth advised the division commander that two battalions of infantry should be used in the town. But although there had been some slight reshuffling of troops along the 90th Division front to take advantage of the general lull there were not two fresh battalions at hand: the best that could be done was to relieve the worn 2d Battalion by filtering the 3d Battalion, 357th, into the line on the night of 12-13 October. General McLain51 still had some hope of taking Maizières, but a new order from Third Army headquarters freezing the allotment of all artillery ammunition above 3-inch caliber put an end to the idea of continuing a full-fledged assault. The 3d Battalion turned to using the town as a training ground, setting up attack problems in which a platoon, or a squad, took a house or two each day.
The Germans apparently were quite willing to limit the fighting to such a scale, although they retaliated with a bitter shelling on 20 October when an American 155-mm. self-propelled gun was run to within 150 yards of the Hôtel de Ville and slammed ten rounds into the building. Meanwhile the Third Army completed plans for a return to the offensive in November and granted the XX Corps a special dispensation for artillery ammunition to be
AMERICAN INFANTRYMAN IN MAIZIERES-LES-METZ. By the evening of 30 October the 357th held what was left of the town.
used against Maizières prior to the new attack on Metz. The new 90th Division commander, Brig. Gen. James A. Van Fleet,52 ordered the 357th Infantry to take Maizières by 2 November, and Colonel Barth began to set the stage for a final assault by alternately probing and battering at the Hôtel de Ville. On 26 October K Company reached the lower floor of the building but was stopped by piles of burning mattresses in the hallways; it was then driven out by flame throwers. The next day four 10-man assault teams tried again. This time three of the assault teams were checked by mines and barbed wire. The fourth crawled through a gap blasted in the wall by the 155-mm. self-propelled gun and engaged in a hand-to-hand fight inside the building, in
On 28 October three companies of infantry moved into the cover afforded by the factory buildings, while a fourth company began a diversionary attack from the north. At 0730 the next morning, with no artillery preparation to herald the main assault,54 the three companies attacked abreast across the tracks into the section of town south of the Hôtel de Ville, while two more companies swung in from the north.55 In the face of this assault, with shells smashing the houses of the town to bits and detonating the mine defenses, the Germans gave way.56
The Hôtel de Ville was made a shambles by some 240-mm. howitzers which put down their fire with remarkable accuracy seventy-five yards ahead of the advancing infantry. When the building was entered the next day it was found occupied only by German corpses. By the night of 30 October the 357th held the town and the approaches to the south, although the enemy retained an observation post on a slag heap to the southwest. Colonel Barth, the regimental commanding officer, was wounded on the first day of the attack, but the total of American casualties in this last phase amounted to only fifty-five officers and men, as contrasted with the loss of an entire German battalion. Once again it had been demonstrated that a strong town, stubbornly defended by the enemy, could be taken with a minimum of loss to the attackers if the attack was carefully planned and co-ordinated, with sufficient infantry in the assault and marked superiority in the artillery arm.
Operations on the North Wing of the XX Corps
The shift in weight of the XX Corps during the last week of September to strengthen the right wing south and southwest of Metz was made possible by the assignment of another infantry division to General Walker's command.
Before the arrival of the 83d Division the left flank of the XX Corps had been so sparsely held as to have courted certain disaster if the enemy had possessed sufficient reserves on the Western Front to attack such weak points in the Allied battle line. The 43d Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, screening over twenty-three miles of open, rolling country, and theoretically "reinforced" by a simulated armored division, was given some limited reinforcements59 as reports of new German forces across the Moselle came in. The reinforced detachment was constituted as Task Force Polk (from the name of the 3d
The mission of the 83d Division now was limited to clearing the salient west of Trier, formed by the Moselle and Sauer Rivers. This sector was not too strongly held, for the major part of the German forces in the area had withdrawn east of the Moselle and north of the Sauer; but rear guard detachments had been left in the little Luxembourg bridgehead towns to make a fight of it, particularly in Echternach on the north and Grevenmacher on the south.60 General Macon's division had lost about half its original strength in the course of the drive out of the Cotentin peninsula, the fight for St. Malo, and the subsequent operation in the Brittany peninsula. The mass of replacements needed considerable training. Therefore, although General Macon placed two regiments in the drive east, the actual fighting was carried out by one or two companies at a time, allowing the bulk of each regiment to be rotated to rear areas for training in the abandoned Maginot Line. By 1 October Company C of the 329th Infantry reached the outskirts of Grevenmacher. Here the enemy held stubbornly in the stone houses and were not driven out until the night of 5 October, after artillery and fighter-bombers jarred them loose from the village. The 3d Battalion of the 329th fought for nearly a week outside Echternach on the Sauer, which, as shown later by the American experience during the Ardennes campaign, was extremely well adapted to defense. But on the afternoon of 7 October a co-ordinated assault by infantry, tanks, and artillery broke the German resistance and took the town. On the same day the 331st Infantry drove the enemy out of Wormeldange, north of Remich, thus erasing the last enemy foothold on the west bank of the Moselle in the Luxembourg sector. All three of these villages, Echternach, Grevenmacher, and Wormeldange, were on low ground exposed to German fire coming from heights to the east. General Macon had been loath to take them, since they could readily be neutralized by American guns on top of hills to the west, and the 83d Division withdrew its main forces at once, holding the towns with outposts only. The enemy were more than will-
Stabilizing the XII Corps Main Line of Resistance
When the Third Army advance was halted at the end of September, the XII Corps was generally in a position favorable to the defensive. Although the enemy breached the new main line of resistance in the 35th Division and 4th Armored sectors during the September attacks, the center and right wing of the corps were solidly re-established by 3 October. On the left wing, however, the 80th Division had been unable to close up to the natural defense line of the Seille River-on a sufficiently wide front-because the Germans held a re-entrant along the hill mass between Serrières and Moivron. (Map XXVI) General McBride's attempt to erase this salient by swinging the main weight of the 80th Division around the south, and so envelop the German positions by a drive through Moivron and Jeandelaincourt, had been frustrated by the stubborn defense put up by the 553d VG Division.63
On 1 October, consonant with General Patton's orders, the 80th Division began a series of small local attacks to wipe out the forward centers of enemy resistance west of the Seille. Here the Germans had placed their infantry, in platoon to battalion strength, in the little Lorraine villages-particularly in those which lay athwart the roads leading to the Seille. In most cases these garrisoned villages consisted of only a handful of houses; but the houses were solidly built of heavy stone which proved capable of withstanding an immense amount of battering by artillery, and they gave shelter from the heavy autumn rains. The fight for observation had now yielded priority to the fight for cover.
Most of the XII Corps front was quiet, but on 2 October the 80th Division continued to pry away at the German positions on the hill mass west of the Seille. Here a road ran across the saddle between Hill 340 and Mount Toulon, terminating in the little villages of Serrières in the north and Sivry in the south. An attack on Serrières by the 318th Infantry (Col. Lansing McVickar) was called off after heavy losses. But the 317th, which sent its 2d Battalion against Sivry, became involved in a long-drawn-out and desperate battle that cost half of the attacking force.64
The village of Sivry lay in a narrow valley close to hills that on the north were held by the Germans. Sivry therefore had to be taken by an attack from the open side, where maneuver space allowed deployment of only limited forces. Across the southern face of the town the enemy had laid a continuous mine field, still further restricting the possible avenue of advance. All through 2 October the 105-mm. howitzers of the regimental cannon company pounded Sivry, and late in the afternoon G Company (Capt. R. A. Ashbrook) began to work its way in a loop to the southwest around the mine field. By 0300 the next morning the company was in position to attack, and at 0555 the yellow flare went up signaling that the town had been reached. Early in the
A platoon of Americans was gathered in the church; the rest were scattered in the houses. The company commander radioed for help but the regimental commander, Col. W. M. Lewis, dared not risk a night advance straight into Sivry across the mine field. When light came Company E went forward, circled around the mine field through a dense fog, and succeeded in reaching the houses on the edge of the village. But the enemy also was reinforcing his troops in Sivry; all through the day small groups of infantry braved the American artillery fire, interdicting the road from Serrières, to swell the counterattack (a battalion from the 8th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, 3d Panzer Grenadier Division, and a battalion of the 1121st Grenadier Regiment were involved). The American relief company could not reach the church-every street was enfiladed by machine gun fire-and General McBride finally gave the orders for withdrawal. Through the night the survivors straggled back to the regiment; 381 men had taken part in the attack but only 191 escaped from Sivry, one-half of them wounded.65
At this juncture General Eddy decided to throw in sufficient strength to win a decisive victory and firmly establish the main line of resistance on the XII Corps left wing by clearing the enemy from the area south and west of the Seille River, in accordance with Patton's orders on 25 September. The rest of the corps front was quiet and troops could be spared for such an operation. On 5 October a XII Corps Operational Directive set the date for the attack as 8 October, with the 80th Division, 6th Armored Division, and 35th Division participating. The 328th Infantry, from the 26th Division, now coming into the corps area, was also attached to the 80th Division, taking over the left flank and relieving the 319th Infantry so that the latter could take an active role in -the operation. While the XII Corps was regrouping, the XIX TAC began a systematic bombing of the German strongholds, Moivron, Jean-
At 0515 on 8 October all seventeen battalions of the XII Corps artillery reinforced by the artillery of the three attacking divisions and the 86th Chemical Mortar Battalion opened up, firing for sixty minutes prior to the armor-infantry attack. Jeandelaincourt, which had proved so tough a nut to crack in late September, received special treatment; three TOT's were fired on the town with an average of eleven field artillery battalions participating in each. When the three divisions jumped off in the attack at 0615, after fifteen minutes of artillery fire directly to their front, the massed guns raised their fire and for an hour and a quarter shelled the German battery and single-gun locations and battered the rearward enemy communications.67 The P-47's also took part in the attack, bombing and strafing the heights between Moivron and Jeandelaincourt.68 The main burden of the attack was carried by the 6th Armored Division, whose final objective was the plateau west of Létricourt.69 Possession of this high ground would block off the salient formed by the looping Seille and would inevitably force the Germans to withdraw behind the river. CCB, organized with two-thirds of the division's combat strength, formed the spearhead of the first day's attack, striking out from Leyr toward the north in three combat teams, each supported by a battalion of field artillery. Combat Team 50, on the left, had its leading tanks inside Moivron a half hour after the jump-off. Here, as elsewhere during the day, the enemy's
Combat Team 15, forming the center column, had been ordered to seize Jeandelaincourt and clear the Bois de Brasquin and the Bois d'Ajoncourt, the fine of departure for the next day's operations. Part of the combat team swept on to the edge of the woods but was checked there by mortar and small arms fire until late in the afternoon, when a company of armored infantry came up and cleared the woods. The main force encircled Jeandelaincourt from the east and north while the 80th Division infantry, which had pushed forward to the reverse slope of Mount St. Jean, fired into the town. The bulk of the German garrison attempted to make a stand in a large factory building. Tanks and tank destroyers shelled the factory at point-blank range, but the finishing blow was dealt by some P-47's that made a direct strike on the factory, setting it ablaze. When the survivors broke for the open they were met by a fusillade of machine gun bullets that left only a few to surrender. Over the open radio General Grow heard Lt. Col. Embry D. Lagrew, the commander of the combat team, saying: "This beats any Fourth of July I ever saw."
Combat Team 69, advancing on the right flank of CCB toward Arraye-et-Han, was retarded in the early morning by the fog rising from the near-by Seille, but by 1300 the town was taken. To the east the 35th Division brought up its left flank along the Seille, thus extending the American line to include Ajoncourt and Fossieux.71 This squeeze play was so successful that Combat Team 15 went on to sweep the Bois de Chenicourt. The town of Chenicourt was left unoccupied, for the American armor had learned the inadvisability
The left wing of the XII Corps attack now was brought forward by the 80th Division and its attached tank battalion, the 702d, quickly overrunning the German defenses on the hill masses and along the valley roads. The Germans apparently had expected a continuation of the operation which had been begun at Sivry and Serrières; indeed, on the day before the corps attack, they had aimed a propaganda broadcast at the 317th Infantry facing Mount St. Jean: "Do not attack the hill in front of you if you want to get home. If you do you will surely die." But the strength put behind this attack and the weight of the metal turned against them on the early morning of 8 October seem to have demoralized the German infantry. The 318th Infantry had a battalion on Mount Toulon by 0655; by the end of the day it held Lixières and Sivry. In the 317th Infantry sector one battalion closed on Mount St. Jean from the west while another advanced from the south, the two driving the enemy survivors into the hands of the 6th Armored Division in the valley below. The 318th Infantry also pushed closer to the Seille72 and by noon had troops in Manoncourt. This was the "black day" for the 553d VG Division, which had stubbornly contested every mile of ground as it was forced back from the Moselle line.73 The 80th Division ended the day's action with 1,264 prisoners, most of them from the 553d. The casualties suffered by the 80th Division are not known.74 The 35th Division had encountered little resistance; CCB had
CCA, which had been brought up close behind CCB for this operation, attacked on 9 October through the center of CCB and then fanned out by combat teams for a thrust through the Bois du Haut des Trappes and the Bois d'Aulnois which screened Létricourt, the final 6th Armored Division objective. The Germans still were disorganized and dispirited, after the weight and speed of the first day's attack and their heavy losses. The left and center columns were through to the Létricourt side of the woods shortly after noon, having been impeded more by the narrow forest trails than by the enemy. But Combat Team 44 (Lt. Col. Lewis E. McCorison), advancing in the open on the exposed right flank of the combat command, came under the enemy guns in Chenicourt and received a terrific shelling. At 1310 Colonel McCorison reported that the combat team could not continue the attack toward Létricourt because of heavy casualties and disorganization. CCB was forced to rush up reinforcements to hold the gains already made. Through the day the 80th Division infantry had kept abreast of or followed very close on the heels of the armor but darkness intervened before the 317th Infantry could reinforce Combat Team 44 for the capture of Létricourt.75 CCA's losses, mostly in Combat Team 44, had been 39 killed and 87 wounded. The 6th Armored Division had bagged 650 prisoners for the whole operation.
This action ended the XII Corps attack and the push to the Seille. The 80th Division relieved the armor, taking the high ground which overlooked Létricourt and clearing the woods, but leaving the village in German hands. During the next two days the enemy essayed small counterattacks, without gaining any success.
The Quiet Phase76
The establishment of a new main line of resistance on the XII Corps left wing began a period of quiet along the thirty-mile corps front that lasted,
On 12 October General Paul's division relieved the 4th Armored Division, taking over the right wing of the corps. Thus far the 26th had experienced no combat as a unit. To remedy this lack, and extend the American salient east of Arracourt, a limited-objective attack was set up for 22 October. This brief but sanguinary interruption in the prevailing lull saw Paul's infantry supported by troops from the experienced 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion advancing over terrain which had been the scene of the fierce tank battles in September. The baptismal attack resulted in some very hard fighting, but at the end of the day the 26th Division had pushed forward on the rolling ground west of Moncourt. Those elements of the green division used on the 22d had fought well enough to call themselves to the attention of the Third Army commander.77 The Germans paid a real tribute when Balck commended the units
MARLENE DIETRICH, entertaining front-line soldiers of the Third Army.
who had opposed the 26th Division and the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion for their battle against the American "shock troops."
The Germans were more than willing to leave the XII Corps front undisturbed-heavily involved as they were in the bitter fight at Aachen. With the exception of a few local sorties and the drafting of halfhearted and abortive plans for a counterattack against the north flank of the XII Corps, they contented themselves with digging and wiring and with rotating their troops through this new rest area. Earlier, on 24 September, General Eddy had begun to draw up a plan of defense and had issued instruction on the rotation of troops during the coming period of inaction. General Eisenhower, in a visit to the Third Army headquarters on 29 September, had set forth the policy of a continuing rotation of front-line and reserve battalions in order to rest the tired divisions and get them in shape for a future offensive. This policy was followed, except when the local attack program did not permit, to the extent allowed by the width of the front and the supply of billets. The
MAINTENANCE WORK IN MUDDY FIELDS. During the October lull ordnance companies were put into buildings, with a consequent increase in efficiency.
Quartermaster bakeries increased the issue of fresh bread and roasted green coffee to replace the bitter soluble variety in the K ration. Company cooks now found time and shelter for preparing the tons of German beef captured at Reims and Briey weeks earlier. Ordnance companies were taken out of muddy fields and put into buildings (greatly increasing their maintenance capacity), where they began overhauling vehicles and equipment that in many cases had received little or no repair since the start of the campaign in August. Also, a new type of grouser was improvised to give the American tanks flotation somewhat equivalent to that of the wide-tracked German tanks.78 The October rains gave ample evidence of the mud slogging that would be required of armor in the next campaign, and the tankers pinned great faith on the grouser. Approximately eighty tanks per day were fitted with these "duck bills."
New tanks were brought up from the communications zone to replace those which had been destroyed or irreparably damaged. In the period between 11 September and 22 October the Third Army had lost 63 light tanks and 160 mediums. The most noticeable lag in replacements had come at the end of the third week in September, when the Third Army ordnance officer reported that the army was 130 tanks short of its scheduled strength. Light armored cars, 60-mm. mortars, BAR's, tires, and tubes also had fallen into short supply during the September operations and now had to be replaced.
Gasoline rationing continued through most of October; the MP's were kept busy apprehending jeeps and command cars without authorized trip tickets. Parenthetically, it may be noted that the MP's had their hands full, for General Patton used the quiet period to refurbish the "spit and polish" discipline which characterized his administration of the Third Army. Artillery ammunition was so severely curtailed that the XII and XX Corps finally were
Planning and preparation for the renewal of the offensive went on apace. Sometimes these preparations took unorthodox forms as the individual units attempted to build up gasoline reserves or increase their ammunition stocks, by "hook and by crook" as their commanders enjoined them. Planning and training aimed at what was believed to be the next great obstacle, the West Wall, and officers and men studied relief models and maps of this much-vaunted position. But General Patton and his commanders were looking beyond it to the Rhine; so a floating Bailey bridge school was added to the varied collection of "schools" functioning in the back areas.
The October pause also was used to remove a potential threat to any future Third Army advance in the XII Corps zone by the destruction of the earthen dam which impounded the waters of the Etang de Lindre, just south of Dieuze. The Etang de Lindre fed the Seille River, which ran through the American forward lines. The upper valley of the Seille was to form one of the most important avenues in the initial phases of an attack to the east. The military significance of this lake-river combination had been recognized by French military engineers of the seventeenth century, who had built the dam as a part of the Vauban system for the defense of Metz. In German hands the dam could be blown and the waters of the Etang de Lindre-about thirty-three feet above the level of the Seille River-released to flood the valley and
On the heels of the Maizières-lès-Metz operation one final tactical step was taken in preparation for the ensuing Third Army offensive. During the afternoon of 11 November the 319th Infantry attacked to erase the re-entrant (in the Abaucourt-Létricourt sector) formed by the loop in the Seille on the left front of the XII Corps. The attack gained complete surprise. In an hour and a quarter the two towns were cleared and the enemy was driven back across the Seille, leaving behind 162 prisoners and 148 dead.
Plans for the Resumption of the Offensive
The Supreme Commander's decision to halt the advance of the Third Army, in the last week of September, had stemmed from an untenable logistical situation. Bradley's 12th Army Group alone needed 20,000 tons of supplies per day in order to support a "secure" offensive for bridgeheads across the Rhine. The "expectations" for the delivery of supplies during the period 11 to 15 October summed up to only 12,000 tons per day.82 Under optimum conditions the entire Allied logistical effort could support only twenty-five divisions on or at the Rhine in October. To accomplish even that much support all other troops would have to be immobilized and much of the Allied air strength would have to be diverted from strategic to supply missions.83
Faced with the apparent necessity of tailoring the suit to the cloth, General Eisenhower had continued the priority given to the attack in the north. During October Montgomery's 21st Army Group fought to clear the banks of the Schelde and thus open the water gates to the essential port of Antwerp. This crucial operation was handed over to the First Canadian Army. Montgomery's right, the Second British Army, was committed in an attempt to
BOMBING OF ETANG DE LINDRE DAM by P-47s on 20 October. The photograph was made fifteen seconds after the dam was breached.
Despite the hiatus in offensive operations induced on the Third Army front by the lag in supply, General Eisenhower had not abandoned his intention to drive toward Berlin on the direct northern route while at the same time moving his flanks forward, "all in one co-ordinated, concerted operation." At the very moment that General Patton received his orders to go over to the defensive, the SHAEF G-3 (Maj. Gen. H. R. Bull) and the SHAEF Planning Staff were putting the final touches on a scheme for an advance into Germany after the capture of the Ruhr and Frankfurt.84 Admittedly this was planning for the long pull, but it was an important reaffirmation of the role intended for the Third Army-secondary though that role might be. Early in October the 12th Army Group planners drafted other proposals for a two-pronged advance to put the First Army (and the 21st Army Group) across the Rhine River in the north, while the Third Army attacked from the "Nancy salient" and crossed the river in the Frankfurt sector.
All of this planning in late September and early October was general in nature and set no precise date for reopening the Allied offensive. On 18 October, however, General Eisenhower met with his chief subordinates and issued a more detailed directive, complete with the "probable" dates on which the armies might expect to resume the attack. The top priority mission for 21st Army Group remained "the early opening of Antwerp." About 10 November the Second British Army would be ready to start a drive to the southeast, between the Meuse and the Rhine, with the mission of supporting an Ameri-
On the day Aachen fell to Hodges' First Army-21 October-General Bradley dispatched detailed instructions to his army commanders, ordering preparations for an advance to the Rhine by all three armies. The target date for the attack by the First and Ninth would be 5 November; for the Third, 10 November. The axis for the Third Army drive lay in line with Frankfurt, as in previous plans. But provision was made for alternative missions: if the situation permitted, Patton was to cross the Rhine somewhere between Mainz and Worms; if a crossing could not be won immediately, Patton was to turn his army north and clear the west bank of the Rhine up to the point where that river met the Moselle.86 The role of the Allied forces on the right of the Third Army was outlined in a personal letter from General Eisenhower to General Devers, the 6th Army Group Commander. Devers' forces, supported over their own Mediterranean line of communications, would act to protect the south flank of the 12th Army Group and deploy in strength across the Rhine. Eisenhower added that once the Third Army had succeeded in crossing the Rhine it probably would move on Kassel, in which case the 6th Army Group might anticipate that its own drive east of the Rhine would aim at Nuremberg.87
This suggestion of objectives and missions east, of the Rhine was still a matter of hypothesis. When, on 28 October, the Supreme Commander issued what would be his last general directive prior to the November offensive, he
During October new American divisions had been arriving on the Continent, complicating the supply system considerably, but giving promise of additional weight behind the future Allied drive to the Rhine. General Patton had been assured that his army would receive reinforcement, and on 10 October the III Corps headquarters (Maj. Gen. John Millikin), newly arrived in Normandy, was assigned to the Third Army. As yet the III Corps commanded only a few corps troops. On 19 October Patton wrote a personal letter to Bradley, setting forth Third Army plans for a drive up to the West Wall, "in not to exceed D Plus 2 days."89 Patton assured Bradley that the enemy on the Third Army front was disposed with all his strength in the front lines and that once these forces were destroyed or captured the Third Army stood a good chance of penetrating the West Wall and driving rapidly to the Rhine. Such an operation, Patton was careful to explain, would not digress from the secondary role assigned the Third Army, but would be timed so as to precede or follow an offensive by one of Bradley's other armies, thus "disjoining the German scheme of defense." The catch, as Patton saw it, was that the Third Army was the stepchild of supply. Therefore he carefully tabulated the tonnage which he and his staff reckoned to be necessary in mounting and maintaining the proposed attack.
In actual fact the Third Army had two plans for resuming the offensive, both of which were predicated on the-ultimate employment of the new III Corps. Plan A called for a simultaneous attack by the XII and XX Corps in which the XII Corps would drive northeastward with Faulquemont as its objective while the XX Corps attacked from Thionville-bypassing Metz-with Boulay as its objective. The III Corps, starting from the Briey area, would advance in rearward echelon on the Third Army left. Plan B was a variant of the first scheme in which the III Corps would force the Moselle line in the Thionville sector while the XII and XX Corps advanced south of Metz.
Meanwhile regrouping for the main Allied offensive in the north had been retarded by determined German resistance opposite the First Canadian Army and a series of spoiling attacks directed against the Second British Army. As a result two American divisions which had been loaned to Montgomery (the 104th Infantry Division and the 7th Armored Division) could not be released to reinforce the 12th Army Group as planned. Faced with this temporary diminution in the strength of his main effort, General Bradley visited the Third Army headquarters on 2 November and explained that the British were not yet ready to jump off and that the First Army was not prepared to attack until the two divisions were returned. Bradley posed the question: could the Third Army begin the offensive by itself? Patton answered that he would attack on twenty-four hour notice. It was agreed, therefore, that the Third Army should begin the offensive as soon as the weather permitted the air forces to soften up the enemy. If good flying weather failed, the XII Corps would attack on 8 November.91 One further decision remained. What protection could the 6th Army Group give the right flank of the Third Army as the latter advanced to the northeast? General Eisenhower had already assigned General Devers the task of denying the pivotal Lunéville area
General Patton's command was large-and well equipped on the eve of the November offensive. It included six infantry divisions and three armored divisions, as well as a high number of nondivisional units:
1 ranger infantry battalion
22 antiaircraft artillery battalions
5 tank battalions
14 tank destroyer battalions
38 field artillery battalions
6 cavalry reconnaissance squadrons
3 engineer general service regiments
15 engineer combat battalions
4 engineer heavy ponton battalions
11 ponton and treadway bridge companies
By dint of strenuous efforts on the part of the supply services and considerable reallocation in the distribution to the three armies in 12th Army Group, the Third Army had been given the support needed to mount its offensive. On 7 November the Third Army had a four-day reserve of rations and a five-day supply of gasoline. The only items of artillery ammunition in short supply were white phosphorus shells for the 105's and 155's. It seemed likely that the daily maintenance requirements of the Third Army could be met: 1,000 tons of rations, 2,000 tons of gasoline and oil, 2,000 tons of ammunition, and 1,000 tons of other items. The countless pieces of engineer equipment required in assaulting fortifications or making river crossings were comprised in a 10,000-ton stock of engineer supplies. The Third Army armored formations had been brought up to their normal tank strength; however, there were very few medium tanks available as replacements in the army ordnance depots.93 The troop status of the Third Army divisions was close to the assigned organizational strength; though the total casualties for the month of October numbered some 114,000, the army had received over 13,000 replacements. The effective strength of the Third Army was approximately a quarter of a million officers and men.94
German Defensive Preparations, October and Early November 194496
While the Third Army made preparations during the October lull for a resumption of the offensive, the German forces opposite were busy with plans and preparations to meet the American attack which their intelligence predicted would begin sometime during the first half of November. General Balck and Army Group G could be given little aid and only trifling additions to the meager forces already available, since men and materiel were being shunted to the north in preparation for a great counteroffensive in the Ardennes region. In addition Army Group B was seriously menaced by the Allied operations in the north; during October a sizable part of Balck's very limited reserves was sent by OKW to the Aachen and Holland sectors. As
Twice during October Rundstedt suggested to Balck that further withdrawals should be made at those points along the front where the Americans had shown indications of aggressive intentions, in this way shortening the German lines and freeing troops for use as reserves. But Balck held firmly to the idea that no ground should be surrendered without a fight. To give ground unnecessarily under pressure, or the threat of pressure, meant only that the Americans would continue to push ahead in that same sector. Balck summed up his concept of the defensive about ten days before the opening of the Third Army November offensive when he told Rundstedt that he intended to counterattack "on the spot" against the point of any American penetration, that in the long run this would entail fewer losses and would give time to build up some defense in depth in the sector most endangered.
The relative strengths of the two armies under Army Group G gave all the advantage to the First Army. Balck estimated that of the nine divisions in the Nineteenth Army only three, by reason of strength and experience, deserved to be called divisions.97 Each of the remaining six was at best no stronger than a regiment. In the First Army, also composed of nine divisions, five were estimated as equal to ordinary "defensive" divisions, while two of these five were adjudged capable of limited use as "attack" divisions. Since the terrain in the Vosges favored the defender, and since German intelligence sources indicated that the next American offensive would be thrown not against the Nineteenth Army but against the First, Balck decided to divert such replacements and weapons as he could inveigle from the higher commands to the First Army, while hoping that the forces in Alsace could continue to hold in static defense positions. Balck had no illusions about the weakened character of the forces under his command, particularly on the Nineteenth Army front where fighting continued throughout October. On 9 October the Army Group G commander sent a personal letter to Jodl at OKW, apparently in hopes of getting some help from the man who had
Instead of acquiring additional divisions in October, Army Group G continued to lose its best troops, receiving in return untrained infantry divisions of dubious quality.99 Three crack headquarters staffs, those of the Fifth Panzer Army, XLVII Panzer Corps, and LVIII Panzer Corps, were detached and sent north to Army Group B. On 17 October the LXXXIX Corps came in to take command in the sector, originally under the Fifth Panzer Army, astride the Marne-Rhin Canal, thus filling out the southern wing of the First Army. The loss of these well-trained staffs and their communications equipment, always a critical item, was perhaps less important than the loss of the 3d and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions, which were still rated as capable of use in attack and in consequence were withdrawn to the strategic reserve being formed by OKW in the Ruhr-Westphalia area. This reserve, though in the OB WEST area, was not under Rundstedt's command.
By the first week of November the major reshuffling of units along the Army Group G front was completed; the German corps and divisions were disposed approximately as they would meet the Third Army attack and the
Through most of October Army Group G had rationed artillery ammunition at the rate of one to one and a half rounds per gun per day, in an attempt to build up a sufficient stock to meet the coming attack. In this matter of resupply, as in others, priority had to be given to the needs of the embattled German troops on the Aachen and Holland fronts, while hundreds of trainloads were diverted to building up supplies for the Ardennes offensive.101 As a result Balck was low on artillery ammunition when the American attack began, although he was to receive large stocks shortly thereafter. Assault guns and tank destroyers, so essential in German combat organization at this time, filtered slowly through supply channels, a half-dozen at a time. When battle finally was joined no single division had its full complement of these weapons; some divisions had none. The artillery regiments organic in the German division were in fairly good shape, although the number of field pieces in the artillery regiment generally was well below the complement of the American divisional artillery. New tanks arrived in some quantity, in view of the state of German tank production and the demands made by the creation of the OKW strategic reserve, with the result that Army Group G had some 140 tanks of all types and weights by the first week of November. The bulk of this limited armored strength, just as in the case of ammunition and infantry replacements, was earmarked for the First Army, which had a total of about a hundred tanks and assault guns when the Americans finally attacked.
The German decision to use an elastic defense on the First Army front and thus "hem in" the spearheads of the anticipated large-scale American attack required the construction of field fortifications in depth, for which neither sufficient time, manpower, weapons, nor construction materials were available. In view of the admitted American superiority in materiel, particularly in guns and planes, Balck fell back on a modified version of the World War I scheme of elastic defense used by Ludendorff in 1916. In this system the first line of defense was held by weak forces, which were to be withdrawn to a main line of resistance about two or three kilometers to the rear as soon as the Americans began an attack in strength. American guns and planes would dump their shells and bombs on the field fortifications in the first line-the "false positions"-or so it was assumed. Then, as the assault waves moved forward through the weakly held first line, the main German combat elements in the main line of resistance would be in position to hold and counterattack in the "maneuver ground" between the front line and the MLR. Lacking sufficient antitank weapons, the Germans were forced to rely mainly on land mines as the chief defense against tanks; these were laid by the thousands. Weak points in the main line of resistance were to be covered by the massed guns of stationary fortress antitank companies. Still further to
Behind the existing German main line of resistance and in front of the West Wall, attempts were made to build up an intermediate position, the West-Stellung. This line of defense lay in the rear of the First Army, its right boundary in the neighborhood of Insming and Sarre-Union, and its left just south of the Marne-Rhin Canal in the vicinity of Dieuze. Work on the West-Stellung was entrusted to Generalleutnant Bernard von Claer and a special staff in late September. But as was so often the case in the autumn of 1944 the lack of skilled labor, interference from Nazi party officials, scarcity of concrete and steel, and a general lack of agreement as to how the line should be built nullified most of the efforts of Stab General von Claer. However, a number of antitank ditches were dug by the civilian population and the main roads were mined and strewn with obstacles for ten or fifteen kilometers in front of the West-Stellung-all of which delayed the American armored columns in November.
On 4 November General Balck began the final steps to align his troops for the long-awaited American offensive and ordered radio silence to cover the German movements, except for those units in the forward defense positions. Some troops and guns were still coming up; so it was not until 6 November that the final orders were given for the disposition of reserves in the First Army sector. Each division was told to create a tactical reserve of one infantry regiment, one antitank company and two battalions of light howitzers. Actually, the divisions had neither the strength to strip their extended fronts nor the time to carry out such orders; most divisional commanders were fortunate if they had so much as a battalion in reserve when the Americans attacked on 8 and 9 November.
On 19 October OKW, with its usual lack of appreciation of the hard tactical facts of life confronting the German commanders at the front, had "advised" Balck to create an operational reserve of four infantry divisions and three panzer divisions in Army Group G. But by the beginning of November Army Group G had been so denuded of mobile or semimobile troops that
While it was clear to the German high command that General Patton would eventually resume the offensive and that this attack would be thrown against the First Army, there was somewhat less certainty as to which side of Metz the Americans would strike. After the deadly blow dealt the 553d VG Division on 8 October OB WEST and OKW believed for a time that the Americans would follow up this success sometime before the middle of November with an onslaught south of Metz. However, intelligence reports from agents behind the American lines began to indicate unusual activity opposite Thionville about the middle of October, and for some time both the American 14th Armored Division and the 4th Armored Division were carried on German situation maps as tentatively located in this area. The appearance of a new American armored division in the Metz sector, reported by agents on 28 October as "possibly the 10th Armored Division," confirmed a conclusion that the American offensive would be mounted both north and south of Metz. With the paucity of mobile reserves in Army Group G little could be done to prepare for this threat aside from shifting some artillery to the north flank of the First Army. In any event, General Balck expected that the American attack would hit hardest against the south flank of the First Army, probably between Delme Ridge and the Marne-Rhin Canal, where the terrain offered fewer obstacles to a rapid advance than in the area north and northeast of Metz. Although the Allied forces opposite the Nineteenth Army continued to make local attacks through October and early November, activity on this front was viewed as incidental to the threat poised in front of the First Army. German intelligence gave little attention to the Alsace sector until 7 Novem-
Although the deceptive devices used opposite Thionville had misled the Germans into erroneous identification of the 14th Armored Division (which in fact was not yet on the Continent when first "identified" by the enemy), most of their information on the divisions in the Third Army was quite accurate as to location and strength. Secret agents provided much of this useful information to the German headquarters. But the Americans themselves supplied German intelligence with most of it by extremely careless use of telephones and radios at the various traffic control points along the routes where troops were moving. No specific date was set by German intelligence as the day on which the American offensive would be likely to start, but it was generally anticipated that the Third Army attack would come not earlier than 3 November and not later than the second week of November. Troop movements behind the American lines on the nights just prior to 8 November had been carefully observed and apparently placed the German high command on something approaching an hour-to-hour alert. When General Patton did strike, on 8 November, Balck reported to his immediate superiors that the offensive had begun "as expected." Undoubtedly, higher German headquarters did expect the American attack about this time. But it is equally certain that the troops in the front line were taken by surprise on 8 and 9 November, and that "tactical" surprise, at the least, was achieved by the American divisions.