The November Battle for Metz
The Enemy Situation in the Metz Area1
The wide envelopment made by the 90th Infantry Division and the 10th Armored Division north of Metz did not bring these troops into conflict with the German forces in the Metz area proper until the final hours of the operation, when elements of the two divisions were at last in position to cut off the enemy fleeing the city. On the other hand, the 5th Infantry Division and the 95th Infantry Division, attacking close in, fought the Metz garrison forces from 9 November onward. Before tracing the operations of these two divisions, a look at what the Germans were doing on their side of the barricades is in order.
When the September offensive against Metz tapered off into the October lull, OKW instructed General Balck to begin at once to set the Metz salient in a state of defense in anticipation of the resumption of the American attack. However, Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel and the OKW staff gave with one hand and took away with the other. Division Number 462, which had defended Metz so ably in September, was upgraded to the status of a volksgrenadier division and given a normal complement of divisional engineers and artillery, plus an additional infantry regiment. At the same time the officer and NCO trainees, who had given the heart and sinew to the defense in September, were graduated on 9 October and sent as replacements to other divisions on the Western Front.2 The gaps in the ranks of the 462d VG Division now were filled with over-age and poorly trained troops from fortress battalions, sick battalions, and the like, derisively known in the argot of the Wehrmacht as "Halb-soldaten." Some attempt was made to replace the elderly
Early in October a special program for building obstacles and mining was instituted in the 462d sector, although there was no effort to build defenses on the east side of the city, or to supply its garrison against a siege. Considerable indecision existed as to the role Metz should play in future operations: Army Group G, OB WEST, and OKW carried on a three-way debate while the 462d was left to shift for itself. Rundstedt was skeptical about the tactical value of the Metz bridgehead. Twice during October he suggested that Metz be abandoned, as part of his scheme for a general withdrawal by Army Group G back to the West Wall. Keitel, probably speaking for Hitler, refused to allow a withdrawal from Metz; but not until the day before the start of the American November offensive did Hitler specifically order the Metz garrison to hold its ground and submit to encirclement. Balck, on the other hand, wanted to make the Americans fight for Metz; yet he was afraid that if the First Army was ordered to hold the city until its garrison was surrounded a gap would be torn in the First Army front which could not be closed. Contending that the Metz fortifications were "out of date," Balck, his staff, and commanders wanted to evacuate the city as soon as the remainder of the Moselle line fell to the Americans.3 Balck must have anticipated that Hitler would eventually sacrifice the force in Metz, for he refused to send any of his precious tanks or assault guns to reinforce the garrison. The troops added to the garrison during October were mostly fortress units, generally poorly armed and of indifferent combat value. Furthermore, Balck did not divert any large stores of mines and barbed wire to Metz, despite the orders he himself had given for strengthening its defenses.
Originally OKW believed that the American Third Army offensive would be resumed in the form of an envelopment south of Metz. On 22 October German intelligence issued a new appreciation and predicted a double envelopment in which it was estimated that the Americans could use three infantry and two armored divisions, with a total of 1,850 tanks. This analysis seems to have impressed OKW, for shortly thereafter Balck was given orders to
When the XX Corps finally launched its attack the Metz fortifications were in little better repair than they had been in September. For example, the water systems, built by the French, were nearly all out of order; had it not been for the heavy rains in November and December, some of the separate forts might have been driven by thirst to capitulate some days before they did. The only works with wide fields of fire, Forts Jeanne d'Arc (12 guns) and Driant (14 guns), remained the key permanent defenses. Some of the other forts had been strengthened by mine fields, wire, and other obstacles, but at best were only strong points on which the infantry defense could turn.5 Field fortifications in depth were well developed only in the sector south of the city, a fact which would have considerable bearing on the 5th Infantry
The strength of the Metz garrison at the beginning of the attack was probably not much over 14,000 officers and men. Its combat strength was somewhat lower, between 9,000 and 10,000. The 462d VG Division, forming the bulk of the garrison, numbered approximately 7,000 officers and men. It is impossible to re-create precisely the German order of battle, for all of the pertinent records were destroyed just before the German capitulation. The 1215th Regiment (Colonel Stoessel) was deployed on the north flank in the neighborhood of Maizières-lès-Metz and connected with the 19th VG Division at the Moselle. The 1010th Security Regiment (Colonel Anton) continued around the bridgehead perimeter to the west in the Norroy-Amanvillers sector. On the left flank of the Security Regiment the 1217th Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Richter) was deployed in a thin line reaching as far south as Ars-sur-Moselle, on the west bank of the Moselle River. The 22d Fortress Regiment held a small sector astride the river and linked up with the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division a few hundred yards in from the east bank. Other fortress units to the strength of about three infantry battalions and one heavy machine gun battalion were scattered in the various forts and in the city itself. General Luebbe's mobile artillery was limited to the 761st Artillery Regiment, the 1311th Fortress Artillery Battalion, and a few batteries of Flak. The only troops available as reserves in the Metz area on 9 November were one regiment of the 462d VG Division (the 1216th Regiment),6 the 462d Fuesilier Battalion, a crack outfit that distinguished itself in the later fighting, and a reconnaissance battalion on loan from the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division.7 To sum up, the 462d VG Division began the defense of the Metz bridgehead in November with second-rate troops, inadequate artillery, and a force too small properly to man all of the permanent works around the city. On the other hand, the two divisions guarding the flanks of the 462d VG Division (the 19th VG Division and the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division) were counted among the-better fighting organizations in Army Group G.
The XX Corps operation against Metz in November 1944 can be broken down, tactically, into four parts: the preliminary demonstration by the 95th Division (which had little effect on the enemy); the wide envelopment north of Metz by the 90th Division and 10th Armored. Division; a close-in envelopment south of Metz by the 5th Division; and a containing action west of the Moselle by the 95th Division, culminating in a final assault on both sides of the river. For the sake of clarity these phases of the Metz operation are treated separately, leaving the mind of the reader to make the necessary co-ordination in point of time. Since it has seemed logical to deal first with both envelopment phases of this operation, the scene now shifts from the attack in the northern sector to the 5th Division thrust on the southern wing of XX Corps. The 95th Division, in the center, did not begin any sustained attempts at penetration west of the Moselle until 14 November.
On 1 November the 5th Division completed the relief of the 95th Division and once again occupied the bridgehead south of Metz which it had fought so hard to win in September.8 During the interim there had been only very minor changes in the American main line of resistance. The 2d Infantry Regiment moved into the salient projecting east to the Seille River, thus taking position as the right wing of the 5th Division. The 10th Infantry was deployed in the center and the 11th Infantry held the left wing, facing both north and east. (Map XXXII) The ranks of the 5th Division, much depleted by the September battles, had been brought back to strength by replacements and by veterans of the division who had returned to their units from the hospital.
The general mission assigned the 5th Division in the XX Corps scheme of maneuver was to attack toward the east and make contact with the 90th Division, as the latter circled around Metz from the north, while at the same time maintaining touch with the XII Corps on the southern flank. As planned, the main effort in the attack would be made on the right wing of the 5th Division, aiming at the seizure of an objective (outlined only as a "goose egg" on operations overlays) astride the Nied Française River in the neighborhood
The most important natural obstacles in the path of the attack were the Seille and the Nied Française Rivers. Normally, neither of these rivers would have presented much of a bridging problem, but in November both were swollen considerably by the fall rains. The underlying clay common to this country had caused the 7th Armored Division much trouble in September and might be expected to slow down the infantry and their supply vehicles. The numerous wooded areas scattered through the zone of advance were generally small in size. A few of the outer-ring Metz forts were located on and near the division objective, but the main works would not be encountered until the 5th Division turned inward to advance on the city itself.
Opposing the 5th Division was the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division (Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Werner Ostendorff), which at this time constituted the north wing of the XIII SS Corps (Priess). The Cheminot salient, projecting west into the American lines at the boundary between the 5th Division and the 80th Division, was held by a few troops of the 48th Division. The 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division was overstrength in early November (15,843 officers and men) but had received so many replacements, to compensate for its earlier losses, that it was no longer rated as an "attack" division and was considered fit only for defense. Like the majority of the panzer grenadier divisions on the Western Front, the 17th SS did not have the mobile and armored equipment to distinguish it from the ordinary volksgrenadier division. When the 5th Division began its attack the 17th SS Pan-
On the night of 5-6 November the 2d and 10th Infantry began to remove the mines and booby traps which had been placed in front of their positions during the long period of inactivity. Patrols scouted for a bridge site near Longueville-lès-Cheminot, and the 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion moved up behind the infantry.12 Meanwhile the rivers in front and rear of the 5th Division began a rapid rise. By 8 November the Seille River had washed over its banks and at some points was two hundred yards wide. The Moselle flooded the supply roads in the rear of the division, but fortunately did not wash out any of its bridges until the day of the attack.
The XII Corps attack on 8 November had jumped off with only such air support as the XIX TAC fighter-bombers could fly late in the day. The weather was slightly better on 9 November, however, and the AAF was able to intervene on the scale originally planned for the Third Army offensive. The chief targets for the medium and heavy bombers were the Metz forts, but the air plan called for some attention to be given to the Thionville defenses and the marshaling yards at Saarbruecken and Saarlautern. The Eighth Air
SUPPLY ROADS FLOODED BY THE MOSELLE, in rear of the 5th Infantry Division. Mousson Hill appears on the right.
Although General Irwin had been told that the 5th Division would not attack at the same time as the 80th Division, General McBride had not been so informed. He launched the 80th Division attack on 8 November with the expectation that the 5th would join in immediately. This lack of co-ordination across the boundary separating the XX and XII Corps would continue to plague the wing divisions of both corps for some days. At 0600 on 9 November the 2d Infantry began the 5th Division attack along the line of the Seille,
While the 3d Battalion was checked at this position the 2d Battalion pushed through to continue the advance. The speed of the 2d Infantry advance, coupled with very effective co-operation from fighter-bomber planes of the 362d Group, almost immediately disrupted the German communications and drove the enemy in disorderly retreat north into the zone of the 10th Infantry. By nightfall all battalions of the 2d Infantry, plus the two from the 10th Infantry, were east of the Seille, and the new bridgehead was extended to a depth of 6,000 yards and a width of 5,000. Northeast of Louvigny the two regiments joined their inner flanks, and the 10th Infantry (-) dug in to hold and cover the continuation of the main effort by its sister regiment on the right. Most of the enemy escaped to the north and east; about two hundred were captured. American losses on this day were fairly light, for the enemy had stood his ground at very few points.14
On the second day of the attack the German troops still showed little sign of recovering their balance, and the left wing of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division remained in a state of "collapse."15 The three battalions of the 2d Infantry advanced on a narrow front to the left and rear of CCB, 6th Armored, moving fast. Shortly before noon Lagrew's tanks and armored infantry drove the enemy out of Vigny, after a cross-country march through the mud. The 2d Battalion (Lt. Col. L. K. Ball) of the 2d Infantry arrived about 1320 to take over the village, beginning a hand-in-glove association with the armor which would have a marked effect on the Nied River operation. Mean-
The successful drive by the 2d Infantry necessitated a regrouping on 12 November to secure the attenuated line of communications back to the main body of the 5th Division. In the 11th Infantry sector the enemy had shown no disposition to make any move against the thin American line, and the 11th extended its right flank as far as the Seille, freeing the 10th Infantry to deploy on an east-west line facing the Bois de l'Hôpital. Meanwhile the 2d Infantry swung to the north and Colonel Ball's 2d Battalion crossed the Nied Française River early on the morning of 12 November at Sanry-sur-Nied, passing into the 6th Armored Division bridgehead. While Lagrew's armor pushed out to extend the confines of the bridgehead, the 2d Battalion mopped up around Sanry-sur-Nied and deployed to defend the village and the surrounding high ground. During the night of 12-13 November strong combat patrols from the 17th SS forced their way into the village. Before they could reach the Nied bridge they were beaten off by the 2d Battalion, reinforced by a platoon of tanks and one of tank destroyers. Elsewhere along the 5th Divi-
Meanwhile part of the 1st Battalion, 2d Infantry, made a night crossing south of its sister battalion and early on the morning of 13 November took Ancerville without meeting any organized resistance. This day brought rain and snow, increasing the incidence of trench foot which was beginning to cripple the 5th Division. As yet General Irwin had been given no orders about continuing the 2d Infantry drive east of the Nied. The elements of the five companies already across the river made up the largest force that the 5th Division commander could spare: though the enemy facing the 5th Division line back to the west showed no aggressive intentions the division was much overextended.17 During the day the division engineers put a treadway bridge over the Nied near Ancerville, thus strengthening the American hold on the east bank. The German troops in the vicinity continued attempts to erase the bridgehead, and on the night of 13 November a composite force from the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment and the 21st Panzer Division drove into Sanry. It was repelled, however, before it could destroy the bridge18 -to the great disappointment of the 17th SS commander, who had counted very heavily on the success of this attack. The 10th and 11th Infantry continued to reorganize the new forward line, meeting little more than token resistance and generally finding that the enemy had abandoned the positions immediately ahead of the advance. The 10th occupied two works (Forts Aisne and Yser) in the outer ring of Metz forts south of the Bois de l'Hôpital, and the 11th recovered the ground around Fey, Pournoy-la-Chétive, and Coin-lès-Cuvry which had been abandoned by the 5th Division when it took over the 7th Armored Division sector in September.
In the early evening General Walker phoned General Irwin, complimented him on the performance of the 5th Division, and told him that the boundary between his division and the 95th was being changed to permit the 5th to capture Metz. Further, General Irwin was instructed to decide for himself whether or not to hold the troops of the 2d Infantry across the Nied. The losses suffered by the Germans in the fruitless counterattacks against the bridgehead and the tactical value of the Nied bridges for any future operation to the east convinced General Irwin that the bridgehead was too valuable to relinquish. Orders were therefore sent to Colonel Roffe telling him to hold
The 10th and 11th Infantry moved north through the cold rain on 14 November against the new German line of defense, while the 3d Battalion of the 2d Infantry marched forward to an attack position near Sorbey. The 11th Infantry cleared the enemy out of the woods southwest of Fort Verdun and farther to the right took Prayelle Farm in bitter fighting. The 10th Infantry made good progress during the day and cleared the southern half of the extensive Bois de l'Hôpital. Since the 11th Infantry was meeting fairly stubborn resistance on its left flank and the leading troops of the 10th now were only four thousand yards from Metz proper, General Irwin gave orders for the 10th Infantry to make the main effort and attack straight toward the city. The 5th Division commander was anxious to add more strength to the right wing of the advance toward Metz and free the entire rifle strength of the 10th Infantry for the final frontal assault. This would leave only the diminished 2d Infantry to cover the right and rear of the division; so he asked for permission to bring the reinforced battalion of the 2d Infantry back across the Nied. General Patton refused this request, perhaps because he was chary of further exposing the left wing of the XII Corps which already was much in the air.20
On 15 November the 5th Division lines were straightened and units regrouped for the drive into Metz. The 10th Infantry, advancing with its left on the Seille and its right battalion echeloned to the rear, drove the last Germans out of the Bois de l'Hôpital21 and entered the town of Marly, where the 48th Fortress Machine Gun Battalion was dug in. Much of the fighting was more severe than in the days preceding. In the middle of the afternoon a battalion of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment debouched from the fortifications north of Sorbey and started a sortie along the west bank of the Nied with the intention of seizing the Sanry bridge from the rear. Checked
The Enemy Situation in Metz
On the night of 11 November the First Army evacuated Metz, leaving the defense of the city to General Luebbe, the 462d VG Division, and the hodgepodge of fortress units grouped under Luebbe's command. The code word for evacuation was passed to the Nazi party members and officials, a sizable group inasmuch as Metz had been an important administrative center, and they began an exodus toward Germany in their commandeered Citroëns and Renaults. The 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division pulled back still farther from the Moselle, leaving the gap south of the city to be filled by fortress machine gun units. Hitler, now taking a very personal interest in the defense of Metz, reiterated the order to hold to the last man and passed down word that the garrison must be reinforced, provisioned for a long siege, and provided with Panzerfausts and other antitank weapons for close combat.
Apparently higher German headquarters were dubious of General Luebbe's fitness for the Metz command; in any case, he had just suffered a stroke. Keitel told Balck to submit the names of nominees for the doubtful honor of becoming the Metz commander. After much teletyping Generalleutnant Heinrich Kittel, commander of the 49th Division, was given the post and bound by a special oath to defend the city to the last man and cartridge. He arrived in Metz and assumed command at noon on 14 November, while Luebbe took over the 49th Division. Kittel was fresh from the Eastern Front, where he had won considerable distinction as a military governor and a spe-
Although the new commander received daily messages exhorting him to hold "each work and each strong point" to the last, there was little interference with his tactical dispositions. After all there was little choice as to the manner of defending the city. Kittel determined to hold on to the west bank positions as long as possible, thus protecting the bridges leading into Metz proper; as a last resort, he would defend Forts Jeanne d'Arc, Driant, Plappeville, and St. Quentin, all of which were fairly strong works and so sited as to deny the use of the Moselle crossings in their vicinity.
Kittel found his new command with less than two days' rations, but on the night of 114 November a train got through to the Metz station with sufficient provisions for two or three weeks. The same train brought in forty-eight pieces of German and Italian artillery, mostly the 70-mm. infantry howitzer type, with ammunition. There was sufficient small-caliber ammunition for rifles and machine guns, but only 4,000 rounds all told for the fortress artillery. The divisional artillery of the 462d had enough shells for three days of heavy fighting. Kittel sent out a hurry call for a labor force of 12,000 civilians to work on the defenses, but higher headquarters refused to take a single worker from the West Wall. Requests for mines, barbed wire, and a small armored assault force were equally fruitless. The plans for the forthcoming Ardennes offensive loomed too large in OKW calculations, and Kittel would have to defend with what he had.25
No sooner had Kittel taken over the command in Metz on 14 November than he ordered a general counterattack to be made on the following day
After the 95th Division attack to reduce the Maizières salient on 8-9 November, the main part of the division remained in position along the lines hemming in the German bridgehead west of Metz. Large combat patrols were sent into the enemy lines each night, but no further operations were initiated west of the river until 14 November. By that time the flanking movements north and south of Metz were well under way and the 95th Division could be released from its inactive containing mission in the XX Corps center.
Earlier attempts by the 2d Infantry Regiment and 90th Division to break through the fortifications west of Metz by frontal assault having proved far too costly, General Twaddle and the 95th Division staff evolved a scheme of maneuver by which the 379th Infantry (Col. C. P. Chapman) would execute a penetration north of Fort Jeanne d'Arc. At the same time it would attempt to overrun the minor works in the Seven Dwarfs chain linking the main German fortifications at Fort Jeanne d'Arc and Fort Driant. (Map XXXIII) The final objective for this attack was designated as the eastern slopes of the heights bordering the Moselle in the sector between the town of Jussy and the edge of the Bois de Vaux. Once the 95th Division had command of this ground, only the river would separate it from the city of Metz.28
Before dawn on 14 November the 359th Field Artillery Battalion opened up on the German works with its 105-mm. howitzers and all battalions of corps artillery within range joined in. After thirty minutes of this artillery preparation the 2d Battalion, on the regimental left wing, moved into the assault along the road between the de Guise works and Fort Jeanne d'Arc. Fifteen minutes later the 1st Battalion jumped off in an attack to cross the deep draw east of Gravelotte, the scene of so much bloody fighting in September, which lay directly in the path of the advance to the Seven Dwarfs. The 3d Battalion, holding the right flank of the regiment, extended its line to the north but took no part in the initial attack.
Both assault battalions came under shellfire from Fort Driant and the Moselle Battery during the early stages of the advance, but the German infantry in front offered only slight resistance. By 1100, Companies E and F of the 2d Battalion had worked their way around Fort Jeanne d'Arc and
On the right, Companies A and B of the 1st Battalion found the going slow and difficult. First, the German outpost line on the west bank of the draw had to be cut through. Then the attackers climbed down into the draw and up the opposite side, all the while under a merciless flanking fire from the guns at Fort Driant. The Seven Dwarfs had not been completely garrisoned, however, and shortly after 1400 the three northern works, Fort St. Hubert and the two Jussy forts, were taken. Company A swung south and about 1600 launched an assault at Fort Bois la Dame. Some of its men reached the top of the enemy works, but were driven off by fire from Fort Driant and a counterattack before they could pry the garrison loose.
By late evening, however, the situation of the 379th Infantry was critical. The two companies of the 1st Battalion were cut off by a large party of the 462d Fuesilier Battalion that had filtered back into the draw east of Gravelotte. The force from the 2d Battalion was somewhat disorganized as the result of the loss of the battalion commander, Lt. Col. J. L. Golson, who was seriously wounded. Both battalions had incurred a high number of casualties during the day. The only supply road leading to these forward units was interdicted by Fort Jeanne d'Arc, and although artillery liaison planes had dropped ammunition and supplies just before dark such air service provided a very thin link with the rest of the regiment.29
During 114 November the Germans had been able to concentrate their reserves in the west bank sector to meet the singlehanded attack of the 379th Infantry.30 But on 15 November the 95th Division committed elements of the 378th on the west bank in a co-ordinated advance against the north and northwestern sectors of the Metz bridgehead, easing slightly the pressure on the two isolated battalions of the 379th. At 0900, companies C and L, led by Lt. Col. Tobias R. Philbin, began to fight their way across the draw in an effort to pass through the two companies of the 1st Battalion. Once more the enemy took advantage of this natural defensive position to make an obsti-
The supply situation still was uncertain on this and the following day. The weather grew progressively worse as snow alternated with rain. The only road to the forward companies, that between Fort de Guise and Fort Jeanne d'Arc, was impassable for wheeled traffic-even if it had not been still under interdictory fire. Air supply was increasingly difficult and each time a pilot took off in one of the flimsy liaison planes he risked his life. Furthermore, the entire area was a rabbit warren of tunnels connecting the forts and outworks; the Germans could constantly reappear to block the paths and trails leading to the forward companies of the 379th.31 It was increasingly apparent that the 379th could not push on to its final objective until a main supply road was cleared. Therefore, on 16 November the 3d Battalion was committed in the zone of the 2d Battalion, where it captured the large bunkers at St. Hubert Farm and Moscou Farm, then blew the tunnels leading back to the main forts.32 South of Fort Jeanne d'Arc the 462d Fuesilier Battalion continued the fight to hem in the 1st Battalion of the 379th. General Walker sent word to the 95th Division commander, as well as to his other commanders, to step up the attacks toward Metz.33 But the 379th had been badly mauled, still lacked sufficient supplies, and could not yet reassemble for a final co-ordinated assault. On the early morning of 18 November a convoy of thirty jeeps churned through the mud and reached the 3d Battalion. Contact was established between the 3d Battalion and the 1st Battalion and the 379th struck out toward Moulins-lès-Metz, where a main highway bridge led across the Moselle and into Metz itself. At noon the advance patrols reached the bridge, only to find
The Attack by the 377th and 378th
The attack begun by the 379th Infantry in the Fort Jeanne d'Arc sector on 14 November was only the first in the series of attacks initiated by the 95th Division to erase the Metz bridgehead and to destroy the German forces west of the Moselle. On 15 November the 377th and 378th, each minus one infantry battalion attached to Task Force Bacon on the east side of the river, started a co-ordinated maneuver, the 378th leading off with a flanking attack on the Canrobert line and the Fêves ridge. The 377th, on the left, followed up to make the main effort of the division with a push south along the west bank of the Moselle.
Col. Samuel L. Metcalfe, commanding the 378th Infantry, had planned a daring operation in which the regimental front would be stripped of all but a tiny containing force in order to put real weight into the envelopment of the German right flank. On the night of 12-15 November the 1st and 3d Battalions moved north to an assembly area near Pierrevillers, leaving Capt. William M. St. Jacques, commanding officer of the regimental service company, to hold the old 8½-mile front with three rifle platoons, an antitank platoon, an intelligence and reconnaissance squad, and a few service troops. Immediately ahead of the old regimental front the enemy still held the ridge line of the Bois de Fêves, along which ran the Canrobert line with its four interlocking forts; the southern flank of this line was covered by the Amanvillers fortifications. Earlier action by the 90th Division had partially uncovered the northern flank of the Canrobert line by the push into the Maizières-lès-Metz sector. In later fighting the Americans had driven forward along the valley east of St. Hubert as far as Marange-Silvange, which now would serve as a point of departure for the attack by the 378th.
At 0800 on 15 November, after a fifteen-minute artillery preparation, the 1st Battalion and B Company, 778th Tank Battalion, moved forward to attack
The main effort launched by the 95th Division on 15 November began at 1000 when the 377th Infantry drove south of Maizières-lès-Metz into the positions of the 1215th Regiment-now at only half strength. The infantry attack, spearheaded by medium tanks of the 778th Tank Battalion, made steady progress. At twilight the 3d Battalion held la Maxe and the 2d Battalion, to the west, was fighting hard in the town of Woippy-less than three miles from the heart of Metz-where the enemy had elected to make a stand with a battalion of the 1215th Regiment reinforced by the reserve company of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment. The battle for Woippy continued until the afternoon of the following day, when the last Germans were captured or driven from the town.35 During the night of 15 November patrols from the 377th and 378th made contact, and the next day the bulk of the two regiments pushed on to the south.36
Early on the morning of 18 November the Germans blew the demolition charges on the Moselle bridges west of the city, destroying all but one, which apparently was left intact for the troops retreating from the bridgehead.38 The 377th, having reached the suburb of Sansonnet the previous evening, rushed a company of infantry and a few tanks across the one bridge over the Hafen Canal, which at this point turned west from the river to form a small island. The Americans took some 250 prisoners on the island. A patrol from the 3d Battalion of the 378th Infantry rushed the bridge in its zone, but the structure
ENTERING THE OUTSKIRTS OF METZ, men of the 378th Infantry are shown on the morning of 17 November in pursuit of the enemy along roads strewn with abandoned equipment.
The next day General Walker sent orders that all of the holdout forts were to be contained and not subjected to direct assault. Fort Plappeville was left to the 379th Infantry. The 378th, the 377th, and Task Force Bacon all entered Metz proper on 19 November.39
Operations of Task Force Bacon, 15-22 November
While the 90th Division and 10th Armored Division were making the wide envelopment north and east of Metz, the 1st Battalion of the 379th Infantry and the 2d Battalion of the 378th Infantry, combined as Task Force Bacon, began the short jab from positions on the inner flank of the 90th along the east bank of the Moselle toward the heart of Metz. Task Force Bacon began its operation on 15 November, timed to coincide with the parallel attack by the 377th and 378th west of the river. Since the fight to free the 1st Battalion of the 377th in the Bertrange sector consumed most of the day, the drive south did not begin until the next morning. Colonel Bacon's tactics were simple but effective.40 The advance was made in two columns, moving along parallel roads on a narrow front, with tank destroyers and tanks-later reinforced by two self-propelled 155-mm. guns-at the head of each column,
On 16 November Task Force Bacon made an advance of four and a half miles at the expense of the 1216th Regiment, whose connection with the 19th VG Division on the right now had been broken. The German regiment was thus forced to fight an independent delaying action with only such strength as it could muster after the reverses suffered in the Bertrange sector. Task Force Bacon was advancing on the west side of a huge mine field, and east of it the 90th Division was advancing. Colonel Bacon, believing that his left flank was exposed and that the screen originally provided by elements of the 90th had not been pushed south to keep pace with his task force, halted the advance with the open flank of his columns resting on the village of Trémery. The task force continued south on 17 November pushing its self-propelled guns forward to engage defended road blocks and bunkers at ranges as short as two hundred yards. At dark the task force columns converged along the main river road within sight of Fort St. Julien, less than four thousand yards from the center of Metz. Colonel Bacon decided to send the 2d Battalion of the 378th up against Fort St. Julien, whose strength and controlling position on the main highway made an assault imperative. At the same time he planned to switch the 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry around past the fort in an attempt to keep the advance moving.
Under cover of the early morning fog on 18 November, the assault battalion moved silently off the road and circled into the sparse woods west of the suburbs of the town of St. Julien-lès-Metz. About 0700 the battalion began the attack east toward the rear of the fort. However, a fortress battalion, which had been sent north the day before, was in the houses and along the streets intervening between the woods and the fort. A sharp fight raged up and down the streets during the rest of the morning; but by noon the Germans had been driven back into Fort St. Julien and the Americans closed in with
While its sister battalion was fighting its way toward Fort St. Julien on 18 November, the 1st Battalion of the 377th had bypassed to the west and marched through the suburbs of St. Julien-lès-Metz. Barring the northeastern entrance to the older portion of Metz lay another large but outmoded work, Fort Bellecroix. Just as the battalion started forward to form for the assault a column of about one hundred German infantry came hurrying out of the fort with white flags in their hands. The reason for this hasty evacuation soon became evident. About 1400, as the battalion was moving along the street by the fort, two terrific blasts shattered the heavy masonry walls bringing the debris down on the startled Americans and leaving fifty-seven dead and wounded in Company C, which at the moment was closest to the fort.42 The rest of the battalion threaded its way through the rubble. As the day ended, patrols from the task force began to mop up the scattered centers of resistance at the northern edge of the city. Task Force Bacon continued to take part in
The 5th Division Drive into Metz
After a general regrouping south of Metz the 5th Division continued its attack toward the city on 16 November. The whole operation was slowed by the inability of the 10th Infantry to make a rapid forward move while the bulk of the 2d Infantry was held at the Nied River. (Map XXXII) In the afternoon the 3d Battalion of the latter regiment pushed north toward Frontigny and came abreast of the right-flank battalion of the 20th, which thus far had been echeloned to the rear. The forward lines of the 10th came within sight of Magny; Marly, the scene of bitter fighting on the previous day, was finally cleared of the last enemy. The 11th Infantry found itself in a hornet's nest at the Frescaty airfield, where a fortress machine gun battalion was deployed, and both the 1st and 2d Battalions were thrown into the battle to drive the Germans from the hangars and bomb shelters surrounding the field.44 In the meantime, the 3d Battalion was left behind to contain the Verdun forts, manned by the 48th Fortress Machine Gun Battalion. These works were finally encircled on the night of 16-17 November.45 As the day ended the left and center of the 5th Division were only about four thousand yards from the center of Metz. The bag of prisoners was swelling rapidly, but thus far the determined troops of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment and the fortress machine gun units showed no signs of abandoning their attempts to hold at each step of the way.
All through the night the 2d Infantry fought its way toward the north, prompted by exhortations from General Patton and the XX Corps commander to speed up the advance. On the morning of 18 November the key road and rail center at Courcelles-sur-Nied fell into American hands. General Irwin thereupon ordered the 2d Infantry, now with all three battalions in line, to push hard on its left so as to aid the advance of the 10th Infantry into Metz. This attack had reached and captured Ars-Laquenexy when, about 1945, General Walker phoned General Irwin and ordered him to press straight to the north and there meet the 90th Division, thus cutting the last escape routes to the east. Colonel Roffe, the 2d Infantry commander, detached his 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. W. H. Blakefield), reinforced by a company of tanks, for the mission. About 1030 on 19 November, these troops of the 5th Division joined hands with cavalry elements of the 90th Division north of Retonfey-so completing the encirclement of Metz.46
Over in the 10th Infantry sector on 18 November the 1st Battalion bypassed the 2d Battalion-which was deployed around Fort Queuleu-and entered
MEN OF THE 5TH INFANTRY DIVISION ENTER METZ on 18 November (above) and the next day (below) conduct a house-to-house search in this city.
The Capitulation of Metz
On 16 November Kittel committed the last of his sparse reserves to defend on the north, south, and west of Metz. The eastern side of the city was undefended, except by the few troops maintaining a tenuous connection with the field forces of the First Army. Now General Knobelsdorff sent word to the beleaguered commander that on 17 November the First Army would detach itself from the Metz garrison and begin a withdrawal to new positions farther east, thus ending the drag of what one German general had called "the leaden weight" around the neck of the First Army command. The last of the German civilian population was escorted from the city by four motorized companies of Feldgendarmerie sent from Darmstadt, and Kittel's command was left to its fate. On the night of 16-17 November the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment made its move east through the narrowing escape route, apparently acting on Hitler's earlier order that no part of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division (already on the roster of units for the Ardennes counteroffensive) should be entrapped inside of Metz. No word of this withdrawal reached Kittel until the morning of 17 November when he suddenly was informed that the 38th had deserted the Metz garrison.49
Pleas for help from all the forts and sectors of the Metz front flooded General Kittel's headquarters on 17 November. There was nothing left for the German commander to do, however, but give orders that the Moselle
These last dispositions of the broken units under Kittel's command were based on no thoroughgoing plan, nor was further co-ordination between units possible. On the evening of 17 November the central exchange for the underground telephone system, located on the Ile Chambière, ceased to function and Kittel's over-all command ended.51 A few of the Germans outside the forts tried to make a fight for it in these last hours, but most were content to fire a few shots and then march into the American lines with their hands in the air. No real house-to-house battle was waged in the city of Metz, despite futile attempts to defend some of the headquarters buildings. By the night of 19 November American mopping-up operations were well along. On 21 November a patrol from the 95th Division found General Kittel in an underground field hospital, badly wounded (he had been fighting in the line) and under morphine. The next afternoon hostilities formally ceased-although a number of the forts continued to hold out.52 The 462d VG Division no longer existed. German sources later estimated that the actual casualties in the defense of Metz had been four hundred dead and some twenty-two hundred wounded, about half of whom had been evacuated before the city was encircled.53 But to these losses must be added those inflicted on the 416th Division, the 19th
Division, and the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, during the fight to envelop Metz. No casualty figures for these units are obtainable.
Since General Walker had forbidden direct assault against the holdout forts, and since artillery ammunition had to be carefully conserved to support the projected XX Corps drive to the Sarre River, the German garrisons were left to wither on the vine. One by one the isolated German forts succumbed. Fort Verdun surrendered on 26 November. Fort St. Privat capitulated with its garrison of five hundred on 29 November, after four American field artillery battalions and three 155-mm. self-propelled guns had shelled the fort.54 At the end of November Forts Driant, Jeanne d'Arc, St. Quentin, and Plappeville still held out, forcing General Irwin to use most of the 2d Infantry and one battalion of the 11th Infantry to contain them. To this extent at least the Metz garrison carried out the orders given by Hitler. Short rations and general
The credit for the envelopment of Metz and the final reduction of its defenses must be given to the combined ground forces which took part in the operation, since continuous bad flying weather had permitted only occasional intervention in the battle by the air arm. This operation, skillfully planned and marked by thorough execution of the plan, may long remain an outstanding example of a prepared battle for the reduction of a fortified position. However, determined enemy resistance, bad weather and attendant floods, plus a general tendency to overestimate the strength of the Metz fortifications, all combined to slow down the American offensive and give opportunity for the right wing of the German First Army to repair the tic between the LXXXII Corps and XIII SS Corps in time for an organized withdrawal to the Sarre River.57