The 26th Infantry Division (Yankee Division), has been a famous division for almost two centuries of American burgeoning and growth. The lineage of the Yankee Division extends back to the beginning of the American citizen-soldier – the fighting colonial troops of the early Plymouth and Massachusetts colonies.
The 102nd Field Artillery Battalion traces its origin to one of the oldest military organizations in America, the Gloucester Militia. Ancestors of the 101st Engineers unfurled the first American flag on Prospect Hill during the Revolutionary War. Battery A of the 101st Field Artillery was one of the original artillery units in the Army and won fame as Battery Jones during the Civil War in fighting through the Wilderness, Petersburg, Cold Harbor and Richmond.
The oldest of the Yankee Division’s three infantry regiments, the 104th, stems back to the Springfield Train Band and Hampshire County Regiments whose troops served through the French and Indian Wars. Their descendants took part in the siege of Boston in 1776 as Minute Men. Later, generations of these New Englanders took part in the War of 1812, and every great American conflict since.
The 101st Infantry Regiment was originally designated the Massachusetts 9th Infantry and was first organized from a nucleus of Boston fighting Irishmen in 1861, during the Civil War. They played their pipes at Manassas, sounded the charge at Antietam and Chancellorsville and sang Garryowen in Glory at Mechanicsville as, heavily outnumbered, they held off Stonewall Jackson’s men. During the Spanish American War, they again took to the field at Santiago. Such was the background of part of the troops that made up the New England National Guards on the eve of the First World War. Most of these units were on the Mexican Border, during the trouble with Mexico in 1916. On August 13 1917, after the United States declared war on Germany, their ranks were augmented and together they formed the 26th Infantry Division.
Maj GenClarence Ransom Edwards (Jan 1, 1859 – Feb 14, 1931) was a senior United States Army officer, known as the first Chief of the Bureau of Insular Affairs, and commander of the 26th Division in World War I.
Upon the outbreak of WW-1, Edwards was in charge of the Department of the Northeast, comprising all the New England states. In Aug 1917, four months after the American entry into the war, he was promoted to the rank of major general in the National Army and given the task of organizing the 26th Division. The division, an Army National Guard formation, arrived on the Western Front in Sep 1917, the first complete American division to do so. The division also became the first complete American and became the first to go into combat for 46 consecutive days at the Chemin-des-Dames in France in Feb 1918.
Going back to his days at West Point, Edwards had earned a reputation for being sharp-tongued and contentious. Gen John J. ‘Blackjack’ Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) on the Western Front, particularly despised him. Edwards made another enemy in Maj Gen Robert Lee Bullard during the 26th Division’s relief of the 1st Division near Toul in Apr 1918. Edwards found fault with everything he saw, and accused the 1st Division of leaving behind classified documents. Bullard was enraged, but Pershing always favored the 1st Division and reassured him, and nothing came of the incident. In Jul 1918, during the Second Battle of the Marne, the I Corps commander, Lt Gen Hunter Liggett found that, although the 26th Division did not lack for heroism and fought valiantly, he could not depend on its commanders, especially Edwards, to subjugate his unit to Regular Army divisions.
Edwards’ final demise came in Oct 1918, when he reported an incident to Liggett involving information two of his soldiers had obtained from German soldiers with whom they had been fraternizing. The Germans had expressed their belief that the war would be over soon, and that they were reluctant to continue fighting. While Edwards thought he was reporting the enemy’s poor morale to Liggett, he instead gave Liggett an excuse to get rid of Edwards for his zeal in supporting the National Guard. Liggett reported the incident to the AEF commander, General Pershing, who took the opportunity to act on his personal vendetta and relieve Edwards of his command. (Source Wikipedia)
At a press conference held shortly after Maj Gen Clarence Edwards arrived in Boston to assume command of the new Division, a reporter suggested that the division be officially nicknamed the Yankee Division since so many of its men were New Englanders. And so, despite the fact, that men from every state in the Union soon joined, the name has stuck. Later, during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign (September 1918), the official Division insignia was adopted, the blue YD on a yellow ochre diamond-shaped field. These have been proud symbols ever since.
The 26th Division was the first complete American Division to be committed in France. Taking part in six major campaigns: Ile de France, Lorraine, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Champagne-Marne, the Division was cited thirteen times by France, and three times by the American Army Headquarters. This Division spearheaded at Chateau-Thierry and St. Mihiel and fought the longest of all American Infantry Divisions, 210 days. The 104th Infantry became the first military organization in the American history to receive a decoration from a foreign government when it was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palms by the French on Apr 28, 1918, for bravery in the Battle of Apremont.
After the Armistice when President Wilson visited AEF Headquarters at Chaumont, troops of the Yankee Division were chosen for his Guard of Honor, in recognition of their gallantry and outstanding combat record. Later the President was the guest of the Division for dinner on Christmas Day. After returning to the States, the Division reverted to National Guard status. On Jan 16, 1941, the Yankee Division was once more called into the service of the country, on the occasion of the Second World War.
During training, inductees were received at the ratio of one for every member of the National Guard and at various times over a period of more than three years the Division was stationed at eight different camps: Camp Edwards, Mass; Fort Dupont, Delaware; Camp AP Hill, Virginia; Fort Meade, Maryland; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Camp Gordon, Georgia and Camp Campbell, Kentucky. It took part in three maneuvers: The VI Corps maneuvers during the summer of 1941 in the Fort Devens, Mass. area, the First Army Carolina maneuvers in the fall of 1941 and the Second Army Tennessee maneuvers in the winter of 1943.
Beginning in February, 1942, while the nation was transforming its citizens into large armies of soldiers, the Yankee Division sent out combat teams to patrol the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida against the threat of invasion. In addition, thousands of YD trained officers and men, transferred to other units, were sent to the fighting fronts. When the Division was trimmed to the size of a triangular Division, the 181st Infantry Regiment was released to the Americal Division. These ex-YD’s were among the first army troops to relieve the Marines at Guadalcanal.
A battalion of the 101st Combat Engineers landed on New Guinea, fought over the Owen Stanley Mountains and later received a mass citation from General MacArthur. The 101st Medical Detachment served in New Caledonia. Another detachment, popularly known as the Little YD was among the first Rangers that stormed the beaches of Normandy.
When the division was streamlined to its present strength of three regiments, a new regiment joined the 101st and 104th Regiments. In March 1943, the 328th Infantry Regiment was activated at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Although the youngest of the regiments, the 328th already had a tradition of which to be proud. Originally a part of the 82nd Division AEF, it had fought in the fateful Argonne Forest during World War I.
Sgt Alvin C. York, a doughboy of the 328th Infantry of that day, added a colorful page to the history of the American Army by his almost legendary exploits.
During the period of peace, before joining the Yankee Division, the 328th Infantry served as the Florida Guard Reserve. In August 1943, Gen Willard S. Paul assumed command of the Yankee Division from Gen Roger W. Eckfeldt at Camp Gordon and, within a year, the Division was on its way overseas.
The Yankee Division left Camp Shanks on Aug 26, landed at Cherbourg and Utah Beach on Sep 7. Arriving with the first convoy to land in France directly from the USA the Division moved to the Valognes Staging Area and established a HQs at Bourg de Lestre. The various units set up in the nearby towns and fields and initiated intensive training. During these first weeks in France, the troops maintained their hard fighting edge with daily hikes and bayonet practice and further perfected their combat skills. Classes in mine removal, first aid and radio were conducted. Six days after landing, the Division was given its first combat missions.
Weeks before, American aircraft, tanks, artillery, and infantry had joined to deal a crushing blow to the Wehrmacht, Operation Cobra, as it was called, punched a gaping hole in the German lines between St Lô and Periers. Armored columns then plunged deep into Western France past Granville, Avranches, St Malo, Rennes, down to the Loire River. While the main force slashed to the east through Laval, Le Mans, Chartres, Paris, on to the historic battlegrounds of the last war, another armored spearhead spurted westward down the full length of the Brest Peninsula. Now the infantry had taken over from the armor and a climactic battle was taking place to wipe out the German garrison in the city of Brest and its surrounding fortifications.
On Sep 13, the 26th Recon Troop was ordered by III Corps HQs to establish patrols along the coast from Carteret to Sieuville on the lookout for any possible nuisance raids from by-passed German forces on the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel. No action with the enemy occurred. On Sep 29, the Troop was relieved by the 94th Recon Troop and rejoined the Division. On Sep 20, the 101st Engineer Combat Battalion was ordered to remove extensive minefields from Carteret. The engineers remained at Carteret until the middle of October and cleared approximately seven thousand mines.
As the American armies advanced farther and farther across France toward the German border, supply became one of the most difficult problems the high command had to face. To meet this developing crisis, a series of Red Ball express highways were established, reaching from the beaches of Normandy and the quays of Cherbourg to the fighting fronts hundreds of miles away. Over these main roads truck convoys were roaring day and night bringing up vital rations, ammunition, and fuel. During September, 3000 men of the 26-ID were taken to form nineteen provisional truck companies for the Red Ball run. When the Division was alerted for combat they rejoined to resume their former duties. For the role of the strategic reserve, the Division was awarded its first battle star of this war – Campaign of Northern France.
The Lorraine Campaign
During the first week in October, the 26-ID was ordered from Normandy to the Third Army front in Lorraine. The division went into the line on the right flank of XII Corps, Third Army, and Twelfth Army Group, relieving the 4th Armored Division, which had spearheaded Gen Patton’s drive across France. There in the hills and forests of Lorraine between Nancy and the German border, the division took up the fight, just east of the Toulon sector where it had fought in 1918.
The front extended about 13 miles south from the high ground near the town of Salonnes, south of Vic-Sur-Seille, east to a point south of Moyenvic, through Moncourt and the Moncourt Woods to the Marne-Rhine Canal. The relief of the 4-AD was begun on the night of Oct 7 when the 2/104-IR and 3/104-IR moved up. The 101-IR followed.
By Oct 8, five battalions were committed. On Oct 12, the command of the sector passed to the 26-ID. Initially, the Division did not go into combat as a complete unit. The 328-IR, attached to the 80-ID, had relieved a regiment of the 80-ID at Pont-à-Mousson on Oct 5. It was at Pont-à-Mousson in 1918 that the 328th went to the relief of a regiment of Marines, and joined in an attack on Nancy then held by the Germans. On Oct 15, the 328-IR rejoined the 26-ID and moved to the Division sector in XII Corps the following day. The 1/101-IR arrived at the front a day later after completing a mission in the Communications Zone. The 101-ECB entered combat on Oct 22. On Oct 23, the 26-ID Artillery began the relief of the 4-AD Artillery. B Battery, 102-FAB fired the first shell at thirteen minutes past noon on Oct 23. The same day the 114-MB (Medic) joined in the action.
During the month of October 1944, when the 26-ID underwent its baptism of fire, the western front had become stabilized. North in Holland, British, Canadian and American troops were striving to widen and make secure the 50 miles deep salient that had been sliced in toward the landing grounds of Louis Brereton’s 1st Allied Airborne Army near Nijmegen and Arnheim. Others were grinding north to Antwerp. Farther south Aachen had been taken after a long and bitter struggle. Here was the first major foothold on German soil. On the right, the line ran south through the Vosges Mountains to the Swiss border. The Third Army front extended approximately seventy-five miles from the French-Luxembourg-German border to a region southeast of Nancy.
The northern flank was held by the 90-ID, north of Thionville and ready to push across the Moselle River into Germany, just thirteen miles away.
In the Mazieres-Les-Metz sector north of Metz stood the 95-ID.
South of Metz the 5th Infantry Division was prepared to swing south of the fortified city and join with the 95th Infantry Division east of the city. The immediate objective was Louvigny.
In the area of Pont-à-Mousson was the 80-ID. To the south on its right, the 35-ID and forming the right flank of the US 3-A, the 26-ID. Execution of the plan to envelop Metz, breach the Siegfried Line at its most formidable point, seize Saarbrucken and slash deep into the vitals of Germany, could not be accomplished immediately. Millions of gallons of gasoline, millions of rounds of ammunition of all kinds had to be accumulated in Army dumps in the rear before the great attack could be unleashed. In the meantime, troops were holding, preparing, jockeying for position. Wherever the enemy-held dominating ground, it had to be wrested from him. Enemy air activity during this period of defensive operation was limited to a small number of sorties for strafing or reconnaissance purposes. On October 15, two ME-109’s strafed the command posts of the 101-IR and 104-IR. Both enemy planes were destroyed by the 390-AAA-AW Battalion.
Thus while holding a defensive sector under fire, the 26-ID launched its first attack with the limited objective of strengthening the front line. Enemy positions in the Moncourt Woods, a hill to the northwest and the town of Bezange la Petite, were to be attacked and seized by the 104-IR. Opposing the 26-ID were troops tough enough to give any green division an acid test – the 11.Panzer-Division. Although this Division had been hammered all the way across France and now numbered 4000 men, it still fought with spirit. In a short space of time, it was rejuvenated by some twelve thousand reserve troops and thirty big guns and tanks. In preparation for the drive-through Moncourt and Bezange, the doughboys of the 104-IR were given an opportunity to observe air support in action. On October 21, American planes flew over German positions in Moncourt and over the woods. The men saw the planes dive to the attack, bombing, and strafing.
On Oct 22, the men of Able, Baker and Fox Cos (104-IR) attacked and crossed the line of departure. The terrain designated as the objective had been occupied by the Germans long enough for it be strongly fortified, and stiff opposition was encountered from fourteen pillboxes hidden in the woods, and along the edge of the town. Mines and booby traps had been placed profusely. The Germans had dug in shelters, some of which were twelve feet deep. Bezange la Petite was seized and the 104-IR held the high ground before it. The Germans withdrew to the high terrain behind it. Three weeks later, when a general attack was launched by the division, the Moncourt Woods was cleared completely, and Moncourt and Bezange la Petite taken by the 328-IR.
On Nov 1, 1944, the Allied armies still continued to maintain defensive positions, with limited attacks along the front. Early in November, however, regrouping and plans pointed to a continuation of the advance toward Germany and the Siegfried Line.
The Army Commander spoke of the coming offensive and ordered all units to be in a state of readiness to strike fiercely at the German positions, penetrate the German lines, and continue the attack. The Division made final preparations. The 761st Tank Battalion, the 691st Tank Destroyer Battalion, and the 602nd Tank Destroyer Battalion were in positions to advance with the infantry elements. Division Artillery, and supporting Corps Artillery units were ready to lay a preparation on the German positions.
The 4th Armored Division was poised to exploit with a rapid advance, any breakthrough by the infantry. D-day in the US Third Army offensive was Nov 8. On this day, doughboys of the Yankee Division participated in their first large scale attack. For more than a week, there had been constant rainfall and many of the German positions were flooded. American aircraft had raked a gap in the dam at Dieuze, releasing thousands of gallons of water into the Seille River to further inundate the enemy defenses. These flooded areas, plus the heavily mined Bride Forest and Koecking Forest, led the enemy to anticipate an American advance toward Dieuze, an important communications center.
At 0500 on Nov 8, the 26-ID artillery and XII Corps artillery began the one hour barrage that, subsequent reports showed, destroyed all wire communication between enemy command posts and forward elements. At 0600 the infantry began the advance, not to the east toward Dieuze, but northeast toward the towns of Moyenvic and Vic-Sur-Seille. The 104-IR was on the left, the 101-IR in the center and the 328-IR on the right.
The 26th Cavalry Recon Squadron screened and maintained contact on the left flank of the Division and the 2nd Cavalry Group performed the same mission on the South.
On the first day, the 104-IR and the 101-IR moved across the fields and up the high ground overlooking Chateau Salins. Both Vic-Sur-Seille and Moyenvic were taken in the first hour and a quarter. The bridge at Moyenvic was captured intact. On the right, the 328-IR moved into Bezange-la-Petite, then drew back at night to cross the bridge, turning its sector over to the 2nd Cavalry Group. After taking Chateau Salins on Nov 10, the 104-IR veered and drove east toward Château-Voué and Rodalbe, north of the Bride Forest and the Koecking Forest. Blacking the way on the main road was the town of Morville-sur-Seille, strongly held by the Germans.
On Nov 9, a task force (TF A) consisting of infantry, tank destroyers, tanks, and engineers, driving northeast from Moyenvic cleared Morville-sur-Seille after a sharp clash. On Nov 10, the high ground behind Hampont was seized further northeast. With the right screened for the 104-IR, the Regiment pushed eastward, taking in its stride two violent counter-attacks on Nov 11 13 at Obreck and Château-Voué about three miles east of Hampont. The Regiment cleared the Houbange Woods, Obreck and the ground east of Hampont and thrust deep into German lines north of the Bride and Koecking Forest.
On Nov 13, Item, King and Love Cos (3/104) out posted Rodalbe just two and a half miles west of the Division’s objective at Bénestroff, a town on one of the main railroads to Metz. Here a numerically superior German force counter-attacked savagely on the night of the 13. After fighting violently for some hours, the 3/104 withdrew and reorganized its position slightly to the west. The 104 then waited for the other units of the Division to come up and cover its flank. To the 328-IR fell the task of mopping up the Bride and the Koecking Forest, a bristling wedge in the path of the Division’s advance. On Nov 11, the 2/328 and the 3/328 led off in a dawn attack through the woods. At first, they moved quickly, but as they approached the Bérange Farm, they were held up by a stubborn enemy battling from pillbox emplacements employing a heavy concentration of artillery.
For four days the 328-IR blasted the pillboxes, cleared mines, struggled up against the machine guns. As the battle neared its climax, the 761-TB, attached to the Division, entered the fight.
By November 15 the Regiment had reached its objective at Wuisse. Meanwhile, the 101-IR after seizing Moyenvic on the first day of the offensive, fought stubbornly to clear the ridges to the east. The fighting for Hill 310, in particular, was so violent that the men who took part in it have named it Purple Heart Hill.
Nowhere along the front was there more bitter fighting than that faced by the 1/101 as it advanced toward St Médard and by the 2/101 as it advanced toward and fought thru to Haraucourt-sur-Seille, two towns south of the Bride and the Koecking Forests. On Nov 15, after an intensive shelling, the Regiment took Marsal and Haraucourt-sur-Seille and assembled in the Bride and the Koecking Forests to establish a defense along the Dieuze Road. In driving for the towns immediately east of the Bride and the Koecking Forests to cut off railroad arteries that fed Metz, the division ran up against a strong defensive position. The 3/101-IR in an attempt to encircle a muddy little town called Guébling ran into enemy strong fronts along a railroad embankment.
The Germans, to get grazing fire had removed the ties and dug in their machine guns. Taking advantage of the streams winding thru the terrain, the enemy had set up gun positions in culverts and fortified a large stone quarry at the edge of the Marimont-lès-Bénestroff woods. It was not until these woods had been cleared by the 104-IR that the 2/101-IR could assault the high ground and capture the quarry. The 104-IR, advancing on the left flank of the Division took Bénestroff on Nov 10, seized Montdidier, on Nov 21, an enemy stronghold on high terrain from which the Germans had poured down artillery fire on everything passing in the south. The high ground around Albestroff was seized and the town captured after heavy fighting on Nov 24.
Meanwhile, the right flank of the 26-ID and of the 3-A had been screened only by the 2 Cav Group. The crossroads town of Dieuze south of the Foret de Bride et de Koecking represented, at least potentially, a lateral threat.
On Nov 20, the division in its forward momentum had already bypassed Dieuze and the position of the Germans became untenable. After a blistering two-day artillery barrage, elements of the 328-IR entered Dieuze and found that the Germans had already withdrawn. The right flank of the division, resting in a valley which the daily rains and the breached dams of the reservoir above Dieuze had turned into an impassable lake, was now secure.
The Germans, combining their Panzer and Infantry units, Machine-Festung troops and elements of the 43. and 117., 51. and 815.Super-Heavy MG Battalions were using every expedient to block the division’s advance. They felled trees for roadblocks. They set extensive mines and booby traps. At Guinzeling, anti-aircraft gunners were captured who had been employed as ground artillerymen.
Large areas were flooded. In addition to all these obstacles, the roads which had stood up so well at the beginning of the offensive now threatened to break down on a large scale. Dug to the unsafe condition of the main bridge and the flooded roads, the 328-IR was in danger of being cut off for twelve hours. Replacement of the unsafe bridge avoided this catastrophe. The 101-ECB and the 166-ECB constructed this and other bridges of various types across the floods, under the pounding of heavy artillery fire from as far as fifteen miles. The enemy, without adequate troops to attempt a decisive counter-attack, was entangling the Yankee Division forces in continuous local actions to slow down the impetus of the drive and make the division pay in men, material and equipment for its gains. Driven from commanding ground around Montdidier, the enemy fell back, fighting a series of delaying actions to the Saar Canal. The 101 and 104-IRs advanced abreast. They were assigned the mission of seizing outposts along the canal.
The Germans had organized a defense line from Vibersviller on the north to Altwiller on the south. The base of these defenses was Honskirch, a town nestling in the hills and teeming with German armor. The division cracked the defenses in a series of moves.
On Nov 25, the 101-IR struck out to the right, outflanking the defenses and seizing portions of the Bonnefontaine Forest, it established outposts along the Canal from Château Bonnefontaine, south to Mittersheim; it captured the town of Vibersviller which lay directly south of Honskirch. The 328-IR driving to the north, captured Vittersbourg, the northern gateway to Honskirch. The 101-IR occupied Altwiller, supply base for Honskirch and lying directly to the southeast. By this time the Germans finding their position at Honskirch untenable withdrew the bulk of their forces, and the 101-IR with George Co spearheading, entered the town, fighting action with rear guards only. With the Honskirch-Altwiller line overrun, the Germans, on Nov 28, began a general evacuation of their forces east of the canal and fell back to a line extending from Holving on the north, through Schopperten directly west of Saar Union on the bank of the Saare River.
The enemy was now defending to the south and west, as the 3-A and 7-A wheeled to face him. The 26-ID continued the advance to Saar Union – a milestone on the road to the Saar Basins.
At noon, on Nov 29, the 101-IR occupied Bissert, a half-mile to the south of Schopperten. The Regiment then moved due east by motor, crossing the Saare River without opposition and moved under the cover of a ridge into Wolfskirchen, five miles directly south of Saar Union. From here it was prepared to advance north and launch an attack directly on Saar Union itself.
Fierce fighting ensued to capture Saar Union. On December 1, the attack was launched from the south, spearheaded by the 1/101 and 2/101, with elements of the 4-AD. The attack began at 0800. Fifty-one minutes later, Baker and Charlie Cos had reached their first phase line. By 1014, Item Co had patrols in Saarwerden while King had moved toward the woods southeast of Saarwerden. The enemy was well entrenched on the high ground east of Saar Union. From here he delivered effective blows with small arms and artillery and by 1400 the attack of the 101-IR had been slowed down. That afternoon, the infantry fought stubbornly to advance, while fighter planes strafed the main supply roads leading north from Saar Union to Oermingen. By 1635, Item Co had reached the outskirts of Saar Union, but King Co, which had been moved up in support, was held up by the heavy fire in the woods five hundred yards southeast of the town and withdrew to consolidate its position. When darkness set in, King Co was reorganized and consolidated with Love Co into a single company. Plans were formed for the resumption of the attack on the following day.
Able/101-ECB, meanwhile, constructed a bridge in Saarwerden, swept adjacent roads of mines, and neutralized various enemy booby traps. Potato masher grenades with trip wires were found as well as German artillery shells with firing devices attached, which were buried in the roadbeds. In the attack, the 101-IR had attached to it Able/691-TDB, Able/114-MB (Medic), the 101-FAB and was supported by Able/101-ECB. On Dec 2, at 0900, the attack was resumed. The 104-IR, which during the previous day had crossed the Saar Canal from the west, along the routes used by the 101-IR previously, had moved up to the left flank of the 101-IR and now both regiments struck out abreast.
Fifteen minutes after the jumpoff, Item/101-IR was in Saar Union, by 1035 Item and Love Cos were engaged in heavy street fighting because the Germans had based their defense north and east of the town and they were launching constant attacks of infantry supported by tanks, usually in groups of six. The 1/101-IR, trying to advance on schedule through the woods east of Saar Union was meeting ferocious resistance. By noon, the 761-TB had moved elements to support the 1/101-IR in the struggle. Charlie Co had been held up by heavy fire in the woods. Able and Baker Cos by-passed the position on the left and the 51-AIB (4-AD) by-passed it on the right. The Germans were surrounded. Easy Co, therefore, received orders to move and attack the woods from the east along with a task force from Combat Command B 4-AD. As a result, by 1630, Charlie Co was able to resume its advance through the woods. When darkness set in the company consolidated its position.
During the afternoon, the 3/104 joined the 3/101 fighting in Saar Union and the town was cleared after very bitter fighting. Artillery hammered the town and then the infantry moved in fighting for almost every doorway and cellar. As darkness fell on this second day of fighting, the division had gained all of its objectives. The 1/101 was astride the high ground on the Saar Union – Domfessel Road, threatening enemy positions to the east of the town. The 1/104 and the 2/104 had secured Saarwerden and Rimsdorf, respectively, to the south. On Dec 3, the situation in Saar Union seemed well in hand. At 0900, Easy Co 101-IR resumed its advance through the woods east of Saar Union and cleared it of Germans. An hour later, however, one hundred Germans, supported by six tanks, were observed moving from the north toward the town. They swung around and entered the town at the eastern edge. At 1133, the tanks began firing rapidly on the 3/101’s area. At the same time, from a ridge north of the town, other enemy forces set up a smokescreen. It became apparent that a major counter-attack was developing from the north and northeast. Germans moved into the town, and fierce hand-to-hand fighting ensued, plus tanks, artillery, and sniper fire.
At 1310, tanks in support to the infantry were instructed to move against the enemy armor on the eastern edge of the town. Reports were received that the division artillery fire was very effective in reducing the attack. At 1600, one tank company from the 37-TB (4-AD), was sent into Saar Union to assist in cleaning up whatever enemy armor was still there. After two hours of violent fighting, the brunt of the counter-attack was broken and thereafter enemy resistance was sporadic. By 2215 in the evening all fighting had ceased. After sixty-two hours of battle, Saar Union was in friendly hands.
The fight for Saar Union was costly. During the enemy counter-attack, the Command Post of Item Co had been captured, five AT and four prime movers were destroyed. With Saar Union cleared, and the 3/104-IR remaining behind to mop up, the attack to the north was continued. The 101-IR on the right flank sent the 1st Bn north through the woods and then northwest to block enemy forces on the road, north, leading out of Saar Union. Meanwhile, the 328-IR, which, during the fight for Saar Union, had remained in reserve west of the town, now entered the drive on the left flank of the Division, advancing north to seize Schopperten and Le Hanau Woods.
On Dec 5, the 3/328 cleared the Vienwald Woods, which the Germans had strongly held on the Division left flank. The 2/328 entered Keskastel meeting little resistance and Easy Co continued north to Saaralbe. The 26-ID, now having advanced to the extremity of Lorraine, entered a new phase of operations. After fighting through forests, across numerous streams, and stubbornly contested towns, the division now encountered a series of Maginot Line fortifications that stood in the way of the advance. These forts in the division zone consisted of a wedge-shaped belt of concrete pillboxes linked to four towns. The French had constructed the pillboxes in an ingenious pattern, placing them in positions suitable to the peculiarities of the terrain, protecting one another by interlacing fields of fire.
From Dec 6 to Dec 9, Division units regrouped into positions for the assault, occupying the strategic ground in the face of enemy artillery and direct fire from the pillboxes. Kalhausen, the point of the wedge, was seized along with the high ground southwest of Etting, on the right. The 104-IR mopped up the southern half of Le Grand Bois which lay between Kalhausen and Wittring. Then, on December 9 at 1000, while corps and division artillery laid down a barrage and the 405 and 362 Fighter Bomber Groups bombed and strafed the forts, the roads, and the towns, the infantry launched the attack on Achen and the other Maginot Line Forts.
The 12-AD, having relieved the 4-AD on the right flank, also attacked. Elements of the 104-IR seized Achen. The Germans resisted savagely in Le Grand Bois and Le Haut Poirier between Wittring and Achen, but the Division’s objectives were reached. Driving through Achen, the 1/104, against hostile artillery and automatic weapons seized Fort Achen and other Maginot fortifications in its zone. The 328-IR cleared Le Grand Bois and destroyed Fort Wittring. On Dec 9, the 102-FAB supporting the 104-IR, fired the first mission of the 26-ID into Germany. As the 26-ID cracked through the Maginot Line, this second day in December, Allied troops all along the front were meeting grim opposition. Between fifty and fifty-five German divisions, most of which were under strength, supported by fifteen or twenty divisions in reserve, were putting up fanatical resistance. The maximum penetration into Germany was not over 25 miles.
Hodges’ 1-A was struggling through the Hürtgen Forest immediately beyond Aachen. Simpson’s 9-A was battling bitterly for Jülich and Düren, key points on the Roer River.
The fighting along the Roer River was, in the words of a high officer, the Meuse, the Marne and the Somme all rolled into one.
To the south of Patton’s 3-A, troops of the Patch’s 7-A had taken Strasbourg in a dash to the Rhine. But the Germans had so far been able to prevent a crossing of the river. Metz had fallen (November 17) and troops all along the 3-A front were pushing to the edge of the Saar Basin.
The 90-ID, pressing through the Siegfried Line beyond its bridgehead and Koenigsmacher, had broken into bomb wracked Saarlautern at the German border and had seized Dillingen, two miles to the north where the Germans were fiercely counterattacking.
The 6-AD had wiped out an enemy salient three miles deep and two miles wide southeast of Saarbrucken. On the north flank of the 35-ID elements had crossed into Germany at Saareguemines, pushed on to the town of Neunkirsch, which was less than one-half mile from the Saar Basin. And when the 26-ID broke thru the Maginot Line defenses, both the 26th and 35th Divisions were ready to make a concerted drive on the Saar Basin from the South.
On Dec 9, the Yankee Division’s mission in Lorraine was coming to an end. After two months of bitter combat, the weary YD infantry had earned a respite from the fight. News reached the foxhole soldiers of impending relief, and that night, the 87-ID began moving into the area of the 26-ID. The 101-IR was the first unit to be relieved (Dec 10) departing immediately from the XII Corps sector, proceeding to Metz. On Dec 11, the 104-IR followed. With the relief of the 101 and 104 by the 87-ID, the only Yankee Division doughboys remaining in battle were those of the 328-IR. The 346-IR of the 87-ID was now on the right of the 328-IR, and on the left was the 320-IR (35-ID).
Perhaps because the sacred soil of the Fatherland, only a few miles away, was being seriously threatened, the Germans began a counter-attack in the afternoon of Dec 9 in the zone of the 2/328-IR. The Germans being repulsed, the 2/238 and the 3/328 began to advance again the following morning. Again enemy armor delivered heavy fires on our troops. The attacking battalions were forced into a slight withdrawal, because of the massed enemy tanks in the Bliesbrucken Woods.
The XIX Tactical Air Command was called upon for air support and in the afternoon a squadron of fighter bombers bombed and strafed the enemy concentrations in the woods. Direct hits were scored on three tanks, others were damaged.
The 602-TDB and the 610-TDB were both engaging any enemy armor that came under observation all around the zone. Approximately ten German tanks were eliminated by the Tank Destroyer operations in the Bliesbrucken Woods action. On the night of Dec 11, the 328-IR established defensive positions in the vicinity of Obergailbach, alerted for any further thrusts by enemy armor. During the night, 11 infantrymen (Item Co) patrolling, became the first YD doughboys to invade the German soil. On Dec 12, the three infantry battalions attacked towards the German border, the 3/328, and the Tank Destroyers, to engage enemy tanks in the vicinity of Obergailbach. By 1530 in the afternoon, meeting stubborn resistance, the 1/328 and 2/328, Able Co leading, had advanced into the Obergailbach Woods, 600 meters inside the German border. Easy and Fox Cos secured objectives on German soil while Item Co, still leading, captured Hill 360, a strategic terrain feature in the Corps sector.
Thus, on Dec 12, ended the first campaign of the 26-ID, beginning on Nov 8 just east of Nancy, continuing for 66 days of hard combat through the province of Lorraine, ending on the 67th day inside fortress Germany.
In figures, which can never measure the suffering and hardship of the fighting infantrymen, the division advanced approximately 45 miles against stubborn German resistance, wrested from the enemy 132 French towns, over an area of 450 square miles. During this period, the Division captured 2573 prisoners and inflicted an estimated 2307 casualties.
Speaking to the 26-ID, in a letter of commendation to Gen Paul, the CG XII Corps, Gen Maton S. Eddy, said: When I tell you that some of the bitterest fighting of our entire front during the last three weeks has taken place in your own zone, I do not tell you something that you and the 26-ID do not know. Some of you may not know, however, that your skill and gallantry in your first major engagement have won the respect and admiration of the whole XII Corps – even, I feel sure, of the German troops facing you. Some of Germany’s finest fighting troops are on your front, including the tough and tested 11.Panzer-Division. I can give you no higher compliment to your Division than to assure you that, if these battle-tried German troops expected to deal easily with a new and untried American Division, they have received one of the great surprises of their careers.
The remarkable speed with which your fighting troops have acquired the spirit of veterans deserves commendation second only to the high courage and constant aggressiveness with which you have battled across Lorraine.
On Dec 10, the 101-IR arrived by motor convoy in the French citadel of Metz, which had fallen in November to the 5-ID and 95-ID. It was planned to send all of the Division, except the 101-IR, into immediate rest. The 101-IR had been given a mission to perform before going into reserve.
By Dec 10, all the forts that had formed a ring of defenses around Metz had surrendered with the exception of one – Fort Jeanne D’Arc. This fort was still holding out and it was the mission of the 101 to take over from the 345-IR (87-ID), the job of conducting the siege until the fort surrendered. The Regimental CP was established in the Schlier Kaserne, which had been the barracks of the German Officers’ Candidate School before the capture of the city. Under cover of darkness on Dec 11, the 2/101 took over the siege from elements of the 345-IR. Troops from Love Co of the 3/101 relieved men of the 345-IR guarding Fort Driant and took over the occupation of Fort Dame. The rest of the 3/101 assumed command of Fort Plapperville and Fort Quentin, other forts of the chain.
Prior to the relief of the 87-ID by the 26-ID, eight enemy patrols had attempted to escape from Fort Jeanne D’Arc and to reach German lines. It was decided on Dec 11, to send the 1/101 to reinforce the 2/101, to take over the southern sector while the 2/101 regrouped and occupied the northern sector. Resistance from the Fort was sporadic. Orders had been given the 101 not to attempt to attack the Fort other than by fire; and the Fort in its turn answered with a periodic activity of burp guns, automatic weapons and the exchange of signals with German elements somewhere in the vicinity.
On Dec 13, at 0900 in the morning, Maj Gramm, CO of the 1/101 gave the first report to headquarters that the Fort was on the verge of surrender. He reported that a German officer had left the Fort with a white flag and had come over to Able Co expressing a desire to discuss terms for capitulation. Maj Gramm was instructed to tell the German officer that he returns from the Fort with the Commandant; that the party would be met by a similar American party at a road junction southwest of the Fort, and here discussion would commence. At 0915, an order was given the 101 to cease-fire and a party was organized. The party consisted of Gen Hartness, ADC 26-ID, the CO of the 101, the Regimental Operations Officer with the Regimental Stenographer, the CO of the 1/101 and 2/101, an IPW team, a Signal Corps team, a mine-sweeping detail and an AT detachment. The parties met at the prescribed spot at 1100 in the morning. It was agreed that the Americans return with the Germans to the CP inside the Fort to complete negotiation. The terms of surrender were delivered to the Fort Commander, Maj Hans Voss, who accepted, after a short discussion with his officers.
During the surrender negotiations, the remainder of the division, now under command of III Corps, had arrived at Metz for a period of rest, recreation and training. For the first time in several months, the men were living under approximate garrison conditions. Passes were given daily to visit places of interest in the city. The men had showers, ate well, saw movies regularly. A training program was instituted to iron out the errors most commonly noted during the Lorraine Campaign. A battalion was organized under the supervision of Brig Gen Hartness with a cadre of veteran officers and enlisted personnel to train the 2585 replacements that were coming into the division.
The schedule, an intensive one, included practice in basic subjects, small arms, bazooka, and mortar fire, scouting and patrolling, combat in cities, personal and field sanitation with emphasis on the avoidance of trench foot. The program was interrupted by an unexpected turn of events. Many of the replacements were destined to perform their duty in combat before they had a full opportunity to take advantage of the training. On Sunday, Dec 17, the 26-ID, assembled for the first time in many weeks, gathered to hold religious exercises in the historic churches of Metz. Mass was celebrated in the world-famous Gothic Cathedral and all the regiments and other units held memorial services for the men who had given their lives in the drive from the Moncourt Woods to the German border. On this day the CG of the Division, the ADC, and the Chief of Staff were guests at a luncheon given in the Division’s honor by the Mayor of Metz. The Mayor, speaking on behalf of the citizens of Metz, expressed his extreme gratitude for the Yankee Division’s part in the liberation of the city.
The prospect of a Division rest period in the city of Metz was anticipated with some pleasure by the men who had just finished 67 days on cold, muddy battlefields, but on the morning of Dec 18, however, began a series of events, which shocked the entire world, and shortly, terminated the rest period at Metz.
Battle of the Bulge
In the early morning of Dec 16, a German counter-attack in strength lunged westward out of the Siegfried Line, spearheaded by top-notch armored columns, covered by hundreds of new, and hitherto hidden aircraft. Not since Avranches had the enemy endeavored to mount a counteroffensive of the proportion of that which now rolled across the frozen hills of Luxembourg and Belgium. Von Rundstedt’s offensive in the Ardennes hit the American 1-A in a thinly held sector, extending roughly from the Belgian twins-town of Krinkelt-Rocherath to the south of Echternach in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. In three days, enemy spearheads, overrunning American lines, had penetrated into the area between Bastogne and St Vith (Belgium). Some elements swept further west to bypass Marche-en-Famenne and reach the Meuse River. By Dec 19, the shoulders of the Bulge were becoming more stabilized, and enemy thrusts were being contained without further loss, in the Krinkelt, Rocherath, Elsenborn area on the north shoulder, and in the Echternach area on the South.
The 101st Airborne Division temporarily under the command of Gen Anthony McAuliffe (the CG of the 101-Abn, Gen Maxwell D. Taylor being in Washington for a meeting), with portions of the 9-AD and 10-AD were making their historic stand at Bastogne against constant enemy pressure which had surrounded the town. This is briefly the situation into which Gen Patton’s 3-A was soon to play a leading and spectacular role, and in which the 26-ID was to meet its heaviest engagements with the enemy. As plans were hurriedly formulated in Supreme Headquarters the part of the 3-A would play in reducing the German penetration in the 1-A sector became known.
Gen Patton’s offensive, along the German border approaching the Siegfried Line, was to be suspended; the present line held with a minimum of troops and the main effort of the 3-A to be directed in a smashing blow against Von Rundstedt’s south flank. The units most immediately available to the Army Commander were the III Corps Headquarters in Metz, the 4-AD, the 26-ID, and the 80-ID, none of which were at this time actively engaged. On Dec 19, the III Corps was ordered to employ these divisions in launching an attack on Dec 22 against the enemy’s south flank.
On Dec 20, the III Corps moved its Headquarters from Metz to Arlon in Belgium. The 4-AD and the 26-ID began assembling in the area, in preparation for the attack. With road priority directed to the armor, elements of the 4-AD became the first 3-A combat units to arrive on the new scene of battle, but only a few hours behind, elements of the 26-ID closed in the concentration area. Although the 26-ID had followed closely the developments of the Ardennes offensive, the order directing the entire division to move to Luxembourg was received with a suddenness, which allowed only ten hours until elements must begin the movement to the north. Orders were received by the Division Chief of Staff on the night of December 19 to start moving the following morning.
By midnight on Dec 20 the entire division had moved from Metz, France to the assembly areas in the vicinity of Eischen, Luxembourg. On Dec 21 the 4-AD had completely assembled in its area near Arlon and the 80-ID had assembled North East of Luxembourg City. The III Corps then directed these 3 divisions to attack at 0600 on Dec 22.
The 4-AD was to advance up the Arlon-Bastogne Highway, with the 26-ID in the center of the Corps zone, and the 80-ID on the right. At no time prior to the attack was the division able to secure any substantial amount of information concerning the location of the enemy, or other details related to the situation. The infantrymen who remained concealed in the Luxembourg forests during the day and night of December 21, making last-minute preparations, were, of necessity, to begin the attack the following morning in which they must seek out and find the enemy. They were to move north aggressively, engage the flank of the German salient pushing west. Ahead, in their path stretched the hills, woods, streams, cold and frozen ground, covered now with a raw mist, and shortly to be covered by snow. And somewhere, the enemy.
At 0600 on the morning of Dec 22, with the countryside still wrapped in a chilling mist, the 26-ID began the attack with two regiments abreast, the 328-IR on the left, the 104-IR on the right. In a column of battalions, on foot, because the possible point of meeting the enemy was unknown, the infantrymen of the two regiments walked approximately 16 miles before contacting the German columns moving west.
The first contact with the enemy on Dec 22 was met by the 26th Cav Recon Troop which had been sent out in advance of the infantry to screen and probe across the division front. The 1st Plat of the Troop had advanced north to Ell and then to Rambrouch without sighting the enemy. Just outside of Rambrouch the platoon, now approximately 16 miles north of Arlon and Eischen, went into concealment along the side of the road. From this position, the cavalrymen, firing from their armored cars, were able to ambush two enemy vehicles carrying personnel and one motorcycle bearing a German colonel.
Soon enemy infantry began to arrive in larger numbers, followed by tanks and AT guns. The Recon Platoon, heavily outnumbered, fought a stubborn delaying action, withdrew to the town of Rambrouch in which they resisted for two hours the savage attacks of the enemy. Other elements of the Troop had contacted the enemy at Rodt-Les-Ell. The 328-IR struck the flank of the enemy when the 1st Battalion encountered self-propelled guns on a hill in the vicinity of Rindschleiden. The I&R Platoon of the 104-IR found the enemy in the vicinity of Grosbous. During the afternoon of Dec 22, the enemy became aware of the threat that was pushing into his left flank.
In the zone of the 4-AD, CCA advanced up the Arlon-Bastogne Highway as far as Martelange. On the right of the Corps zone, the 80-ID encountered stiff resistance from the 352.Volksgrenadier-Division at Merzig and Ettelbruck. Later in the day, the enemy had sufficiently recovered from the surprise of this flank attack, to launch a counter-attack south of Grosbous, forcing our troops to withdraw one mile. On the second day of the attack, the terrain became an increasing obstacle to operations. In the area north of Grosbous, toward Eschdorf and the Sure River, the ground was broken into a series of deep gorges and high wooded ridges. During the day, in which the enemy resisted vigorously, the 104-IR captured Grosbous and pushed on to Dellen and Buschrodt. King Co, 328-IR, occupied Wahl on the morning of December 23, and the 2/104 became part of a combat team known as Task Force Hamilton. This Task Force was organized to fill the need for a quick, powerful, mobile armor-infantry team, consisting of the 2/328-IR motorized, Charlie Co (less one platoon) of the 735-TB, one Platoon, Able Co, 818-TDB, one Section Battery C, 390-AAA Battalion, one Section Able Co, 101-ECB.
Late in the day on Dec 23, the 2/101 was taken from reserve with the mission of securing Rambrouch on the division left flank which had been in German hands since the withdrawal of the 26th Cav Recon on Dec 22. This was accomplished on the following day, with Rambrouch and Koetschette both wrested from the enemy.
During the second day of the 3-A attack, the 101st Airborne Division and other units at Bastogne were supplied by our aircraft with much needed medical supplies and equipment. The 4-AD continued the fight up the highway towards Bastogne, CCB reaching Chaumont and CCA still held up on the main road by a blown bridge at Martelange. The German defense against this flank attack was conducted with increasing ferocity, with paratroopers landing within the American lines, and small groups of enemy infiltrating by use of captured United States uniforms and vehicles.
Having seized the offensive, the enemy sought desperately to continue on the offensive. The 3-A attack and the heroic resistance of Bastogne constituted a thorn in the side of the German effort that threatened to cause the failure of the whole campaign in which Von Rundstedt had hoped to sweep the Allied Armies from the continent.
From Dec 24 to Dec 25, the progress of the III Corps’ divisions was retarded by the recurrent counter-attacks and stubborn resistance of the enemy. The 6th Cav Group (TF Fickett) arrived in the Corps zone and was assigned a zone between the 4-AD and the 26-ID. In the 26-ID zone, the 1/328 fought bitterly to capture Arsdorf, with Baker and Charlie Cos fighting from house to house to overcome Germans fighting with primitive fury. The battle in Arsdorf continued all night and on Christmas morning the 2/101 joined and succeeded in clearing the town.
Task Force Hamilton, meanwhile, was assigned the mission of seizing the heavily defended town of Eschdorf, which dominated the approaches to the Sure River. Advancing up the road to Eschdorf, Easy and Fox 328-IR encountered strong enemy resistance at the tiny village of Hierheck. The enemy pinned our infantry down with intense rifle and automatic weapons fire. Tanks of the 735-TB entered the battle, endeavoring to engage the enemy while the infantry infiltrated forward.The bloody fighting on the road to Eschdorf continued, and the battle for the town itself did not begin until 0100 on Christmas morning. In the struggle which began on Christmas day, Eschdorf was to become one of the most bitterly contested points in the campaign, and the town to be reduced to little more than smoldering rubble. For two days and nights, Eschdorf was shattered and blasted by the battle. Easy and Fox Cos stumbled through the burning village, under artillery and mortar fire, killing the enemy where they found him, losing contact with their own troops and commanders. By Christmas night, most of TF Hamilton was forced from Eschdorf by the violent German attacks, but the Task Force re-entered the town on the following morning to recapture it with the 1/104-IR.
With the strategic villages of Arsdorf and Eschdorf cleared of the enemy, all units of the division were facing the Sure River, winding through its deep channel in the hills, and the lofty snow-covered ridges beyond. The 80-ID, on the right of the 26-ID, having now passed to the control of XII Corps, was still held up by the enemy, leaving the 104-IR facing an exposed flank. All during Christmas day, the 4-AD continued thrusting at the enemy’s frantic defenses to block the road to Bastogne. Finally, on Dec 26, the 4-AD made contact with the defenders of Bastogne and medical supplies, ammunition and food began to move into the besieged Americans.
The attack was resumed by the 26-ID on the morning of Dec 26, with the 101-IR and the 104-IR prepared to cross the Sure River. The enemy was very active on the opposite bank and the efforts of the infantry and the engineers to secure crossing sites were met by heavy small arms and mortar fire, particularly in the vicinity of Bonnal and Esch-sur-Sure.
By the end of the day using assault boats and footbridges initially, the greater part of the 101-IR and the 104-IR had crossed the Sure. Enemy aircraft were active over the bridging sites, and the 390-AAA Battalion destroyed fifteen enemy planes and damaged three. On the morning of Dec 27, the 35-ID, having arrived from Metz on the day before, attacked through the 6-C.Sq, seized objectives north and west of the Sure River on the left of the 26-ID.
In the bridgehead of the 101-IR the advance was continued, capturing Mecher-Dunkrodt, Kaundorf and the high ground in the vicinity of Bavigne. Two bridges were now established across the Sure, a Treadway at Esch-sur-Sure and a Bailey Bridge at Bonnal. The 1 and the 2/104 had crossed the river at Esch Sur Sure and seized the high ground east of Kaundorf, assisting the 101-IR in clearing Kaundorf. Through Dec 28 and 29, the enemy utilized the high ground to fight a delaying action in the area between the Sure River and the Wiltz River. The 4-AD strengthened and widened the corridor into Bastogne, the 35-ID made slight gains. In the zone of the 26-ID small gains were made by the 1, and 2/101 and Nothum was cleared by the 104 against considerable resistance.
The advance infantry elements were now approaching the key communication and supply center of Wiltz. The enemy indicated a stubborn reluctance to surrender the Wiltz area, which was vital to carrying on the offensive, which he still hoped to resume.
During the next two days, there were numerous indications that the enemy was preparing a counter-blow to arrest the advance along the III Corps front. On the morning of Dec 30, the 35-ID reported a small counter-attack in the vicinity of Lutrebois, which, during the day developed into a major offensive with at least one regiment of infantry reinforced with tanks. Bitter fighting continued all day, costly to both sides, but with no substantial change in front lines. Later in the day the enemy counter-attacked in the 26-ID, striking the 3/101, with considerable force, causing disorganization in the Item and King Cos areas. The situation was fairly stable during the night, but the enemy struck again with fury at 0530 on the morning of Dec 31. The battle was similar to that in the zone of the 35-ID on the previous day, and fierce fighting raged all day in the zones of both infantry divisions as the Germans battled to regain the offensive.
Neither side could claim any major advances and, at the end of this second day of violent battle, the situation still remained unsettled. In the Yankee Division zone, the brunt of the attack fell full upon the 3/101. Able 101-ECB was alerted to go into battle, as infantry, to support the 3/101, and the 2/101 sent George Co around to the left of the 3/101 to relieve the pressure. Able 735-TB was unable to assist because of the icy roads. The Division Commander then ordered the 3/238 to position in-depth behind the 3/101. After containing the counter-attack the division reorganized and established defensive positions during the night Dec 31/Jan 1.
During the first week of Jan 1945, infantrymen of the Yankee Division engaged in a series of attacks towards the Wiltz River, with little success in breaking up the deadlock that now characterized the entire Corps front. The III Corps was endeavoring to reduce the German pocket in the general area Tarchamps – Bras – Doncols – Berle, but every effort of the 35-ID and the 26-ID, secured little or no advantage. The 6-AD was meeting heavy resistance in the vicinity of Wardin and Mageret. It was during this period that our troops experienced an attack by Screaming Mamies rocket, known as the nebelwerfer. This weapon delivered on our troops a barrage of thirty to forty rockets, simultaneously detonating with a powerful concussion.
Many men of the YD will remember the cold night of Jan 3/4 when the Germans sent large concentrations of nebelwerfer fire into the Division zone. Further discomfort was contributed by the near zero and sub zero temperatures, the snow-covered, frozen ground, and waist high snow drifts.
In the period of Jan 1/4, a succession of bitter attacks and counter-attacks took place approximately one kilometer north of the village of Nothum at the Schumannseck crossroads, at which point the main road from Bastogne to Wiltz was threatened. On Jan 2, the 101-IR, with the 3/328 attached, jumped off in an attack to secure the Schumannseck crossroads and the Hill (490) beyond.
The 2/101 and Charlie Co (1/101) were halted early in the attack by heavy enemy fire from enemy tanks and automatic weapons. The 3/328 was employed to strengthen the attack, but the stalemate was never eliminated. Although our troops reached Hill 490 several times, counter-thrusts by the enemy forced our withdrawal. Other elements of the division, endeavoring to push forward, were forced back to original positions. During the period of Jan 5/8, elements in the division maintained defensive positions and regrouped in preparation for continuation of the attack on Corps order. The 90-ID was assembling in the Corps zone, prepared to attack along the left flank of the 26-ID, making the Corps main effort to eliminate the enemy pocket.
Task Force Scott was formed on Jan 7, consisting of the 101-IR, 101-FAB, Btry A, 390-AAA Bn, 26 Recon Troop (less 3d Plat), one Plat Able 101-ECB, Able Co (less one Plat), 818-TDB, two Platoons 735-TB, Able 114-MD (Medic). The 2/101 remained on the left flank of the division zone, and the remainder of Task Force Scott moved by motor to vicinity Baschleiden to relieve elements of the 35-ID on line around Harlange. Through this area, the 90-ID was to launch its attack, with the main body of the YD on its right and Task Force Scott on its left. At 1000 on Jan 9, the attack jumped off along the Corps front with only minor gains in the 26-ID zone due to the well-defended enemy positions. TF Scott attacked with the 1 and 3/101 abreast, but elements of the German 5.Fallschirmjäger-Division resisted fiercely. The 3/101 was able to reach the high ground east of Tarchamps, in conjunction with Task Force Fickett (6-CAV Group). While TF Fickett was battling to collapse enemy resistance in the base of the pocket, the 90-ID had captured Berlé and was advancing on Doncols.
The 6-AD had gained 1200 yards to the southeast. The attack was continued on Jan 10 and 11 with the 90-ID seizing Doncols and Sonlez after these towns were pounded by air and artillery. On Jan 12, as a result of being hammered by the coordinated attack from all sides, the enemy’s defenses began to crumble.
The 6-AD had captured Wardin and advanced to a few hundred yards west of Bras, pinching off the pocket between it and the 90-ID. TF Scott mopped up the enemy in the area around Harlange and then, with its mission completed, reverted to normal functions in the Division zone. The 101-IR moved by motor into an assembly area in the vicinity of Hierheck on Jan 12, for reorganization and rehabilitation. The 104-IR and 328-IR continued to maintain defensive positions overlooking Wiltz and Winseler, patrolling along the Wiltz River.
During the week of Jan 13/20, the situation in the 26-ID zone remained stable with periodic relieves of front line battalions. Some limited attacks were made to eliminate enemy forces south of the Wiltz River, and patrol activity was constant. In the remainder of the III Corps sector, the 90-ID and the 6-AD continued to make small gains, which still were resisted vigorously by the enemy. By Jan 20, however, the overall picture of the von Rundstedt’s offensive showed the Bulge to be no longer such. 1-A Troops had pushed down from the north and joined the 3-A forces in a squeeze that completely destroyed the German penetration, enabling both Armies to move to the east and drive the enemy back into the Siegfried Line.
In this final stage of the campaign, the mission of the 26-ID was to cross the Wiltz River, secure Wiltz, and continue to drive the enemy eastward. In preparation for the attack, the 101-IR relieved elements of the 328-IR in the right portion of the zone. During the night of January 20, the 3/328 crossed the Wiltz River and secured a bridgehead while engineers constructed a bridge, northwest of Grumelscheid.
On Jan 21, at 0800, the Corps attack jumped off. In the 26-ID zone, two regiments attacked abreast, the 328 on the left and the 101 on the right. The 2/101 led the infantry advance across the river, followed by the 3/101. The 2/101 cleared Brühl and Noertrange, organizing the high ground vicinity Noertrange. The 1/101 crossed the Wiltz River, entered Wiltz from the north and northwest, clearing that portion of the city north of the river by nightfall. In the attack of the 328-IR, the 2/328 secured Grumelscheid while the 1/328 advanced rapidly to the high ground vicinity Brachtenbach. The regiment thus gained approximately seven kilometers over steep snow-covered hills and roads that were blocked and mined. The 101 also reported encountering numerous booby traps and mines in its attack on Wiltz.
The Division continued the attack to the east towards the Clerf River on Jan 22, with the 3/101 capturing Eschweiler, in conjunction with the 6-CAV Group. By the following day, with little resistance, the enemy was cleared from the Division zone up to the Clerf River. On Jan 24, the 101-IR and the 328-IR launched the attack to cross the Clerf River. Considerable enemy fire was received by the 1 and the 3/328 as they attempted to find crossing sites along the Clerf River. The 1/328 cleared Urspelt by 1200 on Jan 25. The first elements of the division to reach the east bank of the Clerf River were from the 3/101. The 1/101, attacking with elements of the 6-CAV Group succeeded in clearing Clervaux. By Jan 25, the Battle of the Bulge was rapidly drawing to a close with enemy withdrawing his forces to the east bank of the Our River, into Germany and the Siegfried line.
Throughout the Ardennes Campaign, various enemy units were encountered, including the 5.Fallschirmjäger-Division, the 276.Volksgrenadier-Division, 9.Volksgrenadier-Division, 340.Volksgrenadier-Division, 167.Volksgrenadier-Division, and 1.SS-Panzer-Division (LSSAH).
On January 25, the III Corps was notified that the 26-ID was to pass to the command of XX Corps in France. The 17-A/B was directed to effect the relief of the 26-ID and elements of that division began to arrive on January 26.
The 104-ID, which had remained in successive reserve areas from January 19, departed from the vicinity of Niederwiltz, Luxembourg on January 27, and moved by motor to the XX Corps area of the 95-ID zone. During the afternoon and night of Jan 27, the relief of the 328-IR and the 101-IR was executed by elements of the 17-A/B and the 6-AD. On Jan 28, the main body of the division began moving to the vicinity of Boulay, France. Thus closed the Ardennes Campaign for the Yankee Division, 36 days from the cold morning in December when the fighting infantry had headed north to go batteling against German fanatic forces who had delivered defeat and cruel death to many in their path. The 26-ID played a leading part in the campaign, engaging in more costly, bloody, violent battles than had yet been met in fighting the Germans.
Places like Eschdorf and the woods at the Schumann Mount will always be remembered with a grim sadness by those who know how dearly we paid to wrest our victory from the enemy.
On January 20 1945, Gen George S. Patton, Commanding General of the US Third Army, wrote a letter of commendation to all the officers and the men of Gen Robert Pat White’s III Corps: The speed with which the III Corps assembled, the energy, the skill, and the persistence with which it pressed its attack for the relief of Bastogne, constitute a very noteworthy feat of arms.
To this letter of commendation, Gen Paul added these words for the men of the 26-ID: When you initially attacked for seven days and nights without halting for rest, you met and defeated more than twice your own number.
Your advance required the enemy to turn fresh divisions against you, and you, in turn, hacked them to pieces as you ruthlessly cut your way deep into the flank of the Bulge. Your feats of daring and endurance in the sub-freezing weather and snow-clad mountains and gorges of Luxembourg are legion; your contribution to the relief of Bastogne was immeasurable.
It was particularly fitting that the elimination of the Bulge should find the Yankee Division seizing and holding firmly on the same line held by our own forces prior to the breakthrough. I am proud of this feat by you as well as those you performed earlier. We shall advance on Berlin together.
When the 26-ID moved from the bloody battlefields of the Ardennes at the end of Jan 1945, the division faced an immediate return to the front lines, farther south in the 3-A sector. During the bitter fighting of January and December with the 3-A’s main effort diverted to the north, the remainder of Patton’s divisions, facing east into Germany, was engaged in a holding operation. It was to this mission that the YD returned, in the sector of the XX Corps.
The XX Corps had now become the right flank Corps of the 3-A, and once again, the 26-ID became the extreme right flank unit of the Army. The XX Corps sector consisted principally of an aggressive defense of the west bank of the Saar River. Within the Corps sector, however, was one bridgehead, east of the Saar at Saarlautern. Here the 26-ID was ordered to relieve the 95-ID, facing for the first time the German Siegfried Line defenses. From Jan 29 to Mar 6, in carrying out this mission, the YD maintained an aggressive defense in the Saarlautern area and in the bridgehead area on the east bank of the river. The 104-IR, being the first regiment of the division to arrive from the Ardennes campaign, in the XX Corps sector, was first to take control of the bridgehead. The relief of the elements of the 95-ID was conducted on Jan 28 and 29. During the subsequent weeks in which the division commanded this sector, the three regiments alternately occupied the defensive positions in the bridgehead and along the Saar River.
The type of fighting encountered in Fraulautern and Saarlouis-Roden was new to many Yankee Division Infantrymen. In parts of these two villages enemy troops frequently occupied houses or blocks of buildings directly across the street from elements of the 26-ID. During the hours of darkness, any noise or movement would draw immediate fire from enemy automatic weapons and mortars. Numerous limited objective attacks were launched in which the progress of the division was measured in pillboxes and houses.
Elements of the German 347.Infantry-Division and 719.Infantry-Division likewise launched numerous counter-attacks in order to force the withdrawal of our troops or to regain blocks of buildings that had changed hands. During the operations in the Saarlautern bridgehead, the 26-ID utilized searchlights for the first time under battle conditions. By penetrating the over-hanging mist on dark nights by this artificial moonlight infantry weapon crews were assisted in the adjustment of their fire.
By Feb 21, the 3-A instructed the XX Corps to begin a phase of operations in which, later, the 26-ID resumed the offensive. The 94-ID, which had been on the left flank of the 26-ID, was ordered to attack in conjunction with the 10-AD into the Saar-Moselle triangle. This attack progressed favorably, with Saarburg being captured on the first day, and the attack was continued on subsequent days to effect the reduction of the German garrison which was believed to be defending Trier in considerable strength. By the end of the month, the 10-AD had driven its columns to within three miles of Trier. Trier was captured on Mar 2. On Mar 5, relief of YD by the 65-ID was initiated in order to allow the 26-ID to assemble for an attack from the bridgehead across the Saar River, now held by the 94-ID.
By Mar 8, all elements of the 26-ID had completely assembled in an areas in the vicinity of Saarburg. By this time the 4-AD was well advanced in its drive to the Rhine River. The 10-AD had continued its advances beyond Trier and now the Army Commander directed an attack southeast from the Saarburg bridgehead, which began on Mar 13. This attack from the Saarburg area to the southeast generally paralleled the Saar River on the right and caused the 26-ID to be attacking laterally through the Siegfried Line. Thus, during the entirety of this operation, the combat echelons encountered not only unfavorable terrain but intense fire from pill-boxes, mortars, artillery, and Nebelwerfer.
On the first day of this difficult operation, the 2/104, gained two miles and repulsed six-strong enemy counter-attacks which violently endeavored to halt our advances through the Siegfried fortifications. The 2 and the 3/328, attacked, succeeded in making some gains and destroying some of the concrete fortifications in their zone. Enemy resistance continued to be strong and effective throughout the first five days of the offensive, but on Mar 17, the important town of Merzig fell to the 1 and the 2/328.
The YD attack now swerved to the east, as, further south along the Saar River, the 65-ID was beginning to break out of the Saarlautern Bridgehead. On Mar 18 and 19, the progress of the advance accelerated as the 104-IR and the 101-IR, meeting scattered enemy resistance, advanced rapidly and captured numerous towns with the 2/104, reaching Ottweiler on the Bleis River. During the rapid advances in the period Mar 17 to 19, the 328-IR organized defenses and blocked the exposed southern flank of the Division.
During the period of Mar 13 to 21, the 26-ID made rapid advances from the bank of the Saar River to the banks of the Rhine River. Communication and supply lines in the Division were maintained only by the utmost efforts of the personnel concerned in order to maintain the progress of the drive. It was continually necessary to shuttle troops on the limited amount of vehicular transportation available. On Mar 21, the advance was continued against very slight resistance with elements pushing beyond Landstuhl towards Kaiserslautern. During this time contact had been established with the 6-AD of Alexander Patch’s 7-A and other 7-A and 3-A units had linked up, enclosing numerous pockets of trapped Germans on the west bank of the Rhine River.
Thousands of PW’s flowed through the Division PW cage in this phase of operations. Hundreds of German units were represented, including the 2.Gebirgsjäger-Division, the 17.SS-Grenadier-Division, and the 19, 256 and 212.VGDs. All the 3-A’s divisions were now poised on the west bank of the Rhine River alerted to launch an attack to force the crossing of the river.
On Mar 23, the 26-ID passed to the command of the XII Corps as part of the regrouping taking place in 3-A in preparation for the crossing of the Rhine. On the night of Mar 22/23, the 5-ID made an assault crossing of the Rhine and secured a bridgehead which was rapidly expanded.
Elements of the 90-ID and the 4-AD followed immediately into the bridgehead and on Mar 24, the 104-IR crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim and was attached temporarily to the 4-AD in the bridgehead. The 104-IR gave infantry support to the 4-AD on the flank, once again the Army flank.
The 101/26 crossed the Rhine River on March 25 and assembled in an area east of Leeheim prepared to attack at daybreak the following morning. The 328/26 crossed the Rhine River on March 26 and was immediately attached to the 4-AD to replace the 104/26 which had been detached. The 328/26 then advanced rapidly northeast with the 4-AD, meeting only light opposition, secured a bridgehead over the Main River.
The 101-IR attacked to the northeast on Mar 26, and on Mar 27 reached the Main River, and on Mar 28, secured a bridgehead across the river. In accomplishing this, the regiment advanced approximately 26 miles from the Rhine to the Main River in two days. The 101/26 reached Babenhausen five miles from the Main River, on Mar 26 and on the following day relieved elements of the 4-AD in Schweinheim on the east bank of the Main River.
The 328/26 engaged in a house-to-house fighting against persistent enemy resistance in the city of Hanau, which was finally reduced on Mar 28. Once again east of the Rhine as in the battle for the Saar Palatinate, German opposition became fluid and disorganized. The 26-ID continued its rapid advance, and, with the 4-AD, the 11-AD and the 90-ID, broke out of the Main River bridgeheads, reaching Fulda on April 1, where the 101-IR engaged in house-to-house fighting to clear the city. The 1/101-IR reached Meiningen on Apr 5 and assaulted the town, meeting stubborn resistance. Elements of the 11-AD entered the city of Meiningen from the south and southeast. The enemy garrison defending the town surrendered at 1830 on Apr 5, but mopping up continued through the night. The enemy was active in the Meiningen area through Apr 6 and Apr 11, with numerous enemy patrols engaging in skirmishes south of the town.
On Apr 8, the Division again resumed the attack to the southeast, with gains of approximately five miles reported at the end of the day. Roadblocks, blown bridges and scattered firefights with enemy infantry constituted the opposition to the Division attack. From Apr 10 to Apr 15, the advance was continued with the 101-IR and the 328-IR attacking abreast.
The 104-IR, in Division reserve, was performing flank security and mopping up operations. Sonneburg, Eisfeld, and numerous other places were captured as the infantry advanced over unfavorable terrain with heavily wooded, steep hills. By Apr 15, with three regiments abreast, the Division held objectives approximately 10 miles from the Czechoslovakian border, and further advance was halted by order from the XII Corps. During this advance, elements of the 101-IR cut the important German autobahn linking Berlin with Munich and Nurnberg. This succeeded in reducing the possibility of the escape of important Nazis from northern Germany into the Bavarian-Austrian Redoubt area. Having thus sliced through the heart of Germany, the Third Army turned the main effort of its attack to the south and southeast, generally paralleling the Czechoslovakian border on the left, heading for the Danube River and the Austrian border.
During the month of April, enemy opposition to our advances continued to collapse. The main effort in the XII Corps attack toward the Austrian border was again led by the 11-AD and the 4-AD followed by the Infantry of the 90-ID and 26-ID.
By the end of April, the 26-YD had captured numerous towns and villages, reaching the Danube River. On Apr 30, elements of the 104-IR were five miles from the Austrian border, the 328-IR was fighting toward the city of Passau, and the 101-IR was protecting the division south flank along the Danube River.
In the first week of May, the advance of the Division was continued into Austria and the 328-IR was attached to the 11-AD to continue the drive towards Linz. CCA-11-AD with the 328-IR captured the important city of Linz on May 4. As directed by the XII Corps, the 26-ID advanced in a new direction on May 6, moving northeast into Czechoslovakia, crossing the Vltava River and securing a strong defensive position north of the river. At this point, further operations were halted by order of the XII Corps. Positions were consolidated and active patrolling carried on.
On May 7, a message from Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower had been received at the 3-A Headquarters and relayed to 26-ID Headquarters which terminated the European war. It stated in part:
A Representative of the German High Command signed the unconditional surrender of all German Land, Sea and Air forces in Europe to the Allied Expeditionary Forces and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command at 0141 hours Central European Time, May 7, under which all forces will cease active operations at 0001 hours May 9. Effective immediately all offensive operations by Allied Expeditionary Forces will cease and troops will remain in present positions.