Document Source: Operations of the 1st Battalion, 358th Infantry Regiment, 90th Infantry Division in and around Fort Koenigsmacker, North of Thionville, France, November 9-11 1944, Rhineland Campaign. Personal Experience of the Heavy Weapons Company Executive Officer, Capt Harry W. Barnes.
This report covers the operations of the 1st Battalion (Col C. A. Lytle) of the 358th Infantry Regiment, 90th Infantry Division in the assault and the capture of the Fort Koenigsmacker, one of the Forts of the outer belt defenses of Metz, north of Thionville, in France. As a matter of introduction, I would like to go back to Utah Beach on the Cherbourg Peninsula. It was at 1000 in the morning on D-Day, that the first elements of the 90-ID placed their feet on French Soil. It was here that the epic of the 90-ID began to unravel itself until the unit reached the action covered by this report. The path ran as follows: Mont-Castre Forest, Périers, and then the breakout of the Cherbourg Peninsula. The action following was the mad dash across France, passing through Avranches, Mayennes, Le Mans, and the north to Alençon and Chambois to the part in the Falaise Pocket episode. After this comparative brief diversion, the division then resumed its dash across France, in conjunction with Patton’s Armor, as a part of the US XX Corps. This path followed the course of Chartres, Fontainebleau, Reims, and Thionville.
The Germans at this point, in the 90-ID sector, were forced across the Moselle River. It was at this point, generally along the west bank of the Moselle, that the 90-ID was ordered to halt and assume the attitude of aggressive defense. The date was September 12, 1944. This condition was caused to exist because of the extended supply lines created by Gen Patton’s 3-A pursuit across France. Another reason for the halt was the factor of the Fortress Metz to the south of Thionville in the 5-ID sector. After this thrust across France, the Germans in the 3-A sector had moved back to a strong defensive position which extended from Luxembourg in the north to the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, in the south.
The strongly fortified city of Metz was at the center of this defensive works. Metz had a strong ring of 43 intercommunicating Forts for its defense, as well as the high hills that cradled the Moselle. The Germans had reached a line at which they chose to fight. The stronghold of Metz was to be held at all costs. The XX Corps Mission, however, was to reduce the Metz fortifications and capture the city. Something was going to have to give. The assault on the fortifications and the city could not begin immediately due to the critical situation existing with supplies. The XX Corps had dangerously stretched its supply lines from the time of the breakout of Normandy to this time. As supplies were building up an effort was made to reduce Fort Driant and Fort Verdun and then strike Metz from the south. Things were begun on September 7.
The attempt on Fort Driant and Fort Verdum failed, however, if a bridgehead in the vicinity of Fort Verdun failed, another one in the vicinity of Dornat was held to keep their attention, while another crossing was made at Arnaville, 4000 yards to the south. This operation was successful and the 5-ID with the 7-AD had succeeded in reaching a point on the Seille River and out-flanked several of the Metz positions. By October 10, the 3-A front formed an obtuse angle, the side extending along the Moselle, north to the Luxembourg Border and south to Château Salina with Metz occupying the apex.
The Fortified Region of Metz
As can now be seen, the big job in front of the XX Corps was the reduction of Metz and its outlying forts. This would have to be done before the XX Corps could accomplish any further missions to the east and to the Saar River. A brief word as to the strength of the fortified area is as follows: it consisted of an inner ring of Forts, of which there are 15 in number. These were begun back in the 18th Century and completed in 1866 under Napoleon III. They had been reconditioned, reinforced, and equipped for modern warfare. The outer ring of Forts, 28 in number, was located about 6 miles from the city of Metz, in all directions, in which Metz was the hub. In conjunction with this group of Forts, the Metz group was a series of Forts of the Maginot Line further to the north. These included Fort Koenigsmacker and Fort Dillange. These seemed to tie in perfectly with the overall plan for the defense of Metz.
The Plan of the Third Army
The sole mission of the 3-A in the XX Corps sector was, not that of taking the city of Metz alone, but in conjunction with the overall effort of the expelling the Germans from French soil and hurling them back to the Rhine. The best plan was to execute a pincer movement from the north and south, to close somewhere in the rear of the city. The right or south wing was in very favorable positions to execute their portion of the plan. They occupied a dominant position with fine observation. The left, or north, the wing had quite a different situation facing it. It would have to force a crossing of an obstacle, the Moselle River, establish a bridgehead and expand it before the necessary support equipment could be crossed. This being the situation, there would, of necessity, have to be a different time schedule set for each wing of the pincer. The south wing would move out initially on a broad front while the north wing made local actions, which would be exploited. The south would then hold up while the north wing would initiate an aggressive offensive.
The XX Corps Plan
The corps plan for the carrying out of its portion of the Third Army plan is well pictured in Field Order #12, HQ XX Corps – portions of which I quote (Field Order #12) a. XX Corps attacks on D-Day, to encircle and destroy the garrison of the Metz fortified area, and to seize a bridgehead over the Saar River in the vicinity of Saarburg. To recon in force and seize crossings over the Saar River intact. Prepare to resume attack to the northeast. D-Day: to be announced. The formation, boundaries, and objective operations overlay. (1. On the Corps order, attack to seize the high grounds making effort on the south flank. 2. Within the zone, block all the routes of withdrawal from Metz and prevent any enemy reinforcement of the Metz garrison. 3. Establish and maintain contact with the 90-ID and the XII Corps. 4. Protect the bridgehead over the Moselle River with the minimum force, coordinating with the 95-ID for use of one Motorized Battalion of that division for bridge protection purposes, on Corps order.
95th Infantry Division Mission
1. On Corps order, relieve the elements of the 10-AD containing enemy bridgehead west of the Moselle River. 2. In coordination with the 90-ID make a vigorous demonstration of crossing the Moselle River in the vicinity of Uckange commencing at 1500 on D-Day and continuing for a minimum of fifteen hours. Troops will cross the Moselle River during this demonstration. The demonstration will build up and not be permitted to taper off until the time of cessation. 3. In conjunction with this demonstration in the vicinity of Uckange reduce the enemy pocket east of Maizières to the Moselle River both efforts to be so coordinated as to create the indication of a major attack. 4. Vigorously contain and within the zone, maintain constant pressure on the enemy, and rapidly follow up any enemy withdrawal. 5. On Corps order attack and seize the city of Metz. 6. Be prepared, on Corps order, to assist the 5-ID in the protection of the bridges over the Moselle River with one Motorized Battalion from the 95th Infantry Division.
90th Infantry Division Mission
1. Under the cover of darkness, during the night of D-Day, pass through Task Force Polk and cross the Moselle River in the vicinity of Koenigsmacker coordinating with the 95-ID demonstration in the vicinity of Uckange. 2. Seize the high ground making the main effort on the left (east) flank. 3. On Corps order, pass the 10-AD, the 83-ID (less 1 RCT), and 3-Cav Group (Reinforced), (in the order listed) through the bridgehead over the Moselle River. 4. Within Zone, prevent enemy withdrawal from the Metz area, and in conjunction with the 10-AD, prevent enemy reinforcement of the Metz garrison. 5. Establish and maintain contact with the 5-ID, the 10-ID, and the 83-ID.
10th Armored Division Mission (initially less Div Arty)
1. Upon relief in the zone, containing enemy bridgehead, by the 95-ID, move to the initial assembly area vicinity of Mars-la-Tour. Displace to forward assembly area (to be designated), on Corps order. 2. On Corps order, attack through the 90-ID bridgehead to seize the high ground, making the main effort on the left (east) flank. 3. Upon passage through the 90-ID bridgehead, reconnoiter to Saar River with one Combat Command to seize intact the crossings over the River, from Merzig to the south; priorities of reconnaissance: the Merzig Area, Pachten – the Dillingen Area and the Saarlautern Area. Any bridges seized intact will be protected and held at all costs. 4. Prevent enemy reinforcement of the Metz Garrison from the east or northeast, and in conjunction with the 90-ID prevent enemy withdrawal from Metz. 5. Establish and maintain contact with the 90-ID, the 83-ID, and elements of the XII Corps. 6. Protect the east flank of the Corps.
83rd Infantry Division Mission
Flank the XX Corps Arty. (1)(a) 7th Field Artillery Group, General support zone of the 90-ID initially reinforces the 10-AD when div crosses Moselles River. (b) 40th Field Artillery Group, reinforce the 90-ID. (c) 195th Field Artillery Group, General support zone of the 90-ID and the 10-AD.
10th Armored Division (Artillery)
General support Zone of the 90-ID under Corps control initially, revert to 10-AD control prior to Div crossing the Moselle. 4-TD Group General support Zone of the 90-ID. XX Corps Engineers 1139-EC Group direct support River crossing and assault operations of the 90-ID, the 10-AD, and the 83-ID. 3-CAV Group (Task Force Polk) Contain the enemy in Zone, securing the Line of departure of the 90-ID.
There were four divisions opposing the US XX Corps. These divisions were disposed of as follows: the 419.Infantry-Division opposite the north flank of the US 90-ID held the sector from the Koenigsmacker to the north boundary of the XX Corps; the 19.Grenadier-Division opposite the southern portion of the US 90-ID sector and the northern portion of the US 95-ID sector, held from Koenigsmacker to within 5 miles of Metz; the 462.Volksgrenadier-Division manning the Forts in the immediate Metz Area along with some fanatics members of the Officer Candidate School from Metz and the 17.SS-Panzergrenadier-Division (to the south) in the US 5-ID sector, and other General Headquarters units, numbering about 2000 men were scattered throughout the area. The 419.Ifantry-Division had about 8300 men, the 19.Grenadier-Division about 5000, the 462.Volksgrenadier-Division, officer candidate personnel, and special troops number about 9000, and the 17.SS-Panzergrenadier-Division had about 6000. All total they numbered about 30.000 troops. On November 1, the XIII.SS-Corps in the Metz defensive sector was replaced by LXXXII.Infantry-Corps, commanded by Gen Hoennlein. Gen Kittel, an expert in fortress defense was brought from the eastern front to take command of the 462.Volksgrenadier-Division. He did not arrive until the US XX Corps had already breached the defense shell.
In the area of operation of the 1st Battalion of the 358-IR (90-ID) was the 1st Battalion of the 74.IR (German 19.ID). This force was about 500 strength. This was numerically larger in quantity than the attacking force. The quality was definitely not of the same caliber.