Operations of the 1st Battalion, 358th Infantry Regiment, 90th Infantry Division in and around the Fort Koenigsmacker, North of Thionville, France, 9/11 November 1944 during the Rhineland Campaign. This archive is the Personal Experience of the Heavy Weapons Company Executive Officer.
Capt Harry W. Barnes
This report covers the operations of the 1st Battalion of Col C. A. Lytle 358th Infantry Regiment of the 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 XX Corps. This path followed the course of Chartres, Fontainbleau, 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 in 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 of 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 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 7th Armored Division 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 Chateau Salina with Metz occupying the apex.
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, were located out about 6 miles from the city of Metz, in all directions, in which Metz was the hub. In conjunction with this group of forts, of 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 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 ofthe 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, 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 corps plan for the carrying out of its portion of the Third Army plan is well pictured in Field Order #12, Hq XX Corps, APO 340, US Army – 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 reconnoiter in force and seize crossings over the Saar River intact. Prepare to resume attack to the North-East. D-Day: to be announced. Formation, boundaries and objective operations overlay
1. On the Corps 0rder, attack to seize the high grounds making effort on the south flank. 2. Within 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 0rder.
1. On Corps 0rder, 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 Moselle River in the Vicinity of Uckange commencing at 1500 on D-Day 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 Zone, maintain constant pressure on the enemy, and rapidly follow up any enemy withdrawal. 5. On Corps 0rder attack and seize the city of Metz. 6. Be prepared, on Corps 0rder, to assist the 5-ID in the protection of the bridges over the Moselle River with one Motorized Battalion from the 95th Infantry Division.
1. Under the cover of darkness, during the night of D Day, pass through Task Force Pold 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 0rder, 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-AD and the 83-ID.
1. Upon relief in Zone, containing enemy bridgehead, by 95-ID, move to initial assembly area vicinity of Mars-la-Tour. Displace to forward assembly area (to be designated), on Corps Order. 2. On Corps 0rder, attack through the 90-ID bridgehead to seize the high ground, making the main effort on the left (east) flank. 3. Upon passage through 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 north-east, 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.
Flank the XX Corps Arty. (1)(a) 7-FAG, General support Zone of the 90-ID initially reinforcement 10-AD when div crosses Moselles River. (b) 40-FAG, reinforce the 90-ID. (c) 195-FAG, General support Zone of the 90-ID and the 10-AD.
10-AD (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 enemy in Zone, securing Line of departure of the 90-ID.
There were four divisions opposing the US XX Corps. These divisions were disposed as follows: the 419.ID 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.GD opposite the southern portion of the US 90-ID sector and the northern portion of the US 95-ID sector, held from Koenigssmacher to within 5 miles of Metz; the 462.VGD manning the forts in the immediate Metz area along with some fanatics members of the Officer Candidate School from Metz and the 17.SS-PGD (to the south) in the US 5-ID sector, and other General Headquarters units, numbering about 2000 men were scattered throughout the area.
The 416.ID had about 8300 men, the 19.GD about 5000, the 462.VGD, officer candidate personnel, and special troops number about 9000 and the 17.SS-PGD had about 6000. All total they numbered about 30000 troops.
On Nov 1, the XIII.SS-Corps in the Metz defensive sector was replaced by LXXXII.Infantry-Corps, commanded Gen Hoennlein. Gen Kittel, an expert in fortress defense was brought from the eastern front to take command of the 462.VGD. 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 that the attacking force. The quality was definitely not of the same caliber.
The Division Plan
The 90-ID was to make the main effort on the north, in this pincer plan to reduce Fortress Metz. In accordance with the XX Corps’ plan the 90-ID initiated a series of plans and actions. The 95-ID quietly relieved the 90-ID from its portion of the holding area around the Metz salient. The 90-ID moved with utmost secrecy to the Morfontaine, Aumetz, Audun, Mercy le Bas quadrilateral. This being accomplished during the date of Oct 31 to Nov 2. This move was ostensibly for training. Training was actually initiated, but the division was faced with the knowledge that the date of the operation could be Nov 6 and not later than the Nov 9, had scant time for the necessaries in planning and training.
From Thionville northeast to the German boundary the Moselle River flows swiftly along its winding course traversing a comparatively broad river land.
The river itself under normal conditions has an average width of from 300 to 350 feet, with moderately abrupt to gently sloping banks. The ground adjacent to the river is predominantly marshy and during wet periods subject to shooting. This latter condition while posing no restriction to assault boat crossing, definitely limited the development of bridge sites to those points where civilian bridges had previously existed and thus telegraphed our plan for floating bridge construction to the enemy once the crossing had been initiated.
Some 2000 meters north of the river a large wooded expanse, the Foret de Cattenom (Cattenom Forest), containing an adequate road net, provided an excellent divisional assembly area, it sole disadvantage lay in the fact that its forward slope location necessitated the entry therein to the hours of darkness. Between the forest and the river, the ground was smooth and devoid of cover and completely under observation form the high ground across the river, more than that it was enfiladed by enemy positions on the bald knob Stromberg, west of the Moselle and just outside the Corps left boundary. Analysis of the terrain north of the river had a definite influence on the development of the plan and the execution of preliminaries thereto. If secrecy was to be preserved the 90-ID would have to stage into the Foret de Cattenom at nigh and at the latest possible time. Coincident with the foregoing a thickening of the cavalry along the river was indicated to make completely effective the counter-reconnaissance screen which previously had been unable to completely thwart German patrol penetrations.
Of even greater importance however, was the obvious requirement for a limited attack by other forces to drive the Germans from his west bank positions in the Basse, Kontz, Stromberg area prior to the crossing, thereby protecting the assault troops form the flat observation which threatened the success of the assault. The completely open nature of the terrain from the south edge of the assembly area to the river made mandatory the utmost of the silence to permit the establishment of the initial bridgehead prior to dawn.
Across the river, the enemy held terrain was most formidable. For a depth of 1000 to 2000 M the ground possessed characteristics similar to the flats adjacent to the near bank and then sloped abruptly to the ridges running perpendicular to the river line. In the right of the division sector, on a hill apart, stood the Groupe Fortifié de Koenigsmacker (Fortified Koenigsmacker Group) a Metz type fortress which commanded the entire crossing area.
True, it could be by-passed by leading elements, but upon its speedy neutralization and reduction depended the success of the maneuver. This was a task of tremendous proportions. Squarely down the middle of the division zone ran a heavily wooded, rugged ridge which contained the main fortifications of the Maginot Line.
While constructed primarily to resist attack from the east, study of the fortifications immediately disclosed that in conformity with universal defense doctrine the defensive areas had been designed for all-around and mutual support, and consequently, if properly manned would present a serious obstacle, regardless of the direction of assault. The initial problem was the Metrich Group, the northernmost of the strong points that commanded the river line as superbly as did the Koenigsmacker fortifications.
Further to the east, the heights were even more commanding, although not known to possess man-made fortifications. Still eastward, outside the division zone of action, lay the highest ground of all. Four axial roads lay within the division zone traversing the valleys between the parallel ridges and providing at first glance, adequate communications, but study soon indicated that their usefulness was seriously limited by their geographical location since they would be commanded for considerable distances in the rear of front lines by enemy-held side slope positions. It was requisite that the assault not only be initiated under cover of darkness but also that the leading elements, disregarding the known limitations on night attacks, drive forward and secure by daylight, a toe hold on the foothills to deny to the enemy close observation of the crossing area.
A railway and highway closely paralleling the river provided initial phase lines, but beyond this point depended on the individual soldier and the control of his leader. However desirable an encircling maneuver might be on the right flank, the commanding position of the Fortified Koenigsmacker Group dictated a frontal assault upon his stronghold. With bridging operations definitely limited by terrain obstacles to the Cattenom and Gavisse bridge sites, initiations of bridging operations were entirely dependent upon the removal of the enemy’s close observation. And so from the start, it was realized by all ranks that ultimate success lay in the hands of the infantrymen ability and courage to attack prepared fortifications, manned by an alert foe.
The division plan of attack was simple, sound, and thoroughly prepared. To develop the maximum strength at the earliest practicable moment, the assault was to be made with two regiments, each with two battalions abreast. Three general crossing areas were possible, astride the town of Rettel, Gavisse then Malling and Cattenom respectfully. The Rettel area was disregarded because of its proximity to the dominating ground to which no troops could be diverted. Consequently, the left regiment was earmarked to cross in the Gavisse – Malling area and drive rapidly east and southeast to secure the high ground parallel to the east of the Rettel – Kerling lèz Sieck road. The right regiment crossing in the vicinity of Cattenom, was to capture the Koenigsmacker Fortress with minimum force, simultaneously pushing the assault to secure a lodgment on the high ground on the right of the division sector.
Since the town of Koenigsmacker, along the river, was squarely in the middle of the division zone, its inclusion within the objective of either assault regiment would necessitate a divergent effort by that regiment which would only serve to detract from the strength of their respective main effort. As a result, Koenigsmacker and the ground immediately adjacent thereto was boxed off as a ‘No Maneuver’ area and turned over to the division artillery to neutralize until such time as the third regiment could mop up.
The third regiment initially held in reserve, was to cross behind either of the assault regiments at the earliest possible moment and swing into action down the Maginot Line ridge to complete and solidify the bridgehead. A corps engineer battalion was to support each of the assault regiments and subsequently provide the necessary bridging while the divisional engineer battalion was kept intact for assault operations with the infantry and general engineer work on the far shore. The 90th Recon Troop, reinforced, was to mop up on the right of the division zone and eventually link up with the second crossing of the 95-ID in the Uckange area.
The artillery, greatly reinforced, had a number of tremendous tasks. In consonance with the desire to maintain secrecy to the latest possible moment, no preparation was contemplated, although the battalions were prepared to deliver planned fires on call prior to H-Hour and to counter battery effective counter preparation fires. At H-Hour a heavy program of destruction fires was to be laid on the Koenigsmacker and the Métrich fortifications and on the close-in towns of Basse-Ham, Haute-Ham, Koenigsmacker, Métrich, Malling and Hunting. This is the broad outline, the plan for the establishment of the bridgehead.
It incorporation the recommendations of the unit commanders and division staff and in final form voiced the best-considered thoughts of the division in matters both tactical and technical after consideration of all angles. This plan was communicated via conference to commanders and staff down to and including battalions on November 3, it became the point of departure for the preparation and implementation of unit plans.
The Division Preparations
With the closing of the 90-ID in its rear assembly area on Nov 3 began a period of intense activity. Recon of the area of future operations was energetically pushed within the limitations made necessary by security considerations. Artillery positions, engineer equipment parks, infantry assembly areas, routes of approach to the river, crossing zones, and the road net were all reconnoitered and/or chosen by small officer parties who moved as inconspicuously as possible without divisional insignia on their clothing and in vehicles of the 3-CAV Group. This sketchy reconnaissance was not at all desirable but it was felt that the preservation of secrecy regarding the contemplated operations of the 90-ID and its point of impact outweighed the advantages accruing from a more detailed survey of the attack zone. The supporting engineer battalions, upon designation by Corps, were wedded with the 358-IR and 359-IR, chosen as the right and left assault regiments respectively.
Training in basic assault boat technique from the infantry standpoint was given to each soldier since battle casualties during the preceding 5 months had out to a mere handful those former members of the 90-ID who had had ample experience in river crossing operations. Simultaneously, infantry staff and commanders planned to the last detail the composition of the boat waves and individual boat loadings, this included the 357-IR which although earmarked to cross by footbridges or rafts was non-the-less prepared for the eventuality of an assault crossing. When the regiments departed from the rear assembly area, each individual soldier knew his wave and boat number and his chief of party. Further, supply echelons prepared an operational plan and organization designed to maintain, and provide evacuation for their regiments by assault boat and motorboat if vehicular ferries or bridges failed.
The supporting arms and services were equally busy. The Corps of Engineer plan was modified where necessary and integrated with that of the 90-ID. Steps were taken to stage forward additional equipment reserves, DUKWs, and accessory supplies to meet unforeseen contingencies. The problems of signal communication were given careful consideration. In addition to a double tactical net, an engineer and a traffic control net were organized a linked laterally. The laying of wire to and within the forward assembly area was carried out under cover of darkness for several nights prior to the target date. Weighted cable was prepared beforehand to permit the bridging of the river gaps away from projected bridges. Realizing the unusual demands which would be placed on radio until such time adequate bridging could be provided, stacks of batteries were accumulated. At the divisional level, supply agencies were prepared for the movement of necessaries considerably further forward than normal to allow unit echelons to concentrate their efforts forward of regimental dumps.
The 90-ID’s crossing was phased to follow by one day a great airstrike designed to neutralize the major Metz Fortresses and other critical areas in the attack zone, provided and airstrike came by the Nov 8 (inclusive), in any event, the assault was to take place on Nov 9. The 5 and 6 of November were days of heavy rain, thereby granting 48 valuable hours for the continuation of preparation. At divisional headquarters, loose ends were gradually tied together and with regimental plans firm, the field order was issued at 2200, Nov 6. The movement to forward assembly areas was complicated by the great number of units involved, both division and corps (all of whom had to move at night), coupled with the inadequate and poor road net.
The march table, after close coordination with corps, was based on the movement of the division on the nights of D-3/2 and D-2/1. As it developed the successive postponement of D-Day permitted the scheduling of the move over a period of three nights. The artillery displacing on the nights of Nov 5/6 and 6/7 was completely positioned by daylight on Nov 7. This move was accomplished without the benefit of the moon and under incessant rain on slippery, narrow roads. The remainder of the division displaced on the night of Nov 7/8, a move of even greater difficulty. The distance involved being too great for marching, the displacement was made by marching and shuttling and involved two round trips for the attached transportation.
By dawn, on Nov 8, the division and all supporting elements had closed within the protective cover of the Cattenom Forest and the defilade area to the immediate rearward thereof. Nov 7, had been a dark and rainy day and the target date was definitely set for Nov 9. And so, on Nov 8, the initiation date for the XII Corps offensive to the south became a day of final preparation and coordination for tomorrow’s assault. Artillery battalions registered skillfully with but one gun per battalion prepared their final data. Communications were extended forward and laterally throughout the division area. Lower echelon commanders made their reconnaissance of routes of approach and crossing areas and surveyed form a distance their far bank objectives. Personnel concerned with traffic circulation and bridge control received final instructions and departed for their post. In the early afternoon all men were briefed on the division mission, its importance to the army scheme and their individual parts in it.
The part of the 1/358-IR was to play in this overall picture of the reduction of Fortress Metz, was that of reducing Fort Koenigsmacker. This fort was an important point in the northern portion of the Metz defenses. This fort was one of the Maginot Line Group. The 1/358 was relieved from its present mission of containing a portion of the salient around Metz and moved back to an area of barracks near Morfontaine, along with the rest of the regiment. Here in this area, from Nov 3 until Nov 7, training was conducted on dry run river crossings, boat loading, and methods of paddling in conjunction with the engineers. There, training was conducted on the assault of fortified positions and areas. The old fortifications of the Maginot Line, in that area, were used in conjunction with this training. The battalion was refitted in equipment, all lost or destroyed equipment replaced and all weapons put up to perfect working order. During this period of training, the men and the larger part of the officers did not know for what specific mission they were being trained. The general conclusion was a river crossing and attack of a fortified position to tie in with the training being taken.
It was not until the last day in this area that maps, aerial photographs, and large scale engineer sketches were issued down to all levels, which designated Fort Koenigsmacker as the task before the 1/358. This was on Nov 7. The crossing date had been set for some time prior to daylight on Nov 9. This was during the night D-1 for the overall XX Corps operation. The regimental plan was to cross the 1/358 on the right at the town of Basse Ham, over which Fort Koenigsmacker looked, and take that fort by storm. The 3/358 was to cross opposite Koenigsmacker (not to be confused with the fort of the same name). The 2/358 was to remain in reserve, initially, until the town of Koenigsmacker had been taken, then cross and relieve the 3/358 who would contain the town.
After the regimental plan was known and extensive recon accomplished, Col C.A. Lytle, then the battalion commander, issued this plan. The battalion would cross in four waves, the first wave being made up of two platoons from each of the two assaulting rifle companies, Able and Charlie. The second wave would consist of the HQs Co group of each of the assault companies of the attached engineer unit, the reserve platoons of the two companies, and the attached heavy machine gun platoon. The third wave was made up entirely of Baker, along with the battalion command group. The fourth wave was to be composed of Dog (-), HQs Co and the Medical Detachment.
Each unit, upon reaching the enemy shore, was to have a particular job to do. It was felt by the Battalion CO, that the town of Basse Ham would have to be taken along with the fort since it could be such a thorn in the side if by-passed. This would also leave an open right flank for the battalion, as well as the division. The town itself would provide an excellent base from which to operate on the fort. It also provided a perfect set-up for the aid station to care for the wounded, of which there were many, as later proven. It was on the suggestion of Capt McEvoy, the battalion surgeon, that the plan to move the battalion surgeon and aid station across with the fourth wave was incorporated with the original planning. This was done only by the 1/358. It was later proven that this was a very wise move.
The further plan was to have Able to assemble on the railroad tracks. It was a definite feature that could not be by-passed. Charlie was to turn right upon crossing and capture Basse Ham prior to daylight. This was to be done by sending one platoon to the south end of town, via the enemy side of the river and set up a blocking screen. One platoon was to make a sweep down the main street of the town from the north, to kill or capture all Germans possible and drive the remainder out the south end of the town, where the platoon there would take care of them. Baker, upon crossing, was to join Able on the railroad tracks, here organize and prepare to assault the fort at the break of day. This plan was disseminated to the various commanders for their study and orientation.
The battalion moved, by shuttle from its rear assembly at Morfontaine, beginning in the mid-afternoon of Nov 7, to Hayange. At this town, a hot meal was served for supper. This was about 1900 in the evening. After this brief halt and nourishment, the battalion moved on by shuttle to the rear, west of the Cattenom Forest, where the battalion detrucked and moved by foot to previously reconnoitered assembly areas within the forest. This was completed by about 2100. The troops bedded down for the remainder of the night.
This was to be the last restful sleep for about the next two weeks. Throughout the next day, Nov 8, a more thorough recon was made by company commanders. The battalion commander and staff completed the last minute preparations. The boatloads were rechecked, equipment rechecked and all the last-minute personal details were taken care of. Arrangements and coordination had been made with the 179-ECB supporting this operation to drop the assault boats at the little village of Husange. There the infantry and engineers would meet and begin the hand-carry of the boats to the river, about 1500 yards distance. This was later proven to be a mistake, because of the long haul.
All unit commanders were taken to a vantage point in the edge of the Cattenom Forest, which overlooked the entire field of operations. From here could be seen the point at which the boats would be picked up, the area to be traversed en route to the river, the crossing area, the assembly point along the railroad, the town of the Basse Ham and the rising hill mass to the east upon which sat Fort Koenigsmacker. At this point, they were thoroughly oriented and all the last-minute coordination between the battalion and company commanders were made. The unit commanders, in turn, bought all NCO‘s down to and including squad leaders to this same vantage point. At this time the same thorough briefing was given and all questions concerning the operation answered as far as possible. This was truly one of the few times in which the entire battalion knew what it had to do and had seen the area over which the operation was to take place.
About 1700, Nov 8, the battalion commander assembled the battalion in a group, in the Cattenom Forest. Here he went very thoroughly over the entire plan as previously given, and laid down a standard that he expected every individual to reach in the impending operation. He, being a very forceful and courageous character, instilled in every man the necessity of accomplishing the mission ahead. The companies were released to return to their company areas to get as much rest as possible prior to the departure from the assembly areas. There was not much sleeping that night for thinking of the operation to come was of utmost priority. The departure from the assembly area was scheduled at 0100. The plan to be followed has been presented and the happenings prior to the actual jump off enumerated.
I now wish to describe the terrain and features that the battalion was to operate over. The Cattenom Forest, in which the battalion had been bivouacked, ranged from 193 to 160 M in height, and was very heavily wooded. This furnished a perfect cover for the bivouac. After leaving the forest to the east and southeast the ground tapered off to a flat of about 150 M. This extended from the towns Garche, Keocking, Husange, and Cattenom to the near bank of the Moselle River as a tabletop. This area was devoid of cover and afforded little protection. There was no cover for boat assembly points along the river. This was the reason for selecting Husange as the pick-up point for the boats, thus the long haul to the river bank. The area across the river on the enemy side was essentially the same as on the near side, extending as far in as the railroad track. Just to the southeast and east of Basse Ham, the ground began to rise to form the heights upon which Fort Koenigsmacker rested. This rise was almost abrupt, rising from 150 M to 210 M at a distance of about 400 M. This ridge-like peak was the dominant feature in the area. From there, the entire flat area extending over to the Cattenom Forest could be viewed. Thionville, approximately 9000 M to the south, as well as all intervening ground, could be viewed with ease. The view to the north extended to Métrich. This piece of terrain was not so decisive as was the fort that rested on its crest.
Fort Koenigsmacker was a member of the Maginot Line Group that tie in with the Métrich Fort some 3600 M to its northeast, on the east of the Moselle River. Some 5000 M to the southwest was the Fort de Illange, a sister fort of the Maginot Line Group. The three above mentioned forts completely commanded the Moselle basin and the parallel highways extending along either side. In addition to these mentioned the main Maginot Line belt extended from these positions to the southeast to Boulay. There were some 19 forts in this group. Each fort’s artillery tied in with that of the other. A description of the Fort Koenigsmacker is typical of the general layout of the forts of the Maginot line. The fort mounted 4 100 MM guns at its top. These were seated in completely revolving turrets of steel of 3 to 4 inches in thickness. The casemates, that had exposed sides, were constructed so as to be covered by machine-guns emplaced in adjoining wings with sufficient traverse to interlock with its opposite machine-gun. All approaches to the steel doors of the forts were blocked by a complete barrier of spiked steel fence about 7-8 feet in height. This fence was covered by machine-gun emplacements.
The general shape of the fort was five-sided. To the outside of the main Fort structure was a series of shelter points numbered from 1 through 8. These consisted of one story concrete pillbox projections. Each entrance was protected by a guard room. The corridors inside these shelter points let to a staircase which, in turn, led to the basement floors and underground corridors of the main fort. At the top of the main concrete Fort structure was a series of blister-looking affairs that were armored observation posts. These had a series of slits around them from which very safe observation could be made. Artillery fire had no effect on them.
To the outside of the shelter point was a complete trench of depth enough to permit a man to stand and fire. This completely circled the Fort. Within this trench, firing stations were dug so that a man did not have to silhouette himself while firing. To the outside of this trench, on the forward slope and extending completely around the hillside, was a barbed-wire entanglement of from five to twelve aprons. These were of the permanent type entanglements with the heavier aprons facing the east side of the fort. These forts were built, originally, as a defense against Germany. In some areas of the entanglements existed moats that were to be filled with water and various obstructions but had not been filled. This, generally, was the main obstacle to be overcome by the battalion.
(Wikipedia) The Fortifications of Metz, a city in northeastern France, are extensive, due to the city’s strategic position near the border of France and Germany. After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the area was annexed by the newly created German Empire in 1871 by the Treaty of Frankfurt and became a Reichsland. The German Army decided to build a fortress line from Mulhouse to Luxembourg to protect their new territories. The centerpiece of this line was the Moselstellung between Metz and Thionville, in Lorraine. The fortifications around Metz consisted of casemates, concrete barracks, infantry strong points, and concrete batteries, equipped with rotating steel turrets (100–150 MM).
Each position was surrounded by several ditches, or concrete trenches, with shelters and observation cupolas. A large barbed wire belt, defended by machine-gun and rifle positions, completed the defensive system. The Forts had usually several large blockhouse style barracks. These had 3 M thick reinforced concrete roofs with 2 M thick walls. They were partially buried under as much as 6 M (20 ft) of compacted earth. Underground tunnels connected all of the structures. The fort also had deep wide trenches, some as much as 9 M (30 ft) in both dimensions. They were also surrounded by a thick layer of barbed wire entanglements.
Each Fort had 2–4 batteries, equipped with hydraulic rotating steel turrets (100–150 MM). In the summer of 1944, only 10% of the batteries were fully operational. Most of those were in Fort Driant (Feste Kronprinz) and Fort Jeanne d’Arc (Feste Kaiserin). By November, during the battle of Metz, the German troops had managed to get about 50% of the guns operational in most of the Forts listed below. These batteries were lacking range tables, missing sights and other equipment to make the guns fully operational.
Below is a list of the fortifications that exist around the area of Metz. Because they switched hands quite often, the French names are listed as well as any applicable German ones. In parentheses is the construction period.
Forts of the first belt The first, inner belt of fortifications were completed by the French just prior to the Franco-Prussian War and were in service during the Siege of Metz from Sep 3 to Oct 23 1870. The forts were in a ring approximately 4000 M out from the city center, and were (anti-clockwise from the south) (French and German names):
Fort de Saint-Privat (1870) / Festung Prinz August von Württemberg (1872–1875)
Fort de Queuleu (1867–1870) / Festung Goeben (1871–1890)
Fort des Bordes (1870) / Festung Zatrow (1874–1875)
Fort de Saint-Julien (1867–1870) / Festung Manteuffel (1871–1891)
Fort Gambetta / Festung Hindersin (1879–1881)
Fort Déroulède / Festung Kameke (1876–1879)
Fort Decaen / Festung Schwerin (1878–1880)
Fort de Plappeville (1867–1870) / Festung Alvenslebenn (1871–1891)
Groupe Mont St. Quentin (1867–1870) / Festung Prinz Friedrich-Karl (1872–1892)
Fort Diou (1867–1870) / Festung Ostfort (1872–1892)
Fort Girardin / Festung Mannstein (1872–1892)
Forts of the second belt The second outer belt of fortifications was completed by the Germans prior to WW-1 but saw little service. Prior to WW-2 they were incorporated by the French into the Maginot Line defenses but again saw little action. In Oct 1944, while occupied by the Germans, the fortifications were assaulted and captured by the US 3-A during the Battle of Metz. The forts were in an offset ring from 8–10 Km from the city, and were (anticlockwise from the south):
Fort l’Aisne / Festung Wagner (1904–1912)
Fort l’Yser / Festung Prinzregent Luitpold (1907–1914)
Fort La Marne / Festung Generalfeldmarschall Freiherr von der Goltz (1907–1916)
(anticlockwise from the north) :
Fort Lorraine / Festung Lothringen (1899–1905)
Fort François de Guise / Festung Leipzig (1907–1912)
Fort Jeanne d’Arc / Festung Kaiserin (1899–1905)
Fort Driant / Festung Kronprinz (1899–1905)
Fort Verdun / Festung Haeseler (1899–1905), (also Feste Graf Haeseler)
Begun in 1908, the Fort was incomplete at the outbreak of the war in 1914 but saw no action during WW-1 as the city of Thionville remained well within the German lines for the duration of the war. With the Compiègne armistice of 1918, Lorraine was given to France and the fort became French property.
The three Thionville forts became known as the Fortified Group of Thionville. Koenigsmacker was integrated into the Maginot Line, Fortified Sector of Thionville in the 1930s serving as a sub-sector command post and backing up the newer Maginot Forts that were built about halfway between Thionville and the border with Luxembourg. The short 105-MM guns were replaced by 105-MM long guns removed from the German fortifications of Metz. The artillery range was thus increased from 9700 M (6.0 mi) to 12.700 M (7.9 mi).
In 1940, Koenigsmacker was the command post for the 167th Fortress Infantry Regiment (RIF), which manned the nearby Maginot Line’s sector.
During the Battle of France, the Thionville area was bypassed and encircled by the German forces, with the Maginot Line defenses and the earlier fortifications seeing little action.
The first wave was scheduled to start its crossing at 0330. To meet this schedule the battalion moved from its assembly area in the Cattenom Forest at 0100. The order of companies was the same order as set up in the planning stages for the various waves. The 1st wave elements leading, 2nd wave, and so on. The march from the assembly area to Husange, the boat pickup point, was about 2,5 miles. At this point, the 179-ECB had dropped the 40 boats to be used by the 1/358. There were three engineers with each boatload of twelve infantrymen. Husange was the last cover to be had. When the troops left this point it was wide open. The first wave picked up their boats and started the 1500 yard carry to the river bank. The move was to be secret, yet you could hear the muffled curses of the men as they stumbled along in the pitch blackness with their individual loads of weapons, ammunition, and rations, as well as this cumbersome assault boat. The men had to rest at intervals en route to the river bank. This long haul was a mistake, yet there was no other arrangement to be made and maintain the desired secrecy.
The first wave entered the water at 0330 and crossed without mishap except that the rising river, caused by the excess rain, had carried them some 1000 yards further downstream than contemplated. On the previous occupation of Thionville by the 90-ID, the river current had been charted but the rising condition had made a difference. This condition of the river had also inundated the prepared positions on the enemy side of the river. They were not manned. It had also permitted the boats floating over-mine fields that would have normally been exposed. The river was a friend at this particular time. So far, not a shot had been fired. The second wave had the same good fortune as the first wave. The enemy had not yet discovered the crossing. Everything had gone like clockwork to now. Able Co had formed on the railroad track, Charlie Co had also organized and was preparing for its assault on Basse Ham.
There was, however, a hitch with the third wave. The engineer having returned from the first and second wave did not wait for the third wave. They, thinking their job had been done, left the boats. It was about an hour before the third wave, manning their own boats, had succeeded in crossing. They reached the railroad tracks and organized along with Able Co. That put Able & Baker Cos assembled and ready to move out for the fort at daybreak. Charlie Co was ready to assault the town. The fourth wave, not having heard from the third wave, sent a five-man search party to see what the cross-up was. They found the boats not used by the third wave, unattended. Due to the delay, the fourth wave did not complete its crossing until about 0715. The Germans had, by this time, discovered the crossing and had begun to shell the crossing area. As a result, a part of the Mortar Platoon of Dog Co did not make the crossing and was forced to move back to Cattenom.
In the meantime, Able and Baker, after assembly on the railroad track, moved out in a column of platoons over the open area to the woods that surrounded Fort Koenigsmacker. Here complete reorganization took place. Able Co formed up pin a skirmish line. Here they waited until the previously designated time for the coordinated assault to arrive. That was 0715. Charlie Co had reorganized and sent one platoon to the east of Basse Ham, between the town and river, on around to out the road leading southwest out of town and set up a block, to catch any Germans that might be driven out that edge of town.
At a predestinated time, the remainder of Charlie Co made a night attack of the town, sweeping down the main street, clearing the buildings on either side, as they progressed. This was a complete surprise to the Germans. Some were in the houses in bed and had to be awakened upon capture. Only those on guard put up any resistance, which was fierce but momentary. The entire town had been cleared prior to daylight, with the exception of a few snipers located in some outlying buildings to the east. These were soon neutralized setting up the Battalion Aid Station, which was making a crossing of the river simultaneous to the attack on the town. There was, evidently, no communication between the forces in the Fort and those in the town, for this action had been completed without a response from the Fort.
At 0715 Able and Baker Cos, from their respective positions, started their assault with two platoons abreast in each company. They charged up the gradual incline, which grew steeper and steeper as they progressed. The assault passed over the barbed wire entanglements and was progressing toward the system of trenches that surrounded the crest of the hill. The entire action, to this point, had been accomplished without a shot being fired at them. It was not until Able Co had come within sight of the trenches that a sentry in an armored observation post fired on Able Co and gave the alarm. Able Co had reached the trenches and took cover therein. Baker Co had been stopped just short of the barbed wire. At the sound of the alarm, 50-MM mortar fire began to fall on the positions. The fire could be brought down on the Fort with no harm to the occupants, but the attackers on the outside began to take casualties. This fire had been, previously zeroed in from positions within the main Fort and also from other adjoining forts.
By this time, all the troops of the battalion had crossed the river. Heavy mortar fire, also, began to fall into the town of Basse Ham. The troops were in the cellars and in the buildings, so the fire was ineffective, as far as casualties were concerned. It restricted movement somewhat. It was now about 0900 and Charlie Co had completely cleared the town and had pushed a platoon out the highway to the southwest of town, to occupy tons outlying buildings. They were to serve as the flank protection for the battalion as well as for the division. This was an open flank, all the way to Thionville, where the 95-ID had elements.
Now, the battalion was disposed as follows: (1) In Basse Ham, Charlie Co protecting the town and the south flank of the division, one platoon of machine-guns from Dog Co was attached. (2) The battalion aid station was in operation in a secure basement at the main intersection of the town. (3) The Battalion HQs Co and the command group were in operation in the town. (4) Dog Co was intact less one section of 81-MM mortars that had been forced back from the crossing site by mortar fire. The mortars that were across were set up in the town to cover the right flank of the battalion. They could not be the value to fire on the Fort, itself, in support of the infantry. (5) Able Co with one platoon of heavy machine-guns attached and Baker Co with attached Engineers was disposed around the west and southwest edges of the Fort.
From these dispositions, a systematic reduction of the main Fort was to take place. The rifle troops were taking a heavy pounding from the mortar fire that was falling on the Fort. The observers could observe for the armored observation post, located on top of the Fort, and bring the observed fire down, directly on the position without harm to the observer. The job then was to first, eliminate the observation post. The attack could not move on until this had been done.
This phase of the attack was spearheaded and organized by Lt Neal and Lt Patrick from Able Co and Lt Martin with the attached engineers. Each of the Able Co officers led the assault teams assisted by Lt Martin. Under the cover of fire from the remaining troops of Able Co they would place a seventeen-pound charge of Composition C2 at the base of these Observation Posts. This very potent explosive had a devastating effect on these structures, as well as, inhabitants. The western portion of the Fort was worked on for the remainder of the day in the same systematic method as above described. The observation post on the west edge of the Fort, as well as, the sally and shelter points of this portion of the Fort, were neutralized throughout the day.
Able attacked the Fort as an assault and overran about one-third of the Fort. The Germans would merely withdraw into the inner portions of the Fort and call down devastation mortar fire on the attackers. This forced a withdrawal to the cover of the original positions in the trenches. In this murderous hail of mortar fire throughout the day, 40 casualties were assessed. During the day Capt Denning, Baker 358 Commander, had been killed. Lt Campbell took command of the company. Baker Co had not made a great deal of progress on the south of the Fort. It was ordered to move from its present position around to the west of the Fort and join Able Co where the greatest progress was being made. This was to the accomplished during the night of Nov 9/10.
The first day saw the town of Basse Ham fall to Charlie Co. Able & Baker Cos successfully reached the Fort and had begun an assault. The technique of blasting the Germans out of their stronghold had been learned. This technique was to be used to great advantage the following day. The aid station that had come across and set up it Basse Ham was paying dividends.
The casualties, from the first day, were heavy and serious. The supplies of ammunition, plasma, medicine, and food were planned on the assumption that a bridge would soon be installed. The Moselle River was initially helping our troops in that its risen condition inundated the enemy positions on the river bank and also permitted the assault waves to float over the normally exposed mines.
It was now becoming more of a formidable fore than the Germans. During the day the water had expanded from its normal 300-350 foot width to from 600-800 feet and by noon had reached widths of 800 yards. The engineers had started their bridging operations, first working in knee-deep water in hip-deep and then in waist-deep water. Finally, the current became so wicked that bridging operations were ceased completely. Six battalions of infantry were across the river, fighting the enemies’ armor and fortified areas with hand-carried weapons. The waters continued to rise until the entire flat area from the railroad tracks on the east side of the Moselle to the edges of Garche, Koecking, and Cattenom on the west side of the river were flooded.
This was the condition that existed for the division as nightfall came. The battalion was low on ammunition, explosives had been expended, rations gad to be gad, the aid station had to be replenished with the plasma and all medical supplies, The wounded, some in serious conditions, needed to be evacuated. The tremendous job of re-supply was started, as soon as, nightfall began.
This was done by the battalion drivers, company drivers, supply personnel from all companies, and any attached engineers, Sharidan and Martin, the battalion motor officer and battalion S-4 respectively on the west shore and Lt Autrey, S-3 on the east shore. It was a tortuous job in the dark of night with a river on the rampage. The boats would have to be loaded and floated back to the small towns, that the water had reached, pushed through the shallow water until the current became too strong, then try to navigate the rest of the way. Through the untiring efforts of these men left on the supply job, the battalion received supplies that night. Due to the tortuous condition of the river and its swift current, which had overturned several boats, it was decided not to attempt evacuation of wounded that night. They were better off where they were. It was hoped that a bridge would be completed in the morning. The remainder of the mortar platoon from Dog Co completed the crossing during the night.
The situation on the following morning, Nov 10, was as follows: assault was to continue on the Fort; Baker had moved around and had taken over the left half of what had been Able’s sector, the day before; in the town of Basse Ham, the platoon of Charlie that had moved out on the extreme southwest end of Basse Ham had been out off during the night by a German force that had come back into that portion of the town. They had occupied the buildings just to the southwest of the small stream, that ran through Basse Ham. This platoon from Charlie was in a bad situation for a little while.
Lt Charles Watson, the forward observer from Cannon Co, established an observation post in the church steeple overlooking the houses that the Germans had occupied. His mission was to support the relief of Charlie Co’s platoon. With one gun of Cannon Co, he began registering. His OP was in the line of the gun-target and at any moment one of his own shells could have clipped his OP from under him. With systematic precision, each house, one after the other was thoroughly obliterated. Upon further investigation, dead Germans were found all over. With this, the platoon of Charlie Co was relieved. For the remainder of the day, Charlie Co protected Basse Ham.
From positions as now disposed, Able and Baker resumed the assault on the main Fort. Able Co consolidated and took the right half of what had been their entire zone the day before. When both companies were in position the attack jumped off. By noon of Nov 10, all of the armored observation posts, on top of the Fort, in the zone covered by Able and Baker Cos, had been knocked out, never failing to render harsh attackers, taking its toll.
The idea was struck on by Lt Neal of Able Co to locate the ventilator shafts of the various underground bunkers systems. This being done ten gallons of gasoline were dumped down into one of them and an M-14 Termite hand grenade followed. A terrific roar and concussion followed, with screams and moans coming from within. This had definitely done some good. The concussion was so great, that a body was blown from the inner parts of the Fort, out through the opened ventilator shaft.
This procedure was taken up by the rest of the troops on the Fort, along with continued use of great quantities of C2. There was such a great amount needed on the massive structures of the fort that the supply was soon near the diminishing point. An urgent call was put in for a refreshed supply of explosives to continue the operation before the day was over. This was necessary because, as each strong point would be neutralized, the enemy would move deeper into the fort, into other portions not yet blasted. They would then infiltrate back after the pressure was relieved.
The re-supply of the needed explosives, could not be made rapidly enough by the river route, so five liaison planes were dispatched with 500 pounds of explosives. These planes flew down over the battalion positions and dropped their loads. They hit, squarely, in the battalion positions. This was the answer to the flood bound dog faces prayer. With this added explosive each company continued the destruction in their particular zones. Able Co had managed to blast its way into some of the bunker’s superstructure and tunnels. The entrance could not be made further underground, due to the rubble, and complete blackness existing within the tunnels. A plan of the underground structure was not in the possession of the troops, so it would have been very foolish to try to mop up below when so much good was being done above. This offered protection, how ever.
During the late evening of the second day, with a force of approximately 50 men, the Germans initiated a counter-attack from the northeast corner of the Fort they still occupied. This assault was repulsed with the small arms of the 1st battalion personnel without loss of ground. The enemy suffered 28 killed in this costly little escapade. The remainder withdrew back into the supposed safety of the Fort. At the end of the second day, Nov 10, the two rifle companies were displaced on the top of the Fort.
The situation within the division was very critical. The Moselle had still denied a bridge at either the Cattenom or Gravisse-Malling crossing sites. The river had gotten to a width of 1 ½ mile in various sectors. The supply of the battalion had to be accomplished by the same means as the previous night. All the personnel not actually involved in holding a position on the Fort was put into play in carrying rations, ammunition, explosives, and medical supplies from the river’s edge to the positions on the Fort. The same supply personnel was doing a herculean job of getting them across by boat. Some of the wounded had gotten to such a condition that evacuation was necessary or else they would die. Those that had to be evacuated were tied to litters and transported by boat across the still treacherous Moselle. The others continued to await the completion of a bridge.
On the third day, Nov 11, Charlie Co was moved from Basse Ham to the Fort. It took up the position occupied by Baker on the 1st day of the assault. The mortar platoon of Baker Co and the personnel of Battalion HQs Co were given the mission of taking over the responsibility of Charlie Co in the town while the Fort area was divided into three zones when all the companies were in position. The final all-out assault on the Fort was to begin.
The assault was spearheaded by Able Co. The various bunkers, casemates, and strong points were reduced by the same expedient as employed the previous two days. Large quantities of gasoline, followed by M-14 TH or M-15 WP hand grenade were used. Large quantities of C2 explosive were also put into play. Around noon of this day a message was received from division Headquarters, with the order to withdraw from the fort, since it was such a costly objective in both men and material. The answer was returned by Lt Neal. ‘This Fort is ours! I could not ask my men to leave here now. They are more determined than I to finish the job’. With this the assault was pushed with fresh vigor. The Germans were squeezed and blown into an ever constriction smaller portion of the fort. At 1600, the remnants of the force holding Fort Koenigsmacker attempted a mass exit through one of the outlying shelter points in the northeast corner. They ran back into a force from George Co that had been left behind by the 2/358, as flank protection. There were 372 able-bodied Krauts in the force. All were taken prisoner by George Co and were completely out of fight after the three-day episode just completed. The 1/358 was very put out about not getting to make this catch, after the ‘hell’ experience in taking the Fort. The battalion estimated that it had killed or captured about 500 Germans, (included, is this 372 above mentioned). This was the entire 1.Battalion, 74.Infantry-Regiment, 19.Infantry- Division. The casualties in the 1/358 were: 21 killed, 85 wounded and 5 missings.
At 1350, Nov 12, the battalion passed to Regimental reserve. Charlie Co remained on the Fort, Baker Co out posted the area between the town and the Fort and Able Co held Basse ham, covering the right flank of the regiment.