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, and Mercy le Bas quadrilateral. This was accomplished during the date of October 31 to November 2. This move was ostensibly for training. The training was actually initiated, but the division was faced with the knowledge that the date of the operation could be November 6, and not later than November 9, and 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, its 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 from 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 night 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, and Stromberg area prior to the crossing, thereby protecting the assault troops from 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 bypassed by leading elements, but its speedy neutralization and reduction depended on 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 that contained the main fortifications of the Maginot Line. While constructed primarily to resist attack from the east, a 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 is 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 depending 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’s 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 were 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 incorporated 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 November 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 nonetheless 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 Engineers 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 darkness for several nights before 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 the 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 an airstrike came by November 8 (inclusive), in any event, the assault was to take place on November 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, November 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 the 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 displaced on the nights of November 5/6 and 6/7 was completely positioned by daylight on November 7. This move was accomplished without the benefit of the moon and under incessant rain on slippery, narrow roads. The remainder of the division was displaced on the night of November 7/8, a move of even greater difficulty. The distance involved was too great for marching, the displacement was made by marching and shuttling and involved two round trips for the attached transportation.
By dawn, on November 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. November 7, had been a dark and rainy day and the target date was definitely set for November 9. And so, on November 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 from 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 November 3 until November 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 November 7. The crossing date had been set for some time prior to daylight on November 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.