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 is 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 bypassed. 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 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 1/358. It was later proven that this was a very wise move.
The further plan was to have Able assemble on the Railroad Tracks. It was a definite feature that could not be bypassed. 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 setting 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 to 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 November 7, to Hayange. In 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, November 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 this very long haul.
All unit commanders were taken to a vantage point on the edge of the Cattenom Forest, which overlooked the entire field of operations. From here, the point at which the boats would be picked up could be seen, 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 was made. The unit commanders, in turn, bought all NCOs down and including squad leaders to this same vantage point. At this time the same thorough briefing was given and all questions concerning the operation were 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.
At about 1700 November 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 their 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 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, which had exposed sides, were constructed so as to be covered by machine guns emplaced in adjoining wings with a 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 fences 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 led 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 or 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 was completed by the French just prior to the Franco-Prussian War and was 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, the Department of 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, a 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.