Men of the 90-ID are ready to cross the River

The Assault

90-IDEngineersThe 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 lead, 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 179th Engineer Combat Battalion had dropped the 40 boats to be used by the 1st Battalion of the 358th Infantry Regiment. 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 men of 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 to float 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, and Charlie Co had also organized and was preparing for its assault on Basse Ham.

Result of heavy rains in the area

There was, however, a hitch with the third wave. The engineer had returned from the first and second waves and 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 to 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 on the town, sweeping down the main street, and 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 by 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 Basse Ham, for this action had been completed without a response from the Fort.

Medics are always in first lines - Metz November 1944

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 of 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 of 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 were disposed around the west and southwest edges of the Fort.

Aerial Vue - Fort Koeningsmacker (Date Unknown)

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 see from 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, their 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. Demolition Set M5 Manual Ignition.jpgAble Co 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 devastating 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 November 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 in 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.

Artillery: support and observation - Fort Koeningsmacker 1944

It was now becoming more of a formidable force than the Germans. During the day the water had expanded from its normal 300-350 foot width to 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 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 was flooded. This was the condition that existed for the division as nightfall came. The battalion was low on ammunition, explosives had been expended, rations had to be gad, the aid station had to be replenished with the plasma and all medical supplies, and 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, November 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.

Strange finding - A row of German killed soldiers (?) (Unarmed)

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 of, 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 November 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, however.

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, November 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 miles 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 litter and transported by boat across the still treacherous Moselle. The others continued to await the completion of a bridge.

Fort Koeningsmacker is captured 1944

On the third day, November 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 grenades were used. Large quantities of C2 explosives 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 the fight after the three-day episode had just been 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, (including, the 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, November 12, the battalion passed to the 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.

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