A Few Significant Events - Continued

 

Foret de Parroy (September-October, 1944)

 

"After the capture of the city of Luneville and the crossing of the Meurthe River, the 79th Infantry Division received orders for an attack on the Foret de Parroy.

 

The attack kicked off in late September, after aerial bombing of entrenched German positions. The 313th and 315th Regiments jumped off, using the main west-to-east road through the forest as a boundary line. The 315th Regiment reached the edge of the woods without much opposition, but here they came under heavy machine-gun and artillery fire. Tanks and TD's were brought up to help clean out this resistance and, by 1630, the Regiment was able to enter the forest, not knowing that it would be 14 days of hell before they would emerge from the other side. 

 

 Although the enemy launched a number of counterattacks they were driven back. Heavy fighting marked these attacks with heavy casualties on both sides. The 79th Division Artillery was frequently called upon and inflicted terrific casualties on the enemy. The artillery played a major role in coordinating the push to secure the forest.

 

By October 1st, the 313th and 315th had moved about one-third of the way eastward into the Foret de Parroy. The Germans heavily reinforced their troops, tanks and assault guns. The 314th was able to gain ground fast and faced heavy return artillery fire brought on by the 314th's artillery barrage.

 

The cornerstone of the German defenses in Foret de Parroy was the main supply crossroads on the Regimental boundary line...The attack for the crossroads began on 4 October...There was a lull in activity for most of 5-8 October, so the 314th sent out patrols for spots to park tanks and TDs (tank destroyers) for the upcoming attack. German artillery filled the air almost constantly. Rumor had it that the Foret de Parroy was Hitler's favorite forest - where he himself had fought in World War One - and he had ordered it held at all costs. A captured German Colonel was overheard saying that "...the Americans hadn't taken the forest in the last war, and this one would end with them still trying."

 

On October 8, the 314th received orders to resume the attack and plans were made for a large-scale attack which, if successful, would clear the forest of the enemy.  Early on October 9, the First Battalion of the 313th Regiment began a diversion by firing into the woods, and generally creating a lot of noise. The enemy rose to the bait centering his attention here. Meanwhile the 315th Regiment and the Second Battalion of the 314th Regiment jumped off in the driving rain, advancing rapidly until the crossroads strongpoint was reached. Here the Second Battalion of the 314th Regiment and the Third Battalion of the 315th Regiment came under very heavy fire from dug-in tanks and machine guns. Time after time, our troops assaulted this strongpoint only to get pinned down. Finally, assisted by tanks and TD's, and attacking from all sides, the crossroads were taken. With its fall, the whole defense system in the forest seemed to collapse. All units sent out patrols which were able to reach the east edge of the forest.

 

With its capture of the crossroads, the German's hope of holding Foret de Parroy was shattered. With the taking of the forest, rumors circulated that rest was finally in the cards for the weary 79th, but it was not to be so. The 79th was to be involved in additional fighting until finally relieved on the 23rd of October by the 44th Infantry Division.

 

During the campaign, the 79th Division met the best troops German Army commanders could throw into the battle. Among them were the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, 113th Panzer Brigade, 33d Panzer Grenadier Reserve Battalion, 11th Panzer Division, 51st Fortress Machine-Gun Battalion, 115th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, 553d Infantry Division, 19th Infantry Division and the 12th Panzer Division. Total XV Corps casualties for the month of October, including those of the 2d French Armored Division, numbered about 365 men killed, 2,310 wounded, 165 missing, and 2,410 non battle  During the month XV Corps received 5,720 replacements or returnees, and the corps captured over 1,760 Germans."

 

Hatten and Rittershoffen (January, 1945)

 

"Both sides agree that these were the hardest fighting in the western frontier. The troops that were in Anzio might say even ´worse than that as fighting was from house to house..."

 

On January 1, 1945, the Germans kicked off Operation Nordwind in the Alsace Region of France which was to become the last major German offensive of the war. Suddenly, with the commitment of the 21st Panzer and 25th Panzer Grenadier Divisions in the north, the entire American defensive effort appeared to be in grave danger. Nevertheless, for a time the Americans were able to hang on. In the center of the Lauterbourg salient, the heterogeneous collection of American units occupying old Maginot Line fortifications put up an energetic defense against somewhat listless German armor. Lack of proper reconnaissance as well as 79th Division minefields and artillery stalled the German tanks as did the weather, icy terrain, and the unexpected presence of Task Force Linden (42d Division) units. By January 9th, German armor pierced the VI Corps center, driving it back to the Haguenau forest and forcing The American forces to commit their final reserve, the 14th Armored Division, near the towns of Hatten and Rittershoffen. Here American tanks met German armor in towns, fields, and roads, and the bitter fighting continued. The VI Corps was battling for its life on three sides. 

The battleground now began to resemble a general melee. Between 10 and 20 January General Smith's 14th Armored Division, which assumed operational control of assorted infantry units of the 242d and 315th Infantry above the Haguenau forest and was supported by most of its own artillery plus that of the 79th Division, fought a sustained action with German panzers. But along the entire front of the VI Corps, division and regimental commanders gradually lost control over the battle, and the struggle devolved into a fierce tactical conflict between opposing battalions, companies, platoons, and smaller combat units. 


The heaviest fighting was concentrated in the two small Alsatian towns of Rittershoffen and Hatten, both just north of the Haguenau forest and a mile or so apart. Chance and circumstance had led the Germans to seize the eastern sections of both towns and the Americans to occupy the western parts, making the fields and roads in between a no-man's land of artillery, antitank, and small-arms fire. Efforts by each party to cut the resupply routes of the other by armored sweeps continually failed in the face of strong tank, antitank, and artillery fire from both sides. The battle thus boiled down to a desperate infantry fight within the towns, with dismounted panzer grenadiers and armored infantrymen fighting side by side with the more lowly foot infantry. Almost every structure was hotly contested, and at the end of every day each side totaled up the number of houses and buildings it controlled in an attempt to measure the progress of the battle. Often in the smoke, haze, and darkness, friendly troops found themselves firing at one another, and few ventured into the narrow but open streets, preferring to advance or withdraw through the blown-out interior walls of the gutted homes and businesses. Both sides employed armor inside the town, but the half-blind tank crews had to be protected by a moving perimeter of infantrymen and could only play a limited supporting role. In Hatten, even with strong infantry and artillery support, no German or American tanker dared push his vehicle around "the bend"- a slight turn in the town's marginally wider main street that was covered by several antitank weapons from both sides. 

By 15 January, as the German commitment of infantry in the two towns escalated, the Americans found themselves increasingly on the defensive; resupply and the evacuation of casualties became major operations, as did the continual reorganization of their shrinking perimeters to consolidate the territory they were able to hold. The American units withdrew to the town of Haguenau to consolidate their defensive positions.

 

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