XIX CORPS NEWSPAPERS & PUBLICATIONS

 

 

BREACHING THE SIEGFRIED LINE

 

This study is a General Staff analysis and record of the most important operational details of XIX Corps' successful attack on and penetration through the "Siegfried Line"

 

This successful attack against the "Siegfried Line" should be treated largely as a tribute to the superb fighting ability of our infantry and armored soldiers, well supported by artillery and engineers, intelligently led in a well-planned action. It has demonstrated that thorough planning, determined leadership and aggressiveness in battle, can overcome what otherwise seems to be insuperable obstacles. Both the 30th Infantry and 2d Armored Divisions were battle-experienced with able leadership throughout their echelons. The 29th Infantry Division, which came in during the latter phases of the operation, was also a battle-experienced Division. The 30th Infantry Division had been continually in contact with the enemy since its first attack June 15th on the VIRE ET TAUTE CANAL; it had participated in the breakthrough south of ST. LO; and had withstood the German Panzer attack near MORTAIN in their effort to recapture AVRANCHES. It had fought across France and Belgium, capturing TOURNAI and FT. EBEN EMAEL in Belgium; and was the first American unit to enter Holland and entered Germany in September to prepare for this assault on the Siegfried Line. Its Commander, Major General Leland S. Hobbs, had commanded the Division from its initial commitment; its Asst. Division Commander, Artillery Commander, and other higher commanders, were all experienced and battle tried. It was a well-developed team.

 

The 2d Armored Division had fought through North Africa and Sicily and attacked for the first time in France on June 14th at CARENTAN, passing through CERISY; broke loose south of ST. LO, passing through DOMFRONT, ELBEUF, and entered Belgium, breaching the ALBERT CANAL position and crossed into German with the Corps. Its Commander, Major General Ernst N. Harmon, had commanded it in North Africa and had commanded another armored division at the ANZIO beachhead before returning again to command his old Division in the "Battle of France". It also had experienced top leadership and was a well-rounded team.

 

The 29th Infantry Division, which came in during the last phase of the operation, had been an assault Division on the NORMANDY beachhead on D-Day; had captured ST. LO; participated in the BRITTANY campaign and capture of BREST. It had been under the same Division Commander throughout these operations, Major General Charles H. Gerhardt.

 

Very important in the team play of the Corps was its Corps Artillery under the able leadership of Brigadier General George D. Shea, with a battle-experienced staff and artillery groups; well prepared to deliver the maximum in artillery support. One of the most important single lessons in the operation has been team play. This instils a great confidence in all elements when they know the people they are cooperating with, and have experienced that cooperation before. It would be highly desirable, whenever possible, to maintain a standard Corps of permanently assigned divisions, at least to maintain the bulk of the Corps on this basis. This knowledge of the methods used by the component elements; the characteristics of the commanders; the uniformity of planning; contributes greatly to the efficiency of the operation. It eliminates, to a large degree, the element of uncertainty when dealing with strange units.

 

 

RAYMOND S. McLAIN
Major General, U.S. Army
Commanding

 
 

1.  DESCRIPTION OF SIEGFRIED LINE

   
a. General
 

The "Siegfried Line", called by the Germans the "West Wall", was a continuous series of pillboxes and emplacements extending along the Western boundaries of German from Kleve on the Dutch frontier to Lorrach near Basle on the Swiss border. It was constructed in 1939 and 1940 before the development of the German military doctrine of "strongpoints", as illustrated by the heavy defenses along the Atlantic and English Channel coasts. It was completed as we found it before the Russians had taught the Germans the principle of an all-round "hedgehog" defense. Thus the Siegfried Line contained mainly a large number of reinforced concrete pillboxes for machine guns and 37mm AT guns. There was a very limited preparation of open earthworks for heavier artillery, and extensive hasty preparation of field fortifications for infantry. 

   
 

The Siegfried Line was built on the first natural barrier east of the German frontier. Where this natural barrier was weakest the pillbox concentration was strongest. The basic principle behind the placement of pillboxes and AT barriers was simple and logical, namely to increase the defensive potential of the terrain along the German frontier. Where tanks and infantry would have a difficult job in attacking ( as across the Rhine River ) the defenses were sketchy. Where a natural attack corridor existed ( the Belfort Gap, the Moselle River Valley, the Aachen Plain ), there the defenses were most dense.

   
 

The concrete installations themselves in general were 20 to 30 feet by 40 to 50 feet horizontally, and 20 to 25 feet high, of which at least half and sometimes more was underground. The walls and roofs were 4 to 8 feet thick and at times steel plated. Each pillbox had living quarters for its normal complement. Fields of fire were limited; the path of fire generally did not exceed 50 degrees of arc. Pillboxes were mutually supporting. Four years of neglect during the high tide of German conquest had made the camouflage superb. Undergrowth, turf and disuse made the spotting of some of the boxes extremely difficult. Fortunately British and French intelligence had photographed and plotted the construction period and the fruits of their labor were supplemented by recent photography.

   
b. XIX Corps Sector
  (1) General
   

The Siegfried Line in this sector was a continuous obstacle extending across the whole Corps front. It was here constructed to implement the natural obstacles formed by the Wurm River and, in the N 5 km of the sector, the Wurm and Roer Rivers. The only portions of the line not lying behind a water barrier were immediately N and W of Aachen. This city has a ridge line leading into it from the North. To make up for the lack of the river barrier across this ridge line, the Germans here constructed the only dragons' teeth AT obstacles in the whole Corps sector. For over 70% of its trace in the sector, the water barrier is backed up by a railroad line that leads northward out of Aachen. This railroad follows the Wurm River Valley. To keep its track as straight as a railroad requires, numerous cuts and fills had to be constructed in the meander streambed, forming a further obstacle to tank employment.

     
   

The German military construction was tied in to the river and railroad obstacles described above. Where these two did not form a good obstacle, there the defense had the greatest density. The pillbox band was roughly 3 km in depth behind the river - railroad line. At only one point in the line was there an appreciable thinning out of these pillboxes. This occurred at the point where the Wurm River Valley joins the Roer River Valley. This junction is itself a barrier to cross country movement; to protect it the greatest concentration of pillboxes in the whole sector occurred on the nose S of the stream junction ( E of Randerath ).

     
  (2) Obstacles
   

Defenses West of the Wurm River consisted for the most part of minefields and barbed wire except on the Aachen nose N of Kohlschied. From this point the only dragons teeth in the Corps sector start the line which stretches 10 km to the SW.

     
   

The Wurm River is approximately 30 feet in width throughout the sector. Its banks and valley were a formidable obstacle. Because of wet weather and marshy ground the terrain was a serious obstacle to tanks. The banks of the river were naturally steep or had been dug steep. The river and banks were covered by prepared fires and bridging had to be made under direct observation and fire. The ridge east of the river generally overlooks the terrain on the W side of the river, except in the assault area where both ridges are the same height. However, good observation of our crossing sites was available to the enemy.

     
   

Supplementing the river and railroad were minefields, AT ditches and stone walls; particularly S of Geilenkirchen. This was the area that most needed them, as the main East - West road through the sector cut the Siegfried Line at Geilenkirchen.

     
   

Pillboxes occurred wherever the terrain indicated a profitable use of a machine gun or AT gun. It should be remembered that the basic design of the Siegfried Line called for the employment of mobile field armies operating out of and behind it. The real defense was to be an aggressive counterattacking force basing its offense from the Siegfried Line. The object of the defenses was not to stop the enemy but to slow him up and to tire him in the attack and then hit him with strong counterattacks.

     
   

Virtually all pillboxes possessed the following general characteristics: Limited fields of fire ( 40 to 50 degrees ) Incapable of housing any weapon larger than the 37mm AT gun which was standard for the German Army in 1939. 4 to 6 feet of concrete overhead and a similar amount underground; walls 5 to 8 feet thick. Normal pillbox personnel was generally dependent upon the size and number of openings; roughly a maximum of 7 men per firing embrasure. Excellent camouflage concealment, materially aided by four years of disuse and natural growth. Excellent prepared paths of fire. There, in general, were at least 3 km east of the river and occurred only once every 5 km. Several dense patches of forest are scattered along the line. These proved dense enough to handicap armored maneuver. They likewise furnished excellent concealment for infantry, and in them visibility was more suitable for defenders who did not have to move. 

     
  (3) Communications
   

The majority of the works were in "clusters". The pillboxes in each cluster were linked with each other by communication trenches. None yet found were linked by underground passages. There was a fairly extensive network of buried telephone cables ( 6 feet deep ) between the works.

     
  (4) Observation
   

OP's from underground emplacements with a 7-inch steel cupola occurred roughly one per km. These were usually linked by underground cable to pillboxes, Hq and villages in the vicinity. An OP was usually a CP, with living quarters for 30 - 40 men and several work rooms in them.

     
  (5) Terrain Analysis
   

The terrain in the XIX Corps sector between Maastricht and Cologne is ideally suited to armored attack. In general it is gently rolling open cultivated farm country. This zone is cut by N - S ridge lines and N - S stream lines. The details are shown on the terrain analysis chart included in this study. 

     

2.  PLANS AND PREPARATION

     
a. Overall Mission
 

The major overall mission of XIX Corps was to rupture the Siegfried Line and advance to secure a bridgehead across the Rhine River in the Cologne-Düsseldorf area.

     
b. Selection of breakthrough point.
 

A detailed analysis of the Siegfried Line in the Corps sector resulted in certain conclusions about it:  In general the pillbox band was uniformly strong along the whole Corps front. The greatest density of pillboxes was just S of the junction of the Wurm and Roer Rivers. The next greatest density was around Geilenkirchen in the center of the sector. The road net, pillbox density and later opportunities for exploitation of a breakthrough N, E, and S without immediately running into another terrain obstacle led to the selection of the Palenberg - Rimburg section for the assault area.

     
c. Extract from XIX Corps Field Order #27, 281430A Sept 44.
 

Par 2. "XIX Corps protects right flank 21 Army Gp and left flank First US Army; breaches Siegfried Line, advance E in zone to secure the line of Roer River in zone".

     
d. Training and Preparation
 

The assault on the Siegfried Line by the 30th Infantry Division was preceded by intense training all the way down to squad tactics. Despite the fact that units were in the line during this period of training, a reshuffling of reserves enabled all battalions of the 117th Infantry, 119th Infantry and 3d Bn of the 120th Infantry to withdraw behind the lines for reviewing assault tactics.

     
 

All three battalions of the 117th and 119th Infantry Regiments went through a two day training period in training areas west of the line which they had been holding. The 3d Bn of the 120th Infantry spent most of its time in assault training while in Division reserve. The first and second Bns of the 120th Infantry rotated companies in assault training areas. The work covered use of demolitions, flame throwers, bazookas; tactical review of the coordination of assault detachments; practice firing of all weapons; and dry runs in storming the pillboxes and crossing the Wurm River. Engineers, tank and TD units also rehearsed for the attack, the engineers constructing bridges with the tanks and TDs crossing and fanning out to support the infantry.

     
 

The practice river-crossing was done in a gully with stagnant water about the width of the Wurm and with the same steep banks. Improvised foot bridges were constructed, two feet wide and 15 - 30 feet long, with ridged cleats to aid the footing. Lt. Col. Robert E. Frankland, battalion commander of the 1st battalion of the 117th, says that "training for the river crossing paid off, because the enemy was surprised and overwhelmed by the sheer aggressiveness of our crossing". 

     
 

Under Col. Frankland's direction, an elaborate sandtable was constructed, showing in detail the location of the pillboxes, river, wire, roads, ridges, draws, houses and trees. As each reconnaissance patrol returned, changes were made on the sandtable to conform with what it had observed. Company commanders were assigned their areas; platoon leaders were shown which pillbox they were to reduce; squad leaders were drilled in their mission, and before the training had been completed, every man in the assault companies of the battalion was shown the sandtable and had his exact route thereon explained to him.

     
 

Not only the rifleman, but the heavy weapons men, the engineers, the tank destroyer and tank commanders, all studied what was to be their role. The training was so thorough that, according to S/Sgt Howard King of Company A, 117th Infantry Regiment, "even when we got a new pillbox to take, we just pushed out our support and assault detachments mechanically."

     
 

The men were also well prepared psychologically. They were inculcated with the necessity for high speed in advancing to the river, crossing, and attacking the fortifications. Many men testify that they remembered this when they attacked on 2 October, and double-timed through heavy artillery and mortar fire.

     
e. Intelligence prior to attack
 

This was a complete and accurate as that furnished for the invasion landing on Omaha beach. All details of the pillboxes were known long before the first one was captured. Locations of 90% or more of the boxes were accurately plotted on the 1/25000 maps and special 1/11000 photomaps using 8 Sept 1944 cover. These latter were prepared by XIX Corps with the defense details overprinted on them and furnished to divisions long before the assault in such quantity ( 450 copies to the 30th Div ) that each squad could have the sheet it needed. Not all the pillboxes were shown on regular maps, and maps of this sector ( 1/25000 ) are very inaccurate, particularly as to built-up areas, slag piles, borrow pits, and road nets. 

     
 

These maps were supplemented by vertical and oblique photo's and numerous studies prepared by G-2 XIX Corps. The use of oblique photos was an important factor in the intelligence planning of the assault groups. These, together with verticals and actual terrain reconnaissance, enabled the troops to be thoroughly familiar with the zone of attack. Oblique's frequently showed pillboxes which could not be detected in verticals.

     

3.  NARRATIVE OF THE ATTACK

     
a. Artillery and Air Support
 

The artillery preparation for the XIX Corps assault on the Siegfried Line began on 26 September, when the 258th Field Artillery Battalion, firing M-12 SP guns, was given the mission of destroying all pillboxes which could be located on the 30th Div front.  From 26 September to 2 October the battalion fired on a total of 45 pillboxes (all that were within its field of fire and observable). 

     
 

The second phase in the artillery preparation was the "blackout" of the enemy's AA batteries. Over a period of 15 minutes just prior to the air strike a total of 51 different AA installations were fired on by XIX Corps Artillery, while VII Corps Artillery concentrated on another 49. This program was highly successful, since there was hardly any ack-ack reported over the target area and no planes were lost in the operation. The 30th Division Artillery participated in this "Blackout" of the AA guns which had been located and plotted by the Photo Intelligence Team and the Air O.P.'s of the Division. 

     
 

The air-strike at H-120 was intended (1) to effect a saturation bombing of the breakthrough area and (2) to knock out by dive-bombing the pillboxes immediately facing the two assault regiments as well as (3) to knock out all reserves which could be used for immediate counterattack. For the 1st mission, however, IX Tactical Air Command was able to supply only nine groups of medium bombers (324 planes) while only two groups (72 planes) of fighter bombers were assigned to the mission. From H-120 to H-hour there was a scattered overcast sky at the target. The medium bombers approached the target from the West, whereas the 30th Division had been advised that the bomb run would be made from the southwest and not over friendly troops. This conflict caused confusion among the mediums as they approached the target. As a result, only 4 groups of mediums dropped any bombs on the target area. The other 5 groups made wrong approaches and could  not be corrected by ground contact.  Consequently the medium bombing was almost a total failure, as all ground observers agreed. The two groups of fighter-bombers dropped their gasoline "jelly" bombs in close proximity to the pillboxes that were their target, when the waiting infantry of the 30th Division noticed them circling uncertainly and aided their aiming with red smoke laid on the exact target by their artillery.

     
 

With the completion of the air strike at H-hour (1100), the two assault regiments, the 117th Infantry and the 119th Infantry attacked abreast. The 30th Division Artillery supported the attack with an elaborate program of prearranged fires. In this program the 4.2" mortars of the 92nd Chemical Battalion effectively cut wire and maintained a rolling barrage in front of the assaulting infantry. One of the main factors in the speed with which the 1st Battalion 117th Infantry crossed the river and the railroad track, in addition to prior training, was the regimental plan for continuous use of all mortars until the last possible minute, and the shifting of mortar fire to the edges of the town when the battalion reduced the pillboxes. The 4.2 inch chemical mortars were assigned an area in front of both battalions with the mission of breaking all wire in the area, after which they took up a rolling barrage in front of the 1st Battalion. During this entire time the 81mm mortars of the entire regiment, employed in battalion batteries, fired on adjoining areas along the cliff on the north edge of PALENBERG. This continuous mortar fire, up to the time the boxes were reduced, absolutely prevented any outside assistance to the pillboxes. The regimental 81mm mortars of the 117th Infantry fired over 3000 rounds on the afternoon of the attack and a total of approximately 6000 rounds up to and including the capture of Alsdorf. The divisional artillery in the meantime neutralized likely assembly areas on the flanks and rear of the objective, being reinforced in this phase by battalions from both Corps and Army artillery. This program was greatly intensified over that originally planned due to the fact that the air strike left most of the target area completely untouched.

     
 

The 30th Division Artillery plan virtually blanketed areas from which German fire could be brought to bear on the attacking infantry. 339 previously prepared concentrations were designated for use during the attack in addition to the 92nd Cemical Battalion's 4.2 inch mortar barrages and other fires.

     
 

Staring at H-hour, the XIX Corps artillery also fired approximately 50 counter-battery missions on enemy artillery locations which had been plotted and verified over the preceding five to six days. VII Corps artillery at the same time executed 31 counterbattery missions against batteries capable of firing into the 30th Div sector. In addition, several other counterbattery missions were fired on locations which were picked up subsequent to H-hour.

     
 

The AAA "blackout", the counterbattery program, and the neutralization of assembly areas were all greatly restricted due to ammunition shortage, as instead of firing five to six battalion volleys on each enemy battery location, it was only possible to put one or two volleys. The enemy's artillery fire was consequently not silenced, but was equally heavy in both the 117th and 119th sector although the wooded terrain to the south made the enemy artillery in the 119th sector perhaps even more effective, due to tree busts.

     
 

Summarized, the artillery with the XIX Corps fired 18,696 rounds of ammunition from 372 tubes between 0600 and 1800 on 2 October.

     
  The total XIX Corps artillery that fired on the assault area was 24 battalions; these were divided as follows:
       
   

Type

Number of Battalions

    ------------------ ------------------
    105mm Howitzers 11
    155mm Howitzers 6
    155mm Guns 3
    8 Inch Guns 1
    240mm Howitzers 2
    8 Inch Howitzers 1
      --------------
   

Total

24
   
b. The Infantry Assault
 

The assault of the 117th Infantry was made at and just south of Marienberg. That of the 119th Infantry was at and just south of Rimburg. In the case of the 117th Infantry, the 1st Battalion spearheaded the attack and Company E was moved into position East of the Wurm River to protect the bridge site. Despite considerable small arms fire and heavy mortar and artillery fire, they pushed rapidly down the hill to the Wurm River. There footbridges, especially constructed by the 105th Engineer Combat Battalion, were thrown across in a matter of minutes, and the infantry streamed across. Then the first battalion went to work on the pillboxes. The second battalion moved out at 1430. Mortar and artillery fire was still heavy on the west side of the Wurm River, but the battalion maintained its momentum, quickly crossed the river, and began the assault of the pillboxes in its sector. By nightfall the first battalion had seized its objective, an area in and east of Palenberg. Together with the second battalion it had reduced 11 pillboxes, entirely without tank support. Co "I" was also pushed across the stream at the end of the afternoon. Casualties that day for the 117th Infantry were 227, of which around 75% were caused by arty and mortars.

     
 

The 119th Infantry attacked at 1100 in a column of battalions, First Battalion leading followed by the 2d and 3d battalions.  The 2d battalion was committed after the 1st battalion was held up. The thick woods on and in front of the steep slope that confronted the assault elements of the 119th Infantry made impossible any observation of pillboxes or enemy movement within this area. The 155mm guns (self-propelled), used to demolish pillboxes in the sector of the 117th Infantry and on the right flank of the 119th Infantry sector, were unable to damage these in the woods. The effects of the jelly bombs were also negligible. No pillboxes were hit and the woods failed to burn because of the dampness and green nature of foliage and underbrush. 

     
 

Artillery fire on the 1st Bn, 119th Infantry, which attacked on the right, was relatively light initially, becoming heavier as attempts to assault the woods frontally were made. Artillery reaction on the 2d Bn in the vicinity of RIMBURG CASTLE and during the fight to the top of the ridge east of the castle was heavy and concentrated. Here, for a period of forty minutes, the enemy put over a battery concentration every five seconds. The enemy had direct observation of this area until several days later when the attack forced their OP's off the high ground to the north and south of the breakthrough. attempts to install a treadway bridge over the Wurm River near the castle during daylight  were rendered impossible by enemy artillery. The bridge was finally installed at night but was subsequently knocked out twice and damaged several times.

     
 

The mission of the 119th Infantry in breaching the Siegfried Line soon boiled down to the job of effecting a penetration of the woods, and then cleaning out the enemy that remained in them. Two enemy machine gun companies initially manned the defenses in the greater part of the woods and throughout put up a determined stand. ( These were reinforced later by another company when approximately half of the woods had been cleared. ) Observed artillery fire and mortar fire could rarely be used against this defense because of the closeness of the opposing lines. After the castle at RIMBURG had been reduced by the 2d Bn, the 1st Bn effected a penetration to the northeastern edge of the woods. It then swung its attack to the southwest to mop up the defenders in the woods and destroy the pillboxes. The steep slope around each pillbox was honey-combed with communication trenches and machine gun emplacements. When any break in the underbrush permitted artillery or mortar fire and friendly troops were drawn back to permit this fire, the defenders would go into the pillbox for protection and man their outside positions when the shelling lifted. Tanks and TD's could be used on only a few of these pillboxes because of the steep slope and thick woods. Flanking these positions by moving around on the open ridge above the woods was prevented by direct fire weapons firing from vicinity of MERKSTEIN HOFSTADT.  Clearing of the woods was accomplished after severe close-in fighting with opposing lines rarely getting further apart than twenty-five to fifty yards.

     
 

The Wurm River proved a serious obstacle to the attached tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion and the attached TD's of the 803rd Tank Destroyer Battalion. In an effort to expedite the crossing of the vehicles, both the 117th Infantry and the 119th Infantry had made arrangements to put in so-called "expedient bridges" which were to be rolled into place by a tank dozer. These bridges had been successfully employed in practice stream crossings. They were composed of several culverts reinforced and protected by a bundle of logs. The whole was mounted on a sled. The plan was to have a tank dozer push the sled into the water, doze the bank over the culvert, and repeat the performance on the far side. However in both regimental sectors on the day of the attack either the tank dozer got stuck or the "expedient bridge" itself got stuck in the rain-soaked banks of the stream. In the 119th Infantry sector the 105th Engineer Combat Battalion got a treadway in about 1515 but on reaching the far side all but one platoon of tanks became mired in the boggy meadow. The 117th Infantry's treadway was completed by 1830 but its tanks and TD's crossed too late to take any part in the first days fighting. Both bridges were constructed under artillery and sniper fire. By the next morning, however, the 247th Engineer Combat Battalion and the 1104th Engineer Combat Group had installed a treadway at RIMBURG and a Bailey at MARIENBERG.  

     
 

On 3 October the 117th Infantry, aided by tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion ad Combat Command "B" (CCB) 2nd Armored Division, widened its bridgehead and cleaned out the town of UBACH. The second battalion 119th Infantry, cleaned out the enemy strong point at the castle and advanced to the eastern edge of the woods in the rear of the castle. The first battalion got across the railroad tracks in the wooded area of the castle and attacked south against the flanks of the pillboxes that were interdicting a direct advance east. Three of these pillboxes were captured without any tank support. Marshy terrain canalized tank movement and prevented their use in this maneuver.

     
 

In the early morning of 4 October the enemy launched his first serious counterattacks, two against the 117th Infantry and another against the 119th Infantry. The first attack against 117th Infantry identified 1st Battalion, 352 Regiment, 246th German Infantry Division and 219th Engineer Battalion, 183rd Division. The attack against 119th Infantry identified 2nd Battalion, 149th Regiment, 49th Division. Not more than two companies were employed in these counterattacks, and they were repelled after a stiff fight. Our supporting artillery played a dominant role in breaking up these counterattacks. The 119th Infantry was heavily engaged the rest of the day, however, and the 117th Infantry had to beat off two more smaller counterattacks in the latter part of the afternoon. Ubach was the focal point of the operations this day.  

     
 

CCB, 2nd Armored Division, was passing through the town on its way east and northeast, while the second battalion 119th Infantry, and the 117th Infantry were trying to organize attacks out of Ubach to the south. The enemy took advantage of this concentration to place the heaviest artillery fire on Ubach which our troops had ever received.

     
 

The following day, despite 99 counterbattery missions by the artillery, the hostile shelling was even more intense. The third battalion, 117th Infantry, and the second battalion 119th Infantry, launched a coordinated tank-infantry attack south from Ubach. The former got held up by fire from a German cantonment on its left flank, but latter reduced 11 pillboxes and reached the high ground east of Herbach. The other two battalions of the 119th Infantry, still without tank support, made slow progress in cleaning out the woods facing the railroad tracks south of the castle.

     
 

CCB, 2nd Armored Division outflanked and captured the pillboxes north of Palenberg on 5 October up to and including Frelenberg. In the face of strong anti-tank and artillery fire , other elements of CCB advanced northeast 2 - 2 ½ kms. CCA, 2nd Armored Division, started coming across the Marienberg bridge at 1330 and holed up at dark one km east of Ubach.

     
 

On 5 October, the 3rd Battalion, 120th Infantry was attached to the 119th Infantry and at 1530 crossed the Wurm River in the vicinity of Rimburg with the mission of attacking south in the gap between the 1st and 2nd Battalions, and seizing the high ground south of Herbach. When leading elements of this battalion advanced to the line held by the 2nd Battalion, 119th Infantry, the battalion was ordered to make contact with adjacent units and consolidate  positions for the night. Main enemy opposition after the battalion attacked at 1530, consisted of heavy artillery concentrations, coming from the east and small arms and  75mm direct fire from the vicinity of Herbach.

     
 

On 6 October, the battalion continued the attack to its objective. Prior to "H" hour, an enemy column of 80 - 100 infantry was observed to the front of this battalion and was dispersed by artillery and MG fire. On 7 October, this battalion was ordered to seize an objective 500 yards east of Herzogenrath. The route of this attack was generally cross-country. Direct fire coming from the vicinity of Herbach was reduced when artillery fired upon and forced the crews of two German 75mm AT guns to surrender.

     
 

The enemy defending in the open ground around the perimeter of the pillboxes attempted to withdraw when our tanks appeared but were kept in their foxholes by artillery time fire, 386 PW's were taken, and many were found dead in their  foxholes due to time fire. Enemy in pillboxes in the vicinity of k49583, which was used as an OP, evacuated the pillbox and surrendered when the tanks approached. Pillboxes in the vicinity of K8754 delivered heavy MG fire, but the occupants of this pillbox surrendered when tanks fired 75mm guns into embrasures and the infantry began to close in.

     
 

It was noted that OP's and foxholes in open country were camouflaged with straw to resemble small haystacks. One enemy company commander occupied a position similar to this. Pillboxes with steel cupolas were apparently used principally as OP's with the aid of a very good periscope. Ports in cupolas make 3600 fire possible for weapons as big as Model MG 42. PW's taken in the vicinity of Wurselen stated that 50% of the personal had AT bazookas of smaller type. No AP mines were encountered. AT mines were not used extensively, except in the vicinity of Herzogenrath where they had been sown in great profusion.

     
 

The 120th Infantry Regiment, less 3rd Battalion in division reserve aided the penetration by making feint attacks, and by seizing the populated area of Kerkrade west of the Wurm River, immediately south of the point of actual penetration by the 117th and 119th Infantry Regiments.

     
 

Operations on 6 October ended all German hopes of holding the Siegfried Line in the XIX Corps sector. At 0700 the enemy launched its strongest counterattack against our forces, employing a maximum of two battalions, 4 assault guns, 2 tanks, and heavy artillery and mortar fire. The counterattack recaptured 4 pillboxes, forced the second battalion of the 119th Infantry to withdraw 800 yards and caused considerable casualties before it was stopped. The lost ground, however, was regained by nightfall, and the third battalion of the 117th Infantry on the 30th Division's left pushed down to zu Ubach. In the meantime, the first and third battalions of the 119th Infantry with tank support cleaned out the remaining pillboxes in the woods south of the Rimburg castle The enemy's effort to check the penetration had definitely crumbled.

     
 

By 16 October the 30th Division had rolled up the Siegfried Line from north to south and it and the 2nd Armored Division had completely destroyed the pillboxes along a 14 mile front, and penetrated 6 miles through the line.

     
c. The Armored Assault.
 

The shock action provided by the entry of the tanks into the battle played a dominant role in securing and holding the north half of the penetration and bridgehead in the line. The German will to fight was appreciably affected by the penetration of tanks into the rear zones of the line.

     
 

The speed of the armored follow-up of the original infantry penetration and its immediate attack was unusual and extremely effective. The date lines of advance of the 2nd Armored Division indicate the extent of the original infantry penetration which the 2nd Armored Division had available for deployment East of the Wurm River on 3 October. Due to factors other than enemy action, the advance North and East was halted on 7 October and attention was shifted South.

     
 

On 2 October CCB was alerted for movement on 30 minutes notice. At 1700 it was released from the 30 minutes alert until 3 October  0500 as the bridging of the Wurm River did not then permit crossing. At 1300 on 3 October Task Force 2 ( 41st Armored Infantry Regiment less 3rd Battalion and one Company each 1st and 2nd Battalion; 2nd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment with one Company 1st Battalion 41st Armored Infantry attached; Company "C", 17th Armored Engineer Combat Battalion and one platoon, Company "B", 702nd Tank Destroyer Battalion ) started moving across the bridge on the Palenberg - Ubach road. In the late afternoon the 2nd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment (reinforced) attacked trough Ubach against strong German AT and artillery fire, secured the balance of the town, and occupied positions on the northern edge. Task Force 1 followed Task Force 2 the next day.

     
  Tank losses by Combat Command B from enemy action Oct 1 - 10 were 52 as shown below:
     
 

      Type

Oct 4 Oct 5 Oct 6 Oct 7 Oct 8 Oct 9 Total
  Tanks light ( total loss ) 1 6 5       3
  Tanks medium ( total loss )             9
  Tanks light ( repairable ) 3 10 13 12 1 1 6
  Tanks medium ( repairable )             34
  Tank Destroyer 1 3         4
     
  Personnel losses October 1 - 10 were 29 officers and 309 enlisted men.
     
 

German prisoners October 1 - 10 taken by CCB were 984; an estimated 690 more were killed. 3 tanks, 7 towed anti-tank guns, 14 self-propelled anti-tank guns, 3 ammunition carriers and 2 halftrack ( personnel carriers ) were destroyed. 107 pillboxes were captured, of which 64 were destroyed ( the rest were used by CCB as CP's and personnel shelters ) .

     
 

The technique used most frequently to attack pillboxes was to concentrate heavy machinegun fire with an occasional round from the 75mm or 76mm tank gun at the pillbox firing port with a section of tanks. The remainder of the tanks fired on other pillboxes in the vicinity and various prominent features and entrenchments which threatened those working on the pillbox. Under cover of this fire the tank dozer moved in and sealed up the ports and doors of the pillbox. Another successful method was smoking the pillbox and moving in the tank dozer while other tanks covered boxes in the vicinity; the tank dozer, however, because of difficulty of observing his own work in the smoke, at times did not completely seal the ports.  

     
 

An important lesson relearned was that artillery fire, as a rule, had little effect on tanks. A few tanks, however, were damaged slightly as a result of direct hits on critical points such as turretrace or gun mantle.

     
d. German Reaction to Breakthrough.
 

The attack started on 2 October. The 30th Infantry Division established  contact with the 1st Infantry Division Northeast of Aachen on 16 October. In those two weeks the German reaction to our breakthrough and rolling up of the Siegfried Line was interesting, illuminating and ineffective. 

     
 

Sometime prior to the attack here, German first priority for mobile reserves was given to the Metz-Nancy area; when the Airborne landings and British 2d Army thrust northward across the Rhine River at Arnhem and Nijmegen took place, that area took over number one priority; when our breakthrough materialized, it caused highest priority to be transferred to us.

     
 

Summarized, in two weeks the Germans were able to rally only approximately 20 equivalent battalions to try to throw us back or contain us. To do this they had to go 100 miles north ( 2nd Panzer Division from North Holland; 116th Panzer Division; 506 GHQ Tank Battalion, and 108th Panzer Brigade from Nijmegen - Arnhem ) and 250 miles south ( Mobile Regiment von Fritschen from Luxembourg; Combat Team "Rink" of the 1st SS and the "Trier" Volks Grenadier Regiment from Trier; and the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division from the Belfort Gap ).  Such extreme distances for so few mobile counterattacking reserves speak eloquently of the thin crust that now comprises the western defenders of Germany. It is likewise significant that even these exertions were wasted by their piecemeal commitment of units as they arrived. No greater thrust reached us than 2 battalions of Infantry. 

     
 

A major reason for the failure of all German efforts was our superb artillery at all times, and, when light and the weather permitted, excellent fighter-bomber air support. On a number of occasions, counterattacks were broken up by both methods before they got under way.

     
 

Another reason probably stemmed from the German lack of staff cohesion in the units then opposite us. The Divisions were hardly more than groups of battalions coming under the control of a staff carrying a Division number. No staff coordination or cooperation even on a Regimental, much less Division or Corps, scale had ever been achieved. The more than 600.000 PW's already taken by the Allied Armies in the West since 6 June caused far reaching effects, and the shortage of trained combat leaders and Divisional and higher staffs was evident.

     

4.  PILLBOX REDUCTION

   
a. General
 

The pillboxes were admirably sited to take full advantage of the defensive potential of the terrain. Their reduction, however, and the surrender of their  occupants was realized through a variety of very simple but militarily sound methods. The elaborate, concrete strongpoint reduction technique as used on the Atlantic Wall and as taught at the Engineer and Infantry schools in the United States was neither used nor applicable. In reducing the pillboxes small arms fire though the embrasures played an important part.

     
 

German instructions for using the pillboxes called for most of the personnel remaining outside in firing positions around the pillboxes. Only 30 or 40 percent of the pillbox complement would be permitted to remain inside the box; the box normally fired in only one direction and was dependent upon protection by adjacent boxes; neutralizing these adjacent boxes with direct artillery, tank and small arms fire permitted assaulting infantry to work around to the rear, unprotected entrance to the pillbox. If the pillbox personnel did not surrender by this time a bazooka or tank shell through the rear door would normally clinch the argument.

     
 

Once the 30th Division was through the pillbox line at Palenberg - Ubach it turned south. This rolled the pillbox line up from its north flank and rear.

     
 

Virtually as many methods were used as units engaged. All were simple and involved the same basic principle of a straight infantry assault on any small defended knoll. The most effective was probably the infantry platoon supported by 3 or 4 tanks working closely together with no special equipment other than a bazooka.

     
 

"We trained according to the War Department principles, which call for placing small arms on the apertures, working men up close to use bangalores to blow wire, cook 'em with flame throwers, and then place charges against the pillbox itself. We kept small arms on the apertures. We did not use the flame-throwers at all, but found that bazookas were highly effective at 100-yard range. It was the bazookas more than anything else that reduced the pillboxes."       

     
 

Captain Richard J. Wood, S-3, 2nd Battalion, 117th Infantry Regiment

     
  "The careful training had little relation to the actual way in which the pillboxes were reduced"
     
 

Major Ben T. Ammons, CO, 2nd Battalion, 117th Infantry Regiment
Captain Richard J. Wood, S-3, 2nd Battalion, 117th Infantry Regiment

   
 

"Some pillboxes of course were tougher than others. But generally they were not as hard to reduce as was foreseen. They were in clusters, all inter-supporting and sited to cover each other by fire. But due to the limited traverse of their fields of fire, there seemed to always be one at least in a group, which, if reduced, permitted our men to start a circuit of the remaining pillboxes, using approaches to each succeeding one that could not be covered by fire of the remaining ones. The problem of course, was to discover the key pillbox to each cluster."

   
 

Report of G-2, 30th Infantry Division

     
b. Methods and Effectiveness of:
  (1) Artillery
   

The effect of direct artillery hits on the pillbox, except the 155mm self-propelled gun and possibly heavier calibers, was not sufficient to destroy the box or prevent its future use. The concussion by a direct hit certainly discouraged not too strong-hearted defenders. The 57mm anti-tank gun, 75mm and 105mm were, except for direct hits in the embrasures itself, ineffective. They could remove the camouflage but little else. The 155mm howitzer required an uneconomical number of rounds to secure direct hits. The 155mm self-propelled guns at ranges between 2000 and 4000 yards with a concrete bursting fuze penetrated the 6 feet or reinforced concrete with 3 to 5 hits. The 8 inch howitzer at 8000 yards could average a direct hit per 5 rounds, and penetrate after 5 hits.

 

 

   

The major contribution of the artillery fire was to drive external defenders inside, and to force defenders inside to come out and surrender after direct hits were secured.

 

 

   

"For nearly a week prior to our unit's crossing we manned static OP's and did considerable firing on pillboxes; the effect was almost negligible. At one time a self-propelled 15mm gun was pulled up at the OP I was on and fired direct at a range of approximately 1500 yards. In 12 rounds fired he scored 7 hits. The only effect on the pillbox was about 4 feet of concrete removed and some dirt off the top. The enemy inside was probably shaken up by the impact but otherwise unhurt."

     
   

2nd Lieutenant E. Robinson, F.O. with "B" Company, 117th Infantry Regiment

     
   

"Our experience in the attack demonstrated that light artillery is almost worthless as far as destroying pillboxes even with concrete piercing fuzes; however in most cases it can be effectively used in cooperation with medium or heavy caliber artillery. We fired on suspected locations several times and knocked the camouflage material off exposing the pillbox for adjutment by heavy artillery. Another very effective system we used was to a adjust on boxes and stay laid on them while the heavies of mediums fired on them. When the heavier artillery hit a box, the survivors (if any) often ran out of the box in an attempt to get away. We would then fire on them and the effect was usually very gratifying."

     
   

Captain Harley M. Force Jr, 197th Field Artillery Battalion

     
   

"We have found that Tank Destroyers and 105mm projectiles bounce off of the pillboxes. They will rupture or penetrate when they hit in the embrasures. The 155 howitzer, using a CBF, will rupture and penetrate when an actual hit is made but on account of dispersion this requires about 25 to 30 rounds. Using the 155 SPGPF at ranges between 2000 to 4000 yards, a penetration is secured. Under 2000 yard the projectile disintegrates upon striking this concrete surface. Above 2000 yards using GBF with 3 to 5 rounds we have penetrated six feet reinforced concrete. The M1-155 like the 155 howitzer has too much dispersion nor can it be brought sufficiently close up. The 8 inch howitzer is the best weapon we have to bust the pillboxes, when used at about 8000 yards. Below that range is has too much dispersion. A direct hit will disintegrate a pillbox. It has taken an average of about 5 rounds to obtain a hit. In all cases the dirt has to be knocked off the pillbox before it can be successfully engaged. We use 105 and 155 howitzers with HE delayed fuze for this purpose."

     
   

Colonel Otto Ellis, Executive Officer, 30th Infantry Division Artillery

     
   

"As an example of the ineffectiveness of artillery fire on the pillboxes, an M7 was brought up within 1000 yards of a pillbox and 24 hits were scored, none of which penetrated. Some smoke was seen emanating from the rear of the pillbox after one shot. The M7 then pulled out and an M12 (155mm SP) was brought up and seven hits were scored. One of these seven resulted in smoke coming out of the rear of the pillbox. One and a half hours later, the 197th Field Artillery Battalion was called upon to fire on the same pillbox because ten Germans had come out and were standing in the open."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel D.V. Bennett, Battalion Commander, 62nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion

     
    "Shooting at a 700-yard range on 2 October, hits from an M12 knocked concrete off the pillbox, but did no other visible damage."
     
   

Lieutenant Arthur G. Keller, platoon leader, 2nd Platoon, "B" Company, 258th Field Artillery Battalion

     
   

"43 pillboxes were attacked by short range M12 fire, 1 by direct fire. M12 adjusted using fuze delay, switching to T105 fuze on obtaining the first target shot. Evidence of penetration was obtained on all targets."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel Bradford Butler Jr., 258th Field Artillery Battalion

     
   

"Artillery fire succeeded in the first step of the reduction of the pillbox, namely, to force the personnel from the supporting gun positions into the pillbox. This fire kept the personnel there while the tanks moved up to deliver close range fire, 30 to 50 yards in some cases. This blinded the pillbox so infantry could close in on the blind side."

     
   

2nd Armored Division

     
   

"Due to heavy artillery fire, the infantry was unable to move with the tanks. Consequently we had to have a thorough artillery concentration (preparation) both before and during the time that the tanks moved in on the pillboxes. The preparation was on the dug-in positions so as to pin the enemy down, enabling the tanks to move without danger of "bazooka" fire. We found that time fire was most effective."

     
   

Headquarters, 2nd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment.

     
  (2) Air
   

Very little of the saturation bombing landed in the target area. Thus, no pillbox is known to have been affected by the air strike. PW's taken later stated that some of them had been asleep in pillboxes during the air strike and did not know the air strike had taken place. However, fire bomb dropped on pillboxes on the north flank were very effective on personnel dug in supporting the concrete installations. In the weeds to the south the fire bombs' effect was negligible due to the dampness of the ground and the fact that the foliage and underbrush was still green. From October 2 to October 24, 41 missions of close support were flown in the Division zone. Five enemy counterattacks were hit by air support, some of which were within 200 yards of front line troops. On 11 October, 14 squadrons were used to help break up a reported 50 tanks and considerable infantry in the Wurselen area.

     
   

"The saturation bombing on 2 October prior to the attack did no good. However two groups of medium bombers who came in late, seeing the red smoke marking in Palenberg for the dive bombers produced good results in Palenberg. According to PW's statements the personnel under cover were unhurt."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel W.M. Johnson, Commanding 117th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division.

     
   

"Having contacted many of our own personnel as to their findings and from information obtained from PW's it is the consensus that the air strike, preceding our attack on the morning of 2 October, was absolutely ineffective. PW's state that some were asleep in pillboxes did not know the air had bombed."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel H.E. Hassenfelt, G-3, 30th Infantry Division.

     
   

"The air strike did not hit any of the pillboxes in the 117th sector. Palenberg was bombed quite effectively, but the net advantage of the strike was very little."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Frankland, CO, 1st Battalion, 117th Infantry Regiment.

     
  (3) Demolition charges
   

In general these were not used as the pillbox personnel surrendered before demolition was necessary. However, 26 three-and-four man demolition teams were attached to the infantry assault troops. These men carried bangalore torpedoes and satchel charges and aided the infantry by demolition work and checking for mines.

     
   

"Pole charges which can be carried by assault platoons cannot destroy a pillbox but may blow in the rear door or the armored shield of the gun embrasure."

     
   

Report of the 30th Infantry Division.

     
   

"In the assault of pillboxes the engineers were employed with bangalore torpedoes and pole charges with the assault platoon. The use of such charges was not found necessary if the tanks could fire into the rear door."

     
   

Report of the 30th Infantry Division.

     
  (4) Bazookas
    These were found highly effective in direct fire at the pillbox embrasures and for penetrating rear doors.
     
   

"We found that bazookas were highly effective at 100-yard range. When we fired bazookas on one pillbox, the occupants ran out from the gun section to the living quarters and then were apparently too scared to return. It was the bazookas more than anything else that reduced the pillboxes."

     
   

Captain Richard J. Wood, 2d Battalion, 117th Infantry Regiment.

     
  (5) Direct Small Arms Fire
   

This was used considerably and proved extreme effective. Many PW's stated that opening the fire embrasure immediately resulted in the man attempting to fire through it being killed by accurate small arms fire.

     
   

"By aiming for the embrasures heavy machine guns were able to keep the enemy down and also hit some between the eyes, as did the riflemen."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Frankland, 1st Battalion, 117th Infantry Regiment.

     
   

"An officer PW stated that every time an embrasure was opened to fire MG's, the gunner got shot so they had to keep ports closed: that our use of pole charges and tactics of sneaking in behind pillboxes to attack and our method of reducing pillboxes and delivery of small arms fire is excellent."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel W. M.  Johnson, Commanding 117th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division.

     
   

"Officer PW's expressed amazement at the accuracy of our riflemen in the manner in which enemy soldiers and weapons were picked off thru the pillbox apertures by our riflemen."

     
   

Lieutenant Kline, IPW Team, 30th Infantry Division

     
  (6) Bull and Tank Dozers
   

In some instances, particularly when the pillbox were on flat or gently sloping ground, the rear door of the pillbox was sealed by a jeep-towed arc-welder; then both the rear entrance and firing aperture were completely covered with earth by either a bull or tank dozer. German PW's taken have expressed their fear of being buried alive after seeing and hearing of this technique. Pillboxes were also destroyed by demolitions after capture to deny their use to the enemy in the event of a successful counterattack.

     
   

"Tank dozers covered embrasures and entrances in the instances were there were low enough to the ground."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel Charles G. Rau, 7th Armored Group, reporting on statements of the 743d Tank Battalion Commander.

     
   

"We seal the pillboxes with the tank dozer only as a temporary measure. Our engineers follow us up and weld the doors shut. We found that dozing alone i ineffective, as is the method of blowing the handles off the doors. The tank dozer always drew unusually heavy enemy fire and was put out of action three times during the operation."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel J. E. Wynne, 67th Armored Regiment.

     
  (7) Flame-thrower
   

In general flame-throwers were not used. Testing the flame-thrower however, within view of some pillboxes made the subsequent encirclement by the infantry immediately followed by the capitulation of the box.

     
   

"We have had no occasion to us (flame throwers) against pillboxes as the Germans defend mostly from the trenches on the outside. Yesterday we had captured a pillbox (and) by operating the flame throwers through the embrasure and around the corners we cleared out the fire trenches."

     
   

Captain Wayne, Executive Officer, 1st Battalion, 119th Infantry Regiment.

     
   

"In the case of one pillbox in each of the two assault company sectors, flame-throwers proved the most persuasive tool in forcing the crew to capitulate."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Frankland, Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 117th Infantry Regiment.

     
  (8) Satchel Charges
    As obvious from the above discussion, these were unnecessary.
     
   

"Satchel charges did not prove of value; in one instance we placed a 25-pound charge against the rear door of a pillbox and it hardly blew the door out of the line."

     
   

Major B. Emmons, 2d Battalion, 117th Infantry Regiment

     
  (9) Tanks
   

Tank fire to reduce a pillbox was wasted ammunition except for using it as cover fire for attacking infantry and engineers. The tanks were of a great value in neutralizing adjacent pillboxes and closing with the pillboxes was a great inducement to surrender. As stated in the narrative of the attack, the first day's operations were entirely infantry and engineer assault; thereafter tanks assisted materially in the reducing of most of the pillboxes.

     
   

"In areas where there is not a concentration of pillboxes we found that you can with reasonable safety, outflank the pillbox. This is the fastest method and we used the following system. One assault platoon concentrates its fire on the pillbox and the other platoon covers them. In the assaulting platoon, one section concentrates heavy fire on the ports and the other section moves around to the rear flanks of the pillbox and lays heavy fire in the back of the pillbox. Generally, this forces a quick surrender."

     
   

Headquarters, 2d Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment.

     
   

"The tanks, firing 76mm ammunition, would engage the pillboxes from the embrasures and blind sides. The 76mm gun blasted holes through the steel doors, causing casualties to any enemy inside the boxes."

     
   

2nd Lieutenant Jack Bennet, F Company, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment.

     
   

"An artillery concentration on and around pillbox drove enemy bazooka teams into pillbox. The tanks deployed on line, with infantry following, then fired A.P. ammunition at pillboxes. Tanks lifted fire and then the infantry surrounded pillboxes and drove out prisoners."

     
   

1st Lieutenant Mike Levitsky, A Company, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment.

     
   

"The effort to reduce these pillboxes, which had concrete walls 6 or 7 feet thick, by fire of tanks and assault guns was a waste of ammunition unless the morale of the occupants was initially in their approach for an assault, the tank fire was effective in preventing the enemy in the pillboxes from firing."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel Charles G. Rau, 7th Armored Group, reporting on statements of the 743d Tank Battalion Commander.

     
   

"When tanks operated with infantry, the tanks would lay down a base of fire with 75 APC and machine gun fire and the accompanying 105mm assault tank of the assault gun platoon would fire 105mm HE with T105 concrete smashing fuze. this fire would continue on the embrasures until the enemy came out or until the infantry was within 50 yards of the box, then the tanks fired only .30 caliber machine gun fire until the infantry were within 25 yards of the pillbox, when the tank fire would cease and the tank maneuver on beyond the box to protect the assault units as they assaulted the box."

     
   

Lieutenant Colonel William D. Duncan, 743d Tank Battalion.

     

5.  DETAILS OF DEFENSES

     
a. Wurm River
 

This swift flowing 30 feet wide, 3 feet deep stream had 4 to 6 feet steep banks and boggy, wet shoulders. The improvised assault bridge ladder got the infantry across it very fast. Some tanks did succeed in crossing the first day but boggy ground and wooded areas prevented their employment until the next day. The river was a definite obstacle to all mechanization. By the second day, however, the engineers had six bridges across the river and it ceased being an effective obstacle.

   
b. Railroad
 

The cut and fill portion of the railroad was an effective anti-tank barrier. Even its flat portions however, were a difficult infantry barrier as it gave perfect fields of fire particularly for machine guns.

   
c. Anti-tank Obstacles
 

Anti-tank ditches were incomplete and not extensive. They were flanked without too great difficulty. No dragons teeth or other type of anti-tank obstacles were in the assault area.

   
d. Minefields
 

Mines were not a serious problem except in the Herzogenrath area. All roads, important crossroads and bridge approaches were mined, but standard engineer techniques quickly eliminated these. The loss of only one tank to a tank mine was reported; anti-personnel mine fields caused no real damage or delay.

   
e. Pillboxes
 

Details of construction, location and employment of pillboxes are contained in the photographs, sketches, maps and charts accompanying this study.

   
f. Counterattacks
 

German counterattacks were usually from Company to Battalion strength supported by 4 to 6 tanks. These were generally launched just before dark or just prior to daylight. One such counterattack succeeded in retaking approximately 800 yards. The major counterattacking weapon that caused the most difficulties was the concentrated German artillery fire that fell in the bridgehead area on the 2d, 3d and 4th days of the attack.

   

6.  CONCLUSIONS

   
a Siegfried Line as a Defensive Barrier
 

The greatest power of the Siegfried Line as a defensive barrier was its psychological effect on both the German defenders and our attackers.

   
b. Pillboxes as a Technique of Defense
 

The Siegfried Line pillboxes as here constructed were premised on already outdated methods of defense. They merely provided protection from air and artillery bombing for a limited number of infantry support weapons. Unless supplemented by the much more important mobile, aggressive defenders, pillboxes are doomed to the same fate as those in our sector. One battalion commander who assaulted this area evaluates them as adding 15 percent to the defensive potential of the terrain. He gives dug-in tanks and assault guns an efficiency of 40 percent increase in defensive efficiency. The dug-in self-propelled weapons were far more trouble that the pillboxes.

   
 

The most important disability of a pillbox is thought to be the mental attitude the occupant thereof develops. Such construction is ineffective, psychologically debilitating, and a misleading, inadequate substitution for an aggressive field trained army. 

   
c. Air Strikes in Close Support
 

All our previous experience with saturation bombing or medium bomber strikes in close support of ground action has led  to the same conclusion this present effort certainly indicates, namely that the present techniques being employed are obviously unable to apply this strategic weapon in a close-in tactical manner. It is, believed, nevertheless, that this can successfully be done. To do so, however, in this war would take certain simple albeit radical changes in technique. Until those changes have been made however, saturation bombing of close-in areas is not considered practical or possible.

   
 

On the other hand, the close-in support previously and here given by fighter bombers has been extremely flexible, sensitive to rapidly changing conditions, and outstandingly effective.

   
d. Best Technique for Pillbox Reduction
 

One platoon of infantry; tanks; good artillery liaison; accurate and thorough briefing of assault troops.

   
e. Lesson Learned
 

The successful assault on and penetration completely through the concrete pillbox portion of the Siegfried Line is a great tribute to the aggressive attacking ability of the American infantry and armor soldier. It is likewise another proof of the well known military principle, that no defensive barrier is any better than the troops that defend it.

   
 

Whether or not the Siegfried Line could have been held against us if the Germans had been able to defend it in the manner in which it was designed to be defended will happily be only a historian's conjecture. The incontravertible truth is that American infantry successfully penetrated the line in the present circumstances. What is now left of the pillboxes that constituted the line in the Corps sector is today insufficient to support even GI Joe's skimpy laundry.

   
                                                                                                                                                  THOMAS L. CRYSTAL JR
                                                                                                                                                  Lt. Col., G.S.C.
                                                                                                                                                  Asst. G-2
 
APPENDICES
 

Table of German reaction to our breakthrough. (active)
Table of German PW's taken daily October 2 - 16. (active)
Narrative accounts by representative units 117th Infantry Regiment (active)
Personalized Narrative of Operations 117th Infantry Regiment (active)

Narrative accounts by representative units 119th Infantry Regiment (active)
Table of American casualties
Record of German telephone conversation in Siegfried Line pillboxes during assault.
American communications network used during assault.
Artillery
 
 
 

 

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