NINTH UNITED STATES ARMY

 

1 - 31 DECEMBER 1944

 

December operations of the Ninth United States Army separate into two distinct phases, divided on the 16th by the German counteroffensive in Belgium and the Duchy of Luxembourg.

 

Until 16 December the divisions of the Army were eliminating the remaining enemy formations in the sector west of the Roer River and resting, refitting and training for the next assault to cross the Roer toward the Rhine. Meanwhile, the Army staff was building up supplies and perfecting plans for this operation.

 

The Ninth Army, after a stiff fight which had pushed the enemy back across the Roer River, had become an efficient machine of 180.000 men and was now a veteran alongside its brothers, the First, Third and Seventh United States Armies.

 

The enemy drive altered plans, and new ones had to be made without delay. Every effort was devoted to preparations for warding off possible threats from the northeast against the flank of the American line, and to rendering assistance to the hard-hit First Army to the south.

 

Temperatures dropped as winter set in. Snow, fog and haze hampered, when they did not forbid, air reconnaissance and combat flights. The excessive rainfall of November did not continue.

 

1 December XIII Corps protected the Army's left flank with the 84th Infantry Division on the left, 102nd Infantry Division on the right and the 7th Armored Division positioned to dash through a bridgehead across the Roer. XIX Corps, from left to right, consisted of the 2nd Armored Division, 29th Infantry Division and 30th Infantry Division. 2 December Headquarters XVI Corps moved to Tongeren, Belgium,  having turned over to XXI Corps the mission of receiving troops at the Channel Base Section.

 

By 1 December the divisions of XIX Corps had reached their objective, the dominating ground on the west bank of the Roer River. The 102nd Infantry Division had cleared part of the town of Linnich. The next day the 29th Infantry Division started mopping up the last tenacious resistance in the Julich Sport Platz and in Husenfeld Gut, a mission which they completed on 9 December. On 2 December, the 84th Infantry Division secured Leiffarth and Beeck while the 102nd Infantry Division cleared out the remainder of Linnich and took the towns of Rurdorf and Flossdorf. On 13 December the 30th Infantry Division cleaned out the small triangle between the Roer and the Inde Rivers. The 84th infantry Division captured Mullendorf and Wurm on 18 December.

 

Troops were rotated, rehabilitated and given additional training, the 30th Infantry Division being engaged in perfecting their technique for fighting in wooded areas with a view to future operations in the Staatsforst Hambach.

 

The XXIX Tactical Air Command was hampered by poor weather but managed to fly some missions, cutting rail lines, attacking fortified sites and giving close support to ground troops whenever visibility permitted.

 

In early December the staff was engaged in planning the crossing of the Roer River. Such plans had to take into account field fortifications on the eastern bank, the possibility of flooding through demolition of the dams on the upper reaches of the river and the disposition of the Sixth Panzer Army, "a very powerful mobile striking force", somewhere west of Cologne.

 

Resistance remained stubborn up to the conclusion of the operation on the Roer, with counterattacks mounted from time to time, although the enemy had withdrawn his high grade troops. He was sensitive to patrols across the Roer. His posts were manned and he was alert. Ninth Army's troops observed extensive digging and other evidence of a grim determination to defend the area between the Roer and the Rhine Rivers.

 
G-2 and G-3, in conjunction with officers of airborne units, planned the Rhine crossing.
 

On 5 December the 78th and 106th Infantry Divisions were diverted from Ninth Army, after having been attached to XVI Corps, and passed to control of First Army as part of the design to seize the Roer dams and abate their menace. On 9 December the 75th Infantry Division was assigned to the Ninth Army and attached to XVI Corps.

 

News of the enemy counteroffensive 16 December, coincident with the drop of a few parachutists in the area, caused immediate preparations to aid First Army. The 7th Armored Division and the 30th Infantry Division were attached to First Army and started their movements 17 December.

 

These two divisions were able to move promptly to the First Army area because the 7th Armored Division was in reserve and the 30th Infantry Division had only one battalion in the line. Remaining elements of the latter division were engaged in small unit training. With each successive movement, the Ninth Army again disposed in depth, so that other divisions were able to move quickly to aid First Army.

 

Under Letter of Instructions No. 8, dated 19 December, Ninth Army assumed the defensive with the additional mission of assisting the First Army.

 

At 1400, 20 December, Ninth Army came under operational control of 21 Army Group, commanded by Field marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery.

 

At 2330 the same day the 84th Infantry Division was relieved from attachment to XIII Corps and was attached to First Army, while the 102nd Infantry Division assumed responsibility for the XIII Corps front. Similarly, the 2nd Armored Division was relieved from attachment to XIX Corps and was designated as Army reserve. The 29th Infantry Division was given the mission of defending the whole XIX Corps sector.

 

The 2nd Armored Division and the 75th Infantry Division were released to First Army on 21 December.

 

On 22 December XIX Corps and Ninth Army boundaries were moved south to include what had been VII Corps territory. the 5th Armored Division, 8th, 78th, 83rd and 104th Infantry Divisions in position in this area came under control of Ninth Army. XIII Corps took over the old XIX Corps sector and the 29th Infantry Division. The XVI Corps moved from Tongeren, Belgium to Heerlen, Holland.

 

The same day 51 (Highland) (British) Division and 6 Guards Tank Brigade came under operational control of the Ninth Army. The division passed to the First Army 25 December and the brigade was designated as Ninth Army reserve until 27 December, when 43 (British) Division under the command of XII (British) Corps moved into the Ninth Army area and took control of the brigade.

 

The 5th Armored Division passed to First Army  23 December.

 

On 24 December the XIII - XIX Corps boundary was shifted a short distance south, and the 29th Infantry Division acquired some of the 104th Infantry Division's sector.

 

The 83rd Infantry Division cleared out Winden on Christmas Day and passed to the control of First Army the next day, when the 8th Infantry Division took Obermaubach close to the Roer dams.

 

Ninth Army released 28 non-divisional combat units to First Army in the latter part of December.

 

XXIX TAC continued to support the Ninth Army, passing on 20 December to RAF control with the primary mission of operating against the enemy salient. Twenty five incidents caused by enemy aircraft were reported in the latter part of the month, but their major attack was reserved for the New Year. enemy aircraft over the area provided targets and evidence of the value of the pozit fuze.

 

The Armored Section reported a shortage of trained tank crews. Heavy weight German armor had caused a high battle loss rate among the American lighter armed and gunned tanks.

 

As the year drew to a close the Army experienced the heaviest air raid of its history. There was the possibility that the enemy might attack in an effort to recapture Aachen. It is significant that only in this sector was the soil of the German Reich now occupied in substantial numbers by allied troops.

 

The enemy disposed an estimated 40.000 men and 40 to 50 tanks against the Ninth Army as of 31 December, compared to 26.500 men and 95 tanks on the narrower front of 16 December.

 

The Chemical Officer conducted an investigation into the intention of the enemy to use gas but found little to support this possibility. On orders of higher headquarters, however, gas defense procedures were tightened throughout the Army.

 

In the latter part of November, trenchfoot had caused a serious rise in non-battle casualty rates. the Commanding General took personal immediate action through command channels. Strong efforts were made and the rate was reduced so that by the middle of December the Army was having only two or three cases a day. Non-battle casualties were kept down to a low figure throughout the campaign by three factors:

  1. Careful planning of each attack so as to take the objective with a minimum of loss in movement and personnel.
  2. Using a sufficient force to accomplish a mission.

 
3.
 

The immediate relief and rotation of units once an objective was accomplished and a transition made from the attack to defense with units disposed in depth.

 

It was fortunate that this action was taken at the time, because immediately following the first of December the diminution of reinforcement was noticeable. The Army Group and ETOUSA were contacted in advance but never were able to give definite information as to when future reinforcements could be expected or in what quantity. As a consequence, efforts were redoubled to save manpower in every conceivable way. Severe combat conditions for this Army were discontinued shortly after that, and it was able to continue on a defensive mission with a reduction in personnel. However, had it been called upon to launch a strong attack, the non-availability of reinforcements would have seriously hampered its effectiveness.

 

On 28 December a directive designed to speed the return of casuals to their units was issued.

 

Prior to the German breakthrough efforts to provide rest and change for the troops were successful. Facilities were set up to handle 2669 Enlisted Men and 350 Officers per period. Schemes were devised to rotate troops to the United States, to grant passes to Paris for officers below the grade of Colonel and for nurses, and to assign General Officers and Colonels to the united Kingdom for 72 hours' temporary duty.

 

Standards for battlefield appointments and battlefield promotions were liberalized.

 

Traffic regulation improved during December with the ebb of the Maas flood and the construction of additional bridges, although the road net was subjected to a severe test during this period by the urgent move through the Army area of five U.S. Divisions, two British Divisions and an armored brigade.

 

The altered tactical situation required the tightening of security measures around the command post. The Provost marsh was charged with the security of the Army area. He was given operational control of a cavalry reconnaissance unit and armored units. A strict check on the movement of military and civilian personnel was instituted with the aid of the Dutch Home Guards.

 

New requisitioning procedure and additional port capacities improved the supply outlook, but there were still critical shortages because items received were unbalanced. By dint of isolated transactions, appeals to higher headquarters, and utilization of local factories, G-4 succeeded in reducing the gravity of these problems.

 

Shortages, particularly in ammunition, hindered the Army's effort. The limited amount allocated made it necessary for the Army Commander to limit daily expenditures to the minimum in order that a reasonable Army reserve could be established to meet future contingencies. Greater success and more rapid progress would have been attained had more ammunition been available. the number of artillery battalions was adequate, but ammunition had to be conserved.

 

The successful attainment of objectives would have been expedited and accomplished with fewer losses if more ammunition had been available to insure maximum use of artillery support.

 

Mud slowed road traffic, increasing the need for vehicular transportation, and measures were taken to combat that handicap. Rail movement was utilized to a maximum, and two-thirds of the  Army's tonnage was hauled by train. Aid to First Army required intense use of transportation, and it was found necessary to assign personnel to control and protect vehicles lest they be unlawfully detained, thereby crippling the Ninth Army's mobility.

 

After 16 December plans were made for destroying the Army's moving stocks to safer ground and for reducing the level of supplies.

 

The program initiated by the Engineer for training personnel in river crossings was discontinued and the schooling battalion took over an area of responsibility. Plans were perfected to demolish bridges, roads and railways. A heavy demand for fortification materials, such as wire and mines, was encountered and requisitions filled.

 

The results of the German counteroffensive weighted heavily upon the Signal Officer. Communications with First Army was now more important then ever before. Yet wires were cut, roadnets were lost, highways were choked and many units were in motion and difficult to locate.

 

Winter combat clothing was given a high priority. the menacing lack of tires and tubes was practically offset by the use of maintenance teams.

 

The Quartermaster instituted a salvage program and during the month rounded up 491.372 articles.

 

G-5 unexpectedly found the number of displaced persons a minor problem, but the German drive brought to the fore the matter of refugees, particularly those fleeing from Liege. Coal production from captured mines was disappointing and steps were taken to increase both the ardor and energy of management and labor.

 

The civilian food ration in Limburg improved, a higher caloric content being issued.

 
 
 

 

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