NINTH UNITED STATES ARMY

 

1 - 28 FEBRUARY 1945

 

The month of February opened with the Ninth U.S. Army continuing its defensive role which had been assumed in the middle of December along the Roer River. During the first part of the month the army staff made plans for its greatest offensive - to cross the Roer River and clear the Cologne Plain to the Rhine. Coupled with this planning was the logistical problem of concentrating in the Ninth Army area the large number of troops and supplies necessary for the operation. The opening of the major offensive on 23 February and its full prosecution engaged the army for the remainder of the month.

 

The morale and welfare of the troops were given special consideration during the month. many of the outfits in the Ninth Army had been in almost continuous fighting since the initial landings, and the long winter period had further heightened the need for relief for all troops. A comprehensive program of leaves, furloughs, and passes was implemented. The allocation of thirty day temporary duty quotas in the United States was worked out to give consideration to officers and enlisted men to visit Great Britain on leaves and furloughs. The program of passes to Paris and Brussels was extended to include more comfort and convenience in arrangements. Corps and Divisions, as they advanced farther into Germany, found that the operation of their respective rest centers was becoming increasingly difficult. Therefore, headquarters Ninth Army in conjunction with the American Red Cross, made plans to establish Army Rest Centers in the larger towns in Holland. These centers when established would service all troops of the Army on a pass quota basis.

 

A sudden turn in the weather during the first few days of February brought an early thaw to the frozen country side. Heavy troop movement into the area damaged the main supply routes, but engineer crews, with some aid from the Belgian Highway Department, Dutch civilians, infantry units, and prisoners of war maintained the army road net in condition to carry necessary traffic. Some highways were completely closed and traffic had to be rerouted over secondary roads; other routes were limited to one-way traffic. But no serious delay was occasioned by the unseasonable weather.

 

The warm weather with its accompanying rain also caused the rivers to rise. High water in the Maas (Meuse) River made the Berg and Maeseyck Baily Pontoon bridges unserviceable. the pile bridge at Maastricht was closed on 12 February and after damage caused by a loose raft, the heavy pontoon bridge there was removed by the engineers. All northern traffic in the army area had to cross the Maas (Meuse) River over the Wilhelmina Bridge in Maastricht until the waters subsided. 

 

All staff sections were primarily engaged in planning for the imminent large scale offensive which was to begin 10 February. Based on the November - December Roer River offensive figures, personnel loss estimates were made for 1000 battle casualties and 500 non-battle casualties per day for a ten day period. Subsequent operations were to show that actual personnel losses were much lower than expected, averaging 749 battle and 292 non-battle casualties. Engineer losses at the Roer River were only about one third of those contemplated. The non-battle rates remained constant before and during the operation. The spring-like weather apparently kept the latter figures down, and the light resistance on the part of the enemy cut battle losses considerably.

 

The problem of concentrating the army's large striking force was a logistical problem of great magnitude. The area was congested and the unseasonable thaw had affected the roads adversely. Since the necessity of security was paramount, comprehensive steps were taken to conceal this great concentration of troops from the enemy. Any undue movement could be spotted easily in this long-quiet area. Counter Intelligence controlled the civilian population in all areas to keep this concentration secret.

 

Intelligence had obtained excellent information about the enemy prior to the jump-off. In the long static period proceeding the offensive, identification of opposing units was practically complete. Although OSS detachments had not been able to furnish much information due to difficulty in crossing the Roer and finding places to work in the bombed out areas, information had gradually been amassed from prisoner of war. Germans who infiltrated the American lines and were captured or who were brought back across the river by American patrols divulged important details concerning the enemy situation.

 

On the eve of the attack American intelligence had determined that the enemy order of battle included elements of the 8th Parachute Division with the combat strength of 1000 men; three Volksgrenadier divisions, totaling 6500 men; elements of another VG division which contained approximately 4500 men; one infantry division, strength 5000; and miscellaneous unit 1000 men strong. Approximately 18000 enemy troops opposed the Ninth Army lines with some 19000 immediate reserves, including two Panzer divisions and one Panzer Grenadier division. All three of these divisions did show up as the fighting progressed, but no unexpected units were identified in the advance.

 

Originally the operational plans called for the Ninth Army to use four infantry and two armored divisions, together with necessary supporting troops. Additional reserves were to be made available as the operation developed. The attack was to be a joint action with the British Second Army to the north and the First U.S. Army to the south. D Day was set for 10 February 1945. In the first nine days of February there was considerable realignment of troops and shifting of boundaries and zone responsibilities.

 

One of the key factors involved in all the planning was the German possession of the Roer and Erft dams which gave the enemy tactical control over the battle area. The threat of flood conditions, which the release of the dammed waters could effect, had seriously hampered Allied military operations for months. By clever use of the key ground features, the Germans had made the dams almost impregnable. All roads to them cam from the east. The western approach was over rugged terrain. In repeated attempts the air arm had proved useless in cracking the dam structures. The First U.S. Army set powerful forces against this area in an attempt to take this key to all northern operations. V Corps led the attack on the dam areas and by 9 February elements had reached the major dams. This threat forced the enemy to destroy portions of the discharge valves of the Schwammanuel Dam, releasing volumes of uncontrollable water, causing the Roer River to reach its maximum flood stage and overflow its banks along the entire Ninth Army front. The water level rose 5 feet 2 inches between 0800 9 February and 0800 11 February, the velocity increased to 6 - 7 miles per hour, and the width averaged 400 yards, reaching 2000 yards at one point near Linnich. Engineers contemplated at least six days of flood and probably considerably longer.

 

Any immediate crossing of the Roer River was now impracticable and the proposed offensive was postponed indefinitely. all units turned again to their training schedules and prepared for the future attack. The air forces were given additional time for their program of isolating the battlefield in preparation for the ground offensive. They harassed enemy transportation, attacked road and rail bridges and cut important rail lines. This program reached its height on 15 February with a concentrated attack by U.S. Army Air forces against enemy routes of supply to the western front.

 

Photographic sorties along the army front were flown whenever weather permitted. Rush prints were delivered to the infantry, engineer, and artillery units concerned within six hours after the pictures were taken.

 

Two more divisions, the 75th and 79th Infantry Divisions, were alerted to come under the command of the Ninth Army on 12 February, but road conditions delayed this heavy movement.

 

Supply provisions for the pending operation were carefully prepared and were based on total strength of three armored and seven infantry divisions. Additional service troops were requested from Twelfth Army Group to support the combat units. They assisted in the unloading, classification and distribution of supplies, performed maintenance, and augmented the evacuation system. Adequate stocks of Class I and III supplies were on hand and the other classes were considered satisfactory. The stringent restriction on ammunition expenditure had resulted in an adequate reserve of approximately 46000 tons by 23 February, and a five day allocation amounting to an average of 6 units of fire for two corps and 3 units for the other corps was made. The materiel situation improved and normal requisitions were being filled promptly. Greater tonnages of supplies were moved into the army area and distributed than at any other period. Emergency supply by air was readiness for any eventuality that might arise after the jump off. CATOR ( Combined Air Transport Operations Room ) had 500 C-47's spotted and so loaded as to support a division for one day.

 

With the rapid progress of the attack, supply lines were extended and motor transportation was at a premium. To provide mobility for the rapidly advancing infantry elements, eight quartermaster truck companies were furnished to the corps. It was found that rail demolitions in the forward areas were not as extensive as believed and rehabitation could soon be effected. The general improvement in weather conditions helped the progress of road repair. By the close of the month, supply and maintenance locations in the Munchen-Gladbach area had been spotted and plans for large scale displacement of installations and depots had been prepared. Expenditures of ammunition reached a new high in the operation but supply was adequate for the demand. Army engineer troops were relieved of road maintenance in the rear area and ADSEC units taking over by the close of the month. 

 

OPERATIONS

 

By 1 February, the 78th Infantry Division had advanced to clear the zone up to the V Corps boundary. On the 2nd the boundary between the First and Ninth Armies was shifted to include this division in the coordinated attack by the First Army to reach the Roer and Erft River dams. In the week and a half that followed, constant changes in boundaries were effected to enable the First Army to extend its zone of action north; as a consequence, the Ninth Army was given the additional sector to Roermond which had been occupied by the 12 British Corps of the 2nd British Army.

 

All major units scheduled for the Roer River jump off were in line on 9 February, but the command was anxiously watching the advance on the key dams to the south. With the unleashing of flood waters on that day, the operation was necessarily postponed to await the subsiding of the flood plain, for no successful crossing could be made under flood conditions. This period of enforced delay gave further opportunity for preparation, assignment of troops, and river study. The Army Engineer, on 21 February, determined that the river, though still swollen, could be crossed and bridged successfully on 23 February. With this knowledge the Commanding General announced 23 February as D Day with H hour at 0330.

 

At 0245 hours on 23 February, all Corps and Army artillery units, plus antiaircraft batteries, began a tremendous artillery preparation. Under this thunderous barrage the assault crossings of the Roer River began at the appointed hour in the XIX and XIII Corps zone while XVI Corps conducted a demonstration in its zone. The 29th and 30th Infantry Divisions crossed the river in the southern sector and the 84th and 102nd Infantry Divisions made successful crossings in the XIII Corps zone. Because the crossings were made prior to the time believed possible by the enemy tactical surprise was achieved. Troops began to advance under moderate to intense artillery fire. Enemy aircraft in small numbers attempted to interfere with bridging procedures, but they were ineffective.

 

Progress by the divisions was rapid. The enemy was dazed by the artillery preparation and confused by the strength of the attack. Gains of from one to four miles were made and by the close of the day twenty villages had been taken by the twenty-eight infantry battalions that had successfully crossed the river. The big offensive had started to roll and numerous small scale counter-attacks were successfully repulsed. The outpost line had been pierced; ahead lay the main defensive positions.

 

On the second day the attack continued in the XIX and XIII Corps zones. The 29th Infantry Division cleared Julich and the 30th Infantry Division advanced rapidly in its zone to clear the wooded area approaching Steinstrass. Opposition was not proving as heavy as anticipated, and the only armored resistance showed up at the edge of the Hambach Forest. No new or unexpected units had appeared but prisoners of war from elements of the 9th Panzer Division were taken in the southern sector. As yet no full scale counter-attack was mounted and resistance was quickly overcome. This inability on the part of the enemy to withstand the American pressure became more clear as the momentum of the attack was accelerated.

 

Elements of the 5th Armored Division were brought across the Roer and committed on 26 February. They were used to swing the attack north and northeast. The enemy was expecting an eastward drive by the Ninth U.S. Army toward Cologne and this change indirection took the enemy by surprise. In conjunction with the 102nd and 84th Infantry Divisions the 5th Armored Division wheeled to the north to capture the town of Erkelenz. Enemy resistance, including artillery fire, was anticipated here in great force. The rapid advance of American troops negated the German attempt to supply reinforcements in time; lack of German artillery could only be explained by dearth of ammunition or the displacement of heavy guns. Typical of the German attempt to stop-gap was the commitment of the 338th Infantry Division piecemeal before Erkelenz on 26 February. This division, a major reserve, had not previously been identified on the Ninth Army's front but had been noted moving from the Colmar pocket ostensibly to the Geldern area. Its commitment was a futile attempt to stem the rapid advance and proved ineffectual.

 

In the XVI Corps zone the enemy had proved strongly sensitive to the probing in the Hilfarth area by the 35th Infantry Division. With the rapid northward advance, the Hilfarth area became untenable, and on 26 February the 35th Infantry Division captured the town, made crossings of the Roer River, and effected a substantial bridgehead.

 

Progress on the next two days was rapid; the enemy defense seemed to be crumbling under the weight of the attack and the speed and brilliance of the entire Army maneuver. In the XIX Corps zone, the two infantry divisions made excellent advances to the northeast and the 2nd Armored Division crossed the Roer River to join the attack to the north on 28 February. The two infantry and one armored divisions of the XIII Corps pushed ahead to reduce major towns in their zone. The 35th Infantry Division carried the XVI Corps swiftly northeast and captured ten towns. They had the support of the 8th Armored Division on 28 February in driving eight miles to capture forty towns and villages.

 

To the north the British Second Army was still behind the Roer, and the Canadian First Army was meeting stiff resistance in their advance. The First United States Army had made slow progress in the first few days but was moving along the Erft Canal to cover Ninth Army's southern flank left exposed by Ninth Army's rapid advance.

 

Tactical reconnaissance flights, aided by favorable weather in the first three days of the operation, aided long range observations for the heavy weapons of the 34th Field Artillery Brigade and the Corps Artillery. Fighter bombers from the XXIX TAC executed 2174 sorties from 23 February thru 28 February against rail and motor movement, armored formations, and strong points. Medium bombers from the Ninth Air Force and RAF units reduced key marshalling yards and communication centers to the front.

 

By the close of the month, the attack of the Ninth Army was progressing favorably. The bridgeheads across the Roer River were firmly established; engineer troops had installed seven treadway, four assault boat, two 25 ton heavy pontoon and two fixed Bailey bridges. thus far the enemy had put up only token resistance once the river had been crossed. They were retreating in great haste, with only small scale counter attacks to serve as delaying actions. On 27 February, elements of Panzer Lehr Division were identified in the XIX Corps zone, and gave indication that the Germans were preparing to make a formidable stand before the town of Munchen-Gladbach. It seemed a wise decision for already they had lost 7960 prisoners of war and an estimated 1120 killed. In this period Ninth Army's advance had covered 15 miles to the northeast on the Cologne Plain and American troops were pushing rapidly to the Rhine River itself.

 
 
 

 

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