NINTH UNITED STATES ARMY

 

1 - 30 NOVEMBER 1944

 

At the beginning of the month, the Ninth United States Army was aligning its forces, preparing operational plans, and building up supplies in its zone of action. It had assumed control of the northern flank of the Twelfth Army Group in the area on the eastern side of the Dutch panhandle facing the Cologne Plain. About six miles away, the Roer River paralleled the army front lines. The northern boundary between the Ninth Army and the Second British Army roughly ran along the Wurm River. On the southern flank, the First United States Army had its VII Corps meeting the Army boundary approximately one mile south of Wurselen. Along this fourteen mile front, the XIX Corps had been patrolling since the latter part of October when its penetration of the Siegfried Line had reached a depth of six miles. From the vicinity of Immendorf, the front line ran sharply west towards Geilenkirchen and the Wurm River. Here the Siegfried defenses had not been breached. 

 

Forces of the Ninth Army included the XIX Corps, with the 29th, 30th and 102nd Infantry Divisions, the 2nd Armored Division and the 113th Cavalry Group, maintaining the line of contact with the enemy. XIII Corps was in process of concentration in the forward zone and became operational on 8 November. The 7th Armored Division was released from attachment to the Twenty-First Army Group and returned to the Ninth Army, but the 104th Infantry Division, after its release, was assigned to the First United States Army. XVI Corps continued to equip and move units from the beaches to the Ninth Army area.

 

The Twelfth Army Group, by its letter of Instructions No. 10, assigned a mission for future operations to the Ninth United States Army. Based on this directive, plans for operations to the Rhine River were consummated. the missions of the major elements of this command were set forth in Letter of Instructions No. 7, this headquarters, issued 4 November.  XIII Corps assumed responsibility for the northern portion of the army zone and had as assigned troops the 102nd and the 84th Infantry Divisions, both less one regiment and regimental combat team respectively, and the 7th Armored Division. XIX Corps was to fight with the 2nd Armored Division, the 29th and 30th Infantry Divisions.   

 

Supplies had been carefully built up in the static period prior to "D" Day and were felt to be adequate to support the coming offensive. The overall tonnage build-up did not include some critically short items; therefore requisitioning procedure for Class II and IV requirements was changed to emphasize these critical items. Steps were taken to obtain signal, ordnance, and engineer supplies which remained in the critical category throughout the period. These were in such short supply as to affect adversely the tactical operations unless promptly alleviated. Levels in diesel oil and grease had fallen to new lows and amounted to only a fraction of a day's reserve. Shortages in condiments and certain types of "B" rations marred an otherwise adequate food supply picture. Signal shortages were critical.

 

The outstanding problem in supply was to secure sufficient armor to fill existing shortages and build up a reserve for battle losses. Based on TO/E authorizations, units were short 111 medium tanks at the start of the period. This excessive initial shortage was aggravated by battle losses of 53 medium tanks during the period 16 - 30 November, but on 18 November two trains of tanks were unloaded. Delivery was immediately made on a prearranged allocation basis and 100 tanks replaced the losses in this period. At the end of the month there remained a shortage of 64 medium tanks, with no army reserve on hand. In addition, the superiority of German Mark V and VI tanks over the American medium tanks of the M4 series in armor, armament, and gun power became more apparent. 

 

Ammunition was another key supply problem. Although supplies were adequate for the type of engagement in progress, the levels on hand could not support any prolonged major action, especially ammunition in the large calibers. Drastic rationing was put into effect to curtail expenditure of critical calibers of artillery ammunition, and expenditure of captured ammunition was encouraged to conserve for the needed build-up. It was learned that limited supplies would continue into the first part of December. 

 

The transportation picture was considerably brightened during November by improvement of rail transportation. All rail movements cleared through Liege to Vise, where the Army Regulating Station forwarded them north to their final destinations. Two rail lines provided a rail circuit north of Maastricht. Rail line repair kept pace with advance of the front line troops, and ASCZ engineers were given the Army's priority for repairing lines in the forward area. These were developed to the extent that certain army depots were prepared to move forward and be served by rail as soon as the tactical situation permitted.

 

Quartermaster truck companies provided vital service in lifting critical supplies from the beaches and Paris to the Ninth Army area. Quit extensive repairs on trucks had to be initiated to bring them up to satisfactory condition after their hard use on Red Ball and Communication Zone missions. Air freight was negligible due to poor weather conditions throughout the month of November. Rain necessitated considerable road repair and rehabilitation and causes mud difficulties at supply points. A flood condition developed on the Maas ( Meuse ) River, and the important two-way pile bridge at Maastricht had to be closed to all traffic for several days. The heavy pontoon bridge nearby was lengthened from 470 feet to 670 feet to span the swollen river. These conditions occurred at a time when road use over the entire area was a key problem to both British and American forces. Close relationship was established with the British 30 Corps to reduce excessive British traffic and to speed up movement and supply to the American forces which were under the British for operational control. 

 

Effective air and artillery smashing of almost all buildings in the forward zone brought anticipation of severe housing shortage for supply installations, troop locations, and evacuation hospitals. Plans were developed with the Army Surgeon for utilization of tent hospitals for future advanced operations.

 

Adverse weather conditions brought out the need for winterization of combat units. A priority system was established to supply front line troops with the maximum amount of required items. Eighty-five per cent of the combat troops were furnished overshoes to protect them from a new enemy named trench foot. This disease seriously affected the strength of the American battle forces. It rose to such a height during the campaign that it was a problem not only for medical authorities, but also in supply, personnel, and operations.

 

To speed up the process of requisitioning replacements by combat elements, Ninth Army secured authority from headquarters, European Theater of Operations, to let combat units requisition for anticipated losses 48 hours in advance. Units submitted close estimates of actual losses sustained. This system worked well until it was temporarily discontinued 22 November due to the critical shortage of replacement personnel throughout the Ground Force Replacement System.

 

Coupled with increasing battle casualty losses after the jump-off on 16 November, the steady rise in non-battle casualties brought a severe strain to all combat units. No immediate solution was forthcoming. Large numbers of replacements were being diverted to the Sixth Army Group to assist its drive, and only a small number was available to Ninth Army. Even this limited supply was shut off by the end of the month, with no alleviation in sight until early in January 1945.

 

Civil Affairs during the month effected further improvement in the food situation among residents of Limburg Province, Holland. Improved transportation facilities permitted an increase in basic caloric value of food for civilians. The coal mining situation in the Ninth Army area grew critical due to a lack of cash available to meet payrolls. Mines were operated at a minimum capacity to prevent flooding. Combat conditions further reduced production to a point where all coal mined was used to run the pumps and other mine machinery. With no saleable surplus, no cash receipts were coming in and surplus capital on hand would meet payrolls only through the first week in December. Shutdown of the mines, with attendant flooding, would make them of no military value due to the long time necessary to again put them in operation. The fiscal sub-section of G-5 attempted to draft a plan to maintain the present minimum and gradually increase to normal production.

 

OPERATIONS

 

Static conditions of Ninth Army lines that existed through the latter part of October continued until the start of Ninth Army offensive on 16 November. In that period XIX Corps ( and later XIII Corps also ) contained the enemy in their zones and patrolled the entire front. Stiff enemy resistance was felt by the 2nd Armored Division in its patrol activity on 5 November and a strong attack was repulsed by the 113th Cavalry Group in the early hours of 9 November. Some enemy air activity was noted, especially over the rear areas, in the early part of the month; strafing, bombing, and reconnaissance missions were flown by enemy aircraft over the forward areas.

 

The first eleven days brought little change in the enemy situation. The line was static, the enemy was passive, and hostile activity consisted only of minor patrolling and sporadic light artillery fire. G-2 studied the possibility that the enemy might mount an airborne attack, and considered that concentrations in the wooded area south and east of Venlo presented a threat to the Ninth Army's northern flank. Attempts were made to put agents through the enemy lines, but they were all fruitless. the area in front of the Ninth Army lines was denuded of all civilians except a few critical war workers who were operating the rich mines in that region. There were no safe places for friendly agents to operate and little information was obtained. Some use of Dutch and Belgian official intelligence as a source of information was contemplated and coordination was effected. British counter-intelligence sources were also utilized.

 

The terrain over which the Ninth Army operation was planned was flat, open ground stretching forward to the Roer River. Numerous small towns and villages, as well as built-up areas, dotted the land. These were used by the Germans for strong defensive positions; many of the towns were mutually supporting in their defenses. Mining and agriculture shaped the nature of this river valley; huge slag piles, factories, and miners' houses were surrounded by beet and cabbage fields. The road net was good between the larger towns, but the minor roads were poor. Rainy weather reduced traffic ability and roads soon were covered with mud. Traction was difficult off the roads.

 

The target date of the attack for both First and Ninth Armies had been set by Twelfth Army Group for 11 November, or as soon thereafter as weather would permit close air support, but in no event later than 16 November. Bad weather conditions delayed the jump-off until 1245 hours on 16 November. As originally planned, the Ninth Army with its XIX Corps was to push forward aggressively to the Roer River; to the south, the First Army was to make the main effort and drive its forces across the Roer. The British 30 Corps was to enter the Ninth Army zone temporarily to reduce Geilenkirchen. To support the corps attack, the 84th Infantry Division (less on combat team) was placed under British operational control. This division was to drive north and join forces with the British north of Geilenkirchen in a pincers movement.

 

In the XIX Corps zone, the 2nd Armored Division was ordered to drive forward rapidly on the north of the line, and seize and control the commanding high ground. As Lieutenant General William H. Simpson explained, it was the key to all the area northeast of Gereonsweiler. Then, if possible, it was to make a crossing of the Roer River at Linnich. If this was not effected easily, the division would consolidate its position and wait for the 29th Infantry division to advance. The 29th Infantry Division originally was given the main mission to drive east to the Roer and fan out to both north and south. A trap door movement for the 30th Infantry Division was planned in the southern sector. it was to drive south to the army boundary near Kinzweiler and then be pinched out by the 29th Infantry Division. 

 

The Geilenkirchen phase was to be completed and the area would then be taken over by XIII Corps. After the 2nd Armored Division had secured the high ground north of Gereonsweiler, it was planned to pass the 102nd Infantry Division through for an attack on Linnich to secure a bridgehead across the river.

 

General Simpson at one of his briefings said: "I anticipate a hell of a big fight". Almost prophetical the general's anticipation was answered in the fierce battle that was in store for the Ninth Army's advance to the Roer River.

 

Preceding the high noon attack, three heavy air missions were flown over the Ninth and First United States Army zones. A 1500 plane raid was followed by a wave of 500, and shortly before noon the RAF sent 1100 bombers over the area to soften resistance. Results of the air support were reported as excellent by ground and air observers. Thereafter, the XXIX TAC provided flights of fighter bombers as column cover for elements of the 2nd Armored Division, and squadrons on call for other elements of the XIX Corps.

 

During the first day's attack the 2nd Armored Division advanced 1300 to 2500 yards, clearing the towns of Immendorf, Loverich, Floverich, and Puffendorf. The 29th Infantry Division advanced up to 3000 yards to the east while the 30th Infantry Division gained 600 to 1600 yards in its southeasterly drive. The initial advance was not preceded by artillery and this, according to PW reports, contibuted to the actual surprise achieved. many enemy front line units had men out on pass.

 

Reaction from the Germans was immediate and forceful. Between 16 and 25 November, four infantry and six panzer divisions were rushed to the threatened area west of the Rhine River. Four of the six panzer divisions ( the 1st SS, 2nd SS, 9th SS and 12th SS ) comprised the formidable Sixth Panzer Army, the only powerful mobile reserve remaining to the Germans in the west. Only four divisions were committed, but the remainder served as a menacing force.

 

At 1000 on the 17th, a strong counterattack was received by the 2nd Armored Division from the vicinity of Gereonsweiler. Approximately 45 Mark V and Mark VI tanks took part in the attack, supported by a battalion from the 9th Panzer Division. two distinct counterattacks were mounted with the objective of regaining Immendorf, but the 2nd Armored Division held its ground. At least 11 tanks were knocked out by artillery, tanks, and tank destroyers, and the attacks were repulsed, but with severe losses to American armor.

 

Slow, steady advances were made by elements of the 29th and 30th Infantry Divisions. On the 18th, the 29th Infantry Division cleared Siersdorf and Bettendorf and advanced half way through Setterich. the 30th Infantry Division was fighting in Warden. The 2nd Armored Division cleared Apweiler and was consolidating other positions. Excellent air operations were performed on 18 November; 352 fighter sorties were flown in direct support of the attacking forces.

 

The advance of the 30th Infantry Division on 19 November gained 1800 to 2000 yards southeast, clearing St. Joris, Kinzweiler, and Warden. Its objective had been reached by 0600 on the 20th, but the boundary between the 29th and 30th Infantry Divisions was adjusted to allow the 30th Infantry Division to resume the advance. In a three-day advance, the division reached and captured Lohn and Pattern after fierce fighting. By 23 November, troops of the 29th Infantry Division had entered Bourheim and were fighting in the outskirts of Koslar. Combat Command B of the 2nd Armored Division secured the high ground north of Gereonsweiler on 21 November after a daylong "slugging match" with the 9th Panzer Division on the 20th. Between 60 and 80 tanks were engaged and from 8 to 10 were knocked out. The town of Merzenhauzen was entered at the same time by Combat Command A and cleared the next day. On the 23rd, a stiff counterattack drove them from the northeast part of Merzenhausen. 

 

The XIII Corps assumed control of the 84th Infantry Division at 1800 on 23 November upon its release from the British 30 Corps. The 405th Infantry Regiment, under control of the 102nd Infantry Division, continued its attack on Beeck. The 84th Infantry Division took part of Mullendorf. The British were knocked out of Hoven and were forced into a holding position for the remainder of the month.

 

On 24 November, in the XIX Corps sector, the 30th Infantry Division held up its attack until the advance of the VII Corps could straighten out the line. The 29th Infantry Division cleared Bourheim and the 2nd Armored Division maintained its positions.

 

Stubborn resistance was met in all villages and small towns which were strong points in the German system of defenses. Bad weather, heavy mine fields, dug-in tanks, together with anti-tank and automatic weapons and small arms fire, signalized the fighting. Several desperate and fanatical counterattacks were executed and continued until the end of the month, but none made any appreciable break in the American lines.

 

One of the heaviest fights was waged in Koslar which the 29th Infantry Division approached on 25 November. For three days the enemy threw in heavy forces to deny the town to American troops, and it was not until late on the 27th that Koslar was finally in American hands. The 2nd Armored Division regained its positions in Merzenhausen and attacked towards Barmen. On the 28th, the 30th Infantry Division captured Altdorf and cleared the division zone east of the Inde River. The 29th Infantry Division cleared Koslar and the entire division zone south of the Julich-Aldenhoven road and west of the Roer River. The 2nd Armored Division took Barmen. XIII Corps continued to regroup its troops and maintain the front lines.

 

At 0630 on 29 November, XIII Corps commenced its attack. The 84th Infantry Division made limited gains and entered the towns of Lindern and Beeck. Gains up to 700 yards were reported by the 102nd Infantry Division in its attack to secure the high ground to its front. The XIX Corps consolidated its positions, maintained lines, and patrolled to the east to the Roer River.

 

Limited gains were made in the XIII Corps attack. The 102nd Infantry Division took Welz and advanced to Flosdorf. Lindern and the major portion of Beeck were cleared by the 84th Infantry Division to bring to a close operations for the month.

 

The advance to the Roer River had been a slow, costly affair, but by the close of the month both XIII and XIX Corps were on the west bank of the river.

 
 

 

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