VII Corps, Breaching the Siegfried Line (September 1944)

JeepPOWs

At noon on September 22, the factory belt west of Stolberg was once again in American hands. With its last reserves the 9.PD established an antitank defense line facing west and running parallel to the main streets of Stolberg. American attacks at the Donnerberg and southwest of Duffenter continued. In the nick of time the reinforced 1. Bn of the 27.-Fusilier-Regt arrived from its assembly area at Eschweiler and in a surprise attack descended on the US forces which had penetratedto Zinkhuette and Birkengang early in the morning. Attacking at 1300 the German battalion jumped off from the woods east of Birkengang on a broad front toward Birkengang and the village of Donnerberg. Despite heavy American fire the Germans were able to recapture these places rapidly and to continue their attack against the Americans on the western slope of the Donnerberg Hill. Once more the 12.-ID defended a coherent front line. All through the afternoon American forces continued to hurl themselves against the German line, but in vain. Jumping off at 1430, US forces attacked from the south into the city at Stolberg. The exhausted elements of the 9.-PD were able to repulse them in bitter street fighting. At 1700, 12 US tanks renewed their efforts to break through the switch position in the city and achieved a local penetration. But on the whole the Germans heldfast. On that day they inflicted on the Americans the loss of 10 tanks, 2 armored cars, and 2 210-MM self-propelled guns in the Stolberg sector.

While the battle for Stolberg reached a climax in intensity, the central sector of the 12.-ID front was quiet except for a German artillery barrage aimed at smashing US concentrations in the Diepenlinchen – Mausbach area. At the eastern end of the front, however, fighting was as bitter as in Stolberg, with the difference that here the Americans, on the defensive, also demonstrated the ability to stand their ground and to inflict terrific punishment on the attacking enemy. Before dawn on September 22 the 2. Bn of the 48.-Grenadier-Regt had jumped off from Gressenich on a mission to wipe out the American bridgehead at Schevenhuette. Following a thorough artillery preparation the two German infantry companies executed an elaborate enveloping maneuver and attacked Schevenhuette from the northeast and southeast. The American outposts on the eastern perimeter of the village offered such tenacious resistance that the Germans had to kill them to the last man. Upon penetrating the eastern part of the village, the Germans were immediately engaged in such bitter and bloody fighting that they sustained murderous losses. When all officers of the battalion had been killed or wounded, the Germans were forced to discontinue the attack and to withdraw from the eastern part of Schevenhuette, which they had briefly captured. Back in Gressenich the survivors reported that US forces had converted Schevenhuette into a veritable fortress, fully secured by minefields and barbed wire and tenaciously defended by 600 to 700 men.

On the basis of this experience Gen Koechling decided that the gap between Gressenich and the boundary with LXXIV Corps merited special attention. The arrival several days earlier of the 183.-Volks-Grenadier-Division and its commitment in the Geilenkirchen area on the northern wing of LXXXI Corps made it possible to disengage the remaining elements of the 275.-ID and to commit them, somewhat reinforced, to close the gap on the corps southern wing. The 275.-ID (Gen Lt Hans Schmidt) spent the night from the 22 to 23 of September in disengaging its forces from the front and moving them to Dueren for assembly. These elements consisted of about 1,800 men combat strength, 11 75-MM Pak AT guns, 1 organic battery of 105-MM howitzers and 3 attached batteries of 105-MM howitzers. In its new sector in the Wenau Forest the following forces were to join the division : 1. SS-Guards-Company, 1 battalion of Flemish troops, formerly attached to Gruppe Jungklaus, Kampfgruppe Riedl, and the personnel of the 668.-Heavy-AT-Battalion. The 275.-Division artillery was reinforced by the so-called Russian Artillery Group of the 49.-Infantry consisting of 2 batteries equipped with the Russian 76.2-MM infantry cannon and one battery with the Russian 122-MM guns.

[- Having lost its weapons, this battalion was to be equipped with short-range antitank weapons (bazookas and Panzerfaust) until the arrival of new guns. No information is available about the composition of Kampfgruppe Riedl -]

Stolberg, September 1944 - US 3-AD M-4 Sherman and T2-Grant Recovery Vehicle

3rd-AD-Location-Unknown

The division received orders to commit its organic troops and Kampfgruppe Riedl in the front line to plug the gap between the 12.-ID and the 353.-ID (LXXIV Corps) while the troops attached from Kampfgruppe Jungklaus were to improve the bridgehead positions at Dueren. The new boundaries of the 275.-ID were : in the north with the 12.-ID – Arnoldsweiler – Birkesdorf – Schlich – Schevenhuette – Vicht; to the south with LXXIV Corps, south of Dueren to south of Zweifall. On September 23 1944, the 275.-ID established its command post at Dueren and occupied its new sector. Late in the afternoon its troops had all but closed the gap, having secured contact with the 12.-ID, but were still marching the Wenau Forest for contact with elements of 353.-ID. The day brought localized fighting in the Aachen and Stolberg sectors, as did the days to follow, but all actions remained inconclusive. The German front, as established on September 22, held against all attacks. The crescendo at Stolberg on September 22 in fact marked the end of the VII Corps reconnaissance in force in the LXXXI Corps sector. The Americans had deeply penetrated both bands of the West Wall, especially in the Stolberg Corridor, but on the whole the Germans had scored a defensive success in denying the VII Corps a decisive breakthrough via Eschweiler to Juelich, Dueren and Cologne. The Germans had both emotional and materialistic incentives for offering such tenacious resistance in this particular area. They were defending the famous West Wall, their own soil and such historic cities as Aachen. At the same time the contested area was highly industrialized and contained many vital war production plants. For instance, a plant in the little town of Weisweiler (two miles east of Eschweiler) produced 40% of the national output of an alloy essential to the entire German steel production. From this point of view also the situation demands that the enemy penetration east of Aachen be wiped out, wrote Gen Brandenberger in a report to FM Model.

[- Gen Brandenberger to A Gp B
at 1100 on Sep 29 44, A Gp B KTB, Anlagen, Lagebeurteilungen – Wochenmeldungen -]

Much of the credit for the German defensive success undoubtedly belongs to German communications and logistics. Had the exhausted elements of the LXXXI Corps which fell back to the West Wall about mid-September been left to shift for themselves, there can be no doubt that American forces would have broken through to Cologne in a very short time. But in spite of the extremely heavy losses the Germans suffered, their situation on September 23 was actually much better than it had been one week earlier. In the space of that week the Germans had accomplished the extraordinary feat of moving three full-strength divisions to the Aachen area. Of these divisions, the 12.-Infantry-Division and the 183.-Volks-Grenadier-Division had arrived and been committed. A third of the 246.-Volks-Grenadier-Division entrained on September 23 in Bohemia with the mission to relieve – at long last – the 116.-Panzer-Division and the 9.-Panzer-Division. This relief was scheduled to get under way on September 23, even before the arrival of the 246.-Volks-Grenadier-Division, with replacement units going into the line. The 116.-Panzer-Division received orders to assemble in the Juelich – Dueren area as Army Group B reserve.

Thanks to the relative quiet in the sector of the 116.-Panzer-Division during the week from the 16 to the 23 September, this division had not sustained any appreciable losses and had been rehabilitated to some extent while still in the line. Attachment of 6 battalions had more than doubled its organic combat strength. There were five times as many tanks and assault guns as there had been a week earlier. The fuel situation, on the other hand, was critical, with division reserves down to about five hundred gallons; as a result division armor and motor transport were nearly immobilized. On September 23, the 9.-Panzer-Division also received orders to disengage its forces but to leave its armor with the 12.-Infantry-Division. The 9.-Panzer-Division, with the 105.-Panzer-Brigade and miscellaneous attached units, had taken the worst beating of all the German divisions in the area. In one week (Sep 14 to Sep 22) the division had lost 21 officers and 1040 enlisted men. These casualties made up over two thirds of the combat strength of Kampfgruppe Sperling (the 9.-Panzer-Division less forces attached to the 353.-Infantry-Division on September 15 1944.

On September 22 1944, the combat strength of the Kampfgruppe was down to 35 officers and 796 enlisted men. These forces were exhausted and suffered from severe combat fatigue, as evidenced by the fact that they abandoned their positions frequently even when supported by armor, and were quite impervious to dire threats from their superiors. The out-standing factor responsible for the heavy German casualties and the shattered combat morale of the survivors, according to German observers, was the murderously efficient American artillery fire. Some units had been wiped out almost completely in three weeks of fighting. Thus, for example, the 105.-Panzer-Grenadier-Bn had gone into the line on September 3 1944 with 22 officers and 716 enlisted men. Most of this strength, 11 officers and 611 enlisted men, had been lost from the 3 to the 22 September, leaving the battalion with 11 officers and 105 enlisted men. The 12.-Infantry-Division had also taken terrible punishment during the week from the 16 to the 23 September. In that single week the division had lost half of its combat strength (from a combat strength of 3800 men it was down to about 1900). According to Gen Engel the heaviest casualties had been incurred during the first two days (17 and 18 September) on the Aachen front. In those two days of German counterattack the 89. Grenadier Regiment had lost one third of its combat strength. The 2. Bn of the 48.-Grenadier-Regt lost half of its strength in Schevenhuette. The heavy losses were due chiefly to the massed and well-directed American artillery fire and to the bloody street and house-to-house fighting in Verlautenheide, Stolberg, and Schevenhuette. In summing up his division’s first week of action on the Western Front Gen Engel writes that the division adjusted rapidly to the different conditions in that theater. He finds the reasons for the relatively successful defense in the high morale and physical fitness of the 12.-Infantry-Division.

New-York-Time-Aachen-10-1944-

Shevenhuette

Pfc Martin G. Davey (left), of Muskegon, Mich., and Pvt Ora L. Lyons, (right), of East Prairie, Mo., rummage through a stack of 2100 casings left after tank had fired 100 rounds a day for 21 days against a position in Germany. This is one reason for increased shell production in the US. Schevenhuette, Germany, 70th Tank Battalion. Dec 7 1944

Aachen-Pows-10-1944

Lt James R. Garrett, Haskell, Texas, talks with a Nazi Major who was taken prisoner with others troops during the siege of Aachen. The vehicle carries SS troops and wounded German soldiers. October 1944

Aachen-US-1944

Pfc Hoyle E. Lougherthy, Knoxville, Tenn., looks at a warning sign, posted by the Nazis, for the citizenry of Aachen, Germany. The sign means : Take Care, the Enemy could be Listening. October 1944

LXXIV Corps Defense of the Lammersdorf Corridor and the West Wall
Although the Battle of the Stolberg Corridor definitely constituted the VII Corps main effort from the 12 to the 23 of September 1944, this study of the German side would not be complete without an account of the forces facing the US 9th Infantry Division and the 4th Cavalry Group in the Lamnmersdorf – Monschau – Elsenborn area. This sector of the West Wall had been assigned to LXXIV Corps, under the command of Gen Erich Straube. When the VII Corps launched its reconnaissance in force on September 12, the elements subordinate to LXXIV Corps were still fighting forward of the West Wall fortifications. These forces consisted of the exhausted remnants of two divisions, the 89.-Infantry-Division commanded by Col Roesler, and the 347.-Infantry-Division under Gen Wolf Trierenberg. The 89.-Infantry-Division had hardly any organic forces left. Its 1055.-Infantry-Regiment had been completely destroyed in France. Of the 1056.-Infantry-Regiment, about 350 men, were all that remained. The division had lost its entire artillery in France. The artillerymen, engineers, signal and service troops had long ago been absorbed into the infantry. Shortly before the 89.-Infantry-Division reached the West Wall as the so-called “Ost-Bataillon” [East Battalionj of Russian “volunteers” was attached. This battalion consisted of 400 to 500 men, was well-trained, fairly well equipped and possessed 4 Russian 122-MM howitzers. In addition a Landesschuetzen battalion which had done railway guard duty in Belgium was attached to the division. Like all such battalions it was composed of middle-aged, untrained, and poorly armed men. A little later the division also received two companies composed of stragglers and one platoon of military police. The West Wall sector assigned to the division lay in the northern half of the LXXIV Corps sector. The division boundary in the north was identical to the LXXIV Corps boundary with LXXXI Corps, Zuelpich – Schmidt – Roetgen. In the south, the 89.-Infantry-Division boundary with the 347.-Infantry-Division extended from south of Schleiden via Arenberg to about Camp d’Elsenborn. Until the arrival of the 89.-Infantry-Division the West Wall was occupied by the 416.-Grenadier-Training-Regiment (526.-Reserve-Division). This regiment consisted of 1200 to 1500 infantry replacements of all shades of value and fitness.

Its artillery situation was so poor as to appear comical. The regiment boasted 1 German 105-MM howitzer and 1 Italian medium (ca. 150-MM) howitzer. There was only one prime mover to pull both guns. After two days in action the Italian piece ran out of ammunition and from then on served psychological warfare as a “phantom gun”. Whenever the prime mover was not needed for more important purposes, the Italian howitzer was hitched on and dragged around the front to be shown off to the enemy. When the 89.-Infantry-Division took over the West Wall sector, the 416.-Grenadier-Training-Regiment was attached to the division. Intent on building up its strength to two infantry regiments again, the 89.-Infantry-Division maintained the regiment as a unit and later made it organic. On that occasion the 416.-Grenadier-Training-Regiment received the designation of the late 1055.-Infantry-Regiment. In addition to this regiment, the 5.-Luftwaffe-Fortress-Bn, the 9.-Luftwaffe-Fortress-Bn, and the 14.-Luftwaffe-Fortress-Bn were attached to the 89.-Infantry-Division. In AT weapons the division had 14 75-MM Pak AT guns.

[- A Gp B to OB WEST
at 2350 and at 2400 on Sep 22 1944, A Gp B KTB, Operations-Befehle -]
SIB-793 (Neitzel). Col Hasso Neitzel was Operations Officer of the 89. Infantry Division

The southern half of the LXXIV Corps sector was assigned to 347.-Infantry-Division. The remaining organic combat strength of this division consisted of 100 men of the 860.-Infantry-Regiment and 30 men of the 861.-Infantry-Regiment. On September 10 1944 this little band was reinforced by 40 men of a bicycle company. These elements were organized into a Kampfgruppe under the command of Col von Rochow, probably commander of 860.-Infantry-Regiment. After reaching the West Wall, Kampfgruppe von Rochow was redesignated 3. Bn, 860.-Infantry-Regiment, and was gradually rehabilitated to serve as nucleus for a full-strength regiment. Besides these infantry elements the 347.-Infantry-Division still possessed 2 organic self-propelled 150-MM infantry cannon. When the 347.-Infantry-Division took over its West Wall sector, the 536.-Grenadier-Training-Regiment (526.-Reserve-Division) with about 1200 infantry replacements, the 7.-Luftwaffe-Fortress-Battalion, and the Stomach Battalion were attached to the division.

(All officers and men of the Stomach Battalion suffered from ailments of the digestive tract and received a special diet. German testimonies regarding its value in combat differ so widely as to contradict one another)

It also received additional artillery with the 76.-Artillery-Reserve-Battalion (6 105-MM howitzers and 3 150-MM howitzers). In AT weapons the 347.-Infantry-Division possessed 17 75-MM Pak AT guns. The 347.-Infantry-Division may be dealt with very briefly here because it saw very little action during the last half of September 1944. On September 14 Kampfgruppe von Rochow was able to break out of an American encirclement near Camp d’Elsenborn, throw American forces out of Rocherath, and assume command of its West Wall sector. Aside from reconnaissance and combat patrol activity centering around Losheimergraben, the sector remained quiet enough for the division to devote itself to the urgent task of rehabilitation and reorganization.

The sector of 89.-Infantry-Division was the scene of the US 9th Infantry Division’s effort to drive through the Lammersdorf Corridor and gain the Roer River in September 1944. On September 12, the elements of 89.-ID, split up in isolated groups, were committed from west of Muetzenich to southwest of Kalterherberg. Both flanks of the division were exposed but American pressure was so minor that Col Roesler saw no compelling reason to withdraw to the West Wall. On September 13, the division reported that American armored spearheads advancing along the Eupen – Monschau road toward Monschau had reached the edge of the woods north and south of Neu-Hattlich. The next day other US forces pushing north from Buetgenbach in the sector of 347.-ID reached the southern periphery of Kalterherberg at 1100. Elements of 89.-ID established a screening line in Monschau and Hoefen. While fighting began in Kalterherberg, the 89.-ID repulsed an American attack on Lammersdorf. The US 9-ID’s push had begun. Konzen fellin to American hands, and along the Eupen – Muetzenich road American armored units attacked toward the Zollhaus [customs house] at Muetzenich. An American pincer movement aimed at the capture of Monschau emerged clearly, with one prong driving east on the Eupen – Monschau (Ternel – Hattlich) road while the other pushed up on the Buetgenbach – Kalterherberg road. Both drives made progress on September 14. In the evening of the 14 of September American forces captured the customs house at Muetzenich and crossed the German border. US infantry captured Kalterherberg and continued in a north – northeasterly direction toward Monschau while behind them American tanks and armored cars rumbled up the winding road from Kalterherberg to Monschau during the nightfrom the 14 to the 15 of September.

On September 15, the 89.-ID decided to withdraw all its elements to the West Wall. The 416.-Grenadier-Training-Regiment (later redesignated 1055.-Infantry-Regiment) was committed in the northern half of the division sector – Lammersdorf – Monschau area while the remaining elements of the 1056.-Infantry-Regiment were committed in the Hoefen – Alzen sector. The Russian battalion secured the division’s northern flank and boundary with the 353.-Infantry-Division. The Landesschuetzen were committed on the southern flank and boundary with the 347.-Infantry-Division. The Luftwaffe Fortress Battalions were not considered battle worthy and, hence, were employed to man the Schill Line, at this time still well to the rear of the division combat zone. The American pincers continued to close on Monschau. Late in the afternoon on September 15 American forces which had advanced up the road from Kalterberg entered Monschau. While a battle ensued in the town, American armor on the Eupen – Monschau road crossed the railroad tracks east of Muetzenich and headed for a juncture with US forces in Monschau. The town fell to the Americans during the night from Sep 15 to 16, and the 9-ID achieved its first penetration of the West Wall when its forces thrust northeastward from Monschau toward Imgenbroich. Then the Germans rallied to the defense. They recaptured Konzen and Bicierath and reported that they had knockedout one American tank at Muetzenich.

On September 16, the 353.-ID with its sector was attached to LXXIV Corps. In the sector of the 89.-ID the day was uneventful except for an American attack west of Lammersdorf which the Germans repulsed. In the Monschau area the Americans were apparently busy consolidating their gains and contented themselves with continuous and very heavy artillery fire on the German MLR (West Wall). During the night, US forces renewed their attack in the northern sector of the 89.-ID and this time succeeded in penetrating Lammersdorf. In the south American troops entered Hoefen. The see-saw fighting which now began lasted for several days. In the small hours of the morning on September 17, the Germans launched counter-attacks to wipe out these penetrations. In both areas they achieved.

By the morning on September 17, their counterattack had regained the first line of bunkers near Lammersdorf. At noon, however, the Americans renewed their drive north of Lammersdorf with strong infantry and armor and achieved fresh penetrations in the Scharnhorst Line. Another US attack, at Pastenbach south of Lamnersdorf, was repulsed. At Hoefen fighting was very bitter. The village changed hands several times during the day. By evening elements of the 89.-ID had captured the southern part of Hoefen. Their counter-attack continued on September 18 in the morning only one bunker north of Hoefen remained in American hands; by noon the Germans had regained the complete bunker line at Hoefen and had captured 14 Americans. But their success was short lived.

SG-L-BK-1009-

SG-L-BK-148

At 1600 on September 18, 15 to 20 American tanks broke through the MLR at Hoefen from the north and achieved a penetration east and south of Hoefen. The Germans were able to seal off this penetration by evening. In the north of the 89.-ID sector two American battalions supported by tanks launched an attack at about 1700 and broke through the West Wall at Lammersdorf, penetrating 3 miles in a south-southeasterly direction to the Kall River valley. There this penetration also was sealed off. The Americans renewed their attack southeast of Lammersdorf at 0930 on September 19 but ran a foul of a German fortified road block established during the night at the road junction half a mile southeast of Lammersdorf. Here this attack ground to a halt. Another American attack at Paustenbach was also repulsed. There the 89.-ID destroyed 2 US tanks and recaptured a Bunker. The Germans noted that the Americans were building up their strength in Monschau. Additional forces including 14 tanks had moved into the town.

[- A Gp B
at 2045 on Sep 19 44, A Gp B KTB, Letzte Meldung -[

The Germans were very well informed about what was going on behind the American lines in this sector. In SNSB-793 Col Neitzel gives a rather amusing account of the constant traffic across the German MLR into and out of American-held territory. German soldiers in civilian clothing paid regular visits to Roetgen and Monschau. From the American prisoner collecting point at Roetgen these visitors usually managed to bring back one or two German prisoners of war along with some American rations. From Monschau every move the Americans made was reported back to the G-2 section of 89.-ID.

On September 20, the US 9-ID launched two armored attacks against Paustenbach. The Germans repulsed both and inflicted heavy losses on the attackers. Action in the LXXIV Corps sector shifted to the north where tne Battle of the Stolberg Corridor fanned out southward to draw the 353.-ID and the 89.-ID into its orbit. At 1630 on September 20, American tanks jumping off from south-west of Zweifall penetrated to the monument located about 3 mileseast of that village. Both, the 89.-ID and the 353.-ID immediately launched a counterattack against this salient. The Americans however, were not to be dislodged easily. On September 21 a US tank attack in the woods east of Zweifall threw the Germans back to the Weisser-Veh Creek 1 mile west of Huertgen. A few American tanks reached Germeter. To help restore the situation as soon as possible, the 7. Armee ordered the 341.-Assault-Gun-Brigade shifted from the LXXXI Corps to the 353.-ID. During the night from September 21 to 22, the division intended to move this assault gun brigade, one infantry and one engineer battalion, one artillery battery and five 75-MM Pak AT guns to the area with plans to counterattack on September 22.

[- LXXXI Corps to 353. Inf Div
at 1720, Sep 21 44, LXXXI Corps KTB, Kampfverlauf -]
[- 7. Armee to LXXXI Corps
at 1940, Sep 21 44, LXXXI Corps KTB, Befehle : Heeresgruppe, Armee, usw. -]
[- A Gp B
at 1840, Sep 21 44, A Gp B KTB, Letzte Meldung -]
[- A Gp B
at 0110 on Sep 22 44, A Gp B KTB,Tagesmeldungen -]

The German counterattack to wipe out the first American penetration of the Huertgen Forest apparently did not make any spectacular headway on September 22. On the second day of the attack (23 Sep 1944) the forces of 353.-ID pushed the Americans back to within 3 miles southeast of Zweifall and recaptured one bunker. 3 American tank attacks launched in the Rollesbroich – Huertgen Forest three miles northeast of Lammersdorfwere beaten back. As for the Russian “Volunteers” committed here, the first encounter with US tanks proved to be too much for them. After an appeal by several Russian deserters who rode American tanks into the Rollesbroich Forest and broadcast to their countrymen overa public address system, two thirds of the Russian battalion went over to the Americans in a body. This incident decided the Germans that they were through experimenting with “Osttruppen” [Eastern Troops]. The remaining Russians were moved to the rear where they were disarmedand employed as laborers.

During the last week of September, American combat activity gradually died down in the LXXIV Corps sector. The first American drive for the Roer had been stopped. No one – friend or foe – as yet anticipated the tragic significance which the name Huertgen Forest would acquire in the bloody battles for the Roer River Dams of October and November 1944.

Map

Siegfried_Line

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