746th Tank Battalion in Support, Hürtgenwald, the Bloody Triangle

0
214

Of the Campaigns and Battles which led to Victory in Europe, one of the most bitter and bloody was the battle of the Hürtgen Forest. Although this battle was predominantly an infantry action, a separate tank battalion supported each infantry division and the 5th Armored Division played a decisive role. The objective of this archive is to examine the manner in which armored units were employed and to evaluate, their contribution to the Allied effort in the Hürtgen Forest. Before bringing these units under close scrutiny it is first desirable to discuss the background of the operation. The Hürtgen Forest covers an area of approximately fifty square miles of Germany, near the Belgian border and within the triangle formed by the cities of Aachen, Düren and Monschau. Tall, closely packed fir trees rise seventy-five to one hundred feet above the damps rugged floor of the forest allowing little sunlight to filter through even on the brightest days. The forest is dotted with hills and cut by deep draws which are effective natural obstacles. The weather which the Americans encountered during the battle was unusually severe – rain turned the ground into a sea of mud; mist hindered visibility; and snow and bitter cold followed. Not in years had European weather been so unfavorable for grand scale military operations.

Why was it necessary for the Allies to fight over this formidable terrain ?

The Battle for the Hürtgen Forest was primarily a battle for the Roer dams. The Roer River was controlled by a series of head-water dams in the hills east of Eupen (Belgium) and in Aachen the Americans had captured very complete engineering studies showing just what could be done with them. In the event that the Allied forces north of the Hürtgen Forest area succeeded in crossing the Roer it would be a simple matter for the Germans, choosing their time, to produce a flood which could effectively cut off these forces. During the planning stages of the Allied offensive to be launched in the direction of the Koln Plain, Gen Eisenhower, SHAEF, wrote to Gen Marshall, CoS, US Army : … the enemy is assisted in that area by the flooded condition of the Roer River and the capability he has of producing a sudden rush of water by blowing the dams near Schmidt. Bradley has about come to the conclusion that we must take that area by a very difficult attack from the west and southwest.


And again, in writing after the war, Gen Eisenhower stated : We first attempted destruction of the dams by air. The bombing against them was accurate and direct hits were secured; however, the concrete structures were so massive that damage was negligible and there was no recourse except to take them by ground attack. Gen Marshall in his Second Biennial Report states : The seizure of the Roer River dams in the vicinity of Schmidt was a necessary prelude to clearing the enemy from the west bank of the Rhine and a full scale drive into the heart of Germany.

Two major penetrations of the Siegfried Line had been made in the vicinity of Aachen and US troops, in large numbers, were east the city. By the end of the month of September 1944, although Aachen itself was still under assault, troops of the First US Army, spearheaded by the 9th Infantry Division, pushed east and southeast of that city and occupied a salient within six miles of the Roer dams. This did not mean that no more fortifications were to be met for another band of defense lines ran through the Forest in Hürtgen as well as through the Forest in Monschau, taking full advantage of the terrain. This band was as much as nine to twelve miles deep and included many heavily fortified villages which served as key strong points. In spite of the terrain, the fortifications, and the threat of bad winter weather, Gen Bradley, 12th Army Group Commander, felt, and SHAEF agreed, that both the Hürtgen Forest area and the Roer River dams must be secured. This mission fell to the First US Army.

On October 21 1944, the 12-AG ordered a general attack to the east which directed the US 1-A to reach the Rhine River in the vicinity of Bonn and Koln, and to seize a bridgehead. At this time, the 1-A had assigned to it a front of approximately sixty miles and had under its command three corps, the VII Corps on the north, the V Corps in the center, and the VIII Corps in the south. The majority of the Hürtgen Forest fighting occurred in the zones of the V and the VII Corps, then commanded by Maj Gen Leonard T. Gerow and Maj Gen J. Lawton Collins, respectively. As a preliminary to its attack, the 1-A had to replace the 9th Infantry Division in the line. This division had suffered numerous casualties after six weeks of fighting in the Hürtgen and the Rötgen Forest and was badly in need of a period in which to refit and recuperate. Its relief was effected on October 28 by the 28th Infantry Division and with this change the 1-A order of battle was as follows :

VII Corps : 1-ID, 3-AD, 47-RCT
V Corps : 9-ID (lest 47-RCT), 4-ID, 28-ID, 6-AD
VIII Corps : 2-ID, 8-ID, 9-AD, 83-ID

Facing the US 1-A at this time, from north to south, were the LXXXI, LXXIV, LXVI, and LXXX German Corps. This alignment included all of the 7.Armee with the exception of its northernmost corps, the 12.SS-Panzer-Division. Elements of this corps, however, were used later in the Hürtgen Forest campaign. In addition to holding sectors, all of these German units were attempting to refit and reorganize following the withdrawal across France. The Germans were now fighting on their own soil and close to their sources of supply; their reconstituted 7.Armee and 1.Armee were in sufficient strengths and were handled, Allied officers felt, more skillfully than they had been in Normandy. The Germans appeared to have strong local reserves available as they had not in Normandy, and they used them expertly and economically, thrusting in short, sharp counterattacks against dangerous Allied penetrations, then promptly withdrawing.

The 1-A attack order provided for V Corps to secure the area Vossenack, Schmidt-Strauch, which dominated the Roer River crossings and provided access to the Roer River dams. Seizure of this area was to be followed by a coordinated attack by the VII Corps through the northern part of the Hürtgen Forest defenses to reach the Rhine in the vicinity of Koln. The V Corps preliminary phase proved to be harder than had been expected and the VII Corps was committed while the V Corps still fought for its objective. Because of the hilly terrain and the dense forest which rendered observation limited, supporting artillery was unable to deliver continuous or effective assistance to the advance and the American soldier was forced to fight without the close support to which he was accustomed. Except for a few days bad weather prevented planes from giving close support to the attacking troops. Finally, the weather and the terrain combined to reduce the effectiveness of the armor.


Beginning the New Offensive


On November 2, the 28-ID attacked in its zone to secure the V Corps objective, the Vossenack – Schmidt-Strauch triangle. Simultaneously in the VII Corps zone the 1-ID made a strong demonstration employing mortars, artillery, and large patrols, but did not change its front line positions. The 28-ID took Vossenack with relative ease and reached Schmidt with elements of one battalion on November 3, but was unable to hold it in the face of severe counter-attacks which began the next day. By November 8, troops of the 28-ID had been driven back almost to their original line of departure. Greatly reduced in combat effectiveness the division held Vossenack in spite of murderous artillery fire and frequent counter-attacks until it was relieved on November 20, by the 8-ID. After the collapse of the 28-ID attack, the 1-A again reorganized its troops, bolstered by the addition of the 99th Infantry Division and 104th Infantry Division. In the VII Corps area the 1-ID zone was narrowed when the 104-ID took over a portion of the front east of Aachen on November 8-9. The VII Corps was further strengthened by the assignment of the 4-ID which was placed on the southern flank of the corps zone. The 99-ID was made available to V Corps and went into corps reserve. The order of battle of the 1-A on November 10 was as follows :

VII Corps : 1-ID, 3-AD, 4-ID, 104-ID, CCR-5-AD, 47-RCT
V Corps : 28-ID, 99-ID, 5-AD (less CCR), 9-ID (les 47-RCT), 102-ID
VIII Corps : 2-ID, 8-ID, 9-AD, 83-ID, 14-AR

With the new alignment in effect, the 1-A ordered a continuation of its attack. The VII Corps was to make the main effort with its 1-ID passing through the 47-RCT and the 9-ID, in the direction of Langerwehe to seize the crossings of the Roer, north of Düren. The 1-ID was to be assisted where possible by the 3-AD on its left (north) flank. The initial objective for the 1-ID was designated as the town of Gressenich and the Hamich-Nothberg Ridge. The 4-ID on the right (south) flank was to seize the crossings of the Roer in the vicinity of Düren or south of Düren and to assist in the later advance of the 1-ID to Koln. Attacking on November 16 at 1245 after air and artillery preparation, the VII Corps, began a hard, slow, stubborn fight with yard by yard advances marked by great numbers of casualties in the 1-ID and the 4-ID. The terrain was as much an enemy as the German, who had thoroughly organized it defensively, who held every inch of ground until the last minute, and who followed each loss with an immediate counter-attack. However, slowly but surely gains were made and by December 1, the VII Corps held a line which ran through Inden, Lamersdorf, Langerwehe, and just west of Gey in the 4-ID sector. The optimistic objectives of the 1-A had not been reached and the 1-ID and 4-ID were relieved in place by the 9-ID from the V Corps and the 83-ID, which had moved north from the VIII Corps.

Meanwhile, in the V Corps area the 8-ID had relieved the 28-ID and after hard fighting, occupied the town of Hürtgen on November 28. The capture of the V Corps objective, the high ground Kleinhau – Brandenberg – Bergstein, was completed on December 5 by the Reserve Command of the 5-AD, which had been attached to the 8-ID for this mission. By December 15, the entire 1-A front was on or near the banks of the Roer but did not threaten the strategic dams. This marked the end of offensive operations in the area for the 1-A until one month later. On the next day the Germans launched their Ardennes counter-offensive, which placed the Allied troops on the defensive. The Roer dams were not secured until February 1945. The price paid in lives and equipment for the 1-A offensive in the Hürtgen Forest has never been accurately reckoned; however, battle casualty totals compiled by the 1-A for the three divisions most heavily engaged were 12.707 for 99 days of fighting. The 1-A offensive gained fifty square miles of ground including the Hürtgen Forest and the approaches to the Roer dams. The Nazis suffered great casualties, both as a result of the hand to hand fighting and because of the Allied air and artillery, which was superior to that of the Germans in spite of the terrain and weather. Although plans for the Ardennes counter-offensive were not then known to the Allies, there is no doubt that the determined attack of the 1-A interfered greatly with the German plans for reorganization of units in preparation for this large scale assault. The enemy was forced to use units which had been earmarked for the Ardennes; some of these were decimated and others badly mauled.

This is the story of the Hürtgen Forest in brief. It will serve as a background to the following chapters in which the role played by armored units will be examined. What was the contribution of armor to the Hürtgen Forest Campaign ? Were tanks employed in accordance with their contemporary doctrine ? Present doctrine ? Should more or less armor have been employed ? The answers to these and other questions will form the basis for evaluation of the proper employment of armor under extreme conditions of terrain and weather.


The 746th Tank Battalion in Support of the 9th Infantry Division


The first american unit involved in the Hürtgen Forest fighting was the 9-ID. Early in the morning of September 14 1944. Elements of the division, supported by the 746th Tank Battalion under the command of Lt Col Clarence G. Hupfer, started across the Belgian-German border at Rötgen and Monschau with the mission of penetrating the defenses of the German Siegfried Line seizing the road centers in the vicinity of Düren. Within three days the 47th Infantry Regiment (9-ID) completely penetrated the West Wall at Schevenhutte, while the 39th Infantry Regiment (9-ID) was through the first line of defenses at Lamersdorf and the 60th Infantry Regiment (9-ID) was through the first line near Höfen. Well organized German resistance halted the division with the capture of these objectives; thus ended the march through France and Belgium; the tough fighting for limited objectives, characteristic of combat in the Hürtgen Forest, began.
Probing attacks all along the division’s front failed to achieve substantial gains despite heavy losses; the forces were spread too thinly for effective action against the organized German positions. So, on October 4, the 4th Cavalry Group relieved the 39 and the 60-IRs in the Lamersdorf and in the Monschau areas, and the two regiments assembled northwest of Germeter for an attack on that town and on the road south and west of there. This attack was successful, but its continuation toward Vossenack was halted by a German counter attack from the north, which threatened to isolate the 39-IR on October 12. Thereafter the seriously depleted forces of the 9-ID held their gains until the 39 and 60-IRs were relieved on October 28 by the 28th Infantry Division. This relief was made possible by the regrouping of the 1-A forces following the fall of Aachen on October 21. It marked the opening of a new phase of operations – the coordinated 1-A attack to seize the Roer River dams as well as the bridges crossing the River.

The 746-TB was first attached to the 9-ID on June 12 1944, after entering combat six days earlier with the 4-ID in amphibious landings in Normandy. Most of the battalion’s practical tank-infantry training was in preparation for these landings. Previously trained in doctrine that called for use of tanks in mass, the tankers soon learned that infantry support meant fighting in small teams with the infantry. Seldom were they used in greater mass than a platoon. The 9-ID attached the three medium tank companies to the three regimental combat teams : Able Co 746-TB to the 47th Infantry Regiment; Baker Co 746-TB to the 60th Infantry Regiment and Charlie Co 746-TB to the 39th Infantry Regiment. The medium tank companies were further broken down to give each infantry battalion one tank platoon. Most often this platoon was allotted to the assault company of the battalion. The HQ Co, 746-TB normally operated near the his related infantry regiment CP.

Dog Co 746-TB, the light tank company, was attached to the 9th Reconnaissance Troop and had one platoon constantly at the Division CP on guard duty. The other two platoons were used at various times in division reserve; to reinforce road blocks established by engineer combat battalions attached to the division and to protect the flanks of the infantry regiments. The assault guns of the battalion were organized into three two-gun sections to cooperate with the cannon companies of the infantry regiments. This reorganization, which took place late in September, was an improvement over the prior employment, which had seen the assault guns used as tanks. The tables of organization and equipment called for an Assault Gun Platoon of three guns in HQs Co and one assault gun in each medium tank company. The Mortar Platoon of HQs Co was used throughout the period to reinforce the road blocks set up by the attached engineers. The Battalion HHQs Co and Service Co operated generally in the vicinity of the Division headquarters.

The following brief description summarizes the actions of the 9-ID in the battle of the Hürtgen Forest without specifically mentioning the supporting tanks of the 746-TB, Which were organized for combat as indicated above. The method of tank employment will be discussed in detail following the narrative of events.


The 47-RCT Captures and Holds Schevenhutte


To accomplish the mission of breaching the West Wall defenses and capturing road centers near Düren, the 9-ID commander ordered the 47-IR to proceed northeast from Rötgen along the edge of the Hürtgen Forest. The regimental commander used his 3rd Battalion to protect the right flank by proceeding through the forest mass, while the bulk of his command followed the edge of the forest, German resistance to the advance was sporadic and disorganized, as indicated by the following combat interview : [the 3rd Battalion executive officer, Maj W. W.Tanner, stated that, from the time they had left Rötgen until reaching Schevenhutte, they did not receive a single round of artillery or mortar fire, due in a large measure to the fact that the enemy did not know exactly where they were. Further evidence of this was the fact that every night some part of the enemy forces would blunder into the battalion area, completely unaware of the presence of our troops]. The most serious threat during this three-day advance was a meeting engagement at 0400, September 15, when a battalion of German infantry marched into the bivouac area of the 3rd Battalion just south-east of Zweifall. The situation was cleared up within five hours, and the 3rd Battalion continued to a position east of Vicht for the night. On September 16, the 3rd Battalion proceeded to Schevenhutte in approach march formation and prepared a coordinated attack on Gressenich for the next day. This attack was called off when the Germans counter attacked from the northwest, north, and east. The Germans continued almost daily counter attacks through. September 22, when their final effort made by two companies was repulsed. They continued to harass Schevenhutte with artillery and mortar fire for many weeks.

While the 3/47-IR proceeded on the right, the 1/47-IR and the 2/47-IR advanced through Zweifall and Vicht to Mausbach and Krewinkel. Here again, opposition was sporadic until the final positions were reached on September 16. The 2nd Battalion cleared Mausbach and Krewinkel on that date but was withdrawn south out of Krewinkel on the following day. The 1st battalion occupied Mausbach on September 16 and was moved to a position in the edge of the forest south of Gressenich to attack the town in conjunction with the 3rd Battalion on the following day, an attack which was called off. In these positions, the troops of the 47th withstood counter attacks and artillery and mortar fire for many weeks. They were not relieved when other elements of the 9-ID retired from the Hürtgen Forest on October 28, but stayed in position under the command of other divisions.


The 39-RCT near Lammersdorf


The 1st Battalion led the 39-IR through Rötgen and Lammersdorf on September 14, with the intention of clearing the main road through Germeter and Hürtgen to Düren. However, when opposition just north of Lammersdorf proved persistent, the bulk of the battalion moved across country to Finkenbur and then doubled back down the road to clean it up north of Lammersdorf. The 2nd Battalion, which had followed the 3/47-IR try, east from Rötgen, turned south to establish a road block about 1000 yards southwest of Jagerhaus. Leaving George Co to man the road block, the rest of the battalion attacked southwest in conjunction with the 1st Battalion to clear the area north of Lammersdorf. These operations were completed by September 17 and meanwhile the 3rd Battalion had taken over the mission of proceeding from Lammersdorf to Rollesbroich and thence northeast to Düren.

The 3d Battalion managed to reach the eastern edge of Lammersdorf before determined opposition developed on September 14. The following morning each of the three rifle companies was ordered to probe for weak spots in the enemy defenses, Item Co on the road which by-passed Rollesbroich to the west; King Co through Rollesbroich and then northeast; and Love Co south through Paustenbach and then northeast through Rollesbroich. Only Love Co made progress, getting through Paustenbach and conducting an ineffectual attack on Hill 554. The hill was to consume the efforts of the battalion for the next two weeks since it was stoutly defended and commanded the terrain over which the battalion was ordered to pass. After two days of little progress, the battalion planned a coordinated attack on Hill 554 for September 18, with Item and King Cos attacking from the north, Love Co from the west. This was unsuccessful and it was not until September 29, when King Co and the battalion’s tank platoon swept around to attack from the east and southeast, that the hill was finally taken.

On September 18, meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion opened an attack to seize the high ground north and west of Rollesbroich. Two companies attacked east out of Lammersdorf and after five bitter days of fighting managed to get the westernmost end of the ridge. George Co, which had been manning the road block near the Jagerhaus, captured that little community on September 23, and four days later moved south to attack the east end of the ridge. Fox and George Cos then cooperated to clear the ridge on September 28 but were so reduced in strength that they were pushed off two days later.

The 1st Battalion had gone to a position southwest of Zweifall on September 18 to probe southeast toward Germeter. After reaching the road junction just west of Hürtgen on the Weisser Wehe Creek, however, they were recalled to Mausbach on September 22, to help repel a counter attack against the 47-IR. On September 26, the 1st Battalion was committed near Jagerhaus on the left of the 2nd Battalion but moved only a short distance before being sent back to an assembly area west of Lammersdorf. On October 4, all troops of the 39-IR were relieved in position by elements of the 4-CG and moved to an assembly area southeast of Zweifall for an attack on Germeter and Vossenack in conjunction with the 60-IR.


The 60-RCT Near Monschau


On the right flank of the 9-ID the 60-ID moved southeast out of Eupen to Monschau on September 14. Task Force Buchanan, with the 1/60-IR as a nucleus, moved south out of Eupen via Baraque Michel and Botrange, turned right through Sourbrodt hence Camp Elsenborn, and then proceeded north to Monschau. The two forces tied in on September 17, and then attempted to clean up the high ground to the southeast, including Höfen and Alzen. They continued on this mission until relieved by troops of the 4-CG, after which thy moved north for the attack on Germeter.


The Attack on Germeter and Vossenack


The final effort of the 9-ID in the Hûrtgen Forest was the coordinated attack of the 39 and the 60-IRs on Germeter and the road to the southwest of that town. The plan was to have the 39-IR take Germeter and continue to Vossenack while the 60-IR concentrated on seizing the road and high ground southwest of Germeter. The attack opened October 6, after being delayed a day by bad weather. The 39-ID used the 3rd Battalion on the left and 1st Battalion on the right, the 2nd Battalion following the 3rd and protecting the north flank of the regiment. The 60-IR used the 1st Battalion on the left and the 2nd Battalion on the right, 3rd Battalion following the 2nd.

After four days of stubborn opposition, the Americans succeeded in cutting the road both north and south of Germeter on October 9. The 3/39-IR, was astride the road at Wittscheid north of town, while the 1/60-IR, held Richeskaul, just south of town. The 1/39-IR, cleared Germeter the next day. Vossenack was the next objective for the 39-IR, so the 3/39-IR moved to the edge of the woods north of Vossenack by early morning of October 13, but the 1/39-IR had little success moving out of Germeter toward the west end of Vossenack on the same day. A coordinated attack by the two battalions planned for the next day was halted by a German counter attack from the north which penetrated the 2/39-IR positions. The 3/39-IR was called back to clear up this attack by Kampfgruppe Wegelein (Oberst Helmuth Wegelein), a force approximately a battalion in strength (2000 men). Thereafter, the 39-IR was ordered to hold its position in Germeter and vicinity until relieved on October 28.

The 60-IR continued tough fighting until it captured its objectives along the road southwest of Germeter. On October 11, the 1/60-IR proceeded southwest of Richeskaul to capture another road junction about a mile down the road. The 2/60-IR fought until October 16 to capture its final objective and clear the road from Rötgen east through Germeter. Five weeks of unrelieved fighting had taken their toll of these two regiments, and with the fall of Aachen, the 1-A found it possible to relieve them with troops of the 28-ID. The bare description above does not fully describe the difficulties which beset the infantrymen of the 9-ID in their Hürtgen Forest battle. But the main interest of this study is to determine what support armored units gave these infantrymen.


Employment of Tanks


Advance to Contact was generally made with tanks leading and infantry mounted thereon. However, no set formation was used throughout the division. The 1st Plat. Charlie Co, 746-TB, led the 1/39-IR, on September 14, from Rötgen to Lammersdorf. A platoon of infantry rode the tanks until they were fired upon by an AT guns just outside of Lammersdorf. Thereafter the infantry flanked the tanks on either side of the road. The 1/47-IR, moving through Rötgen toward the north on the same day, mounted Baker Co on five tanks and four tank destroyers. The 3/39-IR, crowded two companies on the same number of vehicles while moving through the Konzen Forest south of Rötgen.

Organization for Combat has already been indicated in that each infantry battalion normally had a platoon of five tanks. Usually, the terrain dictated that the tanks be used by section rather than by platoon. Rarely were they used singly except for special purposes such as pillbox reduction. Capt James R. Shields, CO Charlie Co, 746-TB, stated that although only one tank could fire at a time in attacking through woods, a second tank always followed to give the first protection. In practically all situations infantry accompanied tanks and Capt Shields emphasized that in the woods flank protection by the infantry was more essential than elsewhere because of the extremely limited observation.

The first well organized defenses met by the 9-ID were dragon’s teeth covered by numerous pillboxes and other enemy emplacements. Capt Shields indicates that the 1st Platoon of his company, accompanied by dismounted infantry of the 3/39-IR, attacked in column through the dragon’s teeth on the main road southeast of Lammersdorf on September 17. A crater in the road at the dragon’s teeth gap proved no obstacle; the tanks proceeded right through it. However, 100 yards beyond the crater the lead tank was knocked out by long range AT Gun fire from the east. When the third tank was also disabled the remaining tanks retired and the attack bogged down. On September 18, the tanks tried to pass through a gap in the dragon’s teeth farther to the south. The engineers had blown this gap, but the Germans mined it persistently despite the efforts of both infantry and engineers to keep it clear. The right suspension system was blown off the first tank to enter the gap, and blocked the gap for the rest of the day. Three tanks got through this gap on September 19, but in attacking Hill 554, the first was hit by Panzerschreck fire and another by AT Gun fire. The third returned to Lammersdorf. Capt Shields mentioned that although infantry were in the vicinity, they were not alongside the tanks.

Reconstituted to a three-tank strength, the platoon again passed through the dragon’s teeth on September 20 to aid the infantry to reach the top of Hill 554. Lt Col R. H. Stumpf, CO 3-746-TB, noted that despite the loss of one tank to anti-tank fire the other two continued to shoot up the enemy in the trenches.

Pillbox Reduction was the next problem faced by the infantrymen and attached tankers. Each tank company found its own solution, although tank-infantry cooperation was almost invariably the rule, normally, only one tank was included, in the assaulting team. Able Co 47-IR, fired armor-piercing ammunition on the doors of the pillboxes and caused the enemy to surrender hastily. In one instance, infantrymen fired small arms on the apertures while the tank approached within 20 yards of the door. Three rounds from the tank gun caused fifteen Germans to surrender. In a second instance, the tank fire was effective at 600 yards. The occupants surrendered after four rounds hit the door.

Baker Co, 60-IR, used its tanks in conjunction with the infantry to fire on apertures. Then infantry and engineers flanked the pillbox and blew in the door with high explosive charges. Troops of the 2/60-IR met pillbox resistance in clearing the road from Monschau to Höfen. Two tanks first assisted by driving enemy from surrounding houses into the pillboxes and then by helping to kill fifty enemy reinforcements and driving off 100 others. Under cover of tank and infantry fire, infantrymen poured gasoline on the pillboxes and tankers fired on them to ignite the pillboxes; twenty occupants surrendered. Charlie Co, 746-TB, with the 39-IR, found that the most successful pillbox attacks were those employing smoke and fire and maneuver. The smoke was employed in two ways : to screen movement and for casualty effect. The tactics used by the 39-IR are described in the following Combat interview : [In reducing a pillbox, Easy Co, 39-IR, used a TD and a tank to fire at the openings, a squad of infantry, a half squad of engineers using poling charges, a squad of flame throwers and white phosphorous smoke. The TD closed the embrasures by firing from a distance of about 400 yards, and the infantry followed behind the vehicle protecting it from enemy infantry. 60-MM mortars were used to run the enemy from his emplacements into the pillbox, while the tank moved up to a range of 200 yards and then finally 50 yards. The direct firing and the pole charge seemed to be ineffective. Finally, one of the infantry saw a crack in the door of the pillbox, and in there he threw an M-15 WP (Wite Phosphorous) hand grenade. The enemy came piling out].

Using much the same tactics, Fox Co, 39-IR, reported taking nine pillboxes in one hour and ten minutes on September 17. Because of the terrain, tanks could not always support the attacks, and the infantry experienced more difficulty in capturing the pillboxes. The unsupported infantry attacks lacked shock effect. Rarely did tanks venture forth without infantry support, but in the final attack on Hill 554 on September 29, the 1st Plat, Able Co, 746-TB, outdistanced its supporting infantry and reduced the resistance in five or, six pillboxes.

Obstacles, both natural and man-made, continually limited the effective employment of tanks in the Hürtgen Forest area. Usually, the enemy supplemented the natural obstacles with every means at his disposal – the effect of the dragon’s teeth has already been discussed. During the advance to contact, several unprotected road blocks held up the advancing tanks. These were usually time-consuming, nuisances. On September 14, Charlie Co’s tanks with the 3/39-IR, were held’up about an hour at a railroad crossing by an iron gate protected only by mines. Later in the day they met a more common type of road block – trees felled across the road. These trees did not happen to be mined or covered by fire as was usually the case. The tankers solved their problem by looping cables around the trees and pulling them out. A tank dozer was used to fill in craters in the road.

Engineers were not always readily available to remove mines at these road blocks. Capt Ralph G. Edgar, CO, Able Co, 39-IR, cited two instances. The first was on September 14, when moving through Lammersdorf where the tanks were held up most of the day awaiting removal of mines at a crossroads. Again on October 9, tanks supporting his company in the attack on Germeter, were held up from 0830 until 1400 before the engineers arrived to clear mines. German defenders blocked and mined the fire lanes through the rough, heavily wooded forest. Capt Shields stated that sometimes it was possible to take paths through the woods, but usually tanks found it best to avoid the fire lanes and go directly through tria woods. Tank obstacles had a very definite effect on the efficiency of the tank-infantry team. Neither element of this team operated as efficiently alone as when the two fought together. In some instances the whole attack was held up when obstacles stopped the tanks. In other instances, as when the 2/60-IR, was attacking in the area southwest of Germeter on October 9, the tanks progressed just far enough to break the enemy resistance and allow the infantry to go forward 1000 yards. However, on one occasion the 1/60-IR, advanced from Germeter to a road junction 1000 yards to the southwest without armored support. They accomplished the mission quickly on October 10, by following rolling barrages of the 4.2-inch and 81-MM mortars. The armored support was held up by a mined road block and arrived at the road junction two hours after the infantry had secured it.

Tank-Infantry Attacks were seldom deliberately planned and even when they were planned they were not always successful. On October 11, tanks of the 1st Plat, Charlie Co, 746-TB, led Able Co, 39-IR, in the attack from Germeter to Vossenack at 0830. The platoon had four tanks which proceeded in column along the road with the infantry following in column of platoons. After advancing 500 or 600 yards, the lead tank was destroyed by AT Gun fire. The other tanks retired as did the infantry. An artillery concentration was brought down on the enemy AT Guns. At 1100, the three remaining tanks again led the infantry into the attack down the road. Just before reaching the knocked-out tank, the second of the three was disabled by AT Gun fire. The lead tank, trapped on the road between two disabled tanks, was hit while maneuvering to withdraw. One tank remained and upon its withdrawal the attack on Vossenack came to an end.

The combined arms attacks of armor and infantry were generally more successful than this, however, while clearing the road from Finkenbur to Lammersdorf on September 15, Able Co, 39-IR, without tank support, was held up trying to secure an important road junction. The arrival of two tanks to support the infantry caused the enemy to withdraw without further fighting. Two days later Item Co, 39-IR, attacking east from Lammersdorf with tank support, reported that the enemy broke and ran the same enemy which had held up the infantry attack the previous day. Northwest of Germeter, on October 9, the 2/39-IR, used two companies of infantry and two medium tanks to clean out a strong enemy patrol which had succeeded in disabling a light tank on the north flank of the regiment’s position. The following day, the 1/39-IR, captured Germeter with tank support. Capt Edgar attributed the lightness of the resistance to the presence of the tanks.

Capture of Germeter enabled the tanks to proceed northeast on the road and assist the 3/39-IR in recapturing Wittscheidt which the unsupported infantry had lost on the previous day. An outstanding example of successful tank-infantry attack took place on October 9, when the 1/60-IR, took the road junction at Richeskaul with its tank platoon giving good support. A 10-minute artillery preparation preceded the attack at 0800. Then tanks and infantry worked their way to the edge of the woods 200 yards east of the road junction. The tanks broke out of the woods abreast of the infantry, which was in line of skirmishers on both sides and to the rear. Both tanks and infantry fired every weapon. A German lieutenant raised up out of the bushes, fired his Panzerschreck, which penetrated the turret of the lead tank and slightly wounded the tank commander. The tank returned then the fire with its 75-MM shell which cut the German officer in half. This so demoralized the rest of the defenders that they broke and ran from their well dug-in positions, and the tanks-infantry team killed fifty and captured twenty-five of the enemy. Prisoners stated that after the officer was killed they were afraid to use the other twelve Panzerschreck in the company.

Capt Shields considered the psychological effect of the tanks on the enemy as the prime consideration in using armor in difficult terrain. He stated : [Within woods, the chances of hitting the enemy are relatively slight. But the shock and psychological effect is great. The enemy would generally give up when the tanks got to a position where they could fire at close range, even though they could not be hit].

Tanks Captured by the Enemy were sometimes turned against our troops. For example, the Germans put two of the tanks disabled near Vossenack in position to fire on our troops in Germeter, although they did not actually keep them manned. To prevent their use by the Germans, an infantry patrol protected a tank crewman who set off an M-14 Thermite incendiary hand grenade in the tanks to destroy them. Tank Road Blocks were occasionally established for short periods in a moving situation. The 2/39-IR, used tanks with infantry support as road blocks southwest of the Jagerhaus in the early stages of the Hürtgen Forest battle and north of Germeter on October 9. The 3/39-IR used them similarly in Lammersdorf on September 14. These were all one-day stands. The 2/60-IR, used its tanks with infantry in a stable road block position for almost a week between September 19 and 25, at the south edge of Monschau. In Schevenhutte, the 3rd Plat, Able Co, 746-TB, covered all routes of approach from positions within the town. For the first few days no foot troops were in position to give close support to the tanks.

Defensive Employment of Tanks was usually accomplished by using tank platoons as a mobile reserve for the infantry battalions to which they were attached. During the first week in Schevenhutte the tanks were used as road blocks, but by the time the enemy made its final attempt to recapture the town on September 22, the tanks and tank destroyers were used as a mobile striking force. They moved up and down the main street firing machine guns and 76-MM shells at any enemy who presented himself as a target.

Defense Against Airborne Attack was the mission given to the 2nd Plat, Able Co, 746-TB on October 19. The platoon was used on the high ground in the vicinity of Fleuth with the mission of guarding against possible glider landings.

Weather added to the difficulties faced by the tankers during the month of October. Only seven days during the month were listed as fair to good. Most of the rest were either cold and rainy or cold and cloudy. Fog frequently held up attacks planned for early morning – for instance, the attack on Germeter on October 10, was scheduled for 0830 but was held up until 1400 because tanks supporting the 39-IR could not advance because of the fog.

Withdrawal of Tanks from the perimeter of the infantry defenses at night was a source of friction between tank and infantry commanders in the 60-IR. Lt Col Hupfer, CO of the 746-TB, pointed out that the inability to pull tanks back had two principal defects, green replacements had to be placed in tanks by taking therm to the vehicles at the front without orientation to crew or vehicles and proper maintenance and service of vehicles could not be accomplished. This latter defect was possibly the more serious problem. Baker Co, 746-TB’s tanks were continuously on the line from October 1 to 24. Lt Col Hupfer indicated that many tanks became inoperative because auxiliary motors to charge the batteries could not be operated – the resultant noise brought down mortar concentrations which caused many casualties among the infantrymen near the tanks. Frequently the infantry units regrouped behind the protection of the tanks, but the tanks were never given tie opportunity to drop back to perform necessary maintenance. The solution finally reached by agreement on October 24, was that the tanks would normally drop back to a position near the infantry battalion command posts where they could get proper care and still be on call of the battalion commander in case of an emergency. This policy was pursued by the other two regiment.

Communications between the tanks and the infantry were improved during the period by three methods : SCR-300 radios were installed in seven tanks per company for tank-infantry communications; telephone linked with the tank interphone systems were installed on the rear of all medium tanks to facilitate ground to tank communication; SCR 509-510 radios were established at the infantry battalion command post for an additional channel of communication.

Enemy Tactics were best described as tenacious. The enemy defended his positions effectively by making the most of fortifications well suited to the terrain. He employed mines with abandon and used concentrations of heavy mortars and artillery. He prepared field fortifications outside his pillboxes and fought from these until driven inside. AT weapons used were : Panzerfaust, a hand carried AT weapon for close-in fighting; Panzerschreck, the German bazooka which was twice as much powerful than the US Bazooka; self-propelled gun which was used to support his counter-attacks; an AT rocket launcher mounted on wheels with a very low silhouette. AT Guns were not plentiful because of the limited fields of fire and the enemy elected not to use his tanks in this terrain during this period.

Morale activities for personnel of the 746-TB during the months of September and October were very limited, but some of the men were sent on pass to Verviers, Belgium. Laundry was accomplished fairly regularly through quartermaster facilities.

Casualty figures are available only for the month of October. Disregarding those injured in action (who were hurt when a truck overturned) the personnel losses indicate that about three men were lost each time a tank was permanently disabled.

Personnel Casualties
Type of Casualtys

Killed in Action : 1 officer, 3 enlisted, total 4
Died of Wounds : 1 officer, – enlisted, total 1
Missing in Action : 1 officer, – enlisted, total 1
Slightly Wounded in Action : 3 officers, – 19 enlisted, total 22
Lightly Wounded in Action : 1 officer, 10 enlisted, total 11
Lightly Injured in Action : 0 officer, 6 enlisted, total 6
Total : 7 officers, 38 enlisted, total 45

Tank Casualties
Tank Type

Medium Tank M-4, 10
Medium Tank M-4A3E2, 1
Light Tank M-5A, 1

Breakdown of Losses

AT Gun Fire : 3
Panzefaust : Panzerschreck, 5
Mines : 3
Artillery : 1


Summary


The material aid of the 746th Tank Battalion to the advance of the 9th Infantry Division in the Hürtgen Forest was limited principally by the terrain; but tree use of tanks in spite of, physical difficulties benefited the division because of the psychological effect of tanks – they encouraged our own infantry and terrified the enemy. In almost every instance where tank support was possible, the infantry was enabled to advance more readily. Tank support might have been better if infantry commanders had realized the importance of the employment of tank-infantry-engineer teams to help keep the tanks moving. Engineers with the infantry division had little training with tank units, and this fact, coupled with the rugged terrain in the entire Hürtgen Forest area, meant that the infantry often failed to get the tank support to which it was entitled.

The 9th Infantry Division’s efforts to penetrate the Forest ended with the relief of the 39th and 60th Regiments by elements of the 28th Infantry Division on October 28. All of the action of the 9-ID was preliminary to the 1-A’s deliberate plan to clear the forest on its way to the Roer River dams and Roer River crossings. On the front originally approached by the 9-ID in September, the army was to employ two corps – the V and VII – before the Roer River was to be crossed in February.



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.