Hürtgen Forest : The Push to the Roer and Final Conclusion (Armor Support)

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Push to the Roer River, December 9 to December 15 1944


During the period that CCR, 5th Armored Division, was attacking with the 8th Infantry Division, the Division Headquarters and CCB were assembled and prepared to take advantage of any success by CCA in breaking out of the woods. On December 10, the 5-AD was disposed with its headquarters at Zweifall, CCA was in Hahn, CCR was in Walhorn reorganizing, and CCB assembled in Kleinhau. The 83rd Infantry Division had relieved the 4th Infantry Division and was attacking Gey and Schafberg, the two exits from the Hürtgen Forest. The 5-AD was ordered to attack through the 83rd Infantry Division elements at 0730 on December 11, and planned to do so in two armored columns : CCA on the north passing through Gey and CCB on the south through Schafberg, with the 4th Cavalry Group screening the southern flank of the division. CCR was to act as the division reserve; however, it would emphasize reorganization and re-equipping, and would be called upon only in an emergency.

Although CCB passed through the 83-ID at Schafberg, it was stopped about two hundred yards to the southeast by enemy resistance. CCA was directed to halt for the night in the vicinity of Grosshau as the capture of Gey was not yet complete. CCB was having considerable trouble as the only supply line was under constant shelling and as impassable to wheeled or semi-track vehicles; light tanks were used to bring in supplies and to evacuate casualties. The continuance of the attack which had been planned for December 12, was postponed to December 13, and then to December 14. Although CCA was still unable to move through Gey, no clear reason has been found for not attempting to continue the attack of the southern column. On December 14, the overall attack was resumed and CCA reached the outskirts of Kufferath after breaching an extensive minefield near Horm. In the south CCB met very heavy enemy resistance and initially could advance but one kilometer; however, on December 15, CCB split into two columns, one seizing Langenproich and the other the woods to the south. CCA also split into two columns on this date and secured Kufferath and the hills southeast. The following day, CCA remained in these locations while CCB consolidated at Langenproich and pushed south to capture the town of Bilstein.


At the time the 5-AD was committed to attack through the 83-ID, the 4-CG which was to cover the 5-AD’s south flank already had a light tank battalion screening from the 83-ID’s forward infantry elements southwest to Kleinhau. The Group, which was attached to the division for this mission, was further attached to CCB on this southern flank. At this time the 4-CG consisted of the troops shown in the figure above. The majority of the troops including the light tank and the TDB were employed dismounted. As mentioned above, the tank battalion was already in position south of the Kleinhau – Schafberg Road. The 85-CRS (less Troops C an D) with Charlie Co, 635-TDB, attached was to follow CCB and push south to extend the screen of the light tank battalion. The organic squadrons were not used in either of these missions because the 4-ID was still screening a gap between the 9-ID and the 83-ID, while the 24th was committed between two regiments of the latter division. Those two squadrons were not relieved until December 13 and 18, respectively, when the 4th Squadron was directed to take over the mission of the 85th Squadron and assembled just north of Grosshau on December 15. On December 16, two troops of the 4th Squadron extended the screen east to maintain contact with the forward elements of CCB.

The magnitude of the German attack in the Ardennes on December 16, was not immediately recognized, and the 5-AD was assigned additional missions to clear the west bank of the Roer. Finally, on December 22, both, the 5th Armored Division and the 4th Cavalry Group were directed to assemble in preparation for operations in the south. CCA was relieved by the 83rd Infantry Division and CCB as relieved partly by elements of the 83rd Infantry Division and partly by elements of the 121st Infantry Regiment of the 8th Infantry Division which also relieved the 4th Cavalry Group.


Discussion : Logistics during the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest

Discussion of logistics will be broken down into the same three periods used for the discussion of tactical employment : (1) a mobile reserve period; (2) a period during which elements were used in the forest to assist the infantry in achieving its penetration; and (3) the armored attack to the banks of the Roer River.

First Phase : In the first period, the division was not in contact except for one combat command and which held a defensive sector on an inactive front. This period was very wisely used to resupply after the trek across France and to perform maintenance and to prepare for future operations, particularly in obtaining the necessary items, such as duck bills, overshoes, and sleeping bags for the coming winter. The division assembly area in the vicinity of Monschau was close to the army dumps so that no problem was involved in securing supplies; however, distribution was somewhat complicated by the splitting up of divisional organic units. Combat commands were periodically detached and moved to other corps areas; tank battalions and even companies (Dog Co, 10-TB was attached to the 2nd Ranger Battalion) were attached to infantry units. Nevertheless, as it turned out, none of these elements were actively engaged so that supply requirements remained at a minimum.

In preparation for future operations a system of conducting protected convoys was instituted. This entailed establishment anal operation of a Division Service Area into which units could dispatch supply vehicles guarded by armed escort from the unit and from which the division could dispatch convoys to supply points with division protection. The reverse procedure operated in the forward flow of supplies. This general system was utilized throughout the Hürtgen action, although armed escorts were seldom necessary. The division set up Class I and Class III dumps by employing transportation of the attached Quartermaster Truck companies and by using personnel from these companies to supplement a detachment of service troops provided by the V Corps. Scheduled convoys were operated between army and division dumps. During the months of October and November, the trucks of the two Quartermaster Truck companies averaged 739 miles per truck per month.

Second Phase : From the last week of November to December 8, while elements of the division were assisting the infantry in penetrating the forest, resupply became a definite problem. The division headquarters and CCB were together; but CCA as attached to the 4th Infantry Division with one of its battalions operating under the control of the 22nd Regimental Combat Team and, at the same time CCR was not only attached to the 8th Infantry Division but, was in another corps zone. To increase further the burden, both CCR and the 46th Armored Infantry Battalion were suffering heavy losses in men and materiel. Losses in personal equipment, individual arms, and crew served weapons were extremely heavy; in addition, heavy replacements were required, for tires, radios and radiators shattered by artillery tree bursts in the forest action. An abnormal delay existed in the replacement of those and most major items because of the confusion caused by the detachment of organic components, the resultant time lag of reports, and the circuitous Main Supply Roads. During this period individual units took steps to reduce the materiel losses and to obtain equipment that was slow in being replaced or that was not available at depots.

A truck was kept at the aid station and items of individual equipment, particularly arms and overshoes, were removed from the wounded and loaded into this truck. Because overshoes were a critical item and the incident gate of trench foot was rising, trucks were sent periodically to the rear to canvass hospitals for overshoes and other items of equipment. Although this was out of channels, the expedient kept the trench foot rate low. Those units engaged found that all supplies had to be brought forward at night and then in half-tracks or, more often, in tanks and armored trailers. In the action of the 46th Armored Infantry Battalion east of Grosshau, all supplies had to be hand carried by teams of drivers, cooks, and maintenance personnel. The S-4 of the 46-AIB found it necessary to direct most of his attention to distribution which required far more personal supervision to reload supplies, to organize carrying teams, and to command these groups in the operation. Long evacuation routes to the Ordnance Battalion for vehicle evacuation were further complicated by the lack of hard standing and by poor roads. Because tank transporters could not negotiate the roads, disabled tanks were dragged to the rear by retrievers, tanks, and M-25 tractors. Personnel casualties were evacuated in tanks or in armored trailers towed by tanks. In the action of the 46th Armored Infantry Battalion even this method was impractical. Administrative personnel and the supply carrying-teams hand carried the wounded under cover of darkness sometimes as far as two kilometers. Since evacuation was so difficult, aid stations were kept well forward, frequently right with the assault companies.

Final Phase : During the third period, supply was not quite so difficult as in the second period. Resupply and evacuation for front line elements was accomplished for the most part by light tanks and armored trailers. Only full-track vehicles could negotiate the roads and high-angle fire continued to harass the supply routes. In addition, supply installations were located on the west of the forest while units were attacking on the east edge with long, narrow unimproved, winding routes between the two. Few specific solutions can be found to the difficult supply situation in this type of operation; the only answer seems to be longer hours, initiative, endurance, and ingenuity on the part of service personnel.


Surmary


First Phase : The employment of the 5th Armored Division and its elements in the reserve role conforms, in general, to present doctrine except that it is felt that combat commands will not normally be attached to infantry divisions. Arguments that attachment was necessary for logistical reasons are inconsistent since the combat commands were supplied by the armored division anyway. Additional missions given the armored division while it was in the reserve role, although not considered normal, were dictated by the circumstances and did not detract materially from the primary mission since the majority of the division remained ready for immediate employment and since plans were made for quick release of elements otherwise utilized.

Second Phase : Col Anderson was particularly critical of the use of his Reserve Command while attached to the 8th Infantry Division, but it is certainly doubtful that dismounted infantry could have seized the objectives without suffering even greater losses. There was evidence of a lack of cooperation between the armor and the infantry division based on (1) receiving erroneous reports from the infantry, and (2) the failure of the infantry to take its objectives in joint attacks. However, the latter may be justified since some of the infantry companies were down in strength to a dozen men. As for the erroneous reports, commanders must learn that reports must be verified by personal reconnaissance whenever time permits. The officer establishing contact must not stop at division or regiment; but must go to the company or platoon that is physically on the ground. A different picture of the operation is presented by Lt Col Hamberg, who commanded the 10th Tank Battalion, in the following statements :

I have never seen an operation in which more personal initiative and bravery was shown. The reason that individual initiative and courage showed up was simply due to the way the attack was conceived and planned. Ample time was given to study the job. There were enough excellent maps and photos. Each job was studied in complete detail. Houses and terrain features were identified, Squads and tanks were assigned to particular missions. After the first operation, however, CCR’s forces were depleted to the point that there were no reserves; all troops were committed, artillery preparation was planned in the same detail as other actions.

This commitment of CCR to assist the infantry in its penetration by limited objective attacks at decisive points where the infantry lacked the strength and drive to be successful is fully in accordance with present-day doctrine. It is felt that CCR’s success where three infantry divisions (the 9th, 28th, and 8th) had bogged down vindicates its employment in spite of heavy losses. This is not intended to indicate that CCR accomplished what three divisions could not; the divisions had attacked singly and were low in strength and spirit by the time they had reached this point. In addition, the 8th Infantry Division captured Hürtgen, which unhinged the defense of the area and served as a wedge into the German positions, further, the greater percentage of CCR’s losses were received in two actions, the unsuccessful attack on Hürtgen on November 25, and the holding of Bergstein against repeated counter attacks between December 5 and December 8. The first was directly occasioned by erroneous information from the infantry and the failure of CCR to verify these reports on the ground. In the second instance, infantry elements, to conform with ground. In the second instance, infantry elements, to conform with doctrine, should have taken over the defense of the objective the first night. This was called for in the original plan, although the depleted strength and other commitments of the 8th Infantry Division may have precluded this. Nevertheless, the action did prove something. Tankers normally are very reluctant to be placed on the defensive; although positon defense is not the most profitable use of mobil forces, this action demonstrates that tanks can set up a strong defense with a small force of infantry when required to do so.

Thus, the use of armor in a limited objective attack to speed up the penetration when it is progressing slowly and at a high cost to the infantry is certainly within the scope of past and present tactics; in fact, the retention of all of the 5th Armored in a reserve role when it could hasten such a costly penetration could not have been justified. In such a commitment of armor there are two principles that should be applied, (1) that the objective assigned be within the capability of armor (i.e., ground sufficiently open to give maneuver room to the attacking armor even if surrounded by woods), and (2) that sufficient force be retained in reserve to take advantage of any success so gained.

Final Phase : In the last period, two armored columns attacked through the infantry on the far edge of the forest to push to the Roer before the Germans could reorganize their defense. The attack did not proceed rapidly because of numerous mines, but it was successful and was marked by close cooperation between the 5th Armored Division and the 3rd Infantry Division.


General Conclusions

Two possible criticisms exist in the general picture. At various times elements of the 5th Armored Division were parceled out to infantry units during the first period. This does not refer to the attachment of CCR to the 8th Infantry Division, as this was tactically sound and necessary. That sufficient emergency existed in other CC attachments is not apparent now, but full consideration should always be given to the fact that combat and reserve commands, like the organic battalions, are not designed to operate detached from the armored division. While CCA was attached to the 4th Infantry Division from November 29 to December 9, its armored infantry battalion was used in the line with the 22nd Regimental Combat Team; this was a completely dismounted action and was very costly in officers and other trained personnel; although the battalion was well ahead of other battalions of the 22nd RCT, it was ordered to retire to straighten the line, and its contribution to the overall situation did not justify the losses sustained. Armored infantry contains too many specialists in proportion to the number of riflemen to attack profitably with regular infantry. By the same token, the 4th Cavalry Group was given so many gaps to fill that it became necessary to commit an attached light tank battalion and a TD battalion dismounted; although reconnaissance battalions are trained to fight mounted or dismounted, tank units should be committed in dismounted action only as a last resort.

The technique and tactics within the division conformed to present day doctrine except in two matters : (1) the constant use of the reserve command as a fighting headquarters, and (2) a semi-permanent attachment of battalions an the reserve and combat commands. This latter idea was carried down to reinforced battalions, which with few exceptions, consisted of tank and armored infantry companies attached to each other. Both of these points are contrary to the teachings of the Armored School, but still have many proponents in the armored force. Those opposed to the school doctrine argue that a triangular organization is needed in combat and is actually provided by the third headquarters (which is organized the same as the others except for the grade of the commander) and, further, that units resting or being rehabilitated can operate with the trains or as division troops. Using three fighting commands enables a rotation of headquarters and leaves the headquarters commanding the reserve better able to be committed as a reserve.

In regard to the attached formations CCR, for example, used a system of set formations which were included in SOP’s and designated in orders by A, B, or C. It was found that those formations covered just about every situation encountered, and if they did not, it was still possible to alter them as the circumstances demanded. They, of course, had the advantage of simplifying communications and command relationships and also built a pride in the various teams, but had the disadvantage that there, as a tendency to use one of these formations out of habit rather than organize according to the terrain and the mission. One might say that there is a trend toward making the plan fit the task organization rather than organizing the troops to fit the plan. In addition, this system led to a fixed formation within CCR whereby the armored infantry battalion consisted habitually of but one attached team of tanks, infantry and a small proportion of supporting troops, thereby wasting battalion headquarters and; giving the load repeatedly to the tank battalion.

Some consideration should be given to the employment of battalions and companies in CCR. The only criticism that can be made of this well organized operation is in the plans for the utilization of the reserve, which considered its use only if the attacking battalion got in trouble rather than its use to exploit a success. The reserve was also kept well to the rear and was not moved forward as the attack progressed. For example, when the 10th Tank Battalion was attaching Brandenberg, the 47th Armored Infantry Battalion, the reserve, was still located west or Germeter and would have had to move over poor, congested roads through Kleinhau. Had the reserve been well forward, at least to Kleinhau, it could have pushed through to Bergstein when Able Company tanks entered that town on December 5. The tank battalion in its attack on Kleinhau, Brandenberg and Bergstein, used to full advantage the capabilities of its various arms. In general, the tanks and infantry attacked a town jointly; tanks with some infantry protection cut off the roads in and out of the town while the infantry, assisted by some tanks, was utilize to clear the town. In the attack on Kleinhau the infantry was dismounted too soon, as we have already noted, and this error was corrected in subsequent actions.

An important point to be considered is the need for armored vehicles to bring up front line supplies and to evacuate casualties. Because of the intense high trajectory fire, the 10th Tank Battalion frequently used light tanks to accomplish these missions. The inclusion of the M-44 full-track personnel carrier in present tables of organization should solve this problem, however, since such situations will be the exception rather than the rule. We can conclude that armor other than that in direct support of infantry can be successfully employed, not through heavy woods themselves but to seize decisive open areas within the forest when infantry elements have secured the woods line. These attacks require particularly close teamwork between tanks, armored engineers, armored infantry and especially close cooperation between the armored task force and other infantry units with which they are fighting. Such attacks require the maximum armor that the open spaces will hold, as well as closely coordinated with artillery preparations and counter battery fire. The tanks must advance immediately behind supporting artillery fires and often under artillery time fire to get protected from enemy AT weapons. These attacks require detailled planning, frequently down to squads and tank crew’s, which necessitates adequate time and accurate maps and air photos.

Lt Col Careay A. Clark
Maj John M. Gaustad, Chairman
Maj John F. Sheffey
Maj William B. Jacobs
Capt Adrian St. John
Capt Robert D. Dwan
Capt Gerald V. Reberry



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