Saarlautern, James C. Haahr, Charlie Co, 101-IR, 26-ID
While the Yankee Division veterans remember Saarlautern and the immediate area for many reasons, the severe fighting that preceded the Yankee Division’s commitment to the actions in Saarlautern may not be familiar to YDers. This archive provides a brief summary of the actions that preceded the Yankee Division’s move to the control of the XX Corps and its eventual relief of the 95th Infantry Division in the Saarlautern bridgehead. I have also included some of the things that I remember most vividly in the bridgehead when serving with the 2nd Plat., Charlie Co, 101-IR. All three regiments of the 26-ID alternated duty in the bridgehead broken by periods in reserve, and the 104-IR was the first regiment to move into the bridgehead together with the 2/328-IR on January 28 1945. At that time, the 101-ID moved into the Hargarten-Falk area as Division reserve.
In late November, the plan of attack for the 95-ID was to cross the Saare River near Saarlautern, establish a bridgehead, and then turn north to allow the 90-ID to cross the Saare. The number of enemy in front of the 95-ID was estimated at 10.000 with element of the 559.VGD (some units of which we had met near Hill 301 in November), the 347.Infantry-Division and the 36-VGD represented. During the night of December 1/2, most of the troops of the German 82.Corps had moved east of the Saare, but elements of the 21.Panzer-Division remained in the vicinity of Sankt Barbara, only 2000 yards from the Saare River. Those who were in the area will recall the heavily built-up urban character which included the town of Wallerfangen, Saarlautern-Roden, Fraulautern, Saarlautern and Ensdorf together with their coal piles, slag heaps and tall factory chimneys. It should be noted that our old German combattants, the 11.Panzer-Division, was not in this area of the front but rather was to the southeast committed against the 12th Corps, particularly the 35-ID. However, a part of the 11.Panzer was moved to the Saarlautern area on December 3 because of the establishment of the American bridgehead in the city. Late in the afternoon on December 2, an US observation plane discovered an intact bridge over the Saare between the center of Saarlautern and the suburb north of the river. In the early morning hours of December 3, the 1/379-IR (95-ID) captured the bridge before it could be blown by its defenders.
The events of the first week of December were extremely worrying to the German High Command. As a consequence of the American successes in the Saarlautern sector, the German 1.Army was allowed to retain the 11.Panzer-Division and the 404.Volks-Artillery-Corps. Some 11.Panzer tanks were sent from the Sarreguemines area to the Saarlautern sector. However, these consisted only of ten tanks, a few tank destroyers, and some motorized engineers. The 719.Infantry-Division was also committed to this sector. The bulk of these units went into action against the 90-ID on December 7. After sustaining many casualties and after 58 successive days of combat, the 95-ID was relieved in the bridgehead by the 5-ID. However, the 95-ID’s respite was brief since the 5-ID was used in the Ardennes and the 95-ID was consequently recommitted to the Saarlautern bridgehead. Toward the end of December, the bridgehead threat was less than that facing facing the Germans on the 7.Army front. As a result, German troops originally committed against the 95-ID were sent south for the most part, including the 21.Panzer, with only the 526.Replacement-Division available for the Saarlautern sector.
Because of the Battle of the Bulge, the 95-ID spent the next 30 days or so in consolidating it’s positions in the bridgehead. Then, on January 26, the Division was relieved by the 26-ID, the Yankee Division. The 104-IR, reinforced with the 2/328 relieved the 95-ID’s 379-IR in the bridgehead, and the balance of the 328-IR relieved the 95-ID units on the west side of the Saare in Saarlautern itself. The 101-IR became Division reserve at that time. It was also at this time that the 26-IR was attached to the 5th Ranger Battalion.
The close proximity of several towns in the sector makes it important to identify what is meant when the name Saarlautern is used as well as bridgehead. Saarlautern proper lies on the west side of the Saare River and the captured bridge leading to the east side is referred to in sources as lying within Saarlautern. However, the bridgehead was not technically in Saarlautern, but rather included the suburb on the east bank of Saarlautern-Roden, Fraulautern, and Ensdorf with well integrated defenses. Thus, our relief of the 95-ID on January 28 meant that the relieving forces in the bridgehead were actually in Saarlautern-Roden and Fraulautern while the balance of the division was in Saarlautern itself or further to the west as was the case for the 101-IR. I have had trouble in identifying the German divisions in the sector when the 26-ID was there. I know that the 21.Panzer-Division and the 404.Artillery-Corps hand been moved out and the 526.Replacement-Division moved in together in with a mish-mash of Volksturm units. However, the Official US Army History states that the defensive responsibility in the Saarlautern sector in early March 1945 belonged to the German 85.Corps with three divisions, including the 559.VGD.
All who served in the bridgehead and in the Saarlautern sector will remember the heaps of bricks, concrete and stone, the even larger piles of rubble, the demolished buildings, the posting by squad or smaller units than that in houses and basements in the bridgehead, the sound of machine gun and rifle fire, and the sound of Germans making tunnels between basements in nearby houses. The assignment that I best recall was with the reduced squad in a basement where we eat, slept and constructed latrine. The back of the house looked out over the garden or court area between our row of houses and the houses occupied by the Germans perhaps 150 yards away. Visibility at ground level or out of the kitchen was limited because of trees. Visibility out of the second story windows was better, and it was from there that we alternated using the bazooka to crank rounds into the walls and windows of houses across the inner garden area. This gave us something constructive to do not only to pass the time between the many alerts but also to escape the hours of boredom – if I can call them that. At the front of the house, the street side, we could enter only through a narrow chute, one person at a time, from the street. All houses further up the street were demolished above the ground floor, and the Germans had a machine gun up the street about 4-5 blocks that was fixed in position to traverse only from right to left and left to right but not to raise or lower the elevation.
A large pile of rubble was across the street from our foyer, and behind that was a church, largely demolished. The Company CP was about two blocks from the church, and once we had passed the heap of rubble and the church we could walk with some safety to the Company CP. We went to the CP almost nightly (a trip during the day was impossible) to pick up water cans and rations. That involved a dash from the chute to the rubble heap or a crawl because of the machine gun at the top of the street. The water cans did not make things easier, and I recall one night when the machine gun opened up when we were in the middle of the street returning to our basement. As a result, there were about four persons trying to get into the one-person chute at the same time with the result that we all became stuck. The machine gun fired in long bursts over our heads while we tried to control a mixture of swearing and laughing.
One alert was not so funny. We had been alerted by radio of a German possible attack. This was followed shortly by increased German rifle and automatic fire directed not only at the back of our house but also at other houses in the sector. We could hear the sound of truck and armored vehicle engines behind the house across the court from us. We manned the post at the opening of the chute on the street side, our 30 caliber machine gun had two people on it, and I was posted behind a pile of stones at the rear of the rear of the house so that I, with the help of others on the second floor, could cover the court area. I recall a sudden burst of German automatic rifle and learned later that our machine gunner in the kitchen window had been killed and his assistant gunner had been wounded. Shortly after that, I remember an object striking my helmet and bouncing off a short distance to my left. I looked over there and saw a German yellow rifle grenade. I was a lucky fellow !! Finally, things calmed down, a full attack did not take place, and we were able to evacuate our one dead and one wounded.
I have a clear recollection of another incident in Saarlautern itself. I and two other members of my squad were on the second floor of an intact building on a street that had not suffered much damage. We were awakened at about 0100 by the sound of what appeared to be troops marching in step. I looked out the window and saw a solid group of German infantry, perhaps platoon-size, heavily armed and marching together, not in file, in the center of the street and headed toward the bridge over the Saare which was in our hands. We decided – probably wisely – not to fire on the marching unit. To this day I have no idea where they came from or where they were going in that kind of formation given the fact that Saarlautern was in our hands and given the existence of the bridgehead on the east side of the rive. They may well have been a large combat patrol which had crossed the Saare to the west side by boat and was returning the same means. It was a curious incident.
Patrol and other activity continued until our relief in the Saarlautern sector by the 65-ID on March 7. Saarlautern was to be this Division’s first contact with the Germans. At the time of relief, the 101st Infantry Regiment was in the bridgehead and relief was difficult because of the single, narrow and congested entry. The 26th Infantry Division remained under control of the XX Corps and moved to the area of Oberemmel, Beurrig and Serrig, ready for action in the clearing of the Saar-Palatinate Triangle. The 10th Armored Division crossed our line of attack and was on our immediate right. The 80th Infantry Division was on our left, and elements of the 45th Infantry Division crossed ou line of attack 10 days or so into the attack. The Saar Basin is however another story.