Thursday, February 26, 2015

23. Crashing Through the Saar-Moselle Triangle

The Switch Line was an outgrowth of the fortification of the Siegfried Line. It was about two Km wide and consisted of 75 bunkers and over 10 Km of tank barriers like "dragon's teeth. It's purpose was to deny access to the high ground above Trier at the northern end of the Switch.

19-20 February 1945-
The Tenth was marshalled at Perl, about 6 miles south of Nennig on this afternoon. A plan was selected from the three prepared and a sudden directive came down that they were to depart at 0700 the next morning.

The Tenth was not prepared for the suddenness. Large numbers of the Division were on R & R in Paris. But they were located and the Tigers moved out by 1800. They raced 75 miles that night and began the attack at 0700 as scheduled.

21-25 February 1945-
In the course of these few days the 10th Armored would overrun the Saar-Moselle Triangle even through some of the most heavy fortifications in the world. Praise came from many, including General George Patton who termed this battle "one of the war's most audacious operations."

As can be seen in the maps on the left and below, different task forces and Combat Commands carried out the greater plans. In a mere 48 hours, the 10th Armored had blitzed 85 square miles of Germany and working with the 94th Infantry, captured 1200 prisoners and 23 towns. In those 48 hours the stage was set to capture Trier.

The next three days were utilized for that goal.

The successful completion needed a crossing of the Saar. Obstacles were encountered, a new bridgehead had to be established after an earlier one had to be abandoned, apparently due to human error. At 0900 on February 24 the armored infantry battalions assembled at Ayl (lower center of map at left). At 1600 the soldiers, aided by a smokescreen generated by the 81st Chemical Co., began an assault under heavy and continuous fire.

By noon on February 25 all the armored infantry battalions of the Tenth Armored were across the Saar.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

22. Elsewhere in the War

I stopped and wondered what else was happening in the war while the Tenth was involved in the Saar-Moselle Triangle, which I will update the beginning of March. So, here's some of the information from February 1945. (From World War II Timeline.)

February 1: The USAAF launches a series of bombing raids on Iwo Jima, softening the island's Japanese defenses in preparation for a U.S. Marine ground assault.

February 4: Allied military leaders announce that they have cleared Belgium of all Axis forces. (The end of the Bulge)

February 4-11: Allied leaders Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin meet at Yalta (on the Crimean Peninsula) to plan the final phase of the war and decide fate of Nazi Germany and Eastern Europe. Although Franklin Delano Roosevelt was exhausted, Joseph Stalin refused to travel any farther west than Yalta. In negotiations for the fate of Nazi Germany and Eastern Europe, Joseph Stalin had the advantage since most of that area was already in Soviet Union hands. He was, therefore, able to violate the promises he made about free elections in Poland and democratic governments in the liberated states of Central and Southeastern Europe. The Soviet Union leader confirmed his prior promise to enter the war against Japan. Joseph Stalin also reduced his demand for all 16 Soviet Union republics to be represented in the United Nations to two: the Ukraine and Belorussia.

February 13-15: Allies firebomb Dresden and kill approximately 30,000 people: The beautiful German city of Dresden was known as the "Florence of the Elbe" before it suffered a series of bombings in 1945. The heaviest of these were conducted by British and American aircraft from February 13 to February 15. These bombings caused firestorms that destroyed much of the city and killed approximately 30,000 people. Outdoor temperatures reached as high as 2,700 °F, making it impossible for people to escape from their doomed homes. The military efficacy of the bombings has been questioned. Dresden was poorly defended from air attack at times, and its industries were mainly on its outskirts.

February 19: One of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war ensues when 30,000 U.S. Marines storm the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima.

February 20: Red Army troops advance on Berlin, Nazi Germany's capital and the heart of the Third Reich.

February 21: The Americans recapture the Philippine province of Bataan, site of the infamous Bataan death march three years earlier.

February 23: The U.S. Marines capture Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi and raise a foreign flag on Japanese soil.

February 26: In a daytime air raid, the USAAF drops 500,000 incendiary bombs on Berlin. British RAF units take over the attack after darkness falls.

U.S. forces capture Corregidor, leaving 5,000 Japanese troops dead and suffering 1,000 casualties.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

21. Replenished, Refreshed and Ready

9-10 Feb 1945-
Nichols reports that the 10th received sudden orders to move north to again unite with the XX Corps of the Third Army at Metz. By dusk on he 10th they were there. There was a secretiveness to the move as they removed all identification from vehicles and put away their shoulder patches. Even with that, Nichols says
a French boy of seven bravely approached a Tiger staff officer and in perfect English said, "Welcome back to Metz, Tenth Armored Tigers.
It hadn't been two months since the 10th had been diverted from breaking through defensive Siegfried Line near Saarbrucken. They were now returning to the Saar-Moselle triangle with new strength and refreshed for the job ahead. They were the only division remaining which had participated in the November-December assault. Nichols comments that this time they were
to set a model for tank-infantry teamwork, as the Tigers were to race through an infantry bridgehead to seize important objectives deep in the enemy's rear area.
The Triangle-
The Saar-Moselle Triangle is defined by the Moselle River on the west, the Saar on the east and, across the southern end, a part of the Siegfried Line. From Wikipedia: The whole
Line stretched more than 630 km (390 mi) and featured more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps. It went from Kleve on the border with the Netherlands along the western border of the old German Empire as far as the town of Weil am Rhein on the border to Switzerland. It was planned starting in 1936 and built between 1938 and 1940.
The portion of the Line the Tigers were responsible for was a small section, but important to the overall goals to capture the Triangle. For that to be successful they had to capture Metz and then, with that accomplished they could capture Trier. The Germans had fortified the two rivers, the Line as well as a nineteen mile long ridge line that bisected the triangle north and south.

10-18 Feb 1945-
The Tenth began an intensive training program. The Divisions battalions, which had been impacted by the Bulge, were strengthened with experienced replacements. Plans were prepared at headquarters and then translated into field orders, A, B, and C. The Division could then be put into motion at a moment's notice.

In short, the 10th was ready to go. Their movements were mocked by Axis Sally, the radio propagandist, by calling the Tenth- the "Ghost Division." They were not the only division to be so named, but they took it as a mark of honor.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

20. Ending an Uneventful Month

Nichols in Impact describes the end of January into the beginning of February 1944 for the now reunited 10th Armored.
The Division’s stay in the Faulquemont area was uneventful. Except, perhaps, for the unique arrangement which permitted one train a day to come from the German side to our area without having to suffer the indignity of being shelled by the Tigers. In this way, the Germans who worked on the German side but who loved behind American lines, could go to work every day and return in safety.
He then adds another tidbit of trivia:
And for once, the rear echelon found itself in surroundings far inferior to those which favored the front line Tigers. Nowhere, for example, was it possible to get a bath in the Division Headquarters area. But up front, all was serene as the Tigers there wallowed in hot water, thanks to the good conditions of the area’s water works.
So with this break in the action, I have had some time to do some thinking again of what I am writing about.

1. The recent discussions in the media about the current movie, American Sniper, made me stop and think about the “glorification” of war we often see and read. I have had no false impressions about war, even before starting this. War is not something to be glorified and those who fight it are not to be made into some demi-gods. We glorify war when we take war- and the actions of some soldiers- and turn it into propaganda. At this writing I have not seen American Sniper, so I can’t comment on that. But to really understand war and its horrors is not a glorification. Perhaps in the long run to really show it in it’s awful detail is the best way to work against war. This is something I know I will return to later.

2. I mentioned in another post the “fog of war.” Chaos is perhaps a better word for it. Bastogne in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge may be a paradigm for it. The time of the siege of Bastogne was a time when there was no control- things were on a knife’s edge. At times it appears that primal reactions were the only thing that made sense. What will happen between now and the end of the war will be nowhere near that level of chaos. The war has made its final turn and the Allies are in control, whatever that will mean.

3. What I also find interesting is that from this point on in the war, the actions in Europe that my dad was involved with were actions that we don’t hear a lot about. These aren’t the BIG actions. But they were important and the war was far from over. Between now and VE Day in May the war for the 10th will be:
  • Clearing the Saar-Moselle Triangle
  • Capture of Trier
  • Race to the Rhine
  • Battle for Crailsheim
For now, though, the 10th is regrouping and training for what will yet happen.