The 94th US Infantry Division at the Siegfried Line
By Tony Le Tissier
The University of Alabama Press Copyright © 2007 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
The Division Moves into the Line
In Belgium's Ardennes region the Battle of the Bulge was in full spate, and all attention and resources were focused in that direction when the 94th U.S. Infantry Division arrived at the front to relieve the more experienced 90th Infantry Division.
Between January 7 and 10, 1945, the 94th Infantry Division moved out of France into the southwest corner of Germany and deployed in the forward line of the XX Corps of Gen. George S. Patton Jr.'s Third Army. The sector assigned to it was the base of the Saar-Moselle Triangle on the left flank of Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker's XX Corps, whose front extended eastward beyond Saarlautern.
The Saar-Moselle Triangle was formed by the confluence of Germany's Saar and Moselle Rivers immediately south of the important communications center of the ancient city of Trier, the east-west base of the triangle being about thirteen miles long and the distance from base to tip about sixteen miles. The main German line of defense, the Westwall, was known to the Western Allies as the Siegfried Line. This line followed the east bank of the Saar River to the Moselle, from where it continued northward along the east bank of the Sauer River. As an additional protective belt for Trier, the Germans had built a spur of the main defensive line, known as the Orscholz Switch, across the base of the triangle, which abutted the independent country of Luxembourg, occupied at the time by the 2nd Cavalry Group of the American XII Corps.
The 94th had been activated at Fort Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan, on September 15, 1942, as part of the massive expansion of the United States armed forces to meet the requirements of World War II. With such vast growth, it was inevitable that some of those men who were given command appointments would prove inadequate to the task and that this evolution would lead to frequent changes in personnel.
The entire enlisted and officer cadres below regimental rank for the 94th came from the 77th U.S. Infantry Division at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and the junior officer strength was topped off with Reserve Officer Training Corps lieutenants and newly commissioned Officer Candidate School graduates from Fort Benning, Georgia. All would have completed special-to-arms courses, the enlisted men having gone through up to seventeen weeks of basic training at a Replacement Training Center. According to the program laid down by the War Department, the division then had one year to prepare itself for active service. The guidelines allowed thirteen weeks for individual training, five weeks for unit training, four weeks for combined training, seven weeks for maneuvers, and a further six weeks for post-maneuver training, with proficiency tests being carried out at every stage.
Because Fort Custer proved inadequate for its requirements, in November 1942 the 94th Infantry Division moved to Camp Phillips, Kansas, where training was conducted in extreme climatic conditions of snow, mud, and dust storms throughout the ensuing winter, spring, and summer of 1943. Then, at the end of August 1943, the division moved again to the Army Maneuver Area in central Tennessee, where it was immediately drained of fifteen hundred personnel who were urgently required as overseas replacements. That November there was another move to Camp Forrest, near Tullahoma, Tennessee, where the division lost one hundred men from each of its battalions and much of its equipment to the 8th Infantry Division, which had been alerted for a move overseas, before moving again at the end of the month to complete its training at Fort McCain in Grenada, Mississippi. Shortly afterward the 94th was brought up to full strength after the collapse of the Army Specialized Training Program. Draftees with an adequate educational background had been able to apply for the program upon completion of their thirteen-week basic infantry training. This entailed attending intensified university courses in certain subjects under military supervision before resuming their military training for commissioned or specialized roles. However, the program came to an abrupt end when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower asked for an extra fifty-five thousand troops for the invasion of Europe, and the 94th Infantry Division was one of those whose ranks were boosted by the intake of these better-than-average-educated soldiers in February 1944.
The 94th Infantry Division was eventually alerted for overseas service on May 26, 1944, by which time the standards of training achieved were such that despite the constant upheaval of personnel and equipment changes, the following day several of its units were awarded Expert Infantry Company streamers, and the following month the 376th Infantry Regiment qualified as the first Expert Infantry Regiment in the U.S. Army, with the 94th Infantry Division qualifying as the first Expert Infantry Division. Sadly, these standards were later allowed to slip, and every soldier who survived training camp was given the qualification badge.
The division then moved to Fort Shanks, New York, to prepare for embarking for overseas service, and on August 5 they were taken aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth for a fast voyage to Greenock, near Glasgow, Scotland. The men were then moved down by rail to Wiltshire, where the units were accommodated within the Devizes-Melksham-Trowbridge area while awaiting transfer to France. Here the division drew its establishment of vehicles and was joined by an air support group, a photo interpretation team, a prisoner-of-war interrogation team, a military intelligence interpretation group, an Order of Battle team, and a civil affairs section. The division then sailed in several small ships from Southampton and landed on Utah Beach on September 6, appropriately ninety-four days after D-Day.
On September 12, 1944, the division took over from the 10th Armored Division the task of containing the German units that were in the separate pocket at Lorient in southern Brittany defending their submarine bases. The orders from VIII Corps, Ninth Army, to which the 94th Infantry Division was now assigned, were specifically to contain, not attack, the enemy, for the corps' previous assault on Brest with three divisions had proved far too expensive in terms of casualties. The enemy garrison at Lorient was estimated as being between twenty-one and twenty-five thousand troops. Shortly afterward the 94th's responsibility was extended to include the Saint Nazaire pocket with an additional thirty-five thousand enemy troops, and it took over from the 83rd Infantry Division in that area. Consequently, the 94th's experience in Brittany was mainly that of skirmishing, except for one attack organized by Brig. Gen. Louis J. Fortier, the divisional artillery commander, on December 8, using the 3rd Battalion, 301st Infantry, together with engineers and artillery to capture nine bunkers among the defenses covering the foot of the Quiberon Peninsula and taking fifty-nine prisoners with minimal casualties. Frustrated as he was by his division's role in Brittany, Maj. Gen. Harry J. Malony used the chance to practice elements of the division in patrolling, infantry-tank cooperation, infantry-artillery cooperation, and battle indoctrination in general.
On Christmas Eve the torpedoing of a transport carrying elements of the 66th U.S. Infantry Division across the English Channel led to the sad loss of 14 officers and 784 enlisted men. This division was already scheduled to relieve the 94th Infantry Division for more active duty on the Western Front, where the Battle of the Bulge was pressing. Fortunately, by this time most of the containment of the enemy garrisons was in the hands of French Forces of the Interior units under the control of the 94th, so it was still practical to have the depleted 66th take over as planned.
Handover was completed on New Year's Day, and the 94th set off by rail for the Reims staging area to become the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces) Reserve, but this was changed to the division being reassigned to the Third Army while it was still on the move.
During its spell of duty in Brittany, the 94th could claim to have successfully contained a force of some 60,000 enemy troops, inflicting some 2,700 casualties and capturing 566 prisoners, for a loss of 100 dead, 618 wounded, and one man missing in action.
Like other U.S. Army infantry divisions of World War II, the 94th was designed as the smallest military formation capable of operating independently, although it could detach one of its regiments with appropriate supporting elements as a task force. Triangular in structure and dispensing with the intermediary brigade level, the division consisted of three rifle regiments (the 301st, 302nd, and 376th Infantry), each consisting of three battalions, and each of those including three rifle companies, as well as additional heavy weapons companies at regimental and battalion level. The division also comprised an artillery element of one medium (390th) and three light field artillery battalions (301st, 356th, and 919th), with a light aircraft air-spotter section, the 319th Medical Battalion, the 319th Engineer Combat Battalion, the 94th Signal Company, the 94th Ordnance Light Maintenance Company, the 94th Quartermaster Company, the 94th Reconnaissance Troop, and a military police platoon. The overall strength was set at 14,253. Additional units, such as antiaircraft artillery, tank, tank destroyer, and chemical warfare battalions, could be attached when appropriate, bringing the command to well over 15,000 men. The additional units, as of January 7, 1945, consisted of the 774th Tank Destroyer and the 465th AAA Automatic Weapons Battalions. The 778th Tank Battalion was to be attached on February 16 and the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion on January 23 until replaced by the 691st Tank Destroyer Battalion on March 4.
Upon assignment to XX Corps, the 94th Division, under Maj. Gen. Harry J. Malony, was augmented by the attachment of the 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion, which was in fact a heavy mortar battalion equipped with 4.2-inch mortars. It should be noted here that the standard tank destroyer was the M18 Hellcat, which was armed with a 76.2-mm gun and usually supplemented by a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on the open turret, which left it vulnerable to snipers in built-up areas. The M18 Hellcat had the same hull and engine as the standard Sherman tank in its M4A1 through M4A4 versions, which were armed with either a 75- or 76-mm gun and .30-caliber machine guns, also with a .50-caliber machine gun mounted externally on the turret. Both vehicles had five-man crews. The Sherman was mechanically reliable, but its gasoline engine made it highly inflammable. Neither its armor nor its firepower matched that of the German Mark IVs, Panthers, and Tigers, but it remained highly successful in the close infantry support role.
The initial orders for the 94th Infantry Division were to "prepare a plan for limited-objective attacks in battalion strength to shorten and straighten division front lines." The stated purpose of this plan makes little sense when one considers that the division was confronted with a well-established fortified line of defense in depth. However, further orders arrived on January 12 for "a series of limited-objective attacks involving not more than one battalion."
With the Battle of the Bulge still the center of attention and drawing all available resources, little could be spared for this sector of the front. While this situation continued, the role of XX Corps was to keep the Germans tied down and prevent them from switching resources to the densely forested Ardennes. However, the limited scale of the American attacks would mean that the Germans could counter them individually with more powerful reserves, against which the Americans would have to rely on their artillery, providing sufficient ammunition was available.
Although Walker and Malony had been classmates at West Point in 1908, there was little rapport between them. Previously in his career, Malony had held posts senior to Walker, but in the spring of 1942 Malony had apparently fallen foul of his superiors on the Munitions Assignments Board of the Combined Chiefs of Staff and had been given command of the 94th Infantry Division as a way out of the predicament. So now the senior position was held by Walker, who was a fervent disciple of General Patton and his aggressive style of waging war.
During the "Phony War" period of 1939–1940, before the Germans invaded Western Europe, the German defenses along the country's western border had been dubbed the "Siegfried Line" by the British, who disparaged it with the popular ditty:
We're gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
Have you any dirty washing, mother dear?
We're gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
'cos the washing day is here.
Whether the weather may be wet or fine,
We'll rub along without a care.
We're gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
If the Siegfried Line's still there.
However, the Siegfried Line was no joking matter and was very much still there. Designated the Westwall by the Germans, it had been constructed between 1938 and 1940 as a counter to the formidable French Maginot and Belgian Wegand Lines and extended some 630 kilometers from the Swiss border opposite Basel in the south to just beyond Aachen in the north. It had cost 3.5 billion reichsmarks and consumed 4.5 million reichsmarks of materials to build fourteen thousand bunkers, fighting positions, shelters, and antitank defenses.
The German concept of defense was entirely different from that of their neighbors. The Westwall was not intended as a fortress as such, but was meant to provide a defensive position that could be manned by normal field formations as a temporary measure until a counterthrust could be mounted. According to the nature of the terrain, the line was apportioned into sectors designated "fortified" (Festungsbau), where a strong defense was necessary; "defended" (Stellungsbau), where an interlocking net of machine-gun posts would suffice; and "barricaded" (Sperrbau), where an antitank ditch or dragon's teeth (Höckerlinie) served as the prime defensive measure.
The small corps of German fortress engineers produced standard patterns for the various installations to be built and supervised their siting and construction. The majority, 93 percent, of these installations fell into the three B subcategories that were capable of withstanding bombardment by anything between 105-mm and 210-mm artillery, or direct hits from heavier guns, and had walls and ceilings of between 0.8 and 2 meters of reinforced concrete. Another 2 percent of the A category had walls and ceilings that were 2 meters thick and could withstand even heavier punishment, while the remaining 5 percent of the C and D categories were meant to be only splinter or machine-gun proof. In every case, the actual firing position was protected by a thick steel plate.
Bunker models 502 and 504 were particularly predominant on the Orscholz Switch, as were shelter bunker models 51, 51a, and 395. Some installations were entered by way of a gas-proof lock that incorporated a decontamination niche where a dry toilet could be installed. The gas-proofing was further backed by an air conditioning plant that also helped force out fumes from the machine guns. The entrances to these bunkers were often covered both internally and externally by firing slits, and in some of the structures there was also an escape route that the occupants could dig out in an emergency. Other variations incorporated steel turrets with either three or six loopholes for a machine-gun mounting, and some models were equipped with the all-around 50-mm M-19 automatic fortress mortar (50-to 600-meter range, up to 120 rounds per minute) or flamethrowers (75-meter range), while others were equipped as artillery observation posts. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Patton's Pawns by Tony Le Tissier. Copyright © 2007 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.