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Hatten and Rittershoffen January 1945

Discussion in 'Western Europe 1943 - 1945' started by Kai-Petri, Dec 13, 2002.

  1. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Both sides agree that these were the hardest fight in the western frontier. The troops that were in Anzio might say even ´worse than that, heavy fighting from house to house...

    We´ll see the facts that available:

    Suddenly, with the commitment of the 21st Panzer and 25th Panzer Grenadier Divisions in the north, the entire American defensive effort appeared to be in grave danger. Nevertheless, for a time the Americans were able to hang on. In the center of the Lauterbourg salient, the heterogeneous collection of American units occupying old Maginot Line fortifications put up an energetic defense against somewhat listless German armor. Lack of proper reconnaissance as well as 79th Division minefields and artillery stalled the German tanks as did the weather, icy terrain, and the unexpected presence of Task Force Linden (42d Division) units. Meanwhile the remainder of Brooks' corps tried to hold the flanks at Gambsheim and in the Vosges, keeping the salient from caving in. Disturbed by the lack of progress on the 7th, Blaskowitz personally visited the Lauterbourg front tofind out what was holding up his panzer units, threatening to courtmartial all of the principal armor commanders for their lack of aggressiveness. Finally, on 9 January, Decker's armor pierced the VI Corps center, driving it back to the Haguenau forest and forcing Brooks to commit his final reserve, the 14th Armored Division, near the towns of Hatten and Rittershoffen. Here American tanks met German armor in towns, fields, and roads, and the bitter fighting continued. The VI Corps was battling for its life on three sides.

    The battleground now began to resemble a general melee. Between 10 and 20 January General Smith's 14th Armored Division, which assumed operational control of assorted infantry units of the 242d and 315th Infantry above the Haguenau forest and was supported by most of its own artillery plus that of the 79th Division, fought a sustained action with Decker's panzers. The German commanders, in turn, reinforced the attacking troops on the night of 13-14 January with the 20th Parachute Regiment (7th Parachute Division), and on the 16th with the 104th Infantry Regiment (47th Volksgrenadier Division), thereby steadily raising the stakes of the contest. But along the entire front of the VI Corps, division and regimental commanders gradually lost control over the battle, and the struggle devolved into a fierce tactical conflict between opposing battalions, companies, platoons, and smaller combat units.

    The heaviest fighting was concentrated in the two small Alsatian towns of Rittershoffen and Hatten, both just north of the Haguenau forest and a mile or so apart.(6) Chance and circumstance had led the Germans to seize the eastern sections of both towns and the Americans to occupy the western parts, making the fields and roads in between a no-man's land of artillery, antitank, and small-arms fire. Efforts by each party to cut the resupply routes of the other by armored sweeps continually failed in the face of strong tank, antitank, and artillery fire from both sides. The battle thus boiled down to a desperate infantry fight within the towns, with dismounted panzer grenadiers and armored infantrymen fighting side by side with the more lowly foot infantry.(7) Almost every structure was hotly contested, and at the end of every day each side totaled up the number of houses and buildings it controlled in an attempt to measure the progress of the battle. Often in the smoke, haze, and darkness, friendly troops found themselves firing at one another, and few ventured into the narrow but open streets, preferring to advance or withdraw through the blown-out interior walls of the gutted homes and businesses. Both sides employed armor inside the town, but the half-blind tank crews had to be protected by a moving perimeter of infantrymen and could only play a limited supporting role. In Hatten, even with strong infantry and artillery support, no German or American tanker dared push his vehicle around "the bend"- a slight turn in the town's marginally wider main street that was covered by several antitank weapons from both sides.

    By 15 January, as the German commitment of infantry in the two towns escalated, the Americans found themselves increasingly on the defensive; resupply and the evacuation of casualties became major operations, as did the continual reorganization of their shrinking perimeters to consolidate the territory they were able to hold. As elsewhere the cold weather kept bodies from deteriorating, and the troops reached a consensus among themselves that no one would be evacuated for shock, since everyone who was left fell into that dubious category. Nevertheless, the American armored division and the attached infantry managed to hang on, completely stalling the Germans' main effort, but in the process they lost perhaps one-third of their combat strength in men and equipment.

    An equally desperate fight took place in the Vosges between Mouterhouse and Baerenthal involving the 45th Division's 157th regiment and additional units of the 6th SS Mountain Division. Although the struggle lasted seven days, from 14 to 21 January, it began in earnest on the 15th when one of the 157th Infantry's battalions managed to penetrate the German defensive positions and the other battalions were unable to follow. During the next two days the German defenders, after unsuccessfully trying to push the battalion back, managed to surround it and cut it off from its sister units. This isolated force, made up of five companies (L, I, C, K, and G), hung on for three days while various elements of the 45th and 103d Divisions and the 36th Engineers tried unsuccessfully to break through the German blockade, continually hampered by sleet and blinding snowstorms as well as by severe shortages of artillery ammunition and other supplies. With food running low and their own small-arms and mortar ammunition growing short, the remaining soldiers of the 157th's trapped force formed a small defensive perimeter, placing the wounded in foxholes so that they could be cared for by those who were still fighting. On the 20th, the end was near. With only about 125 able-bodied soldiers left, the trapped infantrymen tried to infiltrate out. News of the Malmedy Massacre in the Ardennes had spread throughout the Seventh Army, and few wished to surrender to the SS troops. But in the end only two enlisted men reached Allied lines. Shortly thereafter the remainder of the regiment was withdrawn from the front for rest and refitting; the SS mountain unit was equally battered, however, and had to be taken out of the line several days later.(8)

    -----

    For starters

    http://www.trailblazersww2.org/alsace.htm
     
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  2. JGarman

    JGarman Member

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    thank you for this information....it is helping in my search for my grand fathers war records. He won a Bronze Star here. great to read about the battle!!!
     
  3. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    " While the human toll has never been precisely calculated, a US survey of the battlefield in march 1945 found the burned-out wrecks of 31 M4 medium tanks, 9 M5A1 light tanks and 8 half-tracks along with 51 panzers and assault guns and 12 half-tracks;the Germans had recovered at least six panzers before withdrawing."

    From Operation Nordwind
    By Steven Zaloga
     
  4. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    I would like to explore this battle further by starting at the beginning. I am hoping to find more from the German side of the battle from US interviews with German officers and other sources.

    I'll start with a description of the US forces just before the Germans struck on the Alsace Plain about 5 January 1945. For this you will need to recall the Germans attacked west of, and through, the Low Vosge on January 1st in their Operation NORDWIND.

    The 79th ID sent four battalions to the 45th ID in the Low Vosges. That left the 79th ID with 314th and 315th Infantry Regiments, each with two battalions, plus the remaining battalion of the 313th Infantry. When Task Force Herren (70th ID, Trailblazers) left their positions along the Rhine, those positions were taken over by TF Linden (42d ID, Rainbow). I don't recall exactly reading that the 79th ID took over the whole sector of the north Alsace plain (the Lauterbourg salient), with the 42d ID (TF Linden) attached, but it surely makes sense.

    Here I'll mention the book The Final Crisis by Richard Engler, from Aberjona Press. This provides a good overview plus a whole lot of details about particular battles. And, being written by a veteran of the 42d ID, it provides many personal accounts from other veterans, plus the story of "The Company" (F/222d Infantry) in its first campaign. However as I read this book, it was necessary to use a process of deduction for determining what units had responsibility for which sector. I would like to know what sectors each battalion had responsibility for but I have not found a source with that kind of detail (yet).

    I should mention that the 232d Infantry (TF Linden, 42d ID) had just taken over positions on the Rhine on about 5 January, just before the Germans struck. It is my guess that the 242d Infantry (TF Linden, 42d ID), with two battalions, had just taken over the positions of the 314th Infantry, allowing that unit to go into reserve and be available when the Germans attacked across the Rhine. Latter the 222d Infantry (TF Linden, 42d ID) would relieve the 315th Infantry, allowing that unit to be rushed to Hatten and Ritterhoffen behind the 242d. The 222d Infantry was covering Strasbourg, just to the south on the Rhine, and was relieved by the 3d Algerian Division.

    I tried to map these positions and the initial German attacks and will make corrections when I get additional information or someone finds an error.

    View attachment 14709
     

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  5. Battle of Alsace

    Battle of Alsace Dishonorably Discharged

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    Earthician,

    Your approach to better understanding the fighting of January 1945 by mapping the locations of the various units of VI Corps is an excellent way to start. There are, however, several maps available that provide the information you seek. Using them will allow you to spend more time thinking about these dispositions, and make a wonderful starting place for adding in more details as you go along. The maps I have in mind can be found in Clarke and Smith, Riviera to the Rhine (online at the CMH website) and relevant maps online at the USMA History Dept. website.

    A battle like that at Hatten-Rittershoffen can only be fully appreciated if it is examined, analyzed, and placed into context at all levels of warfare; grand strategy, strategy, the operational art, etc., and in this case, beginning with dispositions within VI Corps is, as I mentioned, a great way to start. You can then move your line of inquiry lower in the hierarchy to look at the tactical and foxhole aspects of the Battle of H-R, and higher to find out why things happened they way they did at these levels. Speaking of corps dispositions, your use of the Task Force names is an important part of keeping the players straight, so to speak, because it keeps in mind that the divisional regiments which went into them were without their organic command and support, and were consequently treated as "green" fillers along the MLR by the divisions to which they were attached. (Think of the inexperienced 106th Infantry Division in the Ardennes on 16 December 1944 for a mental comparison of the situations in which these regiments found themselves.)

    Your desire to examine the subject from the other side of the hill will provide insights which will not otherwise be available. The reports and interviews of captured German officers, generally known as the Foreign Military Studies, are a gold mine of information, but must be used carefully because they can be misleading.

    You have made a great start... keep up the good work.

    BoA
     
  6. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Thank you for the advice and encouragement. I am dealing with a personal matter right now but I hope to continue this thread later.

    Earthican
     
  7. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    With no new descriptions of the US positions but further consideration, I would revise my previous map to show the villages of Ingolsheim, Hunspach, Aschbach and Buhl held in some strength in front of the Maginot Line. This stands to reason as winter conditions made holding the villages preferable to open trenches around bunkers. In addition I suspect the US commanders were not enamored with the Maginot fortifications.

    Reading the report by Generalluetnant Fuechtinger, commander of 21.PzD, we get this description of the initial attacks on 6 Jan 1945. Almost none of this is included on my previous map as these sources were not known to me.

    Assembled north of Wissembourg, the division attacked south in two columes. On the right 192. PzGR, 21. Aufk Abtl, 1 / 220. PzPB, I / 155. PzAR. On the left 125. PzGR, I / 22. PzR (about 14 Pz. V and 20 Pz. IV), 220. PzPB (minus 1 Kompanie), PAK of the 155. PzAR. The company strength of the PzGR were about 80 - 90 men.

    The route of the right (west) column was to be Wissembourg - Riedseltz - Soultz. The route of the left (east) column was to be Seebach - Hoffen - Surbourg.

    On 6 Jan 1945 the right column cleared US outposts in Riedseltz and attacked Ingolsheim where they entered a pitched battle and seized the town.

    The left column cleared US outposts in Seebach but advanced no further.

    On 7 and 8 Jan attacks were carried out at Schoenenbourg on the right and at Aschbach, Oberroedern and Buhl on the left. These attacks made no progress against massed US artillery.

    Oberst(?) von Luck, commanding 125.PzGR, adds this detail for 8 Jan but does not provide a location. Hauptmann(?) Herr with grenadiers, attached pioneers and 12 Panzer V's attacked and seized one bunker, destroyed three Sherman tanks and took many prisoners. One Panther was lost to mines while US artillery caused 20 casualties. The battle group was forced to withdraw.

    Pardon my ersatz German unit abbreviations, some look odd but others are now familiar.
     
  8. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    I have not been able to find any online description of the operations of the 25 PzGD. However this is a nice summary of the organization and a gauge of it's strength as of 1 Dec 1944. The attached map is updated with recent findings.


    The next complete report then is the one as of 1.12.1944. On this date the division was 1250 men short of its authorized strength of 6456, including 739 sick and slightly wounded. Since 10.11.1944 it had lost 181 KIA, 517 WIA, 874 MIA, 147 seriously ill and 98 for other reasons. During the same time only 119 replacements had arrived.

    On 1.12.1944 the Division consisted of

    Div.Stab with Pz.Späh-Zug [at least 2 Sd.Kfz. 222]

    Stab Pz.Gren.Rgt. 35 with Stabskp.
    13.(I.G.) Kp. (motorized; towed heavy infantry guns)
    14.(Pi.) Kp. (motorized; machine guns, medium mortars, flame throwers)
    15.(Fla.) Kp. (motorized; towed 2cm Flak)

    Stab I./Pz.Gren.Rgt. 35 with Versorg.Kp.
    1.-3. Pz.Gren.Kp. (motorized; machine guns and medium mortars)
    4.(s.) Pz.Gren.Kp. (motorized; machine guns, heavy mortars and 2cm Flak guns)

    Stab II./Pz.Gren.Rgt. 35 with Versorg.Kp.
    5.-7. Pz.Gren.Kp. (on bicycles; machine guns and medium mortars)
    8.(s.) Pz.Gren.Kp. (motorized; machine guns, heavy mortars and 2cm Flak guns)
    No III. Btl.

    Stab Pz.Gren.Rgt. 119 with Stabskp.

    Stab I./Pz.Gren.Rgt. 119 with Versorg.Kp.
    1.-3. Pz.Gren.Kp. (armored; various types of m.SPW including several 251/9 and 251/21)
    4.(s.) Pz.Gren.Kp. (armored; various types of m.SPW including several 251/9)
    No II., no III. Btl., no regimental weapons companies.

    Stab Panzer-Abt. 5 with Stabskp. (including a 'Möbelwagen' platoon)
    1. - 3. Kp. (Panther)
    4. Kp. (Pz. IV/70(V))
    Pz.Werkstatt-Zug
    Versorg.Kp.

    Stab Panzerjäger-Abt. 5 with Stabskp.
    1. + 2. Kp. (StuG III)
    3. Kp. (towed a/t guns)
    Versorg.Kp.

    Stab Art.Abt. I./25 with Stabsbttr.
    1. - 3. Bttr. (motorized; towed 10,5cm howitzers)
    No Art.Rgt.Stab, no II. and III. Abt.

    1./Pi.Btl. 25 (motorized; machine guns, medium mortars, flame throwers)
    3./Pi.Btl. 25 (partially armored (1 platoon); machine guns, flame throwers)
    No Btl.Stab, no 2. Kp.

    Pz.Nachr.Kp. 25
    Kraftfahr-Kp. (120 to) 25
    Werkstatt-Kp. 2./25
    San.Kp. 2./25 with 2 Kr.Kw. (ambulanc) platoons
    Feldpostamt 25

    The Armor status was given as
    Stu.Gesch.: authorized 31 / operational 7 / in short term repair 5
    Pz. III: authorized 3 / operational 1 / in short term repair 1 [These actually were no 'real' Pz. III but Bergepz. III]
    Pz. IV: authorized 15 [= 11 Pz. IV/70(V) + 4 Flakpz. IV] / operational 2 / in short term repair 7
    Pz. V: authorized 37 [= 36 Pz. V + 1 Bergepz. V] / operational 5 / in short term repair 12
    Schtz.Pz., Pz.Späh-Wg.: authorized 172 / operational 110 / in short term repair 27
    Other heavy weapons available were
    s.Pak: authorized 12 / operational 3 / in short term repair 0
    Art.Gesch.: authorized 12 / operational 9 / in short term repair 2

    One has to keep in mind that German monthly status reports normally do not include vehicles in long term repair, so the totals most likely were a little higher in some cases.
    Most of the armored vehicles (except for the StuG III and Bergepz. III) belonged to the former Pz.Brig. 107. Only 3 new leichte Pz.Späh-Wagen and 11 new m.SPW had been delivered to the division during Oct/Nov 1944.

    Martin Block
     

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  9. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    The only information I have on the operations of the 25 PzGD come from published sources with the US point of view. Therefore I can only summarize my interpretation. In the early morning hours of 9 Jan 1945 two columns of PzGD 25 attacked Hatten from the woods to the east. The northern column penetrated the US lines and reached the town. The southern column supported by armor was at first repulsed by artillery but pressed its attack and overwhelmed the defenders from pointblank ranges. Street fighting in Hatten continued throughout the day. In the last hours of daylight, armor and panzergrenadier borne by SPW nearly reached the town of Rittershoffen but were driven off by tanks from the US 14th AD.

    It's not clear to me when PzD 21 joined the attack. From descriptions, about 10 Jan 1945, PzGR 192 attacked to clear the bunkers on the ridge north of Rittershoffen while PzGR 125 attacked the town itself.

    To map this I used modern satellite images only slightly doctored. I also provided a blank image for anyone that has an alternative interpretation or additional information. You will have to imagine everything covered with a foot of snow.
     

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  10. Natman

    Natman Member Patron  

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    Enjoying reading your posts. Would like to know what sources you are using for the US perspective?

    You may already have this but here's a link to the 813th TD Bn AAR for Jan 45: http://tankdestroyer.net/images/stories/ArticlePDFs/813_AAR_-_Jan_1-_31_1945.pdf They were attached to the 79th ID at this time. It indicates that prisoners from the 21st Pz Div Rcn Bn, identified as operating in the Wissembourg area, were taken on Jan 5th.

    Hope it helps with your research. Keep the posts coming.
     
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  11. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Wow that's a great addition to the information available for this battle.

    I have never read such a detailed AAR. One could almost reconstruct the action of the battalion down to each platoon.

    My primary source for US operations remains Richard Engler's The Final Crisis. It seems well researched and has great detail if a bit indirect. For the battle in R-H I hope the Armor School study on the operations of the 14th AD will provide additional details.
     
  12. Natman

    Natman Member Patron  

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  13. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Thanks again, Steve, it looks like I have more reading to do.

    Found this bit of additional information on German units. I'll add von Luck cites Major Willy Spreu for leading PzGR 192 for which he earned a Knight's Cross and was severely wounded.

    8 January: Around Oberroedern elements of the 192 PGR and 125 PGR are involved. (5. 6. 7./192 PGR and 220 Pz. Pionier Abt.)

    9 January: I./35 PGR and II./119 PGR
    KG Huss: I./119 PGR, 3./25 Pionier Bn., 25 PzJgr. Bn with tanks and Flammenwerfers.
    KG Proll: 35 PGR, II./119 PGR, the rest of 25 Pionier Bn.

    John W. Howard


    There seems to be some disagreement as to whether the 119 PzGR had one or two battalions. The composition of KG Huss seems to match that of the southern column attacking Hatten and carrying-on to the southeast edge of Rittershoffen (not depicted in my map).
     
  14. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    I am still hoping for more descriptions and information on the German attack.

    While we wait, I'll put out the call for information about the 3d Battalion of the 313th Infantry Regiment that was holding Oberroedern and the Maginot positions on the ridge to the north. This seems like the untold story of this battle and may have been critical to the outcome. I have seen that the 3d of the 313th Infantry earned a Distinguished Unit Citation (PUC today) for this action but I have not been able to track down the write-up.
     
  15. Nordwind511

    Nordwind511 Member

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    Hello everyone-

    during the night from 8 January to 9 January the German 25. Panzergrenadierdivision went to his operation sector to Niederroedern via Schaffhausen. The operation staff of the 25. Panzergrenadierivision built two groups (John mentioned before):
    Kampfgruppe (I would translate this as "battle group"(?)) Huss and Kampfgruppe Pröll.

    The Kampfgruppe Pröll was an "unarmored" group. The group included these units: Panzergrenadierregiment 35; II./Panzergren. Regiment 119, Pionier Btl. (Engineer) 25 without C-Companie, Sturm-Geschützkompanie der PzJg.Abt. 25 and Pz.Aufkl.Abt.25
    The Kampfgruppe Huss was an almost armored Group. The group included these units: I./PanzerGrenadierregiment 119 (I. means first Bataillon of this regiment); 3./Pionier-Bataillon 25 (3 means C-Companie); PanzerAbtl. 5 (Sturmgeschütze) and a Flamm-Panzer-Companie; Panzer-Jäger Abteilung 25, without Sturmgeschütz-Kompanie.
     
  16. Nordwind511

    Nordwind511 Member

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    After the failure of the assault of the 21. Armored Division on 8th of january General von Rundstedt instructed the staff of Heeresgroup G to start another assault on a different place for a break-through to the Maginot-line by the 25. Panzergrenadierdivision. The assault should start in the area of Niederroedern-Seltz towards Hatten. The 21. Armored division should support the assault depending upon the development of the attack. The staff of Heersgroup G instructed the assault by the XXXIX. Armoerd-Corps along the northern edge of the Haguenau Forest for the morning of the 9th of january. At 7:00 pm on 8th of january the Heeresgroup G instructed the XXXIX. Armored Corps to order the 25. Pz.Grenadier-Division to Niederroedern and to start a clearing-up operation immediately.
    At 11:00 pm the staff of Heersgroup G announced to OB-West (General West) their intentions: "Bei XXXIX. Panzerkorps Angriff mit 21. Pz.Div. und 25. Pz.Gren.Div. aus dem Raum Stundwiller und dem Waldgelände südwestlich Niederroedern - mit Schwerpunkt links- zum Durchbruch durch die Maginot-Linie in allgemeiner Richtung Surbourg; Weiterstoß je nach Entwicklung der Lage." (Translation: The XXXIX. Armored-Corps will start the assault with 21. Armored-Division and 25. Panzergrenadier-Division from the area of Stundwiller and the forest areas southwest Niederroedern - the emphasis of the assault on the left side - break-through of the Maginot-Line in the direction to Surbourg; further assault depending upon the develpoment of the attack.
    The main plan for the assault was that the "unarmored" group Pröll should try to overcome the first wire barriers and mine fields (and also form lanes through the mine fields for the later assault of armored units of Kampfgruppe Huss) under utilization of a surprise effect. The engineer-units should knock-out the first bunkers of the maginot-line near Hatten (the German units had no map material of the maginot-lne and the bunkers in this area!!) and than the unit should conquer Hatten.
     
  17. Nordwind511

    Nordwind511 Member

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    John,

    you mentioned on 8th of january ... elements of the 220. Panzerpionier-Bataillon. Do you have more informations about it? My grandpa served in this unit and he´s missing in action till the battle of Hatten/Rittershofen. Thx.
     
  18. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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  19. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Map updated with the information we have on the German attack for 9 and 10 JAN 45. Note the actions of 21 PzD are my speculations. Also note, as Nordwind511 stated, KG Huss had elements that followed KG Pröll into Hatten. I'll work on how to depict that later.

    One other note: I show the 3/313th Infantry defending Oberroedern and the ridge to the north, but because they defended such a large area to the west I suspect there was no more than a rifle company there.

    Final note: I find I am abundantly occupied presenting the broad actions of this battle. If anyone is inclined to read the Unit Journals or AAR's and try to find specific events that tie-in with the larger picture feel free to quote the documents and explain or question how they fit.
     

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  20. Nordwind511

    Nordwind511 Member

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    [FONT=&quot]I would like to mention that there different After-action reports about the fights in the morning of 09.01.1945 and the attack of the 25. Pz.Gren.Division (especially the attack of II./Pz.Gren.Rgt. 119 and the conquest of a part of the Maginot-Line (the bunker „Casemates d´Esch“ eastward of Hatten by the Germans by a combat patrol of 25. PiBat.)). So first it was a littlebit difficult to find out what happened in detail …
    [/FONT]
     

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