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Hatten and Rittershoffen January 1945

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

  1. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    From the outside the German attacks look extremely well planned and executed. On one hand this could be expected from a country with strong military traditions and an advanced system for combat leadership. However by 1945 Germany was at the end of her resources, both human and material. For PzD 21, its panzer regiment was missing a battalion and its grenadier companies were well under strength. With only brief conversion training, infantry replacements were being drawn from the KM and LW. This placed a heavy burden on the experienced leaders to be up front which resulted in many casualties to the unit cadre.

    The attack by KG von Luck on Rittershoffen in the pre-dawn hours of 11 January 1945 represented a shift in effort for PzD 21. The attacks north of the Seltzbach had not succeeded to the degree required and a renewed effort there would likely only bring an advance to where the stream branched, short of Hoffen. But to the south, in the zone of PzGD 25, an attack on Rittershoffen could carry up the high ground to Kuhlendorf and beyond.

    The method of the German attack is unknown to me. To the Americans, soldiers appeared outside their positions. Since they knew there were friendly troops in the next village there is some claim that they withheld fire until too late. Later the GI's report tanks, moving out of the darkness and supported by foot troops, attack to break-through their lines.

    I will observe that foot troops in front of armor tends to limit the use of all the firepower available to the tanks. Unless the German devised a more complicated attack plan, which they were well capable of, it is slightly suspect that foot troops led the tanks to Rittershoffen. But I'll leave it at that unless further information comes to light.
     

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  2. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    The defense of Rittershoffen fell to the 3d Bn of the 315th Infantry. Supported by tank destroyers of the 827th TD Bn and their own 57mm towed anti-tank guns, the 3d Bn set about preparing their positions.

    If WWI was the height of trench warfare, WWII appears to be the height of town warfare. Stout stone and wood buildings of western Europe made ideal improvised blockhouses from which infantry could fend off tanks. Control of the towns allowed control of the roads over which the life blood of the mechanized forces flowed. At times I think a reluctance to turn civilian homes into fighting positions contributed to the early success of the panzertruppen in 1940.

    But there were also challenges to defending a town. Most significant was that the buildings tended to be surrounded by trees, brush and hedges. These blocked observation and reduced the fields of fire available to machine guns. Strong outposts could mitigate the effects but once the enemy gained the edges the battle turned close. Second, the numerous buildings in a town require a force large enough to occupy at least half the buildings facing the enemy. Too few troops makes the defense highly vulnerable to infiltration.

    The attached sketch is my interpretation of the defense of Rittershoffen. Note the location of the "air-raid shelter" (orange square) which Item Company used for a CP. With that structure so far outside town Item Company appears to have gained no advantage from the town buildings. Engler indicated that King Company was cut off when the Germans seized the church in the southeast quarter of town. He said they traveled south to the "woods" and returned to town from the southwest. I find it hard to believe they would have traveled any further south than the railroad embankment. I think the "woods" they mention are the trees on the steep slope southwest of town.
     

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  3. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Identification of Panzer Division 21 operating east of the Vosges on 7 January 1945 allowed US commanders to also shift the US 14th Armored Division east of the Vosges. With the German partial capture of Hatten and Rittershoffen the 14th AD was ordered to re-store the line along the old Maginot forts.

    The 14th AD had participated in the November offensive that had carried Allied forces to the Alsace Plain. In those battles the 14th had performed in it doctrinal role of exploiting an enemy collapse. Now it was ordered to make a limited objective attack against an enemy strong enough to make their own attacks.

    On 12 January 1945, Combat Command A, with the 48th Tank Bn and the 68th Armored Infantry Bn, was ordered to take Rittershoffen while CCB, 25th TB and 62d AIB, attacked Hatten from the north.

    CCA split its forces into a tank heavy force, 48th TB(-) with B Co 68th AIB, which was to attack from the southwest while an infantry heavy force, 68th AIB(-) with A Co 48th TB, was to attack from the west.

    48th TB(-) attacked with the infantry of B Co 68th AIB leading and on foot. Tanks were to support the infantry by fire. This attack was stopped outside the town with heavy casualties.

    68th AIB(-) attacked with teams of tanks and infantry advancing to the western edge of town. From here the infantry cleared buildings while the tanks destroyed and suppressed German strong points. The attack succeed in taking the western quarter of Rittershoffen.

    The attack by CCB on Hatten advanced ,with dismounted infantry, across more than 1000 meters of open ground and disintegrated in defensive artillery, mortars and long range machine gun fire. The tanks following the infantry suffered from long range sniping from Pz, PzJg, and Pak.
     

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  4. Natman

    Natman Member

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    Bit late with this but here's an excerpt from the 315th IR Journal for Jan, 45. It's somewhat difficult to follow, with many references to "in town" or "the town', leaving me trying to figure out which town they are refering to. Also numerous references to a church, which had lots of action around it, between the towns but there isn't one now? I'm sure a currently existing church is the one they refer to.

    The 25th TB and 62nd AIB need to be corrected on the last map.

    View attachment 15327
     

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  5. Natman

    Natman Member

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    Checked GE Street View this AM and I'm thinking the referenced church may be the one NE of the intersection of Rue de Hatten and Rue de la Gare, especially since there's a graveyard across the street to the south. That would indicate the church has been there for some time.
     
  6. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Regarding the church location, according to the French map it is either the RED square or possibly the BLUE square on the attached sketch.

    This period photo does not clarify the church location much but it is a reminder that virtually none of the town survived. The modern church location across the street from the cemetery reflects that the town was completely re-built with many changes.

    [​IMG]

    Other old photos of town show a different church spire (probably a Protestant church) but the location is even less identifiable.

    It should be mentioned that both combatants mention the suffering of the civilians which were not evacuated before the battle. The French maps shows the population of Rittershoffen as 800 and Hatten as 1500.
     

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  7. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Another excellent contribution, thank you very much Natman.

    And another amazingly detailed Battalion Journal. This will take me awhile to digest (or savor, as you like).

    But while we are discussing the church in Rittershoffen I'll post this image from the US Army official history which appears to have been taken from the church tower. It must have been taken either 9 or 10 January 1945. It is looking southeast at Hatten; not much to see except the tree lined road between the towns and the three Sherman tanks on outpost. The tanks would seem to be from the 48th Tank Bn, 14th AD.

    [​IMG]
     
  8. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    This has become one of the more interesting and informative threads on the forum. Thanks to Earthican for his voluminous writing and maps. You've obviously put a lot of time into this battle. Also, thanks to Steve (aka Natman) for his contributions in tracking down the relevant unit journals. Also, thanks to Kai-Petri for starting it all. Thank you all for doing your part in causing me to spend way too much time on this forum when I have work to do. :D
     
  9. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Thanks for the encouragement, TD_Tommy, it's nice to know others share my interests. I wish I could write a more dramatic story but that's not my forte. Luckily the Journals and AAR's speak for themselves.


    OK, here's a preliminary stab at illustrating the 3/315th Infantry Bn Journal for 11 JAN 1945. The sketch in the journal and location of L Co confirm the church location as the RED or PINK square.

    Clearly the remnants of I Co plus some tanks gathered around the "Air Raid Shelter" that housed the CP. Easy now to see how the Germans penetrated the company right flank in their drive to the church.


    It's funny to hear the Bn Journal describe the "car park" they found in town when they arrived. I suspect this accounts for the tenuous hold on the town that appears to have existed between the remnants of L Co and I Co. These would have been the battalion mortars, the M Co CP, AT guns from the Bn AT Plt and Regt AT Co plus the rear elements of 2/315th Infantry (in Hatten) and such.

    It also appears the 68th AIB had a company in or north of Rittershoffen. At one point they asked the 48th Tk Bn to help them out.

    Throughout the battle on the 11th it appears the whole 48th Tk Bn (minus A Co) was in and around town supporting the infantry until withdrawn to prepare for their attack the next day.


    The Bn Journal makes no mention of the withdrawal of K Co from the southeast corner of town. They do describe an attack to re-store the connection with L Co but not the results of that effort.
     

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  10. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    For the battle on 12 JAN 1945, the remark in the Bn Journal that the attack by the 68th AIB(-) only gained a few buildings causes me to question the report by the 68th AIB that they gained 400 yards into town. As usual the truth is probably in between these observations. It seems to me that complete control of the west end of town would seriously weaken the German hold around the church and the depression around the sunken road leading into town from the northeast. This depression, or reverse slope, constituted an interior line and sheltering area where the very important task of reorganization and re-supply could take place. I imagine this area to be a milling crowd of German vehicles.

    Therefore in my recent sketch for 12 JAN 1945 I have significantly scaled back the area retaken by the joint attack by C/68 AIB and A/48 TB. I have also included the notation that A/68 AIB supported the attack by fire from the left flank, the northwest.

    Part of my rational for the decreased gains by the 68th AIB is a consideration of the strength of armored infantry company. A platoon would have two rifle squads plus one machine gun and one 60mm mortar squad. Then three rifle platoons to a company plus an anti-tank platoon does not leave many riflemen to clear and hold buildings.

    The Bn Journal also remarked that there were some armored infantry in the south of town. I suspect these were survivors from the failed attack by the 48th TB(-) with B/68 AIB.
     

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  11. pistol

    pistol Member

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  12. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Thank you, interesting footage but I didn't see anything that made me think it was Rittershoffen. Personally I think the fighting was too intense and tenuous for there to be any Allied footage. There is German footage of Hatten but they held the area after the battle.
     
  13. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    As the fighting in Rittershoffen on 13 JAN 1945 was inconclusive for the US, there is not much to illustrate. The plan was for the 68th AIB(-) (A and C Co), with A/48th Tk Bn, to clear the west end of town, the 3/315th Infantry to clear the center of town (including the church fortress), and the 48th TB(-) (B,C and D Co), with B/68th AIB, to clear the southeast corner of town. The Bn Journal of the 3/315th Infantry has an illustration of these zones which I roughly translated to my sketch using green lines.

    Now zones are very important to define objectives and keep units from firing on each other. Ideally units advance parallel to the zone boundaries and cover each others flanks. As an amateur tactician I think I have noticed a pitfall to simple zone assignments as they may fail to direct your strength against an enemy weakness or other critical terrain features. In this case, I feel the 3/315th Infantry was attacking frontally the German main strength in the church. The 68th AIB(-) had a zone too big for its capability and I feel the 48th TB was attacking a non-critical zone that was hard to approach.

    And all these zones failed to get at the area critical to the German position in Rittershoffen. On my sketch I highlighted this area with a yellow bubble. It includes the sunken road entering the town from the northeast. I suspect the Germans positioned their powerful anti-tank cannons (Pak, StuG, PzJg, ...) on the reverse slope of this depression to protect the main supply route and the rear area of the panzergrendiere fighting in town.

    The 14th AD had fully taken over responsibility of this sector but had orders to restore the line along the Maginot forts. Adding urgency to this order was the "trapped" battalion of the 315th Infantry in Hatten. In fact on 13 JAN 1945, CCR was attacking south of Rittershoffen to an area south of Hatten. CCB was held out the battle but ordered to support CCA by fire from the northwest of Rittershoffen.


    My fantasy attack for the 14th AD is to advance east, north of Rittershoffen, and turn southeast into the depression. This objective seems suited to massed US armor in that it is open ground, projecting into the US line, and slightly screened from the enemies main defenses. I am imagining an armored charge that tankers practiced at Ft Knox and that they fully believed in until they encountered German high velocity cannon.

    If this seems outside the capabilities of a new Armored Division that was "once bitten, twice shy", I direct your attention to the battles of the 12th AD to the south. In trying to eliminate the German Rhine bridgehead they advanced on the town of Herrlisheim in a sweeping armored attack. This unit was chewed-up and spit-out, but here they were attacking the middle of the German AT defenses on flat open ground. In fact, they were also in contact with the Flak batteries protecting the ferry sites -- the real 88's.

    But I think the principle is correct when the conditions are right and they may have been right at Rittershoffen. At close range and in a free-for-all battle, the Sherman, with its speed, powered turret traverse and gyrostabilizer, gains an edge against the powerful and heavily armored panzerkampfwagan. I have to think the vulnerability of the German position was not seized upon. This is not an ideal use of US armor but seems preferable to the stately advances into the kill zones of the main German line.
     

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  14. GPW1944

    GPW1944 recruit

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    In my search for additional information about the Hatten and Rittershoffen battle I couldn't resist in reading your posts regarding the battle. My uncle who is now 93 was there. He was attached to the 79th Div, 315 Inf Reg, 3 Bn. and one of the few to survive from start to finish. He has told me many stories of this battle and of their struggles to hold their ground and stay alive. If you don't mind I would like to use some of your information for my own use to further document his stories. Thank you.
     
  15. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    You are so welcome, GPW1944. I am very pleased to help you to connect with your family history. Hopefully ww2f.com will help you find all the resources that are available on and off line.

    I just received my copy of James Thomes memoir "One Soldiers Journey". Thomes was L Company's XO and sometimes company commander. Among WWII memoirs it is not the most informative or coherent, but his story adds to the our understanding of how free citizens reacted to military service in a global war.

    I am hesitant to reveal what he said about Rittershoffen. I think it takes an understanding of the man which is revealed by reading the whole book to appreciate his actions there.

    Feel free to inquire here about this battle or post elsewhere for information about your uncle's unit or about infantry combat in WWII.
     
  16. GPW1944

    GPW1944 recruit

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    I read my uncles copy of the book he received from James Thomes, at the time Thomes indicated he remembered my uncle, who was a S/Sgt in his company. My uncles account of Rittershoffen was much more detailed than the book; however that can be expected as its given to me first hand. My uncle mentioned that while fighting in Rittershoffen that the Germans had one side of the street and the US the other, and that it was very fierce. I believe my uncle indicated that the Germans had control of the church which was mentioned in your posts. He indicated that it was a very well built church. He also mentioned that there were long block buildings. He mentioned that when they were getting pushed back by the Germans he nearly got captured due to running in between two of the buildings only to find that there was a dead end at the other end. He said he managed to dig through the block with his bayonette and to the inside where he spent many hours hiding from the Germans. He said that because the Germans then controlled that area he was worried about getting shot by his own men and had to wait until one of the guys in his company came near and then he yelled out. He said that the guy he called had a nickname "Flatty" due to his flat nose, said it was better than a code word as no German would have known his name. My uncle also mentioned in his run up to these long buildings there was an orchard. He said that during his run he placed a nice pair of German binoculars in a tree as he did not want to get caught with them if he had been captured. I believe it was during this battle that my uncle along with five other soldiers were awarded silver stars for having boarded an enemy tank or mobile artillery piece and depleting the ammunition at the Germans when they were being pushed back near some crossroad. The Germans zeroed in on them just as they narrowly escaped being blown up. My uncle was part of a mortar team as well as other duties. He also mentioned while in Rittershoffen being in either the rafters or attic of a building along with a guy with Bar rifle. They had the Bar sticking out the shingles. My uncle said that he warned the soldier not to fire; however despite the warning he shot and then in turn was shot and wounded by a sniper (the other guy not my uncle). My uncle said that Rittershoffen was the fiercest battle that he endured. He was with the 79th Division and 315 Inf Reg 3 BN from their landing at Utah Beach to the end of the war. He said he was later charged with training new officers after war until he was discharged. This last fall he went into the doctor and during his stay they removed yet another piece of shrapnel from his head which was left over from his time in service. Thank you for the information that you have about Rittershoffen.
     
  17. Natman

    Natman Member

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    GPW1944, thanks for posting your uncle's story. He's lucky to have survived his time in Rittershoffen. I don't have any connection to this battle, my Dad was in Saarlautern at the time, but I enjoy reading detailed accounts of various actions. This has been one of the best I've seen and you've added more to the story. I look forward to hearing more of your uncle's memories.
     
  18. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    Thanks for posting the story your uncle passed on to you, GPW1944. That's the kind of stuff that makes this forum so interesting -- the personal accounts of the war. That was a nice addition to this thread.
     
  19. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Amazing memories, GPW1944. Thank you for sharing.

    In the book The Final Crisis, Engler credits four L Company men for manning a Sherman tank during the battle. He lists a William, Keith, Paul and Floyd. I think the 3d Battalion Journal mentions that too.
     
  20. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    I replied with this quote to help people find these 14th AD documents (47th TB, 48th TB and 62d AIB respectively).


    On 13 JAN 1945 the 14th AD's CCR effort to the south of Rittershoffen looked something like this sketch.

    Again dismounted infantry led the attack with tanks echeloned to their right. The stated objective was Hatten. Since the 2/315th Infantry occupied the western quarter of Hatten, it is assumed CCR planned to enter Hatten from the south and drive north. This would allow CCR to fire on everything to its front without fear of hitting friendly troops.

    The descriptions of the battle do not provide any indication that the armored infantry gained any buildings in Hatten but they are reported to have advanced north across the railroad tracks. Here they seem to have been pinned down. At least one more effort was made to move north before turning to re-group in the woods. The commanding general of the 14th AD ordered CCR to enter Hatten. The CCR commander organized his remaining tanks, loaded them with infantry and drove into Hatten after dusk. Whether CCR took any more buildings in Hatten or just reinforced 2/315th Infantry is up for debate. The Germans are reported to have responded with counter-attacks that kept the US gains to a minimum.

    Units assigned to CCR were the 19th AIB and the 47th TB.
     

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