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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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    I've read the rest of the Battalion Journal for the 3/315th Infantry. While their position stays unchanged, they are far from inactive. German armor continues to menace their rubbled cellars. Snipers and machine gun fire make any movement potentially deadly. Yet the battalion keeps vigil by calling down artillery fire, running patrols and guiding a self propelled 155mm howitzer for direct fire on the church. (Noting the vehicle was open topped, the Germans effectively countered this threat with mortar fire.)

    Although repeatedly ordered to attack and clear Rittershoffen, the battalion is now tired and short of men. With every building a fort and every street a fire lane, it takes a reserve of strength to assault and hold ground.

    The journal is detailed but not a complete story so it can be tedious and frustrating. Yet some correlation can be found using the period maps. Locations such as "main street" and "church road" can be identified. Some caution is required with coordinates though. It seems pretty common that numbers were transposed. This is confirmed when one digit is changed and the new coordinate matches the description exactly. The Journal does not identify the location of the Bn CP, only that it moved once to the edge of town. It is most likely in the triangle block southwest of the church.

    It would be nice to have a land survey of the town from before the war so that building locations could be precisely identified. By Internet search, I have seen an example of a land survey of a nearby town.

    And as long as I am dreaming it would also be nice to find any photos of the towns, particularly aerial photos. There is one mention of a spotter plane (L4? piper cub?), I wonder if they ever took photos and, if so, where are they today (maybe in the Field Artillery records?).
     
  2. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    From 14 to 21 January the positions of each side remained stationary. The Germans added some grenadier and fallschirmjäger battalions to the town battles while the US 315th Infantry got its 1st Battalion back -- much worse for wear after heavy fighting in the Vosges.

    Using halftracks (or SPW), each side ran supplies into their town toeholds and carried casualties out via semi-protected routes (dotted lines in the sketch). The US attempted to take the north edge of Rittershoffen using the 1/315th Infantry and it cost them a whole rifle company.

    The 14th AD made forays into the German position south of Hatten. The following is a Google Translate from a German eyewitness to one of these attacks. The rest of the French version can be found here:

    ALSACE - LA LIGNE MAGINOT - FORT DE SCHOENENBOURG

    .....

    On the morning of January 17, a strong engine noise was heard on the side of wood Rittershoffen. Immediately, I climbed the metal ladder leading to the top of the bell armored, where there were several embrasures for observation. In the morning light, I recognized distinctly seven Sherman tanks which debouched from the forest to head right over our positions. The alarm was immediately transmitted to all units, but this is the sixth company that happened to be the most threatened, being directly in the path of tanks. Captain Ernst ordered the men to the headquarters company to collect the rocket-propelled grenades and follow him.

    Our bunker suffers from such tanks firing machine guns and cannons of 76 mm it was impossible to leave the book without a large gap of 1 m and 2 m deep, which extended on both sides of the reinforced door (the gap diamond). Armed with a submachine gun and two rocket launchers, I had no alternative but to jump the gap also. Unfortunately, it was filled with water halfway up. It was not until the right time to leave the ditch, and cross the median to reach positions of the company.

    Arrived on scene, Captain Ernst inquired about the current situation with transmitters that were sheltering in a hole, with their type device Dora. Equipped with a rocket launcher that I had to pass, the captain climbed the embankment along the road, where grew a few bushes. He began in the firing position, but was almost immediately hit by a burst of machine gun. Mortally wounded, it tumbled into the ditch.

    The transmitters soon reverberated with the new battalion commander. The answer was brief: Second Lieutenant Jenewein take immediate command of the company. So my mission was to inform the officer personally. Fortunately, during our nocturnal journey, Lieutenant Ernst me informed of the location of the lieutenant Jenewein, I can find a shelter to the east of the device of the company, near the cemetery Hatten.

    Bent or crawling in the ditch, I move in that direction. I was concerned above all to be caught up by tanks whose tracks sound came closer, and could at any time cross the road and pass me on the body. As a precaution I had brought two rocket launchers. Arrived safe from lieutenant Jenewein, I informed him of the situation. This immediately borrow one of the two rocket launchers, while the NCO Klose grabbed the second. Each took aim at one of the tanks were advancing parallel to the road, about 40 meters. The two shooters touched their goal, putting in no condition two monsters. While the other five tanks were firing all their tubes, Jenewein wanted to try his luck again ... subject to the availability of a second rocket, that I could not of course provide it since I had won only two. In a fit of rage, he scolded me for having won only two of these weapons. I am sure that this hot officer owes me life, for he would certainly have been shot by the other tanks.

    The tanks turned around and started back to their starting point. By the way, they boarded the occupants of the two tanks that were destroyed. The U.S. plan had failed, the success came back to our sixth company. Revenge was not long to wait a long time, the Americans fired, long hours, of all their tubes. Many mortar shells came befall our positions. Fighter-bombers emerged suddenly from the sky and added to their share of grapeshot. It only remained for us to bury our heads in the snow. The NCO Klose, who shot one of the tanks, was wounded during this action by shrapnel that stuck in his right shoulder. This injury, which seemed benign, later was to cost the life of this man.

    At dawn on January 19, our bunker was suddenly taken under a deluge of shells. Hit after hit, they explode on contact with the front facing the road. It seemed to me clearly that they were not artillery projectiles. Observation of the dome, I saw two Sherman in position on the edge of woods Rittershoffen, near the road from the house Konigsbruck forest. Their 76 mm guns sent us their tight shooting projectiles from a distance of about 800 m. Concrete blocks were torn from the front, yet thick of 1.50 m. I was told that these degradations are still visible today.

    ....
     

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  3. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    As often happens, I was Googling something else and came across this Google book preview. It seems relevant to this battle which features three attacks by combined tanks and infantry.

    Starting on page 30 there is a section on tactics of the Armored Infantry Battalions. It seems commanders learned from experience and little else. I have to wonder whether the semi-successful attack by the 62d AIB on 12 January was viewed favorably. This attack featured tanks leading the infantry to the edge of town.

    World War II US Armored Infantry Tactics - Gordon Rottman - Google Books
     
  4. rprice

    rprice Member

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    Earthican, I just discovered this thread and would like to contribute. I've been studying Nordwind for a couple of years, especially the action around Rittershoffen and Hatten. It's an important engagement that's been overlooked by most historians who see it as a mere footnote to the Ardennes offensive.

    My father was a platoon leader in 3rd btn, 313th inf, and was involved in heavy fighting at Stundwiller and Oberroedern. It was his company, Co I, that was hit by KG von Luck at Stundwiller as described by Battistelli (post #39 in this thread). There are some inaccuracies in Battistelli's account. First, the 313th was not part of Task Force Linden. The latter was the infantry of the 42nd division, while 3rd/313th was part of Task Force Wahl (Brig General Wahl was the commander of the division artillery of the 79th Infantry Division). Second, Battistelli gives the impression that von Luck broke through the MLR at Oberroedern. He didn't, but he certainly tried. The 21st Panzer attacked the line between Oberroedern and Achsbach three times and was thrown back each time with heavy losses.

    The "breakthrough" Battistelli refers to occurred at Stundwiller, where Co. I of 3rd/313th fought a delaying action on 8 January. There were approximately 160 defenders including a 57mm gun and crew from the regiment’s anti-tank company. They were supposed to hold until after dark, and then withdraw to Oberroedern. Two things went wrong. First, the troops to the rear had not completed preparing their positions and needed more time. New orders were given to hold until midnight. Second, later that night, the artillery supporting Co. I suddenly withdrew after coming under German counter battery fire. By midnight the platoons on both the left and right flanks had been overrun by the attacking panzer grenadiers. The Platoon in the center of town was hit as they began to withdraw. The gun crew made it out, but most of Company I were casualties. When the survivors reached Oberroedern, the company was down to one officer and eighteen men. The rest were killed, wounded or missing.
     
  5. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Welcome and kudos for the excellent timing. In an earlier post I wanted to learn more about the 3/313th Infantry around Oberroedern. I have made a request to NARA for the records of the 3/313th Infantry but have only been told that they are looking and will get back to me later with a page count. That was December so (fingers crossed) they will find something and let me know.

    Right, I agree von Luck's "breakthrough" turned out to be only a penetration to Oberroedern where the 3/313th made its stand. As I have observed before I don't think the GI's cared much for the line of the Maginot Forts. Nothing against the French, it's just the US didn't have the forces to man them adequately.

    I suspect there was a stalemate in Oberroedern much like Hatten and Rittershoffen. After von Luck moved south it was Major Spreu and his 192.PzGR that held that sector.

    While the battle in Alsace was much smaller than the Ardennes the stakes were high for US and French forces. A lot of ground, men and material could have been lost if things went bad, not to mention the fate of Strasbourg. And it seems like the defensive stand of the GI's made up for a number of missteps by the US command.

    Post 39:

     

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  6. rprice

    rprice Member

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    Thanks. We're not the only ones looking for more on the 3rd/313th. I have been in touch with John Porter, the grandson of the battalion CO (Lt. Col. Roy Porter), who has also been doing some research. He has a copy of the battalion communications log. I'll give him a link to this board.

    If you haven't already found it, there is some detailed writing about the 827th TD and its role in and around Rittershoffen - Hatten - Oberroedern in the book "The Employment of Negro Troops" by Ulysses Lee, pages 678 - 686. Good footnotes, too.

    Employment of Negro Troops
     
  7. Natman

    Natman Member

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    Had some luck today and found an online copy of the 313th unit history: HathiTrust Digital Library - History of the 313th infantry in World War II, by Colonel Sterling ...

    The last mention of the 3rd Bn's position, roughly, is on page 148, right column, about half way down. Page 149 then states the regiment, less the 3rd Bn, began moving toward Reipertswiller with page 150 indicating the 3rd had been formally attached to the 45th ID. Next mention of the 3rd is on page 153, with an abbreviated description of their actions during the H-R battle. It states the 21st Pz made repeated, failed, attempts to penetrate the lines of the 3rd and apparently realizing this wasn't going to work, moved further south.

    I was able to download a copy of the DUC (found in the UH) awarded to the 3rd Bn.

    View attachment 15540
     

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  8. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Another remarkable find, Natman.

    Although, as you point out, the information on the 3d/313th Infantry in January is rather thin.

    As near as I can figure the 3d/313th Infantry zone ran from Hunspach to Stundwiller. IIRC battalions of the 222d Infantry relieved battalions of the 315th on the left around Schoenenbourg. While battalions of the 242d Infanty relieved the 314th Infantry around Hatten and the woods to the south.

    If all of Item Company was in Stundwiller than that leaves King and Love Company to cover the rest. There is some reports of fighting in Aschbach but that may have only been outposted. Hunspach looks quite strong, surrounded by the arc of a low ridge to the north and east, with the Maginot forts tight to the town, plus the stream on the east.

    Still I can't be sure if the Germans got a firm toehold in Oberroedern. The 14th AD claimed to get a lot of fire (or observed indirect fire) from the ridge to the north of that town.


    rprice,

    I was aware of that volume of the official history but it did not occur to me to check to see what it said about the 827th TD Bn. Good catch, an important, if sad, chapter in the history of the US.
     
  9. Natman

    Natman Member

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    Re-reading the 313th history and realized I screwed up when I stated the 3rd Bn was attached to the 45th ID, it was actually the 313th (less the 3rd Bn) when they moved to Reipertswiller. The 314th relieved the 313th at Oberseebach (current day Seebach on GE?) but the history states that 1/314 was sent to assist at Sagebuhl, just west of Reipertswiller on Jan 3. That leaves the 3/313th and 2 & 3/314th at the original line (as of midnight, Dec 22).
     
  10. rprice

    rprice Member

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    Earthican, I am certain that there was no German penetration of Oberroedern prior to the withdrawl on the 20th. My father was there in temporary command of Co.I after the rear guard action at Stundwiller. Also, the 3/313 sector did not reach to Hunsbach, but I'm not sure who was north of them or where the boundary was. I'll call Dad and see if he remembers.

    The Maginot Line, with its pillboxes and pre-existing fields of barbed wire and tank obstacles, was the MLR. To my knowledge, the only place it was breached was at Hatten.
     
  11. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    The switching around of the 79th ID regiments and battalions is complicated.

    In December when the 79th ID was driving north the 313th IR was on the left and the 314th was on the right. By the end of the year the regiments had pulled back to the line of the Lauter with the 315th IR in reserve and preparing the Maginot forts for defense. On the Lauter the whole division zone was extended left so units of the 314th took over the right most sectors of the 313th as it extended left. At first regiments of the 70th ID came to support the 79th ID but about the time the 313th IR was sent to the Vosges with four battalions the 42d ID regiments replaced those of the 70th ID.

    When the division or TF Wahl occupied the Maginot Line they had the 315th IR on the left and the 314th IR on the right. The decision was made to put the green units of the 42d on the line with the 3/313th IR in the center. Each with two battalions, the 315th IR and 314th IR would act as an immediate reserve. The 242d IR relieved the 314th IR on the right first. About the time the 21.PzD struck (about 6 January) the 222d IR was in the middle of moving in on the left. Here the 222d IR defeated or deflected the initial attacks by the 21.PzD at Ingolsheim.

    The 314th was sent to counterattack the bridgehead the Germans made across the Rhine on 5 January. The 315th, as we know, was sent to Hatten and Riffershoffen on 9 January.

    The exact zones for all these shifts are still unknown. It would make sense that the 3/313th IR did not have Hunspach to defend.
     
  12. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Do we know if the Germans attacked Oberroedern directly? Oberst von Luck mentions attacking the Maginot forts, first by his regiment and later by the 192.PzGR but does not mention any towns.
     
  13. rprice

    rprice Member

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    Yes, there were three attacks directly at Oberroedern. The Germans needed a road, which meant their choices were limited. There were tank obstacles all along the Maginot line and the only breaks in the obstacle line were at the occasional road. In the photo below, of a large pillbox near Hoffen, you can see both the obstacles and the barbed wire. The obstacles were sections of railroad track pounded into the ground and sticking up at various heights. A tank trying to go over them would tip over. EDIT: 1/22/12 – Just read the personal recollections of a former French corporal who was stationed in Hatton before the war. He states that during the war the anti-tank rails in the vicinity were removed for recycling by the Germans. So, they were not a factor in the fighting of January, 1945. Explains why they aren't mentioned in any of the published accounts about Nordwind.

    View attachment 15576
     

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  14. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    So my new picture of the action around Oberroedern is that the Germans may have seized one or two of the Maginot forts east of Oberroedern (perhaps Oberroedern Nord and/or Oberoedern Sud). From there they could attack the town itself.

    Nobody on the US side considered these gains as threatening, except once the Germans took eastern Hatten and the forts to the north of that town, then the Germans could bring down more observed firepower on the defenders of Oberroedern. Conversely the US defense of Oberroedern may have prevented a strong German attack on the line between Leiterswiller and Rittershoffen.

    Looking at the map I now wonder if the Germans could have threatened Oberroedern from the south across the Seltzbach. That is, how big of an obstacle was the stream and the lowland? Particularly the lowland, was it frozen enough such that armor could traverse it?

    From here, is a photo of Casemate Oberroedern-Sud from the back, looking northeast.

    ALSACE - LA LIGNE MAGINOT - FORT DE SCHOENENBOURG

    [​IMG]
     

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  15. rprice

    rprice Member

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    The pillbox "Oberroedern Sud" was not captured by the Germans while 3/313 held the town. The German's main effort shifted south after the breakthrough at Hatten. In that sector, they captured four of the large "CORF" pillboxes - Seltz, Hatten North, Hatten South and Esch. The 21st PzD then operated on the right flank of the 25th PGD. The "Casemate de Seltz" was in their area, as was the "Observatoire de Hatten", and these may be the ones von Luck refers to.

    That maginot.com website is amazing. Thousands of photos of every fort and most of the pillboxes. Though I speak French, I had to learn a whole new list of words in order to enjoy the site. If you haven't already found them, the site has several large PowerPoint presentations about the Maginot Line that you can download:

    http://www.lignemaginot.com/ligne/document/dossierp/tele/combats-ligne-maginot.pps
    http://www.lignemaginot.com/ligne/document/dossierp/tele/genese-ligne-maginot.pps
    http://www.lignemaginot.com/ligne/document/dossierp/tele/descriptif-ligne-maginot.pps

    Earthican - Check your inbox in the Notifications menu
     
  16. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Please excuse my attempts to make a plausible interpretation of some very sketchy descriptions. While I knew Battistelli was dodgy, I had hoped there were some grains of truth. And there was never much information from von Luck except the identification of some German units and their commanders.

    So, from what you wrote, if the Germans attacked Oberroedern directly it was likely from the southeast or south.
     

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  17. Alsa.se

    Alsa.se Member

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    Earthican and TD-Tommy776 like this.
  18. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    Great photos, Eric.
     
  19. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Good stuff Eric.

    Do you have any winter pictures of the battlefield today?
     
  20. Alsa.se

    Alsa.se Member

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    Hi,
    you mean snowy landscape of the battlefield ? Currently there is no snow but i can show you some picture from january 2012.
    That's the battlfield between Hatten and Rittershoffen, south of then town, near the old railway.

    View attachment 15700
     

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