Shoot the Works
After the 301st was repulsed in its first two attempt to take the woods at Bannholz, General Maloney realized that the Regiment was in need of a rest. General Maloney decided to once again deploy the 2nd battalion of the 376th to capture the forest. On the morning of February 10, 1945 the 2nd battalion jumped off and advanced into the woods. Soon the troops became separated and the same conditions that hampered the 301st soon plagued the men of the 376th. After an all day battle fighting the Germans and the rain the GI’s pulled back out of the woods with over 45 casualties. General Maloney ordered the men to hold their positions. The next few days General Maloney, his staff, and all the Commanders of the divisional units held a series of conferences on how to identify the errors of the previous attacks, correct them and plan another offensive into the woods. During one of the meetings General Walker from XX Corps came for a visit and afterwards told General Maloney that the 94th had a new priority. Walker decided that the 94th was poised for a clear breakthrough in the area and that General Maloney’s attack on Munzingen Ridge would convince General Eisenhower that the Corps was through the main enemy defenses. When General Maloney requested the 778th Tank Battalion to augment his forces General Walker replied “All right, shoot the works.”The 94th Infantry division was now released for a full assault on the German Defenses of the Siegfried Switch. In what would be known as Field Order Number 11, the 301st Infantry would assault and take Munzingen Ridge, The 302nd would assault and seize Campholz Woods and Orscholz, and the 376th would assault and capture the Bannholz woods and guard the flank of the Division. The jump off date was set for February 19th. Artillery preparations for a ten-hour barrage were made. The units sent out patrols to scout the town and surrounding areas for German strong points and troop concentrations. General Walker ordered the 10th Armored Division to move up and prepare to exploit the breakthough once it came. Nothing was left to chance the preparations were extensive.
At 0400 on February 19th the artillery barrage hit Munzingen ridge. 3rd battalion, 301st jumped of the LD and after encountering a minefield, moved up forward to their objective, which was secured by dawn. 1st battalion jumped off from Butsdorf. Their objective was a portion of the ridge just south of the Das Lee Woods. As dawn came the tankers of the 778th tank battalion supported the 1st battalion as best they could maneuvering from the slope up to the base of the ridge climbing as high as they could while shelling the enemy’s positions. Uncle Freddie’s Company C was in the lead. Company B was just south of them. As Company C moved forward the 1st platoon ran into a minefield and heavy mortar fire. 1st lt. Walter Stempak was wounded and Captain Drenzek withdrew the company and circled around the minefield to the north. Then the company moved forward rapidly for fear of being caught out in the open ground. Upon reaching the ridge Captain Drenzek realized that he had moved too far to the north in order to avoid the minefield. He directed the company to swing right and head south sweeping the ridge. Soon thereafter joined with the rest of 1st battalion they cleared the rest of the ridge. Company A was assigned to mop up the bypassed positions. After some minor skirmishes the ridge was completely secured. Once C Company had reached it’s objective they started to dig in. Captain Drenzek had been wounded coming up the slope and 2nd Lt. Howard Johnson assumed command of C Company. Lt. Johnson was a replacement officer who had just arrived in C Company the day before. Just in front of the company were some trenches that had not been searched. After asking for some volunteers Uncle Freddie volunteered to accompany Lt. Johnson in searching the trenches. Once they reached the trenches it was soon found out that they were not unoccupied and the Germans their started firing at them. Both men withdrew and uncle Freddie’s mortar squad opened fire on the trenches. Soon the Germans came out with their hands up. Uncle Freddie later retold this story to me as how he won his Bronze Star.According to Marion Jereb a buddy of Uncle Freddie's, C Company had attacked Munzingen Ridge between the Saar and Moselle rivers in Germany. Freddie and Marion Jereb were of a few of the company that made it safely to the top, a costly attack. This however was the last time Marion would see Freddie, as they became separated. This is the way he tells it:
"On February 19, 1945, the division made an all out attack on German positions between the Saar and Moselle Rivers. The objective was to clear out the Seigfried Switch capture the entire Saar-Moselle triangle and eventually capture the city of Trier. At about 5:00 Am after a huge artillery barrage we started to advance. C Company's objective was to take and secure Munzingen Ridge. After many casualties we were able to reach the top. While digging in and holding the ridge so tanks and other troops could advance through us, a sniper in a tree (trench) was firing at us. Lt. Johnson asked for a volunteer to help him flush out the sniper. Your Uncle Freddy immediately volunteered to go with him. They were successful in getting him to give up and become a prisoner."
Meanwhile, the 302nd regiment
moved out. 1st and 3rd battalions moved forward in the darkness into position. Assigned to capture the southern end of Munzingen ridge, the troops were to launch their attack from the edge of the Campholz woods. Once the battalions jumped off from their Line of Departure they too ran into minefields and were stopped in their tracks. When dawn broke the M-18 “Hellcats” from the 778th moved forward from their positions in the cleared minefield and began firing on the enemy. They either destroyed the positions or pinned the Germans down until the infantry came forward. After their slight delay in the minefields the 302nd moved up and cleared several of the pillboxes in the area. The objective was reached by noon. After securing their objective the men dug in and waited. The 376th’s objective of the day was the ever illusive Bannholz woods. The 1st battalion launched their attack at 0400. Opposition was minimal since the 11th Panzer had left the area three days earlier. The 376th moved through the forest and moped up the little resistance that was left. 3rd battalion moved into the Geisbusch-Adenholz area and after encountering more mines and a small number of troops, cleared that forest by noon. The 5th Rangers objective was the town of Oberleuken. 5th rangers were temporarily assigned to the 94th their initial mission was to relieve the 302nd infantry of their positions near the Campholz Woods. After the 94th went on the offensive the 5th Rangers asked for and were given the assignment of taking Oberleuken. Oberleuken was heavily defended by troops of the 256th Volkgrenadier Division and their defenses were well prepared. After their Initial assault the rangers had encountered an electrically controlled minefield and had severe casualties. After the failure of the Rangers, all attempts to take Oberleuken were postponed. With the exception of Oberleuken all of the first days objectives had been met. At 1230 in the morning of the 20th the 94th pushed off again. The 301st secured the towns of Faha and Munzingen. The 1st Battalion, 302nd moved against Klebligen but were shifted mid battle to take Oberleuken. The rest of the regiment secured Klebligen. After an intense and costly battle the 1st battalion finally secured the Oberleuken, and captured 110 prisoners and seven 120 mm mortars. Klebligen fell to the 3rd battalion. The 1st battalion 376th entered and seized the Der Langen Woods. They then moved on towards the town of Der Langen.
Several Tank destroyers were knocked out by concealed 88’s and 20mm AA fire from the Moscholz woods and the town of Der Langen. The infantry move up and captured one of the 88’s in town the other was left to the 919th field artillery which soon took both weapons out. As a result of the days operations five pill boxes, 23 bunkers, and four enemy tanks destroyed, and 872 prisoners taken. Munzingen ridge was now in the 94th’s possession. All the hills east of the ridge also were in American hands. The area was completely secured so the 10th Armored division could now pass through to exploit the breakthrough.
February 20, 1945 started off with good news General Patton phoned the XX Corps let them know that he was extremely pleased with the progress of the 94th division thus far and to pass it on. He also stated that he wanted the division to clear the balance of the defenses by the end of the day.
Armored division was charged with the mission of clearing the main portion of the area between the Saar and Moselle Rivers and attempt to capture the bridges crossing the Saar. Assisting the 10th armored would be the 376th RCT, the 94th Recon troop, and the Division HQ defense platoon. With the 376th detached to the 10th Armored the remaining two thirds of the 94th were assigned to clear the eastern portion of the triangle from Orscholz to Saarburg. The 301st Infantry was assigned to take Kollesleuken, Freudenburg, Kastel, and Stadt. With 3rd battalion on the left and 2nd battalion on the right the 301st prepared to push off. The 1st Battalion, 301st was assigned to assist the 302nd infantry south of the 301st 's zone. Their assignment was to take the town of
Orscholz which a month earlier had decimated the 1st battalion. The rest of the 302nd along with the 5th Rangers were assigned to take the towns of Weiten, Rodt, Taben, and Hamm. By 0800 2nd battalion, 301st advanced and captured Freudenburg. The 3rd battalion moved forward and cleared the woods leading into Kollesleuken and by 1500 had taken the town itself. The 3rd battalion, 302nd advanced from Kleblingen towards Weiten. After crossing a stream the battalion was stalled by anti-tank gunfire. 2nd platoon of L Company outflanked and silenced the weapon. Once the weapon was secured the battalion moved into and began clearing Weiten. After a pitched all-day battle the town was secured by nightfall. Meanwhile the 2nd battalion 302nd and 1st battalion 301st advanced into and captured the town of Orscholz
(See Battle of
Orscholz). By the evening of the February 20th the 301st and 302nd infantry regiments had secured all of their objectives.
The 376th and the attached units moved on to their objectives of Kreuzweiler and Thorn. After crossing a minefield over open ground and engaging a few machine gun nests the 2nd battalion entered Kreuzweiler. By 1000 half he town had been cleared and 96 prisoners taken. While the Americans were clearing the town the Germans counterattacked with four tanks and about 100 infantry. The U.S. countered with a artillery barrage and stopped the attack. At 1335, CCR of the 10th Armored rolled into the town. After blasting the remaining German positions in Kreuzweiler the Germans surrendered and the town was completely cleared. The 94th Reconnaissance Troop and Division HQ defense platoon assembled at a crossroads near Wies and proceed north towards Thorn. The defenses of thorn were built around a Chateau, which was the largest building the town. With tank support the troops secured the town by 2200 hours. The 10th armored advanced to the Saar River but none of the bridges were secured. The Germans had managed to destroy them all. With no bridge to cross the river the 10th and 376th fanned out and secured their respective areas. By the close of February 21st the Saar-Moselle Triangle was completely secured. All objectives had been taken. In three days the 94th had taken three times the amount of ground that had been taken in the previous four weeks of fighting. The Americans had captured 1469 prisoners but at a high cost, the division had lost over 1200 men killed and wounded.
The order to cross the Saar River gave the 94th only one night to prepare for a river crossing. Once the crossing sites had been determined the supporting units had to move up into position. A river crossing is no easy chore especially when it is done on such short notice. But despite the rush the 94th was ready at dawn on February 22nd. The Saar River was wide approximately 125 to 150 feet in width with an average depth of 15 feet, this made fording impossible. The current was strong and the banks were swollen from late winter thaws. The east bank was heavily defended by the remnants of the 416th Infantry and 256th Volksgrenadiers. The 301st infantry was to establish a bridgehead prior to crossing. The 6000-yd bridgehead was to be established from the area at Serrig-Kreuzweiler and the crossing point chosen was at Stadt. The 302nd Infantry and chosen the area of Serrig-Hamm and the crossing point chosen was Taben. The site of Taben was not an ideal site for a crossing however under the circumstances it was the best they could choose. The site at Taben was dominated by a 400-foot hill known as Hocker Hill. This hill was protected by a 12-foot retaining wall, a highway and railroad. After some difficulty getting the assault boats first to the crossing site and then offloaded from the trucks to the water's edge the assault was launched. The area was socked in by a thick fog. This would assist the GI's as they crossed the river virtually invisible to their enemy. Crossing the river under the cover of the fog Sgt. John F. Smith's squad from C Company and two engineers from the 319th reached the far side of the river embankment. Once across they encountered the 12-foot retaining wall but quickly found a ladder left there by the Germans. Sgt. Smith climbed the ladder and surprised two guards outside a pillbox and took them prisoner. Soon the balance of 2nd platoon, C Company was across the Saar securing the area. The Stadt crossing was not as easy as the Taben crossing the troops from the 301st were quickly detected by the enemy and the Germans opened fire on them. However with the thick fog they were unable to see the Americans so they just shot wildly into the mist. The Americans with the aid of their artillery crossed the river and encountered barbed wire obstacles at the water's edge with no explosives handy the GI's cut through with wire cutters and marked the area with toilet paper, which was very visible. Several boats crossed the river and then returned for more troops after several trips back and forth the GIs managed to get enough troops across during the day to establish a bridgehead. The GI's then fanned out and secured the first few houses in the town Serrig further solidifying their beachhead. The Americans managed to get two companies across the river and they were involved in heavy street fighting. After running into heavy opposition it was decided to wait until dark to proceed any further. The crossing resumed at 1700 hrs. However, even with the cover of darkness the noise from the GI's crossing the river and in town brought down a hail of enemy artillery and machine gun fire. Persisting through the night and by 0400 the battalion was across. The riverfront was cleared and nineteen houses were taken. With the beachhead firmly established at both locations the Americans continued to move further inland towards their objectives. On February 23rd, the 301st infantry moved up towards Hocker Hill. The hill was still not completely secured, so what was left of the 2nd battalion, 301st moved up the left side of the hill in an effort to take it but were stopped by enemy machine gun fire. After calling in Artillery fire from the 356th FA Battalion the GI's managed to secure the hill by afternoon. The balance of the day was spent ferrying troops across the river while under enemy fire. The biggest problems for the Americans were the boats. As soon as the Americans would get them across the river the Germans would shoot them up with artillery and machine gun fire. The GI's would go through over 200 boats before the operation ceased. In Serrig the 3rd battalion, 301st cleared most of area between the railroad and the river, after fighting most of the night. Patrols were then sent to contact the 1st battalion 302nd which held most of the town. The two battalions conducted house-to-house searches for the enemy and after several hours the town of Serrig was finally secured. Meanwhile at Taben the 1st battalion, 301st was assigned to the 302nd and crossed the river and relieved their 3rd battalion of it's positions. By nightfall of the 23rd enemy artillery was still harassing the troops and were hampering efforts to advance further. On the morning of the 24th an assault of the east bank of the Saar by the 3rd battalion, 301st managed to clear the area near Stadt. While enemy fire still plagued the crossing, the attack succeeded enough that the ferrying of vehicles could commence across the river. Meanwhile, the 135th Combat Engineers assisted by the Company A of the 319th Combat Engineers managed to construct a treadway bridge at the Taben crossing. No sooner than the last treadway was secured in place then tanks of the 778th Tank battalion began crossing the river to assist the beleaguered men of the 301st and 302nd. The next few days the men enlarged the bridgehead securing the area from the enemy. However, the deeper the Americans moved into Germany the stiffer the resistance became. The next day; the 376th Infantry, after delays caused by lack of assault boats and then German fire, established the Ockfen Bridgehead. By Febraury 25, 1945 the two bridgeheads were joined, permitting a heavy pontoon bridge to be put in at Saarburg. The division then expanded to the northeast to protect the 10th Armored Division's drive on Trier and to strengthen the combined Saarburg Bridgehead. The Germans not content to sit still while the Americans invaded their homeland, counterattacked on March 5th, 1945. The Germans concentrated their attack against the 302nd Infantry and penetrated its lines, forcing the division to restore its front and clear infiltrators out of the bridgehead until March 8th. Once the Saar bridgehead was restored the race was on to the Rhine.