The Bitche Salient
The following extract is from "The Seventh United States Army Report of Operations", Vol. I and II, pages 585-590, Battery Press, 1988. The following section deals with the action of Task Force Herren and other Units during the opening moves of Nordwind.

The Assault on the Bitche Salient

The Low Vosges campaign was largely a battle for the control of roads and passes; the bulk of the fighting occurred in essentially the same three key

reipertswilli.jpg (34398 bytes)

WHITE PHOSPHOROUS SHELLS BLASTING GERMANS OUT OF REIPERTSWILLER
"...the bulk of the fighting occupied in three key areas: the Sarreinsberg-Althorn area...the Reipertswiller area...and the Philippsbourg-Baeranthal area..."

areas: the Sarreinsberg-Althorn area on the west flank of the salient, the Reipertswiller area at the point of the salient, and the Philippsbourg - Baerenthal area on the east shoulder of the salient.

The effort of the 179th Infantry against the western side of the salient made little headway during the first few days of the period. Elements of the 179th Regiment with the 19th Armored Infantry Battalion mopped up scattered islands of resistance in the Sarreinsberg area and cleared the vital Sarreinsberg-Wingen road. Disposal of these primary obstacles made feasible an attack on Althorn from the north and west which occurred on 10 January. Entry into the town was effected on the same day despite heavy artillery and mortar fire. On the following day Althorn was cleared of the enemy, and high ground to the south was occupied. On 12 January the 179th Infantry jumped off from the Althorn area with three battalions abreast. Troops attacked from a line extending from the road northwest out of Wildenguth to a position a few hundred yards north of Althorn. After three days of futile fighting against a stubborn enemy and over rugged terrain the attack in force was abandoned. The period 15-20 January was marked only by vigorous patrolling and a general strengthening of the line east of Althorn. On 17 January elements of the 1.79th Infantry still within the XV Corps boundary were relieved finally by the 36th Division. These elements were then free to aid the main body of the regiment in the execution of its mission.

On 8 January the 180th and 313th Infantry Regiments were engaged in heavy, inconclusive fighting at the tip of the salient. The two regiments maintained a line slightly north of Reipertswiller with the 180th Infantry on the left and the 313th on the right. The situation remained static until 10 January when the left column of the 313th Infantry pushed to high ground north of Saegmuhl while the right flank had advanced to high ground one mile northeast of Reipertswiller.

On 11 January the 6th SS Mountain Division unleashed a four battalion attack which pressed the 180th Infantry back to the Wildenguth-Siegmuhl road. The 313th Infantry also yielded ground. The 2nd Battalion of the 157th Infantry appeared in the center of the line to aid in a counterattack. Unremitting attack on the following day effected a partial restoration of the original situation. However, gains registered by either side in this bitter fight could be measured in terms of hundreds of yards. The rugged terrain hindered the attack and precluded the attainment of spectacular advances.

The enemy effectively blocked the attack of the 180th Infantry during the next few days. The Ist Battalion of the 314th Regiment appeared briefly to replace the 2nd Battalion of the 157th in this sector. On 14 January the 1st Battalion of the 315th relieved the 313th Regiment in its positions to the right of the 180th Infantry. On 15 January the 180th Infantry relieved the 1st Battalion of the 314th. The period 15-20 January was marked by little activity. Pressure was maintained by employing patrols and light attacks.

The struggle for ascendancy on the eastern shoulder of the salient gave early promise of violent developments. On 8 January there was little evidence of a change in the enemy's dispositions, but intense activity in the area behind the lines suggested an enemy build-up. The 274th, 275th, and 276th Infantry Regiments, units of Task Force Herren, held the eastern side of the salient. These three regiments, the infantry elements of the 70th Division, had been moved progressively into the line on the Philippsbourg front during the first days of January. At the end of December Task Force Herren had occupied Rhine flank defenses together with Task Force Linden. During the early hours of the German counter-offensive, however, as left flank regiments of the 79th Division were attached to the 45th Division in the zone of German advances, regiments of Task Force Herren were attached to the 79th Division and brought up to the rim of the Bitche salient, leaving defense of the Rhine to Task Force Linden. By 8 January the 276th Infantry had completed its mission of maintaining a security line between Lichtenberg and Obemuhlthal and liquidating enemy who had infiltrated to the rear of this line. The 274th and 275th Regiments occupied a front farther to the northeast on both sides of Philippsbourg.

In spite of disquieting portents this sector manned by a number of regiments now under control of the 45th Division remained inactive. On 13 January preparations were initiated to effect the relief of Task Force Herren units by the 103rd Division in accordance with Seventh Army Operations Instructions. On the following day the 157th Infantry, which had relieved the 276th Infantry in the territory between Lichtenberg and Obermuhlthal, advanced slowly over the heavily wooded ridges to reach the high ground overlooking the Reipertswiller-Obermuhlthal road. To the right the 36th Combat Engineer Regiment had relieved the 275th Infantry in the Obermuhlthal area.

While the 103rd Infantry Division assumed gradual control of the area east of Baerenthal without serious incident, the 157th Regiment engaged in eight days of bitter fighting between 14 and 21 January in a vain effort to clear the enemy out of the dense, rugged, and snow-covered forest that lies below the Mouterhouse-Baerenthal Valley. It was the mission of the entire 45th Division to attack northward to seize the ridge that overlooks this valley from the south: the 179th Infantry was to attack on the left, in the direction of Mouterhouse; the 180th was to hold in the center; the 157th with the 36th Engineer on its right flank was to attack on the division's right.

On the morning of 14 January the 157th Infantry jumped off from the Reipertswiller-Obermuhlthal road and was immediately pinned down by German artillery, nebelwerfer, and mortar fire, most of which came from the Mouterhouse-Baerenthal Valley. The 276th Infantry, being relieved by the 157th Infantry, had apparently given away its positions and the method of its relief by sending radio messages in the clear. Only one battalion of the 157th was able to make any headway. The 3rd Battalion on the left advanced about 2,000 yards, half way to its objective, and seized the two highest hills in the area. But the 180th Infantry on the left, and the 1st Battalion of the 157th on the right were unable to move up on its flanks. As soon as it had reached these hills. the 3rd Battalion was attacked frontally and threatened with encirclement by troops of the Ilth Regiment of the 6th SS Mountain Division. The Battalion could not advance beyond this point, nor could any other elements of the 45th Division.

The remainder of the 157th Infantry fought to bolster the 3rd Battalion's precarious positions, hoping to extricate it from them. On 15 January the 2nd Battalion advanced on the left of the 3rd while the Ist Battalion made a similar effort on the right. The attacks made some headway; but only two companies, C and G, managed to make contact with the 3rd Battalion. They had lost contact with the rest of their battalions and now formed part of the advanced and isolated force. The remaining units of the 157th Regiment tried for five days, from 16-20 January to reach these five companies without success. Each attack, each effort to move forward supplies to the isolated companies, was beaten back by the German mountain troops who had encircled them and established heavily armed and expertly camouflaged strongpoints along the trails to their rear. An attempt to resupply them by air had to be abandoned because of snow-filled skies. On 20 January, after the fifth attempt to reach them had failed, the 157th received orders to withdraw, and word was sent to the five companies to make a break for it.

At 1530 hours, 20 January, the rearward forces began to fire rifles and automatic weapons into the air to bewilder the Germans; and the radio from the five companies broadcast "'We're coming out. Give us everything you've got." Firing continued for three minutes; smoke rounds were lobbed in to cover the break. But one hour later the radio reported that the enemy cordon could not be broken. Only two men out of the five companies got out. Only some 125 out of the original force of about 750 men remained unwounded; but they had to be abandoned, together with the wounded and the dead. By nightfall they had been engulfed by the enemy. On the following day the 157th Infantry was withdrawn from the line.

During this phase of operations the outlines of the Bitche Salient had been rigidly defined; enemy infiltration had been greatly reduced in both scale and frequency; the initiative had been wrested from the enemy. However, a stubborn German defense -preserved intact the great bulk of the salient against heavy attacks by VI Corps troops. In the hands of a potentially resurgent enemy the salient remained a threat to the integrity of the Seventh Army. The 103rd Division had been substituted for the infantry regiments of the 70th Division, Task Force Herren, because on 12 January the VI Corps commander felt that American positions east of the Vosges would be much more secure if an experienced infantry division held the Philippsbourg line. General Patch concurred and the regrouping was effected.

The Army Front in January

The initial effort of the German counter-offensive against the Seventh Army in January had been launched in the early hours of New Year's Day in the Sarre Valley and south of Bitche. The Sarre Valley drive was the first to be blunted and then brought to a halt. The enemy's deepest penetration was made southeast of Bitche. During the month of January the German 36th Infantry Division had been shifted from the Sarreguemines area to the east side of the Bitche salient to add to the striking power of the 6th SS Mountain Division and - the 256th Volks Grenadier Division. The enemy attempted to burst out of the nose of the salient without success. These major drives of operation Nord- wind were countered and shattered by the smooth, rapid reshuffling of tactical reserves. On this sector of the Seventh Army front in the Sarre Valley and the Low Vosges the enemy battered himself to exhaustion. By 20 January the situation was stabilized and the threat of any enemy breakthrough reduced if not eliminated.

The enemy, however, had not confined his efforts to these areas. The Oberrhein Army Group had on 5 January established a bridgehead across the Rhine at Gambsheim. The German 553rd Division's miscel- laneous battle groups met with some success in the expansion of this bridgehead, whereupon the 10th SS Panzer Division attempted to ex- ploit the German advantage. North and northeast of Haguenau another enemy drive developed. The 21st Panzer Division was successively joined by the refitted 25th Panzer Grenadier Division, the 7th Paratroop Division, and the 47th Volks Grenadier Division to enage in sterile conflict in the Hatten-Rittershoffen area.

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