Preparations for Defense
The following extract is from "The Seventh United States Army Report of Operations", Vol. I and II, pages 494 - 502, Battery Press, 1988. The following section deals with the action of Task Force Herren and other Units during the opening moves of Nordwind.

The Army Shifts to the Defensive

On the night of 20-21 December Seventh Army seemed to be bracing itself for a thrust into the Saar-Palatinate. XV Corps was now free to move north above the Ensemble de Bitche. VI Corps was ready to continue its prodding of the Siegfried Line and perhaps to exploit the 45th Division salient on its left flank. The Seventh Army drive north into Germany was called off before its culmination. Acting upon orders of Higher Headquarters Seventh Army directed all its divisions to discontinue the attack and to prepare a new line of defense. The 100th Division withdrew to the positions from which it had jumped off on its assault against Fort Schiesseek. The 180th Infantry of the 45th Division withdrew south of the Lauter River. The other divisions dug in where they were. General von Rundstedt's counter-offensive in Belgium and Luxembourg was to make the last ten days of December an anticlimax for Seventh Army. During those ten days there was little activity other than the shifting of positions along the army front, for both American and enemy forces were readjusting their lines.

The German counter-offensive, which had jumped off with 17 divisions on 16 December had in five days driven 35 miles on a 60 mile front. On 19 December Third Army's XII Corps had taken over the III Corps front so that III Corps could move north to attack the southern flank of Von Rundstedt's Ardennes salient. To relieve Third Army for the maximum effort against the German threat Seventh Army extended its left boundary to St. Avold and prepared defenses on a front which stretched 84 miles westward from the Rhine. The shift took four days and was completed by 26 December.

In accomplishing its part of the shift to the west between 20 and 26 December XV Corps was able to make the adjustment more readily since the 87th Infantry Division of XII Corps, in accordance with oral agreement between the Commanding Generals of the Third and Seventh Armies, was to be attached to XV Corps on 21 December and remain until all reliefs had been effected. The 35th and 80th Divisions of XII Corps made immediate preparations for movement north. After full readjustment had been completed, the 87th Infantry Division was moved to assembly at Dieuze and from there to Rheims, passing from control of XV Corps and Seventh Army at 0001 hours on 28 December.

During this period of the extension of the Seventh Army line, brought about by the Ardennes counter-offensive, elements of the 63rd, 42nd, and 70th Divisions, which had debarked at Marseille and which consisted of the infantry regiments and a provisional staff headed by the assistant commander of each division, were arriving in the army area. None of these units had completed its full training program in the United States, but it was the intention of higher headquarters that they train intensively under Seventh Army supervision until such time as they could be employed in their combat roles. In conjunction with this training, they could become indoctrinated by employment on line of communications duties or in an inactive role such as flank protection along the Rhine.

The small provisional headquarters of each of these divisional groups was somewhat reinforced by signal and other service personnel to enable each to operate on a limited scale. Each group was designated a task force, named after the assistant divisional commander concerned. Elements of the 42nd Infantry Division became Task Force Linden; elements of the 63rd Infantry Division became Task Force Harris; and elements of the 70th Infantry Division became Task Force Herren.

At the end of December Seventh Army had reorganized its corps components and held the new front. XV Corps had relieved XII Corps and defended a line from St. Avold to Bitche. It consisted of the 106th Cavalry Group on the left flank, the 103rd Division, which had been transferred from VI Corps, the 44th Division and the 100th Division on the right flank. On 30 December the newly-arrived Task Force Harris was withdrawn from its initial positions along the Rhine and transferred, less one regiment, to XV Corps. Two regiments, the 253rd and 255th Infantry, were attached to the 44th and 100th Divisions for additional strength on the line. The 254th Regiment was at the same time attached to the 3rd Division on the rim of the Colmar Pocket.

VI Corps defended the line between Bitche and the Rhine in slightly less advanced positions than those it had achieved in its northern drive. On the corps left flank in the lower Vosges was a task force which consisted of Combat Command R of the 14th Armored Division less one tank battalion, Company B of the 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Company B of the 3rd Chemical Mortar Battalion, and the 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. This force was designated Task Force Hudelson. To the east were the 45th and 79th Divisions. The Rhine flank, extending some 40 miles southward from Lauterbourg, was guarded by Task Force Herren and Task Force Linden, Infantry elements of the 70th and 42nd Infantry Divisions respectively.

Seventh Army readjustment on its extended line was complicated by the necessity of employing new and inexperienced units at the same time that army was required to make additional sacrifices to the exigencies of the situation on the German Ardennes salient. The newly-arrived 63rd, 42nd, and 70th Divisions were required to furnish 219 basics from each regiment, these replacements to be moved north to the Third Army for the counterattack on the Ardennes front. The scarcity of infantry replacements necessitated a program for converting Seventh Army Service troops into infantrymen. (See Map)

On 15 December a Seventh Army staff memorandum had announced that within a short time the XXI Corps, arriving from the United States, would be employed to coordinate the activities of Task Force Linden, Herren, and Harris in protecting a sector of the army right flank along the Rhine. milburn.jpg (33361 bytes)On 25 December an advance part of XXI Corps, commanded by Major General Frank W. Milburn, (left) arrived at the Seventh Army Command Post at Saverne- but in view of developments at the end of December the full right flank protection of Seventh Army was left to VI Corps. On 29 December XXI Corps, consisting of the 36th Infantry Division and the 12th Armored Division. was earmarked as SHAEF reserve,

The mission of Seventh Army as out- lined on 19 December was to be defensive, but the change in mission was to be concealed as much as possible by some continuation of offensive action. For the last ten days of December patrols were active along the front in an effort to impress the fact upon the enemy that, as XV Corps put it, "No Man's Land belongs to the Corps and not to the German forces opposing it . . . ." These orders were issued when it was still thought that the Seventh Army December offensive might soon be continued. As December came to a close, it became apparent that the German Ardennes attack was more serious than had been at first supposed. Seventh Army was prompted to make a more intensive preparation for a campaign that was to be purely defensive.

Enemy patrols, especially on the XV Corps front, became more aggressive. Several small patrols on the VI Corps front crossed the Rhine between Beinheim and Gambsheim. Increased German attempts at espionage and sabotage resulted in the establishment of armored road-blocks throughout the Sixth Army Group sector and the checking of trip tickets and dogtags. The reshuffling and refitting and strengthening of the German forces indicated a build-up for a large attack.

Up until about 25 December it was thought that elements of the 11th Panzer Division, the 21st Panzer Division, and the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, which had been identified on the Seventh Army front at various times during the month might have been with- drawn and sent north to join the Ardennes counter-offensive. It seemed possible that the First German Army, opposing Seventh Army, might be deprived of all its mobile units. But by 29 December it was known that the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division was refitting in the Zweibrueeken area; and it was believed that two other mobile units, the 17th and the 21st Panzer Divisions, had not moved north but were also refitting preparatory to action on the Seventh Army front. Rail movements, persistent prisoner of war reports, and photo interpretation indicated a build-up of forces in the Saarbrueeken area as well as in the Colmar bridgehead and east of the Rhine Valley. Elements of nine divisions of the First German Army were in contact with Seventh Army: the 245th, 256th, 257th, 361st Volksgrenadier Divisions, the 19th, 36th, and 347th Infantry Divisions; and fragmentary elements of the three mobile units which were reforming in the rear. Their total strength of combat effectives was equal to about 16 to 17 battalions of American infantry. Enemy forces across the Rhine were believed equivalent in strength to eight battalions.

On 24 December Seventh Army received a warning from Sixth Army Group:

Excellent agent sources report enemy units building up in the BLACK FOREST area for offensive. Other indications for imminent enemy aggressive action exist. Imperative that all defensive pre- cautions be immediately effective.

The altered tactical situation had already been presented to the Army Commander by his G-2 with remarkable clarity and accuracy. In the middle of December there appeared in the War Room a G-2 map which depicted graphically the enemy's capabilities. In his "Estimate of the Enemy Situation No. 6", dated 29 December 1944, the Army G-2 reached the following conclusions:

Capabilities -

1. To attack south from Bitche-Sarreguemines area with five to eight divisions with initial objective of seizing Saverne and Ingwiller Passes.

2. To attack southwest from the Volklingen - Forbach - Sarreguimines area with five to eight divisions and the mission of capturing Metz and securing the crossings over the Moselle.

3. With forces currently in contact and in immediate reserve, to launch a series of limited objective attacks.

4. Counterattack from Bienwald Forest and Hardt Mountains to seize general line Woerth - Soultz Sous Forets - Seltz.

Capabilities 3 and 1 were favored in that order. G-2 explained his reasoning as follows:

The most logical and economical employment of forces now in contact and known to be in reserve would be in demonstrations, threats, infiltrations and limited objective attacks designed to contain the Seventh Army in its present positions.

Indications of enemy concentrations and build-ups in the Saarbrucken area and in the East Rhine Valley are disturbing, however, and the Nineteenth Army's determination to hold the Colmar bridgehead may shortly assume added significance. Certainly the recovery of Alsace, in addition to its military value, would provide a tremendous uplift to German morale, particularly if the attack in the Eifel area fails to achieve any substantial success.

Additional confirmation of the Saarbrucken and East Rhine Valley area build-ups will tend to favor Capability 1. Conversely, identification of the 21st Pz and/or other mobile units of the First German Army in the Eifel area will be indicative of less ambitious enemy intentions in Alsace.

The current success of the Third U.S. Army's counter-attack from the South, and the enemy's apparent emphasis on operations to the northwest in the Eifel sector, tends to discount Capability 2.

As this picture of enemy intentions grew clearer, Seventh Army preparations for defense were intensified; and the sense of anti- climax gave way to a sense of immediate danger. Sixth Army Group instructions of 21 December had directed Seventh Army to be "prepared to yield ground rather than endanger the integrity of its forces." During the early part of the last ten days of December VI Corps had begun to prepare an alternate main line of resistance in the Maginot Line. Both VI Corps and XV Corps had been preparing counterattacks against possible enemy penetrations as well as consolidating lines of defense. At the end of the year the 2nd French Armored Division, recently attached to XV Corps, was being brought into the corps area prepared to counterattack any enemy penetration of the line. In the VI Corps area the 14th Armored Division was strategically located with a similar mission.

patchsoldier.jpg (34445 bytes)
Lieutenant General Patch offering one of his men a cigarette, during his visit to XV Corps Command Post at Fenetrange ". . . On New Year's Eve General Patch visited the XV Corps Command Post at Fenetrange and there warned both the XV Corps and the VI Corps Commanding Generals that an enemy attack was to be expected during the early hours of New Year's Day ..." 

During the last two days of the month these preparations were completed. A radio message from Sixth Army Group, received on 30 December, warned the Seventh Army

that a hostile attack against your flank west of Bitche may force you to give ground from your main position. To meet such a possibility, it is necessary that your west flank be protected by a reserve battle position. With this in mind, reconnaissance and organization of a reserve battle position will be instituted without delay along high ground on the general lines: Hill east of Landroff-Bennestroff- Sarre-Union-Ingwiller. One half of each division and attached troops currently earmarked as SHAEF reserve, located in your area, may be employed at any given period of time to assist in organization of ground, provided troops so employed can be reassembled and prepared for movement on eight hour notice ...............

These directives were carried out by New Year's Eve. XV Corps prepared its secondary main line of resistance with its western anchor in the Maginot Line. The SHAEF-earmarked 36th Division and 12th Armored Division, as well as the 2nd French Armored Division upon its arrival in the XV Corps zone, were ordered to be ready to counterattack against enemy penetrations. Both corps planned to defend on their forward lines until ordered to withdraw and to fight delaying actions back to the secondary line. The 14th Armored Division, in VI Corps reserve near Bouxwiller, was ordered to prepare for counterattack to the right flank of XV Corps, in the Strasbourg area, or to the south toward Selestat.

On the Seventh Army left flank Third Army was "limiting the enemy offensive and ... preparing to counterattack." On its right flank the French First Army contained the Colmar Pocket and prepared "defensive positions in depth." On New Year's Eve General Patch visited the XV Corps Command Post at Fenetrange and there warned both the XV Corps and the VI Corps Commanding Generals that an enemy attack was to be expected during the early hours of New Year's Day.

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